When I moved to Boston over thirty years ago, I had never even heard of the Boston Marathon. I grew up in the Midwest and moved to the West Coast for a district sales manager role. Boston, let alone the Marathon, just wasn’t part of my world.

All that changed when I moved to Newton, to a house just a few blocks from the route’s 16.5-mile marker and Newton Wellesley Hospital. Then, I learned that “watching the marathon” was a community event like few I had ever seen. That’s when it became very relevant to me.

If you think this story will unfold with me training for the marathon, think again. I am good at many things, but distance running is not one of them.

However, I am in awe of …

… people who train for months and run that 26.2 miles
… elite runners that stay close to each other to benefit from each other’s wind blockage
… wheelchair athletes — how do they make it up the hills of Newton?
… people who push family members in wheelchairs
… military service members completing the route carrying heavy rucksacks

And I am most definitely in awe of the “regular” people who commit to this race, either for a cause or for their promise to themselves.

For many years, we walked to the route with our kids and plopped down on a precious piece of curb, screaming (as kids love to do) our cheers of support. Later, when the kids were grown and gone, I would meet my friend, and we would walk along the route behind the spectators, enjoying the community, seeing the many tables for hydration, snacks, and first aid, and relishing the cheerleading all along the way. Even now, when no one can share the spectator role with me, I walk to the route by myself and watch at least until the throngs start to go by.

Every year, I get tears in my eyes at the incredible community of it all. I think about the runners’ commitment, plus the fundraising for important charities that many provide; the spectators’ role in supporting the long and grueling journey; and the time, effort, and sacrifice that began months (or years!) previous in preparing for this day.

Everyone there, spectator and athlete alike, knows that putting one foot in front of the other, step by step, is the most important way to move forward — even in failure, which also happens.

I think about this as we all acknowledge we are in such a strange time in the biopharma industry. As with the Marathon, it can be difficult to see and appreciate all the players and keep putting one foot in front of the other as we strive to move forward. The alternative, however, is no movement or sliding backward.

Indeed, as we look around at our clients and networks these past many months, we often see less running forward and more examples of:

    • Delays in decision-making made worse when there are inexperienced leaders not knowing how to apply judgement and guide their teams.
    • Reserving cash, but not necessarily thoughtfully or in a manner that is efficient in the long run.
    • Doing only what is necessary at the last minute, thereby putting a strain on the people and systems.
    • Risk aversion, but not necessarily in an aligned way that considers clear cross-functional input and shared risk tolerance.
    • Angst regarding employment and company survival. The unending news of layoffs and failures can overshadow the successes and growth that are also out there.
    • Culture breakdowns due to variable points of contact across remote working locations and preferences.

So, how can we best apply the metaphor of Marathon Monday to our current slog up our own version of “Heartbreak Hill?” Some thoughts…


    • We need to recognize that many participants may be experiencing pain or pressure in different ways. This may be particularly true for younger people who haven’t been through these cycles before. They may not appreciate that this is all part of learning, and this experience will be part of the stories they tell in the future.
    • We need to focus on culture and know that Swag and Zoom meetings are not a replacement for camaraderie and sharing. Each team has its own vibe; how are we helping them be the best of who they are?
    • We need to clarify roles and responsibilities and remind people that success in an environment like this demands that one remains agile and flexible. Self-care includes driving one’s own training and development too.
    • We need to appreciate the effort of all participants — the rock star “athletes” as well as those that excel in providing the necessary hydration.
    • We need to seek efficiency through technology, tools, and processes that reduce wasted energy. Like elite runners, we must draw off of each other’s power.
    • We need to be honest about the pressure! It is real, but it will subside in time.

Whether you are a participant in the Boston Marathon or the biopharma industry (or both!), it is a long haul filled with community, accomplishment, support, and inevitable blisters and shin splints along the way. It is all part of our shared experience on the path to the finish line!