Until I'd heard of the Spartan Cruise, the idea of a cruise was not my type of vacation. I'm not a sitting around type of guy so I never thought I'd be on a boat where a good percentage of the point is to enjoy lounging around... not exactly my style. But when I got on the Norwegian Cruise Line, it would only be moments after walking on and enjoying the company on the ship that I realized it was exactly the right decision. I hadn't used a passport since before brain surgery so to be able to use it again for the first time on an obstacle course I'd never heard of back then on a cruise that was it's first time launching felt just right.
It actually started on the flight out that it felt right. Somehow the universe was kind enough to line up that this was the first direct flight American Airlines had ever had out of Austin to Miami. Fittingly they put out breakfast tacos and the trip started out with good food looking forward to good weather.
Still, this wasn't your grandmother's cruise and right from the beginning we were all doing burpees pool side. And then right as we got on the cruise I sat down with Spartan friends among them two cute girls. The one who I thought was cuter (probably because she was the single one that very late in the game had decided to join me on the cruise) was being talked into doing her first Spartan the next day. I offered to join her and do it side by side as I have with the people I love like my mother, brother and daughter and like my first Spartan had been guided for me by my friend Alexander. Enthusiasm can be contagious in many ways but my favorite both on the receiving and giving end is when it's close enough to literally be by your side.
Every Spartan race is different, it's own unique set of challenges in changing orders with no exact distances like road races. I'd never ran this hard on the beach, changing into water, changing into swimming, changing into rocks, climbing up ropes, up beach sides under barbed wire. The water obstacles are usually mudwater so it was different to have them be salty seawater which made for some early mistakes on when I opened my eyes. Still, on my first loop the only obstacle I missed was the spear throw by a smidgeon... I finished smiling as I received my medal knowing that I'd just gotten to experience my idea of a good day on the beach.
The second loop was just as fun as I accompanied the cute girl and we teamed up with someone else from the first heat who was also doing his second wave to accompany his parents. The beauty of the Spartan races is that in road races you really only get to see the people who are approximately your running speed but with the obstacles there are people who crawl under wire better than me (don't believe me check out our respective backs), people who have better upper bodies, people who have more dexterity. It's a test on these courses that tests the balance of all these things themselves, heck it tests balance itself. It is perhaps why I love Spartan so much that it's the closest thing I've ever experienced where an individual sport feels like a team sport as you get the camaraderie back and forth. Second loop around I nailed all of the obstacles including the spear throw though I did more burpees though as we went around together we did burpees together when obstacles were missed. Taking it a slightly slower speed than the first it was cool to watch what a huge range of athletes went out there. In marathons we talk about hitting the wall, in Spartan you have to try to figure out how to get over an 8 foot one and how to balance and grip across a Z-wall. We all finished it and hugged it out becoming Caribbean Spartans, Aroo. Well... I might have given her a salty kiss at the finish line. I had just finished my second loop of the day but it was as refreshing as the ocean to hear people including those who had just finished their first loop talking about doing a second
But the party was just beginning with acts of acrobatics and drinking being the post race celebration. Guys and girls whose arms seem bigger than my legs walking along tiny boards, holding themselves up, showing that apparently the body has a lot more ability to define muscle than I'd ever realized. When we finally got back on the boat and results were announced it made my day to "place" for the first time in a spartan. They were awarding the top 50 finishers and while Isaiah Vidal had won first place and made 3k which he immediately donated to charity, I took 50th place as the last official placer.
Still, the running I do, the working out I do, the race is just the excuse and the Spartan cruise certainly understood that when not too long after sunset but well into the night, we started the official Saturday night party baby! People think I drain for endurance for running but it's just so I can last longer on the dance floor as is any attempt at flexibility or coordination. So there was dancing and drinking, not necessarily in that order till well into the night. Between participating in it and watching people me the guy with memory problem was grateful that some of this was dancing I'd remember even as those whose dancing reflected shifted more/less gracefully with each mojito would be dancing to forget. Still, on that big blue watery road, believe me when I say... I partied till 4:30 in the morning between the various locations like the dance floor, the casino.
Still, perhaps why this is exactly my kind of crowd despite having been out on the dance floor, we were all up at again with founder Joe Decena doing a workout on the deck first thing in the morning. While it was optional there were tons of people there, planking, burpeeing, push upping, running around the boat. A few people were talking about sea sickness or hang overs or soreness but the solution for all of us was to sweat it out immediately after breakfast. (Or if you're really hard core you take 2 tries to break a 50k time record on a treadmill.)
It took me 4 years to use a passport since brain surgery. Back then I thought I'd never see the day with a big boat coming my way but I am not sure it could have been any better first use than this, from both loops on the course to having it be a challenge I'd never heard of before, consistently reinforcing that if you sign up for challenges you weren't ready for it makes the ones you don't sign up for easier to absorb. But also because of the main reason that even the down time was with people who have helped keep much of me and my spirit up and rising constantly in ways I'd never imagined.
With the awareness that statistically speaking I'm not likely to make 40, I've often made the joke that statistics are like bikinis, what they reveal is interesting but what they conceal is vital and if there's any reason I'm fighting cancer is because of how good people look in bikinis. Let's just say that first night alone much less the rest of the weekend is the most bikinis I've ever seen and how good those Spartan girls looked in bikinis well I'm going to keep fighting with conviction.