Going the extra mile: CEOs who run marathons may lead more valuable companies

More than 30,000 runners will hit the streets of Boston Monday for the 119th annual Boston Marathon — many of them the nation's top business leaders.

Among the participants are Matthew Bellows, founder and CEO of YesWare, Joseph Eazor, CEO of EarthLink, and Deborah Ellinger, who has served in many top leadership roles as former CEO of The Princeton Review, former CEO of Wellness Pet Food, former president of Restoration Hardware and current board member of iRobot and the Interpublic Group. Dan Michelson, CEO of Chicago-based Strata Decision Technology, will be running his fourth Boston Marathon Monday morning.

"The first marathon I ran wasn't part of any grand plan," Mr. Michelson said. "I ran a half marathon and then, being a pragmatist, figured if I can run a half, I can run a whole. After I finished my first marathon, I kept going and by my third one I had improved by an hour and finished in the top few hundred runners in the Chicago Marathon."

It may not be all that uncommon for executives like Mr. Michelson to lace up for marathons, half marathons and other races. According to Fortune, the average runner of the ING New York City Marathon had a household income of $130,000 in 2006 and the average triathlete's household income is $126,000. The reason why so many top earners are also top endurance athletes is in their nature — successful business people are driven, know how to set goals and know how to dedicate themselves to meet those goals, according to Fortune.

"I really looked at marathon training as this big challenge I could complete," says Jessica Cole, president and CEO of Becker's Healthcare, who has four full marathons and many half marathons under her belt. "I became hooked on always improving and constantly trying to get a better time to qualify for the next marathon on my bucket list."

Now it seems CEOs who aren't going on long runs or practicing other forms of endurance exercise may want to consider otherwise: A recent study featured by Inc. shows CEOs who complete marathons are actually 5 percent more valuable to their company.

After identifying CEOs of S&P 1500 companies who had completed a marathon in each year between 2001 and 2011, researchers found the firms with top executives who had completed a marathon to be valued 5 percent higher on average than those that had executives who had not, measured by Tobin's Q, which gauges company value.

Interestingly, researchers found the association between firm value and CEO fitness was even more pronounced for CEOs over the age of 55, those who had longer-than-average tenure, or those who were exceptionally busy, with two or more external director roles. Therefore, CEOs who are the busiest serve to benefit even more by fitting in some time on the treadmill, the track or the street.

Ms. Cole fit her training in by prioritizing and planning, and saving the long runs for the weekends. "By having a specific plan of attack each and every day, marathon training really helped me maintain focus on getting things done at work and helped me practice various time management techniques," she says. Mr. Michelson wakes up early — around 4:45 a.m. — to fit his training in.

Now more people than ever are crossing marathon finish lines. According to Runner's World, more than half a million runners completed marathons in the U.S. in 2013, which is more than double the number of participants 20 years ago.

It's catching on in the C-suite too, according to the study. Over the 10-year study period, the fraction of CEOs who finished at least one marathon doubled to more than 7 percent, with the average CEO finishing two marathons. Some had even finished up to nine marathons. Mr. Michelson has run 13 marathons. This Monday will be his 14th, and the second time he is returning to the Boston course since the bombings in 2013.

"You always hear that mind and body are connected — in my experience I have found that to be absolutely true. When I train, I feel I am better at work and at home," Mr. Michelson said. 

It may be time for the members of the C-suite to put in some mileage if they haven't already — not only will it keep executives fit, but it'll be good for the company too.

Note: This article, originally published April 17, has been updated. 

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