SGPT: Tell us about yourself?
Etienne: My name is Etienne Tremblay, left on the picture, and I am a 36 years old French Canadian from Montreal, Quebec (a.k.a. Frenchy at the 20X!). I have two young boys, 6 and 2-½ years old, and a wonderful wife. I am a legal counsel for a major construction company with headquarters in Omaha, Neb. I currently work full time as a project counsel on a big roadway/interchange project in Montreal.
As far as I can remember, I was fascinated with stories of expeditions on remote mountains (books or documentaries like Into thin Air and Touching the Void) in which people would push their limits and accomplish extraordinary feats. I admired these people, but I thought they were a different breed of people. I thought you were either born with it, or not. It was not for a small and asthmatic guy like me, born in an intellectual family. In more recent years, as war broke out and as books and movies about Navy SEALs like Lone Survivor and Fearless came out, it reignited my fascination about the type of character and the mental toughness it takes to go through that type of training and succeed as an elite warrior.
And then, about a year ago, right after my first Spartan Sprint race, I stumbled upon Mark Divine’s Unbeatable Mind and SEALFIT, and later on SealGrinder PT, which actually teach you how to train your body, your mind and develop mental toughness, I was hooked! I committed to training.
SGPT: Did you have an athletic background growing up?
Etienne: I would say active but not athletic. Like a good Canadian, I played ice hockey many years at recreational level. To this day, I never let asthma prevent me from doing sports. Later on I turned my focus toward more adrenaline fueled action sports. Freeride skiing and downhill mountain biking became my passions. I enjoyed overcoming my fear, commit to a line, jump or drop and the immense feeling of relief and pride once I made it through!
SGPT: How did you train for the 20X event?
Etienne: I built up to the following regimen peaking for the last 4 weeks prior to the event: morning ritual with push ups, sit ups, squats and pull ups. Mon./Wed. I would go to my local Crossfit box for a WOD but, before I would perform at home a baseline (mini pre-workout) and a durability segment after the WOD (usually running and core work). On Tues./Thur. I would do a SGPT workout at home with a 45 minutes to an hour long ruck march on Thursday listening to SGPT audios! I reserved Saturday to test my mental toughness with long workouts such as Endurance Barbara, Sand Baby Murph, 100 Curtis P and Murph with weight vest. I tried to mix in some foam roller and yoga for maintenance. I was feeling great but, with work and family obligations, I was going to bed way too late and getting up pretty early, I was getting tired. I made sure I slept more in the last week leading up to the event. Since the event, I am still focusing on training but, getting enough sleep is now a priority and I notice the difference in my overall wellbeing.
SGPT: Tell us a little about the event? Where was it?
Etienne: The event was held at Crossfit Kells in Kingston, Massachusetts, a nice 6h 30min drive from Montreal. The gym was located not too far away from the beach of the East Coast, I was definitely expecting some surf time, and the coaches did not disappoint. We spent a long time at the beach. We started the day at the gym with an hour long plank! Then we ran outside, did PST (mile run and pullups only), went to the beach than to a field for log PT and an interesting race. We finished the day back at the gym with weighted Murph in teams of 2 and a couple other evolutions.
SGPT: What was hardest part of the event?
Etienne: I have two distinct moments. As I mentioned above, we spent a long time in and out of the surf. Being cold for a long time does get in your head. At one point, we were doing push ups in the water, I remember lifting my head and looking at the warm sand. I had a clear vision of myself just standing up, walking out of the water, siting in the sand and telling the coaches: “I am just going to sit here now, thanks for everything. It was fun.” Then I looked at the guy on my left, he was struggling just as much as me, and I looked at the lady on my right, she was struggling too. I told myself: if these guys are staying, I’m staying! I guess it was a textbook moment of drawing strength from your teammates….Powerful thing.
