‘Confront yourself with your doubts!’ Mark Tuitert – Olympic athletes interviewed Episode 7

Olympic Champion 2010  Mark Tuitert in the Kings discipline 1500 meters of speed skating shares his story, how he missed the qualification for 2 Olympic Games, at the peak of his career,  the Olympic Games 2002 in Salt Lake City and the 2006 Olympic Games in Turin. The important lessons he learned, and how he doubled-down on his best discipline, the 1500 meters for the 2010 Olympics.

In this interview we discuss

Christian: In this interview I, am happy to be joined by Mark Tuitert. Mark is a former speed skater, amongst his biggest achievements, Junior World Champion 1999, European Champion 2004 and Olympic Champion 2010 in the Kings discipline 1500 meters.

The way to that Olympic title was paved with a lot of difficulties and adversities, which we are going to hear more about today. Welcome Mark

Mark: Welcome to our office also Christian.

Christian: Mark is now a successful business owner, which we will hear more about the new venture later on.

Mark’s darkest moment

Christian: Mark, as an athlete, what was your darkest moment?

Mark: I think my darkest moment was in 2000. I was World Junior Champion in 1999 and I was part of big commercial speed skating team as the newest upcoming star. I was training for the Olympic Games in 2002 in Salt Lake City, and in 2000 I was doing really well, I almost became  European Champion, the youngest Dutch guy ever to become European Champ, but I fell on my ass during the championship, so it was not all glory.

But I thought I would avenge myself, by becoming an Olympic participant in 2002 and maybe even an Olympic champion, because I was doing really good.

However, I made some bad decisions that year. I was a 20-year-old with a lot of bravadoes, I told everybody I was going to be the next speed skating star. I trained harder than anybody else, I started to skip rest days and I trained literally seven days a week. We had an American coach, Peter Miller, and he was firing us up, “Nobody trains like you do Tuity. Winning is everything.” I got fired up with all the athletes around me and I tried to push myself harder and harder every day, and that went totally wrong.

I tried to push myself harder and harder every day, and that went totally wrong.

I over-trained, not once, but a couple of times. And during the winter of the 2002 Salt Lake City Olympics I was out with a disease and over-training syndrome, so I couldn’t skate. I skated in maybe one or two races and it was terrible.

I remember, I was in Inzell, that’s like the mecca for speed skating in Europe, and it was in November, it was really dark and cold, minus 10 degrees. We went outside to skate and I could barely even walk to the ice rink let alone skate three laps, which I did, and then I thought, “What am I doing here?” I was totally tired, but I didn’t know I was tired, so I was kidding myself. I still thought I could make the Olympics and I still thought I could win, but everybody around me already saw that was not going to happen. It was not a good winter. I recovered, luckily, but that was I think my darkest moment.

I still thought I could make the Olympics and I still thought I could win, but everybody around me already saw that was not going to happen.

Christian: What did you learn from that moment?

Mark: I couldn’t train that winter, so I had time on my hands. I couldn’t train and watching speed skating on the television would make me go crazy. So, I went looking for all the books I could find on training and I basically taught myself by reading all those books and talking to a lot of people about how training works, how biology works.

After that winter I could tick off all the boxes with all the mistakes I made, whether it was physical or psychological. But it was a rookie mistake let’s say.

I could tick off all the boxes with all the mistakes I made.

I taught myself through those books, how everything works, how training works, how periodization works, how weight training works, how endurance works, how your mind works. And I bought a guitar to teach myself how to play it because otherwise, I would be focusing on speed skating, so I had to train the other half of my brain to not to go insane, but to keep steady. It worked, and I recovered after that winter.

I was lucky to find a new coach in Jac Orie, who was a beginner’s coach then, but he was already a Movement Scientist from the university and had a lot of knowledge about training literature, training and developing talent. We worked together, and he was my coach when I became Olympic champion. I was lucky to have that second chance I think.

I taught myself how to play guitar, to unwind from thinking about speed skating. Otherwise, I would have gone insane.

Christian: In the Olympic Games 2006 in Turin, you guys were in the semi-finals in the team pursuit and one guy fell. You were leading by a second, you were the favorites for the title, and then one guy fell. What went through your head at this moment?

Mark: I wasn’t in that race when Sven [Kramer] fell. He fell in the semi-finals, and we were clearly the best team by far. We had the best individuals let’s say, maybe not the best team but the best individuals, but that doesn’t always make the best team.

The 2006 Olympics was the first time, the team pursuit was on the program and we thought we have the best guys and we developed a really clever scheme of interchanging with one another. The first one who came off on top went in second. It was a group of three, so we devised some really difficult ways of picking the leads.

