Sinister 7 50 Miler

I just need a fucking win.

That was the attitude I went into Sinister 7 with. In November of 2021 I took a fall on a training run and exacerbated a chronic hip/SI joint issue. I went to physiotherapy and tried massage, stretching, yoga and albeit sporadic, I did do some physical therapy exercises. Nothing seemed to heal the pain. I switched from running to cycling and even took extended periods of time off to see if rest was what I needed. Nothing worked. My Physio eventually referred me to my Dr., who ordered an ultrasound which revealed a torn ligament in my SI joint as well as some mild arthritis and glute strain. He prescribed a cortisone shot to manage the pain. This was February of 2022. 

I’ll admit I was hoping for a miracle cure. I did not get it. I got some relief and was able to continue running. Eventually, it felt like the pain moved from the joint and was now more soft tissue issues. Back to physio, some dry needling and a relentless commitment to my physical therapy started to show some improvement, though I always knew it was there. 

I signed up for an early season 50km, Diez Vista on the west coast to see how my glute/SI would hold up. I wanted to see before committing to any more races. Diez Vista was cold and wet but went incredibly well. My injury actually seemed to improve post-race. Go figure.

Michelle and I had already secured accommodations for Sinister 7 weekend in Crowsnest Pass knowing that if I couldn’t run we would volunteer. So when we started to see bibs come up for sale and I was feeling much better we made the plunge. 

Michelle picked up a 50km bib and I snagged a Sinister 7 50 mile bib. Boom! We’re back baby! At least I hope so. I’m not sure I realized how deflating not being able to race for a year really was. I briefly debated tackling the hundred miler again but knew the smart thing to do was to do the 50 miler and work hard for a successful race. 

I hired a coach, committed to my physical therapy routine and started to be a little more mindful of what I ate. Training was going well. I hit a few PB’s for the fastest 5km and 10km. Add a little elevation now that we have a place in the mountains and I was feeling pretty stoked come race day.

Sinister will always hold a special place in my heart. It was where I completed my first 100 miler and also the course that has taught me the most lessons on my 3 previous visits. The 50 mile course covers half of leg 4, all of legs 5, 6, and 7. It would be fun to run these legs in the light of day instead of overnight on tired legs as I did in the 100 miler. 

My goal at the start line was to be able to run strong without the injury hampering my efforts and to finish under 15 hours. After all if I am coming back for the hundred, which I need to finish under 30 hours, then I had better be able to do the 50 miles under 15 hours. The start line was full of my Edmonton run community friends and I was looking forward to starting with my friend Tania who had also run the Diez Vista race with me. 

Sinister 7 50 mile

I also was well-equipped to document my journey. I had my iPhone on me, my new GoPro Hero 11 as well as my Insta 360 camera. I’m sure I looked ridiculous. Stay tuned for the video to follow. ;0)

The gun went and we started up the hill to connect with Leg 4. About a kilometer in we hit the single track and the subsequent inevitable race start bottleneck. I have to admit it felt a little odd doing the “death march” so early in a race. The terrain soon opened up to the double-wide road and the runnable section started to see the racers spread out a bit. I ended up running with a guy who recognized me from my YouTube videos and learned a little of his story (I’ll leave it out as it is not my story to tell.) The camaraderie on the trail is always one of my favorite parts of a race. Michelle likes to tease me about all the friends I collect on the trail. 

“Hi I’m Mike. Will you be my friend?” 

The good news is that almost all trail runners will answer an enthusiastic “yes” to that request.

The beginning of our race was the last 12km of Leg 4. Highly runnable and relatively flat. It was fun to reminisce about the three other times I had raced that leg. I usually come into TA 4 / 5 at sundown and make it a challenge to see if I can finish the leg before I needed a headlamp to see. Today this would not be the case, as I would be coming into the transition area around noon. 

Leg 4 elapsed time: 1:36:55.3 

I finished leg 4 feeling incredibly fresh and did a quick refuel on bananas, watermelon, orange and finally took some banana bread to go. I had been using a 500ml Soloman filter flask for hydration so far, filling from the creek on the way. I did not need to refill my 2 liter bladder and headed out quickly on Leg 5. This would be the first time I would see leg 5 in the light of day. I was really excited. Leg 5 is 27 km and the first 8km are relatively flat. At least that is what I remembered. Turns out the flat is a little more inclined than I realized in the dark. Still it was mostly runnable at the start. 

When we turned off the road to the campground I knew we would start to climb a bit so took out my poles. It was at that moment I realized that I actually had packed Michelles poles in my quiver. They are 10cm shorter than mine. Oops! All I could think of was the fact that meant she now had poles that were 10cm too long for her. I thought “Oh shit, she is not going to be pleased!” Turns out I was wrong. While she noticed they seemed long she did not make the connection to me accidentally switching poles. I can assure you those poles will soon be color coded!

Leg 5 can be extremely wet and muddy as much of it follows a quad track in the bush. It was nice to be able to see it in the daylight this year and be able to navigate around some of the knee-deep mud bogs that I had a hard time avoiding in the dark.  I was moving well and at some point realized that I had not even noticed my SI as an issue! Great news!

I came into TA 5 / 6 feeling really strong and much to my surprise saw Tania still at the TA. Friends Janelle and Kirk were there crewing her and Janelle jumped into action to assist me as Tania went out. A quick refill of the bladder and flask along with some more fruit and banana bread. I sat in Janelle’s chair while she got my drop bag and I changed socks. Soon Janelle started to shoo me out of the TA. Her husband Kirk, not a runner, started to tease her about giving me a break. We both assured him that it was indeed time to kick me back out onto the course. 

Leg 5 elapsed time: 4:36:11.6

Leg 6 is one of the hardest on course with 31.9km and 1400 meters of elevation. Most of that elevation gain is in a 4-5km section. Leg 6 is where I blew up twice on my 100 milers. It is arguably the most scenic leg of the course and the views from the top are mind-blowing. I get emotional just thinking about it. The top of leg 6 is special to me. The first year that was when I knew I would not finish on time. I called Michelle from the top in tears, telling her “New plan. There is no way I will make 30 hours with my trashed feet. I just need you to get me out on Leg 7 before the cutoff because I did not come here to run 93 miles.”

Michelle and I have hiked the leg together since then, and in 2021 it was where I bonked hard and missed the TA 6/7 cutoff time. I love/hate that leg. Mostly I love it. This year I got to run it with my new friend Harold from Saskatchewan. Harold and I paced pretty well together and he had never done the leg. I think he was pretty in awe of the climb. We traded leads as we went and close to the top we were passed by the first 100 mile relay runner. Unbelievable! Shortly after the lead runner passed us, number 2 and 3 came racing by as well. 

We paused at the top to rest and to take in the views. Then we started the gnarly descent down the other side of leg three. Harold was a mountain goat going down and I struggled to keep up. I have always said “I suck on the technical descents.” This time I was mindful to change that inner dialogue. “You are much better on the technical descents this year.” was a much more useful mantra. 

The inner dialogue can easily run away on you in an ultra. 

“You’re not bad Mike you just need to be a little more courageous with your footing.” 

“What the fuck are you talking about Mike, you are one of the most courageous mother fuckers I know. Now get moving!”

Harold had said that he hoped to be 6 hours on leg 6. It is a goal that I think I was afraid to set for myself given the struggles I’ve had on leg 6 in the past. I started doing the math. If I could finish leg 6 in 6 hours then a 14 hour finish was possible. Fuck yeah! Let’s do this mother fucker! You’re so much stronger this year. You are more experienced and you know this course. Let’s go!!

Ah shit, now I had to push for a 14 hour finish. I remembered my friend Priscilla who had just come in 8th female at western states and asked myself what she would do. “She’d race this and run as hard as she could.”

Fine! I’ll push. When I left checkpoint 6b after the big descent, I was quickly reminded of the subsequent big climb. Not out of the woods yet.

Top of Leg 6

“Move with intention, Mike. Move with intention.”

“It doesn’t have to be fast. It just has to be consistent.”

I stopped thinking about time and just focused on moving as quickly as I could. The last section before CP6c was a flurry of activity with quadders racing the dirt road we were running. It was not pleasant eating all that dust but what can you do. I knew Michelle would be finished her race and would head to TA 6/7 to crew me out on the last leg. Just then my phone went off. A text from Michelle asking where I was and letting me know she was at the TA. I waited until I hit CP6c before responding. 6C is 7.5km from the TA so I knew I would be about an hour in. 

Doing the math in my head again I realized that would out me at TA 6/7 about 10:30pm which would then give me about 2 hours to finish leg 7 to hit that 14-hour mark. 

Leg 6 elapsed time: 6:03:10.2

Slightly slower than I had hoped but better than expected. I came in just after 10:30pm. Michelle changed out my socks, cleaned my feet and took my camera as it was now dark. I added my waist lamp to the mix so I could see the trail on leg 7 easier. It was about 10:45 pm when I left. Not the best transition ever but I was moving well. I gave Michelle a kiss and said I will see you in two hours at the finish line. Not daring to hope for a faster time. Leg 7 is the easiest leg on course but that doesn’t make it easy. It is only 11 km but there is still a lot of climbing to do. Then the technical descent in the dark on dusty, slippery rock. I ran with a crew from Grande Priarie for a bit and pushed past them telling them I wanted to crack 14 hours and needed to hustle. 

