What two CEOs learned from running the Boston Marathon


When he was growing up, Brent Grinna avoided running longer than 400 meters at all costs.

But when the EverTrue CEO got the chance to race in the 2015 Boston Marathon, he knew it was too great of an opportunity to pass up even though he'd taken up running only relatively recently. So Grinna buckled down to train for the sport's most famous event, which happens on Monday this year.

Brent Grinna, CEO of EverTrue, after completing the Boston Marathon.
Courtesy: Brent Grinna

Grinna, who launched the software platform EverTrue in 2010, found many similarities between training for and completing a marathon and running a business.

It's a sentiment echoed by Banfi Vintners co-CEO Cristina Mariani-May, who's run in 11 marathons, including her second in Boston in 2010.

Endurance in the office, on the pavement

"Either way, if you're going to run a first marathon, or start a first company, you're inexperienced," Grinna said.

To succeed in both, it's vital to recruit the right people — colleagues and running buddies. "If you're going to be successful, you have to surround yourself with a great team," he said.

Grinna ran with three other CEOs after Technology Underwriting Greater Good, or TUGG, recruited them. The nonprofit organization received the entries to the race as a thank you for fundraising it did for victims of the 2013 Boston Marathon bombings.

To prepare, Grinna said he set clear goals and developed a plan. "You might have an idea of what you're going to accomplish, but the only way you're going to be able to do it is to surround yourself with the right people," he said.

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Then when the unexpected happens, don't panic, said Grinna, who crossed the finish line in 4 hours and 15 minutes.

"React quickly to unexpected challenges that are beyond your control," he said. "None of us planned on the worst winter ever (for training)." The winter of 2014-2015, when Grinna was training, broke Boston's all-time seasonal snow record, with just over 110 inches of snow, according to The Weather Channel.

Even with the best strategy, entrepreneurs and runners have to follow through. "Having a great strategy and plan is important, but working hard is going to get you there," Grinna said.

Finally, have fun. "Not many people get a chance to start a company. It can be frustrating but those experiences are tremendous privileges," he said.

Cristina Mariani-May, Banfi Vintners co-CEO, at the Marine Corp Marathon in DC.
Courtesy: Cristina Mariani-May

Mariani-May also stressed the importance of having fun and smiling through the marathon pain. Through her many races, she has honed endurance skills that translate to her work life. If someone can grow to enjoy a marathon, then that person can accomplish anything, she said.

"You get that sense that anything is possible even though business has its ups and downs," she said.

Unexpected benefits of the road to 26.2

While a marathon's 26.2 mile length is grueling, the race itself is a rounding error in the number of hours runners commit to preparing for it. Grinna and Mariani-May said the training yielded benefits beyond just a good workout, including the opportunity to see new cities on foot during business trips.

Training is her time to learn via podcasts and books on tape, and think of new ideas for her company, which imports wine from Italy, Chile and Australia.

"It works. Leaders need inspiration to give to their team and come up with creative ideas," she said.

Grinna said training runs gave him opportunity to bounce ideas off of fellow CEOs. It also led to his company's involvement in a $500,000 investment that closed over the summer.

"These are really smart people that have great insights into some of the things we were wrestling with at the same time and hopefully vice versa," he said about his CEO running partners.