I think Sven got lost in the semi-final and he had to skate. Sven was skating, and I think Caho, the other skater, had to come underneath him, and he got lost, so he thought he had to cut under the skater in front of him, and there was no room. There were blocks, so he stepped on a block, and if you step on a block with your skates there is only one way you will end up and that’s in the padding, so that was a gold medal lost.

We participated in the B finals and won, so we still had the bronze medal, but that was not a good thing.

We had the best individuals, not the best team. But the best individuals don’t always make the best team.

Christian: How did you recover from that moment?

Mark: For me, that was a difficult Olympic Games too, because that was my first Olympic race. I didn’t qualify individually, so that was sort of my second darkest moment.

I missed the Olympic Games two times when I was 21 and 25, both at the peak of my career. I didn’t skate individually, but I still had one big opportunity that year and that was the World Championships.

I missed the Olympic Games two times, when I was 21 and 25, both at the peak of my career.

I wanted to become World Champion and I trained for that. I thought the best way to avenge my performance from the Olympics was to become World Champion. But two days before the World Championships, I tied the laces on my skates and my back just snapped.

I had to visit the physio and he was like, “You’re not going to skate this weekend my friend, you got lucky because you were almost herniated.” So, I had to fly back flat, did the MRI here, and all the doctor said was, “Good, that you didn’t skate.”

I had to recover for one month and I was thinking maybe I should bury my skates because I missed the Olympics individually, we didn’t win gold but bronze, and I missed the World Championships because of an injury. So, that was pretty dark time too. But I came up with a new plan a year after that, it took me a year almost to recover from that.

I was thinking maybe I should bury my skates, because I missed the Olympics twice, we didn’t win gold in the team pursuit and I missed the World Championships. It took me a year almost to recover from that.

After that year I thought my only chance was going to be the 2010 Olympics in Vancouver, in one distance only, my best distance, the 1500 meters. I decided to cut all the bullshit and just focus on one race, one distance for the coming three years, and that was a good decision. So, that’s what I learned from that, you have to make choices.

I thought, my only chance is to focus on one distance, my best distance, the 1500 meters. I decided to cut all the bullshit and just focus on one race, one distance for the next  three years, and that was a good decision. What I learned from that, you have to make choices.

Also check out the interview with Olympic Champ Aleksey Torokhtiy, who also describes to ‘Focus on one way.’ in Aleksey’s words.

Mark’s best moment

Christian: What was your best moment?

Mark: That’s easy, that’s the easiest question to answer. That was February 20, 2010, the day I won a gold medal at the 2010 Olympic Games. I had been looking forward to that day for a long time, and everything came together on that day I was already feeling good a couple of weeks before. During the season I was good, not in peak form yet, but that was intentional since I wanted to be in peak shape for the Olympics.

And everything came together there, the whole journey, everything I learned physically, mentally, emotionally, everything fell into place there, the whole training program we devised to get there. That was the best I could be at that moment, and that was a great feeling.

On that day, everything came together there, the whole journey. I was the best I could be, and that was a great feeling.

Of course, gold is great, but knowing that day, that I was at the best I could be was a relief for me. So, that was also adding up to me being able to push myself to the ultimate maximum, because I knew it was not going to get better than that. So, I took the chance because I was thinking it might be the only one I get..

I took the chance because I was thinking it might be the only one I get.

Christian: Having made my research and listened around a bit, it seems like the 2010 Olympic gold medal came as a bit of a surprise to people outside of your closest circle here in the Netherlands. Was it a surprise to you?

Mark: Yes and no. I really trained for the gold.

Christian: Did you believe in it?

Mark: Yes, for sure. My team and my coach believed that. There were not a lot of people who believed that. Maybe people at home and the staff around me believed in the program. I think if you are a pro athlete you have to believe in it, that has to be your ultimate goal. If you are not going for gold you are not a pro athlete, you have to have that aim.

If you are a pro athlete you have to believe in it, if you are not going for gold you are not a pro athlete.

It’s not always that you’ll manage to get there and win gold, but you have to have that goal, or else you better quit. And I always had that goal. I was really convinced that if I laid down the best performance I could, that would be enough for a gold.

Also, the 1500 meters is so close, it is really a difficult race, and if you are not the favorite maybe it is a little bit easier, because you are more the underdog, so you can really stick to your own program, not make yourself crazy or get fed up with all the people who want to throw you around, “You can do that.” Or, “You are the top dog here, you have to do it.” It is more easy to keep the focus.

Christian: It’s like flying under the radar.

