September 29, 2017
[07:26] About Sefra Alexandra
[17:21] How Sefra Ended Up In SpartanUp
[21:18] Johnny Waite
[26:28] One of The Most Important Things Johnny Learned From A Guest
[32:16] Marion Abrams
[37:10] The Philosophy Behind Doing the Burpees
[41:56] What Marion’s Metaphorical Burpees Are
[46:07] One Thing That Touched Marion From One of The Podcasts
[49:38] End of Podcast
Ben: Hello. What's up? It's Ben Greenfield. Hey, I have a pretty special series, a doozy full of series of interviews for you coming up today and on a whole bunch of other days this week. I'm churning out the podcasts this week because I just got back from Lake Tahoe. I got a chance to hang out with some of the world's top athletes, and biohackers, and inventors, and physicians, and more down at the Spartan World Championships. Even if you're not an obstacle course racer, you're going to dig today's show. You can access the show notes where I have a special video for you over at bengreenfieldfitness.com/sparta17. Yes, as in Sparta 1-7. Like the movie “300” where they all talk with Scottish accents even though they're supposedly from Greece. Anyways though, we digress.
So in that video that I posted for you at bengreenfieldfitness.com/sparta17, I actually have a fascinating discussion, this is at the top of the page that you see there, about legal ways to dope your blood, legal ways to get nitric oxide up like Viagra for your whole body without actually taking the little blue pill, how to max your ATP and what are called your erythrocytes levels using some pretty fringe formulas that are out there.
So when you visit that page over at bengreenfieldfitness.com/sparta17, you're going to want to watch my interview there at the top of the page with this guy named Craig Dinkel. Craig, you may have heard on previous podcast episodes. He's like a total whiz when it comes to formulating very potent and unique supplements. I got a bunch of discount codes for you over there too on some of the stuff that Craig and I talk about. So that is what is bringing into today's show, that video and those supplements which I consider to be not only some of the best supplements for altitude, but some of the best supplements for sex, and for nitric oxide, and for recovery from jetlag, and for enhanced blood flow, and for just about any situation where you want more blood. So check it out, bengreenfieldfitness.com/sparta17. Alright. Let's move forward, shall we?
Ben: Hey. What's up? It's Ben Greenfield, and this is a bit out of the ordinary but I happen to be sitting here with my trusty podcast sidekick Brock Jason Skywalker Armstrong. Brock, how you doing?
Brock: I'm doing well. Hello, hello everyone.
Ben: And you could get sick of that lulling Canadian accent over the next few days…
Ben: Pshhha! Because Brock, and myself to a certain extent, but Brock to a much greater extent, we're going to bringing you some amazing interviews over the next several days because we are at Spartan World Championships.
Brock: Spartan World Championships!
Ben: So here's what to expect. First, if you're not an obstacle course junkie or an athlete, don't worry. We are right now here surrounded by some of the top fitness, health, biohacking, nutrition, and even personal productivity and lifestyle minds on the face of the planet who Spartan CEO Joe De Sena has flown in to be here, and Brock and I have decided to get the microphone in front of them and take a deep dive with them into their top secrets that we can deliver to you. And we're also of course, since we are surrounded by some of the fittest people on the face of the planet here, we're going to be interviewing some of the most hardcore men and women that exist when it comes to their insider training tactics, their nutrition secrets, their recovery hacks, and a whole lot more. So basically you are going to be getting lots of podcasts over the next few days. Don't worry. If you don't have time to listen to them, you can save them, and I believe there's even a handy save function in Apple Podcast, most podcasting apps.
Brock: You don't even have to…
Ben: Save 'em for later. The next time you're bored on a drive, or you have a few extra gym sessions, or you're out on a long hike, you can basically listen into a lot of these extra episodes we're going to be pushing out over the next few days.
Brock: You can bathe in them even.
Ben: You can bathe in them. Literally. Like a float tank. Or Epsom salts.
Ben: Yes. So we are, in addition to a bunch of podcasts you're going to get right here on the podcast feed, doing a bunch of short video and audio interviews over on the Facebook page. And if you don't know the Facebook page URL, it is, Brock, take it away.
Ben: So go to facebook.com/bgfitness if you want extra photos, amazing, entertaining, and educational content for you in addition to what we're giving you right here on the podcast.
Brock: I call it edutainment.
Ben: Edutainment. Did you make that up?
Ben: Okay. Now we may not have our usual show notes, I'm going to warn you…
Brock: Yeah. ‘Cause I'm illiterate.
Ben: Because Brock is illiterate, and dyslexic, and lysdexic.
Brock: And Canadian.
Ben: And Canadian. And frankly we're going to be so busy interviewing people, we're probably not a lot of time to sit down and make for you show notes. But we will make for you plenty of extremely helpful content and we promise mad value if you just listen in the next few days. Again, we're not going to bore you with the ho-hum I-eat-Red-Bull-and-Snickers-before-the-race-and-my-top-recovery-tactic-is-compression-socks.
Brock: Nor are we going to bore you with a longer intro than we've already done.
Ben: No. This is getting a little bit long in the tooth. So I will be racing, and I will be not only racing but likely out there leading other racers through the course after I've done the race myself. So you're going to need to get used to Brock's Canadian voice and his beautiful shaven ballerina legs.
Brock: You betcha!
