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9 Things Finishing Ironman 70.3 Triathlon Taught me about Life & Entrepreneurship

I have just raced at Ironman 70.3 Triathlon in Antalya. Water temperature was great; the humidity was ok; except for the extreme wind during cycling, everything went well, and I managed to complete the race. During the Ironman training period and at the race itself, I accumulated some stuff that Ironman triathlon teaches you about life&entrepreneurship. I am surprised how much these two distinct practices are parallel to each other.

Here we go:

  1. US Navy Seal Rule Applies For Anything You Do In Your Life

One precious thing I learned when I attended Singularity University in 2014 was the US navy seal rule. It says, ‘’The magnitude of the challenge multiplied with the intensity of your attack to this challenge equals to your rate of growth. When you do challenging stuff, and you attack them as hard as you can, the result is always satisfactory. Choose to do hard things. You will spend your life for some endeavor anyway, go for 10x multiple instead of 10% improvement. And also be aware of 40% rule: when your mind is telling you you’re done, you can’t push anymore, that’s it for you; do not give up because you’re only 40% done, there is still %60 percent improvement space. This is the reason why even though most people hit a wall at the first half of ironman triathlon, they’re still able to finish the race. Swimming and cycling were ok, but I hit the wall at the 10th km of running part. I felt several cramps on both legs, and I thought I have no more power to continue but then remembered that it is an illusion of our brain. You should know about your baseline and your comfort line and turn them upside down. Do stuff which pushes you outside of your comfort zone. Attack the problem with full force and put your whole heart & body into the effort. This leads you to two possible outcomes: great success or great failure, and even you fail, you get intense learning and personal growth. Do not forget that you don’t always have to win something or realize your dream; as Çetin Altan says in one of his interviews, life is not always spent just for reaching your goal, it can also be spent to support the steps towards this collective goal.

2) Be A Dreamer. Dream Big. There Is Nothing You Can Dream That You Will Not Be Able To Achieve By Putting Your Whole Heart, Body, Soul, and Mind Into The Journey Itself, Not The Victory.

We live in a society where dreaming is undervalued, especially dreaming big. I’ve learned that if you dream big and work hard for it, dreams will come true eventually. I start training for Ironman training 4 months before the race and wouldn’t expect to finish the race considering the triathletes put that much effort&time to become ironman-ready, but I was able to do that. Ironman race is not just a physical challenge but one that changes your lifestyle, mindset, and character. It builds determination. It makes you find your motivation, all of which carry over into your everyday life to help you achieve your seemingly “impossible” dreams and turn them into reality. Being an entrepreneur is also a big decision; when you choose to be one, you do not choose your job and salary, but your lifestyle. You got to question your decision every day, face the big challenges. You need to internalize that the real value is not at the victory but on the journey itself.

3) Persipation > Inspiration

Dreaming is nice. But executing your dream is the real deal. Finishing the Ironman 70.3 triathlon taught me that a few things never betray you. The most loyal one: Training. Hard work, coupled with consistency, becomes a great weapon. Before anything else, preparation is the key to success. Maybe trainings are not as sexy as the race itself, but you gotta do them for the sake of being sharp&ready for the real race. In life, know your toolset and get to know your competition very well. This will ease your moves in life as it does in triathlon, makes you crystal clear about what you do and why you do it when something unexpected happens. There were 24 pieces of equipment I prepared for the Ironman race, and each of them had its own particular task. Ironman has several rules to follow, as life does. You gotta know all the rules by heart, or you might be disqualified. We also need inspiration, but ideas become a commodity; execution is the king. If you have a challenging dream (If your dreams don’t scare you, they aren’t big enough), be ready for the blood, sweat & tears during your journey. Don’t be afraid of getting tired. As once Atatürk said, ‘’of course you will be exhausted when running after our dream. Getting exhausted is not a bad thing; it is completely in human nature. But if you start with not getting tired on the mind, you will have the courage to refresh when you are at the bottom and continue to pursue your endeavor.’’

In the end, whether you become an entrepreneur or training for an Ironman triathlon, bad days are going to be a regular companion of you. To succeed, you don’t need to be superhuman, but you do have to be stubbornly persistent. Your will becomes your strongest muscle. Make yourself a promise that when the bad day comes, you will get some sleep and get back at it the next day.

4) We Are All Meant To Be Alone In This Life. Well, Maybe Not…

Team and individual sports differ a lot. In team sports, success or failure in competition depends on many variables. With few exceptions, it doesn’t matter which team has the best player; the final result is based on the entire team’s performance. On the other, individual sport requires a different set of dynamics that govern success. In an individual sport, you are your competition. Every competitive opportunity is a chance to beat your personal best. To achieve these results, you need a high amount of self-reliance, discipline, focus, and passion. Ironman triathlon is an individual sport. On race day, you and only you are responsible for the outcome. Either you did the training, or you didn’t, either you perform well at the race or not. For almost 6–7 hours, you listen to your thoughts and try to convince yourself not to quit. You either give up or go for it all the way. At the end of the day, when you cross the line, it is you and you alone who is accountable.