Mark: Yes, instead of all the clutter. It’s easy to follow your own program and stick to it, because I saw a lot of athletes make mistake when it gets hard. It’s two or three weeks before a big race and because you train hard, you push your body to the max, you put your mind to the max, you are going to suffer and with suffering comes insecurity, “Am I still able to manage this? Maybe I cannot win gold. What am I going to do in the afterlife? What if I quit?” You are going to ask yourself these questions because you are tired and you are not in top shape. And if you are in top shape and you are rested then you are like, “Come on, I can take anyone on.” But when you’re at the lowest that’s where athletes panic or divert from their program because they’re like, “I have to do things differently, this is going the wrong way.”

Because you train hard, you push your body to the max, you put your mind to the max, you are suffering so much, and with suffering comes insecurity. But if you are rested and you are in top shape,then you are like, “Come on, I can take anyone on.”

But I think the goal or the hard part is to stay easy and relaxed in the two to three weeks before the big race, stay calm and keep confident although you don’t feel confident. You have to wait for your shape to come. You know if you are not rested, that you are going to feel tired at first as your body is adapting to the training, and afterward you are going to feel great and then you hope to get that great feeling onto the ice.

And you have to believe in that and stay easy, you have to believe in that. If you lose that faith or you get carried away by your insecurities, then you’re gone. I saw a lot of big, big talents made that mistake, so I decided I was not going to do that. Just stay with yourself, believe in your program, stay easy, do the things you have to do, have fun and really stay down to the basics, especially the last weeks before a big race, like the Olympics.”

If you lose that faith in the process and you get carried away by your insecurities, then you are gone. I saw a lot of big, big talents made that mistake, so I decided I was not going to do that.

Mark’s advise to a younger Mark Tuitert

Christian: If you could go back in time, like 10 years or 15 years, and you meet your younger self, what advice would you give a young Mark Tuitert?

Mark: Well, I don’t know if I believe in that question, because if I had done things differently things would have played out differently maybe.

The only advice I would give myself is keeping the faith, everything will be alright, everything will fall into place. Although you can’t see that when you are 20 or 25, it will fall into place.

Keep the faith, everything will be alright, everything will fall into place.

Also, check out the interview with Matthijs Büchli ‘Keep your confidence!’ where Matthijs is advising very strongly on the importance of keeping the faith.

I believed in that for myself already, I was not a guy who panicked, when I went down, I stood up and the next day I made a new plan to keep pushing. I never said to myself, “Maybe it’s time to quit now, let’s move on and do something else.” So, there is no specific advice that I would give.

All the things I had to go through really made me wiser. Although it would not be bad if I had missed them, it would be great, if I had missed all those things based on how I was feeling back then, but in the end, it was a really good learning experience, maybe the best. If you make the mistakes and you get confronted with yourself that is the only way you learn.

If you walk away or you hold yourself back because it is safer and you don’t go the last mile, then you don’t learn, you are always in the safe place. I never took that decision and that hurt me a lot, but I also learned a lot, that is where you get better and you learn. Also, as an athlete that’s the place you have to search for because that’s where you grow physically and mentally.

If you make a mistake and you confront yourself with that, that is the only way you learn. And as an athlete that’s the place you have to search for, because that’s where you grow physically and mentally.

Christian: That’s what they say, life begins outside the comfort zone.

Mark: Yes, that’s true. That’s also how biology works. The one who wins the race is also the one who can adapt the best and the fastest and can hold on to the biggest training load for a long time, and that’s because of the adaptations. But if you want to adapt, even at the pro level and you are well-trained you have to still come up with a new way to get the adaptations you want to perform even better.

So, it’s always pushing, always pushing your level. You can never stay anywhere and think, “This is a good place, let me enjoy the view.” Maybe you can do that for a couple of weeks but then it’s gone, you could never stay there, and that’s a shame because you want to stay there, life is pretty good from the top of the mountain winning golds. But after two or three months you have to come down although you don’t want to, and you have to come up with a new plan.

You always have to push your level. You can never stay anywhere and think, “This is a good place to be, let me enjoy the view.”

Mark’s unusual development pathway to the top of the speed skating world

Christian: As a strength and conditioning coach in the strength and conditioning Sports Science World we have this so-called long-term athlete development plan or idea. You seem to be a very successful Junior athlete, you also set quite a few World Records at the end of your Junior career, but you didn’t crush it to the same extent as a senior in the beginning. Some critics believe that focusing too early on success in Junior years will have a trade-off in Senior years.

Mark: Yes, I know that theory. Well, I didn’t go the normal route. In skating you are good when you are young, you get selected for a group of pro or really good talented skaters and you move up the ranks. With me, it was totally different, because I first started skating when I was 12, which was pretty late.

