Mar 27, 2015

Take Another Step

I believe in putting yourself out there. I believe you only grow when you leave your comfort zone and challenge your perceived limits. And In many respects this video might be my most ambitious adventure yet. 

I hope you watch. I hope you enjoy. And if it resonates with you... I hope you share.
Many thanks to the amazing people who helped put this together.

Nov 17, 2014


I had the chance to run in Iceland earlier this year. It was amazing, but as you'd expect, it was tough. I twisted my ankles on the volcanic rock and moss covered terrain so many times it was starting to mess with my head. One minute I'd think "this sucks, why are you doing this? It's ridiculous." and the next It'd be " shut the hell up! Stop complaining, just take a look around at the scenery, soak it in. You're so lucky to be here." 

Of all the things I've learned from doing ultramarathons, the most important has to be the power of my mind. You tend to go to some dark places during these runs and you're going to face a ton of self doubt, self pity, and negativity in your thinking. The trick, however, is to focus on changing the words you tell yourself. Once you can learn to do that, you can change the entire experience... And so it goes with life.

When I ran the 900km Bruce Trail this autumn, it wasn't just about setting a new record. That just helped give the run a timeline. I'm generally not motivated by extrinsic factors. I knew there'd be a lot of self discovery along the way, and that's much more valuable to me.

Since running it, one of the most common questions I've been asked is, "what did you think about while you're out there running for so long?" And there's no way I could honestly answer that without going into some very serious subject matter. I thought about a LOT of things. Good and bad. Positive and negative. Important and nonsense. 

But I definitely thought about words. About how they've shaped me. About the ones I've given power to, the ones I've ignored, and the ones that I listen to when I'm in the dark places.

So while I was out running for ten-and-a-half days, I came up with this: 

The three little words that changed the direction of my life

“You have cancer”

I’ll never forget sitting in my doctor’s office, hearing them ring out in the still air
The inflections in his voice when he spoke, the faint hint of an accent, the pitch and volume of the words
Strangely though, I have absolutely no recollection of what he said next  
My mind had instantaneously blacked out everything else
All I could hear were those three words repeating on a perpetual loop

You have cancer. You have cancer. You have cancer…

And yet, they’re just words
We say and hear thousands of them every day
Maybe it’s not necessarily the worlds themselves
Rather, how we interpret, rationalize, internalize, and translate them that give them their power

Besides, they say actions speak louder than words


Then again

There are words that are so loud they’ll bring you to your knees, even if spoken at a whisper
The loudest words of all don’t even make a sound
They’re the words we tell ourselves
And they’re what determine the actions we take---or don’t take—in this world

And for a very long time, the words I told myself weren’t what I truly believed
I was living a lie
I told myself I could do anything. I told myself I had no fear
But deep inside I was terrified. Deep inside I didn’t feel good enough
Deep inside I was fragile and wearing a mask of false bravado

And my mask, my ego, was the size of a boat
And not some rickety row boat, like "old man and the sea"
But a ship, colossal in size, perched arrogantly afloat
Upon the ocean of life—unyielding and unsinkable

But history has taught us that “unsinkable” doesn’t exist
A breached hull can send even the biggest ship spiraling into the abyss

And it’s there, in the depths of our own misery and darkness, clawing our way through adversity, that our eyes are forced to adjust and we’re finally able to see things for what they are
Who we really are

I only know this now, because I’ve been to that place
The one where your fa├žade’s come crashing down all around
And what I’ve found is that when you truly hit rock bottom…
It’s the place so deep you have to look up to see ground
What I’ve found is a beautiful truth
Fear will hold you down, but courage will set you free
And it is so profound to realize we don’t have to be bound by any particular words or fears

You have cancer... You’re afraid. It’s okay to be afraid. You have resolve. You can be brave. You have perseverance. You can get through this. You can get through anything

We don’t have to be ashamed of our fears
But if we ever want to pursue our passions, we need to summon the courage to take a step
We need to tell ourselves, and then convince ourselves, to just "start"
Start wherever we are. Start with fear, with uncertainty, and with trepidation. Start with a wavering voice and trembling hands.

Start wherever we are. Start however we can. Take a step... start

Nov 19, 2013

The Kalahari

I've traveled a long way on foot, both in training, and doing ultramarathons in remote parts of the world. And I've come to realize the most important aspect of the journey isn't the actual physical distance I cover. It's the emotions I uncover. Because when we're struggling, any of us, and on our own in the middle of nowhere, the facades--what we put on while others watch--come crashing down.

Adversity brings out the truth. It exposes the most raw, vulnerable and honest version of us. It can be unsettling, though, to look that deep into our soul and see who we really are. But it's also profound. In fact, I think it's necessary, because it's where we find our real voice. So we'd better come to peace with that version of us; and learn to respect and trust it. In the end, it's the only journey that matters.

South Africa, and the Kalahari Desert in particular, will always have a special place in my heart. It reminded me that there is beauty--so much beauty--in the struggle. I needed that reminder.

The Kalahari Augrabies Extreme Marathon is a self-sufficiency run held over six legs in seven days with set distances for each day, ranging from 28km to 75km.  Participants must carry all their supplies, clothes and compulsory safety/survival equipment for the duration of the event.

May 27, 2013

The Sights & Sounds of Rock Bottom

Sometimes things spiral downwards until we find ourselves at rock bottom. And sometimes it’s at rock bottom that we really find ourselves.

I haven’t shared this story with many people so figured it was about time...

It was a month into my six-months of chemotherapy—my spirits were already low given the surgeries, finding out the cancer had spread, and having to start chemo—when things got even worse. 

