How Running Helps Me Creatively

There are no epiphanies, but the effects are undeniable

Check out the photo below. That's me. No, not the guy in the black shirt. That's PJ. I'm the guy in the background, to the right, working while PJ's getting his picture taken. Kidding! For as long as PJ and I have worked together, he's been trying to sell me on the benefits of martial arts, and I've been trying to convince him to run. Each of us believing we held the secret to being more creative. 

I've been with Pereira O'Dell since day one (which I believe was sometime in March 2008), but people around here don't really care about that. The thing about me that generates the most interest is that I run. A lot. For very long distances. I've been a runner for a long time, but in the past five years or so, I've developed a passion for ultra-running. (An ultra-marathon is any distance over a marathon, but the distances typically are 50 miles, 75 miles and 100 miles … OK, that will be the last intrusion from pretentious running geek.)

In 2016, I attempted the Leadville 100 and got through 92 miles before having to drop out with a torn meniscus and a 102-degree fever. It wasn't exactly the finish I was looking for. But now, with the pain of that experience completely forgotten, I'm training for it again. Which has me thinking about a very basic question: Why? Not just why try to run 100 miles up a mountain, but why run at all? After all, it's well documented that running sucks, a statement I don't totally disagree with.  

I haven't always loved to run. Growing up as an athlete, running was the thing you had to do to get to play lacrosse or soccer or basketball or whatever I was playing that season. I don't run because I'm good. I'm not fast. I'm not graceful. In fact, I often compare my running style to an old diesel engine. It takes a little while to get going and can run forever, but it's NOT a pretty process. 

Because people around the office know that I train for these long-distance events, the most common question I get—besides "What the f#@^! is wrong with you?"—is "What do you think about when you're out there for that long?" 

The honest answer? 

Nothing. I don't think about anything when I run. 

The best way to describe what happens to me mentally on a run is that thoughts, concerns, worries, anxiety or whatever just falls away. Like a melting icicle. Just one drop at a time, until it's gone and there is nothing. Clarity. 

I've never had a great idea or epiphany while running, but nothing puts me in the mood to work like going for a run. Post-run ideas flow a little easier and I can make connections I might not have seen if my mind were cluttered. The state of having a "calm mind" is a precious gift, especially in this age we live in of constant distraction. For me, running doesn't just provide physical space (which can be nice), but also headspace. 

As I go along, I'm coming to appreciate more and more the value of true focus. Being creative for a living can be hard and frustrating and inefficient and demoralizing, but a morning run clears all that out and puts me in the right place to really focus. To be creative. And to inspire others to do something special. 

For the longest time I'd wanted the CCO job because I thought it'd give me the ability to make the decisions I wanted to make. No one could second-guess me! Turns out it's a little more complicated than that, and that leadership is more about staying open to other people's ideas and feelings as opposed to just getting to do whatever you want. (Talk about a case of false advertising if there ever was one.) Whereas I believe PJ has always turned to martial arts to stay connected to the world around him, I find a run helps me stay tuned in. 

After now having run consistently for about 20 years (about the same time I've been a creative professional), I've come to the realization that the reason I run has little to do with the workout and everything to do with work it leads to. This also happens to be a good excuse to tell my wife why I need to spend all those long hours training for Leadville. It's for work! 

Rob Lambrechts
Rob Lambrechts is chief creative officer at Pereira O'Dell. A husband, father and avid runner, he also enjoys ice cream, the novels of John le Carré and forcing his children listen to the band RUSH.