Before that I did soccer, playing on the farm with my parents. From 12 years onwards I still did soccer, still did skating three times a week. I was busy doing sports six times a week, but I was nowhere near talented at that age. Up to 14/15 years, I was at the mid-level in races, I wasn’t top-level, I wasn’t good. I was good maybe physically but not technically. Nobody thought, “He is going to be good later on, better keep an eye out.”

But I got a pair of inline skates in the summer when I was 14 years old, so I could cruise around on our farm, and I did that every day because I liked it. I didn’t go to the training camp for speed skaters, nothing like that, but I rode around the farm. It was more like how to deduct, self-playing, self-learning. And there was a guy who came to the farm to my dad and he said, “I see you like to skate, maybe you should do some races.” He took me to a race and I finished last in the race, so I thought that’s not for me.

But there was a guy who saw me skate, and he said, “Maybe he can become something.” He talked to my dad and my dad bought a new pair of skates because my old skates sucked. So, I got a new pair of skates and then I blasted away, every day I was getting much better and I went faster. I decided to do another race and I came third, I went on the podium and got flowers and I got an envelope with a little bit of money and I was like, “Wow, what’s this?” I was 14 years old, then and I got hooked on inline skating.

I think when I was 14/15 years, I was at the top in our country in inline skating, but there were only six/seven guys in inline skating, so it was not that hard to get there. But I trained a lot by myself at home and with a junior selection one day a week in the summer, and still, I sucked at speed skating up till I was 17 years.

At 17 years old I became really good at inline skating, even with the seniors, and then I finally got my break. In one year, everything happened. I was training to compete at the Dutch championships, I was not sure if I could compete at the Championships, but I came second or third at the Dutch championships in one year.

I took a different route, nobody saw me. And then I was able to go for the Dutch junior team, they told me, “You can go to the Dutch junior team, isn’t that great?” I said, “Yes, that’s great.” “But you have to stop inline skating.” I said, “Why? I’m really good at inline skating, and I think it is fun.” “No, no, no, that’s not good for you.” So, I said, “Well, then I’m not going to go in the junior team.”

So, I didn’t go on the junior team, and a year after that I still managed to defeat all the other juniors from that team because I said, “I’m going to do it my way.”

I took a different route and that worked really well for me later in my career because when I got my break at 17/18 years old and I trained four/five times a week and I did a little bit of biking. I was not a developed athlete by a long shot, there were a lot of guys my age who were doing weight training, doing specific running training, cycling; I didn’t do any of that, I just inline skated and speed skated, so I had a lot to gain.

I took a different route, nobody saw me. I was not a developed athlete by a long shot, there were a lot of guys my age who were doing weight training, doing specific running training, cycling; I didn’t do any of that, I just inline skated and speed skated, so I had a lot potential to further gain.

So, in the years after that, 18, 19, 20, 21 years old I had a great deal to make up and grow, I had a lot more potential to grow, so that’s when I pulled away from my age group to the top. 

Christian: There’s also one theory in the long-term athlete development that says broader education in the younger years in different sports will give you a better solid fundamental basis for later improvements.

Mark: That was what happened in my case. I didn’t skate from when I was six years old three times a week skating, skating, skating, not at all.  I kind of developed more of a ghost development, I wasn’t on the radar until I was 17/18 years old..

Mark’s success habits

Christian: What makes you a successful person or athlete?

Mark: I believe in the theory of the growth mindset from Carol Dweck. I think, if you adopt a growth mindset, you learn to always confront yourself, “How can I learn more and do more?”

You learn not to be afraid to fail, not to see failure as an excuse or a way to stop, but a way to learn, I think that’s a big factor. Don’t say, “This happens, I can’t do anything about it” or “I deserve it, I deserve to win.” No, that’s bullshit, you don’t deserve anything, you are just a person and you have to prove yourself and get out there and make something of your life and learn, and that’s the fun part of it, although sometimes it’s hard too.

If you adopt a growth mindset, you learn to always confront yourself, you learn not to be afraid to fail, not to see failure as an excuse or a way to stop, but a way to learn.

A lot of things that can go wrong will go wrong, that’s the case in a company, that’s also the case in a sporting career, that’s the case in life on a personal level. I have gone through things with my parents in a divorce and that was really hard. And if you travel a lot and you are gone a lot and you have a family; how do you respond to that?

This is what helps me to be successful. And I think you have to look for the good advice and the right people to work with, that’s a big factor too.

You have to look for the good advice and the right people to work with.

Christian: Challenging the idea of the growth mindset, everyone has doubts once in a while, how do you deal with that?

Mark: Confront them, see if those doubts are rational or irrational. You also have irrational doubts because maybe you are kidding yourself. It can be in a positive way or a negative way.

