I don’t care about your Ultra… How big is your ROTI?

How big is your ROTI? read to enlarge 🙂

You participated in an ultra race and, quite rightly, feel pleased about it. But, there are many reasons I do not care much about it. Here’s one reason – tell me, have you thought about how big your ROTI is?

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The Denominator
The Numerator
Numerator over Denominator
Keeping Track
What is a Good Return on Investment?
Consider Your Capital

Why ROTI? [top]

When I tell people that “I spend less than 30 minutes per day on exercise” or that “I spend less than 20 minutes per day on running” they look at me disbelievingly. Just like when I said I never do an ab workout, they think I am making up ‘facts’. But the ‘fact’ is that I am very passionate about time efficiency. A few months ago, I took part in a reasonably tough 10km race. I was fortunate to come second. (As you probably know, I enjoy a podium finish but don’t care about it too much.) The friend who came first, deserved to. He was noticeably faster than I was and faster than I will ever be. A brief conversation around then revealed that his weekly running mileage was between 4 and 6 times what I was clocking in a typical week. Although the reason for that incredibly high mileage was justified because he was training for some very long races, it struck me that so often we spend too much time in the wrong way and produce time inefficient results.

Let’s go back to the very simple idea

The Denominator [top]

Time is a severely constrained resource

It is clear that the one thing that all of us always wish we have more of is time! Getting sufficient hours of sleep is very important for our well-being and what we all look forward to is to have many more alert waking hours in our typical week. And, we look to have many healthy and happy years ahead of us. In all cases, it is natural to want the same return for less time invested. That would leave us with extra time to invest in other ways we desire.

Unless you are one of those sad people who is happy having no real friendships, you are likely to have a bunch of things in life that you are interested in. First there is spending time with your family – grandparents, parents, uncles and aunts, cousins, spouse, siblings, children, nephews and nieces and grandchildren…and I’m out of breath! Then there are your friends – recent friends, old friends, new friends that you will make, work colleagues, romantic partners. And then there are activities that you enjoy, sedentary and those involving some physical movement – sleep and rest, prayer and meditation, indoor and outdoor hobbies.

All these that you enjoy need you to invest time in them for an appropriate return. Would it not be great to have sufficient time for all of them and to get the most from each of them with whatever time you could invest in each of them?

The Numerator [top]

The return can be captured neatly with the branches of the Wellness Tree. If you are not foolish enough to be chasing money (medium maximization) and wise enough to be enjoying the experiences that your money buys, then your focus will be on physical, mental, emotional and spiritual health.

When it comes to recreational distance running, the primary focus when investing time is to improve your cardiorespiratory endurance and muscular endurance. You also hope to have good flexibility, not lose absolute muscular strength and benefit from an improvement in body composition. (You may already know my thoughts on why you need not run.)

Numerator over Denominator [top]

The refined question to then ask is – given the amount of time being invested in recreational distance running, how much are you getting back in terms of the primary goals of the activity? It is worth answering this question relative to your GPF (Genetic Potential Fitness), given that time is a severely constrained resource and there are so many more life enhancing activities that it could be invested toward.

Keeping Track [top]

If you are going to maximize your return from any investment then you need to keep track of how much you are investing not just what you are getting back in return. Specifically, how much time are you investing in exercise? And, I have spoken about recording information in the past.

Smart Investing

What is a good return on investment? [top]

If you have been following my conversations over the last few years you will not be surprised to hear that I have no absolute recommendation for this question. What is more important to focus on is measuring it, and then trying to improve it. Remember, your GPF (Genetic Potential Fitness) plays an important benchmark here.

Less than 20 mins a day!

I want to stress again, that chasing higher absolute returns is a decent activity, but what will make it super for you is to also consider the returns relative to the time invested. If you are spending twice as much time on something for only a tiny improvement in results, it is time to rethink your strategy! Remember, Balance is True Mastery!

It may be that if you are in the early stages of a particular activity that your ROTI is high and that as time progresses and you start to get closer to your GPF, your ROTI drops. In that case my simple and effective advice would be this – consider just staying close to your GPF with a sensibly small amount of effort.

If you run, swim or bike an ultra race every once in a while, but the average stranger on the street does not look at you and think “athlete” then there’s something going wrong. Balance is True Mastery!

Consider your Capital [top]

Whenever investing it is worthwhile to examine the promised (or expected) return from the deployment of capital. That capital need not be just financial capital, but could be human capital too. This human capital you invest could be physical effort (actual physical labour, or even exercise) or intellectual capital, or even emotional capital. And, I would like you to also think of spiritual capital.

