P&G staff on their marks
On Sunday, 303 runners from P&G will be on the starting line. After a very serious preparation.
ONE COMPETITOR IN TEN WILL BE WEARING THE PROCTER & GAMBLE SHIRT
On Sunday, 303 employees of the American multinational will be taking part in the second Geneva marathon.
All of them are running under a sign that shows that they are among the company’s marathon runners. “No, it’s not a sword of Damocles but a mark of pride,” smiles Claude, a volunteer in this adventure which, on Sunday, will see 303 Procter & Gamble employees launched onto the roads of the city for the second Geneva marathon. One employee out of seven! One runner out of ten!
At the headquarters of the American multinational, people are talking about nothing else. The buzz is contagious and it’s kept up by the in-house TV service: “This is your opportunity to have a laugh at your colleagues. Come along and support them!” reads the message. “You almost feel guilty for not taking part,” whispers Bree. Every morning, she trains in the company gym installed three floors above her office. Next year, she will find it hard not to take the plunge.
Balance and integration
Myriam, who works in public relations, is already raring to go. No-one pushed her. It’s the team spirit and the encouragement of Jim Lafferty (see box) that overcame her hesitations. “I used to think they were all mad,” she says, recalling 2005, when 150 members of the P&G staff took part in the first Geneva marathon. Today, all doubts have been brushed aside and she has joined the group. “We can all take up the challenge,” she affirms, heart pumping and butterflies in the stomach. “I have to say that I am terrified when I think about running on Sunday but everything will be OK on the day.” Her red T-shirt bears the slogan: “Stop me at the finish line!”
Like Claude another first-timer who plays the occasional game of squash, she has had to start from scratch. First of all by walking and then gradually increasing her stride. A suitable training plan, careful coaching, advice on diet and motivation sessions have all helped to develop the kind of body and mind you need to run the marathon. For this first time round, her target is just to finish. “You mustn’t set your sights too high,” observes Claude who hopes to get round the 42.195 km course in less than five hours. For him, the race is already won: in four months of preparation, he has shed eight kilos.
In the land of Pampers, Pringles and Gillette, the marathon is seen as bringing about balance and well-being. Not to mention integration, quite an important
consideration in a company with 64 nationalities under the same roof. With this inspiration, Myriam, a fellow novice, who has signed up for the half-marathon no longer feels the cold.
And Dominique no longer snores! Last year, he seized his chance. “It was a now-or-never thing. Two years before, I’d broken my knee skiing. Why not give it a try, I thought? There were guys around older or fatter than me and they had managed. So, why not me?” And he too made it to the finish.
On Sunday, that will be the target for all of them.
The marathon according to Jim Lafferty
Not the guru type. Jim Lafferty, a native of Cincinnati, is the vice-president of the Family Care department at the European headquarters of Procter & Gamble. Before settling in Geneva, he had moved around and worked in Morocco and in Poland – and has tattoos on his left ankle to prove it. A passionate enthusiast for the marathon, he decided that the city just had to have its own event.
A physiologist by training, Jim discovered the marathon at the age of 18. “A girlfriend bet me that a 400 metre specialist like myself could never run a marathon. I took the bet and, though it nearly killed me, I won the five hundred dollars. It just goes to show that anyone can rise to the challenge.
Today, he swears by this test. “It’s great for character-building and it gives immense self-confidence to those who finish the course – only 1% of the population. He preaches his message at home too. On Sunday, his 14 year old daughter will be running alongside him showing that, at home as at work, team spirit and a sports culture co-exist happily.
Lafferty is a great motivator and above all a great communicator. “It’s only the last ten kilometres that are really hard. And then it’s your head that keeps you going.” He’s certainly managed to convince 302 of his colleagues and they are ready to follow him wherever he goes.
Geneva renews its ties with the urban marathon
Though the marathon does indeed dispatch its faithful devotees to toil through the dunes of the Sahara, the vineyards of Bordeaux or the slopes of the Jungfrau, it is above all an urban cult.
New York, with its 30, 000 competitors, its 12, 000 volunteers and its two million spectators has become the very archetype of this event, the grail of the macadam runners, these modern pilgrims who scour the planet in search of themselves. Is this a culture of hedonism or masochism? The tyranny of business? Whatever the answer, one thing is for certain and that is that no big city can buck this trend. Yesterday, from Cincinnati to Cracow, there were 8 international marathons on the schedule.
The city that submits to all these running feet exalts its identity and restores its unity. Under its aegis, the image of the despised urban jungle is cleansed of violence and pollution. For a day, all is harmony and a peace unbroken even by the irritable horns of the traffic.
For many years, Geneva excluded itself from this aristocratic sporting club, its marathon jettisoned back in the 1980s, after a spasm of narcissism and a desire to grow too quickly. Last year, however, thanks to courage and elbow grease of a handful of enthusiasts, the race was brought back, bright as a new pin.
For many people, this meant that a mistake had finally been corrected. “Geneva, an international and tourist city par excellence could not just stand on the sidelines of a phenomenon as universal as the marathon,” sums up Jim Lafferty, a Procter & Gamble executive in Geneva. “Its romance is its greatest attraction,” adds the American eulogist.
Yesterday, the Geneva marathon attracted more than 3, 000 competitors, a hundred more than in 2005. Together with the Course de l’Escalade with more than 20, 000 runners and the Tour du Canton with 2, 000, this resounding success confirms the robust health of running.
However, the race has not caught the popular imagination or stirred passions along the route. As we saw recently when the prologue to the Tour de Romandie was
shunned by the public, austere Geneva is less than keen on the sight of sweat, even in triumph. It will never be a New York or a Berlin.
In any case, isn’t it better to prefer runners with human faces and sentimental crowds? To carry on without forcing the pace, running at your own speed? Va piano, va sano.