I think what helps a lot is developing a stoic mindset. I read a lot about this, it’s about trying to control what you can control and accepting what you can’t control. So, accept the things that happen to you. And it’s not always your fault, sometimes it’s just hard to deal with certain situations, you have to learn to accept the way it goes.

But if you can control it and you have an effort to play and a role to play, you have to go all in, and you have to be able to say I did all I could. I think that’s a big part.

Control what you can control and accepting what you can’t control. You have to learn to accept the things that happen to you, if they are not in your control.
But if you can control it, you have to go all in, and you have to be able to say I did all I could.

Mark’s morning routine

Christian: Do you have a morning routine? How do you get ready for the day?

Mark: I wake with my kids, do breakfast, walk the dogs and then I mostly go train before the kids go to school. After I train that’s about the time the traffic jams are over, so then I come here to the office or I go on the road. I am on the road a lot for appointments everywhere.

My morning routine is an easy wake-up, not by an alarm or sound, but mostly by light. I like the little walk with the dogs, family time, kids, and then go out, train if I can first. I like to train first in the mornings.

Christian: Why is that?

Mark: Because it’s energizing, you get energized during your day, and if you sit a lot behind your laptop or in your car then you’re like, “Pfft.” But if you’ve trained, you do some deadlifts in the morning and you sit for the rest of the day, you sit a little more upright, you feel your body strengthening, so it feels better, you get more energy during the day. And the hours after you train you’re open, you’re really productive I feel. I’m addicted to training a little bit.

My morning routine is an easy wake-up, not by an alarm or sound, but mostly by light. I like to train first thing in the mornings because it’s energizing.

How to prepare for important moments

Christian: How do you prepare yourself for important moments?

Mark: Nothing comes close to the Olympic finals or World Championships.

Sometimes I give presentations for a big groups and corporations, and I get nervous, but I always think of an Olympic final and it takes the tension away, it never gets so intense anywhere else, so I am not that scared.

The best way to prepare for big moments is to be prepared, be prepared really well. There is a thin line between preparation and over-preparing. So, you have to prepare and go through your mind through all the scenarios that can happen, how do you prepare, what’s the plan, etc.

The best way to prepare for big moments is to be prepared, be prepared really well.

But when you are in the moment itself you need to get out of your head. That’s kind of contradictory. You’re in your head making a plan, dealing with all the situations that can happen, and that’s good because you have to be rational about that.

But at the moment itself if you think too much you will act like a robot, which doesn’t work. You have to let go of your expectations, of everything you have learned and trust your instincts or your training to take over.

Try to relax before a big moment, I did that while skating as an athlete. I used breathing techniques, just breathe in, breathe out, stay relaxed, be relaxed, sometimes crack a joke, go to somebody and just talk to them one hour before or a half an hour before the event just to release the tension.

And don’t focus on the results, let go of the results and just go. But that’s the hardest part to do because you are wired, you are so wired to do that. And the whole preparation, you have to let that go at the moment in order to be in the moment.

You have to let go of your expectations, don’t focus on the results, let go of the results and just go, trust your instincts to take over.

Christian: I think speed skating is quite a brutal sport, it’s you, the ice rink, there is not much space to hide.

Mark: And it’s you against time.

Christian: What goes through your head before that moment?

Mark: A lot of things go through your head. The hardest part is to let the thoughts come up and let them go again.

Don’t hold on to the thoughts because a lot of things will go to your head, “Wow, these are a lot of people. Wow, millions of people are watching through television cameras. Are my legs good? I don’t know, maybe not. Only one chance, what if I make a mistake?” And you feel the thoughts coming, but if you hold on to that thought and you’re like, “Yes, what if this happens?” then you’re gone.

Let the thoughts come, that’s okay. The only thing you have to do is stay relaxed. But inside you feel your heart pounding. It’s a sort of state from letting go and rest and aggressiveness at the same time, so you feel really aggressive, really pumped up like, “If the shot goes I’m going to give it my all and I’ll go full gas, I’m not leaving anyone behind.” You might feel like the first strides are good, and if they are good then let go.

The hardest part is to let the thoughts come up and let them go again. You have to stay relaxed, but inside you feel your heart pounding.

Right before the race, I didn’t at one-moment think of how I should race, I had done all those races in my head or literally with my body. I did so many 1500 meters, so I’m not going to do a better 1500 meter by thinking of how I should race, I already did that. I’m going to do it by doing it. After the gun goes off I do the first strides really well and then just let it go.

I did so many 1500 meters, I am not going to do a better 1500 meter by thinking of how I should race, I already did that. I am going to do it by doing it.

The only thing I told myself is that you have one chance, so go all in, I’m going to leave nothing behind, nothing, not a single bit of energy, so you have to be really good today if you want to beat me. And if you want to beat me that’s okay, but you have to come on top of your game.

