He runs the India business of a leading global provider of risk management, insurance and reinsurance brokerage, human resources solutions and outsourcing services. Sandeep Chaudhary, the 40-year-old chief executive officer (CEO) of Aon Hewitt India, also runs.

“My earliest memories of running are linked to the Mall Road in Shimla, the hilly capital of Himachal Pradesh, to eat my favourite ‘softy’ (ice cream) as a schoolkid," he says.

A runner in his school days, when he competed in the 100m, 200m, 400m and relay races, Chaudhary continued to run till he completed his masters’ in business administration and labour law from the Symbiosis Institute of Management, Pune, in 1998. Once he started working, his running was sidelined by targets and meetings. He returned to it six years later, when his wife, Ipomea, was expecting their first child.

In 2008, he started training and, around five months later, ran his first half marathon in Mumbai. Since then, he has run seven half marathons, setting a personal record of 1 hour, 33 minutes at the Airtel Delhi Half Marathon in November. He has also run three marathons, with his fastest—42.195km—clocking at 3 hours, 29 minutes, at the TCS Amsterdam Marathon in October. His next marathon will be in Berlin in September and he is confident that it will be his best run so far.

Chaudhary spoke to Mint about how running has affected his life at work and outside, the business lessons the sport has taught him, and how critical employee health and fitness are to the success and wellness of an organization.

Edited excerpts from an email interview:

How does running affect your performance at work?

I have been a runner for much longer than I have been a CEO. Running long distance contributes to your mental strength; it only gets stronger with each mile and you realize that when your body gives in, your mind takes over. This allows me to take long-term bets in my job and career—I follow my conviction, pace my work, build self-awareness and resilience to see through my decisions and carry the team along. Running has led me to set stretched goals, given me a strong will to achieve them, the hardiness to bounce back (from failures) sooner and the humility to know that I will not always win. Only an unwavering mind gets through the last mile; not your quick-dry clothes, nor your high-end shoes or sports gel.

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

I like leading by example. A happy boss sets the organizational attitude and creates a positive work culture. While interviewing candidates, I always look for their habits outside of work—what do they do to challenge themselves? My belief is that healthy people are more engaged and productive at work.

The leadership lessons you find in distance running...

The highs and lows of running 42km do not allow you to hide your shortcomings. Each time you run, you rediscover your physical and mental capabilities; the grit of your mind can take you the last few miles even when you have exhausted all the strength in your body. One improves his/her running if he/she trains with people better than him/her. I apply the same rule at work.

Everyone is running their own race…. Stay focused and don’t feel bad when someone whizzes past you, but appreciate the fact that someone is trying harder.

Every time you achieve your personal best, you redefine your limit and realize that believing is achieving. There are no alternatives to preparation and a good regime. Discipline, and knowing your weaknesses, are key.

How has running changed the way you network?

Being fit, especially running, has helped me get better at networking outside my immediate circle. Today, my running buddies are people from all walks of life and they are easy-going people. I know little about their profession because when you run, your designation or income does not matter.

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

Employee wellness and physical fitness are essential, but you need an intelligent way to inspire and make people realize how it can help them fight several challenges in life. In my informal conversations with colleagues, I talk about fitness. And I am happy that I have had one of them strap (on) his laces. Since then he has finished two half marathons. There are lots of lessons from sports that we end up using to improve the benchmark, redefine our standards and strive harder at work. I love bonding over team sports. It helps defeat hierarchy and people learn to appreciate each other’s strengths. It also helps build a fun culture that stays with you much longer than any other recreational activity.

How do you balance your training and work?

Given my schedule, it’s difficult. I manage to squeeze in at least four-five workouts a week. Early mornings are easy to manage and normally within my control. When I travel, I focus on strength training in the gym and aqua workouts.

Describe your training regimen.

I try and train at least four-five days a week. It is a combination of running outdoors and strength training. Running includes tempo runs, Intervals and long distance.

Strength training happens in the gym, which is more concentrated in building my core and is done with light weights and body weights. I include the third very important component, yoga, to improve my mental attitude and enhance my body flexibility.

While running, I don’t listen to music. I use that time to unplug, prepare my day, debate many issues in my mind. It turbocharges my brain and keeps me calm, attentive and nimble during the day. Running boosts my energy and gives me the pride to pull through the day.

Running With The Boss is a fortnightly 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. Click here for the video and earlier stories.

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