How running changed my career and life
It started - as these things often do - as a throwaway comment.
David Sawyer contributed to a book that I wrote in 2015 and was keen to have a crack himself. He wanted to describe how he'd rebooted his skills as a digital marketing and PR practitioner in a bid to help others
The result is far more ambitious than originally envisaged. RESET is part self-help and part autobiography for anyone seeking financial independence and purpose in work life.
In the book Sawyer briefly describes overhauling his personal fitness. I asked him to tell the story in this article. Both the article and book are recommended reads.
Here’s David’s story.
by David Sawyer
Author Charles Duhigg calls them keystone habits.
Habits that have a transformative effect on your life.
Habits that, if adopted, can form the bedrock of your future success.
For me, it was exercise, and more specifically running.
Six years ago I was head of a big city office for a global PR firm. Life was good, ostensibly. Great clients, scooping lots of awards, hitting the numbers, a cracking team and a nice pay packet at the end of the month.
But digital was doing my head in, changing the profession I knew and loved in the evolutionary blink of an eyelid. I may have been talking a good game still but, like many senior practitioners, when it came to digital, I wasn’t, in my heart, walking it.
Over the past six years, I’ve set up my own business, transformed my PR practice, become a Fellow of the CIPR, discovered new purpose and sources of learning, and two months ago published the first book to translate the millions-strong US financial independence movement to a UK context. A true life RESET, half way through.
Yet none of this would have been possible without three unrelated events in the summer of 2012.
First my brother, Ian, asked me to do a marathon with him, second a sporty and equally competitive/skilled colleague walloped me at squash, and third a friend with whom we were holidaying at Center Parcs dragged me out on a jog round Whatever Glade, and I didn’t dislike it as much as I thought I would.
So I decided it was time to get fit and started wheezing my way twice round the block, self-consciously exiting the back gate and barely lasting 10 minutes. (By then, a few years of house-renovation-then-small-child-induced inactivity had seen me put on two stone and smoke more than the occasional cigarette.)
Now don’t get me wrong, as a kid I was a decent sportsman and for 10 years between my mid-twenties and mid-thirties, mountaineering followed by mountain biking were my things. But the pressures of midlife had put paid to all that, and as I approached my fortieth birthday the thought of running (particularly for someone who’s main recollection of school athletics was coming towards the rear of the 100 metres) was anathema to say the least.
But I persevered.
As someone with little time, having something you could do with no travel or arrangement faff was a godsend, and although I didn’t enjoy it at first, needs must, I thought.
The rest, as they say is history. I joined a running club, re-instilled the values of persistence, hard work and experimentation and saw exactly what could be achieved if I put my mind to something, measuring myself against the timing clock that never lies.
Late last year, aged nearly 45, after more comebacks than Roberto Duran, I recorded my marathon PB in Berlin, posting 2:40:36. For those who do parkruns on a Saturday morning, that’s the equivalent of eight-plus back-to-back 5ks at sub-19-minute pace.
In my new bestselling book, RESET: The Unconventional Early Retirement Plan for Midlife Careerists Who Want to be Happy (there’s a great “part” on public relations and how you can conquer your digital fear to future-proof your career), I mention running, but don’t labour the point.
Yet it was my discovery of running, at a point when, outwith family and work, I made little time for anything else, that gave me the confidence to lead a much more fulfilling life, both professionally and personally.
Did I start running to lose weight, to quit those more-than-occasional smokes? The thought never crossed my mind. Did I have any inkling where that run at Center Parcs would take me? No, but it was definitely a Sliding Doors moment, and one that I look back on with gratitude.
Is running for everyone? No, exercise is important, but the point about running for me was to find something at that time in my life where I was in control, where I gained recognition for my efforts, where I got out what I put in, where I was doing something just for me. For you it might be bridge, cycling, amateur photography. The important thing is that you find something you’re good at and work hard at it, then use that keystone habit to build new habits on top.
I’m often injured now, a frustrating place to be as a competitive runner. But I keep exercising, and have discovered new passions, new habits, new purpose. I don’t rely on running like I used to.
I say there’s no secret in the book; no secret to living a happier and more fulfilled life. And that’s true, everyone’s different. But for me, it was running that got me (re)started, putting one foot in front of the other, and proving that dreams (such as writing a book that has helped hundreds of people make changes in their lives) can become reality.
About David Sawyer
David Sawyer lives in Glasgow with his wife, Rachel, two primary-age kids Zak and Jude, and pet, Hamsterdam. He owns and runs PR consultancy Zude PR.