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I’m A Competitor: Jan Fields

We caught up with the former president of McDonald's USA.

We caught up with the former president of McDonald’s USA. 

In a true American success story, Jan Fields started her career with McDonald’s in 1978 cooking French fries for $1.65 an hour. She worked her way through the ranks and made it her mission to educate people about the importance of a nutritious diet and increase wholesome menu options at the 14,000 McDonald’s restaurants she oversaw in the U.S.

As part of a personal campaign to get fit, she took up running in 2011 and has since run seven half-marathons and the 2011 Chicago Marathon. We caught up with her before she stepped down from her post on Nov. 15.

Why did you start running?

It was really with the intent to stay fit. I was never involved in sports as a kid, except for golf. I went to a Catholic school and there were no sports for girls back then. When I decided I wanted to start running, a colleague bought me John Bingham’s book, “The Courage to Start.” After reading it, I realized if John Bingham could do it, I could do it. I was 55 at the time.

How has running changed your life?

It’s what everyone says—it’s addicting. It keeps me balanced. The job I have is really demanding, but running is my alone time. I don’t take a phone with me. I get out and get lost in what I’m doing. It really energizes me and makes me happy.

When do you find time to run?

I get up at 4:30 a.m. on the weekends and am doing my long runs by 5 a.m. During the week, I often run at 8:00 at night in my neighborhood or I’ll run after work on a four-mile loop around our campus.

Why does running work for you?

I’m a goal-setter. My job requires me to have very specific, measurable goals, and marathon training provides the same focus. You have to follow a program week to week and you know what you must do by the day. I have my training plan taped to the back of my iPad, so I always know what I need to do.

Has that carried over to your job?

It’s important that I am a role model for so many people within our company. We had 450 teammates running the Chicago Marathon under the Ronald McDonald House Charities organization. Plus, it has made me more appreciative of the connection between nutrition and exercise. Yes, you can eat differently and lose weight, but you won’t keep it off if you don’t exercise. You have to exercise regularly.

How does McDonald’s promote healthy eating habits?

Aside from continually adding new healthy options to our menu, all McDonald’s in the U.S. now post calorie counts for all menu items. Our intent is to educate people about the food they are eating and also show that eighty percent of our menu items have fewer than 400 calories.

What’s your favorite running moment?

Obviously, the most memorable one is crossing the finish line at the Chicago Marathon. The next day I was doing a presentation for several hundred people, and when I ran up on stage, there was a picture of me crossing the finish line, but someone had Photoshopped a photo of Moses Mosop behind me as if I beat him. I joked he was probably back in Kenya before I finished.

This piece first appeared in the December 2012 issue of Competitor magazine.