Review: “The Rise”

Sarah-Lewis-The-Rise-coverLast May while on my trip to Nicaragua, I was having a long conversation on a lazy breezy warm afternoon with one of the group members, Cecilia, at the local surf shack. We were discussing Man Meets Goat and my personal journey over the past few years taking risks and learning to compete. It made Cecilia think about the book she was reading at the moment called “The Rise” by Sarah Lewis. Later that day she brought her copy of the book to dinner for me to take a look at. The author’s name sounded so familiar and it turned out I had seen her TED Talk and even blogged about it. Lewis spoke about the importance of the “near win” in our lives as a both a learning point but also motivation to continue striving for greatness.

Way too many months later, I finally have finished reading “The Rise”. It is very well written with a flowery prose that feels more like an extension of Lewis’s speech rather than a traditional tome. The through line of her narrative is the pursuit of mastery. She opens up the book with a prologue about attending archery practice with the women’s team at Columbia University. There she witnessed these athletes practice shot after shot as they aimed to not just hit the bullseye once, but to hit it over and over. Their mastery of archery will never truly be complete as there are so many obstacles to overcome (i.e. technique, wind, speed, angle, etc.) and so perfection is always just out of reach.

Throughout the narrative Lewis uses a wide range of human endeavors to illustrate her thesis. She speaks about Paul Taylor, a famous modern dance choreographer, Ben Saunders, an explorer trying to cross the North Pole, Samuel Morse, who despite his success with telegraph dedicated his life to his art, and many more.

Lewis highlights through all of these examples the importance of grit. But she also recognizes the role that failure plays in our lives and also surrender. One of the highlights in the story of Ben Saunders many attempts to reach the North Pole is his acceptance of what we can and cannot change in our lives. There are sometimes rocks in the middle of our path. We can either complain and blame the rock for not being able to move forward or we can force ourselves to adapt, create and be flexible enough to learn new skills and talents so that we can climb over the rock.

The book drifts from sport to art to even science. Based on a chapter in her book, Sarah Lewis explains in this short video the value of being a deliberate amateur who experiments, explores and plays:

Since finishing the book, I have already lent it onto one friend who is working with people in recovery and helping them understand the concept of mastery in our lives. I have also recommended it to my yoga instructor as the stories seem analogous to the practice on the mat of constantly working on a pose.

Lewis alludes to the painting that under close inspection reveals layers upon layers of paint from the artist’s unstoppable pursuit of mastery. Our lives are like that painting if we allow ourselves to keep adding new layers as we search for individual greatness.

60 Day Challenge – Identifying the Goal

My gym recently kicked-off a 60-day nutrition challenge. Last week was all about establishing a baseline and prepping for the next two months. It was a time to get to know others in the group, read through the booklet, and ask questions. The challenge is being led by Emily Field, who is a registered dietician that works with CrossFit Kingfield. She laid out the rules and will be helping everyone throughout the process as we remove trigger foods (i.e. refined carbohydrates, industrial seed oils, sugar, artificial sweeteners and alcohol) and focus on clean eating.

Over the last few days I have been thinking what I want to accomplish with this challenge. The thought I kept coming back to was that 60 days isn’t enough. Since July 2011 when I started going to CrossFit classes I have made a huge amount of progress. I entered the gym not being able to do a pull-up and tripping over myself while jumping rope. Now my technique for my lifts has greatly improved, I’m doing double-unders and hand stand pushups, and regularly doing all the WODs at the prescribed weight. However, despite all this progress, I haven’t seen the full physical transformation that I have wanted. I definitely look better now at age 33 than I ever did in my 20s (mostly thanks to a full beard), but the physical changes have plateaued and to a degree so have my results in the gym.

I realize the main contributing factor to this is that I have never truly dedicated myself to my nutrition. We have all heard that it’s 80% diet, 20% exercise. Well I have done the 21-day sugar detox and gone strict Paleo for a month or so at a time, but I have never committed to a sustainable diet. My eating comes and goes in waves and thus I haven’t seen the true transformation that I want. The fact is that you can’t do the diet 80% of the time, it has to be 100% all year round.

With that in mind, I have decided that I am going to make this a 100-day challenge. I want to push myself to go beyond the comfort levels and not resort to the typical ebbs and flows of my eating habits. You can’t do a sugar detox and than go back to cookies and beer. You just to nullify your results.

