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Triathlon Helps This Writer Use ADHD to His Advantage

Peter Shankman wears many hats. Presenting his strategies for making them all fit.

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Peter Shankman wears many hats. Presenting his strategies for making them all fit.

In the hilarious viral YouTube video “I’m Training for an Ironman” that made the rounds in the early ’10s, Peter Shankman’s avatar explains to an incredulous friend that going to bed at 7 p.m. and getting up at 4 a.m. so he can work out for three hours before the sun rises is worth it. Because, the robot voice explains, he “will be an Ironman.” But that’s not the whole truth. Shankman follows that schedule even when he’s not training for an Ironman, to be a Happy-and-Successful-Man.

“The video was me saying, ‘This is how I get things done that I want to get done,’” Shankman now says. Shankman, 45, a born and raised New Yorker, has gotten a lot done—he’s written five books, hosts iTunes’ number one ADHD podcast, dubbed “Faster than Normal,” and is the founder of the popular journalism website “Help A Reporter Out”; he’s completed 23 marathons, twelve Olympic-distance triathlons, eight half-Ironmans, one full Ironman, 400 skydiving jumps, and top on his list, he’s the father of a four-year-old daughter.

His not-so-secret? “Massive ADHD.” Not so much having ADHD as harnessing and channeling that energy into productivity. That’s where triathlon comes in.

“Exercise releases chemicals in my brain that allow me to use ADHD to my advantage,” Shankman says. “For example, I’m on airplanes a lot. I get a lot done there because there are few distractions. But to be able to focus during that 14-hour flight to Asia, I have to have those exercise chemicals in my brain. So, if I have a 6 a.m.flight, I’m up at 2 a.m. getting in two hours on the bike before I go to the airport.”

For him, a workout is not something extra to be shoehorned into a busy day but rather the only way the busy day will happen in the first place.

“I simply would not be happy and successful if I did not work out.”

As an overweight kid, Shankman’s only concept of running was “pressing X on a game controller.” In 2000, an employee who was a runner urged him to join her. “I went a half-mile and nearly died, but I got that high.” That same year he ran a marathon, he eventually got bored with that, and found triathlon. “I thought, why suck at one sport when I can suck at three?”

Though admittedly not a natural athlete, Shankman excels at setting priorities and arranging his life accordingly. “At the end of the day, you make time for what’s important to you at the expense of what’s not as important to you. I have a 4-year-old daughter—she’s my priority. It’s important that I work out, so I do it before she wakes up. We all have the same 24 hours. People who say they don’t have enough time are lying.”

RELATED: How This Farmer Balance the Multisport Life

Nonstop Go

While Shankman has developed methods for getting things done within the extreme parameters of ADHD, his strategies can work for the general population. Here’s how he gets it all done:

  • He sleeps in his workout wear. No kidding. The lights in his bedroom are programmed to go on at 3:45 a.m. He gets up, puts on bike shoes, and hops on the Peloton bike that sits next to his bed for a 45-minute ride. The pool is close too—it’s in his building.
  • He works one discipline per day, though he lifts at the gym and bikes on the same day. Done and showered by 6:45 a.m.
  • His triathlon coach writes his workouts, and they run together, super early, once a week. But the value in having a coach, he says, is accountability: “When I miss training, he calls me on it.”
  • He listens to music or podcasts while running and keeps his iPhone handy to record great ideas that pop up during workouts.
  • On the road, he uses the hotel treadmill and stationary bike, and he will even hike the stairs. He asks concierges for outdoor running routes.
  • When he’s jetlagged or feels like he might be getting sick? “There’s a fine line between not feeling good and just being lazy. I know I’ll really feel like crap if I don’t work out.”
  • Lights out for his daughter at 8 p.m.; he’s in bed by 8:15 or 8:30.

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