[Read about Time Optimized Living]

The variable being considered in today’s conversation is time which translates almost directly to the physical labour capital. Given that good health is multifactorial, it is worth stopping and thinking if, perhaps, less time could be invested in the activity for better results. Or if time in that activity could be replaced with an improved focus on one of the other input factors. For instance, the fact that I achieve what I do in terms of fitness is clearly not only about the time I spend on exercise, but also the details in the many other things that I pay attention to in 24 hours  – including french fries.

It does not matter how many hours you spend with your head buried in books – what matters is what comes out of your head when it matters.

It does not matter how many hours you spend in Church – what matters is how you treat the world around you when you are out of Church.

I do not care about your ultra – how big can you make your ROTI?



Dr Purnendu Nath spends his waking hours focusing on helping individuals and organizations reach their goals, to make the world a better place. He speaks, writes and advises on topics such as finance, investment management, discipline, education, self-improvement, exercise, nutrition, health and fitness, leadership and parenting.


  1. “It does not matter how many hours you spend in Church – what matters is how you treat the world around you when you are out of Church.”
    How true👌🏼….
    Thankyou for sharing this insightful write up puru…you put magic into your words…😊


  2. Absolutely brilliant gem of a thought..
    “It does not matter how many hours you spend with your head buried in books – what matters is what comes out of your head when it matters.”

    Makes it even more pertinent to focus on the returns, and make your life efficient, rather than lose your balance…

    Great topic Puru, once again. Congrats..


    • Dear Shukla
      Thanks, for reading it carefully and appreciating the wisdom in it.
      Hope to see you soon!
      Your bro…


    • Thought provoking. I would like to point out that the pie chart leads to illusory conclusions. For one, there is overlap between activities, for example, I think about family while I run. I plan about running while I am with family. Similar methods to get time efficiency is possible in many other activities. Infact, my best thoughts come during running. At a time that I look to invest more time in running, in search of better and more wonderful ideas and thoughts, your article makes me THInk about efficient running! 🙂


      • Dear Andy
        You hit upon an important point that one ought to conclude – that thinking about everything we do, ought to make our use of time in this life, and our daily life, more efficient overall. I enjoy the way my mind thinks up wonderful ideas while running, much like when one is in the shower! One of the issues around distance running for those who are enthusiasts of the sport is that the passage of time appears to contract, especially in retrospection. The same length of time when sitting in traffic on the way home appears to be much longer than the arduous run felt. That might mean that there is greater susceptibility of distance runners to use their time inefficiently because they do not perceive their time spent running as being much time!


  3. Interesting. I am in my early 50’s who started this quest for running 1 year back. Have had multiple injuries ( more of road accidents while running) leading to not so great a start. Wonder if you train oldies and any program in chennai?!


    • Dear Dharini
      To “do something well before you do it often” is a good rule-of-thumb to follow, whether it be bharatnatyam or bicycling.
      I mentor people of any age.
      Do email me at pnath.phd98@london.edu to know more.
      Best wishes for good health


  4. Wonderfully penned (as usual). I agree with your point of not being able to come across as a fit person (or athlete – as you described) even after doing some mind-boggling distances in any endurance activity. Obviously the investments were only for glory on the social platforms..


    • Dear Sameer

      Thank you for your comment after reading the article carefully.
      Yes, it is very important that we are more inward looking despite having eyes that look outward.
      Vision isn’t just what we see around us with our eyes open.

      Love and Good Health

      – Puru


  5. Very well written and to the point. Like you rightly brought out more mileage is not always better ! Measure your ROTI before you learn the hard way…overuse injuries and such. In fact, recently I had a chance to watch some elite runners train (under 65 min half marathon types) and was shocked to see their low running volumes. So much so their hard workouts would add up to less than a couple of hours per week ! The key is to know what to do…wish one could google the answer.


    • Dear Parag

      Thanks for your comments that add more colour to what I wrote.
      I wonder if you can guess whom I refer to in paragraph # 3….

      Love and best wishes for Monsoon running…


      Liked by 1 person

  6. […] Diversify your supporting base – the more dissimilar the factors that drive your level, the greater is the bang you get for each buck invested across each of those factors. For example, if all you do is many different types of cardio exercises at the gym to maintain low body fat, then when you cannot access a gym, your fat percentage levels are likely to rise. How big is your ROTI? […]


  7. Quality more than quantity…is my take away from your ROTI theory…also liked your statement about how we spend our time outside of Church & the number of books we read….yes, less is sometimes more in so many aspects in life…well written Purnendu!


  8. […] I won’t discuss the myriad ways to encourage more women to use recreational distance running for better health. Instead, I present the gender-wise split of participants in the 3 races. It is only FYI – we cannot draw any firm conclusions about why there are fewer women in the longer races. I cannot even say they are wiser because they may not have chosen to run less out of wisdom. […]


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