With these 100 days, my goal is to lower my body fat percentage to below 10% by May 15th. In the past when I have done body composition assessments, my body fat percentage was around 15-17%. I believe given my current weight that I am probably hovering around there still. I am going to try and do the Bod Pod within the next week or so to check. So why 10% or less? Well I want to be in incredible shape this summer. I want to see my abs by Memorial Day and feel good about ditching my shirt when I do the “Murph” workout.

I believe eliminating the trigger foods in my gym’s challenge rules will put me on the right path. I also anticipate that Emily will be able to help steer me as needed towards hitting the right amount of daily macros.


In addition to Emily and the coaching staff at CrossFit Kingfield, I have also built a network over the years that I can look to for support. I decided to reach out to Miles Dombrovoski, whom is a bodybuilder that I met through Los Campeones Gym. As someone who has much success losing and gaining weight for his physique competitions I asked him for some tips. Miles said, “I would just recommend adding 15-20 minutes of cardio after your workouts and to really track and pay attention to your carb intake. You’ll need to be in a caloric deficit to lose body fat, but it doesn’t need to be extreme especially if you’re doing it over a few months

I also spoke to Kirk DeWindt, a trainer and competitive runner that I have worked with in the past. He echoed Miles’ advice saying, “I would say adding in two days of endurance training  to endure a higher caloric deficit would be beneficial – focusing on running if you can. Strength training and nutrition is key but I do think you’ll progress faster if you stick in some cardio/running work of 45 minutes plus twice a week. I’d also potentially consider carb cycling as I have seen clients get some great results with this. It takes some tracking but it can definitely be worth it.”

With this Minnesota winter, even despite the lack of heavy snow, I’m not much for outside running at the moment. However, I do have a rowing machine at home and plan on doing some cardio/endurance workouts on the erg on Tuesday and Thursday mornings. When it warms up a bit more outside, than I’ll be ready to hit the pavement. (And I’ll need to as I committed to running a 1/2 marathon with some friends in Chicago on May 22nd.)

In thinking about this goal, I’ve attempted to not get lost down the rabbit hole on the internet looking at countless articles about the subject. I am, however, reading “Level Up Your Life” by Steve Kamb, founder of, and was inspired by the story of his friend who set a similar goal in anticipation of his wedding.  My big takeaway from the article was how I came up with the 100-days and the metric. His friend, Saint, was successful because he set a specific goal by a specific date – again mine is to drop my body fat percentage below 10% by May 15, 2016.  Saint gave himself 5 full months and started at 203 pounds, 21% body fat. He also put $500 on the line to hold himself accountable. Ultimately, he accomplished his goal ahead of schedule and was ripped for his honeymoon. He also was showed true dedication, made no excuses and changing his mindset.

I  am really interested to see how committing to my nutrition for a long period of time translates into my performance in the gym, energy levels at work, sleep and mental clarity. The aesthetic goal of wanting to drop my body fat and to look good naked might be considered shallow but I really don’t care. I am doing this for myself.

The countdown has begun and you know that I will continue to share my journey – the good, the bad and the ugly.


60 Day Challenge – Baseline

February 1st marked the start of my gym’s 60 day challenge – 60 days to Kingfield strong. In defining the challenge, the coaches wrote the following, “One of the single greatest things about our community is the freedom to be you. We come in all different shapes and sizes and from different places and experiences and we all want different things. Which means that #KingfieldStrong is yours. Whether it’s increasing your three rep max front squat, being able to do a pull­up, getting your diet dialed in so you have energy throughout the day, you shed a few (or 20!) pounds, or you get 188 reps on the one minute 5 pound bicep curl time trial (the current record is 187), own it. Define your #KingfieldStrong and get after it.”

In the weeks leading up to the challenge the coaches from both CrossFit Kingfield and Kingfield Endurance shared their own stories, which you can read by clicking on the links:

I was undecided as to whether to participate. I have done two sugar detoxes now and seen the success that comes from a maintained diet.  (I use the word “diet” not in the sense of anticipated weight loss, but just daily food intake.) My first sugar detox led to me having more energy, improved mental wellness and better sleep. So I was intrigued by the prospect of what change 60 days in a row, compared to just 21, could bring about. Further, I know my success in these type of challenges is often due to having others by my side versus going solo. On the other hand, I didn’t want the challenge to be a distraction as I have seen my competitions often can become.

After talking more with the coaches, I realized that the challenge would be big on community and would be about the day-to-day and not an event. Hitting my morning workouts and eating right with just a more concentrated effort was going to be the backbone of this challenge and easy to integrate without causing a disruption, outside of some denied cravings and having to pass on having a beer or wine when out with friends.