I told myself, I am going to leave nothing behind, nothing, not a single bit of energy, so you have to be really good today if you want to beat me.

Those thoughts and those feelings are so strong. That is what I miss sometimes in a normal life, it’s the coming together and the how it’s coming together and who is going to win, it’s the kill or be killed, that feeling. That happens once in a couple of years, that happens at the Olympics, it’s killed or be killed. And there is something cruel about it, and then there is something really beautiful about it.

It’s the kill or be killed, that feeling, that happens once in a couple of years at the Olympics.

How Mark overcomes setbacks

Christian: We touched on this before, how do you overcome setbacks? And specifically, I want to talk about… You’ve written a book, Zonder Strijd Geen Overwinning, which can be translated as No Victory Without a Fight, and that also seems to be your mantra, tell us a bit about that.

Mark: I think if you are going to win, whatever the definition of winning is for you if you are prepared to go through the hardship, through the shadow side as we sometimes call it… Everybody has scars on their soul or goes through things in their life and I think the way you act on that defines you, so if you act on that by hiding or wishing things would get better or looking for excuses, that’s a coping strategy and that’s okay.

You are going to win, if you are prepared to go through the hardship. Everybody has scars on their soul or goes through things in their life, the way you act on that is what defines you.

But if you want to win or get better or get everything out of life you just have to confront it, take it. And it hurts, but sometimes you learn so much from that, and it’s another dimension sometimes that you have to go through to get to the greater good, to learning as a person, to personal development, winning a gold medal or making money or doing what you love.

I think you have to learn through life, and how you deal with what life throws at you will define you. And it’s not easy for a lot of people, including myself, but I think if you want to live fully you have to learn to do that because it will give you so much back.

If you want to win or get better at anything, you just have to confront it, because it will give you so much back.

Christian: So, the idea of the book is despite all the hardships you still believe, that there will be a victory in the end, whatever victory is.

Mark: Yes, whatever you define as victory. I think hardship is not something you have to run away from but confront. And if you get through that you are a stronger person by it, so you know whatever life throws at you, you can deal with it. And that feeling is a good feeling, you know whatever life throws at me I’ll challenge, and I’ll manage.

I’ve met people in wheelchairs and they have positive attitudes. I’m fit, I was a pro athlete, I’m on the other side of the spectrum, but still, these people have a positive attitude and a mindset. So, it’s how you deal with those situations in life that will define you.

And you have a choice, you can deal with it by letting go, and that would be a normal choice because life can be cruel, it can be hard. But I have a lot of respect for people who although they go through hardships still are positive and try to not let their hardships define them. Or, they let their hardships define them in a positive way and not in a negative way. They don’t get pathetic, they confront it and take it head on; I like that.

Hardship is not something you have to run away from, but confront. And if you get through it, you are a stronger person and you know, whatever life throws at me, I’ll challenge, and I’ll manage. And that feeling is a good feeling..

Mark’s role model

Christian: Who is your role model, and why?

Mark: My role models in sports were Ådne Søndrål and Ids Postma two 1500-meter speed skaters, and those guys were always challenging each other. And they were not pussies, they were powerful guys both physically and mentally. If you race those guys they are like monsters, they will eat you up. They were not the most gifted speed skaters, but with their heart and their head, they would accomplish what they wanted to do. They were able to train harder than anyone, to perform better and to keep on fighting. They were not naturally talented gifted athletes, but they were mentally tough. They were a generation before me, so I looked up to them like, “Wow, these guys are really cool.”

They were not the most gifted speed skaters, but with their heart and their head they would accomplish what they wanted. They were able to train harder than anyone.

Some entrepreneurs are also role models. I like the guys who build their companies, not always the famous ones, but those who do it in a durable and sustainable way, so that they don’t have to sell the company. They manage and own their company and grow it from the ground up, not to cash out, but to build something that’s everlasting.

Christian: Who would be an example of that?

Mark: I think Richard Branson is a really good example, and he also shows us to have fun with it. He is kite surfing with models on his neck and he is building a really big company and having fun and challenging himself at the same time, and that is a great example I think.

So, it’s not the pursuit of money or being on top of the hill or a gold medal, “If I do that then life will be fine.” No, it’s in the moment and the process. Love the process, love the challenge, love the things you learn from that.

It’s not the pursuit of money or a gold medal, it’s the process. Love the process, love the challenge, love the things you learn from that.

Christian: Did you love the process as an athlete, or were you very focused on the outcome?

