Thursday, August 7, 2014

Grounding and Flight

I've long said I've kept running through my cancer journey because it's my therapy and how much I run and how long I run shows how bad I need therapy. However, in my sixth weekend doing Spartans which from the first one woke me up to so much more ( I think perhaps I realize I've been using the wrong word to communicate. Running isn't my therapy... It's one of the ways I've managed to stay feeling grounded... To stay connected to the beauties of life when so much has been up in the air... But even so as I've tried to get faster at running I love the (rare) pictures during road races when both feet are up in the air.

But another great way I've managed to stay grounded is because I'm fortunate to have great family. So I can't say that I've ever been more excited about Spartan than the one I would get to do with my little brother David. Speaking of therapy, at 33 years of age I've almost gotten over all the attention he stole when I was a small kid and he was born. But through some rough points of the last few years he's been rock steady but I knew it would be my turn to help him on his first race period, not just a Spartan, a race of any kind... And I couldn't help but feel grateful as we watched the sunrise on our way to the race that we both had been given the chance of being our brothers keeper.

I did the elite heat first trying to scope out the course before doing an open heat with him. Spartans are tough to not absorb the beauty... because you're sitting there taking in trees that make you want to look up and out. You may be hurting from the atlas pull but you can hear the river besides you and the birds therein. I don't know where man's desire to fly comes from but from the days of Icarus till today we've longed to do it. Not long after we invented cars we got to planes first wanting to taste the clouds... And then we were ready to fly to the moon, to dance among the stars, to know what life feels like on Jupiter and Mars. But even while birds and astronauts have to accept that much of life is spent in the nest you can't wait till the next flight. And thus I go back to Spartan races because while I rarely run on trails, I've gotten (a little) better and bolder at letting myself go on those down hills where falling feels like flying at least for a little while. This Spartan PAC northwest course was on a motorcycle/bicycle trick course. I've seen some of those stunts so it was thrilling where we got to do some of the parts on foot, some just running, others carrying heavy things, others leaping through. Maybe the image of flying bikes why the mentality of being airborne got to be what I wanted to try at the most on this course... I'd say that was my frame of mind but we know that my brain isn't great so we'll say it was my frame of heart. And while it was intimidating to sort some of the ups and downs, it turned out that wasn't a bad thing.

When I got to the hurdles obstacle, it was the first time I cleared them without landing either foot on any of the wooden part of it. When I got to the cargo net, I let myself go from pretty near the top after clearing it. When I got to the balance beam wall, since the rule is just to hit the bell without leaving the blocks, I left the furthest I ever have from the wall, and jumping gave it a flying ring. I threw the sandbag off my shoulder after that obstacle. I am a kid known for spatial orientation issues so sometimes I go the wrong direction... It's its own obstacle for me at Spartans. I did that for a brieft second and almost went to the barbed wire too early but someone pointed me back to the slide obstacle. This was an obstacle where you just went down a slide that was at least 300 years long and flew through the air for a few days to land in a mud puddle (did I communicate my issue with heights there effectively). The volunteer said if you slide sitting down you'll not go as far and you'll be able to see it coming. Let's just say I sat back and didn't open my eyes... Till I was chest deep in mud and my spibelt had gone from my waist to my chest.

But not long after that flight, the old adage of what goes up must come down was reversed.  I'm not complaining... If there's anything I've come to appreciate during Spartans and life itself,there are times when turning things sideways or backwards may feel like the wrong direction but it can make sense in its own way. But what went down had to come back up with the obstacle that I've never done cleanly, the barbed wire. Except this time it wasn't just across the ground it was going up a hill at angle... Got it done but not exactly cleanly unless you decide to call it clean cut and that's not my idea of being shaved well... The first cut was the deepest but the rest still flipping hurt. Still I was proud to get to the top not too gashed...

That was near the finish but the obstacle I am about 50/50 on was the spear throw. It hit the hay but it didn't stay so that doesn't count ... But even there as I was taking in my 30 burpee penalty, I couldn't help but think this is why Spartans love burpees... Because to do it correctly you have to both have your feet in the air and quickly come back down and get your chest to the ground... There is something to this ground and flight idea.

