“The more you sweat in peace, the less you bleed in war.”
On this show I like to bring you the real mindset masters, and today we’ve got an absolute superstar, Marcus Smith, who’s been through more wars than most. Marcus is an entrepreneur, an extreme athlete, and a performance coach. Based in Dubai, he’s the founder of InnerFight, which helps everyone – from kids to corporate clients – unlock their peak performance, as well as owner of Smith St Paleo, which provides paleo food offerings to help people make better nutrition decisions.
Marcus is fit, and I mean FIT. At age 18, he started playing professional rugby, making it to the 2009 Rugby Sevens World Cup. Since then, he’s completed pretty much anything with “ultra” in its name, including:
- The Marathon des Sables, a six-day ultramarathon through the Sahara Desert known as “the toughest foot race on Earth”;
- A 230km (143 mile) self-supported ultramarathon across Kenya; and
- A footrace on the Auvergne volcanoes in France.
In February 2018, while training to set a world record in ultra-cycling, Marcus was hit by a truck, with the impact smashing him into a brick wall. But he stared death right in the face and said, “Not today.” Rather than focus on what he lost, Marcus decided to create a documentary ‘Fight for Every Breath’ where he details his experience and his journey back to full health.
Just nine months after the accident, Marcus completed not one, not two, but 30 marathons, in 30 days!
In this episode, we’re going to talk with Marcus about:
- The secrets to his extraordinary self-discipline
- The accident that almost killed him (and how he came to terms with his trauma)
- The darkest moments of his recovery
- What you can do for supreme motivation each day; and
- How to inspire unwavering self-discipline in others.
Strap yourself in. Let’s WIN THE DAY with Marcus Smith!
What was it like growing up in Dubai? Can you also take us into a bit of an overview of the city for those who haven't been there?
To be honest, it's almost like shatters to dream because when I came here, when I was four, there was nothing; there was no lights, there was no highways, there was no buildings. And I think that's kind of what I love still about the places I see it quite, if you'd like, quite naked. I see it for what it is for the culture, which now it's a lot different. There's obviously a lot of stuff that's maybe a little bit more, make sure we say it, let's be honest, it's quite plastic. And a lot of it is not very real at all, but I've got friends here that have been here forever and Dubai's kind of been home for the last coming up 40 years, then I say, "That's a long time."
What's it like geographically? Is it a lot of the sand like you would imagine being in the Middle East or is there bits of greenery and things around too?
There's a lot of green, James, and that's what the government has done super nice. But from my house, I'm literally in the middle of the desert within 20 minutes, which I absolutely love. And mate, next week we've got some public holidays coming up and I'm an hour from the mountains and I'll be there for about three or four days that public holiday so I can get away from it. And this is one of the things, people come as tourists to this country, and it's like, "Oh, it's malls and it's buildings." There's a lot more, if you like sand. If you don't like sand, don't come here, mate. That's quite a lot.
And you and your wife have a paleo food company, don't you? What's it like getting fresh produce and things in Dubai?
That's all good. Yeah, we set up Smith St Paleo in 2016. My wife's from Australia and she was actually an air hostess with Emirates for 13 years where we met, mate, imagine that on an airplane. And we set up the paleo food business basically based on the back of her suffering a lot of inflammation when she was traveling and she just started cooking paleo food.
So getting good food back in the day, when I first got here, I can't imagine what it'd been like when my mom was trying to cook for us as kids, but now everything's available. We've got a lot of home grown organic food. So yeah, it's super good. But mate, I think we have probably on par with America, if I'm allowed to say it, the number of burger joints per capita is probably some of the highest in the universe. We're trying to do a good thing, but a lot of the time burgers win basically for a lot of people.
You met your wife on an airplane. Tell us about the pickup line you used!
It's not even good, mate! I was fast asleep and, she’ll tell this story, she's like, "He looked okay and he was a nice sleeper." So I'm there with my mouth shut. We didn't really speak much on the plane. We ran into each other in a bar here in Dubai. One of my mates was over from Australia going back. And I said, "Mate, if we're not going to see each other for six months or so, let's go out for a couple of quiet beers."
And we walked into this bar and Holly was in there. I was like, "I know you." And we've literally been together ever since. I went back to live in Australia because I was playing rugby down there. I'm about to live there and she sort of was flying in and out. Then I was like, "This is the one" and I moved back to Dubai.
And in end of 2004, I moved back here full-time and it's amazing. We have a great life, and one day we'll be back in Australia and very happy. Well, we're very happy now, I mean, but I think she definitely didn't take much persuading to say that we'll spend the rest of our life in Australia. I was like, "Yeah, I'm in for that."
One of the most amazing things about your background is your career as an extreme athlete and we'll get into the accident and those elements that have really defined a big chapter of your life shortly, but where did this love of extreme sports come from – the ultra-running, ultra-cycling, and all those types of things?