The challenge has a very straight forward set of rules:

  1. Participate in pre­-challenge and post-challenge assessments. During the first and last week of the Challenge, record current body weight, current body measurements and results from WOD.
  2. Commit to removing trigger foods from the diet for 60 days (i.e. refined carbohydrates, industrial seed oils, sugar and artificial sweeteners, and alcohol).
  3. Commit to three Kingfield classes per week and two at home workouts (or some combination of five workouts per week)
  4. Engage with other Challenge participants via social media in private #KingfieldStrong Challenge Facebook group as much as possible.

To get started, everyone participating in the challenge did the pre-challenge assessment yesterday. This was to establish a baseline, which is important as success is hard to measure when you have nothing to compare it to. Each person will have their own metrics that they look towards but you need to know where you started to appreciate where you progressed.

baselineSince change is measured not only on the scale, the coaches met with us one-on-one to not only measure body weight but also body composition metrics (i.e. waist, hips, chest, neck, thighs). They also took our “before” photos – front, side and back. I weighed in at 167.6 pounds.

In addition to the scale, photos and tape, they measured our athletic performance during the regularly scheduled classes by having us complete the following baseline workout (I’ve noted my results):

  • 3-rep max Front Squat = 165 lbs
  • 1,000 meter Row = 03:47
  • 10-minute AMRAP “Cindy” (5 pull-ups, 10 push-ups, 15 squats) = 7 rounds + 25 reps

I felt good during the workout, but not great. I think I could have gone up another 5-10 pounds in the front squat but was short on time. In terms of the row, that felt pretty strong.  “Cindy” however saw me not moving as quickly as I would have liked. As a sugar detox came to an end on Friday and I knew the challenge was about to start on Monday, I used the weekend to enjoy some drinks, some flapjacks with butter and syrup, and lots of tortilla chips. Ending Sunday night with a twist on an Old Fashioned made with rum probably contributed to me not doing all my push-ups unbroken.

Now, I am not making excuses for my performance. Instead they are the reality of what happens when you spend a weekend welcoming all these triggers (i.e. refined carbohydrates, alcohol, sugar and artificial sweeteners) into your diet. It revealed itself for sure.

So with the assessment complete, the remainder of this week is all about prepping. I got ahead of the game and made an egg bake and roasted a ton of sweet potatoes on Sunday afternoon. I’m also taking the time to think about what I want to gain from this challenge. I’ve shared my goal for the year, but I think it is important that I set an intention for the next 60 days beyond just completing the challenge. What will be my metric of success? What will make me feel Kingfield strong?  I will share with you my thoughts next week as the challenge kicks into high gear.

Egg Casserole

Meal prepping is my savior when it comes to keeping on track with my eating, reducing my stress and saving me time. It is absolutely a must when it comes to lunch as it saves me from temptations of Jimmy John’s and Panera. But I have also found that during the weekdays, it is a huge help to prep breakfast for the week. I go to the 6am class at my CrossFit gym on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays; so being able to come home after and be able to just grab something out of the fridge rather than having to grab the frying pan is ideal.

I have made quiches and egg bakes before but when cooking this past weekend I wanted to eliminate the crust / potatoes from the recipe as I am doing a sugar detox. After consulting a few cookbooks and recipes to get a sense of needed portions, the end result was this egg casserole dish that yields 6 servings. It is super easy to prep and holds up well all week:


  • 12 Eggs
  • 1 cup Whole Milk
  • 14 oz Canned Diced Tomatoes
  • 1/2 cup Shredded Sharp Cheddar
  • 8 oz Pancetta

Prep Time

  • 10 minutes

Cook Time

  • 40 minutes


  1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.
  2. Combine the tomatoes (drained), cheese and pancetta in a bowl and then spread the ham mixture evenly out into a lightly sprayed (I use coconut oil) 9 x 13 baking dish.
  3. Whisk the eggs and milk and then pour over the ham mixture.
  4. Bake uncovered for 35-40 minutes.

When it comes out of the oven it should have a gorgeous golden brown color with specs of red and pink. For me the best part of the bite is the tart of the canned diced tomatoes. I have actually been having this casserole each morning with white rice – a twist on egg fried rice. I chop up the casserole like it is an egg scramble and mix in the rice. It is a great start to the day. I actually think I work harder to beat the clock in the WOD just so that I can get home sooner for this dish.

