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  • Matt Burke

Running to get things done

With the summer holidays in full swing, it is easy to fall into bad habits and let your work slip a little. For me, running is what keeps me on track.

Still on a high from completing my first marathon last month, I wanted to share my thoughts on how running can change your life for the better; and make you more productive in the workplace.

The link between running and positive mental wellbeing is not new. Bella Mackie, journalist and author of the great book Jog On; How Running Saved My Life, wrote recently in The Guardian that as far back as 1769, the Scottish physician William Buchan stated: “Of all the causes which conspire to render the life of man short and miserable, none have greater influence than the want of proper exercise.”

The benefits of running are certainly becoming more widely understood and Mackie’s book explores in some detail the science behind why exercise has such a positive impact on the brain. She suffered for years with acute anxiety and depression; running was the only thing that released her. It quite literally did save her life.

I have been running now for over a decade and, apart from having my children, I think it is the best thing I’ve ever done.

In my 30’s I was out late most nights drinking and smoking. My diet consisted of bacon sandwiches and curry and I visited the gym maybe once a fortnight. Don’t get me wrong, I was very content living this lifestyle but my girlfriend suggested we enter a 5k run nearby in Battersea park called the Tree-athalon, an event that raised funds to plant some 50,000 trees in some of the world's bleakest urban spaces.

This was way back in 2007. We did it and not only did it come relatively easy for me, it was fun too. I was surprised and intrigued by where this new-found skill could take me.

I went on to do another Tree-athalon then a 10k Nike run, then a couple more and then the Great North Run. I think this was this point that without knowing it I had become a ‘runner’. I was hooked.

Perhaps I’m lucky in that running comes quite naturally to me. Maybe I’m the right build. I had never been a confident sportsperson or really done sport up to this point so it helped that I found it relatively easy, otherwise I don’t think I would have made the effort.

Running started to become a necessity and speaking to other runners now I’ve realised this addiction is very common. If I don’t run in a week I feel awful: My mood is subdued, I feel lethargic and I just want to eat junk food.

I love the simplicity of running. All you need is a pair of trainers, shorts and a T-shirt. No time constraints, no gear, just get out there and run. Yes, hauling myself out of bed on a winter’s morning is tough and the running in freezing cold rain isn’t much fun either, but when you get home and have a shower you feel invincible. You’re ready for whatever the day throws at you.

"I run on average three to four times a week and I can categorically say that on those days I am at my most productive at work"

Everyone is different, but I recommend running first thing in the morning. After a long day at my desk the last thing I want to do is exercise. Nature is at it’s finest in the morning. There are fewer people around; it is just you and the birds singing. It lifts your mood for the day and helps you sleep better at night. A run in the morning gives you time to think about the day and what needs to be done. More often than not I start a run with a problem and by the time I get back I have the solution. Everything just falls into place.

Most successful people exercise. Serial entrepreneur Richard Branson has said he seriously doubts he would have been as successful in his career (and happy in his personal life) if he hadn't always placed importance on his health and fitness.

Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg said recently: "Doing anything well requires energy, and you just have a lot more energy when you're fit.”

And former US president Barack Obama admitted in his autobiography Dreams From My Fatherto being a casual drug user and underachiever until he started running three miles a day.

They say you never regret a run and trust me, it’s true. One step at a time.

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