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Why CEOs Run The World

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Why CEOs Run The World

If there was a Runners Anonymous self-help group, a lot of the addicts would be CEOs. These days, running (or maybe endorphins) seems to be the drug of choice for CEOs. Why is that? And why am I following that stereotype? I hate to follow the crowd. Any crowd. I see myself as an unconventional thinker, a trailblazer. Yet, here I am fitting right into a stereotype and perfectly happy doing so.

Last Sunday morning, I ran 13.1 miles – effectively a half marathon, except this was on my own – around the coast of Manhattan and Brooklyn in 1 hour 35 minutes. Just for the fun of it! (Though I was also keen to try out my new Lululemon running gear) This was a new personal best and follows a pattern of me beating my personal best a half-dozen times per year for the past four years. At the age of 46, surely I should have peaked long ago, and now be gliding gently towards my rocking chair. But I’m still on the run.

Kansas City half Marathon
    CEO Ben Legg at 2016 Kansas City Half Marathon

    Always On The Run

    A little background: I have always been a runner of sorts.

    I started my career as a British Army officer, which involved running 2-3 times per week, along with all sorts of other exercise. I was fit. When I left the army in 1999 to enter the world of business (initially as a strategy consultant at McKinsey), I dropped that frequency to one run of six to eight miles every weekend. This was at an unmeasured pace – probably around nine minutes per mile – with my dogs tagging along. So I have never been unfit. However, through the next 13 years travelling the globe working in executive jobs at McKinsey, Coca-Cola, and Google around the world, I flatlined at that level. My assumption was, that over time, I would let my fitness slip gently.

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    So what happened to make me running obsessive, and fitter now than when I was in the army?

    I think the most likely explanation is becoming a CEO in 2012. CEOs make conference speeches and TV appearances more than others, and I am no exception. This leads to seeing your own picture a lot more often, and noticing yourself looking a bit chubby is a great motivator to become fitter. You also hear a lot about the link between fitness and being able to cope with stress. Getting some alone time is attractive too, given that your days are packed with back-to-back meetings.

    Therefore, since 2012, I have one-by-one initiated a number of actions that have each nudged me towards ever-increasing fitness:

    My own gym:

    I bought my own gym. I had often joined commercial gyms in the past and not gone to them. The time required to get there, work out, get home, get changed, etc. just seemed like too much. However, with a home gym, you dramatically reduce the unproductive admin time associated with working out, so you have no excuses but to do it. I now workout 3 times per week.

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    Running midweek:

    In 2012, I toured the U.S. with a colleague and he suggested running together for fun. So, I took my running kit and loved it. What better way to see the cities I visit for work than running around them at sunrise, when everyone else is asleep, the streets are empty, and the sun is just peeking over the horizon? I now run twice per week midweek, in addition to my weekend run.

    Half-marathons:

    Four years ago, I signed up to do my first half marathon in years and loved it. I wasn’t particularly happy with my time though, so I signed up to run around six half-marathons per year, in order to always have a “test” ahead of me, to prevent slacking off.

    Company health:

    When the insurance broker came to me a few years ago and said that our healthcare premiums would rise by $1,000 per person per year, even if we maintained the same level of claims as before – just due to industry cost inflation – I decided to try to fight it. I gave the HR department $300 per employee to get the organization fit and reduce the number of claims. They then set about giving out subsidized Fitbits, organizing fun health-related activities, and incentivizing health improvements that were based on twice yearly medical checks. Clearly, I needed to lead by example. We did avoid those health cost increases, and also had a lot of fun in the process.

    Fitbit:

    Clearly, this has been a major driver of fitness for many people. Since getting my first Fitbit, I have tracked my pace on every run and always strive to keep improving. Benchmarking my weekly steps vs my friends and colleagues is also highly motivating. Like other CEOs, I like to win, and certainly hate to be out of the top three in my friends’ league table (of about 80 people) so can’t have a single slack day. I now average around 120,000 steps per week – between running, walking, and working out.

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    Running tourism:

    Given my new habit of running midweek at sunrise, I started to try to find the perfect morning running route. I now scour Google Maps for every city that I travel to, looking for the best runs – based on views, architecture, history, serenity, and other factors. My current favorite is in San Francisco, taking an Uber to Sausalito just before sunrise, then running back over Golden Gate Bridge and along the Embarcadero. Awesome!