Honestly, it's the environment that you're brought up in. I'm not blaming it on my parents, but they did such an amazing job of making sports such a big part of my life. And I'm eternally grateful to them. I see a lot of my habits were their habits – it's incredible. They'd have people running from the house, they'd be off at triathlons. Mum would be winning running races here in Dubai. And I would just be begging the whole time from like four or five years old to go out and go running with them.
As I got a little bit older, I was allowed to run a little bit further down the street with them and then they'd be like, "Right, you've got to go home now." I do believe, James, you are a massive product of your environment and I feel a little bit sometimes not super comfortable saying that because I know people didn't have such fortunate upbringings that I had, but I know that people had perhaps more fortunate upbringing than I have, and haven't done much with it.
You are a massive product of your environment.
But endurance sport was in my blood, I think, from the start. Dad has cycled the length of New Zealand, he's cycled the length of England. He cycled pretty much halfway across America so that's really where it comes from. And even to this day, my dad's pressing 74, 75. I was speaking to him the other day, he's out on his bike and mum's doing workouts in the garden and it's amazing. I love my parents so much and they've given me so much.
Yeah, you need to catch up! It's a good benchmark of fitness and adventure for your life.
Yeah, absolutely. It really is.
You've done ultra-marathons through the Sahara Desert and had some other incredible experiences. Was there a particular moment where you felt like maybe you'd bitten off more than you can chew?
No, absolutely not. The Sahara was the moment where a lot of things came clear, mate. I was running 250 kilometers across the Sahara self-supported and honestly, I have a picture of it just before it happened, it just so happened that one of my friends took a picture and about 50 meters from where this picture is taken, I stopped and the sand, it was almost like a salt flat and the earth had almost parted. And there was just this big line of runners. And I was like, "Wow, I'm in the middle of the Sahara Desert." We hadn't seen any other civilization since we'd been there for like five days.
And I just thought to myself, "This is amazing that we, as human beings are allowed to pass on this earth." And from that, I always had a massive appreciation for nature and for the outdoors. I spent a lot of time when I was young in boarding school, in the UK, outside. But on that moment, I think a lot of things changed. Since then, all I've wanted to do is cross landscapes on foot and walk and hike and run and cycle. Holly was probably going, "Yeah, this is where it all went wrong. I let you go to the Sahara!"
But yeah, I just had this almost epiphany, if you want, and reflection, I'm huge on, James. And the more I think about it every time I sort of tell that story, the closer I come to it. Yeah, there's tough times, mate, don't get me wrong. It's brutal. Ultramarathons, endurance sports are I call them the wildest rollercoaster ride you'll ever go on because you are literally, you have these moments and you're invincible, no one can touch you.
You're running through the Sahara and it's just amazing. And a few hours later, the sun goes down and you're like, "Why the hell am I here? Why do I even exist as a human being?" And that's what's so amazing that you have these ultimate highs and lows, which allows you to come back into life.
You're running through the Sahara and it's just amazing. And a few hours later, the sun goes down and you're like, "Why the hell am I here? Why do I even exist as a human being?"
And when you come back, I believe you live on a different level. Again, it's no better or no worse than anyone else. But for me, it's elevated my game in a number of areas, family, business, a number of different areas. So yeah, the Sahara was very special.
I often think about those sliding door moments about one decision you made. When I first moved to LA in 2013, there was a barbecue that I went to in the afternoon which became the foundation of so many friendships, which has led to so many other amazing things. For you, the one decision of doing the Sahara Desert has helped you with a whole heap of inspiration.
For those who don't know, can you take us into the specifics of running through the Sahara Desert? Is it soft sand? Is it hard sand? Is it super hot? Are you wearing shoes? What's the deal!?
That's a great question. Marathon des Sables, it was the second big ultra that I did, is quite famous. It's a 250 kilometer race. You carry everything you're going to need for those six days on your back. You only get given water along the way and you wear normal trainers. And we stitch in what's called a sand gator to stop the sand from coming in. Despite people thinking the Sahara is all sand, it's not all sand, but a shit ton of it is sand! You get sand everywhere.
I was going to ask how effective the gators were. Sand is like water. It's sort of hard to get out if you're right in the thick of it!
I mean, they're good, but you get sand everywhere. And a lot of places, it's like a clay sand. So at the end of it, you're like, "Is this a real sun tan?" And then you have a shower and all comes off. But mountains in the day, it's super hot. In the night, it gets really cold. And that's why it's such a brutal race, that particular one, because a lot of races, like you'll have a race in a country that's quite hot most of the time.
I was in Kenya last year and that race is quite warm the whole time. You'll have races in the Arctic, there's an ultra where it's just freezing cold all the time. Whereas the Sahara, it can get down to about 6-8 degrees Celsius at night, but up to 45 degrees Celsius in the day. So you get these massive swings and it sounds quite straightforward, you're going to put everything on your back and you're going to run, but that pack shouldn't weigh really more than about nine kilograms.
