Ram Walase: Fitness is infectious

The chief executive officer of IL&FS Urban Infrastructure Managers Ltd on how running helps overcome fear of the unknown


Running boosts self-belief, says Walase. Photo: Aniruddha Chowdhury/Mint
Running boosts self-belief, says Walase. Photo: Aniruddha Chowdhury/Mint

Ram Walase remembers walking a fair bit in school, in a village near Aurangabad in Maharashtra. A sporty child through school and college, Walase, 41, started distance running when he first ran the half marathon in the 2009 Standard Chartered Mumbai Marathon. Since then, he has completed about a dozen half marathons—clocking 1 hour, 55 minutes for his fastest—and numerous 10km races. Running has also helped him realize the importance of perseverance at work, and has improved his ability to face the unknown.

The Mumbai-based chief executive officer of IL&FS Urban Infrastructure Managers Ltd, a management services firm, believes running is a good ice-breaker in many business conversations. But it also gives him some family time. His 35-year-old wife Pratibha, a gymnastics instructor, has also started running, and they plan to run a half marathon together soon. And Walase is sometimes joined on his runs by his elder son, nine-year-old Siddhant, who plays football.

Edited excerpts from the interview: 

 Does running affect your performance at work? 

Yes, it makes you more productive, composed and energetic at work. Regular exercise helps you to remain mentally sharp throughout the day.

 How do you balance your training and work?

I train mostly in the mornings and that keeps the day’s schedule sorted. When I miss my morning runs occasionally due to travel or other commitments, I try to take time out in the evening. I train with Striders, a fitness and marathon training club, in Powai in Mumbai. 

 How does leading by example as a fit leader affect your team members? 

Fitness is infectious. Obviously, team members pick up some of the positives from your schedule and implement (these) in their daily lives in their own ways. Some of my colleagues train for running, swimming, yoga and other sports, and these activities keep them healthy and more productive.

How do you use running to improve team-building and interaction with employees within your organization? 

We encourage our employees to be active and to participate in activities of their choice. Our group company, IL&FS Financial Services Ltd, organizes I Run For Fun, an annual running event in the Bandra-Kurla Complex, for which about 40% of the employees lace up their shoes.  

Comment on the leadership lessons you find in distance running. 

First, it reduces the fear of the unknown. Finishing any distance-running event or setting a new personal best boosts your self-belief. It helps you realize that you are much stronger and that you can achieve a lot more than you believe. 

The second is perseverance. Despite months of gruelling training and weeks of planning, the last 3 miles of any race are extremely difficult. They not only exploit the last reserves of glucose in your body, but demand a lot of mental positivity to continue. In these penultimate miles, the runner tries to find every source of inspiration to keep going—be it a pat on the back by a fellow runner, the music in your phone, or cheers from the crowd.

Has running changed the way you work and network? 

Running is a great ice-breaker in business conversations. It helps you bond with fellow runners from your business circles. And, occasionally, you end up meeting business partners or clients with whom you can bond over a long run.

Who are your running/training buddies? 

I usually run with a group of about 50 running enthusiasts who also train with Striders. This group has people from all walks of life—entrepreneurs, information technology professionals, proprietors, investment bankers and homemakers.

 Your toughest race...

The Satara Hill Marathon. It is a tough single-mountain run with a steady climb of 425m up to the halfway mark. It is also my favourite, along with the Standard Chartered Mumbai Marathon, since it is one of the toughest tracks to run on. 

 Your favourite running moment. 

To watch the elite marathoners run past me in any marathon. In the Standard Chartered marathon, they would normally meet the half marathoners somewhere around the Peddar Road climb, when one is struggling to breathe and is running at 10 kmph. The elite marathoners would cruise elegantly at 20 kmph. Their form, gait and camaraderie are so inspiring that you pick up your dragging feet and start running.

Running With The Boss is a series where CEOs and MDs talk about leadership lessons, management mantras, the importance of a fit team, and striking a work-life balance through running. For the videos and earlier stories, visit www.livemint.com/runningwiththeboss

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