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Interview with Jesse Itzler, author of Living with a SEAL

Jesse Itzler After Running in a Blizzard
Dragon Door: It sounds like you’ve used long distance running as your main source of exercise for a while—even running 100 mile distances. When you switched to the training style in Living With a SEAL, what kind of challenges did you experience?

Jesse Itzler: It required a completely different skillset. I’d already built the habit and motivation to go out and run every day. It was just part of my lifestyle, I expected it every morning, it was planned, controlled, and sequenced. But training with SEAL was completely unorthodox, he turned all of the conventional things that I was taught upside down. The hardest thing was getting out of my routine, which I had pretty much been doing for twenty years. The second hardest challenge was the consistency of the new training—even though I had consistently run for years, the constant newness of the training was very challenging.

Dragon Door: What kind of results did you get from this different approach to training?

Jesse Itzler: When he first came, I could do 22 pushups at one time, and when he left, I was doing 1,000 a day. I had built self-imposed limitations that previously kept me from doing more. Afterwards, I knocked a minute off of my running pace per mile—which is crazy. I also had a really big shift in my mindset in how I approached challenges and what I thought were my capabilities. I realized that I had a lot more in my tank.

Dragon Door: Did that spill over into other areas of life as well?

Jesse Itzler: Absolutely. I'm a dad of four so I became a lot more present, and patient. After going through really hard challenging things like jumping into a completely frozen lake and submerging myself in the ice, when a baby starts crying, it’s just not a big deal.

Dragon Door: I remember reading in your book about the first time you did 1,000 push-ups in a day. While I have done a lot of push-ups, it’s never been even near that amount in one day. What was your experience like the first time you did that kind of volume?

Jesse Itzler: Well it was super duper hard. It was more of a mental challenge than anything else. Of course it was physically super hard, but it was more of a mental challenge—I had convinced myself that you could only do a certain amount and now I had to basically try and do ten times that amount. How do you convince yourself that you can do it? It's really a theme throughout life, we tell ourselves that we can't, and then when we try to do it, then we can't. So I had to shift myself to thinking that I really could achieve it.

Dragon Door: How were those last 100 reps? What happened?

Jesse Itzler: They were brutally, brutally hard! We didn't space them out evenly over 24 hours. If we had done 100 every hour and a half or something, it’s different than doing 300 at a stretch. Basically, we were doing 300 push-ups at a stretch. At times I was shaking, I collapsed from a plank position, and at times my chest hit the floor because I couldn't get another push-up. I’d have to wait five minutes to do one more rep—and then another five minutes to do one more. It was that kind of struggle.

And for the record, we weren't only doing push-ups that day. During the course of that same day I ran, did pull-ups, and we had done other exercises. I was completely taxed going into the last reps.

Dragon Door: And you were running at least six miles a day if not more, on most of those days, right?

Jesse Itzler: Correct.

Dragon Door: What is your current exercise program?

Jesse Itzler: I still run, but I also try to do short workouts. I have four kids so I have to manage the clock. So I try to do very intense workouts in a shorter amount of time. I do a lot of calisthenics mixed with running. A typical workout for me is to run for two minutes on a treadmill as fast as I can at an incline, then do as many burpees as I can for a minute before getting back on the treadmill and repeating that combination. I’ll do that kind of thing for as much time as I have available that day.

Dragon Door: That makes sense, and that kind of even answers my next question. How do you fit your workouts and training in to your schedule along with your business responsibilities, family...

Jesse Itzler: I try to make sure that I carve out 2-3 hours each day for me. Regardless of what's going on, I draw a very simple pie chart based on 24 hours. Ideally, I sleep seven hours, take three for myself, work for eight each day—just like in a normal forty-hour work week. And that gives me six hours left for family, food, commuting, etc. It’s a super simple model, it’s not like having to work with fifteen different buckets. But when I'm in one of the four buckets, then I'm in that bucket. When I'm working, I am not thinking about working out or anything else, that's not about work. And when I'm in my three hours, I could be sitting on the couch, going for a run, checking emails, reading the paper, in the sauna, whatever—but I'm not thinking about work, because that's my time. And that pie chart fluctuates, so if I'm launching a new product or writing a book, my work becomes ten hours then maybe my sleep becomes six hours and maybe my family time is five hours, but those four quadrants are always in the pie chart.

