I have been fortunate enough to do many Spartans in many places. There's even been videos made of them (one of the land and two by the sea). However the first Spartan, Alexander Nicholas, was a race where I was guided by a stranger whose become a good friend since and that kindness was contagious. There's been cousins, good friends, lovely ladies who I've joined for at least the cheering section of the course if not more. Last year in his hometown it was my little brother David's first race of any type and when it was announced that in 2015 it would fall on my birthday, he said he wanted me back, this is how we would party. I told him that I didn't think that far ahead but he never gave up on the dream.
A couple of cousins who had cheered last year were signed up, the first females in my family to sign up for a Spartan. Kiana had decided to try to do the adult version this time (not officially allowed till you're 14... Always a bright idea when you do something questionable to have it visible on the Internet?). I both questioned and praised the decision because of how rough her first kids Spartan had gone.
I had the advantage that I was doing the elite heat before so I was more in scope it out for Kiana mode than race mode because of that. Still, I'm not a guy who celebrates his birthday much (though I celebrate being alive everyday). But I was born 8/8/80 turned 8 on 8/8/88 and here I got to do my first race ever on my birthday with bib #8 with several family members and friends and my daughter at 8 years old. I mean how lucky can one guy be?
Luckier than I could have ever imagined! Coincidentally this race had every obstacle I missed on my first spartan a little over two years ago and the one I most recently missed in June. On this course, I got them all! I did miss one and the course had an obstacle that required 5 burpees so I ended up doing 35 burpees on my 35th birthday... That seemed right in its own way. I finished just in time to head over to the heat my family was lining up to do and Kiana and I snuck into the back. About half of the crew it was their first time doing one and I heckled them that Kiana was going to beat us all. Either way I was going to smile at the end because the number of friends and family I keep doing races with keeps growing.
It was a tough hill and a thick crowd so it was a slow start up and a steep dusty descent after with Kiana realizing quickly that it was very different than the road races we've done together. My parenting philosophy is first you gotta give kids roots than you gotta give them wings... So attempting to be one of those first flying lessons, I told her that with each obstacle, I would be with her but I'd only help if asked. First jump in and out cold water mud pits she gets in and gets out fast... Sandbag carry, carries the bag up a hill, across it, and down it entirely by herself. The log carry I had to help not sure if it was because of the weight or the fact that it was about her size. Still there was a little wall and a cargo net that she literally climbed up and went over down faster than the adult next to her did or could have (oh wait that was me).
We were about halfway done when she said to me, thanks dad for letting me do the adult version. I told her we got a long way to go, let's see if you still feel that way at the end. She said okay but I don't think I'll change my mind. The spear throw was the first obstacle I would have to do entirely for her though the deal was if I missed it she had to do the burpees... I nailed it. In strict running we talk about hitting the wall... In Spartans we go over them and this time they had a six foot wall, followed immediately by a 7 ft wall, followed immediately by an 8 ft wall. I propped her up on the first two and before I could get to the other side she had let herself go down. She did the same with the 7 foot wall. I asked her to at least wait till I was on the other side on the 8 foot one before she let herself down since her fearlessness continues to scare me.
She went under the barbed wire with conviction, far more than I ever have and that's where we passed my brother and cousin who had been ahead of us. Some people get their favorite icing for their birthday; mine was definitely seeing people I love being covered in mud. The first time I did the tyrolean traverse I fell... Kiana did not, she made it look easy. She did the same with the traverse wall where I did the best I could using my hands to replicate the bottoms as the footholds. It was at that point that she said no matter how much longer we've got or what the obstacles are, I am happy we are doing the grown up one together. There must have been some mud that got stuck in my eye earlier from the course that I had to spend a few seconds getting out at that point in the course cause why else would I have been wiping my eyes?
The one obstacle that I supposed she skipped all together was the bucket carry since it was almost her height and carrying that full of rocks was not realistic. Still since teamwork is allowed in the open heats we took one with minimal rocks at the bottom and Kiana standing on top of them. I don't know if the carry is more or less than the better part of 60 lbs Kiana weighs, but I'm not sure I'll ever have any other bucket carry that warms my heart by hugging me again so I am not sure I'd even call that an obstacle.
Still as the course was wrapping up, it was clear that my heckling of Kiana beating us all was going to be correct and we got to the last obstacle, the rope climb. Kiana has climbed a rope before but not one that high, nor while both her and the rope were wet, nor at the end of her longest race. I went in just worried at the bottom I'd have to catch her. She stopped about two thirds of the way and I said as calmly as I could, look, its okay to come down, we can just do burpees. She looked down at me (probably in more ways than one) and said look I'm just taking a breath okay. She then looked back up and climbed all the way to the top and rang the bell. I didn't realize she had gathered a small audience and when she rang it she got clapped and cheered for more than I ever have at any obstacle. I didn't join in the clapping cause my arms were still extended just in case but I cheered my heart out.
I have done races and gone back and finished with people many times. Usually when they complete their race, I place their medal on them, understanding in a great way that it really is better to give than to receive. It's a special moment where you get to encapsulate and well hand out happiness. On races Kiana had been in a stroller I'd take my medal and place it on her neck each time. There's been races I've done next to her where she got a medal and I didn't cause it was a kid's race or she'd placed in her age group. However on this race I had purposely not taken the medal at the elite heat and for the first time ever Kiana and I received our medals side by side for both having done a course. Kiana has a thing against having favorite in most things but she turned and said to me, "you know how I didn't have a favorite medal, I do now, this one's the best one." I had to wipe that doggone mud out of my eyes again.
We would cheer the rest of the family and friends in, watching them succeed in their own way even if sometimes it was against the obstacles or earning them with burpees. Kiana and I would sit and chat with other friends including some who have been and will be part of my spartan charity team. But there was a very humbling moment when Amelia Boone's mother came and spoke to me. Here was the mother of Amelia, great person who is also a great attorney, current cover of Runners world, and who has won both the world Spartan championship and the world's toughest Mudder. She comes up and says that the way I approach life and parenting was inspiring. I hugged her and said that if I did a fraction of the job she did, I would be very proud.
There would be more finishers and muddy hugs, drinks and medals, stories and calls, pictures and social media as we tried to encapsulate the memories. I sat reflecting officially one year older knowing that each day above ground is a good one in my book. But with some of it over obstacles, some of it underwater, knowing that this birthday where my brain had gotten a little reminder of the right frame of heart, well those reminders of the privilege of being there to celebrate life were gr8!