A few years ago I ran a half marathon and decided that was long enough. Although I have been a competitive runner my whole life, anything beyond ten miles just wasn’t my strong suit. A full marathon? You have to be kidding! So it may seem a bit strange that in October I ran one hundred miles over five consecutive days in the mountains of India.
Any normal reader would be right to ask why? Before I can answer, I should give a bit of background.
A husband and father of five kids, I’m a partner with a public-relations firm just outside Washington, D.C. Since high school, I have run competitively.
Even today, I help coach a cross country team and compete in a variety of 5K, 10K, and 10-mile races. Nevertheless, I’m not immune to age or the rigors of everyday work life and there came a point not so long ago that running didn’t come easy.
Fortunately, my business represents EHE International, a hundred-year-old company that provides comprehensive physical exams for companies. Concerned that something more serious was causing my exhaustion, I experienced one of EHE’s exams on my own. The results were actually depressing, but not for the reason you might think.
No, there wasn’t anything wrong with me. I was just trapped in a fairly typical work / life cycle that kept my body from progressing beyond the aches and pains of my regular fitness program.
But the experience fired my competitive side. Determined not to go gracefully into the good night I’ve seen so many others go, I signed up for a 100-mile race held every year in India at the base of the Himalayan mountains.
Even if my friends thought I was nuts – and they did – there was something invigorating about setting a nearly impossible challenge. I learned to train harder and longer than I had in years. The fact was, there was nothing wrong with my body that a little hard work couldn’t overcome.
More importantly, the effects of signing up for the race carried over into my professional life and became an interesting case study.
Given that during the holiday season we should reflect on all for which we are thankful, it occurred to me that all this time I had blamed my “work/life” balance for my unacceptable fitness condition. It only took five days running 100 miles (not counting months of training) for me to realize my error.
In the last ten years or so, company health programs that encourage fitness and good habits among employees have become something of a trend. Indeed, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has an entire web site dedicated to helping companies develop their own personalized program. Numerous studies cited by the CDC have found that companies with healthier employees have lower health-care costs, lower rates of absenteeism, and improved recruitment and retention rates.
But because I work at a small firm that doesn’t offer a plush health program, I just assumed that health and fitness were something to be done on my own time and initiative.
My first breakthrough occurred when I was granted the necessary two weeks off for the race itself from my other partners.
Then, almost from the moment I announced my race in India, I noticed a change in the office. My colleagues were interested in my progress as well as their own fitness routines.
Employees began signing up for races, crossfit classes and even kickball. It became natural to talk about things like weekend exercise excursions, stretching, injuries and gear. It seems my fitness goals unexpectedly engaged the imagination of the office. It also inspired me – as in, well now I have to finish this thing!
After I returned, the final piece of the puzzle fell into place. Without work, I would never have come across EHE, whose full-day physical was the spark that lit the fire.
Without work, I would never have had the encouragement from my fellow partners (plus the time off).
Without work, I would not have witnessed how my seemingly insurmountable task had inspired the entire office – and helped keep me on track.
I don’t pretend I’m the first employee to be thankful for his work during the holiday season, given that it allows me to provide for my family and me. Yet I had never considered being thankful to work for helping me become healthier. And you better believe I had never considered being thankful to work for helping me run 100 miles in the mountains of India.
But I am deeply thankful. And I now view the whole “work/life” balance in much more positive way.
Next stop? An Ironman in Australia.
David Fouse is a partner with the Pinkston Group a public relations firm in Northern Virginia. Follow him on Twitter @CSuiteRunners.