Mark: I am really focused on outcomes, even here to within the company. I want results, I am really results-driven. If I look back I think results drive me, but the process is the most fun. What I miss is not standing on the podium with a gold medal, what I miss sometimes in skating is working every day with the best athletes in the world, training every day on a high level and try to get it to where you want by pushing the envelope every day with a group of really talented and committed people.

Results drove me, but the process was the most fun. What I miss, is not standing on the podium with a gold medal, what I miss sometimes is working every day with the best athletes in the world, training every day on a high level and try to get better every single day.

And that’s the same for a company, the process is the most fun, especially in the end. Of course, you want your results from it, you have to dream big and you have to keep pushing for the results. Maybe it’s biology, but I don’t know exactly why you want to win the gold medal, why you want the company to flourish and to grow. It’s the process that makes it fun, and that’s what you deal with every day.

The win, the gold medal, that maybe lasts a day or a couple months. And that can be satisfying, but that will come and go. It’s the challenge to build something which you grow and learn every day, and you have to look for the fun in that; that’s what I had as an athlete. I really thought that was the most fun part, challenging yourself every day, making new plans, “How can we do this? How can we do that?”

But of course, it makes it all worthwhile if you’re standing on top of the podium, that’s the goal, and it is all tied together. There is no goal without a process, and there is no process without a goal.

There is no goal without a process, and there is no process without a goal..

The best advice he ever received

Christian: What was the best advice that was given to you, and who gave it?

Mark: I think the best advice was to quit all-round skating. In 2007, I was 7th at the European championships all-round, I was like, “I’m only going to skate for seventh place? That’s ludicrous. I am not going to skate for a 7th  place, I’m not going to do this. I’m going to focus on one thing, the 1500 meters.” Jac, who was my coach, said, “Let’s focus on the thing you love best and do best, and that’s the 1500 meters.” That was a good choice and it was good advice to do it that way.

I am not going to skate for 7th place, that’s ludicrous, I’m going to focus on one thing, the 1500 meters.

Christian: Even if you would have not succeeded in 2010, would you still think it was the best thing to do?

Mark: Yes. Because I knew the other option was no option. I couldn’t come first in the all-round Championships anymore, there were guys from American and Italy who were just better than me. It was just confronting myself and saying, “I’m not going to get there, I’m not going to get to that level.” That was just being realistic.

You can want it, but you have to believe in dreams. You also really have to believe that you can do it, do not kid yourself. I would have been kidding myself if I had gone through that way. It was a hard choice, but I knew that focusing on the 1500-meters was the only way. I had to do it like that, or I would have had to slap myself in the face because it would have been a missed chance and opportunity.

You also really have to believe that you can do it, do not kid yourself. I had to do it like that, or I would have had to slap myself in the face..

A typical training day in the life of a Speed Skater 

Christian: How did a typical training day look back in the days?

Mark: At the peak of my career we were training smart. When I was 20 years old I would train hard, a lot of hours, a lot of intensity, and we really got back during 2010 towards polarized training, so a lot more low-intensity training with some peaks of high intensity.

Everything, the whole training schedule was built around maybe two training sessions in the week, and this training was in the winter. One session was an interval training, so I would cut my 1500-meter speed up into blocks of 600 meters and I would do a 5K on my 1500-meter speed. But to be able to do 5K instead of 3K I needed to have a good aerobic base on the bike and build specific weight training around that. Another part would be an interval training where we did some longer intervals with less intensity.

The height of the week was around those two training sessions. Afterward, we had rest days and we built the rest of our training around that. I had to be rested before the most intense training sessions and then I had to recover from that training.

The whole periodization was written to develop aerobic capacity, anaerobic capacity, weights, specific speed to be able to perform those training at a really high-volume base for those interval training, one or two months before the specific races I did.

I think it was really smart training and smart planning. I would do two weight training a week, one big interval or two big interval training on ice. The intervals we did specific on the ice and focused on speed, and the endurance training we mostly did on bikes. We would do both low and high-intensity aerobic training on bikes because that’s a controlled environment, and speed skating is a little bit difficult to control in intensity. So, we would play around with these training to develop a schedule.

Speed skating is really technical and really coordinated, so you cannot overload yourself too much in training because it will affect your skating. You can be tired, but if you’re too tired you’ll skate like shit. If I’m tired I can still bike, but if I’m really tired I’ll damage my skating technique. So, for skating it’s really a puzzle with a lot of parameters you can play around with. It’s balanced, it’s coordination, it’s speed, power, aerobic, anaerobic capacity. So, there are a lot of things in there I think that makes it fascinating.

When I was 20 years old I would train hard, a lot of hours and a lot of high-intensity training. At the peak of my career I was training smart.

Christian: Having been a successful athlete in this country I guess a lot of attention has been on you. How did you make the transition into normal life? You mentioned earlier that sometimes you miss those moments.

