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50 hour workweeks and Ironman wins – how to do both at once

We sit with Swiss entrepreneur and multiple age group Ironman champion Dr. Pablo Erat for a detailed look at how he manages to achieve so much in sport as well as business all at once.

Dr. Pablo Erat is a serial entrepreneur, strategy consultant - and a passionate (and successful) long-distance triathlete. Despite long hours and an average of 10 days a month overseas working with his co-owned investment and venture development firm, Pablo still has managed to become one of the best age group triathletes in the world. A multiple amateur Ironman champion, European champion in long-distance triathlon and Swiss champion in ultra-marathon cycling’s couple category, Dr. Erat - together with his wife Lucia (runner-up amateur at the Ironman World Championships last year) – seem to have found the secret formula for having a career, social life and high-level fitness.

 

With that said, we asked Dr. Erat to share with us just how he does it all, and his tips and processes for those looking to do the same.  

 

Ever since I started my endurance sport journey in 2005, I have had work and leadership responsibilities requiring me to be in the office 50 plus hours per week.

Most of the best amateur long-distance triathletes train 15-20 hours per week through the year. Such substantial time investment is a is a big challenge for anybody working - and even more so for executives with extensive travel schedules. That said, I love my life and try to fill it with opportunities to push myself, learn and enjoy. Whether work or fitness, the secret to success lies in truly enjoying what I do. When things get tough, I remind myself of how privileged I am being able to live such an active life.

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Over the years, I have learned that simultaneous success in my job and other important areas of life, such as sports, depends on six main areas or steps, and my ability to master them in the following ways.

 

1. Igniting the passion:

It all starts with passion. Success does not simply happen by chance. It is something that we create over time through a little bit of talent and a large amount of passion and determination. Through my triathlon journey, I have realized that passion is the most powerful source of motivational energy that makes our lives truly exciting and worthwhile. With passion, I know why I get up in the morning and sometimes why I can´t fall asleep at night. It helps me create clarity of what truly matters and what I want to do. It is what gives me the energy and sustaining power to push through when going gets tough. In addition, passion radiates to all areas of life and grows when it is shared. It is like an attractive virus. When you are passionate you realize that people become truly interested in what you are doing and in turn, want to get infected themselves.

 

2. Definition of motivating targets:

With passion in check, the rest of the “steps” play out in more of a sequence. I start each year by defining my “life pyramid” which consists of the three areas that are most important to me: my family and friends, my profession, and my sportive passion. For each of these three areas, I define motivating targets that I would like to achieve in the course of the year. Through this process, I increase my awareness about priorities. The outcome of this exercise is a list the things that I want to achieve and would like to do. I then discuss, align and prioritize the list with my wife. The most motivating targets and activities to me – especially when it comes to sports - are the ones that I can share with my wife, and for me, this spurs many of those goals on to become actions.

 

3. Planning and time management:

When I talk sport with business people, time is always what seems to be holding them back. In today’s world, time is something very precious and we should all be conscious about what we do with it. As a time-stressed professional, excellent organization and time management are absolutely paramount. I start each year by breaking down my objectives, defined in my “life pyramid” into a “master plan” showing a yearly overview with all the important business milestones, business travels and competitions on a weekly basis. Based on this plan, I define which two competitions are the most important ones and my coach then helps me by developing a macro training logic which is optimally aligned with my professional targets and obligations and designed to get me fit for the high priority events. Despite all that planning, it is paramount to keep a flexible mind.

Life, including business, usually does not develop exactly as planned. 

Faced with a very dynamic entrepreneurial business reality, I have learned not get frustrated when conflicts occur but simply try to make the best out of the situation and stay positive and motivated. Over time, I have also become a true master of flexible time optimization and use most of the free slot for training. Accordingly, when I am in Switzerland, I mostly bike or run to work and - if I do a lunch break - I use it for training in the gym or swimming in the lake. During my monthly travels between Asia and Europe, I try not to waste any time in the hotel room after a long working day. I usually make a very fast transition when arriving at the hotel to avoid the trap of getting stuck watching news, checking emails or surfing the web. I rather use that time for a light training session, which is the best way for me to synch my body and mind, reduce stress and gather mental energy for the next day.

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4. Prioritization of sleep and recovery:

When I started with triathlon, I tried to train as much as possible and sometimes got up in the middle of the night to do a hard training if I could not find enough time during the day. I believe that many amateur athletes make this mistake as they bring along a highly ambitious mind-set from the start but are not as disciplined with resting as they are with training hard. Many amateur athletes also compare themselves with professionals and feel that with 15 hours of training per week they are not doing enough compared to those top tier athletes logging double the amount training for their amazing results. The problem with the comparison is that most top professionals do sports for a living wherefore they get significantly more recovery time despite a much higher training volume.

The risk of pushing yourself too hard as an amateur - without sufficient recovery - are injuries, mental burn-outs and social distress.

Over the last few years, I have realized that sleep and recovery is critical for my fitness and success in general. Today, I try to sleep as much as I can and have increased the duration of my sleep from 5-6 hours to 7-8 hours. I also try to do one recovery day each week during which I get a good massage and do not train at all or only train at a very low intensity. Finding the right balance is not easy but if we understand and are sensitized to the importance and listen to our bodies, we are already on a good track.

 

5. Training smart - not more:

As a result of an increased work load and being more conscious about recovery, my total training volume has decreased over the past 6 years from an average of 20-22 hours to 12-14 hours when I am in Switzerland and 6-8 hours during my business travels. Interestingly enough, this has not negatively impacted my race performance. This is only possible because I have learned to train much smarter than in the past. I have carefully analyzed all my training logs and race results over the past 12 years and figured out what works and what does not. As a result, I have done a lot of changes and tweaks in my training. To mention a few examples, I have reduced the junk-miles to a minimum, made all training sessions much more targeted, increased the intensity and variation and strongly worked on functional muscular strength with a focus on core muscles. The intensified training regime is supported through more recovery time and a very healthy diet that has also fine-tuned to meet my personal requirements.

 

6. Building a strong support system:

Ultimately, no man is an island. In order to successfully progress in all areas of life, especially within competitive sports, we need to develop powerful relationships with various stakeholders. My most important source of inspiration and energy is my wife Lucia and I find myself extremely privileged to share my life and sportive passion with her. We try to do as many training sessions together as possible and pick competitions that are highly motivating for both of us.

The fact that I can share all these experiences with her and get inspired by her talent and discipline is a huge factor in my life.

I have also chosen to work with Reto Brändli as my coach who knows me as an athlete and friend for years. The relationship is highly collaborative and Reto understands my work reality which enables him to develop training plans which actually function under real life conditions. I also work closely together with leading experts to optimize all the important elements of the sport “puzzle” such as nutrition, race fuel and performance testing.

Last but not least, I have built a long-term relationship with Tempo-Sport and On. The Tempo-Sport team has become a family to me and the shop provides be with a strong sponsorship package that gives me access to the best equipment available in the market. The team at On have supported me over many years by providing running shoes and other apparel which optimally fit my needs. In order to nurture these relationships, I try to actively figure out ways how I can give back as much as possible and contribute to the success of my supporters.

 

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With all of these plans, people and passions aligned, I develop my sportive targets for the year. For 2017 they are three-fold. First, I aim to achieve a top result at the European Ironman 70.3 championships in Denmark in June. Second, I will participate at the Ironman in Kalmar in August and hope to go sub 9 hours if the conditions are favourable. Finally, I want to support my wife in the best possible way for her to win the amateur Ironman World Championship title in October.

Ultimately, however, I am in it to remain fit, live an active and passionate life - and share my learnings to inspire others out there.

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