An Interview with Mitch Thrower
Twenty two-time IRONMAN Triathlete Mitch Thrower explains the mental toughness required to persevere through each IRONMAN race [2.4 mile swim, 112 bike, followed by a marathon run (26 miles)] spanning over 8 to 12 hours of straight endurance racing. Having once needed to superglue his foot together to finish a race, Mitch takes us through how each race is "10 years of therapy" and how to apply race day focus to business.
Kyle Widrick: I'm Kyle Widrick. This is The Creator Series. Here today with Mitch Thrower. I'm actually on his day to day desk, here, this workable bike. Mitch is a very accomplished athlete. We're surrounded by some of his accomplishments, several Ironman race medals. He's also a successful businessperson, co-founder of Active.com, founder of Events.com. Thank you, Mitch.
Mitch Thrower: Thanks, Kyle. It's always great to connect.
Kyle Widrick: Let's start with ... We're sitting here with, I don't know how many medals. What is an Ironman race? What does it consist of?
Mitch Thrower: An Ironman triathlon is a 2.4 mile swim, followed by 112 mile bike, followed by a marathon run, and transitions in between.
Kyle Widrick: Wow. Back to back to back?
Mitch Thrower: Back to back.
Kyle Widrick: Wow, incredible.
Mitch Thrower: It's a long day.
Kyle Widrick: How many have you finished?
Mitch Thrower: I have done 22.
Kyle Widrick: 22.
Mitch Thrower: 22.
Kyle Widrick: And what ... I mean, most people think about a marathon, it's way too much. What compels people like you to do not only one but 22 of these-
Mitch Thrower: 22 of these.
Kyle Widrick: ... incredible races.
Mitch Thrower: Well, it's funny because I think a marathon ... and I've run marathons, as well ... I believe marathons are more difficult than the marathon in a Ironman. I know that's counterintuitive-
Kyle Widrick: Wow.
Mitch Thrower: ... but by the time you get to a marathon in an Ironman, you have so many endorphins. You have so much enthusiasm and support, and there's an aid station almost every mile. It becomes a very different experience.
Kyle Widrick: Will you do more races?
Mitch Thrower: I will. I don't know how many Ironmans are in the future, but there's definitely some, and some half-Ironmans. My wife and I actually did a half-Ironman for our honeymoon.
Kyle Widrick: Wow.
Mitch Thrower: So that was great.
Kyle Widrick: Incredible. And she signed up for that? She was okay with-
Mitch Thrower: She did.
Kyle Widrick: Okay.
Mitch Thrower: It was her second or third triathlon ever but, yeah, she signed up for it.
Kyle Widrick: And I'm sure you've done them all around the world, at this point. Which was the most incredible for you? Which location?
Mitch Thrower: You know, there's nothing like the Hawaiian Ironman. Ironman in Hawaii, which is the World Championship. You're out on the lava fields, you're swimming in Kailua Bay in Kona, Hawaii, and you're running through some pretty hot pavement, but it's just something that ... it changes you at the very core.
Kyle Widrick: Looking back, you're swimming two and a half miles, you're biking. Is there a moment that you can think of that's the hardest moment for you to get through? Either in one race, or just in general?
Mitch Thrower: I think the most difficult part is definitely, for me, has always been the run. I think every one of the races I've done, around mile 21 to 24, you make some crazy commitments to yourself. You're like, "I'm never doing this again. This is never happening. I will not do this. Just get me through this and I will never do it again." There's lots of things. I think they say that doing an Ironman is like 10 years of therapy, right.
Kyle Widrick: Wow.
Mitch Thrower: Because you're out there and you're so into all of your thoughts and your life and focus. Then, around mile 25, right at the end, you say, "Oh, I can't wait to sign up for the next one." Then you come down that last-
Kyle Widrick: You're feeling the opposite side of that.
Mitch Thrower: ... half a mile and you just ... you're reading to sign up again.
Kyle Widrick: So it sounds like a lot of it is the mental toughness.
Mitch Thrower: I think it is. Half of endurance racing, I think, is physical, and half is mental. It's about a 50-50 blend. Most people don't realize that.
Kyle Widrick: So you've done 22 of something most people will never even think about doing. Is there something unique about your body, the way you were born? Was it more training? Is it born in you, or do you learn it along the way?
Mitch Thrower: Oh, boy. I think, when it comes to endurance athletics, it really is open for anybody. I think that anybody can be an endurance athlete. Anyone can race in a endurance event now. The goal is to finish. The goal is not to win.
Kyle Widrick: Okay. So, Mitch, actually, when I was going to do a mini-sprint triathlon, gave me some pointers, some advice. Knowing me, if I wanted to do an Ironman, how long would that training process take? Number one, could I do it?
Mitch Thrower: Of course.
Kyle Widrick: How long would it take?
