The Marathon Mindset And Why You Need To Know It

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If you’ve ever run a marathon, you’ll know it’s all about strategy and patience. You must train for the marathon for months before, often following training plans and reading nutrition books.

Come race day, you should be ready to execute your goal and run the marathon. 26.2 miles of grit, determination, and pace.

A marathon requires perseverance, careful planning and a lot of commitment, as you discover when you’re halfway in and feeling the strain. Through pain and maximum effort, you finally cross the line and burst with pride. The marathon and your goal are complete.

What is the marathon analogy?

Dr Phil once said, “Life’s a marathon, not a sprint.” He summarised it well. There are things in life we want to do 100 miles per hour, and we expect to get results instantly.

Sprint Mind Set

Most people want to run into their goals with a 'sprint mindset.' However, this is not always the most effective approach.
Most people want to run into their goals with a ‘sprint mindset.’ However, this is not always the most effective approach.

Ever felt discouraged when trying to learn an instrument? Felt down when you didn’t pass a mock exam for the first time? Felt hard done by when you are overlooked for a promotion? Thought of quitting your weight loss regime because you still look the same a few days in?

All of these are examples of where we seek instant gratification, and we’re tempted to be impatient. We want results immediately and go all in on something new for a few days then get bored and do something else because we don’t get the results we wanted. This is what’s known as the ‘sprint mindset’ and we’re all guilty of it at some point.

Marathon mindset

Marathon finishers should understand the marathon mindset well. After all, they have successfully run a marathon before. If you take a marathon mindset to your goals in life, you understand you must be patient and a lot of hard and smart work is a must.

Adopting the marathon mindset realises that some goals take a lot of time, meaning they will be long-term and arduous.

Tackling life’s goals like they are marathons is the smart way to go about achieving what you want.

To fulfil a marathon mindset, you need to: know what you want, sharpen your axe, practice like there’s no tomorrow, and execute like your life depends on it.

Know what you want. What marathon are you taking on?

Firstly, what goal are you choosing to pursue? What challenges will you be facing on the road to completing the goal? What difficulties, problems and issues will you need to overcome?

It sounds very basic and self-evident but taking time to write down (yes people still write in 2018!) what you want it is you want to achieve.

Be specific with what you want to achieve!

Don’t be vague with broad goals like “to be happier” or “to have more money”, or “to be fitter”. Make sure your goals are what they call S.M.A.R.T

Specific– What specific things need to happen before you consider your long-term, marathon goal complete? Do you need your business to make £5000 a month? Do you need to run a sub-19-minute 5K? Do you want to meet 10 new people? Long-term goals need to be specific.

Measurable– Make sure you can measure your progress to determine when the goal is hit.

Aim– Understand what it is you want to achieve.

Realistic– It’s good to shoot for the stars but make a marathon mindset means adopting goals which are realistic. For an aspiring actor, being an A-List Oscar-winning national treasure in 6 months is highly unlikely. Make what you want to achieve is realistic, so you can actually achieve it!

Time– Apply some pressure and urgency with a time limit, for the goal needs to be completed by.

Why do you want to achieve it?

Marathon mind-sets are useful in long-term goal scenarios like building a business, starting a successful social media profile, studying for exams, and learning an instrument.

For the mindset to be used most effectively, you must know ‘why’ you want to achieve the long-term goal. Are you learning the piano to be more creative? Building a business for financial freedom and independence?

Write down why you want to achieve the long-term goal, next to the goal itself. When you have a powerful reason, the marathon mindset is much easier to use and does not become a chore.

“If you want to be happy, set a goal that commands your thoughts, liberates your energy, and inspires your hopes.” Andrew Carnegie

Sharpen your axe

Give me six hours to chop down a tree and I will spend the first four sharpening the axe.” Abraham Lincoln

'Sharpening your axe' means sharpening your mind. Those with a marathon mindset understand learning knowledge and new skills is essential for success in life.
‘Sharpening your axe’ means sharpening your mind. Those with a marathon mindset understand learning knowledge and new skills is essential for success in life.

What a perfect analogy for the marathon mindset. Before you embark on fulfilling what you want to achieve, you need to educate yourself or “sharpen your axe”. Educating yourself is incredibly important preparation for what lies ahead.

It may seem long-winded and unnecessary, to read up on and understand some basic theory first. However, understanding the basics – in anything in life – can set the scene for tremendous success.

A marathon runner will have a more effective training schedule if they read up on and understand some basic nutritional and biological science. Likewise, a classically trained pianist performs as well as they do because of relentless musical theory study.

Those with the marathon mindset understand achieving their goals require some education. The more you learn, the more you understand and can take on.

Practice like there’s no tomorrow

It’s tempting to execute your goal immediately. However, those with the marathon mindset understand lack of practice often leads to sloppy decisions and subsequent poor results.

Having the marathon mindset means you understand it takes time to get yourself to a level of confidence and competence to properly fulfil your goal.

Practice what it is you will be doing to achieve your goal. By practising, you are not putting everything on the line and you can afford to make errors.

Believe it or not, Jamie Oliver and Gordon Ramsay made thousands of errors when they were training to become world-class chefs. Elvis Presley, Prince and Michael Jackson, made loads of mistakes in the rehearsal studio. Andy Murray, Sebastian Coe and Chris Hoy, made hundreds of errors during training for their sports.

Embrace a mistake and learn from it; don’t regret them.” Richard Branson

Beautifully summed up by Sir Richard Branson, mistakes are necessary for development and improve your performance for when you finally execute. Make a mistake, learn a lesson from it, become stronger and smarter, and move on.

Achieving a large goal is not a sprint. Having a marathon mindset means you understand the importance of practice, training and getting better at your craft. The mindset means you’re willing to be patient and put the work in, you will come out on the other side and perform exceptionally.


If the marathoner has prepared well, they will execute wonderfully and have an enjoyable and successful marathon.
If they had a marathon mindset, they would have: understood what their goal was and made it S.M.A.R.T, knew why they wanted to achieve it, sharpened their axe (educated themselves) and practised like there’s no tomorrow (trained and followed a schedule).

If they had adopted the marathon mindset, execution will be pleasant and will probably be successful!

Success is just the tip of the iceberg

Having a marathon mindset means you understand success is just the tip of the iceberg.
Having a marathon mindset means you understand success is just the tip of the iceberg.

When a runner takes on a marathon, their performance on race day is just the tip of the iceberg.
In the marathon runner’s mind are months of memories which document their training. Early mornings, late evenings, healthy meals, motivational self-talk, disciplined actions, and organisation have all been vital to getting to this point.

The marathon mindset goes hand in hand with the iceberg metaphor. To achieve anything worthwhile, it’s a long and hard slog. Late nights, early mornings, rejection, failures, mistakes and lots of hours of practice and learning. However, all these things are necessary to achieve big goals.

The marathon mindset for success

Remember, when you want to achieve something worthwhile it will probably be a marathon and not a sprint. Therefore, you may need a marathon mindset. You may need to be patient and incredibly resilient.

Know what you want to achieve, why you want to achieve it, sharpen your axe, practice like there’s no tomorrow, and execute.

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