Mark: The first few years was difficult. I had to search for new goals and new challenges. You are used to having one goal and going all out on that goal, and you know how to reach it, you know the plan, you know everything, but then that’s gone, so you need to get out there and do new things. And it’s kind of hard to find your new goal, your new route because you’re so used to training.

And physically also a lot changes, you don’t have to train anymore so you could drink beer every day and lay on the couch if you want to. I guess that’s what a lot of athletes do too, they’re like, “I’ve had enough training for this lifetime. Let’s do some other things.”

You are used to having one goal, going all in on that goal, but then that’s gone and you need to get out there and do new things. And it’s kind of hard to find your new goal.

Christian: Everyone who has been on an Olympic campaign knows the year after the Olympics, is not a good time. What’s most difficult, the post-Olympic year, or retiring?

Mark: Retiring, because then there is no goal in the winter anymore. It’s hard, but you have to get out there and stay active physically and try to pursue new goals.

And you don’t know what you’re going to do, some people do know that I’m a little bit jealous of them, but you have to develop, you have to find who you are outside of your sport.

You have to do a lot of stuff, learn a lot of stuff and see what you like, see what you’re good at. You start back to when you were 18/19 years old, that free feeling. It’s back again to the roots and you have to go through the whole same transition again, a little different but still it has some similarities.

If Mark’s six-year-old daughter tells him she wants to become an Olympic champion in speed skating. How would he react?

Christian: If your six-year-old daughter tells you she wants to become an Olympic champion in speed skating, will it bring cold sweat on your forehead, or excitement?

Mark: I would say, “You’re crazy, we’re not going to do that.” No, of course, I wouldn’t say that. That would be cool. If she wants to do speed skating she can, but she doesn’t have to.

I took her to the ice rink last winter, so it would be cool if she learns skating, and if she likes it, she can be whatever she wants. She has learned speed skating, and they watch a lot of speed skating. I work for a television as a co-reporter in winter for speed skating, so they always watch that. They were in class last winter for the Olympics and they knew more than the teacher about skating and the athletes, they know a lot about speed skating already.

I know, I needed my parents to get to my speed skating career. My mother and my father dedicated a lot of time in getting me from ice rink to ice rink or inline skate track to inline skate track, so we’ll see.

Mark’s interview nomination

Christian: Do you want to nominate someone to be interviewed?

Mark: Maybe Johann Olav Koss, a Norwegian speed skater. There is a story, that he did these brutal trainings and did 150 kg squats 100 times. I think he was a really smart guy, he’s Norwegian. It’s either he really did that and he was training like an animal, or he made people believe he did it so everybody would try to do it, which killed them. I think the latter is true, and it is fun if you hear the stories about him. I met him last winter, he’s a really inspiring guy.

Where can you find Mark Tuitert

Christian: Where can people find you? And tell us a bit more about your company, First Energy Gum.

Mark: They can find me online everywhere by Googling me.

Check out Mark’s profiles: Website, Instagram, LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter

The biggest part of my time now is First Energy Gum, we are three of us, myself and two other guys, we developed an energy gum, which is a new category in sports nutrition. We are a caffeinated energy gum. A lot of athletes use our product, whether it be the pro soccer clubs to the full ocean race sailors to the BMX racers or cyclists.

As an athlete, I was looking for a product like this, because I knew that caffeine worked, it makes you more active, more focused, and the perception of effort gets less, so you are able to train harder and that can make a little difference.

But I knew that coffee alone or a pill was not good enough, because you absorb that through your intestines. Via a chewing gum, you absorb caffeine through the linings in your mouth, so it goes straight up to your brain within 10 minutes, and it works like a charm.

I knew, that it worked like this, but I couldn’t get it anywhere. It was not for sale in Europe and had only limited availability in America, so we decided to develop it ourselves, First Athletes Energy Gum.

A lot of athletes are our customers, and a lot of sports enthusiasts too. We are a young company, and we are doing good. First is now only based in Holland, but we are looking to take over Europe and then take over the world.

Christian: And I can attest to that, I tried it and it increases alertness.

Mark: And it works fast. Whether I take it before I do a workout, 10 minutes before, 15 minutes before, or if I have a long drive in the car or I have to study or be alert.

Christian: What I noticed also is it seems to last a bit longer and you don’t get the rise and the fall of caffeine pills or coffee.

Mark: And we are vegan, no sugar added. And the caffeine lasts for five to six hours. I notice when I chew on our gum it works like a charm for at least two or three hours. And anybody who wants to try it can go to First Energy Gum and learn all about it.

Christian: Thank you for your time, that was awesome.

Mark; You’re welcome Chris.

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