Parallels Between Running a Marathon and Creating Great Ads
Running became a necessity and passion for me during Covid. I started because of the physical benefits, but I quickly came to value the mental reprieve (especially given what it was like working in advertising in 2020). My casual running quickly turned into marathon running, and I've now finished seven marathons. Beyond the enjoyment and sense of accomplishment, I love that this hobby gives me an answer to the dreaded "fun fact" new job question, which came in handy when I joined Johannes Leonardo in 2021. To my surprise, my colleagues were more keenly interested than I expected. "What's the training like?" "How do you actually run 26.2 miles in one go!?" "What time did you finish it in?" are all questions I get asked frequently. These two worlds are very different, but being immersed in both has revealed some parallels and lessons.
Starting from a solid foundation
Doing the training to build a solid foundation for race day is essential. You start 30 weeks out, run three to four days a week for about six miles at a time, doing speed work and incorporating long runs that can stretch up to 22 miles. Running 22 miles doesn't only build your physical endurance, but also provides you with the assurance and confidence that you can make it to the full 26.2 on marathon day.
As you approach a creative campaign, having a solid physical foundation is crucial—a strong, well-balanced team with knowledge and expertise that's been built over time. The mental foundation is just as crucial. Is there a sense of mutual trust, respect and camaraderie? Or are you starting from a place of distrust and uncertainty? If it's the latter, it's going to be a long slog that might not yield great work.
Setting out with purpose
Now, 26.2 miles is a LONG way. On average, it takes people 4 hours and 29 minutes to finish. My fastest marathon time is 3 hours 24 minutes, and it does not "feel" faster in any way. It's important to start with a personal goal that can drive you forward. For many, it's achieving a PR (personal record/personal best), for others it's simply to enjoy the experience.
Advertising is full of talented, determined people, constantly striving for better work. Which idea will disrupt the category? How can we get consumers to think and behave differently? Which industry recognition and awards are attainable? Approaching a brief with a sense of determination and purpose provides you with a burst of energy to start strong.
Drawing energy from the sidelines
Beyond having a single goal, looking forward to elements of the race experience is important, too. In NYC, it's the electric energy from the crowd, while Tokyo, offers a different cultural vibe. Asian supporters turn out in big numbers, but don't cheer, which made the race feel long. Especially when I hit "the wall."
In advertising, "the wall" can come sooner or later. Do you go through rounds of presentations without selling an idea, or hit production blocks later on? To overcome such hurdles, you need supportive folks surrounding you. Does your client offer empathy and reason when things don't go as planned? Do people at your agency offer help when needed, through brainstorming or by taking tasks off your plate? Having strong support provides energy that propels you to victory.
The final stretch
The end is always the hardest part of the race. Every step feels heavy. Each minute drags. You're dealing with sore legs, blisters, chafing—the list goes on. Your singular focus is to get over the line without tripping or slowing—ensuring all your hard work isn't wasted.
In advertising, the end is particularly grueling, too. You're tired—physically and mentally—and the smallest tasks feel huge. I have much admiration for my creative and production friends who approach everything in the final stretch with dedication, craftsmanship and grace.
No matter how arduous the "marathon," once you step over the finish line, you're filled with a sense of relief and accomplishment. In advertising, you can't immediately see the results of your sweat and strain, but you can still bask in the glory of completing the race.