Ben: Which you actually can't see on an audio podcast, but I can vouch that they are quite beautiful. He'll be the voice you're listening to, and seeing if you're on Facebook, all weekend as we make you a part of what is widely considered to be the Super Bowl of obstacle course racing and is the crown race to discover who the fittest person on the face of the planet actually is.
Brock: Spartan World Championships!
Ben: Unless you're a Crossfitter, in which case it would be the Crossfit Games. So get ready of plenty of action, get ready for plenty of action, over the next few days. And if you want to have the most fun with this, stay tuned to all the live content and the conversations over at facebook.com/bgfitness. And keep a notepad for your own friggin' noggin.
Brock: Make your own show notes, guys! C'mon! We've been holding your hand for too long now. It's your turn.
Ben: Take notes on everything that we bring your way. We promise we're going to make this a lot of fun for you. So that being said, listen in 'cause here we go.
Brock: Welcome back to the Ben Greenfield Fitness Podcast. And again, once again I apologize for not being Ben Greenfield. This is Brock Armstrong, the podcast sidekick, and I'm here sitting in a room full of people, a different room full of people than earlier today, and I've got the members of the SpartanUp Podcast and we're going to sort of work our way through a few of them, hopefully all of them. At least a few of them and we're going to start…
Sefra: Not too many of us. Hi, there!
Sefra: Hi everyone!
Brock: Can you give us just a quick introduction who you are and what you do?
Sefra: Sure! Thanks for having me on. And Ben Greenfield and his family, great fans, good friends, and it's wonderful to be part of this community and network. I'm Sefra Alexandra. I call myself “The Seed Huntress”. I'm on the hunt to save the genetic biodiversity of our Earth. I'm a seed saver and a seed educator, and currently received a grant to build a seed bank down in Haiti. So I call myself a perennial endurance ethnobotanist really 'cause my…
Brock: Wait, wait, wait, wait, wait. Say that again.
Sefra: There are some people, I need to redefine.
Sefra: So basically my version of an endurance race is going to find rare plants up in the mountains of different countries and retrieving those seeds. So perennial means plants that come back year after year.
Sefra: And an ethnobotanist is someone that studies the relationship between the local flora, the local plants, and the indigenous people and how they use it for food, for building, for medicine. And so basically wherever I travel, I look to find people that are really connected to the land, and who are stewarding these older varieties, and plants that have their center of origin where I'm traveling. Recently I was in Crete and I went up to the gorges and the rock cliffs where the oregano of Dittany only grows. It's this rare oregano that, it used to be a great sign of love and admiration that you go up to the mountains and you bring back the flower. And actually throughout history, several people have died going on the hunt for this oregano and so it's become like something of mythic lore. And it's also, oregano oil, I know I was talking to Jessa Greenfield and I realize that Ben's a big proponent of oregano oil 'cause it's…
Brock: He has his own brand of oregano oil.
Sefra: Right! I didn't even realize that, which is so great 'cause it's anti-microbial, anti-bacterial. I travel a lot, so it helps maintain your gut flora and kind of burn out anything you don't want.
Brock: So you really find like through your own experience, you think that it works, it works for you?
Sefra: Oh. I mean 100%. And I preface that by saying I'm not a certified doctor, I don't do tests of what my gut flora is before and after. But just from my brother and I's travels, we found it to be quite effective. And whenever we're not feeling well, you take a little bit and it just burns it right away. So blessings to the oregano plant.
Brock: The only reason that I sort of pressed on that point was recently reading the latest literature on oregano oil is that it does really, really well on like hard surfaces, on tables, on countertops, and things like that. But there is no evidence that it works on the inside of us, and yet it's been used for so long and I know so many people who feel the same way as you do, that through anecdotal evidence and even just personal evidence they really, really do believe in it.
Sefra: Right. And I think that's the great journey oftentimes with ethnobotany. I mean there's oftentimes a lot of things with what they call more like folkloric medicine and things that are used more indigenously or traditionally. It's kind of like there's a lot of history and didactic information that comes along with these plants, and oftentimes there's a lot more of a relationship than just cause and effect. It's a relationship that you build of these plants as a part of your staple diet, as something that you're introducing into your nutrition and on a cellular level in it. And it's also mixing with other herbs and other plants, and it's kind of using the nutrition of your landscape that really has a great effect on it. So for me personally, I've had a lot of experience where there isn't really scientific data to prove it, but there's great elders, and long traditions, and huge communities built around these type of plants. And seeing the efficacy from that standpoint has always been really validating for me, and also with a great appreciation for science and data in that way.
Brock: I think that was really interesting. You said something about using it within the context of like the area or something. So maybe what the problem is with the science is that they're using it just on its own. They're not mixing it with whatever diet you should be having or whatever the microflora would be that would be going around. And there's so many other variables other than taking it into the lab and sticking it into a petri dish that we sometimes I think forget about in our double-blind placebo studies that go on.
