As a leader of an organisation juggling many schedules and making often make-or-break decisions day in, day out, staying mentally sharp becomes vital.
Most CEO, managers and other executive types find a non-strenuous hobby or even hit the gym for a few hours a day to exercise their body.
David Muriuki, general manager of food manufacturing company Soy Afric, has found what works for him—triathlons. It requires the training regimen of the military, is without question strenuous, but swears it gives him the focus he needs to manage all facets of his life.
Before his first training session with Michael Owora, the manager at Team Trifit, Mr Muriuki went out until 3am.
“I got up at 6am and went for the training session,” he recalls.
“We did the drills and I was reeking of alcohol. I went through the training but I was completely finished. From that day, I tapered off drinking. When I am training, I don’t consume alcohol at all,” he says.
Mr Muriuki, who is finalising his MBA from Manchester University, UK has always played many sports. While on a basketball court, a friend told him about triathlons and he got interested.
In 2012, he got into triathlons—which incorporates swimming, running and cycling—and he was not successful because of an injury.
“You spend at least three months consistently preparing for a race. That’s a lot of hours and then when you come to the race you may not finish it. The races are also not always close so you have to travel there and book a hotel,” he adds.
Triathlon races could be sprint, Olympic, half iron man or full iron man.
“To put the full iron man in context, you swim from Lavington, Nairobi until GPO in town, then you cycle from GPO until just after Nakuru and then from there run back to Naivasha,” says Mr Owora, who interfaced with triathlons while studying in South Africa and has been participating in them for fun since 2011.
For elite athletes, the full iron man takes about eight and a half hours, but there is an overall 17 hour cutoff for everyone.
“To be successful in triathlon, someone has to prepare well, it takes a lot of dedication and mindset as well,” Mr Muriuki says, adding that he has come a long way since his first triathlon when he did not know how to repair a bicycle puncture.
Mr Owora agrees that mental resilience is key to succeeding as a triathlete.
“Your body will only carry you so far but the moment your mind starts telling you need to stop, then your body begins to shut down. So when we are training, we push people beyond their actual limits,” he says.
The general manager says that even though he embarked on triathlons because he wanted to see how far he can challenge his body, the exercises have helped him become more focused in all areas of his life.
“You need to get your body in shape but your mental status is what keeps you going. That has helped me because now I am able to balance work, school, triathlons and a family,” he says.
He manages his time very well.
‘‘I will be up at 5am, do a swim session and come to the gym before 7am. By that time, I am already steps ahead of most Nairobians. I will get to the office, take my lunch break at my desk and by 4pm I am done,” he says.
Gym sessions for him mostly involve lifting light weights to ensure his body is race-ready and he can go for long distances without muscle pulls. Mr Muriuki does one or two triathlons every year. He and Mr Owora would take pictures and interest from Kenyans grew leading to the formalisation of Trifit in 2015.
To train for triathlon, you start by seeing a physiotherapist.
‘‘People assume that you see a physiotherapist after injury but it is ideal for you to ward off possible injuries,” he says, adding that injury could cost you two to three months of rehabilitation. Nutrition is also key.
“You partner with a nutritionist to educate you on an ideal diet guide so that you are not fatigued or worn out before starting the race,” he says.
For the first weeks, exercising involves jumping and lifting weights to get the body moving and building strength. After about five weeks, a participant starts swimming, cycling and running.
“At this point, I know that should I inculcate you into these physically demanding sports or activities, your muscles won’t collapse,” he says.
“By the time we are sending you into the war-zone, which is what some people call it, you are fine,” he adds.
To start off, a participant will train for a sprint distance which involves one and a half hour training sessions five to six days a week. A sprint race includes a 750-metre swim, 20-kilometre cycle and 5-kilometre run.
In the programme, three of the six days a week are dedicated to swimming alone and then the rest involve cycling, running and strength training.
“Swimming is deemed the scariest sport because you can stop cycling or walk instead of run. With swimming, if you stop you drown,” says Mr Owora.
Fitness enthusiasts are slowing being drawn to triathlons. Trifit’s most recent Kericho triathlon attracted 120 participants, three times the number at their first race.
Since Kenyan race organisers are yet to offer Ironman distances —considered as one of the most difficult sporting events— Mr Muriuki plans to travel to South Africa, Italy, Spain, off the coast of Morocco, Dubai or Qatar to challenge himself.
“My ambition is to be able to do an Ironman triathlon when my schedule allows. I want to see how I perform. I will also really love for my children to take it up and for it to be a family thing,” says Mr Muriuki, who is expecting his first child.