I thought I had dropped them but eventually Tom from Grande Prairie caught me again and passed my as we left the CP7a. We raced the last 6 km to the finish line and I was elated to come in feeling strong whooping and making Michelle and I’s trademark “KawKaw!!” which we use to ID each other. She replied and I raced across the finish line. I knew it was going to be close to that 14-hour mark. My watch was not accurate as I forgot to start it right at the start line. 

I took my finisher’s medal and beer, gave Michelle a kiss and went to sit down. Our friend David came up to report my official time….


Damn! My mind started jumping to all the places on the course where I could have shaved off 3 ½ minutes. Not that it mattered. Holy shit did that feel good to crush my 15-hour goal and still feel incredibly strong.  

2024 hundred miler… here we come!

How you do anything is how you do everything

“How you do anything is how you do everything.”

This mantra has become front and center in my world of late. It is a reminder for me that there is no cheating the process. There is no way around “doing the work.”

This is most tangible for me in my physical fitness though it is applicable in my personal and professional life. When my alarm goes off at 5:30 in the morning, my instinct is to hit the snooze button. To start my day procrastinating.

“How you do anything is how you do everything, Mike”

The little voice in my head reminds me. With that, I curse that little voice and begrudgingly put my feet on the floor. I’m out the door for my run before 6am. This morning is a hard one—a progression run. My coach has prescribed paces at the upper end of my ability that I know I will not likely hit.

Ramp up in 10 steps
1.00 km @ 06:15 min/km
1.00 km @ 06:01 min/km
1.00 km @ 05:45 min/km
1.00 km @ 05:33 min/km
1.00 km @ 05:23 min/km
1.00 km @ 05:09 min/km
1.00 km @ 05:00 min/km
1.00 km @ 04:46 min/km
1.00 km @ 04:33 min/km
1.00 km @ 04:21 min/km

It would be easy to “phone it in” and simply go through the motions to check off the run and move on.

“How you do anything is how you do everything.”

Do the fucking work Mike. The first 7km are relatively easy. It is the last three that make me literally want to vomit. I’m out here now. Let’s get it done, and the rewards will come on race day when I am that much better prepared.

I think of Courtney Dauwalters blistering pace and new course record over 100 miles at last weekend’s Western States Endurance Run. I think of my friend Priscilla who placed 8th at WSER. What would they do for those last three clicks? The effort expended here will have a direct correlation to how I do come race day, just 10 days away.

“How you do anything is how you do everything!”

Habits are not just about what I do but also about how I do them.

I want to build a habit of pushing hard when the going gets tough. A habit is not something I do once in a while but rather what I consistently do.

Cultivating a habit of perseverance in the face of adversity is why I run ultras. To practice. My ability to persevere in the face of adversity has gotten me through so much in my life.

A near-death car accident at 17
A 240 million dollar Ponzi scheme that nearly bankrupted me and many I love
My divorce
The murder of my girlfriend

And a myriad of other trials and tribulations over the years.

“We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act but a habit.”

How will you persevere today?

Learning to Embrace the Suck

The difference between a good race and a bad race is all about how you manage the (inevitable) pain.

Chris McCormack

I first came across the term “Embrace the Suck” in the context of Ironman Triathlon. My daughter gave me a henna tattoo that made that proclamation across my forearm when I competed in my first long-distance triathlon. I had no idea how important this phrase would come to be in my life. It has become a daily reminder to me to lean into adversity when it inevitably shows up.

We can carefully script our lives as best we can to try and avoid the “suck” but the reality is that life often has other plans. That hot August day in Penticton, reading those words tattooed on my forearm while I was cursing my life choices, helped set me up to navigate unimaginable adversity 3 short years later. I thought those last 10km of that iron-distance triathlon might be the most challenging thing I would ever face.

I was so, so wrong.

Embrace The Suck

Let’s Play a Game: Reason or Excuse

It’s almost impossible to run 100 miles while puking and shitting your pants every 20 yards.

What the hell does that have to do with procrastination you ask? Today I am going to share with you a game that I like to play. A tool that I use to help prevent my proclivity to procrastination.

This tool is one that I was reminded of In February of 2020, right before the world shut down with a global pandemic. February destination races have become a birthday tradition for me and  Michelle. We were so excited to travel to New Zealand and visit our friends Tom and Sarah. Tom was also a runner and we would be participating in the Tarawera hundred mile ultra marathon together. It had been months of planning and a year of training. The race anticipation was strong. The course was largely runnable, with generous cutoff times. I had trained hard for this race, working with my coach and not missing many (if any) workouts. The course photos and videos I found looked stunning. The venue of Rotorua, New Zealand was rich with Maori culture, geothermal activity and gorgeous trails. 

After a challenging trip (that’s a whole other story) from Edmonton to Wellington you can imagine my dismay when Tom, whom we were staying with, ended up coming down with a nasty bug. It was just 4 days before the race in their small 2 bedroom house. I could hear him up most of the night camped out in the bathroom next to our bedroom. Oh the sounds of the sick do not set a good backdrop for a restful sleep. 

The good news was that this turned out to be a short lived bug. After 36 hours it went as quickly as it came. For me however, this was made for a terrifying countdown to race day. My mantra became “Don’t get sick, don’t get sick, don’t get sick”. I don’t think I have ever been so diligent with personal hygiene and sanitation as I was those next few days. We were careful not to share household items and did our best to sanitize everything. 

Tick tock… Three days pre race. Michelle confides in me about noon that she is starting to feel unwell. Sure enough she gets hit full on with similar symptoms as Tom. Oh crap, I’ve flown 12,000 km and busted my ass for a year training. Please stay healthy, please stay healthy, please stay healthy. 

I held out until the day before the race. I wasn’t quite laid up in the bathroom as the other two had been just yet. I tried to convince myself that it was more psychosomatic than anything real and that I could make myself better in the next 18 hours with positive thoughts. I was determined to make the 4am start line the next day. 

I woke up feeling very unwell but decided I would at least toe the line and could always pull out at the first checkpoint if needed. All of the runners filing into Te Puia, the geothermal attraction that would serve as the start line, and the excitement of the pending start started to buoy my spirits. The traditional Maori Haka that was performed just before the gun went gave me goosebumps and I really started to feel like I could make this happen.

Reason or Excuse

The race director calls for runners to turn on their headlamps and the once dark morning becomes brightly lit with hundreds of LED lights. The countdown goes, the Maori horn is blown and we’re off! I felt surprisingly good once I got moving and again started to think that this may be a real possibility despite the illness I was very clearly struck with.

The first checkpoint was only about 10km into the race and I was still feeling better than expected. My intent isn’t to make this a full race report so to make a long story short I made it as far as the fourth aid station, about 40 miles into the run, still moving but feeling awful. My stomach was so bloated it felt like it was going to burst. It was at this point that Michelle got my coach Dave on FaceTime to see if he could give me a little pep talk and keep me moving. 

When Dave hopped on the line and saw the obvious discomfort on my face he asked me “Are you in pain or just discomfort?” I thought for a moment and replied that it was discomfort, extreme discomfort but still discomfort. His reply? “You can do discomfort. Keep moving.”

So I did. Off I went. The next checkpoint was at about the halfway mark, just shy of 50 miles into the race. Somewhere between those aid stations my discomfort had made a sharp turn deep into the realm of pain. Vomiting and diarrhea forced me off the trail every 20 steps or so. I simply couldn’t keep any food down. At the next checkpoint I downed a glass of ginger ale in the hopes of settling my stomach. It didn’t work. I was unable to keep any calories in and ultimately had to quit the race.

Anytime I set out to accomplish a large goal, whether a hundred mile ultra or building a business, I know that I need to complete a series of smaller steps to get there. The hundred mile finish line or the success in business is pretty exciting and easy to get motivated about. However, much of the time it is more difficult to get excited about those small steps I need to take to get there.

This is where discipline comes into play. 

It is very easy to talk about the importance of discipline but not quite so easy to put it into practice on a regular basis. 

This little game I referenced earlier has become a very large part of many of the things that I undertake. While my game may seem extraordinarily simple, and it is, the game is really about learning to use my tendency to procrastinate, to become a trigger for action. This technique also recognizes that there is also an appropriate time for inaction. Sometimes moving forward in the wrong direction or at the wrong time can be detrimental to the achievement of our larger goals. 

As with any process there are times where I really do not at all feel like putting in the work to get me to that literal or metaphorical finish line. In the winter time when the weather is cold and wet there are many times when I would much rather stay in bed than get up and out for a training run. The same holds true for summer running. When it is so humid and hot outside I am very tempted to stay inside in my cool basement studio or an air conditioned office. 

When you start to put as many miles on as I do training for an ultramarathon, injuries become a very real possibility and something that you have to be aware of. A small nagging injury, if left unchecked or overtrained, can quickly become a race-stopping issue if one is not careful. The flip side is that there is going to be a fair bit of discomfort when training for such a massive undertaking. The challenge becomes learning to recognize the difference between discomfort and the very real road to injury. 

My experience in New Zealand was a good reminder of how to use this game to decide whether action or inaction is the appropriate response. 

Reason or Excuse

The game is something I like to call “Reason or Excuse”. You can read that in your head in a loud, booming, game show host kind of voice. 

Was my decision to quit the race that I had trained an entire year for, flown several thousand miles to participate in a valid ‘reason’ or had I manufactured an ‘excuse’ to allow me to justify quitting?