However, during the last race, I saw every type of people running, swimming, cycling along with me… Old, young, slow, fast, athletic, skinny, Turkish, foreign, cheerful, quiet, aggressive, quiet… All of them were trying for the same goal. I suddenly thought that although everybody races individually and the result will be based on everyone’s performance, we were in this together. When I was exhausted, I just stuck to a man who motivates me, and we ran the last 5 kilometers of the race together. We shared the same goal of finishing the Ironman 70.3 triathlon. So often, I try to do things all by myself, and it can often make me feel lonely. Instead, I need to look around start realizing we are in this game together called the race of life. The truth is, although you are accountable for most of the stuff you do, life is not meant to be lived alone. We are created and wired for being a community. Find your love, your tribe, your community, and stick to them in whatever you do.

5) Make A Clear Plan. The Plan Is Nothing, But Planning Is Everything

Dwight Eisenhower once said, “planning is everything; the plan is nothing.” I didn’t know what he meant until recently. Plans might not work all the time. However, that shouldn’t mean that you stop planning. When the first time I signed for Ironman triathlon, I realized the gravity of what I’d signed up for. I had a sinking feeling that I’d just made a huge mistake. I knew that if I didn’t make a plan and build a support system for myself, I didn’t have a shot. When you’re starting a company, there are so many unknowns, that’s why it’s essential to have a plan for the things you can control. It would be challenging to do it alone in entrepreneurship, so you need to join forces with complementary co-founders. Together with your team, you must master the balancing act of a long-term vision with clear near-term plans. Make your image clear by writing it down, and set measurable 90-day goals, so there’s never a question about where you’re headed next. Make your team a part of the goal-setting and lean on them to share feedback where necessary. At Reengen, we apply a Balanced Scorecard methodology for this purpose.

In entrepreneurship, with the limited financial fund and human resources, there is nothing worse than indecision. When the situation is beyond tense and company risk their financial health or competition, it is not possible to remain paralyzed and not take any decisions. It is sometimes possible in everyday life to tell oneself that faced with a lack of information, concrete facts, or simply uncertainty; we will wait to see how things pan out. In Ironman triathlon and entrepreneurship, however, this is rarely possible. Letting a situation degenerate due to a lack of firmness and decisiveness is nothing but giving up.

6) In Your Life, Always Start With The Why

Competing in the extreme physical challenge can be a lot like dealing with the challenges of starting a business. That is why you need to have a strong purpose for both of them. As I hit the “wall” right at the 10th km of a run today, I realized that everything from this point was a mental game. Those who had a stronger “why” pushed them to endure. Fortunately, I had my own ‘’why’’ for this crazy challenge and tried to remember it again and again during the race. Find your “why” in life, before your ‘how’ and ‘what.’ Make sure that your why is simple, clear, and motivating enough for you to endure the pain. Ask yourself this question: would I continue to do what I do despite unbearable pain I might experience in the future? Or would I just give up?

7) Stop Complaining And Start Performing Extreme Ownership

During the triathlon, except for the severe cases, you can not blame anybody else for your failure. Therefore you gotta own all your actions. The advantage of “Extreme Ownership” is that it generates dynamism. It pushes you to act, and it is thus no longer possible to wallow in complaints and criticism. How to apply “Extreme Ownership?” Count the number of times you put the blame on somebody else or an external circumstance, and instead of complaining, actively look for how you could solve the problem.

8) Get Rid Of Your Ego

Ego can be a very dangerous thing. In triathlon training, your ego would let you down as you have tons of things you don’t know about this sport. You can easily injure yourself easily with wrong practices. That is why you need to get mentorship from the experienced athletes. It is same for entrepreneurship & business. Whatever your experience, age or position, if you have the impression you know everything, or feel you don’t have to listen to advice, life and circumstances will show you that your are wrong. Contrary to popular belief, you will not lose credit in the eyes of your team if you admit you don’t know everything. Indeed, this will only reinforce your position as leader.

9) Keep Things Simple

I like the phrase ‘’complexity is the enemy of execution’’. Indeed, the simpler a plan, an instruction or a strategy is to understand, the more we are inclined to act. Inversely, the more it is complex , the more suspicion will take over and less one will be inclined to act. It is obvious that in Ironman triathlon you do not need any complicated strategies about your performance, that would confuse you and if you could not follow any single part of your complex strategy, that might discourage you for the rest of the race. Similarly in entrepreneurship, everybody in your team has an interest in understanding properly how things are supposed to happen. If they are faced with over-complicated processes, complex sales & marketing strategies, they might be confused. It is often best to simplify, even if some precision is lost in the process. At least, the people confronted with the strategy or the process will be able to make a decision and act.


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