Thursday, October 8, 2015

Race For A Reason

For a little over two years now, I've been in the world of Spartan obstacle course racing. Without exception, the hardest thing I've sat through each of these years is the World Championship Beast Course 3 times runnings. It turns out that the muscles I had neglected since high school are used there and I've tried to build them up, some of those are physical and some of them are mental.

For the first time in any Spartan or any race, I had to face a course that was completely uphill for the first half, essentially 7.5 miles up a mountain that people use to ski down, along roads, single track at the highest altitude I've ever raced. I've ran in Denver before but this was a higher altitude so even further up than joining the mile high club. The race started in the 30's which I haven't seen in half a year... I joked as the course started that due to this should be a low pressure chill out kind of race but knew that there's never a day where I do that completely. At the top of the mountain there was a swim across a lake whose temperature barely broke 50 degrees and appeared to break many racers with the number of people who took DNF's after it. There was barbed wire in the cold and wind that wouldn't let you get back on your feet in very long before you had to crawl but you had to crawl and then get up and get over walls or into water again... I don't know if misery loves company but we had some company while going through misery. There are times at the beginning, middle and end of these courses where I have to remind myself that the reason I keep doing these things is because I've fully internalized that if you sign up for some hard messy things in life, the ones you don't sign up for get a little easier. There might be a fine line between masochism and accepting a tough challenge; I suppose for me that line is called a Spartan finish line.

It would be the first time I ever got all weight based obstacles without taking a break to put them down, a serious log carry, a Herculean Hoist, a farmer's carry with handles attached to two logs. I
nailed the spear throw dead center, I got the rope faster than I ever had and just when you thought you didn't have too much left they threw in a bucket brigade where all of a sudden those riding up those ski gondolas and coming down on ski's seemed a lot more attractive.

Still when it was all said and done, 15 miles with some serious elevation change and the better part of 40 obstacle, it was heart warming to once again have earned the title of being a beast. Because if it hadn't been heart warming I would have gone into hypothermia. 

Still,  once in a while, the universe is kind enough to where you get to do your best after you've done your hardest task. Where I come from, the best thing you ever do is never entirely for yourself, it's to help others. This is how I got into the world of Spartan, a guy who is much better than me, Alexander Nicholas, had guided me. So we signed up once again for the charity challenge. That first year it was just a few of us and we won it by a few seconds. Last year we put together an even better team because we had more ladies being reminded that ancient Sparta was the place that was the most egalitarian. The charity challenge requires that one of the ladies count towards your score; they are necessary if you want to rule the podium. Like the ancient female ruler Gorgo answered why Spartan women were the only ones who could rule men, she answered, "because we are also the only ones who give birth to men" It's perhaps no coincidence that our first woman placer in the challenge and top 5 overall, Jackie, is a mother of five and had come in the top 20 at the beast the day before.  

Still, as we sat there some meeting for the first time before the charity challenge, some hugging out a reunion, some talking strategy, I felt honored to be part of the team and the event. The event itself as the announcer asked how many had done the beast before, the vast majority of hands went up. I think though perhaps for each hand in there they knew they were doing one of the best things simultaneously with the hardest things and certainly for many of us the best thing after the hardest thing might mean the exact same thing. There would be folks on my team who are personal coaches that use the strengths they have and make it contagious. They make it both Epic and Tough. There would be people who were doing it because they knew cancer survivors sharing the journey and they were ready to go up and down part of this mountain again to provide help with their own hands and feet. There would be there people with injuries who were joining the team some on the sideline, some on the course, knowing we needed each of them. There were those whose father, spouse, girlfriend were competing for the best picture. When we were taking the team picture, while not all conceded, I tried to get them all to jump in because there wasn't a second where I didn't think of them as part of the team. It was a moment to realize that they helped me fight my internal demon with a hard race. I knew some of them fought their anxiety, their worries, their fears this way and it sure beat any other way that I know of. Some of them were already parents, some of them were on their way to becoming one, all of them knew how to fight life for each other. It's fairly heart warming that almost all of our original team is still there for the 3rd time in a row. I sometimes dare to dream, perhaps just wishful mystical thinking, that the reason my tumor hasn't grown is because my body has spent it's energy growing muscles and friendships grow while keeping almost all of them. Perhaps for a little while at least, the negative things stay in the background because there's no room for them at all.  

I created my team with Livestrong, a way to help out survivors of various cancers across the country. It felt entirely appropriate that we had people from coast to coast and all points in between. There were other teams there fighting for other diseases including specific cancers. There were those standing up for veterans who had pushed their minds and bodies far longer and for far nobler reasons than just a medal. It took a few simple conversations and looks around to realize that the reasons all of us, any of us ever take on cancer or enemies is not for ourselves but because we know that losing any of us is losing part of all of us. I love that the charity challenge is a team challenge because aren't we all better together? The whole is always greater than the sum of it's parts and man we had some good looking parts ;). 

When it was all said and done I was a contender of the race for far longer than I ever had been but it
was my teammates that made sure we took home the title. At least that's what I told them and they reminded me it was a team title. They had handed out a band that said race for a reason to the charity challenge. I had looked down at it and it overlapped with my Livestrong and Hope band. This was after all the reason I raced, believing that I and others keep making life have a little more hope because our reason is greater than ourselves.

I coincidentally had worn my make him work for it shirt in all Spartan races and it's now expected of me which is fine. But on the charity challenge it feels right to look at that band and wear that shirt and remember an old spartan saying, "You should reach the limits of virtue, before you cross the border of death." For three years in a row, this team, this event has done that and I think continued to push higher the limits of virtue and thus keeping the border of death further away. And that, in my book, is the best reason to race.

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