As Father’s Day approaches, we wanted to take a moment to celebrate the hard-working dads out there who strive to lead a healthy life and set strong examples for their kids. Among them, Roberto Mandje is an elite Olympic runner who works daily to balance his intense training routine with family life. We had the pleasure of speaking with Roberto to get some insight into his healthy routine and how he prioritizes fitness and family.
Read our Q&A with Roberto below!
Tell us a little bit about yourself.
I’m an Olympic Distance Runner (Athens 2004) and Fitness Model currently living in Northern Germany (Greifswald) with my wife, Molly Mandje, and our 4-month-old daughter, Aurora. I was born in Barcelona, Spain and previous to Greifswald, my wife and I lived in Boulder, Colorado before relocating to Germany late last year.
Where did you grow up?
I grew up more or less all over the world, primarily between Europe and Africa (Equatorial Guinea, Mali, Egypt, Swaziland & South Africa) before moving to the U.S (Westchester, New York) in my early teen years.
What’s your favorite healthy snack?
My favorite (post-run) snack is the Svelte Banana Crème shake blended with almond butter and fresh strawberries (they’re in season here in Germany).
What does a typical day look like for you?
My days start at about 6 am when my daughter wakes up. She starts grinning as soon as she sees my wife and I looking into her crib. At this point I’ll change her diaper and then hand her over to my wife for her morning feeding. Shortly thereafter, I’ll entertain her while my wife gets ready for work. I’ll drop off Aurora at her “Tagesmutti” (German for daycare) between 8:30 and 9AM.
I’ll spend the next 2 – 2.5 hours at my gym here (CleverFit Greifswald) where I lift weights, do my core routine and my first run of the day (30 – 60 minutes). After the gym, I pick up my daughter from daycare around 11:30. My wife gets home for lunch at noon and will be with Aurora till 1PM at which point I’ll either catch up on e-mails and/or take a much needed nap. From 1-5PM I’ll play Mr. Dad with my daughter where I’ll take her for a walk (it helps her nap) or play guitar for her (till she can’t stand it anymore) or just plop down on the couch and read to her, again till she falls asleep.
My wife walks in the door around 5PM, which is when we switch off duties and I’ll go out for a longer evening run and/or a second trip to the gym if needed. Fortunately we’re very far north and the days are very long now. By the time I finish my daily training, Aurora will be fast asleep and Molly won’t be far behind. I’ll sometimes eat dinner alone, catch up on e-mails and finish the night off with my German lessons. I TRY to be in bed by 11PM.
Any pro tips you can share with those of us working towards a healthy lifestyle such as yours?
I’m definitely known for having a sweet tooth. That being said, I believe in picking and choosing your battles. My wife and I ascribe to the 90/10 rule. 90% of the time I’m super conscious of what I’m eating and putting into my body as both fuel for the workload and recovery for afterwards. 10% of the time I allow myself to indulge in naughtier snacks. I believe being active everyday is important. Here in Greifswald, something like 44% of the population commute daily via bike, you see young and the very old alike riding around town. This goes to show that one doesn’t have to take health or fitness to the extreme in order to be healthy. All it takes is being less sedentary, going for daily walks, riding your bike or simply being mindful of how much time you sit in front of a computer or TV per day and working on cutting that down. It all adds up and we all have to start somewhere. The good thing is that there’s always room for improvement, but it starts with being self-aware – that is the first step.
How has your health and fitness routine changed since becoming a father?
I was always driven and disciplined, but in my early 20s as a single guy, I had the luxury of only thinking about myself and working around my own schedule. Marriage and now fatherhood forces you to work as a unit. My wife and I are a great team together and fully support each other in our careers. This means that I have to be very disciplined (bed time, morning and evening runs + gym as well) with my daily routines. I also have to be super flexible to the needs of our daughter. Last week she got a cold and we kept her out of daycare for the first three days of the week. This threw a wrench into my routine but we made it work. I’m still driven and determined to get the daily training in, but I stress less than I would’ve before if things don’t go as planned as I know it’s more about the whole than any individual day. Having my daughter both motivates/empowers me and exhausts me. It’s an interesting dichotomy, but one that I’m enjoying 100%.
Has it been difficult to maintain your training routine while living abroad in Germany?
