"Best Business Education- Run a Marathon!"

Interview with Andrew Johnston, The Professor & Marathoner Who Founded The "Change Through Challenge" Program In Business School.


♦  How did you come up with the ideas of combining a marathon preparation course with the syllabus of business school?

"The genesis of the idea was in 2010 when I first started teaching. I was shocked at the low rate of student retention and completion for two and four year schools (approximately 30% and 54% respectively). I noticed most students didn’t quit school due to lack of intelligence, but lack of GRIT."

"I was trying to come up with an idea to teach grit that was more practical than the typical seminar or textbook. One day (on a run of course) I was reminded how marathon training helped me through the darkest times in my life (such as getting laid off and nearly losing everything back in 2009) and it was at that moment it occurred to me that marathon training would be the ideal vehicle to teach grit."


♦  What is the most important lesson that you teach young entrepreneurs through your marathon courses?

"Each week we discuss a “discipline of the week” (e.g. goal setting) and how that discipline related to their training also relates to their schoolwork, business and life in general. As it is a 22-week course, we discuss 22 disciplines. Of all the disciplines, I think the most powerful discipline is the power of CONSISTENCY.  We discuss that going 26.2 miles on race day requires the student to train not just on the days s/he feels like it, but also on the days s/he DOESN’T feel like it. We relate how this concept holds true in succeeding at the highest level in ANY endeavor:  you don’t earn a degree by studying on just the days you feel like studying, but on the days you DON’T feel like studying, you don’t become a top sales person by making cold calls on the days you feel like making cold calls, you become a top sales person by making calls on the days you don’t feel like it. The examples are endless."



♦ Please share with us some of your examples and experiences that reflect the same kind of challenges which your students face in both the long- distance running field, and the business field. 

"My students come from all walks of life facing diverse challenges—everything from the young single mom working full-time while pursuing her degree to escape poverty to the professional couple seeking to enhance their marriage to the 30-year old single dad re-entering society after a period of incarceration."


♦ What is your course's most memorable success / change story?

"One of my most memorable experiences was a story I mentioned in my TED Talk. It was a high school counselor named Sandy. Sandy signed up for the course while recovering from hip surgery. Due to the surgery, Sandy had been unable to exercise for over a year and was, as a result, not in the best of shape. Despite this setback, Sandy persevered with the training in hopes of personal renewal and to dedicate the marathon to her mom who had recently died. Sandy was the model of CONSISTENCY in that every week she would execute the training (especially the Saturday long runs) by walking for several minutes then running several minutes, mile after mile, week after week for 22 weeks. This consistency allowed Sandy to not only cross the marathon finish line, but do it under the 7-hour cut-off. She also lost over 30 pounds during the training. Again, a model of how CONSISTENT effort can yield amazing results."


♦  Is your program scalable, by measuring its correlation with success or grit?

"I absolutely think the program is scalable as the concepts are simple and, in my opinion, nothing new. I am actually working on creating a text along with instructor resources so others can implement the program in THEIR school. The marathon, in my opinion, is the perfect vehicle to develop grit and resilience in people but I think there are other vehicles (e.g. bike race) that can yield the same results. It’s all about forcing people to get used to facing their demons, dig deep and ask themselves to do more than they ever have. When people get used to asking more of themselves, they develop HABITS that not only allow them to conquer the marathon, but conquer OTHER challenges (e.g. earning a degree, starting a business) in life."


  • Watch the TED lecture:

* Further Reading: Runner's World Magazine:


Ashmoret Mishal