So you're eating dehydrated food, which after a few days, obviously does quite funky stuff to your digestive system. For some people, it completely blocks them. Other people are literally just diarrhea the whole way through, so those problems are real.
And then we've got hygiene issues as well. You're not able to wash properly because you only get enough water to drink. So literally you're starting to come out with rash on your armpit because you're just sweating so much. And I don't need to go on about how your private parts will look, but you can imagine that as well, it's carnage.
I train a lot of people. I've taken over 20 people through that race now, and people will come and see me and I'd be like, "Tell me what it's about." And I just I'll say, "Listen, this race is nothing about running. This race, like life, is about all the other stuff. If you get all of your little admin bits in place, if you control the controllables, we've heard it like three million times in the year of COVID mate. But if you can focus and control on what you control, then you actually have a great time."
And it's mental, we're over 1,300 people running through the Sahara. So as you can imagine, we’re all absolute fruit loops!
Is everyone setting up their own tents or how does that work? Where do you sleep?
They put together this absolute token shelter that most nights just falls down, and you've got eight blokes laying literally like sardines. And when it falls down, no one can be bothered putting it back up because everyone's so tired. People just sleep under the stars, on rocks, you don't sleep properly for the seven days. That’s just the nature of ultra races.
This is what really takes people down because you've got lot of people who are very good runners, but if they can't manage stinking, I'm very good about washing in normal life, but when I'm in the bush or in an endurance event, you've got to deal with that and you don't have enough water and you won't have enough sleep – and eating dehydrated food the whole time is not like eating fresh paleo food, for example – and it's all these things that just start to chip away at people slowly.
And most people, you can move forward. And this is one of the biggest learnings I've got from ultra-running and from endurance sports is that you can keep moving forward. But when you're moving forward to another camp that you don't have anything to look forward to, it's quite a difficult argument to sell to yourself in a way. It's not like, "Mate, you finished this, we're at the pub. We're going to have a countertop meal and we're going to have a schooner."
You can keep moving forward.
But it's like, "Yeah, we're going to get to this other shit camp site where you won't be able to wash, you'll have to cook your food which tastes like crap anyway. And then you'll sleep on a rock. Do you want to go?"
It's like, "No, I don't really want to go there."
Yeah, exactly! So these are the challenges, but that's what makes it absolutely incredible.
How do you feel at the start line of these things now that you have done so many of them – do you feel nervous, or have you gone through it that much now that you're just prepared, you understand the process, and you just got to focus on putting one foot in front of the other?
Yes, to all of the above, but I still get a bit nervous, mate, in a way that, when I go to these races, most of them now I want to try and push a little bit. We're on a journey of self-discovery. We all are, we're expressing that in different ways. So I want to see where my limits are. I want to sort of start to push it.
And I also love it, because I've been to a lot of races and the pre, the day before everyone gathers, and then we start the race the next day, I love just listening to people, listening to stories. If it's their first race, people talking about their shoes, their equipment, and just sitting back and listening and taking it all in.
I want to see where my limits are.
And you meet some people that generally, and this is what we always say that endurance sports brings together people that, we wouldn't be friends. This is the one thing that brings us together. We don't have anything else in common. We don't like the same music, but through this crazy sport of suffering, we all come together and you make some amazing, amazing friends. Like all of my good friends now I sort of know through endurance sports, it's gone from rugby mates to endurance mates. And they're both a crazy bunch.
The way you talk about it is the way that people talk about Burning Man and Ayahuasca, it's like this experience of self-discovery that people go through. It's really interesting.
Yeah. It is that James, that's a very good way of putting it together.
Obviously, you have a competitive spirit and somewhat of an obsessive nature to do the work behind the scenes to get this done. Are you very competitive and obsessive about all other areas of your life too?
Yes. What do I say!? No, mate, I'm totally chilled out. I'm really relaxed. I'm very OCD on a number of levels. Without this sounding wrong, that's one of the reasons why I love my wife so much because she puts up with it. Everything is like bang, bang. My diary is just so strictly done. My training is strictly done. And because when I was playing sport, when I was playing rugby competitively, and then when I moved into ultras, you're going to be in a remote place in an ultra. If you're not OCD, you could've left one thing that could just ruin your whole experience.
And that for me is sad because you might have to pull out the race because one of the guys rocked up to one of the races that I've been in and he didn't have his insoles in his shoes. So his race is destroyed. He'd washed them the day before and forgot to put them back in. So yeah, I'm pretty OCD in pretty much every area of my life. I'm very routine driven, which again, you wouldn't be surprised comes from my dad. It's like every single Sunday we do this, Monday, we do this, it is bang like that. And that's how I work really well.
I have my whole work life. I run two businesses. I do all this training and I try and spend as much time with my wife as I can, I have to live in these buckets. So Sunday's for this, Monday's for this. And I try not to tell Holly that, "Okay, I'm home now, we've got two hours make the best of it," sort of thing.
