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What Does It Mean to "Go the Distance"?

By A. Leverkuhn
Updated May 17, 2024
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The idiomatic English phrase, “to go the distance,” means to follow something through to its eventual end. This phrase is associated with the idea of someone following through on a responsibility, or seeing a project or other plan to completion. It can also be used as a sports metaphor, or in other similar contexts, where it has a generally positive, and even a motivational meaning. The overwhelmingly positive tone of this idiom causes it to show up in many motivational materials or other places, in written English, as well as spoken English.

The origin of the phrase, “to go the distance,” is not entirely clear. This idiom is fairly literal, where the literal meaning of “going the distance” would be to travel a required distance. The abstraction of this idea into fulfilling responsibilities is straightforward, making this an easy idiom for English beginners to understand and to use.

In addition to the phrase “to go the distance”, there are other common English phrases based on the same idea. For example, someone might say that someone else “goes the extra mile.” Here, the phrase means that someone is going above and beyond their usual responsibilities. This phrase is commonly used to describe someone’s job performance. "Giving 110%" would be another equivalant example.

English speakers might also refer to someone “going all the way” with something. This phrase refers to putting one’s total power or ability into something or investing in it fully. The alternate phrase “go all in” is also used. Other English phrases based on travel or transportation are abundant. One common one is the phrase, "in it for the long haul,” which means that someone has shown agreement to see a project or plan through, just as if they are willing to “go the distance.”

In some cases, English speakers simply use the phrase “to go the distance” not to refer to responsibilities or obligations, but to describe someone excelling at something. This is a common way describe, for example, a person who puts his or her total effort into a sport or activity. Here, “going the distance” just generally means exerting total effort. Other similar phrases include “fighting the good fight” or “pushing through” an activity.

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Discussion Comments
By Reminiscence — On Mar 08, 2014

I've heard people use the idiom "going the distance" when referring to long term commitments such as marriage. A couple who married right out of high school and celebrated their 50th wedding anniversary can be described as "going the distance". Other couples may not survive their first major fight or economic hardship or separation, but a strong couple finds a way to go the distance.

By Phaedrus — On Mar 07, 2014

It seems like "going the distance" often describes persevering at something that is notoriously challenging or fraught with peril. Others may drop out along the way, but only someone with strong survival skills will go the distance. It's not just a matter of punching the same time card at a company for 30 years, it's about surviving in a stressful position or weathering the ups and downs of the industry. "To go the distance" implies a level of perseverance, not just endurance.

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