Tracy Griffen: Running a business is like running a Marathon

Posted by in February's Magazine

Running a small business in Leith is like running a marathon. Persistence, grit and a thick skin impervious to friction is vital. The running is never smooth, never predictable and there are definite highs… and lows. This analogy keeps me sane whilst bearing the crazy shit that is the neighbourhood changing rapidly around me. 

I love running my fitness business, it’s been over thirteen years since I started as a sole trader. The business from 2005 to 2010 was cycling around Edinburgh on my bike and getting folk fit with minimal equipment. Those formative years helped improve my own fitness levels and awareness of how to maintain optimal energy levels over a long and busy working day/month/year.


Griffen Fitness was one of the first dedicated Personal Training studios in the port when it opened late 2010. I remember a grumpy old chap walking past our newly blue-painted shop on Balfour Street, shaking his head and muttering, “Fitness in Leith, it will never work. And the paintwork is too bright.” I’ve had my fair share of doubters, but most of the time I am so busy doing what I need to do that I don’t have time to think about people who think it can’t be done.

The parallels between running a business and running a marathon are striking, blinding even:

It’s Not a Sprint

It’s easy to get a bit over-excited in the first year of business and expend all of your energy (or finances). If you’re in it for the long haul, think like an athlete and pace yourself.

There will be Niggles and Obstacles

It’s the nature of doing something audacious; there will be hiccups, aches and pains. Try not to catastrophise when things go wrong, and focus on optimising future outcomes instead. Enjoy the ride.

It’s easy to get Distracted.

Thankfully social media never existed when I first started, it is very distracting though a fun way to do marketing – check out Coco fitness pug on Instagram/Twitter. However it is ultimately an easy way not to do the important stuff in business that needs to be done. Likewise, training for a marathon, you need to stay focussed.

People Will Always Tell You
What To Do

Generally they mean well. People are happy to tell me what to do, but couldn’t be arsed doing it themselves. My reply is “how about you start a business and [do whatever it is they are telling me to do]?”

You Have to Really Want to do It

The best way to train for a marathon is to do a lot of running; you really need to want to run. Running a business you’ll be doing a lot of whatever it is your business does. So if you don’t want to do it on a small scale, you’ll probably not want to do it on a large scale.

Learn About It

The best runners have a good idea of how their body works. Likewise, taking onboard business advice can help improve commercial success – read The Chimp Paradox: the Mind Management Programme for Confidence, Success and Happiness. It might sound cheesy but it’s written by Professor Steve Peters, Chris Hoy’s sports psychologist who helped Hoy win Olympic gold. If it’s good enough for Hoy, it’s good enough for me. And it’s a really easy read. WITH MONKEYS!!!

Use your Noggin 

Sports psychology is where NLP (Neuro Linguistic Planning) comes from, basically the ability to frame things in a positive way and get on with it. Focus on your goal, the outcome. It’s the prime motivator. Like running, training is part of a larger goal, running the day to day minutiae of a business is more enjoyable and focussed if you have an end goal in mind. 

No One Else Will Do It

You can hire people to help you out, but the serious business of keeping the wheels turning is up to you. Stay in bed all day if you want, but it won’t get you to the finish line…

Look after your Primary Asset

If you are self-employed then you are the primary business asset, the brains behind the operation. For brains to function optimally, they need to be healthy and happy. Take time out to get outdoors in a greenspace (it’s proven to help cognition) and also be sure to get enough sleep. Turn off your technology an hour before bed. As running a business is like running a marathon, you’ll need to be in tip top shape. Look after yourself – although I have been known to justify a night out at Leith Depot as ‘local business networking’. Balance is important!

Ignore the Competition. 

t’s too easy to spend time pondering what other people are doing. In that time pondering, you can go and do something yourself. It’s your race, run it your way. I dare you.

Twitter: @tracygriffen

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