We Are All Runners

This past Sunday, I watched the running of the Mexico City Marathon. Accompanied by a lifelong runner, we watched thousands of athletes weave their way through the leaf-lined roads of Condesa.

Some athletes were running, others not. Many carried backpacks. Some held a phone before their face, video chatting while running. One runner galloped past with a plastic bottle of Coke. Another juggled a soccer ball. Grandmas and grandpas moved in tandem while young daughters and mothers ran by in supporting pairs. Many of these runners were clothed as if running this marathon had been an afterthought.

I was amazed.

This was a marathon run by everyday people, nearly 7,300 ft above sea level, during a quite smoggy day. I witnessed every possible age, body type, attire, and footwear pass me by. Everyday people running a marathon. I realized that this is what people do all over the world. They run. They don’t join a runners’ club or buy fancy gear to do what humans are meant to do: run. To them, people run. Period.

I realized I had brainwashed myself into believing that running a marathon was for “marathon runners.” My beloved Boston Marathon is filled with these “marathon runners!” They’re not just people who run marathons. To be a “marathon runner” you need to follow a certain path. In Boston, you need to raise a bunch of money for a “very good cause,” or be very fast. You need to join a running club to get motivated, train and get help preparing for the enormity of the task. You need fancy gear, expensive shoes, plus a few visits to physical therapy. Then, and only then, is when you become a “marathon runner.” (Or so I thought.)

Yet here I was in Mexico City watching people actually run a marathon. Because, humans run. They just do.

Part of the club.

The same can be said about the state of affairs in the startup community in Boston. In many instances, to “do a startup” you need to be taught perhaps in college, or in a class. Or you must be part of a cohort. You are fed the notion that you need to be in a community of entrepreneurs to bring out your best self. You need to free yourself from everyday concerns so you can reach your full potential to become the next Mark, Steve, Larry or Hubspot.

It’s almost as if having a successful startup requires focus that regular people do not understand. It’s as though being part of a start-up these days is like declaring you are part of the Society of Fancy Thinkers doing Great Things Aspiring to Change the World and Live the Values. No longer are you simply taking crazy financial risks and working crazy hours for short money. You are in a startup! And in cities like Boston, that means… something.

When did Bostonians have to learn how to work in start-up? Or get extra applause for working in high-risk startup jobs that, nowadays, often pay better than others. When did business people have to be motivated by cold brew coffee and free beer to work hard and intelligently and make good decisions? When did they have to look a certain way in order to be successful? People have been working in high-stress, underfunded companies since the dawn of time. People have been building their own companies since the very earliest forms of commerce. At what point in time did people forget they were welcome to try and make it work? To give it a shot, and try to build a company. You know, the essential ideals of working hard, and playing hard and being joyful about it. When did we forget it is just a job? You get paid to do stuff, to create value.

We are all runners.

At the very heart of us all, we are entrepreneurs. We all have the ability to work hard. We all have the intrinsic resilience and motivation in us to start a company. We are all runners and idea factories. We are human. Humans run, and think, and take risks. These are not exclusive characteristics for those within the startup club. Some of us will be like Larry, Steve and Mark. Maybe we’ll run like Meb. But, most will not.

As we watched the last runners pass, followed swiftly by the army of municipal street sweepers, we reflected upon how special this moment was, to watch the end of this marathon. We watched the last athlete jog past, lapped by the medical bus full of his injured colleagues. If he were jogging now, he must have walked much of the prior 15 KM. Now, as he jogged behind the garbage trucks, we reflected that it was quite a special moment. We were witnessing the very best performance of the most common athlete of the day.

The Boston startup community could learn something by watching the very last runner of this year’s Mexico City Marathon. Not all who run the marathon need be “marathon runners.” The world is big enough for us all. There is no monopoly on talent or hutzpah or perseverance or excellence. That the Mebs of the world are equally as awesome as the woman running by with the bottle of Coke means that one size does not fit all.

You don’t need to be taught to run. You already know how.