The M21: A Daily Meditation Challenge

M21 and Adventures in Mindfulness

A few weeks ago, I began the M21: a twenty-one-day mindfulness challenge. Jess Gumkowski of Yogi Triathlete and Goldyn Duffy offered the opportunity to start or deepen a daily meditation practice.


Twenty-one days for $21. I took a chance and bought in.


Meditating on Mt. Diablo


The practice of meditation and mindfulness is nothing new to me, but the consistent and daily implementation was lacking in my life. From what I know about behavioral psychology, having a financial stake in a given activity increases the odds one will value it more and use it. So will positive peer pressure and support.

Each day, Jess and Goldyn would post something new in the Facebook group. Every few days they would add a video explaining the importance of being mindful throughout the day and what it means to be fully present and experience each moment as it is happening. Jess and Goldyn also recorded guided meditations for us to try in order to get deeper into the practice.


Before we go any further, let’s clear up some of the confusion.

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My new eBook: Mind, Body, and Spirit

Mind, Body, and Spirit

Mind, Body, and Spirit eBook

I am excited to annouce the release of my free eBook: Mind, Body, and Spirit.


While a majority of my writing talks about the physical nature of endurance sports, that is only one third of the “three-legged stool.” I believe that balance in life involves attention to the Mind, Body, and Spirit.




Coming home from combat, many veterans talk about how they “came home a different person.” What does this mean? We may look and sound the same, but oftentimes the baptism by fire of combat changes us. We may see things that shatter our belief in how the world works. We might question our morals, our beliefs on right and wrong. It took many years to find myself again, but through the guidance of counselors, physical fitness, and a few spiritual teachers I was able to reconnect to my Mind, Body, and Spirit.

This eBook is free. No gimmicks, no catches. No credit card information or any of that stuff. Just download it and see if it resonates with you. Maybe it applies to aspects of your life. Maybe a friend of family member would benefit from it.


So go ahead, download the eBook and reconnect to your Mind, Body, and Spirit.


TFW- Mind, Body, Spirit (ebook)

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Where is your tribe?

It didn’t take long to realize how much I missed the Marine Corps. I got out in 2005 and found myself lacking. But what did I really miss? It wasn’t field day or uniform inspections.  Barracks life had its drawbacks, but everything that was undesirable about it, there was always someone to hang out with and go do something with. A couple years after being discharged, I seriously considered going back in.  But talking it over with a friend, I realized my decision was more about missing the guys than wanting to go back and live the Marine Corps infantry life.


Sebastian Junger's Tribe



Sebastian Junger recently published the book “Tribe.”  He’s a war journalist and author of the documentaries Restrepo and Korengal. In the book, he talked about how many veterans come back from war and fail to adapt to civilian life, fail to thrive, fail to find meaningful connections. He argues that many times this is diagnosed as PTSD, but in actuality is a crippling disconnection from others in their “tribe,” the brothers and sisters they forged tight bonds with during military service and deployments overseas. He states that what is missing is the tight social structures that were woven into the military lifestyle. Even people I didn’t like were important parts of my daily interactions because I relied on them to make our squad/platoon/company work. After a 7 month deployment aboard ship, I knew most of my platoon better than people in my biological family back stateside.

Posing with Todd Godwin during first deployment to Iraq.

Getting out, I struggled to find my footing in the social scene. Sure, I had friends from high school, but through no fault of their own, it was different somehow. How was it different? With my Marine Corps friends, we had seen each other at our best and very worst. We had lived in quarters so close and conditions so uncomfortable that I could tell people apart by their body odor- even at night.

And trust.

I knew many of these guys during Operation Phantom Fury, aka the second battle of Fallujah. We had seen each other through more than a few near death experiences and had literally put our lives at risk for each other. This requires a trust that my writing cannot do justice by attempting to describe. It goes beyond what the average American experiences. Tight bonds are formed when members of a group have a shared experience, and especially through life-or-death situations.

Mike and Cruz at the Haditha Dam

Haditha, Iraq in 2004

Maybe what veterans really need is a place to connect. We often find these places in community college and university level Veteran Clubs, VFWs, and in the VA clinics.