We did take as much holidays as we could. We try and get away four or five times a year. Obviously, COVID made that quite difficult. But I think that downtime is really important as well, because a lot of people would say, "Yeah, you're really intense." And when I'm here, I'm just on. Like this morning I was up before 4am and I was riding my bike at 4:30am and then bang, bang, bang the whole day.
And just literally an hour ago, I got home for my sister because it was her birthday. And now we're having this chat. So it's banging, but I love it. And I think that's what helps me as well. It's not for everyone, but it's just the way it's what works for me.
Yeah, the more prepared you are, the more you allow yourself that luxury of surrender. There's an old quote that's taken so many different forms. It says, “The more you sweat in peace, the less you bleed in war.” It's like people in the UFC, they talk about “The more you sweat in the gym, the less you bleed in the octagon.” Clearly you have no troubles putting in this work behind the scenes. What is that secret to the daily motivation? Is it just something that's instilled in you as a kid from your parents, as you mentioned earlier, or is there actually something going through your head every single day?
Like I talk about a lot about the “Win the Day” mentality. So I literally have that in my head as I step into the cold shower in the morning, it's “Win the Day”. My alarm says “Win the Day”, it's like a little mantra that helps me move forward. Have you got something like that to inspire that daily motivation and enable that consistency?
Yeah, I do James, and it's not dissimilar. My alarm's called “Dominate”. When I'm waking up to dominate, which is most days, I'm waking up to dominate. It's funny, because when I'm waking up to teach people, my alarm's called “Make people better at life”. So when I'm teaching first thing in the morning, when that's my first appointment, it's that.
But I get up every morning, as we all do, and I look in the mirror and I say, "Literally, this is it. I'm excited. I want to do this." And I try and carry that attitude.
Mate, I'm not full of crap, some days are shit; not every day is amazing. But I look in the mirror every morning and say, "This is going to be the best day of my life. This is really it."
And then one thing that I think is super, super healthy – and Holly and I have done it since we've been together 17 years – whenever we've been in each other's company is we sit down at the dinner table every night. You'll laugh at this, there's one month of the year or three weeks of the year where I have a screen on, which is when the Tour de France is on. She lets me watch it. It's wild because the finish of the Tour de France is like five o'clock in France, seven o'clock Dubai time. So I'm like, "It's live, I've got to watch it." And she bought into this years ago.
Mate, I'm not full of crap, some days are shit; not every day is amazing. But I look in the mirror every morning and say, "This is going to be the best day of my life. This is really it."
But the point is we sit down, no devices, nothing except those three weeks of the year. And we'll debrief the day, not formally. It's not like, "Oh, what did you love about today?" I'm not really like, can I say airy-fairy like that. We're pretty straight forward, "Now, how did it go? What went on?"
And I think we spend more time talking, like we never watched TV. I can't watch Netflix. I hate it. And this is also because of the way that I was brought up in boarding school, discipline was huge, but I think those things really help you, or they really helped me. And the way that I live is the way that I live. I don't think it's for everyone, but the same that you wake up with an attitude to win the day. I don't get why people don't try and wake up with that attitude.
I know some days you wake up and I know there's things on your agenda that you're not 100% looking forward to, but when you switch that attitude on, I'm going to win this day. Even if this thing that I have to deal with this shit, I'm going to win at it. Then you're going into it in such a positive way with such a beautiful mindset that you're actually going to turn that bad experience into a good one and have an awesome day. And we can all do that. I really believe that we can.
Yeah, it's an opportunity each day to also do something that your future self will thank you for.
You're very big on people finding the right training and the right nutrition and the right routine that suits them, rather than just trying to go on and get a downloaded a template version of the internet. When everyone wants that magic bullet for perfect abs, rather than finding out what’s going to fire them up and keep them consistent.
I think that's the key. Everyone's always worried about what everyone else is doing. And no one else is living your life. You're living your life. You've got to deal with your problems. You've got to get out of your bed and look at your face in your mirror.
So we need to go inwards to figure out what works, to get different ideas from here and there, listen to your Win the Day show. I was listening to it earlier today when I was riding my bike; it’s a beautiful show, with a very, very inspiring lady who you had on. And I got some ideas, but then I have to take them in to figure out what I'm going to do with them.
I think that's super important. Taking different ways of training, different ways of meditation, different ways of approaching life – it’s different for everyone. If someone's listening to this show and they get fired up and they go and try and live the way I live, it won't work for you. It will not work for you. You need to take small bits, and they might start to work and then we can start to develop change, but we have to figure out what works.
But I don't know what you think, James, that's the hard bit. And that's the bit where we have to look deep into ourselves to figure out what we are, who we are and how we are going to live. And I think it's easy to go, "Oh yeah, James is saying live like this. I'll do that." And it will give us happiness, but it will only last for a certain period of time because it has to come from within. And that's tough.