I’d completed treatment for the day and was back at home, but the usual nausea I’d been dealing with just kept escalating to the point where I’d become the sickest I’ve ever been in my life. I was delirious from the fever and my body felt like it was fighting a losing battle against gravity. I could barely move, even to throw up. And there were more than a few times when I thought “this is it, I’m going to die.”

At some point in the early evening I found myself in the hospital emergency room. They weren’t sure what was happening and wanted to keep me there for monitoring. But there wasn’t a room available so I had to wait. And I did. For several hours I just sat there, slumped over in a wheel chair, because I was too weak to stand, in a hallway off to the side. A large blanket was draped over my body and I was sporting a surgical mask, lest my compromised immune system catch any hospital germs. All that were visible were my eyes, and I can’t help but wonder what they were saying to the outside world. I know what I felt on the inside...

It was one of the lowest points of my life. I was only 36 years old. I’d been an athlete most of my life. I’d never been sick before cancer... and look at me now. This could be it. I might not make it out of here.

My brain wasn’t necessarily in the most rational state, and some of the day is still a blur, but I distinctly remember (amid the delirium, pity-party and anger) two little words starting to form in the back of my mind. They told me to “rise up.” At first it was only a background thought, but they just kept getting louder and more convincing, until eventually I had no choice but to listen.

The next time the nurse came over to check on me, I told her was going home. A few nurses and a doctor later, trying to convince me to stay, I was signing a waiver form so I could be released. And as I struggled to my feet, shuffled the hell out of there as fast as I could, I heard those words again.

It took a few days, but the fever broke and I started to get better. Now I only had five more months of chemo to endure. Something I knew I could handle no problem if I just kept listening to my new mantra.
What I’d realized, sitting in that wheelchair, was that I’d been doing things on cancer’s terms. It was about freaking time I started doing them on my own. Leaving the hospital might not have been the smartest choice, and I’m not suggesting anyone else should do it, but in that moment it was the right choice for me. I needed to let cancer know that I’d fight it with the most powerful weapon I had—my thoughts. I needed to... rise up.

There’s still not a day that goes by where I don’t tell myself those two words.

Mar 28, 2013

Still Running from Cancer

It’s been a few weeks since I finished the Atacama Crossing so this post is obviously overdue. 

But I wanted to wait, because in many respects I hadn't quite finished the journey yet.

The day before I left to fly out to Chile I met with my Oncologist. She said that there were some concerns about a recent blood test I’d done and the results showed that my CEA levels—one of their cancer markers—had risen pretty dramatically. She suggested that it could be an indication that cancer had returned. Mostly it meant I needed to go through more testing, including a PET scan, as soon as possible so we could know for sure.

I’m not going to lie… I was pretty freaked out… Maybe even VERY freaked out. I walked out of the cancer clinic riding an emotional roller coaster; my mind was all over the place. And for a few seconds I actually thought about not going to Chile.

But I did what I've so often done in my life; I put on my “stubborn” hat. I decided the freaking scan could wait until I got home, because I had 250km of desert to cross! In the grand scheme of things, waiting another few weeks for testing probably wouldn't make too much difference—and luckily the doctor agreed with me.

So off I went. Uncertain about what I was heading into, and even more uncertain about what was in store for me when I got home. One thing I did know, however, was that a week in the desert would sort out my head, and put things into perspective, one way or another.

The Atacama Desert is easily one of the most remarkable places on earth. It is beautifully rugged, almost to the point of being surreal. Trying to explain what it’s like to run across it is a bit anti-climatic, and doesn't give it the justice it deserves. But I will say the combination of endless coral-like salt flats, sand dunes, river cannons, and other general ass-kicking terrain, made for one of the most challenging adventures of my life.

I just tried to soak it all in. Day one of the race was a quick but brutal reminder of exactly that... Slow the hell down and take a look around you!  The altitude, the landscape, and what was weighing on my mind the most—do I have cancer again?—made my 8kg backpack feel like it weighed a hundred times more.

That’s exactly what I did. I slowed down, took some time to look around, to think, to breathe, and to enjoy the moment. It was the right decision. What I experienced from then on was absolutely beautiful, fulfilling, and life altering.

It also helped that the other competitors were amazing—and they inspired me every day. The race organizers, doctors and volunteers were so encouraging and helpful. These events are made that much more special by the people involved. And I did form a very special bond with the people in my tent. They helped me in a way that I don’t think I’ll even be able to fully thank them for—they were exactly what my soul needed. In particular my friend Matt—we met in the Gobi Desert back in 2011—because we spent so much time out on the course together; including almost the entire long stage (76km). It’s a day I’ll never forget, because it was so therapeutic for me. At that point in time it was probably the most beneficial place on earth I could be.

And believe it or not, by the end of the race I was actually feeling stronger and better than I had at the start. My mind was in a much better place, and I’d decided that I was ready for whatever life wanted to throw at me.

But then I got home.

I think there’s often a letdown after adventures of this nature. You invest so much time and energy into them and when it’s over, after the adrenaline high wears off, there’s almost a sense of loss. It’s a bitter sweet feeling.

Plus, I had other things to worry about. Like a PET scan. The scan itself is not a big deal; it just means not eating for a few hours and another trip to a hospital. The worst part is waiting for the results, which take another week to get.

So that’s where I was this morning... Meeting with my Oncologist again—to get the results from last week’s scan.

The first words out of her mouth were… “There’s no sign of cancer.”


I still have to do some a bit more testing over the next few weeks just to be sure. And I’ll have to visit her again sooner than planned, but it’s the best news I could have received today. I'm happy, I'm relieved, and I'm grateful.

And I finally feel like my Atacama Crossing 2013 is over.

Photos from Racing the Planet
by Shaun Boyte