It has certainly been an adjustment, but more since becoming a father than the geographic location. Living in this particular region is definitely different than the mountainous utopia of Boulder, Colorado. At the end of the day, running is running. The more you can do while still recovering the better you’re going to get. I’ve certainly been using the treadmill now more than ever in my career. This is both for time management (being a father) and to simulate hilly terrain as this is the flattest place I have ever lived. As I mentioned, having my daughter has made me even more focused and driven, so be it in Germany or Colorado, I’m determined to do everything I can to maintain the level of work it is going to take to achieve my goals.
What’s your favorite workout?
One of my favorite workouts these days is a “tempo run”. Due to time constraints, I’ll usually do it on the treadmill at CleverFit. It consists of a 10 min warm up at 2% incline and at 10mph (6 minute mile) followed directly by a 40 min Tempo @ 2 – 3 % incline (the pace will vary depending on how I’m feeling but it’s usually between 5:15 – 5:25 with maybe the last mile or two at sub 5 min pace) and then a 10 min cool down @ 0 – 1% incline. The total workout takes exactly 60 minutes which in important for me as I have to be mindful of my time management and usually rush off to collect my daughter at daycare. It’s a great workout and easy to adapt to anyone’s fitness and talent level.
How do you prepare for a big race mentally?
I always remind myself that I’ve done the work necessary and there isn’t point in worrying about what I can’t control (my opponents, the weather, etc.). I focus on myself and think about other big races I’ve had success at in the past. I tell myself this is merely a celebration of my fitness, so I should enjoy and seize the opportunity and no matter the outcome. There is always tomorrow and your friends and family are going to be behind you no matter what.
What are your suggestions for monitoring health and fitness progress?
I would suggest keeping a training log. You can keep track of how many times per week you do a given exercise as well as (over time) see the progress you’re making. Depending on how gadget heavy you are, one could acquire a Heart Rate Monitor or one of the many fitness bands available. My father in law has one and he personally sets a goal of (I think) 5,000 steps per day. Overall I would say it’s YOUR fitness, so take ownership of it and enjoy the process because meaningful and beneficial gains can be made regardless of who you are and where you’re starting from.
What struggles have you encountered in your athletic career? How did you overcome them?
I’ve had a longer career than I initially thought I’d have and I’m happy to say it’s still going and I’m still enjoying the journey and improving. That being said, I’ve had struggles here and there. One of the first and major ones occurred in 2008 when I got food poisoning for the first time. I was living in Belgium for the summer and chasing the Olympic Standard. I got so ill that I wasn’t able to get out of bed for a few days and eventually had to scrap the chase and head back home to recover. I was crushed and contemplated walking away from athletics. Thankfully I bounced back after taking a month’s holiday in my native Barcelona with friends and family. That one setback showed me that as cliché as it sounds, life was too short and I needed to do a better job at enjoying the process and each and every day. Up till that point I had a single-minded focus on the Beijing Olympics and I failed to enjoy myself as much as I had in the past and have since. Everyday, every training run, every gym session was “Olympics or Bust”, so naturally when I failed I was crushed. I’m a better and stronger person from that failure as I turned it into a valuable lesson and I’m now also mentally stronger for it. It showed me that life goes on.
What accomplishments are you most proud of?
This is a tough question. The Olympics are naturally up there, but I think I would say more than anything I’m most proud of my longevity and perseverance. I’ve lasted longer on this journey than many of my contemporaries that were equally or more talented. Along the way I’ve found different reasons to keep going and the biggest reason now, is to make my daughter proud and stick around long enough to give her real memories of attending races all around the world with her mother and I. This athletic and healthy lifestyle has afforded me the ability to live and travel all around the world. In doing so, I’ve met wonderful people from all over and have also gotten to work with many different great brands and companies. So my longevity and the relationships I’ve being able to foster are what I’d say I’m probably most proud of.
As a new parent with a baby at home, it can be difficult to manage a tiring career alongside your health and fitness routine. We are so inspired by Roberto and all parents who are able to spend quality time with their family and set solid examples of hard work, dedication and health and wellness for their kids.
For those days where you don’t quite have time to pull together healthy snacks, look to Svelte organic protein shakes. 11g of protein, 20% of your daily-recommended fiber and low sugar. Plus, kids LOVE them! Our Chocolate Svelte is often used as a healthy, vegan alternative to chocolate milk!