Sefra: Yeah. I think a lot of what health from my perspective is, I'm a great advocate of foraging with the stewardship and caretaker mentality, understanding how to work with the landscape and not to take too much, and when to take it, and all these different things that go along with responsible harvesting of the wild lands. But I think oftentimes it's really important to be aware of, they call it guilds. So guilds are what, in the natural ecosystem bioregion, ecotype, all the plants that grow together. There's something called “edible forest gardening”. And so you can look at it, instead of planting just a vegetable garden that kind of is all the same height, you look at a forest and you say, “Oh, there's a canopy, there's a ground cover, there's a shrub layer, there's a vine. How can we recreate that on our scale to mimic natural ecosystems?” And when you do, you have a much more highly functional, productive, healthy ecology ecosystem that you build. But also, and this is kind of, I go on tangents quite a bit so…
Brock: No, I think this is fascinating. I'm thinking of my garden where I took the tomatoes and heard that you're supposed to put your basil plants with your tomatoes 'cause they sort of work synergistically. But you're talking about…
Sefra: Companion planting. Well, yeah.
Brock: Yeah. Companion planting. It's taking it to a whole another level is what you're talking about.
Sefra: Well and then we can geek out even further and talk about the mycelia level, which is like the hypha that runs amongst, well a fungal network, when you have really healthy, so the hypha is like, this is the internet of your soil system. It's how mushrooms work. And not psychedelic mushrooms. There are very medicinal, like look at Paul Stamets' work with fungi perfecta mycelium running. mushrooms are some of the most medicinal, beautiful fruiting bodies we have on the earth. But the point is the hypha is these white little thread like hairs that run for miles underneath the soil and they're the connectors of the tree to the shrub to the vine and basically help to be nutrient shares. So some of your plants are nitrogen fixing, some are dynamic accumulators, they all serve these different ecosystem functions, and the mushrooms help to transfer the nutrients that each do to have a more balanced ecosystem. So when you have these monocultures whereas polycultures, that's when you have these pests that are like, “Welcome to the heyday, Walmart of the one plant I love.” Whereas if you have a diversified system like in a forest, then you don't proliferate just a niche for one species really.
Brock: I've been meaning to read the book “The Secret Lives of Trees”. Is that what it's called?
Sefra: Oh! You know it?
Brock: Would that be in there? Is that the kind of information that's in a book like that?
Sefra: Absolutely in there. And our producer on SpartanUp Podcast, Marion's son, who is actually just a brilliant and wonderful young growing lad, a young little tree species, and she's made such great soil for her kids to sprout up and told me to read that. And I read it, and it really just absolutely open my eyes even further too. Sometimes you'll see these little trees growing up, some of the older growth trees in a forest, and you think they're young but they're actually extremely old, waiting in the shade of their mother plant until they fall over so they can grow up in succession. So once you start to really understand what your eyes are looking at, they call it like green washing and looking at a forest and people really need to have, or I invite them to be curious about having more of a close relationship to see all the cool stuff that's going on there. I mean it's just, it's endless, the naturalist world. And for me, it's intoxicating and leads me on my endurance race of life.
Brock: The endurance race of life.
Sefra: Of ethnobotany.
Brock: I love you almost should-ed people there for a second, but then you took it back and you were just like, “I encourage them to…”
Sefra: Should shouldn't be a word, should it. No one wants to be should-ed, right?
Brock: That's true. Nobody wants to be should-ed all over…
Sefra: It's just fun, you guys.
Brock: Yeah. It is fun!
Sefra: It's fun to know your plant friends.
Brock: It's really interesting and exciting.
Sefra: And it's the best nutrition you can get. I mean in a world, especially in the Spartan world where people are so focused on nutrition, I would say the most important thing is find a spring which is sort of what my friend Daniel Vitalis, who has a great podcast, the ReWilding Podcast, and it's finding where your local spring water is because our bodies are, I don't know the exact number, is 80% water or something like that.
Brock: Yeah. Ridiculously high.
Sefra: Right. So when you're drinking source water that's been certified, make sure it's clean and there's no giardia or whatever, but that's going to fortify your body with such goodness and then mix that with some wild plants and you'll have energy like you couldn't, never fathom.
Brock: It's true, yeah. We sometimes forget that and just leaving…
Sefra: Like the Greenfield boys.
Brock: Yeah. Oh, man. Those kids?
Sefra: I know. They're awesome.
Brock: I wish I was a kid. Actually, I'm doing pretty well. Doing pretty well.
Sefra: Yeah. You look great.
Brock: Although they did try to almost get me in the longevity photo shoot earlier. Today they asked me twice. Like, “No! I'm old enough, damn it!” So it sounds like you've got this whole other life, like very much so outside of Spartan. So how did you get into the Spartan thing? Why are you part of this? It doesn't seem like it's out of character, but it is a little bit different.
Sefra: I would say gratitude and synchronicity. My twin brother is the co-founder of a rock climbing gym called Brooklyn Boulders, and he built an active collaborative work space above the rock climbing gym on the premise that physicality stimulates creativity and innovation. And so he was kind of, a couple of years ago at the nexus point of entrepreneurship and physicality and was invited to Joe's 431 Project dinner when that was first getting started. And he invited me, and so I came up to Pittsfield Shire, which I now call Narnia, which is Spartan Race world headquarters, and my brother and I are sitting there drinking wine and eating crudite, biodynamic, wild foraged wine of course.
Brock: Of course, of course!
Sefra: Anyways, and we look outside and Mark Jones of the Death Race is just standing there with a sandbag above his head laughing and smiling in the middle of the snowstorm, and we're looking at this like great dichotomy of like people pushing themselves to the greatest limits while eating organic crudite. And my brother looks to me and he goes, “I don't know what you need to do but you're doing a project here.” So I said to Joe, 'cause I had just finished graduate school at Cornell, I got a teaching master's in agriculture education but my background is in wilderness hospitality, I said, “Have you ever heard of glamping,” which is glamorous camping.
