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Running a marathon is like building a business: Rashesh Shah

LiveMint logoLiveMint 02-07-2017 Shrenik Avlani

Thirty years after he started playing tennis, an elbow injury forced Rashesh Shah to find another sport. Around the same time, in 2009, a friend suggested he run a half marathon. Initially, he found running boring, but he stayed with it. Today, the chief executive of Edelweiss Group has 30 half marathons, six marathons and four triathlons to his name. The 53-year-old Indian Institute of Management, Ahmedabad, alumnus believes that a fit leader is a better leader.

As he piles on the miles, with friends from the corporate world and other walks of life keeping him company, the one person who has really helped him through all his running highs and lows is his wife Vidya Shah, a runner herself and the chief executive of the group’s philanthropic arm, Edelgive Foundation.

In a perfect world, Shah would like to see everyone make running a part of their fitness regimen. “I am a standing example of the benefits it accrues to an individual, an aspect I keep reinforcing to my team members at Edelweiss,” says Shah. Edited excerpts from an interview:

How does running affect your performance at work? 

Long-distance running has helped me stay focused despite many adversities. When I first started training for races, I realized just how important it is to stay driven and patient while executing any activity successfully. Preparing for a marathon is in itself a big project, and consequently, it hones your managerial and business skills and helps in managing stress. There is a sense of commitment. Long-distance running also acts as a therapeutic technique for me.

How do you balance your training and work?

Training for marathons and triathlons needs a lot of time. I have disciplined myself to run wherever I travel. I carry my running gear everywhere. My assistant books me into hotels located near good running spots whenever I travel. Whichever part of the world I am in, I try and squeeze in a 30-minute run at least. 

Are there any leadership lessons in running?

I strongly believe that a fit leader is a better leader. Running has taught me how to convert intention into execution. It has taught me discipline. The day you don’t feel like getting up, is the day you should put on your shoes and go for a short run. It builds character. Training for a race has three objectives: how to improve, how to enjoy and how to remain injury-free. Leading a team is similar to this because you need to push the limits, quite like running a race.

For long-term endurance, a measured sustainable pace is crucial. All these things have many similarities to building a business. Running a full marathon, to me, is like building a business. You don’t need to run 42km, but a kilometre 42 times.

Describe your training regimen. 

I train with the Striders running group, which has helped me take my running to a new level altogether. I wake up at 4.45am four days a week and train for an hour. The rest of the week is set aside for swimming, cycling and gym depending on the weather and my work schedule. Recovery is an equally important part of my training, hence I take complete rest on Mondays.

What effect does leading by example as a fit leader have on team members?

Quite a few members of Edelweiss’ top management are runners, while others have adopted a fit and healthy lifestyle. That helps them stay fit and it reflects in their productivity. They also encourage team members to follow the same, and as an organization we are working on improving our fitness quotient.

Has running changed the way you network?

Running is a great way to connect with people, which is why I prefer running in groups. I have met many people while running and I am good friends with a lot of them both personally and professionally. However, we try and stay away from shop talk during our runs. 

Your toughest race.

The Midnight Sun Marathon in Tromsø, Norway. When you run in the morning, you have slept for 6-7 hours. Conversely, when you race in the evening, after standing or sitting most of the day, it becomes harder to reach your peak because your legs are tired, having carried your weight throughout the day. 

Your favourite running moment.

I love running in the rain. Running in Mumbai in the monsoon is one of the things I cherish.

Running With The Boss is a series where CEOs, MDs and senior executives talk about leadership lessons, management mantras, the importance of a fit team and striking a work-life balance through running.

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