How I managed to knock 40 minutes off my marathon time – and what we can all learn from that in business

One of my personal highlights of May 2017 was completing my 24th marathon in Liverpool and attracting over £2,300 of support for the “We Love Manchester” victims support fund.

Apart from the generous support from my community, I also managed a 40-minute improvement on my previous completion time in Dublin (October 2016), at a time when I was calling my running life into question after a struggle with personal fitness.

Now I know that one swallow doesn’t make s summer (what summer?) but my motivation has been fuelled by this one day at the Rock & Roll Marathon and I’ve entered a further 3 marathons (including my first ultra-marathon – 35 miles on 2nd July).

In this post I want to look back at Liverpool, understand the factors that contributed to a great day and ponder the metaphor for us all, especially those running (sic) businesses and chasing sales targets:


When you run distances, there is simply no replacement for just getting the training miles in your legs. I set myself a target of at least 200km every month, no matter how sporadic, and also long runs on a Saturday morning (at least 22km and up to 30km). Before the race I also focused on good nutrition and a significant reduction in my alcohol intake.

Metaphor – you need the training, the CPD, the post-graduate clinical development, the business development and a diet of good reading, watching and listening material.


My game plan for the race was simple – stay with the 04:45 pacer for as long as physically and mentally possible and then try to finish sub 5:00.

There were 3 experienced runners sharing that pacer flag and they made sure that I didn’t set off too quickly after getting carried along by other runners.

Pace not race.

Metaphor – speed in business isn’t everything – it is just as important to discover your natural pace and stay at that pace, no matter what the competition is doing or what your peers are shouting at you from the sidelines. FOMO will have you start off too fast and run out of energy.

Distraction and mood

Soon after we began, our pacer pulled a portable speaker out of his bum bag and started playing a compilation of 60’s and 70’s pop hits from his iPhone. The mood of the 20 or so runners around the pace flag immediately lightened and we enjoyed the “singalong”, even team anthems outside Everton and Anfield football clubs. This sparked conversation between us all.

Rather than my usual obsession with how I was feeling, my mind was distracted by the music and the conversations around me, telling others my story and listening to theirs.

Metaphor – music while you work does lift the spirit, empathetic listening to those around you will distract you from feeling sorry for yourself. Sometimes we need solitude to do creative work but when it comes to grinding out the miles, a bit of company goes a long way.


Around the half-marathon point, I got chatting to a fellow runner. Dawn and I exchanged mini-life stories to while away the time and then we mutually decided to pace each other for the second half, on the understanding that, if either wanted to move forward or drop back, that would be OK.

She told me that her audition for The Island with Bear Grylls had her reach the final 100 for the last season. “Have I got news for you!” was my predictable reaction and there followed a detailed and even more distracting chat over the miles ahead.

Metaphor – when you team up, you perform better. Having things in common is a fantastic ice-breaker. Everyone has a back-story. You can push yourself further when you have a buddy.

Going for it

At around mile 21, we realised that our conversation was so focused that we had run ahead of the pacer – after a quick exchange, we decided to just go for it along the Mersey promenade and race for the finish, urging each other along. We crossed the line at 04:40:38.

Metaphor – you can do more than you think you can – given the right conditions.

The reason

There’s no doubt in my mind that, apart from the events described above, the fact that I was helping a good cause and under the spotlight of all those who contributed made a difference on the day. No time for feeling sorry for oneself when considering those victims and their families.

Metaphor – it’s not just about hitting your targets – its also about worthy causes, about making sure that your business “does no evil”, that you change peoples’ lives in a positive way, that you create environments in which folks can feel good about themselves, that you have an active CSR programme and do more than just “the job”.

That first “ultra” on 2nd July? I was invited by Dawn to join her and simply could not refuse. It will be a very different and challenging event, fewer runners, almost no crowd, certainly no disco-pacers or fund raising – but the echo of Liverpool will sustain us as will our partnership on the day.


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Chris Barrow

Chris Barrow has been active as a consultant, trainer and coach to the UK dental profession for over 20 years. As a writer, his blog enjoys a strong following and he is a regular contributor to the dental press. Naturally direct, assertive and determined, he has the ability to reach conclusions quickly, as well as the sharp reflexes and lightness of touch to innovate, change tack and push boundaries. In 2014 he appeared as a “castaway” in the first season of the popular reality TV show “The Island with Bear Grylls”. His main professional focus is as Coach Barrow, providing coaching and mentorship to independent dentistry.

One thought on “How I managed to knock 40 minutes off my marathon time – and what we can all learn from that in business”

  1. Ah, when I read you were aiming at a 5.00 pace using
    a 4.45 pace, I presumed you meant minutes per mile and thought you were a phenomenally fast runner. Outstanding result nonetheless.

    The story reminds me of the letter in my guitar magazine by the reader who followed the “guitar gym” series of lessons and changing his technique brought on improvement in his speed but not as much as he’d hoped when he timed himself with a metronome compared to the guy on the CD in the magazine. So he worked and worked at it and became faster and faster but was still behind his target until he went to re-set his metronome and realised he had been reading it incorrectly all along and he was way beyond his target.
    In other words, practice with correct technique and repetition gets you to a point where you can do the action and when you forget what your limits are you may exceed them.

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