In this example I think the answer is pretty clear. Not being able to keep any calories in, which is a prerequisite for running a hundred miles, was certainly as valid a reason as any to stop. 

I remember the first time I shared this little game with Michelle. It was before one of her training runs and she was not feeling up to her run. She was trying to decide whether it might be prudent for her to take an additional rest day. I shared with her the ‘reason or excuse’ game which ultimately helped her make up her mind. She decided that her tiredness was more likely an excuse to not run rather than a valid reason to hold off till another day. 

While this little game originated for me in the realm of fitness it has become an invaluable tool that I use for all of my ‘go’ or ‘no-go’ decisions. Why aren’t you launching that new program Mike? Well because it is late June and I think that trying to promote a new program through July and August when most people are more interested in vacation rather than personal development is a poor idea. OK let’s test that against ‘reason or excuse’. 

There is certainly a lot of fear about putting out a new program that would make it very easy for me to find an excuse to procrastinate. So is summer time simply an excuse or is it a valid reason? Is it pain or is it discomfort? In the end I came to the conclusion that this was a valid reason to postpone the launch of the program. Not only do my clients enjoy taking time off in the summer time but I also should make time for myself this summer and enjoy the fruits of my 20+ years of labour and perhaps even take the summer off completely!

You may be wondering how you can distinguish between Reason or Excuse. The beautiful thing is that 99% of the time you will know intuitively. Like many things in life it is less about having the answer and more about asking the question. If you start to ask this question when you are making decisions to not take action, in 90% of the cases, you will very quickly recognize whether you have a valid reason or whether you are simply making an excuse.

So the last time you put off doing something how would it have faired if you had played Rason or Excuse? Would you be able to confirm your rationale for inaction was a valid reason or was it really just an excuse driven by something a little deeper?

Let me know where “reason or excuse” shows up in your life.

David Goggins Challenge to raise awareness for domestic violence during COVID-19

I was honored to have the opportunity to speak to Ryan Jesperson on Friday about the Goggins Challenge I undertook to raise awareness about domestic violence during this pandemic. You can see the Global article here. Last week I ran 4 miles every four hours for 48 hours straight. I had the privilege of being part of an online group that included some amazing athletes including David Goggins himself. Courtney Dauwalter made and appearance, along with Rich Roll, Dean Karnazes and a myriad of other run celebrities. The event was hosted by one of my favourite run filmmakers, Billy Yang.



Building Resiliency

One of the most valuable characteristics a person can hold, in my opinion, is resiliency.

noun: resiliency
  1. the capacity to recover quickly from difficulties; toughness.
    “the often remarkable resilience of so many British institutions”

It is one of the personal characteristics that I hold dear. I have been hit with my share of hardship in life and pride myself on my ability to bounce back after a good shit kicking. Maybe one day I will learn to avoid the shit kicking but until then I will hang my hat on resilience. Who am I kidding. I have talked about this before in my article around Embrace the Suck  there is no amount of preparation that you can make, no amount of carefully scripting the life you think you want that will allow you to avoid the shit kicking that life will throw at you.

Resiliency is not a genetic characteristic. It is not a characteristic that we are born with or naturally gifted at. Resiliency is a combination of a number of personality traits that can be developed and honed over time. Building resilience is one of the reasons I choose to participate in endurance sporting events. Many of the characteristics required to complete a hundred mile trail race are the same as is required for resilience in life. For me it is about finding ways to practice those traits in a somewhat controlled environment so that I can apply them in those uncontrollable situations that life will throw at us from time to time.

The American Psychological Association lists the following 10 things that you can do to build resilience. I can relate almost all of them back to ultra marathons and the training that leads up to those races.

Make connections.

Some of the best human connections I have were made out on the trails. When you get the opportunity to run in relative solitude with another human being you tend to both share and learn a lot about each other. There is also this almost instantaneous bond that gets created when you share a similar type of suffering with another person. 

Avoid seeing crises as insurmountable problems.

On the trail, shit happens. Both literally and figuratively. Sometimes you need to adapt.

Accept that change is a part of living. 

As above, sometimes when we run long distances we have no choice but to accept change. Inclement weather, an obstacle on the course or any other source of unforeseen circumstances can require change mid run.

Move toward your goals. 

Relentless Forward Progress. When life sucks in a race we practice continually moving toward the finish line. Wait an hour and see what happens, just keep moving.

Take decisive actions. 

Training for and ultimately completing (really simply attempting) an ultramarathon requires dedicated, decisive action to get you there.

Look for opportunities for self-discovery. 

Each new milestone we move towards is an opportunity to look deeper inward.

Nurture a positive view of yourself. 

Time on your feet, whether on the course or during training time, is a great opportunity to reflect and monitor your progress. Creating a training program and sticking with it will inevitably yield results that will build your self confidence.

Keep things in perspective. 

When you are cursing the race director or your coach during training it is a perfect opportunity to reflect on the fact that you are in a position to choose the type of suffering you want to practice with. Many in this world are not fortunate enough to be afforded such choice.

Maintain a hopeful outlook.

Visualizing crossing that finish line or looking forward to achieving that training milestone is a great way to practice maintaining a hopeful outlook. 

Take care of yourself. 

A healthy regimen of diet and exercise is core to any runners training.

So when the opportunity presents itself to get outside in ridiculously cold temperatures, I take that as an opportunity to practice the tenets of resilience. Have a look at this weeks vlog to see what record low temperatures look like in Edmonton.

[yotuwp type=”videos” id=”Fzr9COeagSo” player=”mode=large”]


Sometimes you have to be an energy vampire part II

Hopefully, you read Part I of my Summit experience which gives you a little bit of context on how I ended up here. In my last post, I wrapped up writing as we landed at Pearson airport. I was honestly a little surprised that I stayed awake on the flight since I had dragged my sorry ass out of bed at the ungodly hour of 3am. Clearly, I enjoy writing.  The following is a little more about November Project and my experience at NP Summit 4.0.

The Shirts

OK, I feel like I need to tell you about the shirts.  As with any new endeavor, it is easy to feel a little bit like a fish out of water so I had wanted to do what I could to feel a little less out of place. If you’ve been, you know about the shirts. If you haven’t been you will quickly know once you get there. There are a multitude of people wearing “tagged” workout shirts. I assumed these were something you bought. Now that I was committed to going to #npsummit I asked Steven where I could get one. He explained that they only do “tagging” once a month and I had missed the last one. It was then that I realized that the shirts were simply spray painted tees. What a cool idea. Continuing to build on, and give me a greater sense of the community that NP is, Steven sent me a text “We usually tag the shirts once a month and you probably missed the last session… but I have many extra and would be happy to give you one”.

True to his word, Steven brought me an amazing version of a NP t-shirt at his art show a few nights before we flew out to Toronto.  He also told me that he had spoken to tribe leader Nadim and if I brought a couple of shirts to the workout in the morning Nadim would take them home, tag them, and bring them to Toronto for me.  What a great effort to make me feel like a part of the family.  I cannot tell you how much I appreciated the gesture.  It’s funny, I am comfortable on stage speaking in front of 500 people but sometimes I feel a little socially awkward in a smaller setting with a new group of people.  This would certainly go a long way to making me a little more serene in the untrodden setting that I would soon be inhabiting.  I now had one shirt in hand and two more on order destined to arrive in Toronto the same time I did.

You may not be surprised to learn that I wore the recent addition to my wardrobe for the plane ride to #npsummit 4.0.

Welcome to Ontario!

Getting thereGetting There

When we arrived, two of the the three of us had checked bags, so Daniel, who did not, went to pick up the rental car. After snatching our luggage from the carousel we made our way out to find Daniel and the rental car. We arrived to find Daniel hovering around a tiny VW Golf. I’m not sure what Steven was thinking but I know I wondered how we would fit everything in. We circled around to arrivals again to await one other tribe member who did not have any means of transportation to get out to Blue Mountain, which was about two hours away. Fortunately my new friends and driving mates were avid coffee enthusiasts so we loaded up while we eagerly awaited the arrival of our tribe mate Dayle, crossing our fingers that her luggage would fit in our small VW Golf rental car. The comfort and camaraderie of new friends ensured that the long drive lapsed effortlessly. Save for a quick stop at Mr. Sub for a lunch wrap, we powered right through to Collingwood/Blue Mountain. As I mentioned previously my accommodations had come together quite last minute so I was setup at the Blue Mountain Inn for the night and the rest of our group at two other locations. Since I was still really only a passenger on this trip I was happily resigned to going where the ride went. We dropped off Dayle at her house then came back to my hotel where I checked in while the guys sorted out their accommodation. After a quick trip to town for booze and groceries we headed over to the “Canada House”, a rental house that was hosting about 20 of our tribe members for a BBQ. I was somewhat overwhelmed by both the hospitality of my new friends and the daunting task of matching 30 new faces with 30 new names.

After a fabulous burger, some drinks, badminton and oh yeah… my 22 push-up challenge! I headed back to my hotel for the night, get a good night sleep and be well rested for the Friday morning workout. The workout was scheduled for a 6:15 start to the warm up and a 6:30 start for the workout. I decided to aim to arrive around 6am to allow for any delays finding the location of the workout. According to Google maps I should have only about a 10 minute walk at best to get there.

