How CEOs and Runners are Alike

Jennifer Purdie
by Jennifer Purdie
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How CEOs and Runners are Alike

Athletes and entrepreneurs have a lot in common in that they’re no stranger to managing burnout. Being open to taking risks and learning from those trials are par for the course whether you’re running a company or crushing a 5K race. Repurpose the advice from these eight CEOs to make gains in your running game.


Long-distance running as a sport is very similar to running a business. They require a great deal of endurance and stamina. As in business and also in my own running, what has helped me get through feeling burnt out, is to switch gears and consume myself with a different task or activity that doesn’t replicate my daily roles. In business, this can be another entrepreneurial focus, such as a new marketing campaign or business venture — or sometimes learning about something completely different like human resources or business development. For running, I take a hiatus from it entirely and I dedicate a season to another physical activity such as weightlifting, swimming or boxing. This switch in activity, and its new challenges, help my brain and body grow and branch out to something unfamiliar.

—Alice Holland, doctor of physical therapy, director of Stride Strong Physical Therapy


I had a CEO who once said that building a business is a marathon, not a sprint. I think of it more like a series of races you are constantly training for, looking for the next PR. As a runner and triathlete, I absolutely have days when I’m getting up in the morning for a run, ride or swim before the sun has come up. Getting up is hard, but I always feel great afterward. Being a startup CEO is similar. There are days when I don’t want to pick up the phone and make one more cold call, or can’t face having to pour through my financial plan. In life, racing and business, I find that three things motivate me to keep going and help prevent burnout:

  1. Have a plan and a set of goals you will work to achieve.
  2. Communicate those goals to people you trust who really care about your success.
  3. Take a break now and again.

—Andrea G. Mulligan, founder and CEO of Sophity, an organization that provides automated time-tracking services


Burnout happens, and often it results from things being out of balance and not having perspective and self-awareness that you’re getting close to that point. Much like the dashboard of a car, we have indicator lights that warn us (for me, losing my sense of humor or creativity is one of them). My first piece of advice to avoid burnout is to listen to the signals and address it before you’re actually burned out. Additionally, look at things with a fresh set of eyes to both see what’s not exactly working for you and to keep it new and exciting. For instance, we moved our weekly staff meetings from Monday afternoon to Monday morning, to create a “true north” for our week.

—Ben Brooks, CEO of PILOT, a tech startup helping managers retain their best talent


Whenever I feel the warning signs of burnout coming, I like to take a moment to stop and reflect on some of my recent accomplishments, no matter how small. Recognition is one of the most impactful ways to motivate an employee, and the same holds true for CEOs and managers. This sense of accomplishment — even if brief — is usually enough motivation for me to get through the upcoming tasks at hand.

—Bryan Koontz, CEO and founder of Guidefitter, an online community connecting outdoor enthusiasts with professional guides


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Career burnout for a CEO is the result of two things: First, there is a temptation to get involved in the details of every aspect of the organization. There is an inverse relationship between the time the CEO spends on the details and the actual productivity and efficiency of the organization. When I meet a fellow CEO who says that they are working 80 hours a week, I know that their company is poorly run, or operating. A well-run company gives the CEO balance. Second, the times that I have felt burned out were those times that I was not working on what I was passionate about. Through time and experience, I have learned to delegate those things that do not make me smile and focus on those things that do, as a result I can do this forever.

—Gary Peterson, CEO of gap intelligence, a values-led market research company


Focus on what you love about your work, and enjoy the journey. Too often, we focus on the finish line or the end goal, and forget to be present along the way. I like to remind myself that every day brings new opportunities for greatness, whether it’s in conversations with my staff or in how I approach an investor meeting. I believe that these small, everyday things are essential to our long-term growth and success.

—Robert Thompson, founder and CEO of Punch Bowl Social, a hospitality group that operates entertainment and restaurant centers


If you think that you’re about to burn out, consider taking a sabbatical or vacation. I always feel like a great vacation gives me the ability to get away and come back stronger, with a fresh perspective and better ideas. If you can’t schedule a vacation right now, changing your routine can make all the difference. I had a time when I sat in my office and worked separately from the team, but I wasn’t happy. So, I moved my desk out on the floor, and I love it. It changed my perspective and my energy. Take a break and make small changes — they can help minimize burnout.

—Deborah Sweeney, CEO of, which helps entrepreneurs start businesses


I was always ready for a fight. As a first-generation Irish immigrant, I believe nothing came easy and everyone wanted to take something from me. In truth the opposite holds true, everyone is here to teach me something and to help me. Talking to myself and telling myself that makes all the difference in the world. Tell yourself the world is a very friendly place. Visualize your perfect life. I never did a thing in television or public speaking, yet just three years after leaving a technology career, I’m speaking 30–40 times a year and am working on a new television show.

—Patrick J. Sweeney, II, owner of, a website offering a hub for adventurers


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About the Author

Jennifer Purdie
Jennifer Purdie

Jennifer is a Southern California-based freelance writer who covers topics such as health, fitness, lifestyle and travel for both national and regional publications. She runs marathons across the world and is an Ironman finisher. She is also a certified personal trainer through the National Academy of Sports Medicine. You can follow her on Twitter @jenpurdie.


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