Brock: Glamorous camping, yeah.
Sefra: Right. So Joe's like, “I love it. Give me a proposal.” So I came back a couple, like a week or two later and I said, “Here you go. I'll build a primitive skills luxury camping site on your mountain, and the racers and the wedding guests that come to Riverside Farm in there can stay there and I'll teach them foraging, and they can go work out with all the Spartan elites that would live there. And he said, “I love it.” I said, “Great! My bags packed. I'm ready to move in.” So I lived in the barn and got to know the wonderful De Sena family, which has basically been like the greatest nexus into so many good friends and completely changed the paradigm of my life and my perspective on endurance and like 10 miles isn't that much, and 4:30 in the morning is late, you better get up earlier. So it's been one of the most significant introductions that I've had. And so I translated my love of forging into that world, and then have then kept expanding that into the seed world with kind of that Spartan mentality.
Brock: Wow. So that's, you've got a really unique perspective because most of the people I think are coming out of like a Crossfit or an endurance sport kind of a space anyway, a headspace. Although your team at SpartanUp seems very, very diverse. I haven't gotten to know them yet, but I will in the next few minutes hopefully.
Sefra: Yeah. We're a great polycultural, our own little forest. I think it's like, it takes the diversity of all of us that kind of makes it really fun and a great conversation, and Joe's smart about the way he amends things and brings things together. He's the mycelium, that's what I told him when I first met him. He's a great connector. And it's also just been a…
Brock: He's the fungus below the dirt.
Sefra: Yeah. Joe's below the dirt! No. I'm just kidding, Joe. But it's also, I think that's really been a great part about what the podcast does is it goes a lot beyond just the race and gets into the mentality and the diversity of the people who have been brought to this. And we talked to ballerinas, and fridge carriers, and widows of old bodybuilding legends, and it's been so fun for me to get to hear those conversations and learn so much from all of them. And then it's been really exciting to see how many people get inspired by the people that Joe interview. Yeah. It's been great.
Brock: Cool. Well, why don't we bring in one of the other team members and we'll keep this party going?
Sefra: Alright! Go Greenfield! Gratitude! Thanks, Brock!
Brock: Picking up where we left off, we have the, not the second member. You guys don't have numbers or anything, the second…
Johnny: I'd be the fourth if we did.
Brock: Okay. Like the fourth Beatle? Or the fifth Beatle? Johnny Waite is sitting here. So give us a quick little overview of who you are and what you're doing here.
Johnny: Sure. So I'm one of the hosts of the SpartanUp Podcast. I very much enjoy that. I have also had a long history with Spartan. I did a bunch of Joe's races in Pittsfield and run it back in the day. And then I ended up the quality manager for Spartan race as we expanded globally very quickly, and I had some great experiences travelling the world, helping Spartan race expand and maintain some consistency. And then this last year, I had the good fortune of being the race director up in Canada, designing all the race courses and then making sure that they all went well. So that's my Spartan world. And I live in Haliburton, Ontario with my beautiful wife, Andrea.
Brock: Yay! Ontario!
Johnny: Ontario! With my beautiful wife, Andrea, who owns a resort called Bonnie View Inn. And, yeah. So when I'm not out gallivanting around the world, I'm at Bonnie View Inn on Kashagawigamog Lake in Haliburton, Ontario.
Brock: Whoa! We Canadians really know how to name things, don't we?
Johnny: We do. I actually have a great story. I was speaking to a fellow from India. And I told him the name was Kashagawigamog. I said it's Indian, and he said, “That is not my Indian.”
Brock: That's not my kind of Indian.
Johnny: Exactly. Yeah.
Brock: Yeah. We don't use that word correctly.
Johnny: Exactly. So, yeah. But it's wonderful being here this weekend. It's a really cool opportunity for me to reconnect with people from all over the world that I've been able to meet and it's a really cool world, the Spartan world.
Brock: Now when you say you're one of the hosts of the show, now you guys have a very different format than most podcasts. Can you explain what your role really is?
Johnny: And it's expanding and developing at what we all do. So originally, Joe just keeps meeting incredible people all over the world. And Marian put together this interview process where Joe would interview people and it was always about grit, and resilience, and success, and what it takes to move forward in life in spite of the obstacles that life throws at you. And Spartan race has always been about overcoming obstacles. And then Spartan in general, as a lifestyle, is really about pressing on and growing.
Brock: Yeah. So you get the literal obstacles and the metaphorical…
Johnny: Exactly, yeah. And so they decided to create a roundtable, a panel of four of us, myself, Sefra, Tim Nye, and Joe. And we each bring a different perspective. For the long time, it would be Joe interviewing people and then we would watch those interviews and we'd all discuss what we got from that show. And with Joe being so busy and us all sort of coming into our own a little bit, we've started doing some of the interviews as well. And so it really has been a great opportunity and experience for all of us, and we meet so many cool people. And the great thing is, I think we've got about 200 episodes done now, and millions and millions of downloads and views on iTunes and YouTube. And the cool thing is the breadth of people that we interview, and sometimes I'll think, “That one, I didn't think was the very best one,” but someone else will contact me and say, “My god. That changed my life, that interview.” And I realize that different interviews will resonate with different people. And so the one that might have resonated the strongest with me might not be the one for that other person. And so it really is cool that we hit on so many different levels and so many different people, and it's been very, very gratifying.