As I left the hotel at about 5:50am, and stepped out to cross the parking lot I ran straight into a group of four who were getting themselves organized out of the back of the vehicle and quite obviously with November Project. They saw me and asked if I were headed to the workout which I replied I was. After a brief introduction and the obligatory NP hugs all around, I learned that they had just driven in from Philadelphia that night and had driven all the way through. I waited while they got organized and we all walked to the designated meeting place for the morning workout.

np-hugsThe meeting spot was the parking lot of the Blue Mountain village and I am assuming the organizers had either had noise complaints or been asked to be conscious of the noise in the village as they made sure they asked everyone to keep the noise down. I wondered how this crew were likely to get a workout in quietly. It seemed substantially out of character for the group.

Soon we were ushered quietly through the village and much to my horror I soon realized we were being paraded directly up the mountain for our workout. Know I’m not entirely sure what I expected for the workout but I can assure you that since we had a marathon relay to run up the mountain tomorrow I certainly was not expecting to be climbing the fucking mountain for our workout! Anyhow, it wasn’t as bad as it sounded. We walked up the hill to the first plateau and then did a few relay drills to kill time while we waited for the rest of the crew to arrive. It was a beautiful sunny summer morning. There was definitely a festive mood percolating throughout the crowd, which made for an exceptionally exuberant “Bounce” to kick off the workout once every one had arrived. Oh, right, WTF is a “Bounce”? Well it is a little hard to describe in text and really something you need to experience for yourself at least once in your life. The workout leader starts by calling everyone in close insisting that you need to get “your front, up against the back of the person in front of you.” Once everyone is settled in they will then say something like “Now that you are right tight against your neighbor take 4 more steps in.” Another brief pause to let everyone settle then the inevitable call “Now take two more steps in”. Once the entire tribe is jammed together tighter than the best goth fans in the mosh pit at a Marilyn Manson concert, the leader will start with a little bounce. This one started with a low hum, which got increasingly louder as the leader raised their arms. There were a few rounds of oscillating the volume of the chant to the level of Bojans arms. The last round building louder and louder, climaxing with an abrupt halt signaled by a spirited wave of the arms like an umpire signalling SAFE at home plate.NP-summit-workout

A pause…


the loud rejoinder from the rest of the tribe to follow


Bojan “Y’ALL GOOD?!?”

Tribe in unison “FUCK YEAH!”.

I’m fairly certain the that if there was anyone sleeping in the village far below the level of vibration put out by our tribe must certainly have aroused them. “Wakey, wakey. eggs and bacy”. Time for a little workout! Although the workout in hindsight is a bit of a blur of adrenaline and excitement for me, I’m fairly certain we started by sprinting up the hill to the next plateau. Seeing the pictures now of us all lined up across the entire width of the ski run is certainly and impressive sight and one that brings back the flood of electric energy that the tribe shared. A short dash, a moment to catch our breath and some quick instructions to “Find someone you did not know when you woke up this morning” had us pair up for whatever the workout to come was. One of the pair was to run concurrent laps of a small diamond, then a larger diamond, demarcated by some of the tribe leaders and, as I had recently learned reading the November Project book, a few of the original tribe members. This included the very first member after Brogan and Bojan. I thought this was a really neat touch adding to the mythology and legend of the NP origins. The organizers had gone above and beyond to instill a sense of belonging that was evident even to this rookie on only his third NP workout.

NP-JaimeWhile partner 1, Jaime from Philly, in my case, ran the diamond partner 2 was charged with a four set workout which included a set of burpees, plank jacks, squats and donkey kicks until partner 1 came back and tagged you for your turn to run the diamond. Now this would be interesting. Finding your partner that you had only met 30 seconds ago in a crowd of several hundred NP’ers running amok would certainly be a challenge. The first ‘tag’ proved to be the most cumbersome and I’m sure we spent more time looking for each other than we had exercising, but subsequent rounds became easier and more efficient as my new friend Jaime and I, learned to recognize landmarks to locate each other.

After the workout wound down we gathered for a group photo (and hugs of course). Once again the sense of belonging strong. As a lifelong student of leadership I found this whole movement fascinating. I was thrilled to be able to be a part of it all.

That morning I had to be out of my hotel and make the transition to my new found NP foster family. Nonnie and Ian had graciously made room for me in their rental house shuffling their son from bedroom to couch (thanks Thomas!). Holding true to the community spirit of the weekend, regardless of the fact that I did not have a vehicle the tribe made sure I found my way to the house. I was impressed to find a much more spacious abode than I had expected. The tree lined back yard proferred a gorgeous venue for the welcoming hot tub on the back deck. Soon the rest of the family arrived. I got to meet mom and dad as well as sister and brother in law. Now it would have been easy to feel like an imposition in such circumstance but the whole family made me feel extremely welcome and I did not once feel out of place. There truly is a strange magic to the enveloping warmth of family love and I was honored to be surrounded by it.

Another block BBQ back by the “Canada House” that evening set the stage for more commiserating with new friends. The flow of energy was vast and I found the dynamic incredibly intriguing. I ended up engaged in conversation with a young woman named Mikaela (same spelling as my daughter), from Fort Collins who had an abundance of enthusiasm and a will to share. We talked about her efforts to pledge a new NP tribe in her city, her school work and ultimately her dream job. It was inspiring to see her youthful exuberance, yet to be jaded by some of the realities of life. It made me realize that as much wisdom as I might have to impart on her as someone twice her age, she could also teach me about what motivated her and her generation. Imagine if we had a similar forum to NP where we could connect jaded wisdom with naive enthusiasm? What kind of explosive growth could happen on both sides should both parties join with an open heart and an open mind. Hmmmmm…. that sounds like a project to park for a later date. Ian soon let me know it was time to head home and rest up for the big race in the morning. Right, I may have been remiss in mentioning that the whole reason that I was in Blue Mountain was to run a leg of a marathon relay trail race up and down Blue Mountain. Off to bed we went.

Race Day!

Today was the big day and honestly a bit of a blur. I was running on a team with Nonnie, Joanne and Ian and really had no idea what to expect. This was my first trail race and although it was only 10km I was unsure what kind of beast the trail and hills might transform this familiar distance into. It was decided that I would run the last leg of the race which meant there would be a whole lot of sitting around cheering for several hours before my turn to run. Once again the atmosphere was electric. While this may have primarily been a North Face Endurance Challenge series race it was definitely a secondary focus on the NP summit and our horde. The announcer explained a little but about all the t-shirts and what they represented. For the warm up? You guessed it. The Bounce! They handed control over to Dan Graham, the brother of one of the NP founders. Tall, strong and unrivaled in sheer volume he took control and brought everyone in tight where he proceeded to lead the ritualistic practice. It struck me what this site must look like to the uninitiated spectators that had come to cheer on friends or family that were mere ‘regular folk’.

The Bounce done, it was time to head to the start line and get the show on the road. It was quite the spectacle. A myriad of unique individuals all sporting unique outfits, some outright costumes, lined up, energy levels bursting at the seams. The gun goes and well, I’ll let you see it for yourself.

They were off! Some of our Edmonton crew had the foresight to setup camp along the race fence by the start/finish line complete with chairs and all. I was grateful for the comfort since I would be last to leave the transition area necessitating several hours at ‘home base’. There is certainly something special about a race environment. Cow bells ringing, fans screaming, participants decked out in costume, buzzing with the nervous anticipation that comes right before their leg of the race. Minutes rolled over to hours and before I knew it it was time to start thinking about keeping an eye out for Ian coming back into transition.

The nerves started to kick in and I think I went for a pee about 3 times in the 10 minutes before heading into the transition coral. I made some nervous chatter with a couple of guys in front of me awaiting their turn to run. They looked extremely fit and fast. I reminded them that this wasn’t a race, and that they should conserve their energy for the after party and not to pass me on the trail. Far before I was ready for him, Ian showed up completing his leg and handing over the timing chip to me and off I went high fiving some of our crew on the way out.

I could likely pen another several thousand words describing the race itself. I won’t. I can assure you though that was the longest 10 KM I have ever run. I caught up to Erin, one of the other Edmonton NP’ers, as we started our mountain ascent. Erin had left the transition corral shortly before me launching her second assault on the arduous course. I’ll leave the bulk race to your imagination but picture steadily inclining, tree shrouded single track, culminating in a majestic view of Collingwood and the lake. The summit affording a slight reprieve from the incline and allowing a marginal surge of pace as I traversed the top, snaking along the mountain trail. An aid station that presented itself at about the 4 and 8km mark offered sweet respite from the trials of the mountain trail. It’s second showing providing the much needed mental nourishment of knowing that I was on the home stretch. The descent proved to be as much a challenge as the ascent since the course took us straight down the mountainside, no switchbacks to offer relief to the knees and quads.

As with most races I like to come in ‘hot’. I am always so invigorated by the accomplishments of the day, both mine and those of friends and teammates. I was thrilled to be able to run the last 100 meters with my three teammates, whooping and hollering with an energy that can only be procured by the realization of a limits pushed to the maximum. I’m sure my team mates thought I must have found some alcohol on course given the raucous way I crossed the finish line.

In the end there is really little that can compare to the high of a goal completed. The palpable euphoria that a race procures once complete is worth every second of anguish during training days and on course on race day.

