Leader Athletes: Training Long for the Long Run

by  Karin Hurt  |  Leadership Development

Why are so many leaders attracted to running long distance and other endurance sports?

I’ve spent the last decade talking to swimmers, bikers, and runners in line at pre-triathlon and marathon port-a-pots asking that question.

Why? Because I have a tendency to consume too much pre-race caffeine and my “competition” is also nervous, friendly, and eager to talk. But mostly, because it’s a fastinating crowd: CEOs and other corporate executives, community activists, ministers, teachers, hospital administrators, politicians, etc.

Everyone I meet at these events seems too busy to invest the 10, 15, 20+ hours a week to compete in these events. Most are parents. Many are also active in their community. And yet they do invest, many waking up before dawn to fit their training into their schedules. And they love it. Why?

Sure, the obvious health benefits–study after study speak to that.  However, I am not convinced that health is the number one answer.

Other Reasons Leaders Run Long

1. It gives us time to think

There’s nothing like many hours with just you and the road to get you thinking. Long training provides an opportunity for moving meditation, or at least an opportunity to sort things out. When I was training for my longest triathlon, I actually kept a pencil and paper on my bike to record the ideas that surfaced.

2. It forces routine and discipline

To find that kind of time to train requires careful scheduling and discipline. It means running in the rain, and getting up despite a long night of travel. It involves cutting out a lot superfluous time drainers from your life and working more efficiently. This kind of discipline spills over into your work day. You learn that you can’t waste time.

3. It develops endurance and a higher pain threshold

Leadership is tough. It often requires believing in the goal and pushing through, despite pain and setbacks. After running with cramps or bleeding toenails, sticking with that inspired project despite the naysayers doesn’t seem that hard.

4. It makes us more coachable

When you get serious about running long, you start looking for experts. Most runners I know have stacks of magazines all over the house and running groups with whom they benchmark. They ask one another for advice about everything. Water or sports drink? Should I run through that injury? Which shoes will work best? How many of us are that open to advice on how we act in our leadership roles? In this way, training makes us more open to advice.

5. We learn to make frivals (friendly rivals)

If you are trying to qualify for the Boston Marathon, you are also cheering for your training buddies to qualify as well. In fact, you don’t really care that much who finishes first in the qualifying race. The point is, there is room for anyone who makes the cut, and you want to go together. Oh sure, there is plenty of smack talk at the local 10K… but at the end of day, this is about bettering your own time and cheering for one another. What a nice transferable mindset.

Leaders run long because it transforms their leadership by making them stronger physically, mentally, and emotionally. It also helps leaders create connections with themselves and others.

Are you a Leader athlete? How has running long supported your leadership journey?  Does something else you do serve the same purpose?  What is it?  Please share your story.

See Also:

Interval Training for Leaders:  The Value of Confidence Bursts


Photo (c)

About The Author

Articles By karin-hurt
Karin Hurt is a leadership speaker, consultant and MBA professor. She’s a former Verizon Wireless executive with 2 decades of diverse cross-functional experience in sales, customer service and HR. She was recently recognized on Inc.’s list of 100 Great Speakers for your next conference, AMA’s 50 Leaders to Watch in 2015, and Trust Across America’s 100 Thought Leaders in Trusted Business Behavior.  »  View Profile

What People Are Saying

Deborah Costello  |  26 Aug 2012  |  Reply

Truly well said, Karin. I agree that leadership and athletics go hand in hand, and I know I am a better leader for my time as an athlete. One thing I notice among the triathletes I train with is their satisfaction that comes from facing and overcoming challenge, of doing something others think is not possible. That kind of vision is also integral to effective leadership. A person’s ability to do the seemingly impossible themselves not only allows them to see new possibilities in others, but also convinces others that new ideas are not always impossible.

Thank you for sharing your insights!

Karin Hurt  |  27 Aug 2012  |  Reply

Thanks for commenting! You train triathletes? Cool! At church yesterday, am woman got up for joys and concerns and announced she had completed her first one. She had also raised over $4K for Leukemia. She had joy and pride brimming out of her… and I think it was just that… doing something that she at one point wasn’t sure is possible. Thanks for sharing!

