It was early February and I had committed to my first Spartan in Cortland, New York. I was pushing myself a bit more at the gym and I was feeling good. I let my two friends know that I was signed up and they told me that they would let me know when they did. I knew however that I needed to be more prepared than I had before. I needed to do some research!
I started watching every video I could on Spartan and previous races at Cortland and began piecing together specific things I knew already I needed to work on. I also came across a book written by the CEO of Spartan, Joe DeSena. I purchased it as an audio book and began listening to it on my way to work and on my breaks. I was becoming mildly obsessive about doing my best and knowing everything I could.
What really amazed me was the book. Joe talked about aspects of his life growing up, in business and the mentality of Spartan. It was more than just a race, he was genuinely trying to build a way of life that would help so many people. It was also a way of life that made sense to me. On the course there is an obstacle in front of you. You don’t run away from it, or sit down and complain that it its there, you go through the damn thing! Why wouldn’t you do the same when there is an obstacle presented to you in life?
Being apart form my ex wife, living on my own, and only having my daughter half of the week presented numerous obstacles in my life that I had not encountered before. Prior to this book and the these ideas I did exactly what one should not do, I sat around feeling sorry for myself and my obstacles just stayed right in front of my face. Neither of us moving or changing.
I knew that I needed to change a few things and figured that putting my energy into something a little healthier would be good, so I trained harder! I only had about a month to prepare myself, but I was going to make sure I did the best I could! Then the next obstacle hit, both my friends backed out of the race! I was devastated! These were the guys I always tried to do better than and I relied on to push me a bit (all 2 races they did) and now I would be alone. The last two races we did were not that big, and I was able to talk to people but I thought that Spartan would be spaced out so much more that I would only be running with a handful of people and I would feel isolated one way or the other (little did I know at the time). I thought about backing out, but then remembered an idea Joe had mentioned in his book.
Run for a cause! That was it! If I did this for others I would force myself to go through with it. I quickly put together a GoFundMe for a charity that had helped my cousins family while he was battling cancer and put it out on my social media platforms. Now I was committed. I couldn’t back out unless there was a serious enough injury.
Race day finally came and I couldn’t wait! When I pulled up towards the parking lot I couldn’t believe my eyes. There were THOUSANDS of people there! Literally thousands. I did not think they all could be for this obstacle course race, Central New York is not that big. Once I walked into the festival area though I fell in love! The music, the people, the camaraderie, it was all overwhelming. I suddenly found myself frustrated that I did not get there sooner to enjoy some of the festivities and socialize, but knew that I could spend a solid portion of my afternoon there. I went off to pick up my bib and began stretching awaiting my heat.
For those that have never done a Spartan I will give you the advanced warning now, there is an obstacle prior to the start line that you have to get through. It is a simple 4 foot wall that you have to get up and over. It is not hard, but on this day one man did hurt himself pretty bad. He twisted his knee just before my heat was going to go out. Turns out it was the best thing that could have happened to him. When he went to medical they discovered an issue with his heart. An issue so severe that if he would have attempted his way out of the starting gate he would have never made it up the first incline. That initial obstacle saved his life, quite literally! This is just more proof that obstacles in our life are not always a bad thing. They might take us off the path we want, but will put us on the one we need!
I make it up and over the wall without a problem and get to the start line. My body is pulsating electricity due to the excitement and nerves. I look up at the course and realize the first stretch is straight up a ski slope. I am scared and excited. I am not really talking to many people, just trying to keep my cool so I can do this without driving myself completely nuts. The MC went through his usual spear about the course and safety stuff and then of course came the “Spartan’s, what is your profession?” It began and I was off, leading my heat up the mountain side. The first few minutes I felt amazing, but then that pesky mountain began wearing on me, pretty quickly! I had started out too fast and burnt myself out. Typical rookie mistake.
I was not in a good spot. Instantly doubt poured over me. “What am I doing here? What was I thinking? I am never going to complete this! I should have backed out when Chris and Brendan said they couldn’t do it!” This was all I was thinking for what seemed like an eternity, reality was probably about 4 minutes.
I remember seeing people turning to the right, our first turn, and prayed that is was level ground. I am not a fan of stopping once I start a race, so I will continue moving just to keep momentum, but man did I want to stop at this moment. I got to the turn and the mountainside just opened up into this amazing view. I felt refreshed and invigorated! I had the conscious thought “this is why I am here” and I started running somehow. I felt alive and excited about what my next challenge would be.
I will not go through this race in such great detail like explaining every single obstacle, but I will say that I did fail the rope climb and the spear through as well as a few others that I cannon recall at this moment. The one notable one that I was angry I failed was Z Wall. I will mention this only because of someone else. There was another guy that had just failed right before me, and he was really struggling. He did not want to do the burpees and you could tell he was just gassed. I made the decision to do each burpee with him, counting them off and letting him set the pace. I don’t say this to pat myself on the back, but the vibe I got throughout this whole race so far was to look out for your fellow Spartan. Later in the race when I took a pretty nasty spill because I lost my footing, it was the same mentality that brought 3 people over that I had never met, and do not know their names, to reach for my arms before I had a chance to try to get up on my own. It was like they were catching me in stride!
To finish the race I was able to slide down the mountain on my chest, pop up and do my first Spartan Fire Jump! The feeling was exhilarating! I got my medal and met up with the girl that I had recently started seeing and was ready to network with others and share our joined experience together. The festival area was jubilant and I knew there was much fun to be had, but first nature called!
I stopped in one of the port-a-johns and began to relieve myself while also turning on my phone. My father called and left a voicemail “Marty I need you to call me back” was all it said. Now my father and I have a quality relationship today, but talking on the phone is not our forte. I knew something was wrong. When I called him back I found out that my Aunt had passed away that morning. Cancer had claimed the life of another family member. I no longer wanted to participate in the festival, or really do much of anything. I just wanted to go home.
I know that this post has ended on a bit of a sour note, but next week is the final part in this series and I promise that it will be worth it! I will talk about what has solidified me as a Spartan and avid OCR enthusiast and how I started my journey on the path I am on today! Until next week keep pushing your limits!