The Podcasting Marathon Starts with the First Step

Running a marathon is the highlight of a runner’s career.

Many runners work for months, sometimes even years, to build up enough endurance just to finish a single event.

Strangely, some find that finishing their first marathon is only the beginning.

Now comes completing the next marathon in less time, racing in marathons in new locations, and possibly graduating to longer ultra-distance events.

At each point in a distance runner’s life, there is a new summit with another, more challenging mountain to climb in the distance.

If you have run a marathon, it is much easier to explain what a marathon is someone who has also run a marathon.

However, trying to describe the experience of actually running a marathon to someone who has never even run around the block is difficult.

In many ways, the only way to know how long, grueling, and satisfying a marathon can be, is to actually run it yourself.

Only personal experience will help you truly understand the journey a person takes from their first mile to running all 26.3 miles in a single go.

Explaining what happens to a podcaster over the life of their podcast is very similar to trying to explain a marathon to someone who has never run one.

Until the podcaster hits the milestone themselves, they will never really know what that experience will mean to the success or failure of their podcast.

In other words, until you start podcasting, you will never enjoy the benefits of reaching episode 100.

Trends — The Other Word for Future

There is a catch-22 in the podcast marathon journey.

If you don’t start a podcast, you will never make it to episode 100.

But it’s only when you make it episode 100, that you will know what it took to GET to episode 100.

See! It’s a vicious circle.

Simply put, you can’t know anything about a place you’ve never been to until you get there.

You can be told about it, but you can’t really know what will happen — with certainty — until you arrive.

Fortunately, you CAN know trends.

Trends are a collection of shared events that occur so often, that there is a high probability that it will happen to you.

It’s like knowing one very possible future where the odds are really good that you will be right.

In podcasting, this knowledge comes from talking to those podcasters that HAVE made it episode 100 and beyond.

Get enough podcasters into a room (e.g. conferences like DC Podfest, PodFest Multimedia Expo, Podcast Movement) and you can learn a huge amount about their common experiences.

From these common experiences, you can then do some predictive analysis and model a potential podcasters journey from No Podcast to Podcast #100.

If you’ve collected enough data, you can start to see the similarities.

It is these similarities, groupings of shared events, that can help you predict events for a given group of people.

In this case, it’s podcasters that have reached episode #100 or more with their podcast.

Over and over again, this special group of people shared the same experiences at approximately the same time in their podcasting journey.

By plotting these experiences on a chart, you can start to develop a model of potential milestones.

The final result is the formation of an early Podcasting Maturity Model.

While not entirely scientific, it does begin to layout the foundation for how your podcast marathon will go.

It also helps you see just how much work will go into running your podcast from an idea to episode #100.

The Podcast Maturity Model

The following highlights many of the milestones that episode #100 podcasters experience during their podcasting journey:

#1 – Start — The day you realized that your passion topic and podcasting curiosity can become reality.

#2 – Learn — You start researching podcasting basic skills, start listening to podcasts about podcasting and consider buying your first microphone.

This is the exciting stuff where you analyze other podcasts, take tons of notes about what your podcast will be, and imagine how many listeners you will have in the first month.

#3 – Launch — You publish your first podcast by releasing episode #1 into the world.

Unfortunately, the launch is long in coming, missed several deadlines before it went life, and hitting the publish button felt a lot like driving your car off a cliff.

#4 – Ugg — You compare your podcast to other podcasts, dislike the sound of your own voice, and realize how much you do not know about audio engineering or how to best use your own gear.

What started off as a simple podcast has now become an endeavor that takes real-time and works to produce.

You also find out that nobody is listening to your show.

#5 – Hello? — Your first attempt to bring in external audio inputs from Skype, your smartphone, or even with them in the same room.

It does not go well, the connection drops, you forgot to hit record, and what you do record sounds terrible.

Editing the audio turns into its own marathon as you find that for every 1-hour of audio takes you 4-hours of editing.

#6 – 100 Hours — You make it to episode #7, #10, or #13 (tends to be different for everyone) and start to question what you are doing, if anyone will ever listen, or if you still want to do this “podcast thing” anymore.

This is where you decide if podcasting is really for you and where most new podcasters hang up their headphones and call it quits.

#7 – Second Wind — This is usually the episode right after you decide that podcasting IS for you and survive the podfade pitfall.

Making a decision to stay with it, you start to plan out future episodes based on arbitrary dates (e.g. end of the month, end of the year, your birthday, your first podcast anniversary).

#8 – Upgrade — You buy your first good microphone and discover how much better life is if you practice your voice.