The After Party

np OlympicsWhat kind of Summit would it be without a post race after party.  The organizers certainly did not disappoint.  The NP Olympics had been scheduled well in advance.  Teams of 8-10 were assembled with a variety of crazy costumes, team names and fictional countries represented.  The Olympics featured many epic events such as a gummy bear toss, sack race, and of course Twister just to name a few.  More than a few beers were drank and everyone had a fabulous time with friends old and new.  The sense of camaraderie and sense of accomplishment from the days events rippled through the crowd like a perpetual wave, pulsing and pounding through the rhythm of the music the DJ laid over the audience.  As the night wound down, I stood with our designated driver, playfully scrutinizing the late night debauchery that was ensuing.  What a fabulous end to a great event.

Homeward Bound

np-niagaraThe next morning, Sunday, I packed up to leave Ian, Nonnie and family, new bonds created.  I would be driving back with Steven, Daniel and Rachel.  Late flights for Steven, Daniel and I afforded us the opportunity to make the three plus hour trek to Niagara Falls to enjoy a bite to eat and take in the views.  We dropped Rachel at the airport for her earlier flight and made our way south to visit one of the seven natural wonders of the world.  The drive was certainly worth the view.  I had been to the falls a few times but never in such stunning weather.  We had just enough time to take in the falls and grab a bite to eat on a patio overlooking the majesty of the 168,000 cubic meters of water that flowed over the falls every minute.  Absolutely breathtaking!

After dinner we piled back in the car and made the 90 minute drive back to Pearson airport and awaited our Airbus for the final push home.  As you can tell, this was an experience that I will not soon forget.  A wellness lifestyle in common created new friendships and some memories I will hold on to for a lifetime.

Once again, I would encourage you to say “Yes” to opportunity when it presents itself.  Hopefully I will see you at an NP workout soon.

November Project: Sometimes you have to be an energy vampire Part I

It’s Thursday morning, July 14, 2016. When I say morning, I mean EARLY morning. I mean 3:05am kinda morning. Usually for me this means that the night got a little out of hand. Not the case this time. Why you ask? Why the heck would you be up at 3:05am on a Thursday morning? It’s November Project Summit 4.0 at Blue Mountain Ontario! That’s why. I have a 6am flight and had to stop and pick up two of my new NP friends on the way to the airport. I’m not sure I thought this through very well when I forwarded the guys itinerary to my assistant and said “See if you can get me on the same flights.” It might have been smarter to book my own later flight and figure it out on the other end. Oh well, here we are.

So how did I end up here and what the heck is November Project Summit 4.0? Honestly, I’m not entirely sure. As I have written previously I have adopted a “default to yes” mentality so when I went to my first November Project group just a week ago I should have known it would lead somewhere.

What is November Project?

“November Project™ is a FREE fitness movement that was born in Boston as a way to stay in shape during cold New England months. Now present in multiple cities in across four time zones in North America, the movement is using a simple sense of accountability (verbal) to motivate and encourage people of all ages, shapes, sizes and fitness levels to get out of their beds and get moving. Our members vary from Olympic medalists, professional athletes, marathoners, triathletes, current and former collegiate athletes all the way to complete fitness rookies and recent couch potatoes just looking to kickstart their healthy life choices. If you think that you’re not fit enough to join the group, stop thinking and come see what the fuss is all about.”

I had been introduced to the concept a number of months ago by a friend in the fitness business. She had asked if I would be interested in trying to start a ‘tribe” in Sherwood Park. At that time I told her I simply could not commit the time to organizing anything new to me. After doing a little bit of research, I learned that in Edmonton NP meets 3 times per week. Every Monday, Wednesday and Friday as follows:

Monday – #Destinationdeck (locations vary – check social media announcements every Friday afternoon for details).
Wednesday – Commonwealth Stadium (Gate 2)
Friday – Walterdale Hill

I had met a local artist, Steven Csorba, about a month ago at a fundraising dinner and hit it off instantly. Steve’s passion for life and art was infectious. I took an immediate liking to him after sharing a bit of our respective stories. I’ve said it often, “The quality of your life is directly proportionate the the quality of your relationships.” I was certain Steve and I would get together at a later date. I was not wrong. Last week we connected for a coffee and were able to dive a little deeper into each others narratives. We discussed his involvement in, and love of, November Project. Steve said “You’ll love it. You can come be an energy vampire and suck just a little bit from every one and totally fill your tank”. I loved it. My energy had been noticeably off the last few days. This was exactly the type of medicine that I needed. Now that I had somebody to be accountable to, the likelihood of me showing up had skyrocketed (I think there is a lesson here). Our coffee meeting was on Tuesday so I committed to coming out Wednesday morning to do stairs at Commonwealth Stadium. As per my typical M.O. I showed up nice and early and was pleased to find that there were already people streaming into Gate 2 of the stadium. When it is your first time out at anything you are always a little bit nervous. Where should I go? What should I bring? I made a point of having a look at the stadium and getting the lay of the land as people started streaming in to the stadium. Soon I saw Steve and made my way over to say hello.

He smiled and wrapped me in a big hug. Yes, I am totally a hugger so it is always welcome, but little did I know that this is a ‘thing’ at NP. Steve made a point of introducing me around to a number of other participants, all of which greeted me with a hug not a handshake. One of the last introductions was to a very fit looking young man who I extended my had to shake which of course was ignored and he came in for a hug. In the exchange I missed his name so I asked him again what it was. “Andrew” he said. I stepped back and took a look. Damn, did I feel like an idiot. This was Andrew Ferrence. A Sherwood Park boy, my current resident city, and the Oilers, NHL’er that had brought NP to Edmonton.

I looked around as Andrew and another fellow who I learned later was Nadim Chin, a November Project leader, started to get the crowd that had poured in organized. I was absolutely blown away by the 200+ people that had somehow magically appeared in the 20 minutes I had been there. Young, old, fit, not so fit, an unbelievably diverse group of individuals with one thing in common; they had all come to feed off the tribe’s vitality and get a workout in. The energy level was incredible and it was only 5:58am!! Nadim indicated that “Jen” wasn’t there today so they really had no idea what to do that morning. They asked a young boy who stood beside them what he thought the group should do that morning. The boy replied simply “Stairs”. That was it. “Sign a waiver if you haven’t already and ‘do whatever'”. I followed Steven and the crowd down to the lower bowl and proceeded to snake our way up and down the stairs of the lower bowl, making our way around the stadium like a some kind of awkward heart rate monitor. Down the stairs, over a section, sprint back up, do it again. Holy mother was this ever a workout! I caught myself doing some mental math in my head. What was the old formula? 220 – age = maximum heart rate? I knew they had made some changes to that line of thinking but all I could think about was that I must certainly be pushing closer to that 220 number than I had in a long while. There must be a paramedic or a doctor here participating somewhere right?

I’m happy to say that I survived. I was pretty pleased that I made it through the entire lower bowl in the alloted 30 minutes. Once the workout was complete they herded everyone up to the upper deck for a massive group photo. More hugging ensued. I have to say that I felt pretty spectacular at that moment. It is hard not to when feeding off the energy of 200+ like minded fitness enthusiasts. This was exactly what I needed to turn the tide on my waning energy. Steve was right, sometimes you just need to be an energy vampire and feed off those around you.

A few of the the gang were headed for coffee at Credo on 104 street and I decided to tag along. It was there that they started talking about the upcoming NP summit. A relay marathon event up and down Blue Mountain in Toronto. It sounded amazing! Representatives from a number of different tribes internationally were expected to be present with events throughout the entire weekend leading up to the race on Saturday morning. Somewhere along the way our conversation turned to discussion of someone who had had to bow out last minute. Steve turned to me and said “Do you want to go to summit and fill in?”.

I found my immediate reaction somewhat interesting. Some time ago I made the decision to practice defaulting to a ‘yes’ mentality. So it was a little surprising then that I started thinking about all the reasons I could not go. I said “I’d love to but can’t.” Insert any number of ‘valid’ reasons, aka excuses here. As I drove back home I started thinking “WTF Mike?” You are supposed to be the yes man. You have committed to relentlessly pursuing new experiences. Why would you turn down and opportunity like this? Fear not. Not all hope was lost. I could resolve this folly. I messaged Steve. “Were you serious about needing a spare?” I said. “Yes!!!” he replied. I decided to make it work, and committed.

A whirlwind of activity ensued thereafter. A group chat to someone I didn’t know introducing me and talking about me coming to summit. An invite to a NP Summit Facebook group. Another text that the spot that I had volunteered to fill was no longer needed but not to worry “We’ll find you a spot.” A post to the FB group introducing me and asking if anyone had a need for a team member. Some banter with a few that said unequivocally “Yes!!”, followed by some private messages and it was confirmed. I was on a team! Now I just had to find a place to stay. After a fair bit more back and forth the group that I was racing with made some adjustments to their sleeping arrangements and offered me a room in the house they had rented. Slight challenge though. The house they had was only for Friday and Saturday night. I was coming in on Thursday. After some more conversations with a few in the Edmonton Tribe I decided to take matters into my own hands and found a hotel room on Blue Mountain for myself on the Thursday night. I was thrilled to get it at a reasonable price.

It is now 9am Edmonton time and I’ve been awake for 6 hours. We are about to descend into Toronto and the adventure will continue. I’m very much looking forward to the entire experience and will do my best to update you once we have finished. I fully expect some new friendships to blossom out of this experience all the while having a little bit of fitness fun along the way.