For sure, the win starts within. And I think that's where having the right friends is important. I was speaking at an event last night and I was asked by someone in the audience, “How do you get away from toxic people?” Which is so important, because you need to protect your energy source at all costs.
I just don't have any negative people in my life at the moment, I just don't. We’ve only got X amount of energy each day so we need to allocate that to people who give us energy.
Yeah, I think that's super important. It was funny, I was just with my sister and we were talking about that. Actually the scenario we're talking about was, if you pass someone in a supermarket that you don't really like, but you kind of know, would you stop? And I'm like, “No, of course I won't stop!”
I don't need to stop, because I’d rather spend 30 seconds calling someone I really care about to try and change their life in those 30 seconds. And she's like, "No, no, you've got to stop." And I'm like, "No, I'm not stopping!"
Your accident has so many parallels with the Janine Shepherd story. A big theme from both of you is that we can be on what we believe is the right path and everything might be looking good for us, but completely out of left field – through no fault of our own – something massive life-changing shifts our trajectory forever.
Can you take us into that day of the accident and exactly what happened?
Yeah, of course I can, like you rightly said, I was just on a completely different path. I was actually training on my bike, I was going to try and set an ultra-cycling world record. We were about two weeks out from the first race, and I was in the mountains about an hour or so from my house. I was riding with three other friends and I was hit by a truck at just over 55 – 60 kilometers an hour. And that truck pushed me on to a brick wall, which I then hit at 54 kilometers an hour, which is a little bit problematic being an 88 kilogram human, traveling at 54 kilometers an hour, going into a brick wall.
There's so many crazy things about this story, but in this split second, I dropped my shoulder. Like I would have done in rugby, and it took all the impact. So on impact, I broke my scapular and seven ribs. Without sounding too blasé about it, bones are not really that much of a problem. But I realized very fast that it was almost like I'd been winded and I couldn't breathe very well.
Then I started trying to figure out why I couldn't breathe. There was a lot of blood coming out of my mouth, and I remember having thinking to myself that in movies, when the guy gets shot, the blood comes out of his mouth, and next thing the guy's dead. So I knew I was in big trouble.
And one of the things through ultras and this thing I talk about the ultra mindset is if you have a problem, you have to admit you have a problem. You can't just deny it.
On impact, I broke my scapular and seven ribs.
And I couldn't deny it. There was blood coming out of my mouth. I couldn't breathe. And I'm like, "Shit, I've got a problem." What had happened was, on impact with the wall, my left lung had essentially almost exploded, like a beach ball. And that makes breathing incredibly hard because you're breathing essentially with the lung on the right side, although they're both together. It took almost two hours to get an ambulance because we're in the mountains, so I was just lying there. And so many amazing things happened.
Thank you for asking me the question, because this is part of my therapy. The more I reflect on it, the more I know in that moment that my body and my mind were detached, my soul left and I saw something different and a lot of people are listening and going, "Wow, this is going to be crazy." But in that moment that I was out of my body, all of the pain stopped, I could breathe again and everything was totally normal.
I thought to myself, "You're in a bit of a bad situation. Well, what's the options here?" And essentially there were two options. One was just give up. I thought to myself, James, I was like, "I love my life. I'm doing something I love, I'm with my mates. My wife's at home. No, that's NOT an option.”
There was only one option, and that was to fight for every single breath.
When I decided to take that option, I couldn't breathe again. I was back in my body and I was just trying to draw this breath. And it was just wild. It was just such an amazing experience to reflect on the power of choice, the amount of choice that we have in the world these days. And then when that choice is removed and you have to put all of your energy into something that is just so, so simple for us, which was breathing. And I made it through; the long and short of it. Obviously, I'm here.
I spent three days in intensive care, which is really awful because no one really knows what’s going on. You want an answer, but no one has the answer. You're like, "Am I okay? Am I going to live?" You're conscious, and they’re saying, "Yeah, we're hoping your lungs going to open.”
You're like, "What do you mean, you're hoping!? Is that not going to happen?"
And they're like, "Well, we'll send someone else in to see."
And you're in this weird, weird time. But again, mate, it was just an amazing time to reflect, to think, to listen to others. Then when I was moved to the main ward, I was able to answer people's questions, probably not with quite as much energy as I've got right now, but I was like, "I'm okay." Because you just literally. People would be making me laugh. I'm like, "Can you please not make me laugh."
This is what I believe life gives. It’s these unique moments and super unique opportunities where we're asked to respond and we're asked to make decisions. Those decisions almost define us, and they prepare us for what else is coming in life. The decisions that I made during the recovery of my crash has prepared me for things that I'm facing now.
I was never aggressive but I'm so much calmer now than I was before. And I'm just happy to sit back, listen, take stuff in, and I'm comfortable to say, "Thank you, James, let me come back to you on that." Whereas I remember before I'd be like, "No, James. We got to do it like this. Let's finish it right now, right now, me and you," you know what I mean? And now I'm just like, "Yeah, it's cool."
