In the marathon business

Why has the head of the CBI forgone corporate dining to get fit enough for the Marathon? Digby Jones tells all
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Indy Lifestyle Online

I absolutely adore food and alcohol, and I live a lifestyle where eating and drinking come with the territory. I have a fantastic job, but it is an indulgent job; I rise at five to start work (correspondence, radio, television, briefings), I do a lunch every day and speak sometimes at seven dinners a week, and always at least five. I spend my life cooped up on planes, trains and automobiles and barely get the chance to take one step on shank's pony.

I absolutely adore food and alcohol, and I live a lifestyle where eating and drinking come with the territory. I have a fantastic job, but it is an indulgent job; I rise at five to start work (correspondence, radio, television, briefings), I do a lunch every day and speak sometimes at seven dinners a week, and always at least five. I spend my life cooped up on planes, trains and automobiles and barely get the chance to take one step on shank's pony.

I'm lucky, though. My heartbeat at rest is 52 and my blood pressure is that of a 19-year-old, 120 over 70 - a constitution of iron, so the doctor said last August.

But then came the sting in the tail: the 50s are nature's culling ground, he said. Obesity can take on average nine years off your expected life span, contributing significantly to heart attack, diabetes, arthritis, asthma, kidney and liver disease and depression. The list is never-ending and I don't do depression.

The doctor's words were loud and clear - "you're 49, 18 stone 6 pounds, and you work in a hugely stressful and overindulgent job. Watch out or you won't see 60 in one piece." It looks like Britain is going the same way as the States where it's estimated that 300,000 people die because of obesity and over one-third of the population is obese. Here obesity causes 30,000 deaths a year and 18 million working days are lost because of fat-related illness. "Obese" is a very emotive word, but essentially means "fat enough to become ill".

Scary stuff. And the doctor had thrown down the gauntlet. I'm not the sort of person that leaves such a garment on the floor. I decided to bring the focus, drive and discipline that I use every day in my job to bear on my worrying weight.

I embarrassed myself into it with several knowing looks in the mirror, but what to do about it? I don't do diets, and as Oscar Wilde said, I can resist anything but temptation. I needed a target, a real challenge, something to aim for and be proud of ... a reason to diet that was greater than just losing weight. I had not run more than three miles since I was at school and so a marathon was the obvious choice. And not just any old marathon: I chose the London marathon - full, in your face embarrassment.

It also gave the opportunity to raise money for a couple of charities as a collateral benefit to my selfish health improvement motive - oh, and it would be so public there would be no backing out.

So, on 1 September 2004, I started with the simple philosophy, eat less, drink less and move more. It is obvious and the essence of what all diets make you do. I cut the carbs, ditched the puddings and, hardest of all, jumped on the wagon. I stopped grazing and started to do press-ups and the like. I wanted to lose weight before the long-distance runner in me could break free and in that first month the first stone was gone.

Only once or twice did I miss the booze - and the feeling soon went away each time. And once you miss out on a drink at a big occasion, the next time is easier.

I did not intend giving every last spare moment to running, so it was steady progress, first one, then three, then five miles once a week. I'm now up to 18 miles and remain injury free. I run on my own - solitude is at a premium in this job - and can only find time to do it at weekends. I'm slow, but I don't stop and I don't walk.

Yes, I should be running in the week as well, but I simply do not have the time. When it comes to the big day, I don't want to be a Paula Radcliffe ... just getting back in daylight will be an achievement.

And my weight now? A very satisfying 15 stone and 10 pounds. I feel fit with even more energy than before. My clothes are all loose, what a good feeling! And with only three days to go, I've just passed £100,000 towards my sponsorship target of £125,000. My charities are Unicef and Cancer Research UK and all contributions are welcome.

But it will not end there. I intend to keep the discipline and maintain a regular exercise schedule (but not the long runs) and my long-term target weight is 15 stone 8 pounds. As for the alcohol, yes I'm looking forward to my first taste for eight months and I will then continue to enjoy.

There's no magic formula to all this. Will power, self-belief and a burning desire to succeed at what I've set out to do. Put fewer calories in, exercise more, and lose weight - not rocket science. Remember: the graveyards of Britain are full of people who thought they were indispensable.

Sir Digby Jones is director general of the Confederation of British Industry. Donations can be made by contacting the CBI on 020 7395 8004 or emailing digby.jones@cbi.org.uk

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