    Setting minimum standards:

    I have set myself several “bars” for acceptable running standards. These include:

    • Never running less than six miles per run.
    • Never running slower than a seven-and-a-half minute pace per mile.
    • Always overtaking at least 10 times more people than the number that overtakes me (to keep me in the top ten percent of runners).

    Calendar blocking:

    To ensure that I manage to fit exercise into my overloaded calendar, I pre-block my calendar with recurring entries – three runs and three workouts per week, at sunrise. That keeps the time free. If I need to schedule an early morning call, I move the calendar block to a different time in that day, to ensure I get my exercise.

    HelloFresh:

    Diet clearly plays a part too. I used to eat too many carb-heavy, rich meals. Then in 2015, I subscribed to HelloFresh, which now delivers three boxes of ingredients to my house every week, for me to cook awesome meals (clear instructions are provided). The service provides very healthy ingredients and sensible portions, and this has definitely led to a bit of weight loss, enabling even faster running times.

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    Tough Mudder:

    What a great invention! Running 12 miles with a bunch of friends – braving mud baths, monkey bars, razor wire, and electrocution – strikes me as a fine way to spend a Saturday morning. I have completed two this year and am planning many more.

    Featured photo credit: Kansas City Business Journal via bizjournals.com

    More by this author

    Ben Legg

    CEO of Adparlor

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    Last Updated on September 8, 2021

    10 Fitness Excuses You Need to Stop Making Now

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    10 Fitness Excuses You Need to Stop Making Now

    “You can have results or excuses. Not both.” – Anonymous

    Human beings tend to only ever do as much as they absolutely need to.

    Motivational speakers call this innate trait laziness, biologists call it efficiency. Either way, the fact remains: we are evolutionary wired to minimize time and energy wherever possible.

    And this is not necessarily a bad thing. If we weren’t wired this way, we probably wouldn’t have survived this long as a species.

    Back in our caveman days, before supermarkets, calories were worth their weight in gold. For cavemen, trying to actively burn off calories would have spelled certain death.

    In this light, our fitness excuses make total sense. Our reptilian brain comes up with believable sounding rationalizations to stop us from burning off our precious calories; to minimize time and energy.

    Unfortunately, due to our present access to highly calorific foods, the fitness excuses that once ensured our survival, now send us to an early grave.

    Below I’ve provided the 10 most common fitness excuses our reptilian minds trick us into believing and why, ultimately, they’re all nonsense.

    1. I don’t have enough time.

    This is probably the most common fitness excuse of them all.

    First off, when you say you don’t have enough time, what you’re really saying is “I don’t have enough time for that”. 

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    Do you really think that if you were to add up all the time you spend watching TV and surfing the web throughout the average week you couldn’t replace any of it with a workout?

    A 30 minute workout takes up 2% of your day.

    Don’t ask yourself how much time you’re going to waste by working out a few times a week. Ask yourself how much of your life you’re going to waste being unfit and overweight.

    2. I’m way too tired to workout.

    Your mind, when it comes to exercising, is like a spoiled child. If you give in to its demands without a fight, it will see weakness and prey on it often.

    If you miss one planned session, you’re much more likely to miss the next. The biggest journey always starts with one step and the biggest failings always start with one step backwards.

    You need to show your mind who’s boss. You won’t always have lots of energy when you go to the gym but that doesn’t matter. The only thing that counts is showing up and giving it a shot.

    If you’re too tired to workout, change your sleeping habits, not your workout habits.

    3. But exercise is so boring!

    You don’t want to exercise because it’s boring?

    So you find brushing your teeth, taking showers, styling your hair and getting dressed highly entertaining? No. We do these things because we have to. We accept them as part of life.

    The people who never miss a workout are the ones who view it just like brushing their teeth. Complaining about it is just pointless. To be successful sometimes you’ve got to do things that aren’t as fun as watching your favorite TV show. That’s just life.

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    If don’t enjoy your workouts, you don’t stop working out, you just workout differently. Try crossfit, martial arts, hiking, body building, powerlifting, running, or swimming. Try music. Try anything, but keep showing up.

    4. I have no motivation to workout.

    If you think you need motivation to train you’re already half beat.

