Recently, I was attending a conference for work and was on a networking break when one of the organizers of the event came up to me with a younger attendee in tow. He informed me that he knew I had to meet this person because he saw them wearing a GPS watch and thought they must be a runner too. It was a helpful icebreaker and instead of swapping business cards, we connected on Strava with plans to run at the next conference.
This isn’t the first business connection I’ve made through running and I doubt it will be the last. Golf, charity events and conferences get a reputation for being the best ways to network. In my experience though, one of the most authentic ways to make a lasting career connection is through running.
When I’m travelling for a business event, I’ll often go to the gym first thing if it is too dark to run outside alone. I’ll often run into and train with fellow event attendees which provides a perfect icebreaker for later in the day. Many of the running groups that I frequent are full of incredible, successful people because I find that type-A, motivated people are often drawn to the sport. That being said, I often don’t have any sense of what they do work-wise until much later because it simply doesn’t matter to me. Running is an incredible equalizer where it doesn’t matter what your vocation is – if you can run together that’s all that matters.
Often, by the time that I find out what a person does for their work, we have already built a solid relationship around other things in their life – their family, their hobbies, their goal races for next year. I think this gets to the core of why I think running is the best way to build business relationships. Through this sport, you can skip over the shallow small talk and connect with a person at a core level with their hobbies, passions and goals.
That being said, I think the reason it’s so effective is that I don’t go into it with the expectation of business connections and rather, just to go on a run with someone new. Running serves up the same comfortable connecting experience as golf because if there happens to be a lapse in conversation, you are not left holding an empty wine glass and searching for something clever to say. Running in silence is, thankfully, just as acceptable.
I know that this logic is flawed in the fact that not everyone runs, but the reality is, I’ve built an incredible number of solid professional relationships as running friends first and business connections second. Beyond knowing that they are great at numbers from their racing splits, likely to be results focused and committed to a process to training for races, you know that no matter where you go, you will have a friend to run with.