Marathons and Market Research

October 14th, 2016 by John Richelsen



Last Sunday I ran my seventh marathon in eight years. Although I’m a lifetime market researcher, I’m a late-bloomer when it comes to running. It was one of those things where you think “I want to run a marathon before I turn 40.” It didn’t happen by the way – but I did get it in before turning 42. And one of the things I’ve noticed in all of those long miles is how seamlessly market research and marathoning blend.


  • Numbers – Like Emerson said “Life is a journey, not a destination,” and when it comes to distance running, it’s all about the journey. What’s my pace? Split times? How many kilometers in a mile? I literally spend half the time doing math problems. It’s a lot like my job. I may be insane.
  • Experiment – You’d think all you need is a pair of running shoes and some shorts. But do you under-pronate? Over-pronate? Are you a heel striker or midsole? What about tech shirts? GPS watches? Fuel belts? So many things to research. So many trends to follow. It’s not quite a conjoint study to come up with the best combination… but it’s close.
  • Segmentation – Like market research, marathon running is about breaking down the parts and embracing/agonizing over the differences. There’s a saying that a marathon is two races – the first 20 miles and the last 6.2. They may look the same – right foot, left foot, repeat – but they couldn’t be more different. Just like your customers and why we need to go beyond the demographics to see what makes them tick.
  • Planning ­– No one plans quite as much as a researcher or a marathon runner. Poor planning can lead to poorer results and not meeting your objectives. For both, there’s no undertaking a race or a project without meticulous upfront work. If you don’t know what you’re doing, it will come back to haunt you when it’s too late. Planning is everything.


Marathon running and market research both rely on levels of discipline that have the endgame in mind before the start. And it doesn’t hurt to be a little bit of a crazy person.