FEATURE1 March 2010

Double Lives – Sarah Phillips

Researchers reflect on their out of hours pursuits. This month Sarah Phillips, head of health at Ipsos Mori, and also a cani-cross runner.


Tell us about your day job
I’m head of health at Ipsos, with responsibility for leading the UK-based pharmaceutical research team and setting the global strategy for the division.

Tell us about your other life
I race competitively with my dog, Flavia, in cani-cross (cross-country running with a dog tied to you). We compete in 5km races with CaniX, the official UK cani-cross organisation, and are currently 14th in our class. Flavia, an Italian Spinone, is attached to me via a bungee cord, and the idea is that she pulls as I run. However, we aren’t so hot on the pulling part all of the time.

How do you fit the two around each other?
I don’t have a great deal of choice. Flavia will not let me go until we’ve been out together. We usually go out first thing in the morning, before the work day starts.

Ever tempted to take up cani-cross running full time?
There is nothing more satisfying than running alongside Flavia and seeing how happy she is going at full pace. She loves being out in all weathers and never cares about how far we go. But I think full time would always be an unrealistic dream.

What does cani-cross offer you that research doesn’t?
Taking part in cani-cross means I am outside every day, in any weather. I have a motivator to get outside and get some fresh air to make up for sitting at a computer for most of the rest of the day.

What does research offer you that cani-cross doesn’t?
I love the buzz that research gives with lots of ideas flying around, and organising these into a logical and meaningful output.

What does research teach you that you can use as a runner?
I’ve learnt from research that proper planning will repay you tenfold. I like to approach projects with a very clear planning and communication strategy, often running workshops or co-creation meetings to think through the required output and how the research design can really work for the client.

What does cani-cross running teach you as a researcher?
Cani-cross teaches me to enjoy the journey. On race day we aren’t there to finish, we are there to have fun, which for Flavia usually means dragging me through the deepest puddles and deciding to swim in the ponds (with me attached) rather than take part in the race – much to the amusement of people passing by. All too often in research some of the steps that are required to reach the end of a project are considered less interesting or glamorous than the end presentation. It doesn’t have to be like this.

What do your research colleagues say when you tell them about your other life?
Few of them have heard of cani-cross and most of the questions I get asked are about whether I have been pulled over by Flavia (only once is the answer).

What do your running competitors say when you tell them you’re really a researcher?
The great thing about running, and running with a dog in particular, is that everyone is equal. People come from all walks of life.

If you had to give up one of your two lives which would it be?
My ideal would be a longer day, so I could easily run for an hour, get home, shower, eat and still be at my desk on time. I am a strong believer in work-life balance, so I couldn’t work without being out running, and I’d worry that my running would lose its edge if I didn’t also have to get to work.