In ShapeMichel Duran

The Onsen Retreat - 7 days of yoga, amazing hikes and healthy food.

In ShapeMichel Duran
The Onsen Retreat - 7 days of yoga, amazing hikes and healthy food.

“What is The Onsen Retreat actually? It looks wonderful, I’m intrigued!” That was the message I recently received from a friend. I figured more people in the future would ask the same question, so let’s dive into what makes The Onsen Retreat unique.

Growing up in a outdoorsy family.

I grew up in a physically active and outdoorsy family. As children we very often spent time in the Parc Régional du Pilat, just few kilometres away from where we lived. I have a vivid memory, from the 1970s, of my father, Jean-Michel, wanting to try his brand-new cross countries skis. The whole family drove in the mountains, my Dad hoped on his skis telling my younger brother and me just to follow his tracks – we were on our little downhills skis, with our boots unbuckled. He told us that he would turn back and we’d reunite. My Mom stayed around the car, playing with my youngest brother who was three. When day light started to fade, my brother and I were in the forest, far from the car. It started to become really dark… eventually we saw a shadow coming closer, it was my Dad, happily cross-country skiing. I will let you imagine the welcome he got when we all arrived at the car a couple of hours later, my mother was unsurprisingly angry and worried. This memory stands out as it only happened once!

For the most part, from the age of four and onwards, was involved in sports. My mother was a physical education teacher, and she opened the doors for me to get active, I spent much of my childhood in a gymnasium, playing with my brothers while our mother would finish a meeting with the other physical education teachers, coached volley ball, or gymnastic for adults in evenings sessions.

Fast forward a few years later, after high school. I followed my mother's footsteps and did my undergraduate degree in kinesiology at the Faculty of Physical Education and Sport, University of Dijon, France, with a specialty in athletes training. This was followed by a Master of Science in sport physiology at the Faculty of Medicine, University of Saint-Etienne, France.

Parallel to education, I spent seven years pole vaulting. Well, one of my brothers actually started pole vaulting a couple of years before me… Two years after beginning to practice seriously, he was participating at the National Championship while I was playing soccer regionally. Pole vaulting intrigued me and with the competition between brothers, pole vaulter I became. Very soon I was part of a specific training program in high school, where we trained 5 days a week with competitions on the week end. I continued pole vaulting during my university years and yes, I made it to the Nationals. Track and field is quite straight forward, you train, you get ready, try your best… and then go back to training.

France has a network of National and Regional hiking trails.
Following former trade routes or shepherd’s pathways, these hiking trails go through small villages, mountains and countryside.

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Following former trade routes or shepherd’s pathways, these hiking trails go through small villages, mountains and countryside.

In grade 6, my parents helped us organize a 3 day hiking adventure where we would sleep the first night in La Jasserie, a remote mountain auberge. For for the second night, the plan was to camp on the property of a person  my father knew and who was living in Doizieux, a small village in the mountain. It was really my first adventure “in the woods” with a bunch of primary school friends. We got a bit lost at the approach of the mountain farm due to fog, but were able to find our way. The next day the sun was shining and we reached the final campsite, it felt great after a daylong hike. The following day, when we all returned home, not only were our parents very proud and relieved to see we’d all made it, but we were as well!

Hiking the GR20, across Corsica
The GR20 crosses Corsica from the North Western small town of Calvi up to the South Eastern arrival at Porto Vecchio. One of the most strenuous trails, it demands endurance and stamina especially when crossing the central mountains which culminate at 2225 m.
Myself, my wife, and three other friends hiked half of the trail. We had to stop at the middle as two of the participant’s legs started to accumulate water (oedema) and the group’s mental fitness, after a full week of almost straight ups and downs long journeys, declined. We were 25, with not much experience of long endurance endeavors, but this particular adventure stays as one of the toughest and most beautiful hike.

Moving our young family to Vancouver, BC
In 1997, my wife and I moved from France to Vancouver with our two young children, who were three and five. We visited BC in 1994 and were absolutely conquered by its beauty and the outdoor. Before leaving we made sure to finish our degrees, applied for landed migrant status and then packed our belongings and moved. Although we were not forced to leave our country (I have always told our kids we were “volunteer immigrants” meaning we didn’t experience a war or anything like that), it was a big adventure to arrive with two kids, no jobs and to have to make it work – long story short, the first 4 years challenged our tenacity.

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Keeping the family outdoorsy and active
Since our arrival in Vancouver, we have used outdoor activities as a way to combine discovery and exercise. There is a family story which describes the Whistler Flute Summit/Singing pass hike as our traditional hike that we would do with various visitors each year almost every summer.

July 2015 - First Ironman in Whistler.
I decided to start training for an Ironman back in 2014 after I spent almost a year in New York, 10 days every month on a very tight budget, to try to put together an Off Broadway show. It didn’t work, and I decided it was time to go back to my roots – sports. I was sure that at least training would made me feel achieving tangible results. Finishing the 2015 Whistler Ironman was the cherry on the cake.

In 2016, I finished the Ironman Vineman in the Sonoma County achieving my PB, but still experiencing excruciating pain during the run. My ego being fulfilled after two Ironman done, I decided it was time to understand the process of training these specific endurance races and became a certified Ironman Coach in 2017.

Starting to create a concept.
While I was training and competing in Whistler back in 2015, I started thinking of creating a week long health and wellness retreat in these mountains. It would include a similar philosophy as endurance training. The more I’m training for these races – I’ll be back in Whistler this July 2019 to race in the Ironman Canada, the more I incorporate yoga, meditation and core strengthening sessions.

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The Onsen retreat is the fruit of all these reflections and experiences I have accumulated since running with my brothers in gymnasiums back in the 70s. It’s building a community of like-minded people, both participants and instructors. Simply put: it is a way of life.

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