But while these organizations have their place, can we really say that vets are readjusting to civilian life if they are lacking meaningful connections within their own communities?

Historically, Vietnam Vets found themselves blamed, shunned, and harassed by the American public when they came home from war. Understandably, they formed groups with the only people they could trust: themselves. Today, the overwhelming majority of Americans are welcoming vets home, even if they disagree with the war.

Today, the pendulum of support has swung back. I remember taking a Peace and Conflict Studies class at UC Berkeley. My professor asked me to present on my experiences in Iraq. Despite the apprehension, I stood up and told my story.  I received a standing ovation from a room of students who were mostly against my war.


The communities here back home want to take us in, but how?


One thing many veterans bring to the table is leadership and the ability to maintain focus in difficult circumstances. Isn’t that exactly what boot camp was about? The ability to accomplish a mission and put aside personal discomfort is the defining skill that each service member learns in order for the military to function. The natural civilian counterpart to this is team sports. The stakes are not life and death, but the structure is the same: a group working together to accomplish what no one can do on their own.

After leaving the military, many vets transition to a community college. The top complaints I hear from student veterans are “they [classmates] just don’t get it” or “everyone is on their own program.” The team element is missing. So where do veterans find their new team?

Team RWB

Team RWB at Armed Forces Half


Team Red, White, and Blue strives to “enrich the lives of America’s veterans by connecting them to their community through physical and social activity.” By the number of chapters that spring up over the country each month, I’d say they have figured it out. But it’s not just for vets and active duty military. As I stated before, I believe true readjustment from military life means connecting with the community. That’s the beauty of Team RWB – they also include civilians who want to welcome their military brothers and sisters and throw down on a trail run, bike ride, triathlon, or yoga session. Many of the civilian members have military friends or family members. The majority just love to work out and join Team RWB “Eagles” carrying the flag on a Saturday run.

Membership is free. Eagles meet up through Facebook and email blasts, which often include discounts to local races. My previous experience of vets groups were usually barbecues and pub crawls. That was fun for a couple years, but it got old. I’ve been a part of the San Francisco and Solano chapters for a couple years now. I have joined my fellow Eagles for a handful of trails races, socials, and Crossfit sessions. There’s a highly contagious, positive vibe and plenty of encouragement  like- “you need to try this race” or “next weekend you’re coming with me on this awesome hike.”

After a couple of events, I knew I had found my tribe.


Athletes of Valor

Marines Jason Blydell and Alex Stone head up Athletes of Valor. Both of them recognize the importance of teamwork and structure for veterans. They also recognized that college athletes need effective leadership. Stone was an enlisted grunt. He left a lucrative career with Under Armor to launch Athletes of Valor because he saw the natural connection with vets and college sports. Blydell was an infantry officer and returned to the Boston area after his time on active duty. He saw Stone’s winning formula and joined him shortly thereafter.

Stone was an enlisted grunt. He left a lucrative career with Under Armor to launch Athletes of Valor because he saw the natural connection with vets and college sports. Blydell was an infantry officer and returned to the Boston area after his time on active duty. He saw Stone’s winning formula and joined him shortly thereafter.

As Blydell told me, Athletes of Valor’s mission is “to support transitioning servicemen and women from service to career by leveraging the power of collegiate sports.” It’s a win-win for college teams and veterans. For these vets, their tribe might not be an all-veteran community. It might be a college basketball team that hustling on the court together day in and day out.

Jason Blydell in Marines

Founder, Jason Blydell, during his active duty days.

Two of the things I like the most about Blydell and Stone’s approach with Athletes of Valor is that it brings value to both vets and the college teams. And doesn’t fall into the all-too-familiar trap of casting vets as a group of people needing pity. They recognized that by getting athletic veterans into college sports, the whole was greater than the sum of its parts. This is the very definition of synergy.

Athletes of Valor is currently working with over 1,000 veteran and active duty athletes who plan to pursue collegiate sports after their time in service and hundreds of coaches who are seeking veteran-athletes for their teams. They are excited to have 15 veterans committed to play college football in the fall of 2017 and the list is still growing.


