Eighteen months ago I returned to running after a break of fifteen years. Running had always been a big part of my life but I had just lost the habit and other things – job, child, life – had gotten in the way.
Returning to running reconnected me to many of the things I had always enjoyed about the sport but it also gave me a fresh perspective. In particular, I noticed new things about the act of regularly running; most surprising was its impact not only on my work but my relationship with work.
Over the last fifteen years, the world of business has changed dramatically. Smartphones and ubiquitous connectivity mean that, if you let it, you are always in touch with what is happening and what needs to be done.
As I am paid to solve client’s problems, and I have an inclination to think deeply about things, this new ‘always on’ world presents a challenge – how do I switch off?
Running allows me to regain perspective in a world that is overrun with information and interruptions. It allows me to escape for a moment and to let my thoughts run free.
The remarkable thing about running is the inability to hold a coherent thought during the duration of a run. I might start a run wrestling with a thorny problem but I can be sure that will not be the thought I end the run with. It’s as if the act of freeing my body and running frees my mind as well.
In addition, I’ve noticed that my best ideas and thoughts come either during a run or immediately afterward. Running creates distance from problems both literally and metaphorically and allows me to change my perspective. Viewing a problem differently creates new possibilities and pathways. And it is this change in perspective that helps create new ways of thinking and ideas.
Running has also added excitement and interest to the bland, antiseptic world of business travel. International trips had started to lose their appeal for me as I realized it was often the same hotels and the same meeting rooms with the only connection to the country you are visiting being the taxi ride to the airport.
But running before meetings feels like an illicit adventure. You get to explore parts of a city as everyone is waking up and you get to see beyond the world that other business travelers are experiencing.
On South Beach Miami I was so enchanted by the beach-side boardwalk that I ran for 10 miles beside the sea. Far from sending me to sleep during the subsequent 8 hours of meetings I had a smile on my face thinking of the experience my colleagues, trapped in their hotel, had missed.
In Paris, I navigated the narrow roads and early morning deliveries of the Left Bank before running the length of the Champs Elysees to find the exact turn where Bradley Wiggins had lead out Mark Cavendish at the end of the 2012 Tour de France.
German forests have continued to charm and terrify me in equal measure. In a hotel in the forests outside of Munich I was given a map to guide me through the surrounding countryside. But at seven in the morning, an innocent looking path through pine woods quickly turned from a Hansel and Gretel fairy story to the Blair Witch Project as the forest closed in on either side of me. There is nothing like a bit of fear to help with a negative split.
On a two-day trip to Frankfurt, I was surprised to discover the largest urban forest in Europe was beside my hotel near the airport. My previous experience of German woods didn’t deter me from jogging along an unlit path through dense trees on an early winter’s morning. I saw no-one but the outline of wood sheds in the gloom combined with airplanes landing nearby triggered memories of every dark, macabre scandi-noir series and hastened my return. The reception team seemed particularly relieved when I returned half an hour later alive – but slightly paler.
When I talk to non-running colleague about running they mainly focus on the effort it must take. The message being that running is hard work. But that seems to me to completely miss the point of running. Running has helped me produce better work, to enjoy my work more and to create a better balance between my work and my life.
In a world where expensive technology is seen as the greatest enabler of productivity, there is something surprising about finding out that some shorts, a t-shirt and a pair of trainers is the secret to a better working life.
By Paul Wilson