Redefining Badass

When you think ‘Badass’ what do you think of?

If you are like most, you conjure up images of Chuck Norris, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Pink, George St. Pierre or Rhonda Rousey.  There is a real attraction to ‘Badass’.  Let’s face it, we all want to be a little ‘Badass’.

For me, I have always been more nerd than ‘Badass’.  In the last several years I have been striving for challenge, change and growth.  I have adopted a “default to yes” mindset and tried many things I would have thought beyond my scope of ability.

I’ve done an iron distance triathlon, I’ve taken up yoga, crossfit, rock climbing, ice climbing and travel. I have made an effort to expand my reading, get in tune with my creative side, expand my writing and get more in touch with who I really am.

Much of this prompted some good natured teasing from my girlfriend, Colleen. She would often joke about how “‘Badass'” I was becoming. As a photographer she took every opportunity to snap a pic or two of me in “‘Badass'” poses. “For your fans” she’d say.

I have to admit, the title felt pretty damn good. Let’s face it, any of us who are, or were, more academic than jock would be proud to wield the title “BADASS”.

In August of 2015, Colleen and I took a roadtrip to Penticton, BC. I had registered for the Challenge Penticton half-iron distance triathlon.  You see I had done the Calgary Ironman 70.3 in July and decided since I was already trained up I may as well also do the Penticton race.  I grew up taking my summer vacation in Penticton, and I had lived there for a summer with my Aunt Sharon in my teens. Penticton was home to her, my uncle Jerry and cousins Susan and Lynn, so it has always had a special place in my heart.

Although the main purpose of the trip was the triathlon, Colleen had a passion for climbing and I had asked her to look into climbs in the area.  It turns out there was some spectacular climbing at Skaha Bluffs, just 15 minutes outside of the city.  We only had one extra day in Penticton after my race so I knew we did not have a whole lot of options about when we would be able to climb.  This meant my first outdoor climbing experience would come directly on the heels of competing in a 6 hour half iron distance triathlon. This made me a little bit nervous.  Scratch that.  This scared the shit out of me.

It was important for me to give Colleen the chance to get some climbing in, knowing how important it was to her, so I decided I would suck it up and just make it happen.  Of course this prompted more appreciative teasing from her about how “Badass” that was.

Monday morning after my race, we headed off for Skaha Bluffs and I’ll admit I didn’t feel very ‘Badass’. I could hardly walk, let alone climb 20 to 40 meter cliffs. I let Colleen know that I may have to simply belay her and not actually climb.IMG_0254

My mother and Aunt who had come out to cheer me on for the triathlon decided to come out and watch the beginning of our climb and carry on for a walk of their own.  It was an absolutely magical day.  We parked at the trail head to the bluffs and started to walk together hand in hand.  I had that nervous excitement that you get when you are:

A) in love and
B) about to try something new for the first time.

Colleen had her trademark little smile playing at her lips that let me know she was extremely grateful.  I could tell she was so pleased that we were able to enjoy this time together and equally excited about the prospect of climbing outdoors, something she had not yet done on Canadian soil.

The mood can best be described as ‘contentment’.  We walked together, my mother and Sharon ahead on the pathway.  If you have ever ‘walked’ with my mother before you will know it is more like a sprint than a walk.  She is usually a few hundred meters ahead of everyone else.  This day was no exception.

Fortunately she paused to take a photo of Colleen and I together walking down the hill.  We walked far enough down the trail without seeing any rock faces that we actually stopped and consulted the trail guide book to make sure we were still on track.  After confirming we were indeed on the correct path we started seeing the rock faces open up as we descended into the valley.

Soon we began to come across other climbers who had set up camp at the base of a face here and their and marked their territory with an array of climbing gear strewn about.  Some at the bottom of the vertical, and others high above the ground, testing both their mental and physical abilities.

We made our way to a particular face we had identified in the guide book that had a variety of different climbing levels. Everything from a 5.7 (beginner) to a 5.11 (moderate to advanced). I will never forget the look on my mom’s face as she eyed up the 30 metre section of rock. Colleen was flaking out the rope getting setup for our first climb.

Mom’s expression was nothing less than astonished terror.  “You’re going to climb that?” She asked.  I nodded with a giant smile.  Mom sidles over to me and in true motherly fashion looks at me and says “You know, just because she’s doing this doesn’t mean you have to.” Yes, even at 46 years old a mom is still a mom.

Colleen and I ended up staying there exploring and climbing a variety of faces, crags and routes, enjoying each others company in the solitude of the hills until about 6pm.

That night Sharon had Colleen, my mother and I over for dinner. It was during our dinner conversation that I realized how un ‘Badass’ I was.

Sharon is a proud Pentictonite who is active in the community. Sharon has recently started doing small triathlons and is always looking to improve. In the lead up to the full Challenge Penticton iron-distance triathlon there are a number of events including a 5km fun run. Sharon shared with us the story of how that race went for here.

She opened the story stating that “I knew full well I would be last so I started at the back of the group of 60 or so participants”.

This is where my reality check on “Badass” came into play. You see finishing, even an iron distance race, in the middle of the pack is easy, it doesn’t take any courage at all.  You actually cross the line quite inconspicuously and can proudly state that you competed and completed.

What does take courage however, is to enter a race knowing perfectly well that you will be crossing the finish line dead last with all eyes on you.  Sharon continued her story.

With about 1 and a half kilometers left in the race a young man, Lorne, starts pacing her on a bike.  Sharon looks over her shoulder and says “You’re here because I’m last aren’t you?” He answered “I’m afraid so…” pause… “But you’re doing great!” he shouts.

Lorne continued to encourage her along and when she was within a few blocks of the finish line he said that he was going to ride ahead and let them know she was coming in. He rode off.

As she gets within a few hundred meters of the finish line she can see that they had already pulled down the P.A. system, they’ve lowered the finish line and the started dismantling the announcer tables.  When Lorne came in and told them that she was still out on the course they scrambled to set everything back up so they could announce her in.

They also sent an athlete out to run the final few hundred meters with her. One of the individuals that ended up running in with her is a local professional triathlete named Jeff Symonds. Now if you don’t know who Jeff Symonds is you Jeff won the 2013 Challenge Penticton full iron distance race and is also is the winner of the 2015 Ironman Melbourne race. A pretty nice touch to keep her spirits up as she crossed the finish line.

So when I look at the strength, tenacity and courage it took for Sharon to complete that 5km race it puts a whole different shine on the word badass. Chuck Norris may be badass but he’s got nothing on a 65 year old woman who is determined to improve herself even at the risk and vulnerability of finishing dead last. The vulnerability involved in that endeavor is massive and not likely a situation most of our stereo typical ‘Badass’es would put themselves in.

When Sharon finished the story and got up to clear the table Colleen and I just kind of looked at each other with a knowing gaze and a wry smile. Colleen leaned over and says “Now that, my friend, is what I call Badass!”

It got me thinking pretty hard about what it means to be ‘Badass’. The more I thought about it the more I liked the handle. From a presentation branding standpoint it is a word that stands out and as I said earlier, admit it or not, we all want to be a little more ‘Badass’.  I decided to look up the definition online. According to Google the definition is: “A tough, uncompromising or intimidating person”.  Huh?!  I could totally be ‘Badass’.

So how do I reconcile the inner nerd with my new found desire to be ‘Badass’?  I have always been one that has been fairly comfortable with his tender side.  I do not always feel the need to live up to the stereotypical, societal version of “manly”.

Yes, my alpha male friends, let the mocking begin.  In fact, trying to live up to that stereotype can be quite dangerous.  In my article entitled “Men, it’s time to Woman Up” I published in October 2014 I explore this topic in detail.  The premise is that if we accept the typical view that men should suppress their feelings, we then become less emotionally intelligent which can ultimately affect our behaviors.

So how does this relate to being a ‘Badass’?  Well, again I think the societal norm for a ‘Badass’ male is one who does not show a lot of his emotion, one who sucks it up and puts on a hard outer shell.  This definition did not bode well for me being a ‘Badass’.  On our 10 hour drive back to Edmonton Colleen and I discussed what it means to be “Badass” in great detail.  It was then that we were listening to Brene Brown talk about vulnerability on the Tim Ferriss show where Tim asked her about the perceived notion of the “over feminization” of boys these days.  They then got into a discussion similar to what I wrote about in my article and Brene talked about Tough and Tender not being mutually exclusive.  Then she said something that brought it all together for me.  She said something to the affect of “To me the co-existence of tough and tender is the equation for baddassery.”  BOOM!  Right on the money!

On October 2, 2015, Colleen woke up at my place around 5 in the morning, got dressed and ready for her day.  Off to teach a yoga class at 6am.  She came around to my side of the bed and leaned in for a kiss and said goodbye.  I murmured “Have fun at Yoga” in a sleepy haze as she left.

Those were the last 4 words I ever said to her.

Colleen left my house at about 5:20am and for whatever reason decided to stop in at her place on her way to the yoga studio.  There, in her driveway, one of the most ‘Badass’, beautiful women I have ever met, my best friend, soulmate and inspiration to many was abruptly yanked from this stage called life.  In a cowardly act of domestic violence Colleen Lois Sillito had her light snuffed out in a murder/suicide.  Taken by an ex-boyfriend who likely fancied himself a ‘Badass’.