It’s in our DNA

We are hard-wired for complex social interaction in groups. It’s a big part of what makes us human. Junger talks about how for the majority our history, humans were part of tight-knit bands that hunted, gathered, made war, and cared for each other. Modern society has a lot to offer with the modern medicine and technology, but some of our progress has made us more isolated from each other despite the exponential increase in population. In essence, more online convenience with things like Amazon Prime and GrubHub means we don’t need to interact with other humans as much. (Ironically, I ordered his book on Amazon.)


We don’t need to spend the rest of our lives like Uncle Rico, talking about “the good old days” and snapping our minds shut to the possibility of finding those groups after our time in service.

Uncle Rico

“If coach had put me in we would have gone to state.”

Putting yourself out there and finding your tribe is worth it. No, that’s understatement. Finding your tribe is the difference between withering and flourishing in life. No exaggeration. Whether it’s swimming the frigid San Francisco Bay waters with the Nadadores Locos, throwing down on an epic knitting session with the yarn club, or playing a round of golf with friends, your tribe is out there. And if it’s not – start it! Others are waiting for you to step up and bring them together.


Who is in your tribe?


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The Easiest Green Smoothie You’ll Ever Make

Ingredients for a green smoothie

Why Green Smoothies?

In order to support a heavy training load, I consume an abundance of vegetables. Preparing and eating this many vegetables is time-consuming, and I strive to streamline my days so I can fit in training, work, and family time. Blending vegetables in a  green smoothie is a great way to save time and get in the nutrients that our bodies crave. Many different recipes call for precise measurements and a lot of specific ingredients I never seem to have at the same time.


How many times have you given up on a recipe because you lacked one or two ingredients?

I don’t know about you, but the answer for me is way too many times. Sometimes I take care to cook a recipe following the directions in order to produce a great meal. But on a regular basis I want to make things easy to do so the odds increase that I will actually do them. That’s why I make my smoothies based on whatever is in the fridge. I usually make my smoothies like this:

The Steps to make an Easy Green Smoothie

  1. Take a leafy green (kale, collard green, chard, spinach). Wash them and chop (or rip)  into small pieces and put it in the blender.Washing leafy greens and carrots for a green smoothie.
  2. Add ice, a little water, the juice of a lemon, and blend. Using a few squirts of lemon juice concentrate will do the job, but won’t taste as fresh.Blender with leafy greens and lemon juice for a green smoothie.
  3. Cut up the avocado, fruits & vegetables and dump them in. The avocado will emulsify the smoothie so it is thicker and stays together. It is also a great source of fat and will keep you full. Common fruits & vegetables I use are carrots, cucumbers, berries, apples, pears, and melon. Aim to use only one or two fruits to keep the sugar content low. Green smoothies are about packing in the vegetables without spiking your insulin.Sliced vegetables on a cutting board for a green smoothie
  4. Give your dog a carrot slice. He’s hoping you will-  look at  him.
  5. Add any roots, seeds, herbs, probiotics, adaptogens and spices. Some won’t work well together, but the avocado, lemon and berries go a long way to mask other flavors. I usually throw in ginger, turmeric, kefir, chia seeds, hemp seeds, and maca root. Occasionally I add some almond butter, but it’s easy to go overboard with nut butters. If you’re feeling masochistic daring, throw in a clove or two of garlic. Again, it will be masked by the other ingredients in your green smoothie.
  6. Blend together and taste. Too thick? Add some water. Not thick enough? Toss in another avocado. If you are new to blending vegetables or eat a lot of sweets, expect it to taste a little bland. Avoid the temptation to throw too much fruit in there, your taste buds will adapt eventually.Blended green smoothie in a glass.
  7. Store in the fridge for a week or so. I go through jars of peanut butter and almond butter on a regular basis. A few months ago I started washing them out to reuse them and found they are the perfect size to store enough green smoothie for a day’s worth.Blended green smoothie stored in used peanut butter jars.


Keep it simple

Like I mentioned earlier, the end result won’t always be amazing. Sometimes it will be a bust, but it won’t take long before you develop a knack for what works well together and in what proportions. I’ve tried a few different things at times that haven’t worked like pureed pumpkin, broccoli, and cauliflower. I’m sure you’ll also stumble across a few things that don’t work along the way.