And because lungs need time to heal, you can't rush it. I always used to want to rush things, even until I was 40, I was going always super fast. And I was like, my accident and reflection has just told me you can slow down and it's okay to say nothing. And it's okay to say to someone, "Thank you so much. I'll come back to you tomorrow." That's cool.
We're in this world now where if you don't reply to WhatsApp within like 3.5 seconds, you're not a nice person. That's bullshit, mate.
We're in this world now where if you don't reply to WhatsApp within like 3.5 seconds, you're not a nice person. That's bullshit, mate. We don't need to live like that. And we're forced to live like that often by the system and we just don't need to. So yeah, it was a wild year. 2018 was just the best. Honestly, I mean it from my heart, it was amazing.
When did you realize the severity of the situation? The big problem that I have with doctors and psychologists – who do great work, don't get me wrong – but it's when we put a label on someone that can force them to say, "Oh, you know what? That is the reason why I shouldn't do X, Y, and Z” rather than giving them the motivation and opportunity to go out there and actually make something happen.
Because most doctors have got to err on the side of caution. When I was in Boston, about eight years ago, I had a Grade III shoulder separation where you get this little bump on your shoulder, after the ligament has ripped clean off the collar bone. And I remember the doctor telling me I would never be able to do some things that I loved to do. He was an expert so I believed him.
I went home with the bottles of painkillers that I’d been given. Combine strong painkillers with doctor’s severely constraining your idea of what’s possible for you, and it’s a path to suicide. It really is. I remember moments standing in the shower in tears, before I threw them all out and swore I’d never take a painkiller ever again.
Yeah. I had something similar when they sent me from hospital, I was taking these painkillers and I was losing it. And literally, I came downstairs one morning and I took the bag and I went out to the garbage and I just threw them all away. I said I'm not having more painkillers. The funny thing is, mate, and folks that I tell this often, anytime anyone asks me, go back on my Instagram the day before my crash which was on like the 9th of February, crashed on the 10th of February, I posted a picture that said, “Everything happens for a reason.” And the next day this happens.
On that theme, the doctors that I had were incredible. They never made me feel like I was going to be unable to do something. And I remember, and I'm forever thankful for this guy. The physio came in to my room when I got moved to the main ward. Well, there was three really cool things. One, the guy in the emergency room was just totally calm, super calm and so nice; softly spoken. And that made me feel comfortable.
Then I went to see the surgeon, he was a South African guy. And he said, "Listen, your shoulders in so many pieces, I wouldn't know where to start putting it back together. So I'm not going to bother operating. See you later." And I was like, "Yes, that's the best news ever!"
Then I got moved to the main ward. A physio came in and this was a real turning point for me, James, , I'd been in intensive care for three days, and it was like the second day in the ward. So I hadn't moved from the bed for almost five days.
And he was an English guy and he looked at me and he goes, "How are you feeling mate?" And I went, "Actually, I feel pretty good mate." It was morning. And I'm looking in the mirror and I'm feeling good and I'm doing what I said earlier. And he goes, "Do you want to go for a walk?" And then my face must've just dropped. I suddenly wasn't feeling so good." I was absolutely petrified. And I went to him, "Are you serious?" And he went, "Yeah, you can go for a walk if you want." I was like, "Mate, I would love to."
I was going to say, as long as it's an ultra-walk! Is that what you were thinking!?
Well, That's the thing, James, it literally was! It took me over 10 minutes to sit upright in bed. At this point, I had a pipe coming out from my lungs, draining the blood off. I had a pee bag in, I had a catheter in and he just grabbed these two and he clipped them on his belt as I stood up and he said, "Come on then mate, let's go for a walk." And it was like, I was reborn.
At five days, I didn't know whether I'd make it through. I was fighting for my life on the side of the road. I had no idea whether I'd make it through. And I started shuffling out of the hospital room down the ward, and I was just I had this grin on my face. I was holding my left arm because everything here is broken. I was almost crying. And I was like "This is amazing, this is amazing."
You could see the look on his face – he was so happy for me, and I felt just superhuman. But at the same time, my piss bag was on one clip on his belt, my blood bag on the other, and my hospital gown at the back was fully open. I'm cut to shreds and I'm having the best moment of my life. And I'm like "Wow, this is just so, so surreal. And no doctor is going to tell me I can't because I'm going to do this. And I'm going to recreate this feeling as often as I can."
I only had one more physio session after that, and I did all of my own rehab on my shoulder. I woke up every morning at 4:30am, went to my gym and started training. I got in that environment.
And the first week, when Holly was cooking dinner, I'd sneak out the house, get in my car, and I'd drive to my gym. She called me she goes, "Where are you?" I'm like "I'm at the gym." I just wanted to be there, mate, because of this environment of people. And I knew the power of the energy to heal me was going to be something amazing. And it did. I did it for a week.