You now pay attention to any information that leads to making you sound better, the importance of clean audio, and the advantage of scripting/bulleting out your shownotes.

#9 – Pivot — You hit episode #20, #25, or #30 (also different for everyone) and decide to modify your format, change your music, tweak your intro, and experiment with new ideas.

This begins the new sound of your podcast and where you take everything you’ve learned from the past 6-months of podcasting and apply it.

#10 – Clarity — Your Shownotes, podcast website, and podcast directory description start to matter more and more as you begin refining the way listeners find you.

You start to write your shownotes using keywords, full thoughts, and elements that improve potential SEO.

#11 – Turnaround — You are considered to be halfway there in a marathon at mile marker 13.1 (half-marathon distance).

You make it through the messy middle and hit the infamous episode #50, then struggle to produce episode #51.

This is the next big challenge that happens around the first year of podcasting.

You review what worked, what didn’t work, and consider what you need to do to improve your show or decide to try something else.

#12 – Contact — You receive your first real audience engagement.

Not an email, or a tweet, but someone who recognizes your voice, asked if you are you, and talk about how your show is important to them.

This drives you back to podcasting greater than anything else and revitalizes your passion to keep podcasting.

#13 – Numbers — You start to think statistics and downloads per episode now matter, especially when your latest episodes begin to receive good attention.

You also experience the thrill of having new listeners go back and download your entire catalog.

It is the first of many new spikes in listener growth.

#14 – Go Pro — For the first time you decide to spend real money on podcasting gear that is designed to improve your process, not just your sound.

You also consider what it would take to turn a room in your house into a podcasting studio.

#15 – Focus — Your start to see how out-of-date your back catalog is in comparison to your evolving format, sound, and shownote quality.

This leads you to conduct the first of many podcast catalog cleansings, website tunings, and rebrandings.

#16 – Home Stretch — You publish episode #75 before you realize that episode #51 was six-months ago.

You have your first “I’m a podcaster” moments where you start to believe that you could do podcasting as a career and for the first time can see the possibility of reaching episode #100.

#17 – Monetization — You start thinking about how your show can make money and consider where you would put pre-roll, mid-roll, or post-roll advertisers if you had any.

This forces you to learn about uncomfortable topics like marketing, contracts, and sponsorships.

After podcasting for almost 2-years, this is the first time you have to gauge the value of your podcast.

#18 – Rear View — You begin to look back at your podcast episode catalog and review the episodes that received the most downloads per episode.

You start to consider repurposing earlier content and even revising old content with new information for use in future shows.

#19 – Voice — You begin to receive interest from conferences and other podcasters to speak at their events or be interviewed on their shows.

You begin to see how having #75, #80, #90 episodes inspire other podcasters looking to start a podcast, improve their own podcast, or struggling to stay with podcasting.

#20 – Finish Line — You publish episode #100 in all its glory, and use part of the session to review where you started and how you made it.

It has taken you over 2-years to reach this point and makes looking back at what you have built a cause for celebration.

#21 – What’s Next? — The finish line makes moving forward a big decision.

You consider your options and have to take some time before you decide to produce episode #101.

This moment is almost as difficult as the podfade pitfall you overcame at episode #7, #10, or #13. Only this time you have 100 episodes and approximately 3-years worth of podcasting experience to work with.

An Informed Guess about the Future

Most podcasters experience the same milestones, but not everyone experiences it at the same time.

Some have these experiences earlier, others later in their 100 episode journey.

It often depends on your audience, your commitment to the medium, and what advantages you have going in (i.e. bootstrapped indy podcaster versus NPR-level production and distribution).

It’s not a perfect model, and it can only make predictions about the future.

But it can give you enough information to make an informed guess.

That is what a trend really is.

It is a very informed guess about the future.

Podcasting to 100 episodes, like running 26.3 miles, is a process.

Most would-be marathon runners experience the same milestones as other marathon runners.

Their experiences are so universal, that you can almost “predict” what will happen to any given person training to run a marathon.

Of course, everyone is different, and some results vary, but that’s why it’s a guess.

Life happens when you’re trying to model trends.

You’re the one who has to go produce all those podcast episodes, just like you’re the one who to go train for that marathon.

Hopefully, this model will give you a good idea of what most podcasters have come to expect along the way to the finish line.

And now you know.

Kyle M. Bondo ( is dedicated to simplifying the complicated world of Podcasting. As the Chief Creative at Gagglepod (, and co-host of Podwrecked (, Kyle has been podcasting for 5 years, designed and produced several podcasts, and hopes to make a small dent in your podcasting universe by evangelizing the principles behind good podcast design.

Join the discussion

Further reading


Recent posts