Bruce Van Horn  |  27 Aug 2012  |  Reply

Karin,this is a great post. As a marathon runner, husband, dad, business owner and active church and community leader, how do I possibly fit in the training? Like you said, I’m up by 5:00 and in my running shoes soon after that. Running alone early in the morning allows me to clear my mind, think about the day/week that just past and plan for the upcoming day/week. I do much of my best problem solving and creative thinking while running. Thanks for sharing your thoughts with us!

Karin Hurt  |  27 Aug 2012  |  Reply

Thanks so much for sharing. Sounds like you have so many great things going on. Exciting to hear about your approach.

Glen Gaugh  |  27 Aug 2012  |  Reply

I actually can’t end the day without a run! I have to work out the kinks of the day. I am no where near marathon-ready but it is a goal of mine.

Pushing through pain and the satisfaction of going farther than I thought I could are 2 great takeaways of my short but burgeoning career as a leader-runner. Thanks for the post!

Karin Hurt  |  27 Aug 2012  |  Reply

wow! you are really dedicated. every day… awesome. I do think there is something to the pushing through aspect. I think small wins in one arena can really translate into other arenas as well. Thanks for sharing.

brian hart  |  27 Aug 2012  |  Reply

I just completed a 70.3 yesterday in preparation for an ironman race in two weeks, which will be my second 140.6. I totally agree with all that has been said. One more important part of such endeavors is the humbling nature of the experiences. As leaders we often find ourselves in influential positions which, at times, can feel hierarchical; we are “at the top.” When one completes in such events, just getting through the day as a mid-pack athlete (like me) reminds me that I am one of the crowd, no better than anyone else. These events are truly humbling for me and help me keep my feet firmly planted on the ground. To be an effective leader, one should be as egoless as possible. Endurance events help this. I ran a 100 miler two years ago and had to walk much of the last 25 miles. My ego was left somewhere around mile 50! Thanks for listening.

Karin Hurt  |  27 Aug 2012  |  Reply

I am totally impressed. My longest tri is a 70.3. I actually wonder if you are doing the same ironman as my husband in 2 weeks (Wisconsin?). It’s his first.

100 miles, double yikes. Sticking through that means you can stick through anything. Fantastic. Thank you so much for sharing your experiences. They sound really powerful. I am totally with you in the humility front. It’s never knowing just what our body will do… and then, I am always shocked at the ages marked on the legs of some folks as they blow past me ;-)

Stacey Mason  |  27 Aug 2012  |  Reply

As a long distance (trail) runner myself, I couldn’t agree more with your perspective. Trail running works as a sorting-out process for me…it’s where I go to think and to have whitespace in my life. In my profession (Leadership Development / Executive Coaching), I work with leaders at both ends of the spectrum: endurance athletes and non-athletes. While this is not validated scientific data by any means, I do tend to find that the endurance athletes are more balanced (ie, calm – respond vs react), they think through issues more thoroughly and from multiple viewpoints, and they are sick far less often.

Karin Hurt  |  27 Aug 2012  |  Reply

Thanks so much Stacey. Long distance trail running… even better…. love adding nature to the mix. You bring up some interesting points about the illness and multiple perspectives. Thanks for adding to the conversation.

Mark Oakes  |  27 Aug 2012  |  Reply


Great post!

As both a CEO and ironman triathlete, a lot of what you shared resonate with me. My athletic journey has certainly lessened a lot of the pressures experienced in work. There are a couple of key benefits that leaders can expect when pursuing a concurrent athletic career. First, the lessons they learn by pushing themselves both physically and mentally tend to normalize a lot of the other pressures they face. After a 20+ hour training week, most minor irritations are just that… pretty minor. The other attraction is that it provides is an outlet that they have direct control over. This benefit can’t be overstated. In a era of constant change, leaders need areas where ‘personal’ progress is quantifiable on a daily basis.


Karin Hurt  |  27 Aug 2012  |  Reply

Thanks, Mark. Wow… Ironman CEO…. awesome. I really like your point about pushing through the irritations. Fully agree with you on the control thing… vital point. I do feel that too… it’s nice to know you are making progress in that arena… even if the rest of the day has been rocky. Thanks so much for adding all this to the conversation.

Join The Conversation