Then when I could start training, I started training, and I just asked myself every day – it goes back to what we were talking about to “Win the Day.” I said, "What can I do today just to get better?" When you're really buckled, progress is super small but also super big, like to be able to lift my hand in line with my shoulder, it's like nothing really. When you think about it, like you're so far from being able to lift up a bottle of water or anything, because all you can do is get it to here.
But three weeks before I couldn't even lift barely my hand off my leg. So your whole perspective on things just starts to change. And that's when you realize that the human body and the human mind, they are incredible. For the amount of time that we disconnect them. we talk about mental and physical. We're one being, we are a human being and we're an amazing piece of machinery. It's incredible. It really is.
I love it. There's a part of your bio which is crazy, 30 marathons in 30 days within nine months of the accident. I want to ask you a question. There's a story about Bear Grylls, former British SAS who was in Africa and he jumped out of the plane, had an issue with his parachute, and ended up breaking his back. Lying in hospital, he had a picture of Mount Everest that he put at the wall at the end of his hospital bed.
The nurse came in and said, "Why have you got a picture of Mount Everest there?" And he said, "Because when I get out of hospital I'm going to climb Mount Everest." The nurse replied, "The only thing you're going to be climbing in and out of is a wheelchair."
Sure enough, I forget the timeframe, but he went and climbed Mount Everest, after he had a broken back. You had 30 marathons in 30 days within nine months of your accident. Where did the idea for that first come from?
It's very similar to that story, James. I was in the hospital bed and I was fortunate to get such amazing support in hospital, so it was one of the rare times I was alone. And I had this thought because my whole life had been about this ultra-cycling world record. And I was like "That's gone."
I had to make peace with it being gone. Then I had this thought of, "Well, if I can't ride my bike I can definitely run." And I sent a message to one of my friends, Rob, who now works with me. It's almost like a romantic love story. I sent him the route in Corsica that someone had sent me before. And it's basically crossing the Island of Corsica from the top left-hand corner to the bottom right corner; 195 kilometers, 10,000 meters elevation.
And I told Rob, who was a schoolteacher at the time, "Tell me what date you finish school because the following Monday we're going to run this."
He just wrote back "Mate, leave it, get better speak to me in a few weeks."
When I was training for that, I actually picked up the Dean Karnazes book about him running 50 marathons in 50 states in 50 days.
In 2018, I turned 40, and thought, "Bike crash near death in February. Turning 40 in December. I need to do something pretty special in between." And there's the Dubai Fitness Challenge which is a 30 day challenge. I called up the organizers and I said "You guys have got this challenge?" And they're like, "Yeah, 30 minutes a day for 30 days." I said, "I'm just about to blow it out the water."
The guy said, "what are you talking about?" And I go "Well, mate, I'm going to run a marathon every day for 30 days." And he's just like, "No." I was like "No, no, no. You don't understand." He's like "Mate, this is for sedentary people to get them moving for 30 minutes, it's too extreme."
And I'm on the other end of the phone going, "Yeah, exactly. If I do something that's absolutely so stupid, then everyone will just go, "Well, if that moron can do this..."
I had this sales pitch, James!
You’re a man of the people trying to get everyone’s averages up!
Yeah! He’s just going "No."
Anyway, few more phone calls and I got it through and that's really where it came from. I was just like, "You know what, my motivation for doing it was super clear in that I wanted to see where I could push myself too, physically and mentally, because that's what the ultra-cycling would have done."
I wanted to test my potential. In the process of that, I want to inspire a lot of people as well. I thought, "I live in Dubai. Dubai has been my home for a number of years. If I can run into schools, that'll be something absolutely amazing."
So I finished about 16 of the 30 days in a school. Some days I had 2,500 kids trying to race me around a 400-meter track which, when you've already run 42 kilometers that day and you've run 10 or 15 of these things, and you’re absolutely smoked, the kids are trying to run like three and a half minute Ks because they're running with the marathon man.
But we were able to create an amazing impact. And it's so ironic that it's actually the day that we're recording this, 24th, it's two years ago to this day that I finished my 30th marathon. So it was wild. It was just … you learn so much, mate. I got to meet so many amazing people, again, the energy just feeding off people. I'd have people that just get up 4:00am, drive to where I was, start running with me. I had 40 or 50 people that ran a full marathon of which 30 had never run a marathon before, I was literally only on my own for like three hours of the whole month.
I downloaded 20 audiobooks, and I didn't even listen to one! I'm like "At the end of it, what am I going to do with all these audio books that I had?" It was wild. A lot of these things it's so much fun.
There is nothing we can't do. We just got to figure out how to do it.
And thank you for the great questions, mate. It's fun to talk about them and to continue the reflection but a lot of them are just, honestly, they're quite surreal. Sometimes I'm just like "Did this stuff happened?" Is this me, is this life, and then you realize, "Yeah, it did. And this is life and it is amazing."
Because on February the 10th, I'm in intensive care and on November the 24th I had just run my 30th marathon. There is nothing we can't do. We just got to figure out how to do it.
