5 Dec Going the distance in and out of the office

PHOTO: 5 Dec Going the distance in and out of the office

Lunch is often seen as a welcome mid-day treat, a time when office workers grab a quick bite, run a few errands and give their legs a stretch outside the office.

But for some office warriors, that one-hour break is an opportunity to hit the gym's treadmill or pound the pavement around Singapore's city centre.

The strong turnout for yesterday's Standard Chartered Marathon Singapore reflects a growing interest in this arduous sporting event - a run of 42km.

The last few Standard Chartered marathons in Singapore attracted about 20,000 runners aiming to go the full distance, up from 13,000 in 2008.

Perhaps it is the appeal of the bragging rights earned after completing the full 42km, especially since business lunches and water cooler chatter nowadays seem to be peppered with race-related tales.

And far from being no more than a healthy hobby, long-distance running has much in common with working life.

For instance, running and the business world involve a flair for numbers.

Ask a runner for his personal best time and he'll share it with pride, much as a chief executive might announce his company's record full-year profit at a financial results briefing.

My colleagues who signed up for yesterday's full marathon spent the last week discussing race tactics with all the seriousness of a board of directors agonising over a company's five-year business plan.

Runners also frequently start small before progressing to bigger and longer races, just as businesses start with baby steps.

Mr Collin Cheong, a 35-year-old relationship banker at Citibank, has completed nine marathons and six ultra-marathons.

"I picked up running for weight loss reasons initially and ultimately progressed to training for marathons and then to ultra-marathons for personal fulfilment," he said.

He has signed up for two 100km races next year.

This progression to tougher challenges has parallels with the career trajectory of younger executives as they win promotions and take on new responsibilities.

Dr Elizabeth Nair, principal psychologist at Work and Health Psychologists, said having to undergo the intensive physical and mental preparation required to complete a marathon can help runners build valuable work skills.

In the process of training and completing a race, people tend to build resilience, which leads to better stress management.

Spending long periods of time covering long routes also means having to develop the capacity to focus on an assignment and resist distractions.

"One thing I learnt from long races is that you need to break the race into manageable stages and concentrate on overcoming one stage at a time," said Mr Cheong.

"The same applies to issues at work. Dissect the issue into bite-size steps and tackle the task one step at a time."

Dr Nair also highlighted other applicable skills, such as building the will to win and succeed, developing time management skills and fostering a greater sense of self-determination and personal goal-setting.

"It is a highly personal decision to be a marathon runner. The pain is personal, the challenge is individual. (But) the team player inclination comes about because of the lessons learnt in sports. Sportsmen think of others who may be suffering or need help, as they can more easily picture themselves in similar vulnerable positions," said Dr Nair.