Sweat is pouring down my face. My heart, pounding. I never remembered cycling being this tough in training.

Suddenly, I hit a bump in the road. There’s a moment of horror as I watch my food supplies spill helplessly onto the track and glance back as they’re destroyed by the stampede of 500 riders behind me. The only “food” I have with me for the remainder of this 112km mile triathlon is gone.

“This is going to be one long race” I think to myself.

I’m Dave Roeloffs and I eat my own dog food.

If someone had told me 10 years ago that I’d be competing in a triathlon let alone using my own business idea to help me participate in one of the toughest triathlons in the world, I’d have thought they were crazy.

When I started my health and fitness business, Fitmo, I knew I’d have to challenge myself. But, little did I know, one of the most difficult tests would be as a customer not a CEO.

Here’s how I victoriously managed to complete an Ironman triathlon while running a startup 80 hours a week.

Fail to prepare, prepare to fail

Like most business people with unforgiving schedules, it’s hardly surprising that the decision to participate in an Ironman triathlon didn’t come high on my list of priorities. With a wife and 2 children, plus a business to run, finding time to exercise has never been easy for me. For as long as I can remember, my life’s been a bit of a tightrope, constantly balancing family with the whirlwind of phone calls, emails and meetings that is startup life. But, when I started to see my health and fitness slide at the expense of my work, I decided I had to take massive action.

A buddy of mine, and professional triathlete convinced me after a few beers on a Friday night, to participate with him in Ironman Barcelona, 2016. Feeling like the hulk at this point, as a couple of drinks will do to you, I committed myself to my first half-Ironman.

The next morning after I woke up, panic started to set in. How was I going to plan a 35-mile bike workout around all my other tasks in a day not to mention all the other gruelling training I was about to embark on?!

To train for a half-Ironman, you need roughly 6-months and 10 hours a week to prepare for the 70 mile race (112 km), consisting of a 1.2 mile (1.9 km) swim, a 56 mile (90 km) bike ride and 13.1 mile (21 km) run.

I knew that I couldn’t back down (I ran a fitness startup after all), so I had no other choice but to go for it. What I not so quickly learned was that all the excuses I was telling myself about how I didn’t have time weren’t going to cut it anymore in preparing for this race. Tim Cook has 24 hours in his day, so what was my excuse?

At first, it was very difficult for me to keep to my workout schedule at the start of my triathlon training. In my work life, I often have to focus on urgent and pressing matters and there is not always a clear schedule so committing to my training plan became an issue. The fact that you’re training for 6-months in the future makes it’s even more difficult because you don’t see what you’re doing as urgent. However, by the time I was a month from the race, I was wishing I’d given myself more time.

This lesson was a hard pill to swallow. A couple months prior to the race, and only having pocketed a handful of training sessions, I was nowhere close to where I needed to be physically or mentally. My wakeup call came after I met face to face with my online coach. My trainer was reviewing my activity and said “you have pretty good stamina but your strength sucks. At this rate you aren’t going to make it to the finish line unless you’re prepared to put it more work.” ouch!

From there on in, I started training how I should have been 4-months ago. It was luckily enough to get me to the finish line and feel good about it but looking back I knew how much easier the race would have been if I started sooner. If you’re anything like me, then be prepared to drop your excuses, define a clear schedule for yourself and schedule your trainings as you would any other business meeting. You’ll thank yourself later.

You need to dream it to achieve it

The first thing you need to do is devise a strategy. The question I had to ask myself was “how am I going to get from where I am today to where you need to be at the day of the event.”

Tackling the problem of how to train for 3 activities at once while fitting around your schedule was something I found quite overwhelming. Unless you have a plan that is tailored to your schedule it’s never going to fit. I hear that masters of tri can provide some useful coaching to better understand how to approach this kind of race if anyone is interested in getting some support for their own training.

Visualization both in training and during the race is key to success. In order to accomplish a long-term goal like the Ironman triathlon. From the very first moment you begin training, you need imagine yourself participating the in the race. This will keep you focused and help you maintain motivation even during the tougher times.

And, you need to maintain this attitude during the race too. Starting an Ironman triathlon means throwing yourself into the ocean surrounded by 1000’s of competitors all jostling for position. The worst part: you can’t even see the other side. This feeling of ‘staring into the abyss’ is why a lot of people suffer from anxiety during the opening moments of the triathlon.

The ice-cold water coupled with the feeling that you’re not really moving forward as you are wrestling the waves against the current, is quite intense. It’s crucial to mentally prepare for the race if you want to make it through the toughest sections and cross the finish line later in the day.

Find your mentor

While having a coach isn’t absolutely necessary, it certainly helps, especially if you are a first-timer like I was. At the very least I would highly recommend finding a mentor or some type of support system that will keep you accountable to your goals.

As I started training with my coach, Auke, through Fitmo, I became aware of the enormity of the challenge the lay before me. Auke helped me realize that to accomplish the triathlon I’d need to commit to a demanding training schedule every single day. Without this extra motivation, time-management and support would I have been able to compete effectively or even make it to the starting line? Likely not.