    What you really need is meta motivation: the motivation to train even when you’re not motivated. If you rely on your feelings to decide whether to workout or not, you never will. As you know, your feelings are designed to keep you caged up in your comfort pit.  Your feelings want you to be safe, not successful.

    That said, there is a trick you can use to get yourself motivated to workout, and it’s  backed up with research. It’s called ‘the few minutes’ principle.

    The basic idea is that procrastinators often put off doing certain things because the size of the task in front of them seems too overwhelming. By deciding to just go to the gym for a ‘few minutes’ you’ll often see the workout through to completion.

    Are you motivated enough to train for two minutes? That’s all you need.

    5. I have kids to look after.

    One day your kids might have someone to look after too: you.

    Don’t burden them with an ill parent when they have their own kids to look after. And don’t be the kind of parent who tells their kids exercise is good for them but doesn’t follow their own advice. Kids are smarter than that.

    If you’re really struggling with managing your fitness and your kids, combine the two. Find a field and play frisbee for a few hours, go swimming, take a walk around the lake and feed some ducks. There are so many fun and cheap ways to exercise with your kids, the only limits are your imagination.

    You kids should be your biggest reason to exercise, not your biggest excuse.

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    6. I don’t have anyone to train with.

    What you’re really saying with this fitness excuse is that you don’t have anyone to talk with while you train. If you’re training properly, you won’t need to talk.

    Don’t get me wrong, having a training partner is great but here’s what you’ve got to understand: most people first meet their training partners at the gym. The reason you probably don’t have anyone to train with is because you don’t have many friends who train. Like attracts like.

    By becoming someone who regularly trains, you’ll start attracting people into your life who also value health and fitness. You have to earn your training partners, they don’t come free.

    7. I don’t feel very well.

    After you get into the habit of overriding your fitness excuses and working out regularly, the thought of missing a workout starts to drive you insane. When I broke my jaw in two places the doctors told me I couldn’t lift heavy weights for three months. What did I do? I lifted light weights instead. Train smart, not hard.

    At some point in our lives we’ve all pretended to be ill so we could skip a day of school. Some of the better actors among us probably blurred the lines in their mind between real symptoms and those imagined. It’s easy to exaggerate things when it fits our agenda.

    If you’re really sick, I don’t recommend you train. But feeling a bit tired or achy – that’s no reason to skip a workout.

    8. The gym is too expensive or far.

    If you think you need a gym to achieve your fitness goals, you’ve been seriously misled.

    The world is your fitness playground. Ever watched a training scene from a Rocky movie? He chases chickens, runs up steps, punches meat, and chops wood. Many people cite these scenes as their favorite.  Something about training dirty and raw resonates deep within us.

    There are whole fitness subcultures dedicated to working out outdoors, and without formal equipment. Ever heard of Calisthenics, Tai Chi, Yoga or Parkour? Look them up.

    If you want to put on muscle, try some typical strongman training like chopping wood, flipping tires, lifting barrels. Remember, if it’s important enough to you, you’ll find a way. Arnold Schwarzenegger made his own gym equipment out of chairs and sticks for the first year he trained. He claims he gained 25 pounds of muscle from doing this.

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    9. I don’t know how to train properly.

    If you’re reading this article, you’re obviously more than capable of figuring this out. The internet is brimming with routines and training tips. This site alone will give you more than you need. Read these 10 tips for better workouts, perfect for beginners.

    However, it’s important that you don’t get too engulfed in the theory of ‘training properly’. Like most things in life, you learn best on the job. Ask people in the gym to show you how to use proper technique, then practice through action.

    People love giving out tips. You might even get a training partner out of it.

    10. I feel intimidated by the fit people there.

    This is normal and everyone has this when they first start out. The environment is new, everyone there looks like they know what they’re doing. You feel like you’re in someone else’s home.

    The number one reason you feel intimidated when you go to the gym is because you don’t go enough! If you started going regularly you’d get used to the place, the people and your fitness would improve. Everyone knows training improves your confidence. Just stick with it. It’s something you’ll laugh at a few months down the line.

    Anyone can get in great shape. Anyone can become fit. But very few people ever do because they give in to their natural inclination to minimize time and effort.

    Stop making excuses and just stick with it for two months. After that you’ll be finding excuses to workout even when you do have important stuff to get on with.

    Featured photo credit: United Artists, Chartoff-Winkler Productions via Rocky (1976)

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