Do What You Love and… Well, That’s Where it Gets Tricky

Endorphin Fitness Founder, Michael Harlow

We’ve all heard some variation of the saying, do what you love and you’ll never have to work a day in your life. It’s a great line. But how many of us can say we know someone who’s done it? More, how many of us can say we’ve done it ourselves? Truth be told, not many.

Why? It sounds easy… just do what you love.

Each of us can think of things we love to do — drink coffee, watch football, hike… But that’s where it ends, figuratively and literally, a purely self-focused pursuit. It reminds me of the classic Seinfeld scene when George Costanza ponders potential jobs.

George: I like sports. I could do something in sports.
Jerry: Uh-huh. Uh-huh. In what capacity?
George: You know, like the general manager of a baseball team or something.
Jerry: Yeah. Well, that — that could be tough to get.
George: Well, it doesn’t even have to be the general manager. Maybe I could be like, an announcer. Like a colour man. You know how I always make those interesting comments during the game.
Jerry: Yeah. Yeah. You make good comments.
George: What about that?
Jerry: Well, they tend to give those jobs to ex-ballplayers and people that are, you know, in broadcasting.
George: Well, that’s really not fair.
Jerry: I know. Well, okay. Okay. What else do you like?
George: Movies. I like to watch movies.
Jerry: Yeah. Yeah.
George: Do they pay people to watch movies?
Jerry: Projectionists.
George: That’s true.
Jerry: But you gotta know how to work the projector.
George: Right.
Jerry: And it’s probably a union thing.
George: (scoffs) Those unions. (sighs) Okay. Sports, movies what about a talk show host?
Jerry: Talk show host. That’s good.
George: I think I’d be good at that. I talk to people all the time. Someone even told me once they thought I’d be a good talk show host.
Jerry: Really?
George: Yeah. A couple of people. I don’t get that, though. Where do you start?
Jerry: Well, that’s where it gets tricky.

Recently I had the opportunity to interview Michael Harlow, founder of Endorphin Fitness (EF). Of the many people I’ve interviewed, Micheal strikes me as someone who loves what he does and does what he loves.

Michael started EF ten years ago with one goal, use what he loved, triathlon and fitness, to help young people in Richmond, VA. Today, EF operates with a 25 member staff, has four locations and over 400 clients worldwide. And though the company has grown, I don’t get the impression Michael considers it work. It’s more than simply loving what he does. Five minutes with Michael and you’ll realize, he loves the people he’s doing it for. That love drives him to innovate and set priorities. But perhaps more importantly, it’s contagious. Employees, clients… they feel it, they want it. So, perhaps it’s really not all that tricky after all. Perhaps there’s simply a piece missing. Love what you do (and the people you do it for) and you’ll never have to work a day in your life. You can decide.

DWF: How did you first get started doing triathlon and why do you continue?

MH: I first got introduced to triathlon at the age of 10 when my older brother — David — was finding great success within triathlon. From 10 to 18, I raced triathlon consistently in the summers and used it to prepare for my other sports — football, wrestling, baseball, and track — during the rest of the year. Upon heading to college, I decided to focus on triathlon fully and began to achieve more success with it. I continue because of how it makes me feel and how it positively impacts the other areas of my life.

DWF: Tell me about your training routine, what does a typical day / week look like?

MH: Much of my week is comprised of scheduled workouts with either my staff or team which is good because it keeps me accountable. I meet with the Director of Coaching at Endorphin Fitness — Parker Spencer — on Mondays which includes a hard run together. Tuesdays, I ride easy, swim, and strength train. Wednesdays our entire staff meets for a hard bike workout followed by run. Thursdays are my days at home so I try to just keep up with my kids that day — usually going on an easy run with them while they bike alongside me. Friday is a long run with our junior elite team and swim followed by a long ride on Saturday. Sundays are typically reserved for my day off. Additionally, I do 10–15 minutes prehab strength work every day to keep the injuries at bay.

DWF: Are you actively training for anything specific? What and why?

MH: I just finished my season recently so I’m taking the month to rest and recover with some time off / light workouts. I’ll start preparations in November for the coming triathlon season.

DWF: Dreaming here: What would be your ultimate goal / dream?

MH: My goal right now is to be able to race strong and consistent without injury every season while placing in the top of the VA-MD Triathlon Rankings. At this moment in my life, training must fit within my greater priority system which places God first, family second, friends third, my business fourth, and my racing fifth. Therefore, it’s important but not the most important.

Michael Harlow coaching youth triathlon program

DWF: Did you ever consider throwing in the towel?

MH: I’ve never considered stopping as it’s vital to my life though there have been periods of my life when I knew I needed to back off a little to focus on other things, be it the birth of a new child, completion of our adoption, or a busy time in the business.

