James Quarles’s workout is more than just an eight-mile run through San Francisco. It’s his first meeting of the day—even if it’s just a meeting with himself. He solves problems and hatches business plans for Strava, the 40-million-strong social network for runners and cyclists that he’s run for two years. “I use my workout for free space, creative thinking, and being inspired,” he says.
When you’re CEO of a fitness technology company, opportunities to exercise are part of the job, thanks to regular group workouts. Chances to think clearly? Not so much. Most days, Quarles slogs through meetings, demo sessions, and too much computer screen time during his workday. A Wednesday company workout breaks things up but offers no quiet time. He ends days in full Family Man mode, focusing on his wife, Shelly, and their three children.
For Quarles, 43, his morning run is his only guaranteed peace. Quarles began running in his mid-20s, some-thing he picked up from his dad, Tom, who’d entered a handful of marathons. He never completed any of them, struggling with fatigue, but his son always admired the attempts. “They inspired me,” Quarles says. By 2016, when he was a VP of Instagram, running had become his sporadic morning workout.
Then last year, Quarles stepped up his habit when a friend bought him an entry into the 2018 New York City Marathon. At first, Quarles was slightly annoyed. But he embraced the challenge, finding a training program from famed running guru Hal Higdon on the Internet and sticking to it for 18 weeks of prep. It was then that he realized the beauty of the predawn workout. “I was waking up consistently at 5:00 a.m.,” he says. “When I got back, my family was still asleep, often, and the sun was not up… I did not miss a single day.”
The practice paid off in the Big Apple. Quarles finished in 3:34, despite feeling “like I had three people on my back” by the time he was looping through Central Park.
He’s thinking about participating in his first triathlon now, but his most important fitness goals are professional.“When you’re looking at a 5:00 a.m. start,” he says, “you’re in bed by 9:00, 9:30.” And when you’re up early every morning, you learn to use the time productively. “I’m able to look at problems and topics from a different perspective,” he says. (His first problem every morning: getting out of the house without waking Shelly or the kids.)
Quarles recalls one run last September when he was struggling to craft a U.S. marketing strategy for Strava. The service had a strong international following, but Quarles believed there was massive room for growth stateside. He just wasn’t sure how to get there.
Then, as the sun was rising, he remembered a map his analytics team had given him a few weeks earlier that showed plenty of coastal Strava users. “I took a big bet on more local resources in places like L.A. and N.Y.C.,” he says. “Much of that thinking came from those runs.”
Take on Your Own Morning Mileage
One of Quarles’s favorite group runs is called #downandtotheright, and it’s not for the faint of heart. Grab a few friends and tackle the hour-long ladder workout.
1. The Warmup
2. Six Minutes of Hell
3. The Five-Minute Gut Check
4. Your Three-Minute Miracle
5. Sprint to the Finish!
6. The Hardest Part
7. The True End
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