Mitch Thrower: Of course you could, and I think for anyone looking at the potential of doing a marathon or a triathlon or a long distance race, it really is breaking it down into smaller steps. I recommend somewhere between nine months and a year for someone to start thinking about an Ironman distance race and start building up a base, to get to a place where you feel comfortable doing something.
Mitch Thrower: I remember asking someone one night, "What do you recommend?" His name was Rob Mackle. He was the person who used to win all the swims in Ironman. I said, "Rob, what is your advice?" [inaudible 00:04:50] my first race, in Hawaii in '94. He just looked back at me and he said two words. He said, "Pain management." And that's true. That's a very-
Kyle Widrick: I just finished the sprint triathlon and it took me almost-
Mitch Thrower: Congratulations.
Kyle Widrick: ... almost 60 minutes to do the swim.
Mitch Thrower: Right.
Kyle Widrick: Should take 20.
Mitch Thrower: Well, you know, you learn. You learn to get faster. I couldn't swim in the beginning. I couldn't get from one end of the pool to the other. I was a lacrosse player and then ended up fracturing both my knees, which, actually, was one of the things that catapulted me into the sport, on a physical level, is I sort of lost the capacity to really run and walk and things.
Kyle Widrick: Have you been injured during a race, where you needed to get through an injury to finish?
Mitch Thrower: I have, and I sliced my foot open. So went to the doctor and they said, "Well you can either crazy glue it together and race, or you're out of the race because you have to be careful of bacteria getting in your foot." So I crazy glued my foot together and finished the race.
Kyle Widrick: And how long does a race take, time-wise, start to finish?
Mitch Thrower: Eight hours are the winners, you know, somewhere ... Seven to eight is a really fast time. Like, an incredibly fast time.
Kyle Widrick: So for eight hours-
Mitch Thrower: Eight hours.
Kyle Widrick: ... or 10 or 12-
Mitch Thrower: 10 or 12. My fastest is 9:59.
Kyle Widrick: ... non-stop, you're just at full running, swimming, and biking.
Mitch Thrower: Swimming and biking, yeah.
Kyle Widrick: And you keep yourself in, I would consider, very good shape. You know, what you eat, how you live your lifestyle. How important is that to the racing?
Mitch Thrower: You know, there's a philosophy, the 80/20 rule or the 90/10 rule. So 80% of the time, I'll try and be really, really healthy, and 20% of the time, just because with the travel and work and your schedule and ... those are the things where you just have to not really worry that much about it. Some people go 100% healthy all the time, and then they go mad.
Kyle Widrick: Right.
Mitch Thrower: And then if you're going to get ready for a race, I'll maybe take it to 90/10 and be more focused on diet and eating and avoiding Oreos or whatever it might be.
Kyle Widrick: Got it. Well, if you want to race an event, Mitch is the guy to talk to.
Kyle Widrick: We'll transition to business. Mitch has also been very successful on the business side. So you were co-founder of Active.com. Active went public, it was later sold for over $1 billion. You moved on to found Events.com.
Mitch Thrower: Correct.
Kyle Widrick: What should people know about Events.com today and where it's headed?
Mitch Thrower: I'm really excited about Events.com. For us, the foundational thought, or, really, the investment thesis behind Events.com is that there's a much better way to provide value to the event organizer and the event goer, the people that are going to go to these events and the people that are actually planning them. For us, it's really about building an increasingly better and better platform for those event organizers to [crosstalk 00:07:43].
Kyle Widrick: So I would find the event on my phone, but what I probably wouldn't know is that you're also powering the ticketing, et cetera, behind the scenes.
Mitch Thrower: Correct. Ticketing is only one part. Ticketing and, really, the transaction processing is one layer of the Events.com manifest. The other layers are to help the organizer manager their event, whether they need data, analytics, whether they need additional ways to monetize their event. Helping them with the sponsorship components. All the things that events need, as an event organizer.
Kyle Widrick: Got it. Bringing that all together.
Mitch Thrower: Bringing it all together. Giving them one solution that helps them be more successful. That's the manifest.
Kyle Widrick: Got it. So when you look at your history of investing and starting companies, what's been your biggest success, that you feel is the best accomplishment?
Mitch Thrower: You know the adage, do what you love and the money will follow?
Kyle Widrick: Yes.
Mitch Thrower: Well, I think that's kind of wrong, in the sense that what you need to do is take what you love and analyze where value is moving, and then do that.
Kyle Widrick: Got it.
Mitch Thrower: Right. So, I started to look around and look for pieces, and so back to your original question, I did a leveraged buyout of Triathlete magazine with some partners.
Kyle Widrick: Okay. Wow.
Mitch Thrower: So that was ... I love the sport of triathlon and saw that there was value, and so we bought the magazine and then sold it later down the stream.
Kyle Widrick: Nice. And have you had any large misses? You know, you had an opportunity, you didn't participate?
Mitch Thrower: Yeah. Well, let's see ... In terms of, like, not investing in Uber or not investing in [crosstalk 00:09:17].
Kyle Widrick: Could be. Could be.
