As I struggled for 5 minutes to remove my mud-caked compression socks after completing the Spartan Beast, I had to ask myself why I do this. Most of my body hurts today, and a 7 year old groin injury has become a fresh wound once again. I really had to spend time pondering what I’m getting out of it. Ultimately I’m glad I signed up, but why? I’ll never finish in first place. It’s expensive. Preparation takes a lot of time, which I don’t have. The skin gets cut and mud is ground into the cuts.
It must be some kind of visceral reaction to all of the things I was incapable of at one time in my life, either due to inability, or fear. I couldn’t run for 5 minutes without coughing up tar from the previous night’s cigarettes. I couldn’t complete big projects out of fear that it might create expectations in other people. I was always looking for the exit. From everything — relationships, jobs, responsibility, life. If I had any goal at all, it was to feel as empty as possible. Negative thoughts were unbearable, and positive thoughts were fleeting and undeserved.
There is something symbolic about crossing a finish line…a kind of reset. It is easy to get overwhelmed by feelings of inadequacy and doubt if a day isn’t going smoothly. Things that I don’t normally care about become more prominent. Not having a Lamborghini, for instance. I don’t care about cars at all. Never have. But if I’m having a bad day and stop next to a Lamborghini at an intersection, a whole series of voices start chirping in the background. “You would have one of those if you had made better choices.” “You know he’s driving to a giant house that has a resort inside of a bowling alley inside of a movie theater.” “The lady in the passenger seat thinks you are staring at her. You should roll your window down. ‘I’m not staring at you, I’m staring at a reflection of my own insecurity!'” HONK! from behind me. Really? Another Lamborghini?
A 14 mile hike through a western movie landscape isn’t conducive to that kind of wasteful self-flagellation. At times it requires precision focus on the next step in front of you. While we don’t always realize it, all of us are trying to get to a place in our minds that enables us to experience only what is happening right now. It is, after all, the only thing that exists. Meditation is the ultimate mind training to get to that place, but it isn’t always easy to get there. At least for me. These races achieve it by proxy. That’s really what it is I guess. Five hours of living in the “now.”
My client Shelyna talked me into my first Spartan race last October. “Sure, sounds fun!” I didn’t bother to research what it was. The term “Beast” sounded a little intimidating, but it was only 13 miles, and I had already completed about 15 half marathons. (By completed, I mean barely outside of an ambulance). Throw in a few pull-ups and tire-flips…how hard can it be? As we crossed the finish line after 7 hours and 14 minutes, I swore I would never do that to myself again. I acquired a nagging shoulder injury that lasted for a couple of months, and I was walking funny for at least a week.
In the way that women must forget what it is like to go through childbirth (lest we become extinct), I am doing the race again this Saturday. I’m down a few pounds, and spent a little extra time working on my cardio, but I know it’s gonna be just as miserable. I’m a little addicted to these things though. I tend to get addicted to anything that is addictive, but I guess I’ve been hooked on worse. I’m not the best runner, nor the strongest lifter, but I can reasonably handle myself with both skills.
Yesterday I thought I would do a little dry run at the Obstacle Warrior Gym in Dallas. I could practice hanging and swinging, maybe get some tips from other people training there. It is a legitimate American Ninja Warrior Gym. A two time show contestant named Mark was working out. I recognized many of the obstacles from the show, and tried out most of them. Couldn’t get up the wall. It’s a lot higher than it seems on TV. I think it was fear that kept me from getting to the top. I’m clumsy, and it would have been an ugly fall. My brain just wouldn’t allow it.
They have a “salmon ladder.” That’s the one I really wanted to try, but I mostly stared at it, uncertain. Finally I decided to hop on. It’s a soft fall into foam blocks, so what’s the risk? Surprisingly, I made it from the bottom to the top on my first try. I just knew I had found my calling as a Ninja Warrior. I then proceeded to fail on every other obstacle in the gym. No matter. I was running out of time anyway. Why not just nail the salmon ladder again? Now that other people are here, they will be very impressed. (*Note — all of the people there are competitive obstacle course athletes and will not be impressed). I hopped on the first rung, and prepared to climb once again to victory. On the first leap I missed the second rung completely, but forgot to let go of the bar. After dropping about 3 feet, the bar tore two of the calluses off of my right hand.
So…two days to go for the Spartan race, and I can’t use my right hand very well. Plus it may freeze overnight, and a lot of the water on the course is neck deep. Should be a ton of fun.