The point is this: eating healthy does not need to be overly complicated. Small, simple, everyday things add up and are sustainable for the long term. Think of these as utility meals – nothing fancy, but serving a purpose. The blast of nutrients you are drinking is a quick and easy way to get your body what it needs.


Remember, every sip is a victory.



What do you put in your green smoothies that works?

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3 Good Fitness and Nutrition Blogs I Follow

Books on fitness and nutrition in my bookshelf

You might have noticed I have been posting a bit more recently, thanks to  blogging challenge from ProBlogger. Over the last week in this challenge I have discovered a few other fitness and nutrition blogs that struck a cord with me. I am constantly reading what other fitness enthusiasts are up to and most of the time there is one small thing that makes a big difference in my life. Recently I’ve gotten into making zucchini noodles for a filling lunch or dinner and thanks to one of the blogs below I’ve found some other filling recipes.


It’s exciting to see what other people are doing to stay active and how they love what they do.


Good Reading

  1. The Magic of Running: The author, Katherine, provides race reviews and discusses what inspires her to run. She’s included a lot of photos to make her posts more engaging and set the scene. If you’re a road or trail runner, this is a blog you will enjoy.Katherine from Magic of Running fitness nutrition blog posing at a race booth.
  2. Run Away from Zombies: Yeah, you read that correctly. Here you’ll find running tips from Rebekah, who stated her blogs aims to “help new runners transition from excited, curious, and a little scared to experienced, limit-pushing, and successful.” Check it out and get a free Ebook designed to turn you into a better runner.Rebekah from "Run Away from Zombies" running. This is a great fitness and nutrition blog I follow.
  3. A Living Laboratory: While this is not a fitness blog, Cheri writes about healthy lifestyle and how to include more healthy food in your everyday life, among other topics. Check out her post on how to eat more zucchini.A logo from Living Laboratory's fitness nutrition blog on eating more zucchini.

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5 Lessons from Open Water Swimming

Last Saturday I continued my open water swim training in preparation for both Take the Rock and Ironman 70.3 Santa Cruz. The fog burned off and revealed stunning views of the Golden Gate, Alcatraz, and Marin County.

A screenshot of my open water swimming route from Aquatic Park to Fort Mason and back,
My group swam out to Fort Mason and back, creeping underneath the piers of the defunct Army base for a total of 2.2 miles. This was my third swim sans wetsuit, but because previous swims left me a bit hypothermic I was wearing a brand new neoprene swim cap. It was much warmer, but I discovered that while my mind was up to the task, my body was not.

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Lessons from Failure

As I was jotting down ideas for future posts a sinking feeling accompanied the realization that I had forgotten to meditate yesterday. In itself, skipping a day of meditation is nothing remarkable, but I had set out to complete a 100-day “gong” of meditating for at least 10 minutes each day. Everything was going well for 28 days. I set a reminder on my app and would either meditate at work or before  going to sleep each night. But with everything working out I suddenly missed a day and just like that my gong started over.


I hate failure. After failing an important task I am usually barraged by the laundry list of past failures. They ambush me and bring up past insecurities. My mind tells me many discouraging things like:

“Why even try if you know you won’t get it done?”


“Who do you think you are to attempt something like this anyways?”

My mind can speak to me with the intensity of a drill instructor and I can almost feel the knife-hand an inch my face. Shame, anger, fear and self-doubt are right there alongside these thoughts and the experience is unpleasant.


Past Mistakes

In the past, I tried to block failures out of my mind and forget about it as quickly as possible after they occur. After all, why would I want to feel bad? Just push it away and move on, right? Unfortunately when I have taken this approach it is not long until I experience a similar unwanted result.


During my time in the Marine Corps I learned to lift weights, but with mediocre form. Like many guys my age I wanted to keep lifting heavier weights as quickly as possible in order to get bigger. Slowing down to work on good form and doing mobility work to increase my range of motion meant I would have to take longer before picking up that next size dumbbell. Nope! I didn’t have time for that. I got away with it for the most part, likely due to my friends who could spot me and keep me from being too reckless. When I came back home it wasn’t long before I started getting hurt.