I cannot even fathom what had to be happening in someones mind to take the life of another.  What kind of twisted, mixed up reality do you have to be living in to do something like that to another human being.  What kind of misguided notion of what it means to be a ‘man’ do you have to have in order to believe that 2 lives must end because you cannot possess what you want?

Could our societal propensity to encourage these macho, bullshit, unhealthy masculinities have contributed to this event?

Clearly this was the work of an individual who was not in touch with, nor in control of his emotions.  We make decisions based on emotion, justified by logic.  Clearly this was an emotional reaction that had permanent consequences.

Could this have been prevented by a society that actually teaches, respects and values virtues like empathy, compassion and kindness over domination, conquest and victory?

In the wake of this tragic event I am often faced with questions around how I feel about the ‘system’ that failed her.  Questions about how do we stop men perpetuating violence against women.  Questions about how do we build a better restraining order?   How do we improve the justice system to protect people like Colleen who so desperately needed it.

All of these are valid questions that need answers, however I feel like these are akin to putting a band aid on ruptured jugular.  We need to address the root cause and not simply build a bigger band aid.  One of the most important things we can do to achieve this long term and for generations to come is to teach, encourage and allow men to examine their tender side without fear of vilification by our counterparts.  We need more men that will speak up and embrace compassion, empathy and kindness and show the world that it is in part a combination of those characteristics that embody what it means to be a ‘real man’.

In short we need the world to embrace the notion of redefining “Badass”!

Make Beautiful Shit Happen

Embrace the Suck – Revisited

“The difference between a good race and a bad race is how you manage the (inevitable) pain” Chris ‘Macca’ McCormack on triathlon.

Just a little over a year ago I wrote an article entitled “Embrace the Suck“.  The premise was based on the statement above.  Macca was then, one of my favorite triathletes. He emphasized no matter how much you prepare for an Iron Distance triathlon there is simply no way to avoid the inevitable pain that comes along with it.  In the article I equated that sentiment with life in general.  I talked about how we need to learn to lean into, and embrace the suck rather than fight it.  You can’t avoid the suck..

Well here we are a little over a year later and I am living proof that you cannot avoid the suck that life is going to throw at you.  Who could have predicted just over eleven months after writing that article, the woman I loved would be murdered in her own driveway.  Who would have thought her light would be extinguished as we were just starting to explore this crazy, beautiful, twisted, and unpredictable thing that we call life, together.

No amount of preparation could steel me for what might happen on the morning of October 2, 2015.  A murder/suicide by an estranged ex-boyfriend.  Inconceivable.  It’s been 7 weeks, 5 days and it is still extremely difficult to believe.

“Our rational minds can never understand what has happened, but our hearts will find their own intuitive way” – Ram Dass

The reality is I have been forced to Embrace the Suck on a level that few could ever fathom.  I made a couple of decisions very early on in this process

  1. Most importantly, I wanted to ensure the beauty of Colleen Lois Sillito lived on.
    Make certain her story did not end here.  Commit to share the sheer and unadulterated beauty of the woman I loved with as much of the world as I possibly could .  A woman who forever shaped who I have become and taught me to see the world through the eyes of love.  Colleen will forever be with me.
  2. I wanted to ensure that I did not, and do not squander this experience.
    I know that may sound callous, and hard to understand.  I can assure you, remaining conscious and aware through this is exactly what Colleen would have wanted.  We often talked about the lessons life threw at us and how it continued to throw them at us until we “got them”.  I became determined to fully taste, feel and embrace every moment of the grieving, mourning and healing process.

I have been given an opportunity to experience something that very few others will ever get to experience.  I have been given the gift of knowing true love.  Of finding my soul mate.  Many people will never have in their entire lifetime what Colleen and I had in our short time together.  For that time I will be forever grateful.  I will cherish those moments, memories and feelings for the rest of my life.

Now that she is gone she has given me another waypoint on my journey most will never see in their lifetime.  An experience I would not wish upon my worst enemy, and though a sad hand, it is indeed a hand those who loved her have been dealt.  If I had any option to turn back time, any chance of rewriting history, any chance of making things different I surely would.  Alas, I do not.

Since I do not have that luxury, all I can do is savor the taste of the bad medicine that life has prescribed.  Soak up as much of it as I possibly can without drowning.  The joy of the memories.  The pain of the loss.  The despair at the thought of never finding another true love.

I honestly feel like everything I have ever done in my life has prepared me for, and brought me to this point.

I will not numb myself with chemicals, alcohol or drugs.  I will not harden myself to the cruelties of this world.  I will not curl up into a ball and die, withering into oblivion.  I will not close my mind nor harden my heart.  I will not give up hope for humanity.

On the contrary, I will allow the experience, and the time I had with this amazing woman, whom I hope you have all had a glimpse of by now, to soften my heart.  To open my mind and make me a better man.  Make me a better man so that I can serve this world in a manner befitting the angel she was on this earth and continues to be now.  Allow me to become the man that can serve the world in a manner that would make her proud.  I will use this time to learn to become a better version of myself as I continue to sing the song that we started writing together.

Hers is a story that needs to be told.  The world needs more Colleen.  As I stare at a blinking cursor, with my fingers idle and my brain lost in thought, I can feel her nudging me.  Feel her whispering “Don’t let me be your resistance.  Don’t let me be your resistance.  Tell my story, tell it well.  Together we will change the world”.

For her, I will once again embrace the suck.  I will take the gifts she has given me and I will not let them waste.  She made things beautiful, I make shit happen.

For her I will “Make Beautiful Shit Happen.”

So no matter what you have going on in your life, no matter how much it sucks, the next time life throws you a curve just remember, it is on the other side of suck where the magic happens.  Embrace it, experience it, live it, and learn from it.  Take from it what you can, leave the rest.  Use what you have gained to make the world just a little more beautiful than it was yesterday.

Embrace your suck, grow and make beautiful shit happen.

Much Love, Mike

2015 Vancouver Marathon

Eighteen weeks of training all comes down to one day.  For the last two years I have run the Vancouver half  marathon with a variety of friends and family.  It has always been a fantastic experience.  This year however was a little different.  Somehow I let a young woman in my tri club, Heather Cole, inspire me into registering for the full marathon.  You can read more about Heathers journey toward Ironman in September here on her blog.

If you have ever run a long distance race before you know there is a substantial difference between running 21.1 KM and running the full 42.2 KM.  This was a serious commitment for me and one I did not take lightly.  My first full marathon was back in 2003, 12 full years previously, where I ran the Edmonton marathon in a time of 4 hours and 19 minutes.  I felt like crap finishing that race.  My goal at that time was to try and hit the 4 hour mark but after hitting the halfway point at about 2 hours it all went downhill from there.  I bonked hard and was crossed the finish line feeling like absolute hell.  This year I decided that being so much older and wiser I could certainly set my sights on a sub four hour run.  That goal held true until I was invited to go to Las Vegas with some friends the weekend before the race.  While Vegas was appealing I seriously weighed the importance of a personal best in Vancouver with the potential entertainment of a trip to Sin City.  In the end I decided that there would always be another marathon and that none of you would care whether I finished in 4 hours or 5!  Lookout Vegas here we come!  Needless to say I did not make any of my training runs that weekend but hey, it’s taper week right?

The following Friday I hopped on a plane to Vancouver fighting what felt like what might be a cold coming on.  I was definitely nervous.  I had trained hard but also knew I had let my body get a bit run down the week leading up to the race.  Positive mental thoughts, Oil of Oregano and Cold FX do your thing!  After a sushi dinner with my friend and long time trainer Jaime I headed back to the hotel to get some rest. The first night out of town for me is often a restless sleep and Friday night in Vancouver was no different.  I tossed and turned and did not have a great sleep that night at all.

Saturday morning I still felt a little off but not terrible.  It was race package pickup and race expo day.  It was also when I would have a chance to connect with my sister and the rest of our tri club who had made the trek to Vancouver.  Heather would be running the full marathon with me and the rest, Judi, Jaime, Kara and Joanna were doing the half.  After a great morning perusing the expo and buying some new gear, including a Garmin GPS so I could track my pace during race day (do I really want to watch my pace??) we went and had some lunch at the Cactus Club.  Still feeling a little under the weather I decided to head back to the hotel and have a nap.  We decided on dinner at Carderos and had a very nice early meal out on the patio.  I kept it light opting for salmon and veggies then heading back to the hotel for an early night.  Friday night had taught me that a downtown Vancouver hotel on Pender street required the use of ear plugs for a good night sleep so I made sure to pick some up at the drug store next door.  10:30pm and I slept like a baby!!

Race Day!!

