Today I have a special treat in the form of an interview. David Mills has written The Distance where he talks about his quest to complete an Ironman Triathlon after watching two friends accomplish this amazing feat. Most importantly, David isn’t a professional triathlete. He trained while balancing the demands of being a husband, father, and Officer in the military. In other words, he has a life like most of us do. His book is geared to help the Average Joe complete an Ironman. You can place a pre-order at The Distance Book.

BTL: Completing an endurance event like an Ironman Triathlon takes goals. Did you have a strategy involving short and long term goals in order to succeed?

David: It’s so extremely vital to set multiple small goals in your triathlon training, that I really can’t emphasize it enough. A 140.6 mile triathlon is far too daunting; it’s got to be broken down into smaller, more manageable goals.

For example, during the marathon, I viewed it as simply doing a one mile run – 26 times. I knew I could always run just one more mile. And with aid stations located at every mile marker, it was easy to mentally run to the next aid station.

BTL: I’ve written posts before about balancing training time and family time. How did you do it?

David: Balancing training with real life can be hectic and messy if not approached properly, and this is really the cornerstone of my new book. Most of us are not pro athletes with a masseuse and a chef and 30 hours a week to train. Most of us have already hectic lives that we’ll need to work our training around, but I promise it can be done. I bet we never ask how people find time to watch so many movies or take up scrapbooking, or how people find the time for Facebook and Playstation while having a family and a job, yet with every new invention we are somehow able to balance more and more. Truthfully, we have a lot more time than we realize once we get our priorities in order. I put my family first, job second, triathlon third. The only thing that might suffer during your training is Twitter and the latest season of Entourage.

My book talks more about the creative ways I found to balance family and training and make my first Ironman a fun experience for the whole family.

BTL: Do you have any tips in on learning to balance training and work?

David: Our job can certainly throw a lot of wrenches into our training. With long hours, coming in on weekends, and going on business trips we have to stay flexible in our training. Sometimes I had to get up early to workout. Other times I had to workout late or squeeze in a swim during lunchtime.

When our job sends us on the road it’s not the time to go for setting any new personal records, but rather to maintain what we’ve already got.

By packing your running shoes and by finding the hotel fitness room, we can get through these trips without suffering a setback.

BTL: Deciding to participate in an Ironman is a huge commitment. Did you have any fear or hesitation about signing up?

David: In my book I talk about the decision to sign up for an Ironman and the day you click “submit” on your online application being as anxiety producing as the race day itself. Deciding to take the plunge and embark on your Ironman journey is a life-changing moment. But if you have that gut feeling that you need to find out if you can do it or not, then you need to go for it. Like Teddy Roosevelt said, It’s better to fail while daring greatly than be one of those cold and timid souls who know neither victory nor defeat.

BTL: How did you find time to swim, bike and run every week?

David: One thing that separates my book from all the others is that I know you don’t have much time to train each week. Some weeks I was barely able to squeeze in two or three workouts. Most times I managed to do one bike, one swim, one run, and if there was time for a fourth workout, it would be a bike/run combination. Most of my swims took place on my lunch break and my long rides were always on the weekend. It can definitely be done. Tens of thousands of people do it every year – you can do it too!

BTL: I’m just a cyclist (and most of my readers are too), will your book help me?

David: The real bulk of an Ironman is spent on the bike, so as a cyclist, then you’ve already got the advantage and your transition to triathlons will be easier than for most people. The swim only takes 1 or 2 hours, the run will take most of us 4 to 6 hours, but the 112 mile bike ride can take up to 8 hours! But unlike swimming, biking, or running, triathlon is not three individual events. It’s one event that combines all three disciplines without a break in between so you cannot approach it simply as a bike ride with a swim and run surrounding it. You can’t ride the bike portion in the same all-out way you’d race a century. You’ve got to hold back and save something for the run. You’re nutrition and caloric intake while on the bike will also be different from regular cycling, because you don’t want to be on empty when you get off the bike. My book is definitely NOT written to triathletes. It’s written to folks who’ve maybe done a half or full marathon, or who bike on the weekends and are thinking about going for something new and big.

BTL: Since you’re in the military I’m sure you had some unique training challenges. Can you give us an example and what you did to over come it?

David: Oh boy, could I ever! I just returned this week from a 4-month deployment to the Middle East. When I found out I was deploying I registered for another Ironman and I packed my bike into a travel case to take with me. Training for an Ironman while deployed is one of the harder things I’ve attempted in life (I don’t discuss this in my book at all, because it just happened so recently). But I was living in a trailer park in the desert and flying long missions every other day. On my days off, I would cycle on my indoor trainer for 4,5 or 6 hours. It was brutal. I’m competing in the Louisville Ironman on August 28th, so I’ll find out then if all that indoor cycling paid off.

BTL: Your Christian faith plays a big role in your life. How did it help you train for and complete your first Ironman?

David: The funny thing about that is – my Christian faith and Ironman training both seemed to develop together. As a Christian, I tend to see God in everything, that is to say I see whatever happens (or doesn’t happen) as part of God’s will. It won’t always make sense to us because we don’t see the whole picture, but that doesn’t mean there isn’t one.

One pivotal moment for me in the course of my training was when a friend recommended that I listen to an Andy Stanley podcast. Normally, I dismiss all such recommendations. But this advice came from the right person at just the right time, and so I started listening to Stanley’s North Point Ministries podcast whenever I went for a run. Ironman training with it’s long hours running and cycling on the road gives you plenty of time to think or listen to something productive. God used both the training and the podcasts to help me out both physically as well as spiritually.

BTL: What was your biggest source of inspiration to push through and complete the Ironman?

David: That’s a tough question because I had so many great sources of inspiration. There were family and friends who inspired me for sure. There were great inspirational quotes (like Al Pacino’s speech in Any Given Sunday). And there were my two little boys looking up to me saying, “You can do it, Daddy!” But I think that deep down in the heart of everyone competing in an Ironman triathlon the biggest source of inspiration is all the other Ironmen out there. I see a person cross the finish line and I think that if they can do it, then I can do it to. I love the quote, “What one man can do, another can do.” Before I ever even contemplated doing an Ironman I watched two friends compete in the Madison, Wisconsin Ironman. As I stood at the finish line watching all the people finish their race I was so deeply moved that I knew I had to test myself to see if I could do it too. Just knowing that others have done it – inspired me to do it too!

BTL: Was all the training and sacrifice worth it?

David: Ironman might be one of the few things in this life that is actually more than it’s cracked up to be. It’s a runner’s high that you never really come down from. I tried to get that euphoric sense of accomplishment by running a marathon, but at the end of the day I felt sort of let down. It was anticlimactic. After all, every celebrity, president, and talk show host has run a marathon it seems. But an Ironman is different. It’s completely insane, for starters. Just finishing the monster of a race earns you the title “Ironman.” And along with motorcycle gangs and military units, Ironman finishers get tattoos to mark their accomplishment. Taking that first, scary plunge to register for an Ironman is one of the best decisions I’ve ever made! I can’t wait to cross the finish line again at the end of this month!

David Mills is the author of The Distance: An Average Joe’s Path to Balancing Family, Work & Triathlon (Coming this August!). Pre-order your copy at and follow David at as he trains for his 2nd Ironman.