The other hard part was during the Murph in teams of 2 with our rucksack filled with a plastic bag with sand (filled at the beach with roughly 20 lbs), both partners run, split the pull ups, push ups and air squats. The entire team “earned” an extra mile so, we were going to finish with a two mile run. I started to struggle mentally during the first mile run with my backpack, the sand must have gotten wet at the beach, it was so heavy! Then we went inside. We nailed pretty consistently the push ups, pull ups and air squats, but toward my last few sets, I started losing my focus on the present moment and I was just thinking about how much the upcoming two miles of running was going to suck. I went silent, I couldn’t get over it. My swim buddy, aptly named Murphy (right on the picture), did an amazing job to keep me in the game during the entire workout: always positive, non stop encouragements and setting micro goals for us to achieve. After the first mile or so of running, he offered to grab my pack (and his), at first I refused than he made me realized it was in the best interest of our team so, I gave it to him! About half a mile later, I picked up his rucksack to finish the run, it was a bit lighter. And we finished second place! I was so stoked and we got a nice long break waiting for the other teams. It pays to be a winner!
SGPT: What is one thing you wish you would have done to get ready for the SEALFIT 20X?
Etienne: Get all my gear figured out and/or purchased as early as possible and train with full gear on. I neglected training in wet conditions. I did break in my boots and get my feet wet while running, but I did not do calisthenics with wet boots and pants. Flutter kicks with wet gear were much harder than I thought and I struggled with those during the event.
SGPT: Any tips for up and coming athletes that want to do 20X?
Etienne: See above. Get ready for cold. The cold shower every morning did the trick for me. I would say try to get information from videos and blog posts just enough to know what to expect, train properly and to be able to visualize yourself succeed. But not too much information as to try to anticipate every single details or to let doubt on your capacities creep in your mind. You will always find someone who trained more than you. Put in the effort, trust your training. Every event is different. For instance, I was expecting a long ruck march, didn’t happen for us, more time at the beach instead. Take care of your hands and feet before the event. Pay attention to details, read the warning order carefully.
During the event: keep paying attention to details and don’t draw unwanted attention to yourself like showing up late (lesson learned: “check in” time shown in the warning order before the “start time” is not optional!). No matter what’s your fitness level, always put in 100% of effort. Stay in the present moment, focus on your breath and do one step, one rep at the time. Don’t let the water sprayed in your face bother you! Bring energy gels/bars and electrolytes for quick refueling during the short breaks.
Etienne: I used the 5.11 Taclite Boot. Not too heavy, comfortable and they drain well.
SGPT: Did you use double socks/compression socks or body glide on your feet to prevent blisters?
Etienne: All of the above! Thin liner and light hiking socks in merino wool, and Bodyglide. My confusion with the start time mentioned above got me in the ice bath within the first 15 minutes of the event so, I spent the entire day with wet feet and I had no issue at all.
SGPT: What kind of ruck did you use for training and the event?
Etienne: I used an Arc’teryx Altra 65 Backpack for training, it’s a high quality outdoor gear company (actually has a tactical division also), very comfortable… until I realized that the back plate was hitting me in the back of the head when doing push ups with load. Then I scrambled through the many packs I acquired over the years, tested and settled for a Dakine daypack for the event. It had a small waist belt which I think is essential. It held up nicely, I saw at least one other guy’s ruck sack disintegrating during the event!
SGPT: What book are you reading now?
Etienne: I just finished The Way of the SEAL: Think Like An Elite Warrior to Lead and Succeed. Reading now a book in French about the stories of the first settlers from France and first born French Canadians who explored North America in the years 1600-1800. Life wasn’t easy in those times, constant threats from treacherous nature, attacks by the natives or the English, all this along with poor support and lack of respect from the motherland France. These guys were tough, I have new found respect for my ancestors!
Next on my list is Unbroken by Laura Hillenbrand and Gates of Fire by Steven Pressfield.
SGPT: Many thanks for the interview
Etienne: Thanks to you for this great opportunity and for your help. I would also like to thank my buddy Brian Petrie for his advice and logistical support during my preparation and right before the 20X challenge (killer coffee that got me going all day!!). He is currently training for a Kokoro camp in September. Hooyah!