Balancing Entrepreneurship and Endurance: Julie Urlaub of Taiga Company
“I literally feel like I have 50% of my ‘life force energy’ going towards cycling, and 50% going to the business. And the intensity of both fuel each other.”
Julie Urlaub is the founder and managing partner of Taiga Company, a Golden, Colorado-based social media consulting company for sustainable businesses. She’s also an accomplished ultra endurance mountain biker, whose favorite event is the 24-hour solo. Urlaub boasts an impressive professional and athletic C.V., including having been recognized by The Guardian as one of Twitter’s top 10 most influential voices in sustainability in America, as well as being the author of The Business Sustainability Handbook. She’s also competed in between 80 to 100 races (she lost count a long time ago) including the 6-day Breck Epic stage race, 24-hour MTB National and World Championships, the TransRockies 3-day stage race, the True Grit Epic, and more.
Here’s how this entrepreneur manages running a business with training and racing in some of the toughest endurance events in the country.
When Urlaub first started doing XC mountain bike races more than 10 years ago, she was still employed and at that point it wasn’t too hard to balance racing with life. But when she founded Taiga Company in 2007, “everything went from ‘take it easy’ to ‘I need to produce’, all the time, all day long, every day.” Julie still raced, but for the first year and a half after founding Taiga, she didn’t race to be competitive.
The time off gave Urlaub a pause for much-needed reflection, and she realized that she was bored with XC. When she did start to take cycling seriously again, she shifted her focus to endurance racing. When I asked Urlaub about how she managed that additional training time, she told me that time management is really about two things: energy management and “desire management”.
First, energy management. “One of the great things about TrainingPeaks and [having a] coach is that each week I can plan ahead and know what my rides are. So for example if Tuesday is a kick ass ride, I know I need to come to the table and just be ready to drop the hammer. Then I know how to manage my energy. How much do I need to answer emails, talk to my clients on the phone, and still show up on the bike that day? I block it out on my calendar, and I make it as important as any meeting. If I block it off from 2:00 to 4:00 p.m., I am literally riding out the driveway at 2:00 p.m.” Urlaub also makes sure that she gets all of her high-priority, analytically demanding work done before her hard rides. These days, with the time change and days getting shorter, she’s often up by 4:00 a.m. to get work done so that she can be on the bike in the middle of the day.
“The other thing is managing desire. My brain is always thinking about my business. When I used to be employed, a lot of my background conversation was dreaming about cycling or remembering how great I felt at that race on Sunday...But as an entrepreneur my daydreaming is now about the business. So how do I create time to daydream and capture that desire about cycling?”
To maintain her love of cycling, Urlaub works on being very present on the bike. “Looking at the trees, devouring them with my eyes so that when I’m on the trainer I can capture how that felt and...have desire for that race that’s coming up. For me that is the single most important ingredient. If I didn’t have a chance to desire [cycling], long for it -- then I’d quit.”
“Riding Fuels my Business”
While making time for both training and career are a challenge for most amateur athletes, Urlaub is quick to point out that the two can also complement one another. “I have brilliant ideas when I’m riding my bike...I literally carry my phone with me, and using Evernote I record notes during my ride. Some of those have been some of the best ideas I’ve had for my clients.”
In particular, Urlaub’s passion for mountain biking inspires her sustainability work with Taiga. “Riding for me fuels my business because...a lot of our reporting has to do with climate change. We get daily negative depressing messages over and over in this area...it can literally bring me to tears some days.”
“So while I’m riding, it gives me hope - because I can connect with nature in a way that is truly meaningful to me…I get to see things that people in their lifetimes will never see, and it fuels me. As a result I can come to the table every day in my work truly committed.”
“Worrying does not get you anywhere”
For the past five years Urlaub has been working with cycling coach Mike Schultz of Highland Training. Being coached is a significant component of Urlaub’s ability to balance training with life, and have peace of mind all the while. “In my life - both personal and professional - I have certain people who I consider to be on my ‘personal board’. These are key players that keep my fundamental, most important aspects of my life in order. And my coach is on that ‘board’.”
“Here’s the great thing with coaching - I don’t pay attention. I don’t have the time! I just do my workouts, and if I’m not doing enough Mike will send me an email. I see having a coach as a fundamental key support structure for any athlete who is highly engaged in their business or owns a business. It’s a requirement. All that energy you spend worrying about your riding could go into your business. Worrying does not get you anywhere.”
Urlaub recalls one particular race where Schultz’s guidance was a lifeline. Race week, she had three new clients come on as well as a presentation. After a 10-hour drive to the race, she arrived at the start line truly doubting she could finish. That week, Schultz had sent Urlaub an email with race instructions and the assurance that if she followed them, she would finish.
Wracked with nerves and exhaustion, Urlaub taped her coach’s instructions to her top tube. Schultz’s notes included heart rate ranges broken down by mileage, as well as a single word for her to focus on during each section of the race. Throughout the day, Urlaub looked down at that piece of paper to see what her coach had to say to her. And she finished.
Hearing this story, it’s incredible to think that Schultz and Urlaub have only met once -- Urlaub is based in Golden, Colo., and Schultz is based in southwest Pennsylvania. However, being able to communicate constantly via TrainingPeaks and e-mail has cemented their relationship. Urlaub laughs, “I LOVE my coach. You can put that in the article...If he were to be out of my life, it would be a really big deal.”
“Not pedaling is not an option”
Solo 24-hour mountain bike races are Urlaub’s favorite, but the reason she loves these events is relatable to any endurance athlete. “I figure out what I’m made out of. There are those moments of self-doubt when you want to quit, when you have that negative self talk...but there’s that satisfaction at the end that I did it...I’ve learned about myself, and the insights I’ve gained are better than any self-help book or any religion.”
“In a 24-hour event, one lap you’re going to feel great, one lap you feel like crap. But you know that whatever you feel will pass. You just have to keep pedaling. Not pedaling is not an option. It’s the same in business. There are ebbs and flows, and some years or months will be better than others. But the goal is to always be trending up. If we’re always trending up based on me, based on what I’m benchmarking - then I’m winning.”
This athlete story is part of our November Dreaming Season series.