Brock: I used to teach university and it was interesting watching, trying to get across the message to the class. And sort of what you're saying, I'd say a concept one way and maybe five or six people, you could see the light bulb go off, but the rest of the class is dim. So you need to try saying it another way and another way until all the light bulbs are turned on. And that's often the way it is with podcasts…
Johnny: Very much so.
Brock: That message resonates with somebody, and it's not even necessarily the guest, it's the message or the “Aha!” moment doesn't always happen in the same way.
Johnny: And it's also why it's so great that we have the diversity on our panel. Joe is a unique individual that no one is exactly like. Sefra again is such a cool, what's the word I'm looking for. I don't want to use the word unique again because that would defeat the purpose of unique. But just such an eclectic group. And my background was in coaching and in hypnotherapy actually.
Brock: Oh, wow. Really?
Johnny: Yeah. So before I worked with Spartan race…
Brock: Is that why I'm feeling so sleepy right now?
Johnny: Precisely. No, it's just 'cause I'm boring. But, yeah. So…
Brock: You said it. Not me.
Johnny: And I studied psychology. And so for me, I'm usually looking at things from that angle, from the human dynamic angle and the psychology behind it all. And whereas Joe has a completely different set of experiences, as does Tim. And so I really think that's a big part of the success of our podcast. The biggest success of our podcast, because we have a great producer in Marion. That goes without saying, but I'll say it anyway. It really has been a collaborative effort.
Brock: So earlier on you said that one of the things that's really cool about the podcast is that you get to experience all these people's knowledge, all these amazing people that do all these different things. I'm going to put you on the spot, what do you think is the most important thing that you've learned as being one of the hosts on the podcast from one of the guests?
Johnny: Sure. That is on the spot, but I'll wing…
Brock: It doesn't have to be the most important. I shouldn't say that. Like the first thing that occurs to you I guess.
Johnny: Actually, I'll tell you. And it's more of a combination. It's just the one thing that I think really, really comes up in every single one is that you have to keep going. And I'm always fascinated by why some people don't get stopped. Because things happen in life. And I think that we're trained and taught to play it down the middle, we're taught to take this safe route that's going to get us a good job and a stable life and that nothing will go wrong. And I've learned in my own life and from talking to so many people that something does always go wrong. I mean you're never going to shelter yourself from strife. But when we're taught growing up that the purpose and the goal in life is to make things easy, and safe, and comfortable, and problem-free, the problems then seem like a bad thing and an unfair thing. “Why did this happen to me?” But what I found is that no one that we've interviewed has had that straightforward, simple, easy life. Because if they had, we wouldn't want to interview them because there's nothing interesting. Now I say to people, “If you live the life that we're supposed to live, would you pay to go watch that movie?” Would you go to pay to watch a movie…
Brock: And supposed to live, in quotation marks.
Johnny: Yeah. Would you pay to watch the movie with the person who had the great marks, who got the great job, and got the great retirement, and retired and died at 93?
Brock: Yeah. While you just sit there the whole time, waiting for the bad thing to happen.
Brock: And then it would end and you'd be like, “What?”
Johnny: Yeah! And so I guess what I've learned through all the people we've talked to is that every one of them somewhere along the way has stumbled, and fallen, and gotten back up, and found a way to help other people. And really, the people who've been able to get the most out of life, I find are the people who are willing to contribute the most and not just to get something back. They're not investing, they're actually giving selflessly. And so I think that that to me, the biggest lesson that I've learned in terms of talking to all these people is take life as it comes. It's not supposed to be easy. It's supposed to be what it is. And then find a way to make something good out of that, not just for yourself but for others. And the people who we've interviewed and who've embraced that philosophy, massively successful.
Brock: Yeah. It's true. Do you have an example in your own life that…?
Johnny: Oh, sure! Sure. In my life in general, I had a pretty straightforward, simple, and easy life I would say, up until about 2008. And then I went through a couple of hard times where I had to do a bit of a reset, and the great thing is that I'm so much stronger, and happier, and better for that struggle. And it was just where I made some business decisions and some life decisions that didn't pan out. Not my fault, not anyone else's fault. Just took a gamble and it didn't work. But I ended up losing a lot of what I'd built up over those years, personally and professionally. And by starting again and not bemoaning it but actually embracing and saying, “Wow, what an adventure this is.” What adventures to live my truck for a little while. What an adventure it is to start again with nothing. It really gave me a chance to put those up-until-then hypothetical philosophies into play and find out that it really actually worked. And then since then, really my whole life has been creating experiences for other people. Not for me. Whether I'm race directing, or whether I'm coaching, or whether I'm creating a retreat or whatever it is, it's “how can I create amazing experiences for other people”. And by making that contribution, my life get's bigger and better, and bigger and better. And I'm not doing it to make my life bigger and better, but it does.
Brock: When you were going through this, I think one of the things I picked up with what you were saying was it's tricky to remember in that situation, like even though you had all that knowledge and you had the understanding, that by persevering or looking at these setbacks as being an adventure or somehow a positive thing, or turning into a positive thing, when you're in that moment, it's hard to remember to do that or to remember that lesson. Did you have to take a moment to actually remind yourself of that?
