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How Germany fell in love with the ‘company run’

How Germany fell in love with the 'company run'
Participants in the JP Morgan Corporate Challenge in Frankfurt. Photo: DPA
More and more companies across Germany are taking part in so called "Firmenläufe" - company runs – as a way to bring colleagues together and give everyone a chance to show the boss who's boss.

At the JP Morgan Corporate Challenge in Frankfurt alone – the biggest company run in Germany – there were more than 70,000 people registered to take part on June 11th.

Sports psychologist Andreas Marlovits said that “just as running has been going through a boom for years, there is also the form of company running”.

Companies are likely to have a large pool of runners to draw on among their employees, with estimates of the number of regular runners in Germany from Deloitte ranging between 18 and 22 million – or roughly a quarter of the total population.

And company runs can “strengthen the connection to the firm” as employees' sporting pride is piqued and they push harder to outdo each other.

One of the largest organizers is B2RUN, which will be putting together races in 12 German cities over the course of 2015.

In 2014, the company hosted 115,000 competitors from around 5,400 companies, and they report that numbers in Munich, for example, have increased by around 25 percent annually since around 2008.

That might be because there is little need to have a high level of fitness or experience to take part – and around 90 percent of companies even pay their employees' fees to join the race.

The manageable six-kilometre distances are surely also a part of the events' attractiveness.

Run to beat the boss

Testing your powers against the boss is an exciting opportunity that's unlikely to happen during office hours, Marlovits suggested.

“In running clothes, employees and managers are at the same level,” he said. “In some circumstances, the ordinary worker is stronger in the company run.”

That's what has drawn many Bosch employees in Stuttgart to take part in company runs – to the extent that the engineering giant now has its own online shop for its sports lovers.

“It's not so much about the time you achieve in the company run,” said Bosch human resources head Christoph Kübel, “it's more about the togetherness and who's ahead and behind.”

“If the boss is there, of course you step on the gas a bit,” said Bosch employee Volker Ströbele, who began running through work and has now moved on to marathons.

“For us as an employer, it's positive that colleagues are meeting independently outside the workplace,” said Wolf Eberhardt, Bosch's head of culture, sport and free time.

“I think that companies have discovered that with a run like this, you have a way to bring people together.”

B2RUN reports that around one in four companies that take part in their runs is an industrial firm, with particularly high participation among employees at high-tech businesses.

But Marlovits warned that there can be some dangers, too.

“If training is moved into free time, it's a significant extension of the working world into private life,” he said.

And runners will always be concerned about putting up a strong performance if their co-workers are watching.

“Even if it's only at the starting line, runners will feel pushed to go fast. All your good intentions [that it should be a friendly contest] can quickly go overboard,” he concluded.

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