He has arguably one of the most unenviable jobs in the country, tasked with co-steering us through a global pandemic and managing the tumultuous fall-out which has brought protestors to the doorstep of his home.
But Tanaiste Leo Varadkar, who is due to rotate back into the office of Taoiseach late this year, is a keen runner and sees it not only as a vital stress-management tool, but also as valuable thinking time to help him reach good decisions – and something which keeps him fit for the demanding job of public office.
Taking time out of his hectic schedule, the Fine Gael leader told Irish Runner why he always finds time to work out, which world leader he’d like to race, and why Shane Codd and Dua Lipa are on his running playlist.
Tanaiste, when did you take up running and why?
I started running shortly after I got elected to the Dail back in 2007. At the time I wanted to get fit, lose weight and burn off energy. I also found it a great way to deal with stress. You leave the phone behind and switch off. But you can also think things through while running and reach good decisions. It’s also great to get daylight and fresh air, especially in the winter.
Do you think it helps you deal with stress?
Definitely. You always feel better after any sort of workout, whether it’s running, walking, swimming or a session in the gym.
You obviously have an extremely high-pressured public role, so how do you make time to run and how important is that time to you?
When I was first elected to the Dail, I asked a few people whether they had any advice. Ruairi Quinn (former Education Minister) recommended scheduling time for yourself every week. So that no matter how busy you are, you can always find time for exercise. It’s advice that has stood to me really well over the years.
Do you ever feel conflicted taking time for yourself?
Sometimes you do feel a bit guilty, especially if there is a backlog of calls to return or documents to read. But I know that exercise, like sleep, improves performance, so you have to make time for it. You also work very long hours in politics, and I believe firmly that regular exercise helps you put in the hard yards at work by virtue of being a little fitter.
Do you consider yourself a competitive person?
I suppose everyone has a competitive streak, but I’m not when it comes to running. Maybe I am just too slow! I tend to run more for exercise and fitness rather than for competitive reasons. And what’s often said about running is that you’re competing mainly against yourself.
If you had to race another world leader, who would you choose?
That’s a difficult question. Running is actually very sociable, and a great way to get to know someone. I’ve ran with Justin Trudeau (the Canadian Prime Minister) and taken a long bike ride around Copenhagen with Mette Frederiksen (the Danish PM). Maybe (American Vice-President) Kamala Harris. I have yet to meet her.
What's your fastest 5k time, or do you bother tracking?
I don’t really track it anymore, but it’s usually about 25 minutes depending on the route.
We're dying to know what's on your running playlist.
That changes a lot. It’s mostly dance music to keep me going. At the moment it’s Fisher, Ewan McVicar, Shane Codd, Cheese People and Dua Lipa. But on a summer’s day, I might listen to classical music. It depends on my mood.
Do you tend to run solo or with a buddy?
Usually solo. I used to run with the Dublin Front Runners in the Phoenix Park but haven’t since the pandemic.
Have you ever run a marathon? And if not, could this be a goal for 2022?
I’ve done a half marathon and a couple of sprint triathlons, but never worked up to a full marathon. These days I’m a big believer in mixing different types of exercise so I’ll probably keep my focus on shorter runs for now. I mostly do workouts. Having said that, I’ve huge admiration for anyone who has put in the time and the effort to run a full marathon. It’s really an amazing achievement.
Lastly, what would you say to anyone toying with the idea of taking up running in 2022?</strong
Go for it. Walk or run. It’s a brilliant way to stay in shape, burn off stress, and in these days of Covid, to enjoy the fresh air.