Johnny: A couple of times, sure. But the times I really remember, there's a kind of a neat story. So one night I was sleeping in my truck, and it was about 100 degrees out, and it was midnight, and it was awful, and I didn't have anywhere I could go shower or anything else, it was just so sweaty, and I thought, “You know what? I'm going to go to the lake. The lake's free. Why don't I just go to the beach and I'll just go to the lake and have a swim.” And all the things we take for granted that are always there, when somebody says there's nothing to do, trails are free, the lake is free. There's a lot of things that are free that we don't take advantage of.
And so I went down to the lake to just have a swim. It was really shallow water, and I swam a little way and I was lying on my back, looking up at the stars, totally coincidentally, a family, I don't know them to this day, they had some leftover fireworks and they decided to come out and shoot them and they didn't know I was in the water and they're shooting these fireworks over top of me. And I'm lying in the water with just my nose and my eyes out of the water, watching this incredible firework show that I couldn't have paid a million dollars for. It was three dimensional because, not just three, four-dimensional cause it was bouncing off the light behind me. I could see it in the water. I just remember lying there thinking, “God, I'm lucky. I'm so, so lucky right now. I wouldn't be experiencing this if I was in a house. And not to say that having a house is a bad thing, but in that moment I was the luckiest person in the world. And I really think whatever your situation is, if you're living in a big, beautiful house, you're the luckiest person the world. If you're not living in a big, beautiful house, you're the luckiest person the world. ‘Cause at that moment, there's something you can experience that nobody else can experience and that's just being you. And that was a huge breakthrough moment for me and it's sort of informed everything I've done since.
Brock: I can't imagine where we could go from there. That was fantastic. Thank you very much. That's a great learning lesson and a great insight.
Johnny: Thanks for having me on. I appreciate it.
Brock: No, thank you! Let's do some shuffling around to get the next one change, not really change gears but we're going to take a step back because our next guest doesn't often get to be in front of, I shouldn't say gets to be, doesn't often opt to be in front of the microphone.
Marion: Have to be…
Brock: Yeah, have to be, want to be, need to be in front of the camera or in front of the microphone. Marion is the producer, which often means you're carrying the heavy gear, you're basically doing the stuff that I do for Ben. So this is…
Marion: You know when Brock and I met and I said, “You're like me, but for Ben,” or for the other people that he works for, yeah.
Brock: That time, I was working for somebody else.
Marion: I'm not going to say…
Brock: Who shall not be named. Nah, I'm just kidding. But yeah, so this is, you do appear on the podcast from time to time though, right?
Marion: I do. Occasionally, yes. Yeah, so I produce it and I direct it, and then just kind of like point the camera at these guys. Yeah.
Brock: Now you make that sound like it's easy. “Oh, I just produce and direct it.” Like that is like spreadsheets, that wrangling gears, wrangling people, it's wrangling these guys, it's wrangling Joe, the guests.
Marion: If you can see the room right now, like when he says wrangling these guys, you've met Sefra, you've met Johnny, you'll meet Colonel Nye. If you know anything about Spartan Race, you know who Joe De Sena is. And like wrangling the four of them is, heroic. Sefra's saying heroic, herding cats.
Brock: I'm looking around the room right now, and there are three tables all jammed together in one spot of the room.
Marion: Right. There are like pillows, and piles of people, and kombucha, and coffee, and equipment spread all over the floor…
Brock: I can't imagine that would happen, but so you're not wrangling the hotel rooms, I'm guessing.
Marion: No, I haven't had to book the hotel rooms. But, yeah. I mean it's what's cool, and I think Johnny was saying this, is that there are four really different personalities but one of the things they all share is they're all really optimists, they're all really energetic, and they're all really thoughtful. And so when we talk about the Spartan mindset, I mean that's kind of our thing, you've dug into that a little bit. It's not just the race, it's really the mindset as that applies to kind of everything. I mean whether you want to be an athlete, you want to be a great student, you want to be a great parent, you want to be an entrepreneur, a business leader, or whatever it is, it's that mindset, and we kind of try to find those places where there's an intersection between sports, and then what you learn in the physical realm, and your success in other parts of life.
Brock: Yeah. It makes sense, the whole idea of the metaphorical obstacles and the literal obstacles. I hadn't really thought about that, I've always just sort of looked at the Spartan races as being like, “Oh, that's really cool! You get to do lots of like crazy functional movement stuff,” which appeals to me as sort of an aging athlete and an aging coach to focus a lot more on actually being able to move over terrain, and climb ropes, and do things that are actually useful in the world rather than bench pressing a certain amount of weight, or deadlifting, or something, which is impressive and cool and I'm not trying to diminish that, but in terms of like real life like zombie apocalypse kind of handy and necessary things. The Spartan race really does embrace that, but it also has so much more philosophical-ness behind it.
Marion: Yeah. I mean we really do believe in that. We believe in this idea that getting yourself uncomfortable is an art or a practice. The more you do it, the better you get at it. And the idea that, I mean there's a couple of things, but one of them is that when you overcome obstacles, when you look at something and you think, “There's no way I can do that,” and then you do that, you remember that and that sticks with you. And when you face another challenge, there's that little voice in you that says like, “Well it looks like I can't do it, but maybe I can.” And so there's that element to it as a big part of it. And then just the idea of if you get used to being uncomfortable, it sets your bar lower. So you become more grateful. It's a really simple thing. You finish running a Spartan race and you have like, you take your shoes off or you get in your car and the heat's on, all of a sudden you're like, “Oh my God. This is the best thing ever.” And all it is is some really simple creature comfort that most of us take for granted every day. But after you get out of that comfort zone and you experience that for even just an hour, you can kind of reset your frame of reference. That is sort of the initiation for the podcast but we’ve learned so much and gone so much beyond that in terms of mindset, and also just like healthy living and lifestyle.