Here it is, the moment I have been training for.  The half marathon started at 7:00am and the full not until 8:30am.  Breakfast was not open until 6:30 but I woke refreshed and feeling great at about 6am.  I sent a quick good luck text to my sister and the all of the Exist Tri Club knowing that they were well on their way to the start line.  Heather and I had agreed to meet to catch the train to the start line at 7:15am.  I had a good breakfast consisting of a coffee, 2 bananas and a bagel with peanut butter.  The train station was a 5 minute walk from the hotel so easily accessible.  I had a small panic attack when we arrived at the station that I thought we were to load the train at only to find it was closed.  Fortunately the sign on the gate directed us to another entranstart-linece around the corner at Waterfront Station and we were all set.  Following a throng of other racers we made our way on to the train.  Still somewhat unsure as to which stop we were to get off at we followed the other racers and eventually ended up at the starting corrals.  If you have run a race before you likely know that almost always pre-race there is that nervous “I have to pee” sensation even when you know you don’t.  Long lineups at the bathroom caused me to ignore the sensation and trust my head.  At about 8am Heather and I made our way to the “Red” corral where we were supposed to start.  A couple of high fives and some nervous banter including some chit chat with other racers we watched the clock tick down and the corral fill up.  A couple of runners I was standing and chatting with spotted the 4 hour pace bunny in the corral ahead of us and decided to move up.  I turned to Heather and gave her a final good luck and headed off with them.  About 15 minutes until race start.  I’m starting to get a little nervous now.  Feeling very thirsty and wishing I had a water bottle to quench my thirst.  Oh well, only 2 km to the first water station.  10 minutes to start time.  I would have to wait.  I had decided to bring my phone with me in my “fuel belt” this year which was a first for me.  I took it out, snapped a few pics and made a couple of last minute posts.  5 minutes to start time and they start singing “Oh Canada”.  Gulp! This shit is about to get real!  They start counting down the waves from 10, 9, 8, 7…. I was now in the third wave to go.  And we’re off!  I sidled up to the pace-bunnyfour hour pace bunny and stayed close.  Pietr from Holland was our bunny and would be pacing out a four hour marathon.  All I had to do was stay with Pietr.  We started out a little fast I thought but I managed to stay with him for the first hour.  I had decided to do walk breaks at about 10 mins running and 1 minute walking.  This would allow me to hydrate well and get my nutrition in without dumping water all down my front.  I also decided at abut 30 minutes in that I would try and take a short video clip to send home.  How fun would that be to document the race?!?

At about the hour mark I felt fantastic and decided to skip my walk break and pulled away from Pietr and his group of followers as we hit the first long, steep hill.  I felt incredibly strong on the hill and pulled well away from the four hour group.  Holy cow I may actually crack this thing!  This is where I started thinking about nutrition.  After all, I felt fantastic so far and really did not want to “hit the wall” some 20km later.  I had carried a number of gels on my fuel belt and took my first one out at this point.  I tried to make a mental note of the time so I could space my gels about 30 minutes apart to ensure enough energy to carry me through.

One of the things I love on race day is watching all the fans that come to cheer on friends and loved ones.  Some of the signs that they produce are quite creative.  Some of my favourites from Vancouver include:

I thought they said “Rum”

All toenails go to heaven

The guy at the very start whose sign said “You’re not even close!”

“Sweat is just fat crying”

At the halfway mark, a distance I have done a ton of times, I felt absolutely fabulous!  I shot another quick video to send home.  I felt so good I wanted to have some fun with this race.  I made sure I took in all the sights and sounds of a beautiful Vancouver day on a gorgeous course.  Sometimes in a race it is easy to just put your head down and power through not actually enjoying the course.  I wanted to ensure that did not happen on this run.

My nutrition plan was going well.  I took in water and/or electrolytes at every aid station.  I kept my gel intake to about one every half hour.  It’s funny how the strangest things pop into your mind on these long runs.  At about 26KM I started thinking about the video snippet I would create to mark the 32KM milestone.  32KM is often where the ‘Wall’ shows up so I wanted to have something to focus on other than the fact that the last 10KM is more than I have ever done in any of my training runs.  For whatever reason the rumble scene in the movie Anchorman is what popped into my head for an opening to my video snippet.  Hopefully you will understand as you watch my 7 seconds at 32KM’s.

At this point I kept looking at my Garmin thinking “I’m running too fast” and worrying about keeping up the pace.  Fortunately I felt awesome so just kept moving.  I was passing people all over the place and as I look at the final results I can see I passed over 300 people in the last 12KM of the race! Wow!  The last 10KM always require some mental gymnastics to get through so I always look for mantras and other self talk.  This time I started with the mantra “Run my run and do it freaking strong!”.  I then started telling myself that the rest of the race was to be run 10 minutes at a time.  When I hit the 37KM marker I called out to those around me that “We can do 5km in our sleep!  Remember when 5km was an easy run?”.  Not everyone around found it amusing ;0)

As I rattled down the last few kilometers and finally hit the 1KM to go mark, I prepared myself mentally for the slight uphill finish that was to come.  The crowd started to thicken as I got closer, ever seeking the elusive finish line on the horizon.  As I turned the final corner where the crowd was pretty thick I yelled out “I can’t hear you!!” Which caused the crowd to erupt in cheers.  What a feeling!  500 meters to go…  I started waving my arms encouraging the spectators to make some noise… They did!  Then I saw the rest of the tri group and my sister on the sidelines cheering me down the home stretch.  I ran over for a high five whooping and calling out for more noise.  The crowd responded.  I looked up at the race clock as I entered the finishers chute.  Clock time was about 3:55.  Awesome!!  I had crushed my four hour goal and knew my chip time would be closer to 3:50.  Talk about pumped!!

I crossed the line, picked up my medal and immediately pulled out my phone to record my last video and capture the feeling as best I could.  There is something to be said for setting a goal, training hard for it and then actually achieving it.  Who would have thought that I could have completed a sub four hour marathon.  Another great reminder that anything is possible if you set your mind to it and have the persistence, dedication and commitment to make it happen!

[jwplayer player=”1″ playlistid=”1003″]

Episode 19: Heather Cole: Diabetes, Ultra Marathons and Ironman Oh My!

Heather run2This episode is a little bit different than the usual business interviews I do.  This week I have the privilege of interviewing an inspiring young woman who I recently met through my triathlon club.  Heather Cole is one of the most inspiring people I have ever met.

Diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes at the age of 19 she certainly hasn’t let this disease slow her down.  The athletic feats that she accomplishes would be considered a challenge by most let alone the added complication of having to constantly manage this disease while competing.  The amount of effort required to manage this disease is astounding.  Heather talks about what the diagnoses meant to her and how she keeps her motivation and her positive attitude.

Heather writes much better than I do so I would encourage you to check out her blog here:  Heathers Blog.

If you have the means and the motivation consider donating to her cause by clicking on the donation link on her blog.


ISTAR: Nichole’s Journey

In my last post I gave you a brief summary of my experience at the ISTAR (Institute for Stuttering Treatment and Research) event.  I alluded to one young woman’s  speech that I found particularly powerful.  I had asked her for permision to share excerpts and planned to give you a summary of her speech but I thought it better to simply share with you her speech.  Her response when I asked for permission to share:

Feel free to share my words, that was the point of the speech. I believe in the sharing of ideas and thoughts. It helps put things in perspective; people sometimes forget to live in the moment once and a while (including me).

“Welcome family, friends and honoured guests. I’m Nichole and I will be speaking about my journey towards the acceptance of my stutter.

About 10 years ago, I was at the darkest place I have ever been with my speech. My normally extraverted self was beginning to retreat. Self-resentment and avoidance became my normal behavior. Work substitution became my crutch and hate boiled with certain words, especially my name. My stutter was severe; I could barely string two syllables together without a block. I was fortunate to start speech therapy at approximately this time. After a while I began to open up. My anger began to wane and I could express myself again. The little nagging voice in my head became muffled and disused. My friendly chatter resumed full-fledged along with my stubbornness. The first seed of acceptance was planted. If you had asked me at this time about the acceptance of my stutter, I would have made a scathing comment in reply.

In university, my acceptance was delicate but it continued to flourish. I reduced the amount of time I spent dwelling over the possibility of a stutter. Instead I trusted my voice and my opinions more often. I let myself grow during this time, slowly, so slowly I barely noticed it. At my undergraduate thesis defense, four weeks of preparation, I realized I was more concerned with the content of my presentation then agonizing over my stutter. This was the first time I did not mentally restrict myself with questions like “what if I stutter” or “what will people think if I stutter?” True acceptance had finally found me, although it would take a few more years for it to become a conscious thought and position.

This journey was barely perceptible until I looked into the rear view to see the road I had already travelled. I decided to forgive myself and learn from my experiences, life is too short to be angry with myself. My stutter is an attribute of my identity, but it is not my definition. I have learned to live with it, but I refuse to allow it to rule my life. Today, I rarely even respond to my stutter, although I am vigilant to monitor for negative thoughts. I strive to grow into the person I want to be.

Acceptance is like a many-forked road; we have to choose which path fits each of us the best. The fork we choose in this moment may not be the one we choose tomorrow. We have the power to decide. The main goal is to keep moving forward. It has to resonate at a personal level. The journey is not easy, it is riddled with bumps, ruts, fallen trees and black ice waiting to slip you up. We will experience a wide range of feelings along the way: fear, anger, anxiety, elation, accomplishment and pride. Acceptance is not a solid entity, but flexible and mouldable to the individual.

Acknowledge how far you have come down the road already. Look back at your past, at all the times you felt heartache, take a breath, relax and let it go. Learn from your past to shape your future. Mold your future, by living your present.

We do not have to navigate the road by ourselves. We can get road maps and directions along the way. Look to your support systems, your family and friends, including ISTAR for assistance.

We are the only ones who can change ourselves, and the greatest changes start with just one person, like a woman on a bus or a man with a dream.

Acceptance is a long continuous journey, but one worth embarking on. Thank you.”

If you would like to make a financial contribution to ISTAR you can do so here.

You can watch a video about ISTAR here.

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