The first I heard of the term marathon was in a conversation with an executive. Having attempted to search for the differences between a sprint and a marathon online, it has yielded no comprehensive result.

  • How is a marathon different to that of a sprint?
  • Is marathon even a term in Agile methodologies?
  • When does a sprint become a marathon?
  • Can a marathon become a sprint at any point?
  • How are marathons executed, e.g. timelines?

5 Answers 5


I think this is more an analogy to running than the use of actual PM terminology.

The classic use of the "this is a marathon, not a sprint" saying generally is when one wants to emphasize:

  • a team needs to set and maintain a long-term focus (goal setting, managing progress, developing mechanisms and tools to react to changes along the way)
  • individual commitments need to be made for the long run (years instead of just weeks/months)
  • the complexity of an undertaking is higher (more factors coming into play, more changes to be expected throughout the course of a project)

In contrast, a sprint is usually defined

  • for a clearly defined scope
  • with a very solid to unmistakable understanding of deliverables
  • for a fixed and usually (comparatively) short time window
  • with clearly defined and assigned resources

How is a marathon different to that of a sprint?

  • Codejak gives an excellent answer. +1

Is marathon even a term in Agile methodologies?

  • Nope

When does a sprint become a marathon?

  • It doesn't. Sprint has a very well defined structure and purpose in Scrum. Scrum teams that don't understand why they are Scrum teams should stick with the rigid definitions until they develop enough self discipline and awareness to start mixing the Agile spectrum

Can a marathon become a sprint at any point?

  • Nope, but parts of a marathon can be delivered within Sprints.

How are marathons executed e.g. timelines?

  • Ask your exec since they most likely have a unique understanding of what a marathon is and haven't communicated it to the impacted teams.

In my experience, you can think of a marathon as a collection of sprints which share a theme from a section of your backlog. You could also think of marathons as quarters of a year. Q1, Q2... etc

For example, imagine you have a product vision as:

  • Build a family house

Then on your roadmap you have the themes (or marathons) which deliver your vision:

  • Build a family house
    1. Get off the ground
    2. Build Garage
    3. Build Kitchen

Then your first sprint might look like:

  • Build a family house
    1. Get off the ground
      • Aquire some land
      • Design footprint
      • Apply for planning permission
      • Source builders
    2. Build Garage
    3. Build Kitchen

How are marathons executed e.g. timelines?

As WBW said, they are still executed using sprints, so the marathon timeline is usually simply a multiple of your sprint length, and its completion or success is defined by the goals of the marathon.

In our example above you can think of the themes as marathons. The "Build Garage" marathon goals would be something like:

  1. I have a structure I can fit a car inside
  2. The car is protected from the weather

So you would plan your sprints around achieving these goals and the estimated marathon length is however many sprints its estimated to complete these goals.


As others already pointed out, a 'marathon' is not an official scrum term or artifact. For those looking for something 'larger than a story' or 'bridging multiple sprints', you can use an 'Epic'. Quoting from Scrummethodology.com:

What happens when a story includes too many unknowns to tell just how big it is? Or what if the story’s requirements are known, but its effort is too huge to complete in a single sprint? We call these stories “epics.”


You might find this article very useful: http://www.targetprocess.com/articles/speed-in-software-development/

The article defines both sprints and marathons as well as provides advice and numerous examples how to increase the speed in software development.

The author of the article has been applying the Agile methodology and experimenting with different Scrum, Kanban & XP practices since 2004.

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