Brock: Yeah. Okay, since we got all philosophical here, I wanna know what the philosophy might be behind doing the burpees?
Marion: Okay. I mean I could, so I…
Brock: Your interpretation. Yeah. So I can tell you what I have, because I have spent a lot of time recording Joe talking to a lot of people, I can tell you his philosophy behind the burpee. It's not mine, but he talks a lot about how he was in the pool business, and he'd clean pools, and they're full of water, liquid, whatever, and you need to circulate it in order to clean it. And so basically he has the sense that when you do the burpee, you are circulating all the fluids in the body, and that is a big part of why it sort of keeps your body going. I'm probably not communicating that as well as he does.
Brock: Is that more like doing the burpees like he does, like first thing in the morning kind of thing?
Marion: Yeah. Yeah, yeah, yeah.
Brock: I was talking about more like the punishment during the race.
Marion: Oh, okay.
Brock: So if overcoming the obstacle is really like that, that moment of overcoming something and feeling better about yourself.
Marion: Yeah. So I can give you my interpretation of that for sure. So one of the things, like I went on this canoe trip and was shooting that, and I watch these kids have to, this won't make sense, but…
Brock: I love stories. This is great.
Marion: So I watched these kids, young kids, girls like 11 to 14, and they're portaging these canoes. And it'd be one girl…
Marion: Portaging these canoes. And so one girl would be carrying a hundred pound canoe, literally like an 11, 12 year old girl, sometimes a mile through the woods. And one day, we land, it's a rocky surface, it's pouring rain, there's thunder and lightning rolling in, and these girls have to get these canoes, and all their stuff, their gear, 'cause they're going to be out for an extended period of time, off the water, over these rocks, and into the safety of the woods. And I had this sudden realization, I thought this is like all those team building experiences that schools, and clubs, and after-school clubs, and camps do, except there's no opportunity for some cool kid to kind of roll their eyes, and chew their gum, and snap their gum, and say like, “I'm not doing. This is stupid.” Because it has to be done. And I think there's that sense that when most of us can do more than we think when it has to be done, and so if you're out there doing the Spartan race and you're exhausted, and you're in the last mile, and there's nothing left you think in your tank, and you look at an obstacle, and you think, “I'm just going to run around that.” Or you start to try to climb it and you get halfway up and you think, “This is just too hard.” If you know that the option is doing 30 burpees, you're going to try really hard to get over that obstacle. And it comes as close or closer to giving you that sort of real challenge because you don't have, you have to not give yourself a way out.
Brock: So it's consequence?
Marion: Yeah. It's a consequence.
Brock: The world does lack a certain amount of consequence in daily life.
Marion: Yeah, that's a good way to put it. daily life.
Brock: I hadn't actually thought of that. It's not a punishment, it's incentive because there's no easy way, you're not going to get out of something. You also have to do something that maybe in a way is more achievable.
Marion: Achievable but worse.
Brock: Often worse and it's going to take longer.
Marion: And exhausting.
Brock: Like flipping a tire is maybe 45 seconds, but doing 45 burpees is going to take you two, three minutes maybe.
Marion: And it's going to exhaust you for the rest of the race. Like it's a cumulative effect. They just are tiring.
Brock: Which really is, that's the consequence of life. It does sort of accumulated and make you more and more tired as the day or the week goes on.
Marion: Yeah. Right, right.
Brock: Wow. We're really getting into like Spartan Race as a complete metaphor for life.
Marion: That is what we do every week. What I've been doing every week for like three years.
Brock: It's what we do every damn day.
Marion: It is! It's like it is a metaphor for life, and that is my life. Like every day, using that as a metaphor for life. When we put out an episode every week and it's like every, it's amazing. I've heard these guys talking about the breadth of guests, and for example we talk to a Broadway producer, who would, like in, you would not anticipate that this guy's going to be a Spartan. But when you hear about his passion for his craft, and the risks he took, and the work he put in in order to achieve his goals, and the way he looks at achieving goals, and the way he assesses it, and the way he gets out of his comfort zone in terms of becoming a success, it's the same. It's all the same. They're huge parallels.
Brock: So while we're on the subject of burpees and consequence, in your daily life, what would you say your burpees are?
Marion: Oh, that's a good question!
Brock: Yeah! I'm really putting the screws to…
Marion: Yeah. You are…
Brock: You got me in a philosophical mood now and I'm just going to hammer you.
Marion: And it's funny because we're talking, like I heard you talking to Johnny and Sefra and talked so much less about the race with them, and I'm like…
Brock: I don't know why, we just went this way.
Marion: Yeah. But it's cool. I like it and I'm going to think about it. So I don't have to set up an artificial sense of reality and challenge. My life, it's like you said in the beginning. I carry a lot of heavy equipment, I do that for my job, I try to really integrate my life into my fitness, into my challenges, and so I don't think, I don't need to have a metaphorical, my metaphorical burpees are like paying the mortgage. My metaphorical burpees are getting the kids on the school bus, getting awake in the morning. When they were babies, sort of getting up in the middle of the night to take care of your baby, those are the metaphors. Scraping, when you live in Vermont in the winter you know and you have to scrape the windshield, and shovel the drive, or else you can't get the car out and get to work. The burpees are the metaphor for that.