That legacy is going to live on for a long, long time, in all the different people who you helped with your story. You're a super positive and inspiring guy. High energy. Was there a particularly dark day that stood out in that recovery period between the accident and the marathon?
Yeah. There were tough days. There were really tough days. The first week that I went home was brutal because you can't sleep, and sleep deprivation is really tough. I'm okay with pain but when you can't sleep, I'd say to Holly, "I just want it to go away. I just want it to end. I just want this pain to end."
You laugh too hard, a rib pops. You roll over in bed, a rib pops. And you're just like "Oh my God." But when you're committed, like you are, to wake up every day and to say I'm going to win the day, that starts a programming in your subconscious, and you do it now subconsciously. So it's going to take a lot for that dark moment in the night where I'm almost in tears because I'm in so much pain and I've thrown the damn painkillers away because they’re giving me nightmares and stuff.
All of that's forgotten when you've programmed your subconscious, but it was brutal. And a lot of people will say to me, "Oh, Marcus, this is amazing, you recovered so fast." And in that same tone that I said before, I just look at them and go, "Yeah, bro I recovered fast." You don’t know the half of it. And I never would say that to people because people are just trying to be polite. And I just appreciate that they say nice things to me.
But when you do the first month of my training, I would just make it simple because when life is hectic training should be simple. I would just do 100 rounds of Tabata every morning; 20 on, 10 off, for 100 rounds. And it's still set up like that in my phone, 100 rounds. When people come to train with me, they're like, "You've got it saying 100 rounds, are you really going to go 100 rounds of Tabata?"
I'm like, "We'll see how it goes, bro."
And so yes, there are a lot of challenges. There are a lot of tough times. And I think that's one thing that people who listen to shows like yours, mate, you have very inspiring guests on; you give off a lot of great energy.
I think for people to think that we don't have tough days that we don't just look at it and go, "Oh my God," or get overwhelmed. We ALL get overwhelmed and we have to be honest with ourselves on that. But I think what the difference is from what you said and from what I see in my life is that no matter how bad today is I'll wake up tomorrow and it's a new day, then I'm ready to dominate and you're ready to win the day.
If I can just encourage people that every time you go to bed when you get up the next day, you've been just gifted this unique opportunity to do amazing things. And you've got a fresh mind. And if you come with it with this great positive mindset you're going to have an awesome life and you just rinse and repeat that. And it's beautiful.
Yeah, it's so true. There's an old saying it says "A happy person wants 10,000 things. A sick person wants just one thing." What did facing death head-on teach you about life?"
To live every single day. Don't waste time because it's brutal. It nearly ended. And it's hard for me when I look back at it, when I think about, it's very, very emotional mate. And wouldn't it just be a waste, how close was I? You could say very, very close. I was very close and I'm here. So I'll live. And that is something that is easy to say, but I think it's challenging and it's tough. Some days are very tough but that's what I learned from it.
Goal setting is a big part of what you do by the sound of it. You're always focused on a big achievement in the future. How do you balance that hunger for future achievements with your happiness in the present?
Because the goal is just where you're headed to. The goal for me is important, but the process is my love. Holly will tell you, "You only sign up for these races so you can buy new stuff." And for me, often the end goal running across the Sahara, running in Kenya, all of these places I was in Sri Lanka last year, amazing, amazing. But the training, the waking up tomorrow morning at 4:30am, it’s dark and cold, but I’m going out and do something, eating well the whole time, being hydrated, sleeping eight hours a night. That is what I love.
The goal is just like the icing on the cake. It's good for the selfies and stuff, you know what I mean? It's at the end. That's why I think people struggle a little bit sometimes because they're so focused on the end goal that they forget that the process is life and it has to be part of your life, this end goal, you have to enjoy.
When life is hectic training should be simple.
There's no point in dreaming about climbing Everest, you have to dream about cold adaptation training. You have to dream about wearing big down jackets and you have to be in love with that. You can't just dream about taking the picture on the top of Everest. That's not it, it's the process, because that process is life.
Otherwise, you just go from one six-month goal or race to another, and that would be awful. I get people that come to me for endurance coaching, and they've just had awful experience, they hate it. And I'm like, "Wow, you spend 16 hours a week doing the sport that you hate. This is ridiculous."
I love the process mate, again, do I love every single minute of training? I try to, because I always make it fun. And I'm at a stage now where I’m 42 and this is what I've chosen to do. Is it my calling in life, if that's what you want to say? Yeah, it is. And I absolutely love it. I love every minute of it. I really do.
Life is too short to do what you hate. And it's not necessarily the will to win, it's the will to prepare to win, which I really I feel like is a big theme from you.
Final question. What's one thing you do to win the day?
I wake up one minute before everyone else. I never set my alarm at 4:30am, I set it at 4:29am. I would never set it for 5:00am, I set it at 4:59am. I've done it for a while now, and I feel that gives me the edge and I never ever, ever press snooze … and nor should you.