I found that one casserole yields 6 servings (approximately 2 eggs per serving). I did the math and 1 serving has 24 grams Fat, 4 grams Carb and 22 grams Protein. The pancetta is a fatty ham to be throwing into the mix and the main cause for the high fat content in the dish. You can easily substitute in regular baked ham or chopped sausage or ground beef to lower the fat content. (A warning though if you do go with sausage or ground beef, make sure to brown it first in a frying pan and drain. You don’t want excess liquid in your dish.)

So in 50 minutes I had six breakfasts ready to go for the week. You can call me an egghead, but that’s just plain smart.

Goal Setting for 2016 – Part 2

“Our goals can only be reached through a vehicle of a plan, in which we must fervently believe, and upon which we must vigorously act. There is no other route to success.” – Pablo Picasso

Last week I spoke about the goal setting workshop that I attended at CrossFit Kingfield. Coaches Danny and Emily led myself and the other attendees through a very thoughtful process of identifying the elements in our lives that acts as support or barriers to us achieving our goals. We also discussed the actions we take each day that advance or hinder these goals.

While I was clear on what was working and what was not in my life, I still wasn’t able at the end of the workshop to focus in on what my specific, measurable, actionable, realistic, time specific goal would be for 2016.  Danny generously offered to meet one-on-one to talk through the worksheet he had created and see if we can get clear.

When we sat down together, Danny started the conversation by asking, “What was the best you felt all year (2015)?” Surprising myself a little, I responded immediately that it was when I did the 21-day sugar detox. I was sleeping better, hitting my morning workouts, more clear-headed at work and my energy levels were pretty consistent throughout the day.

We then talked about what I wrote down as my support and barriers. Danny honed in on the elements that affected my day-to-day job – listening skills and organization. I shared that the past year had been successful at work but that I was working 65+ hours per week and that there had been a sharp learning curve. My teammates were supportive but looking for me to be more diligent with client communications and get ahead of my projects. With so much of my week being dedicated to my job and the priority it played in my life, Danny helped me identify my goal for 2016 – to make noticeable improvement at work.

goal_setting_muhammad_aliHow was that going to happen? We went over the idea of checkpoints throughout the year. In 3 months, I would refine my organizational skills and develop 2 new ways to improve my listening skills. In 6 months, I would develop my own metric to measure my progress at work (such as how long it took me to complete projects). In 9 months, I would start to more closely track my hours at work to see if I had become more efficient – could I get more done in less time?  And in 12 months, my efforts would be realized by being able to clearly started for myself that I was successful in creating an efficient system to become a better professional. This could also be measured by year-end performance review.

I was expecting that a conversation with my CrossFit coach about goal setting was going to revolve around identifying lifts and movements, like hitting a new personal record in the deadlift or being able to maintain a handstand hold for 15 seconds. Yet, here we were discussing how the gym was going to supplement my success at the office. This was a huge flip in my thinking.

Over the past few years, my interests have been heavily skewed towards what was going on at the gym, what competitions I was preparing for, and trying to figure out the best programming to get bigger and stronger. Last year, with the change in my position at work, the gym was competing for my time and focus. More and more, I had to adjust my schedule to make sure work could be my priority, which I happily wanted it to be. After a few years of being “fine” about my job, now it was front and center.

Through our conversation, Danny helped free me from the pressure I was putting on myself that the gym needed to be more than I really could afford. My job is no to be a professional CrossFitter. I have no misguided ambitions that I am suddenly going to the Games. I need to start thinking about how the gym fit into my long-term vision of health and wellness. We agreed that moving forward I am going to hit the gym on Monday, Wednesday and Friday mornings at the 6am class and go to the Saturday class at 9am. I would also maintain my weekly yin yoga class at Yess Yoga.

Now his one caveat was that whenever I am at the gym, I should give it all my effort and attention. No thinking about work or my dating life or any other obligations. For that hour I should go full force and commit to being truly present.

With that said, maintaining good habits will be paramount. I am going to eat clean and focus on consistently going to bed on time and drinking enough water, etc. While I still want the bigger chest and six-pack abs, I’ve got to let those come from being diligent about what I eat and drink and now that they don’t happen overnight. I am also going to put the CrossFit competitions on the back burner in 2016. It causes too many ebbs and flows in my training and diet as I gear up for one and then deload rather than consistent training throughout the year. Plus finding teammates, scheduling extra training sessions, etc. just end up eating too much of my time and energy.

I am excited to see the progress that I make at my job with this mindset and approach. If I can gain back some extra hours in my week through being more organize and efficient at my job, than I will have more time to relax and maintain my mental wellness, along with the physical. The before and after should be revealing.

Here’s to a successful year!