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) iStockPhoto.com

Karin Hurt
Karin hurt is CEO of Let's Grow Leaders, a leadership consulting firm focused on helping companies achieve transformational results by building rock-solid frontline leadership teams.She has a diverse background of executive leadership experience in sales, customer service, call centers, human resources, merger integration, training and leadership development-- the last 20 years of which have been with Verizon.She most recently served as Executive Director of the Strategic Partnership Channel at Verizon Wireless where she transformed customer service outsourcing, working with companies and call centers to build great customer experiences and strong cultures. Her high-trust, high-collaboration approach has led to substantial improvement across the portfolio, with centers performing at parity or above internal centers.Prior to that she led a large Verizon Wireless sales team (2000+) leading the Nation in store sales to the Small and Medium business space. Her book, Overcoming an Imperfect Boss: A Practical Guide To Building a Better Relationship With Your Boss is available on Amazon. Karin has an BA in Communication from Wake Forest University, an MA from Towson University in Organizational Communication, and additional graduate work at the University of Maryland, where she taught communications classes.She was recently recognized as one of the top 100 thought leaders in Trusted Business Behavior by Trust Across America and as Multiplier of the Year by the Wiseman Group.Karin lives in Baltimore with her husband and two sons. She knows the long road of the marathon runner and the joy of good song, all of which inform her leadership.
Karin Hurt


Leadership consultant, speaker, author & MBA professor. Experienced Verizon Exec. Lead with confident humility. Become the boss you wish you had. #leadership
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Karin Hurt
Karin Hurt