The Health Diaries

Why the Founder of Tough Mudder Does Cardio to Relax

‘People that are more “successful” than me have made a different set of choices’

There are many ways to live a healthy life. The Health Diaries is a weekly series about the habits that keep notable people living well.

WWill Dean is always on an adventure. The founder of Tough Mudder has launched yet another venture: a tech startup called Immersive Game Labs that allows users to create shared memories through gaming. Described as “part indoor theme park, part video game, part escape room,” the new company will launch in London this year and recently acquired over $3.2 million in seed funding.

Dean shares with Medium how he plans to help people make lasting shared memories, and why he considers himself “quintessentially English.”

My wife and I have two children under the age of four — so an alarm clock is superfluous. We usually get them up at 7:30 a.m., so I try to be up at 6:30 a.m. I have a bit of time to myself to get dressed and look at my inbox.

I focus on spending the morning with my family. I find it works better to have quality time then, than at the end of the day. We’ll have breakfast together. We eat a lot of fish in the morning — kipper (smoked haddock) and avocado or scrambled eggs. Although kipper smells horrible, it’s high protein, with lots of healthy fat. If I’m on-the-go, I like protein yogurt or shredded wheat. On the weekends, we eat the bad stuff — bacon and sausages. Then, I’m off to the gym by 9 a.m.

Cardio is principally about relaxation for me. I try to meditate during it. I love running, biking, and swimming. It’s more de facto for me — I have to kind of force myself to go to the gym for free weights. I’ll usually go with a friend because it keeps me accountable, and I love when the gym is more deserted. And I always look forward to the steam room. I sit in for only about 10 minutes, and it’s the only part of my day that is genuinely peaceful and quiet.

I get into office around 10:30 a.m. I am working on launching a new venture called Immersive Games Lab. As a manager, I have a good routine of sitting down with teams and hearing updates on projects. The remainder of my days are for external meetings in London. Everyone wants to meet with me for coffee! There are way less formal business meetings now— it’s all over coffee. I try to avoid coffee, drinking a lot of it — I’ve been drinking Earl Grey tea instead. I don’t need to spend that much time at a desk. And I email whenever I’m between meetings.

I try not to snack. I think it’s the downfall of everyone. In the office, I like to keep boxes of protein bars — but I’m not a believer in having lots of snacks around. I have salad for lunch most days, but if I’m in a real rush I will grab a sandwich. I’ll have a flat white coffee as a post-lunch treat. Lately, I’ve been eating cottage cheese and my team teases me, constantly, for it! They all think it’s disgusting, but I think it’s quite good.

My food taste is quintessentially English. But I do eat a lot of vegetables. My wife likes to eat a lot of chicken and fish. And I love heavy stews and pastries. On Friday nights, we have fish and chips. We’ll have a roast on the weekend. We’re very English.

The only time I take vitamins is if I feel a cold coming on. I’ll take vitamin C in one of those effervescent tablets. I suppose it’s a placebo effect — I feel virtuous having done it. But I think most people don’t really need vitamins or supplements if you eat moderately healthy. Although most people in England probably don’t get enough vitamin D because we don’t get a lot of sunshine.

The concept of work-life balance is a bit sad. It suggests you have your reason for being, and then work gets in the way of it. The way I think about it, it really ties into a bigger question about how you define success. At the end of the day, success, for me, has to mean being happy and fulfilled in life. I don’t expect work to be fun all the time — but the hope is that it is one source of interesting and fulfilling nourishment that you need in life.

I try and get home at 7:30 p.m. The kids go to bed at 8 p.m. Then, I have dinner with my wife, followed by another hour or so of clearing my inbox and going to bed. I have a Fitbit, which I only use to track sleep, and I’m always amazed at how different my mood is if I get a decent night’s sleep. I do my best to get seven hours of sleep. If I get seven hours, I’m pretty golden; six hours, I’m fine, and anything less than that, I’m a bit grumpy.

When I wrote my first book in 2017, it was biographical. It told the story of Tough Mudder, who I was when I started it, and who I’d become. (It Takes a Tribe: Building the Tough Mudder Movement.) After I recently stepped out of the day-to-day management process of Tough Mudder, I found more time to write.

I’ve become more and more concerned about the potential ills of social media and lack of shared memories. We know spending lot of time on Instagram and Facebook isn’t good for us. My children are little, and my wife and I see parents with 12 and 13 year old kids who are glued to their phones. It worries me a bit for my children’s future because I think we’re missing real interaction and lacking shared memories. I’m interested in how memories, when shared, are so different than those that aren’t — and the way you can talk to people about shared memories. The new venture with Immersive Games Lab is trying to create a set of experiences focused on bringing people together, through games, to create positive memories. Shared experiences are so important. That’s what Tough Mudder is based on. While it doesn’t cure cancer or bring peace in the Middle East, it does bring happiness to people’s lives. And I want to try to create more experiences like that.

Update: An earlier version of this story incorrectly stated the books written by Will Dean. He has written It Takes a Tribe: Building the Tough Mudder Movement.

Emily Shiffer is a freelance health writer and editor living in Pennsylvania. Her work has appeared on Men’s Health, Women’s Health, Prevention, and more.

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