Anthony Roberts had reluctantly taken up jogging when he was a first-year analyst with a Wall Street investment bank. He had been given the financial gig in the US after leaving Oxford, and viewed it as an opportunity to sneak into the industry while merrymaking in the Big Apple. But it was soon clear that his Wall Street colleagues did not hold with his louche view of the work-life balance; they were at their desks before most people had had their morning juice and did not finish until The City That Never Sleeps was grabbing a post-clubbing slice of pizza on Lower Broadway in the wee hours.
Anthony solved this conundrum by partying hard at night with the other young Brit bankers, while impressing his puritanical bosses by pulling on his running kit at lunchtime and making an ostentatious show of “taking a few quick laps” in Battery Park (in truth, a slow, lumbering stagger occasionally complemented by a clandestine pull on a Marlboro Light).
Back in London a few years later, with a job at a blue-chip City firm, he gave up any pretence of barrelling around a public park in tracksuit and trainers, and instead leveraged his lunchtimes to network over a decent steak and a glass or two of claret. His connections and his girth both duly flourished; and as they were coupled with some successful results, so it was that he was headhunted at the age of 41 by the London office of his old Wall Street alma mater.
The pay was phenomenal, but the philosophy, as it had been in the States, was more bed of thorns than beer and skittles. It quickly became clear that networking was done over press-ups, not Pouilly Fumé. Furthermore, his new colleagues, a handful of whom recalled his dogged dedication to his Battery Park lunch-time jog, insisted he join them in competing in the London Marathon.
Anthony knew that this public display of sweat and toil was needed to dazzle his new Yankee masters. It was easy enough for him to enter the 26.4-mile charge around the capital; hundreds of charities guaranteed slots in return for raising a couple of thousand pounds, and a whip-round among his mates would get him more than that.
Anthony started his fitness regime at the beginning of the New Year with an early morning stroll to a new newsagents four streets away from his home… for a packet of cigarettes. The following month he was jogging the five miles to his office – when he didn’t taxi the latter 3.5 of them – and a couple of weeks before the main event he just managed to complete a half marathon at a pace alternating between a not terribly fast walk and an extremely slow jog.
It was a bun fight when he and his colleagues – kitted out with official numbers and IPICO timing tags attached to their running shoes – joined the tens of thousands of runners at the red starting point in Greenwich Park. It was so crowded that it took them several minutes to get to the starting line and begin their race, tracking the blue line painted down the middle of the road that would take them to the finish.
Anthony’s colleagues surged ahead of him – all of them expected to complete the run in under three hours – while he alternately sprinted and waddled among the fun-runners. Crossing Tower Bridge, his pace had slowed enough that the couple dressed in tyrannosaurus rex costumes, at whom he had disparagingly smiled at the start, cruised past him. By the time he got to Victoria Embankment, he had broken blisters on both heels and was being overtaken by pensioners. Somehow, as he loped up the Mall, he marshalled a final burst of ego-saving energy and sprinted across the line with a Usain Bolt-like finishing flourish.
His less athletically inclined London friends had arranged to see him in Horse Guards Parade, where they greeted him with champagne and Marlboro Lights. Thus a picture of a grinning Anthony – cigarette dangling from lip, bottle of bubbly in one hand, the other pointing with pride at his snail-like time of 5 hours 32 minutes – naturally appeared on Facebook within hours; and, a day or so later, made its way into the London and New York boardrooms of his prim Wall Street employers.