The key part where my coach helped me was helping me to slow down. In order to perform consistently at long distances you have to exercise at a certain heart rate. When you use an average fitness app, the heart rate zones are generalized and do not take into account the differences that occur due to body size, fitness level and other variables. It’s for this reason that a lot of exercises are designed at the wrong intensity.

Using an app on my phone to train was also helpful since it gave me flexibility to connect with my personal trainer whenever I needed advice or extra motivation. During workouts or on long-bike rides, using Fitmo meant that my coach was only an instant message away.

Having a sense of accountability was also a massive motivator. Since the personal trainer could see my fitness data, he would know if I’d slacked off or gave him one hundred and ten percent. The feeling that you were letting the trainer down if you didn’t put in the effort really helped me to stay focused and put in the hours, even when it might’ve been easier not to.

Invest in your diet

Effective training means knowing when to exercise, how long to train for, how to recover effectively and how to manage your nutrition.

As well as planning your training regime, it’s just as important to map out a meal plan. Ensuring you are eating healthily and providing your body with nutrients and extra calories it needs to deal with the increased amount of exercise is incredibly important. Pay particular attention to pre and post-workout meals. These foods can have a dramatic effect on your performance and recovery respectively so it’s important to make sure you’re eating the right foods.

The race itself is a 6000 calorie workout. Just to put that into perspective, that’s the equivalent of what an average person would eat in 3 days. For this, I worked closely with my coach to develop my in-race nutrition plan to optimize my performance and maintain my energy levels the whole way round (Shame that this plan fell apart when I lost all my food!).

It’s important to train with the same energy gels that you will use during the race because your body will become accustomed to whatever supplements you are using on a regular basis. There will also be nutrition available during the race but keep in mind that you must watch out for dietary restrictions.

As someone who is gluten intolerant, I made the mistake of eating an energy bar after my gels fell off my bike (major rookie move not securing them properly) that contained wheat. Half-way through the race I had to find a toilet but after half the competitors had already visited there was no paper left. Not good.

Connect with like-minded people

Through my friend I connected with 10 like-minded people who were also competing in the Barcelona triathlon. Meeting new friends and having peers to train alongside was undeniably another factor in my success. While training for an event like this, it is always, on some level, a battle against yourself, having this mini-community of athletes gave me the sense that I wasn’t going it alone and made me much more engaged during the tougher moments. We were able to discuss training techniques, share tips and add value to each other’s experiences through the 6-months that we were connected. Together, we were able to break the training down into manageable milestones and for me, this was invaluable.

Spend time training, not money

Triathlons are an expensive sport. To compete, you’ll need to buy equipment such as a racing bike and fitness wear and on top of that costs associated with hiring a professional coach if that’s what you intend to do.

Hiring a professional coach isn’t completely necessary but a lot of people choose to seek expert guidance in order to minimize the risk of injury and maintain focus in the build-up to the race.

For beginners 80% of all injuries happen in the first couple of weeks training and all of them could’ve been prevented. Most dropouts in these events or do to amateur athletes not knowing what they are getting themselves into. They don’t have proper guidelines or slowly build up physical exercise. Part of the problem is that fitness trackers out there are geared towards encouraging you to do more and more every time you go out. This is fundamentally wrong, and that is why many people get injured in the beginning. It’s not about who can run the furthest it’s not about who can run the fastest. You need to train smart. With running you need to have recovery runs, interval training and long distance running workouts. They all have a different purpose but they’re all essential in your overall training. Having a professional coach to slow you down and not only do macho long runs is vital if you even want to make it two months to review training and not have to sit on the benches foster friends are doing the work.

In this way, Fitmo has also helped me to cut costs. Spending only 360 euros on an online coach for 6 months was a great way to prepare myself effectively but at a low cost.

The final straight

The feeling after I crossed the finish line was like nothing I’d ever felt before – it felt like I’d just climbed Mt Everest. The people I was connected to through Fitmo helped me achieve something I would’ve thought was impossible before I embarked on this journey.

While training for the event requires the same drive that is required for success in business, it also requires strong support from a team of people who are all motivated towards the same goal. ‘You’re only as strong as your team’ applies to the world of business as well as the world of sport. My training partners are now my friends which has been an added bonus that I didn’t expect before I took part.

My main realization is that being successful in business and being healthy go hand-in-hand. It’s no surprise that Richard Branson and Michelle Obama start their day with an early morning workout. The natural benefits of being fit and healthy such as improved mood, higher energy levels and better sleep all help play into success in business. And that’s not to mention the mindset that is required to stay motivated for the long-term.

So, my challenge to you is this: find yourself a personal trainer and join me when I participate in the Miami Ironman later this year?

Ironman triathlon

When Dave is not at the office or home with his wife and two young sons, you can find Dave running through the parks and canals of Amsterdam training for his next mud run or triathlon. As a busy Entrepreneur, Fitmo gives Dave the flexibility he needs to prepare for his next big race while growing a budding start-up and raising a young family.

Try Fitmo today for 7-days absolutely free and work with a REAL certified personal trainer or health coach through your mobile phone. Fitmo is a coach in your pocket you can take anywhere. 100% personalized, 100% results.

Start Your FREE 7-day Fitmo Trial Today!