marathon leadership lessons
Leadership Management

10 Leadership Lessons from a Half Marathon

Several weeks ago, I completed my first half marathon. Making the decision to do it, disciplining myself to train for it, standing in the middle of the street in downtown Detroit at 6:30 a.m. on a chilly morning with anxious excitement waiting for the starting signal and later working through the physical aches were all new experiences. But my biggest learning wasn’t physical; it was mental. As I completed mile after mile, I thought about leaders who are contemplating change in their organization. How do they motivate their teams to reach a goal that, for some, seems impossible, unnecessary or uninteresting? My 10 leadership lessons from a half marathon may be insightful for them.

It’s never too late to learn something new.

If you had asked me six months ago whether I wanted to run a half marathon, I would have thought you were crazy. In July, when I signed up, I thought I was crazy. I’ve never had an athletic bone in my body. My initial intent was to complete the 5K and raise funds for organizations that fight human trafficking. When I went to the information session, I realized that the 5K/3.2-miles goal was easy since I was used to “wogging” (speed walking and jogging) about 2.5 miles daily. I also found out that you could walk in a marathon, so I allowed the leader to convince me to sign up. The running group ( provided training and support to get me ready and ensure my success.

Remember your “why.”

Although I joined the group because it was raising money for a worthy cause, I must confess my deeper why was finding out if I could accomplish such an audacious goal. At my age, did I have the tenacity and physical capability to do something so challenging? It was personal. On marathon day, I woke up at 3 a.m. to get ready, gathered with my running group, walked out to the starting corrals in the cold and darkness and stood with excitement and anxiety. I had to keep remembering that I wanted to grow from it personally. And that I would never regret it.

Make sure you have the right gear.

The temperature forecast was 45-54 degrees Fahrenheit, and I’m not used to running in weather conditions quite that cool, so I stressed a bit about making sure I had the right clothing. I didn’t want to be too hot or too cold. I was repeatedly told not to wear or eat anything on race day that I hadn’t trained with to make sure my clothing fit properly and everything agreed with my digestive system. Finally, I settled on the right attire and supplies, laid everything out the night before, and snapped a pic to send it to my group as a sign of readiness. Proper preparation counts! Listen to the experts!

You must sprint to start the race!

You don’t leave the starting line walking – you MUST run. There’s music and a DJ to excite the runners, and after standing in the cold for 30 minutes or so, you’re ready to get going and generate some quick heat! For some of us, the running only lasted five to seven minutes before we slowed to a walk, but the energy got us off to a good start. Celebrate the kickoff of your project! Run across the starting line mentally, emotionally and physically with your team.

Find your pace and keep at it.

Thankfully, during the training process, I found several women who wogged at a pace like mine. At first, I had to learn to slow my stride with one of the women to ensure I wasn’t too far ahead of the two behind us. She would gently signal to me if I went too fast. I was slower in the second half of the race because I began to feel my body aching. And by mile ten, I was slightly lagging behind my group. I tried my best to keep up and, at the same time, determined it was okay if they wanted to press ahead without me.

Ultimately, one of the other ladies had a slight injury that slowed her down, so I stayed with her while the other two went ahead to try to improve their finishing time. In the end, we all finished and were happy. But I recognized the importance of finding people to help me perform my best while not slowing their progress to accomplish their goals. This is like finding a group of colleagues with similar growth strategies for mutual encouragement and accountability.

Sometimes, you can’t see the light at the end of the tunnel.

This international race started in Detroit, went over the Ambassador Bridge into Windsor, Ontario, Canada, and several miles later through a mile-long tunnel under the Detroit River from Windsor back to Detroit. And while there were lights in the tunnel, after a while we still couldn’t see any light at the end of the tunnel. Midway through, the Canadian and US flags were on the wall marking the border; that showed progress. Then I remembered that there was a sharp curve before the opening. In essence, we wouldn’t see daylight until we made it almost to the end. We simply had to know and believe it was coming, that we’d get out of that damp, hot and uncomfortable closed space. We had to exercise faith and perseverance.

Encouragement along the way helps.

Thanks to the many volunteers who offered water, Gatorade, pickle juice (for the electrolytes) and snacks. Supporters along the route cheered, offered high fives and fist bumps, called us by the name printed on our bibs and held up signs saying things like:

  • “Run like your mother called you by your full name.”
  • “You’re amazing.”
  • “You paid money to do this?”
  • “Press this button for a power boost.”
  • “It’s too late to turn back now.”

Whether funny or serious, it made the process lighter, easier and better. Plus, many more friends, family and colleagues generously supported me by donating to the cause. I’m so thankful for the encouragement and support from each of them.

Remember, it’s a marathon, not a race.

While the shortest time was posted, and many serious runners were trying to set a personal record, most people recognized the most important thing was to finish. Maybe I could have run faster, but I would have likely suffered a longer-term injury. To ensure the quality of my participation, I took time to interact with and care for others around me, to enjoy the beauty of the sunrise, to be careful where I stepped. Protect the process to ensure the quality of the result.

Recognize everyone’s accomplishments.

Everyone received a medal after crossing the finish line. I wore mine for a few hours the day after the race, and it was heavy! It now hangs in my office as a reminder of my accomplishment and the recognition that I can do things that may seem impossible at first. I may have finished 8,129th out of 8,921, but I set my own personal record.

Celebrate and reward the team at the end.

By the time I got close to the finish line, I was walking with my partner. But as we approached it, we started gently jogging again and smiling for the cameras. We wanted THAT to be the memorable photo. Just past the finish line, volunteers celebrated with us and offered heat shield blankets, energy snacks, and of course our medal. We received lots of pictures afterward from the many photographers along the route. This was visual proof of our accomplishment and what it took to get there.

So, what leadership lessons can we learn?

In some respects, life mirrors a marathon as we set out to accomplish a significant goal filled with twists and turns, setbacks, a range of emotions and, hopefully, support. We ultimately realize we can accomplish more than we anticipated. And leaders can leverage these insights to encourage their teams to run their own marathon, to reach stretch goals.

What’s your marathon?

For more tips on supporting your team, read Gratitude Matters! How to Appreciate and Impact Employee Engagement.

About the author

Priscilla Archangel

Priscilla Archangel, Ph.D. is a seasoned leadership consultant, executive coach, author, speaker, and teacher. She has a passion for developing leaders, and motivating individuals and organizations to align their values, behaviors and goals with their purpose. Visit

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