Each time I would pull my back out or injure my shoulder I would get angry and vow to try harder the next time. Except that next time I would do the exact same thing. Luckily, after so many injuries and time out of the gym I was finally afforded the chance to rethink my failed approach to lifting weights and getting in shape in general. Perhaps it was time to make a change.


Why failure is important


It helps us become better.

Many times failing early can be a great gift.  As Augustín Fuentes points out on, “[f]ailing at something acts to demonstrate limitations, to force us to rethink or reevaluate how we do things, and to learn how to do them better.” Sometimes we get lucky and “succeed” for awhile and can’t point to why it is working out. When things fail it can be a great time to take a closer look at what can be improved. If I hadn’t gotten hurt lifting, I might still be doing the same mediocre workouts and never getting in great shape.


“Failure is the key to success; each mistake teaches us something.” –Morihei Ueshiba, Aikido Master.


We will never achieve great success unless we are willing to fail.

The willingness to try something outside of comfort zone his how growth occurs. Playing it safe and never reaching high results in stagnation. When we overreach and “fail,” we have actually grown in experience and can apply that to the next time we attempt something great.  When I signed up to run a Half-ironman with no previous experience in the sport, I was willing to try something way outside of comfort zone because it called to me. There was no guarantee I would be able to do it, but the idea of finishing the race was enough for me to roll the dice.


It builds character


“Failure’s not a bad thing. It builds character. It makes you stronger.” -Billy Dee Williams (aka Lando Calrissian)


Lando failure

Failing to befriend a Wookie.


Thanks, Lando. He obviously learned that selling out Han Solo in Cloud City was a weak move. The he built some character and went on to blow up the second Death Star. But seriously, building character usually involves stepping outside of the ego to see ourselves for who we truly are: imperfect beings that can grow when given the chance to be humbled.


I’ve had the opportunity to be humbled many times in life thus far. One of my top three was trying to bench my one rep max the first week home after being discharged. It’s important to note that my one rep max was from a month prior with no lifting in between. I loaded up the bar  (with no collars) and when I discovered I could not lift it back off my chest, I unintentionally dumped the weights off each side of the bar with a crash and proceeded to fall into the mirror on the wall. Good stuff. As everyone in the gym stopped and stared, my ego took a much needed hit and I learned a valuable lesson about periodization and muscle atrophy. Huzzah!


Though it isn’t fun to be humbled, accepting failure as a lesson is a powerful way to advance ourselves. I decided to restart my 100-day gong of meditating for 10 minutes each day. I hope I’ll make it this time, but if not there will be another lesson to learn and I am okay with that.


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Anxiety and Depression: Working it Out

Two of the common difficulties for veterans readjusting to civilian life are anxiety and depression. Sometimes the feelings come after a major life change like exiting the military or returning from war. Other times they are longer lasting symptoms that can accompany other problems and warrant a diagnosis of PTSD. Either way, anxiety and depression can be a heavy burden to carry.



The Merriam-Webster dictionary offers a couple definitions for anxiety, one being:

“an abnormal and overwhelming sense of apprehension and fear often marked by physiological signs (as sweating, tension, and increased pulse), by doubt concerning the reality and nature of the threat, and by self-doubt about one’s capacity to cope with it.”


Anxiety Sets In

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The Beginning

Transitioning home

In 2012 I began a new chapter in life. I decided to deal with my PTSD in healthier ways and move forward. I became a father in November of 2013 and celebrating the birth of my daughter Adeline has turned November from a month of loss and grief into celebration and life.

Sharing an ice cream cone with my smiling daughter.


Another big turning point in life came in the fall of 2014 while on vacation in Hawaii. My family and I happened to be there the same week as the Ironman World Championship in Kona. The day of the race we watched the athletes speed past our hotel on their bikes. Something about seeing this live and watching people who had spent money to swim 2.4 miles, then bike 112 miles, then RUN A MARATHON immediately after that both inspired and terrified me. A tiny voice in my head dared to suggest that Continue reading

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