Mitch Thrower: When we bought Triathlete magazine, this was an interesting miss, we also bought a magazine that came along with it. We bought Triathlete and we bought a magazine called Winning. Fast forward, we had a very inventive person who said, "Well, the next thing ... " Now, we're talking '97 and this person said, "The next thing's going to be this adventure, mud, obstacle, crazy racing." And he predicted it.
Kyle Widrick: Okay.
Mitch Thrower: So we launched a magazine and it just didn't have any subscribers so we ended up-
Kyle Widrick: The Tough Mudder or the Spartan race [crosstalk 00:09:44]
Mitch Thrower: Correct. But this was a decade before.
Kyle Widrick: Interesting.
Mitch Thrower: So we launched it too early. Timing is everything.
Kyle Widrick: Any advice, any pointers you would give young entrepreneurs that are trying to found the next Events, the next Triathlete magazine? What can they do to get headed in the right direction?
Mitch Thrower: I think, get out of whatever environment they're in, wherever they're trying to create their business, trying to make money. I think they need to change your environment. It's been said in the past that you don't really know yourself or your life until you've looked at both from somewhere else.
Kyle Widrick: Interesting.
Mitch Thrower: The challenge for most entrepreneurs is they all try and raise money where they are. They'll try and engage. They're not going to get on a plane and go to the right conference, go to the right place to meet people. You have to figure out how to get yourself out of your comfort zone. People invest in people, and people do business with people. You want to basically expose yourself and your idea to those people, as opposed to just sending out a business plan, and sending out a teaser, and getting this email, et cetera. I mean, it's a tough lift for entrepreneurs today because there's so much noise.
Kyle Widrick: So face time, and getting out to see new people with that face time. I guess we could tell people that you've just had a baby.
Mitch Thrower: I did.
Kyle Widrick: Congratulations.
Mitch Thrower: I have a son. I have a son.
Kyle Widrick: That's baby number one ...
Mitch Thrower: Baby number one.
Kyle Widrick: ... for you. Has that changed life?
Mitch Thrower: I think we're very fortunate. In fact, we feel very blessed that we have a fairly cooperative little baby.
Kyle Widrick: Okay.
Mitch Thrower: We have friends that have gone through non-cooperative births but ...
Kyle Widrick: Sure.
Mitch Thrower: You know, my wife is amazing and our little boy is amazing and it's given me a whole new perspective.
Kyle Widrick: Well, Mitch lives in the best place in the country, in La Jolla, so that's-
Mitch Thrower: La Jolla, California. It's not reality here, you know. That's why you have to travel. Right, you have to go out and-
Kyle Widrick: It's not so nice, then. Your son, will he be a mini Ironman?
Mitch Thrower: We'll see. The human body is capable of so many miraculous things, and to have someone come into life and then discover what their human body is capable of is something pretty spectacular. That can be triathlon, that could be swimming-
Kyle Widrick: Sure.
Mitch Thrower: ... hopefully not football, but maybe football, because football's still an amazing sport.
Kyle Widrick: I'm sure he'll have the best teacher if he [crosstalk 00:12:01].
Mitch Thrower: And we'll do some great coaching, right.
Kyle Widrick: [inaudible 00:12:04]. So you've done a lot in business, you've sort of rounded out your personal life with your family, and you've done a lot to compete. For you, looking back when you're 80 and 90 and 95 years old, what do you want people to think about Mitch Thrower as? What's the most interesting aspect of what you've been able to accomplish?
Mitch Thrower: For me, it really is something where I want to be able to look back and say that I inspired other people. That I was kind of a guiding light and maybe an inspiration in certain ways. I know there was a situation that happened in my life, actually, I lost my sister when she was 16.
Kyle Widrick: Wow.
Mitch Thrower: She had gotten sick. She had osteosarcoma and she'd gotten sick and had gone through chemo for two years. I was 14, she was 16, she was my best friend. So you're there with your best friend and you're given a totally different perspective on health, and what health means, and what it means to treat life seriously. You know, it's a pretty short trip. We're here ... 100 years goes by in a click.
Kyle Widrick: True.
Mitch Thrower: For me, she inspired me. One of the reasons I was so focused in staying in sport when I had it taken away and then got it back and, you know, getting involved in triathlon, is because I was really celebrating the fact that not only am I alive but, I mean, look at what you can do with your body.
Kyle Widrick: That's right.
Mitch Thrower: Look at what you can do as a human being. Like, the whole world, when they watch the Olympics-
Kyle Widrick: Not taking that for granted.
Mitch Thrower: Not taking it for granted. But then, also, using your life as an example to let other people be inspired to, you know, start a company or do something they're passionate about or do a triathlon, or anything that they feel is the realm of what they want to accomplish.
Kyle Widrick: Perfect.
Mitch Thrower: You know.
Kyle Widrick: That's it. Thank you, Mitch. Appreciate it.
Mitch Thrower: Thanks, Kyle.
Mitch Thrower is the chairman and founder of Events.com.