I finished the course and went looking for my brother. He let me catch my breath and then we were onto the 10 Am heat. ( I'd finished about 8:30. If anyone questions how bad ass some the women are out there let me point out the women's heat starts an hour later and the women's second place winner Amelia Boone who'd come in a little earlier 9:30 would also start with her sister at 10 AM). My brother is not a runner so we went at a different pace than I had on my own. Like I had on my first Spartan when a friend joined me, my brother when seeing how overwhelming Spartans can be said "go at your own pace". Like that good friend Alex that led me, there was no chance of that happening and we did it together. He got a deeper end of the gene pool in upper body strength and that was demonstrated over and over on strength based obstacles. Perhaps the best quip of the day was when he owned me on the ball and chain and it was pointed out that he handles that better is why he's the one happily married.

He took his own flying seriously taking my guidance that the mud pits and hills were easier if you jumped in as far as you could into the water rather than climb into the mud from pit to pit. He was less afraid of flying on the slides and flew further. I had never done the course in an open heat before but some of the obstacles were tougher because there was lots more mud. Let's just say that uphill barbed wire crawl after the ground had more wear, well on the second try it also gave my body more tear.

Speaking of that, when we were at the rope climb we started together but only I got to the top though more sloppily the second time. He was doing his burpees when I came down. There on course side watching a spartan race for the first time was my mother and Kiana. I've only stopped to hug anyone twice during a race in my life... The first time was at the Boston marathon where on the East coast I'd stopped to hug my mom, brother and daughter ( It definitely felt like an upgrade to be doing it while sharing the course with my brother. While Kiana may have given me the softest hug and kiss she ever has because of all the mud on my face, my mom hugged me with conviction. I hugged her back with the same.

Like my mom has done with too many of my messes I think that hug cleaned up my hands and so the second time doing the spear throw, I nailed it. Mt brother did it too right by my side. He missed his and went on to his 3rd set if burpees; I tried to comfort him by saying the three obstacles he'd missed were ones I'd also missed on my first spartan. I'm not sure he heard that in the middle of burpees but I hope he remembers that I was doing each one of them by his side.

Still he got the last obstacle done, we jumped over the fire and finished. I've gotten medals from many cool people and given some to many more... But at this finish line, David and I had our parents, our kids, his wife and they were the ones who framed our hearts with love and our necks with medals... Reminding us that the reason we our able to be grounded and take flight ain't no thing but a family thing.

The unpredictability of Spartans in distance, terrain, obstacles remind me and comfort in acknowledging life's too short to pretend like it's always clean. If you sign up for some of the messy things, it makes the ones you don't sign up for easier and helps you embrace the right people in both circumstances. The families out there showed there's different ways. Amelia and I did it with our siblings first at our own pace and then at theirs. Matt Nokavich, the men's 2nd place winner, did it with his wife and 14 year old son (who holds the Boy Scout record for most pulls ups, 60!). While that family each did it at their own pace it was clear they were doing it together. The Unbreakable Jones, a father son team, were out there who did the course 7 times together in one day, once literally tied at the wrists. Amanda Sullivan, a "disabled" athlete who does some obstacles with her crutches, she was out there doing it with friends who were clearly her family. Stephen Sinek,better known as the painted Warrior whose wife spends hour making his body into a work of art. I noticed her catching him with the art of photography and the one he does with the obstacles all over the course.

Still despite all the adult athletics, I think my favorite sport is still being Kiana's dad. Not long after our finish it was time for the kids Spartan. Watching her and Jaden my brother's son do the kids spartan was my favorite part of the day. Kiana liked the course enough to where she did two miles worth of repeats on it... And when asked what her favorite part was...the obstacles. She particularly got muddy because the kids race director had said whoever splashed the most mud won that obstacle.

When Jaden and Kiana finished David and I medaled and hugged them. Then they hugged grandmothers. My parenting philosophy is first you gotta give kids roots than you gotta give them wings. As I watched Kiana hugging my mother, and her cousin after finished and as I hugged my brother I realized where we had gotten it and hoping, no ,believing we were passing on both the roots and the wings. And while each one has been great this was my favorite Spartan yet because at the start, middle and after I felt so firmly grounded and so free to take flight.

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