Jesse Itzler In Office
Dragon Door: How did you arrive at that approach?

Jesse Itzler: I looked at the things that are super important to me in a day, and tried to eliminate the things that aren't. I know that I have to sleep, I have to work, and I have to invest in myself, and also my family. So, I needed to find a way to balance myself within those four super important things. Many people don't take the time for themselves, and neglect those three hours for themselves. I think that makes a broken pie chart. If you don't take time for yourself, it will cause resentment for whoever or whatever is taking the time away from you. If you are working twelve hours and you love to run—but you can't run—then you're going to resent your boss. If your husband or wife says you can't run today because we have to go here or there, then you're going to resent your husband or wife. So, I eliminated the resentment by making sure to take time for myself—that way I'm not mad at anybody else!

Dragon Door: That is great! I am going to use that!

Jesse Itzler: It's a game changer! I've been using it forever.

Dragon Door: I read the foreword you wrote for The Way of The Iceman. When you first jumped into the icy lake in Living with a SEAL was that your first experience with cold training? How did you find out about Wim Hof?

Jesse Itzler: Yes, and I wished I had known about Wim before I jumped into that lake. I learned about Wim Hof recently from a friend who had read his book. I decided to download the e-course that Wim put together and just really got fascinated by cold training. As an athlete, I always knew I liked the benefits of being in a cold tub and that kind of thing, but always struggled with it. I couldn't get past the two minute mark and looked at it as a very painful thing. Now, since coming across the Wim Hof Method, I've refocused away from the pain to pure health, pure benefit. So now it's been quite honestly great. I bought a cold tub right after I learned about Wim and I go in it—it's 52 degrees—every day that I can.

Dragon Door: What do you wish you'd known at that first icy lake experience?

Jesse Itzler: Not to panic—I went into it from a place of panic and fear. I didn’t knowing that my breath would immediately be taken away. I didn’t know to relax and use any breathing techniques. I just went into it in survival mode, like I had to jump off a sinking ship! So, instead of embracing it, I completely feared it.

Dragon Door: Are you working towards any specific athletic goals, or do you have any races or events coming up?

Jesse Itzler: Well I'm always trying to build on my resume and always looking. I am going to do something I call the "Cry-Athlon" which is a 33-mile standup paddleboard, 33 mile run, and 33 mile bike that comes out to about 100 miles. Paddling 33 miles is a very long day. No matter how you cut it, it’s going to take 16-18 hours. So, that's something I want to do because I love doing all three of those things. I'm climbing Mount Washington this coming week from Friday and it's going to be -30 degrees up there on the top of the mountain—that's like Wim's living room! That climb will be dictated by the weather and the conditions. It’s going to be super windy and super cold. Wim should come do that one naked!

Jesse Itzler Headshot
Dragon Door: What inspires and motivates you to try these adventures?

Jesse Itzler: Those things make me feel the most alive. They are character builders. I'm a big believer that if you put yourself into situations that are hard, uncomfortable, and challenging, then other things become a lot easier. You want to create that shift in your mentality. I love these challenges, I love being outdoors, and I like the camaraderie of doing the challenges with friends. It’s that or I could stay home and watch the Kardashians!

Dragon Door: I noticed that your name on social media is The100MileMan, how did you get that moniker?

Jesse Itzler: I ran 100 miles for charity and created a foundation called the 100 Mile Man Foundation. On that first run I donated to about ten American charities, but since then I've donated to probably about fifty different charities.

Jesse Itzler After Blizzard RunFollow Jesse Itzler on Instagram @The100MileMan and Twitter: @The100MileMan