DWF: What’s the worst experience you’ve had in triathlon?

MH: In 2005, I traveled to the national championships after training for two years only to have it cancelled due to weather. In the end, it was a learning experience and still enjoyable in some ways.

DWF: In your opinion, what are the keys to becoming a successful triathlete?

MH: 1) Consistency over weeks, months, and years. Everyone will improve with consistency. 2) The willingness to work hard at your weaknesses and not always focus on the things you are best at. 3) Balance. The ability to keep triathlon in perspective and balanced with the other things in your life will lead to long-term consistency (which is #1 on the list).

DWF: What would you say to someone who’s contemplating getting involved in triathlon? Any good advice?

MH: Do it! Triathlon is a fantastic and in my opinion the best way to get and stay in shape. I personally could not work out just for the sake of working out. I need a goal and competition that I can focus on in preparation. Triathlon provides me this and keeps me motivated. My advice to anyone starting out is to start small: take time to master skills and learn how to go fast across shorter races before moving to the longer stuff. So many triathletes jump in immediately with a half or full ironman though they would be much better served at learning how to race the shorter distances fast. The speed developed by racing short course will transfer to long course if done right.

DWF: How did Endorphin Fitness get started?

MH: Upon graduating from college I wanted to combine my passions for sports and developing kids into my work. So, I started a business called Up that used sports to mentor youth. From there I was given the opportunity to start a youth triathlon team and in January 2005 Endorphin Fitness was born. In 2010, we expanded to add more programs, including a bicycle shop, and in 2013–2014, we launched three satellite locations. Today, we coach over 400 athletes in our four locations as well as online across the country and in several other parts of the world.

DWF: What do you hope to accomplish through Endorphin Fitness?

MH: Foremost, I hope to impact lives. My staff and I fully believe that triathlon and endurance sports have the ability to impact lives positively and this remains our number one focus. To do this, we will continue to expand our operations to offer our coaching expertise to more people worldwide.

Endorphin Fitness is about more than making our athletes faster though we are extremely successful at doing that. We care more about what the process of reaching your potential physically will do for the rest of your life. When I founded Endorphin Fitness, my vision was to transform lives in this manner, and this remains my vision to this day for youth athletes, adult athletes, and shop customers. When you become part of Endorphin Fitness as a staff member, coach, athlete, or customer, you become part of something bigger than just sport. I hope you will embrace this and strive to always live life to the fullest while being an example to others. This is what we refer to as “Living Red.”

DWF: Endorphin Fitness targets (among others) people with full-time jobs who want to stay active. How do you help them achieve their goals better than they could do on their own?

MH: People need expertise and accountability, especially busy professionals. Endorphin Fitness manages every aspect of our athletes’ training so that they can simply wake up, look at their workout for the day, complete it, and then discuss the results with their expert coach following. Our athletes can trust that they are being given exactly what they need to meet their goals. Then, we offer accountability through relationship. This relationship keeps the athlete accountable and offers objective feedback to training and racing to ensure the athlete reaches his or her goals.

DWF: What would you say to someone with a full-time job who says they don’t have time to exercise?

MH: I would say, you don’t have time not to exercise. Exercise is a vital part of your well-being and ultimately will lead to greater success in the other areas of your life. This has been proven through studies. A little bit of exercise in the morning leads to a more productive day than without. Additionally, don’t get caught up in the trap that you need a ton of time to get in shape. It is not how much time you have but rather what you choose to do with this time.

DWF: Of all the people you’ve coached, what’s one of your favorite success stories?

MH: There are so many, it is hard to choose. My longest standing athlete is a 63 year old lady who had been through a difficult life and not done too much for herself. Her life work as a nurse practitioner meant she was always caring for others but never herself. Triathlon gave her an opportunity to pursue something personally which ultimately changed her life. I began coaching her at the beginning of this journey 11 years ago. Today, not only has she achieved great success in the sport of multisport (2nd nationally in duathlon) and cycling (multiple 12-hour ultra cycling champion), but her perspective on life and thus her happiness has been transformed.

DWF: Who inspires you?

MH: My wife who home schools our six children and keeps us all straight. My staff who drive me to achieve excellence in business. And my competition who inspire me to train as hard as I can.

DWF: What book are you currently reading?

MH: I just finished “Understanding Michael Porter,” which is a book on business strategy. I am now just starting “Cold Case Christianity” which was written by a atheist detective who set out to disprove Christ and ultimately got the opposite result.

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David Fouse is a partner at the Pinkston Group, a Washington, D.C.-area public relations firm. Follow David on Instagram @davidwfouse.

These articles are part of an ongoing series highlighting great examples of leadership in health and wellness. We’re always looking for good candidates. Submit your ideas to fouse@pinkstongroup.com.