When the boss at your first job out of college challenges you to run a marathon, what's the recommended response?

If you're Haley Chura, weeks into an auditing role at Atlanta-based CPA and consulting firm Bennett Thrasher, it's emphatic.

"I was brand-new, and, 'Oh my gosh, the partner just told me to do this, I better do it!'" Chura recalled. "I didn't know I shouldn't race my boss ... I ended up beating him by a minute. Instead of firing me," she laughed, "he encouraged me to continue running, and encouraged me to do triathlons."

Current managing shareholder and veteran marathoner Michael Dukes' initial invitation made sense, given Chura's athletic background as a competitive swimmer for the University of Georgia. But she wasn't a runner, so Dukes gave her a training plan that quickly progressed beyond her one-mile first attempt, which had left her "a little bit afraid."

The challenge of that first race in 2007 appealed to Chura's athlete mentality, prompting her to take Dukes' advice and venture into triathlons. "I knew I could get better with running," she shared. "I reached the end of my swimming career in college. Now there were more things I could truly improve on."

Chura has completed 15 to 20 triathlons and eight Ironman triathlons (a longer-distance version of the multi-sport race), including her first as a professional triathlete in Arizona last year, where she finished seventh. She has a coach and is part of the local Dynamo Multisport training team, though she also finds camaraderie with fellow "fitness fanatics" at Bennett Thrasher. The firm has an informal track club that allows its runners to coordinate training schedules for that next 5K or marathon.

"My career is in accounting, but I [went pro] just for an extra challenge," she explained. "I was doing well as an amateur and wanted another challenge. I enjoy my auditing career, and I do want to hold myself to a high level when I race."

Chura credits the time-management skills she developed during her college swimming days with helping her balance her roles as triathlete and auditor - along with early morning workouts and opposite seasons. While triathlon season doesn't kick off until the weather warms up, continual workouts keep her healthy and sane during longer office hours: "During busy season, I'm training and it's good to have something else going on. I get up and run before work and it makes me feel better."

Chura might also owe some of her drive to her chosen career path, judging by the other professionals she's encountered on the track. "There are a lot of business people, because it takes a Type-A, someone that is well organized" to compete, she explained. "You have to be able to set goals and follow through."

By the same token, racing has elevated her work. "I honestly think it helps in auditing to be more outgoing and have an interesting passion of some sort," she said. "It helps you connect, which is such a huge part of my job."

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