How 42 consecutive days of exercise (and counting) is making me a better leader

Updated: May 28

“Something’s got to give,” I thought, adjusting earbuds as I logged into the umpteenth zoom call of the morning. Change is hard.

I could feel stress squeezing the muscles on my neck, shoulders, and upper back. No standing desk, no clear boundaries between family time and work, and no physical outlet. Just a few weeks in, life under quarantine felt weighty.

“Download it,” my wife quipped, as she floated past my dining table work station at the dining table to pour another coffee between her own meetings.

The app was Strava. She had encouraged me to join an exercise challenge – a pretty mild one requiring a commitment to exercise for at least 20 minutes, at least four times a week.

She said I needed it. She was right. I downloaded the app.

On Monday, April 13, I logged 20 minutes of exercise, and I’ve logged at least 20 minutes every day since. Forty-two days of exercise has been great. I feel healthier. But I also find myself changing in other unexpected ways. I'm finding balance working from home. I'm identifying margin and staying grounded. I'm carving space to care deeply for my family, to grieve, and to rest.

I’m a zoo COO. I also coach executives, run retreats, write kid’s books, adjunct at Westmont College and University of Miami, partner as affiliate faculty at Penn State, and serve on local boards. I’m a person of faith, a husband to my brilliant bride, and a father to three amazing humans working through their elementary years.

Maybe I'm a runner?

At some point in my distracted, busy, programmed, privileged life I let go of quiet.

Intentional, daily exercise has re-introduced me to quiet. At some point in my distracted, busy, programmed, privileged life I let go of quiet. Now it's back, and quiet is teaching me. I’m re-learning what it takes to be grounded, what energizes me and what drains me. I’m paying closer attention.

I can't attribute all the changes to running. I'm managing novel work challenges via countless hours muting and unmuting myself in conference calls while sharing limited bandwidth with my wife and kids at my in-laws home as we care for my father-in-law who continues to battle cancer.

Truth is, I hate running. My wife chuckles each time I head out for a jog.

I will say that exercising daily has grounded me - like deep roots in a hurricane. Showing up each morning demands increasing grit, perseverance, and discipline. As I exercise those proverbial muscles I grow stronger - and my roots extend.

I’m also starting to like the way I feel after each run – just don’t tell my wife. I enjoy the routine and sense of accomplishment. Across these forty-two days I have renewed focus and clarity.

Running is leaking into the rest of my life.

For that reason, I decided to track my journey. I want some data to understand how this commitment to daily exercise might mark my life. How would my life be different if I simple exercised every day?.

So, how did the first six weeks go?

  1. 3 runs, 7 walks / ran 11.6km

  2. 3 runs, 7 walks / ran 13.8km / 5k in 32:32

  3. 4 runs, 7 walks / ran 16.6km / 5k in 30:58

  4. 4 runs, 7 walks / ran 16.8km / 5k in 28:25

  5. 4 runs, 7 walks / ran 13.2km / 5k in 25:35

  6. 4 runs, 7 walks / ran 17.5km / 5k in 27:22

For the first seven days, my legs and lungs ached the entire twenty minutes. I mixed jogging with walking to help my lungs recover. One day three I pushed all the way to the end of mile one without walking – a huge victory at the time.

A week later I jogged for all of two miles. The last minute was the hardest. When my Fitbit finally announced “two miles,” I threw my hands up in celebration and walked the last half mile home.

These little victories have gamified exercise, rekindling a “competition-with-self” drive left dormant since high school. In week two, I accidentally ran/walked a 5k. It surprised me, and I’ve tried to run one each week since.

It's been six weeks, and I feel different. I have new energy - not just physically, but intellectually, emotionally, and spiritually. I have focus and clarity. I have healthier boundaries. And, these changes make me a better spouse, father, friend, coach, and colleague. I am more self-aware than six weeks ago. I have grown as a leader these past 42 days.

How will the next 7 days go? Will I find time to exercise tomorrow? I can't say for sure. Check back in a week. Better yet, take the journey with me. Drop a comment. Start your own routine. Let’s see where this journey takes each of us.


© 2013 by A.R.MARSHALL, PhD