Brock: Yeah. Exactly.
Marion: Now we're getting really…
Brock: Now we're reverse, we're double metaphoring.
Brock: Is that possible? I think we just entered the Matrix.
Marion: Yes. Is this normal for your fitness podcast?
Brock: Absolutely not. Nothing today has been normal. Every episode of the Ben Greenfield Fitness Podcast that we've done today has been slightly, actually it's slightly philosophical. We've talked a lot about like gratitude, and we talked about foraging earlier. Yeah, it's been an interesting day. The Spartan group brings together a really cool brand of people I guess.
Marion: And I would say I actually there is, Spartan has become a thing of it's own. It's taken on a life of its own, but Joe De Sena who started it, he has kind of a yin and yang to his personality, and I think that's why there is like a ton of military people involved, and kombucha as a sponsor. That kind of gives you an idea and that's sort of what's represented in the podcast there is, it's a simple reality. It's like eating clean food, eating healthily, and being outside, but those are things that cross over in what we think of as being really different cultures but they're like really strong parallels and overlap.
Brock: Yeah. I've been to the Ironman World Championship several times now, and Ben and I were talking about this earlier, when you walk through the expo of Ironman, it's like Powerbar, Gatorade, Gu, all of these like sugary…
Marion: Yeah. Sugar, artificial flavor, artificial color. Yeah. That's not us.
Brock: And I just had two samples of kombucha and some bone broth before I came over here. It's like, it's so different.
Marion: Yeah. And I know, I produce the podcast, I'm not really involved in business decisions at Spartan, I but I do know from sort of the outside that there are some sponsorships that might have been more financially lucrative for the business that just do not align with us.
Brock: Yeah. I'm sure Pepsi would love to get in here, and probably pay a lot to get in here, but that's…
Marion: Right. And that's just not something that…
Brock: So it is a conscious decision?
Marion: Absolutely. Yeah, absolutely.
Brock: It's probably slightly synergy though too. Like but I'm sure bone broth companies aren't like banging down the door. It's not like you're turning away Pepsi to let in bone broth. There's got to be a bit of outreach going on.
Marion: You mean by Spartan, or…?
Brock: Actually, I don't need to…
Marion: Yeah. It's not really my area of.
Brock: It's not your jam.
Marion: Yeah, it's not my jam.
Brock: It is interesting though. And fascinating.
Brock: Okay. So to wrap you up, I'm going to ask you the same question that I did to Johnny, which was from all the episodes that you've done, the first thing that you remember that really, really touched you from one of the podcasts.
Marion: I'm going to do two 'cause I had a chance to prepare since I heard you ask Johnny. So one that was like a really surprising, like thought provoking one that I hadn't thought of before was [0:46:16] ______, who said, “If your greatest wishes had come true when you were young, that could have been the worst thing that ever happened to you.”
Brock: Oh, man! Yeah! I could be a German Shepherd right now.
Marion: Yeah. That's really funny!
Brock: Yeah. I wouldn't have a job, I'd be dead actually.
Marion: That's really funny. I never wished to be a German Shepherd.
Brock: Every day.
Marion: Yeah. So that's a great one. And that's a great one to remember when you have your heart set on something and it doesn't happen, to just give yourself that long view and think, “When I was 12, or when I was 15, or when I was 20, what I wished for, thank God that didn't happen.” Sometimes we feel that way because I wouldn't have the great things that I have now. So it's good when you're faced with that. And then the other one is, we hear it a lot, and we hear it said a lot of different ways but this idea that you are the average of your five best friends. It's really just the people that surround you, influence you. And it's very literally true and you want to choose people, and sometimes it's very tempting to choose people that are comfortable rather than people that challenge you or sort of bring you up that you're, you want to be the dumbest person in the room and that's the best thing you can be. And it's not an easy thing, it requires a lot of humility.
Brock: I was going to say, make a joke about that's why I live alone, but that seems really sad. I'm not going to make that joke. But, thank you. That was…
Marion: This is fun.
Brock: I'm glad it was fun. Really, I did make it hard on. We got really philosophical, but I appreciate, all your answers were amazing.
Marion: My pleasure. And so you're going to talk to the colonel next?
Brock: I'm going to if he's around.
Marion: He'll be back soon.
Brock: Alright we'll shuffle around and get to him. Alright. Well as it turns out, our final guest is doing the metaphorical burpees right now. So we're going to wrap up now, and I want to thank all of you guys from SpartanUp Podcast for coming and being on the Ben Greenfield Fitness Podcast and filling our heads, and ears, and hearts with so much awesome information and crazy metaphors about everything Spartan-esque. This is Brock Armstrong signing off from the 2017 World Championships here in Lake Tahoe. SpartanUp, everybody!
Live from a hotel room in Lake Tahoe at the 2017 Spartan World Championship race, Brock Armstrong interviews three of the personalities behind the SpartanUp podcast. Sefra Alexandra (seedhuntress.com), Johnny Waite, and producer Marion Abrams (madmotion.com). The conversation takes some surprisingly philosophical turns including enthobotany, dealing well with low points in your life and burpees as an analogy for life.