What Running a Half Marathon and PR Have in Common
Spoiler alert: It’s more than you might think.
On May 2, 2021, I laced up my sneakers and headed to the starting line of my first half-marathon and official, timed, in-person race: The Providence Marathon. As I was standing in the corral, I thought a lot about how far I’d come. Just a few years earlier, I was 65 pounds heavier, inactive, and unhappy. I had lot of good stories about why I couldn’t exercise and treat my body better, but eventually, I got sick of making excuses and decided to change up my lifestyle. One year later, I had dropped the extra weight and was looking for new forms of exercise to keep me motivated. I discovered running and quickly fell in love with it – the challenge that every run brought and the euphoria that followed hooked me, and I kept running despite a global pandemic (which the old me totally would have used as an excuse, by the way).
The race itself was hotter, hillier, and more difficult than I anticipated, but crossing the finish line was one of the most rewarding and emotional triumphs I’ve ever experienced. I still get teary-eyed thinking about it.
Reflecting on this transformative experience, I realized that the entire training process for 13.1 had a lot in common with PR and my job.
- Planning is key.
There is a misconception that PR is a lot of “fly by the seat of your pants,” “responding to crises” work. While that does sometimes happen, there is a ton of planning that goes into even the smallest of launches or initiatives. Just like you wouldn’t run a half-marathon without having a plan, PR requires a lot of strategy and forethought. You should never just distribute a press release for the sake of it. Instead, ask yourself, “What is the objective? Who am I trying to reach? Why do I want to reach them? Is it a tool for starting media conversations or is it important, strategic news tied to a major sales initiative?” A solid plan will always set you up for success.
- Timing is everything.
As you plan to run a half-marathon, you’ll want to make sure that your timeline looks realistic to ensure that you’ll be able to cross the finish line. You need to give yourself plenty of time to prepare and train. Similarly, launching a new brand or initiative before it’s fully baked and all parties are committed can result in lackluster performance. Putting a spokesperson out before they’ve had media training can also be risky, depending on the interview. Don’t rush to the starting corral before you and your client are ready.
- Determination and grit help – a lot.
Running a half-marathon isn’t easy, and neither is PR. You face obstacles every time you lace up your sneakers, whether from stress, bad weather, sore muscles, or illness and injury. In PR, every day is different – this is part of what makes it interesting, but it is also what makes it challenging. Reporters reject your pitch, a crisis situation pops up, an idea you had just doesn’t resonate with the client or media. As a PR pro, you have the choice to either face these obstacles head on with an alternative plan or strategy, or let them stop your success. Determination and grit are the hallmarks of both a distance runner and a strong PR team.
- You’ll likely have to change your strategy at least a few times.
Even with a solid plan, fully baked timeline, and a great attitude – things change. Four days before I was set to run the half-marathon, I started feeling a nagging, dull pain in my left IT band. I panicked – what if this meant I couldn’t run? Was all of my training for nothing? In PR, we face strategy shifts daily. The increasingly fast-paced news cycle means that information that was relevant even a few hours before a launch, may no longer be important or even true. Being nimble and highly strategic is important to success as a PR pro.
For the race, my workaround plan was a lot of foam rolling, stretching, and an awesome hamstring stretch that my fellow Caster team member Lexie taught me. In PR, it might mean last-minute messaging changes, bringing in new spokespeople, or flipping your strategy completely on its head. But you have to take changes in stride. After all, the ability to take any situation and tell a story or execute a project that advances our clients’ goals is part of what makes the Caster team so great.
- When you cross that finish line – you will feel insanely accomplished.
As I approached the finish line of the Providence Marathon, I was tired, stressed, sore, and ready to be done. But then, the adrenaline kicked in and reminded me that I had worked for over 18 months to get to this place, and I had to see it through.
PR asks a lot of you, but it also rewards you for your efforts. The sense of accomplishment that a PR pro feels when a client’s quote or news makes it into a top-tier publication, a stellar product review publishes, or a client tells you that their exec team is thrilled with your work, is what keeps us inspired. It fuels us to show up every day, ready to tackle whatever is next.
And then? You’ll want to just start the whole process all over again. In fact – my next half-marathon is scheduled for October 31. That “great PR” high is addictive because you earn it through careful planning, expert timing, grit, and flexibility. Just like a runner’s high.
How have you applied lessons learned in your life outside of work to your career? Let me know on Twitter @alexgil_13.