Susan Jeffers wrote these words in 1988. I read her book in 2008. I lived those words in 2013.
Rewind to September 2012 when my inspirational and inspiring friend Tanya threw down the gauntlet after running her first Spartan race in Virginia. She did incredibly well and was so stoked when she got home. Her unbridled enthusiasm and convincing words “don’t think about it, just do it” were fuel for 30-ish of her closest friends to sign up for the Ottawa race 9 months later.
When sobriety settled in, I started to feel the fear. I was not, nor had I ever been, the least bit athletic. I was a month shy of 51 years of age. Why was I doing this? I realized it was precisely because of those realities that I was even contemplating doing it. Lately, as my beleaguered family can attest to, I’m all about trying new and different things be it activities, experiences, books, food, whatever. I crave novelty!
And novel I got. I started going to cardio kick boxing classes, high interval training and weekly boot camp. I learned about hooks and uppercuts , planks and burpees (ok, I remembered those not so fondly from grade 8 gym class) and how to fit in 6-8 hours a week into my already pretty busy schedule. I made myself get up on Saturday and Sunday mornings and hit the gym before I did anything else. As the months went on, I felt good about keeping my commitment to myself and I certainly knew what I was working towards. And the initial fear subsided.
When I started to measure the countdown in weeks and then in sleeps, the fear and self doubts resurfaced. WHAAAAAAAAT was I doing????? I wasn’t ready, I hadn’t trained enough, I still couldn’t run 5K without stopping and as for upper body strength, I felt like the guy who always gets sand kicked in his face. I was afraid. Afraid of not meeting my personal goal (albeit a generous one as all I wanted to do was finish and survive!) afraid of failing in front of my cheering section comprised of family and friends and after talking to everyone I know for months about my upcoming feat , afraid of looking like a loser.
And then it was June 15. Race day. When we arrived at the ski hill, I could definitely feel the excitement in the air. And as much as it made me feel like quite the athlete to have my bib number written on my leg and forehead, I couldn’t help but think it would make it easier to identify my body!
My three ‘immediate’ team mates and I met up with our ‘extended’ team of 30 people all somehow linked to our lynch pin, Tanya. We got our team shirts identifying us to each other and others as the ‘Will B Warriors’. I looked up the ski hills (hills? more like mountains!) and I was feeling the fear. In the last few minutes leading up to our 10 a.m. heat, we heard an announcement: the elite heat had left at 9 a.m. and the first person was crossing the finish line in 44 minutes!
We lined up and my foursome was toward the back of the pack with about 246 people in front of us. The buzzer sounded and we were off! It didn’t feel much like a race as we were walking up the hill until the front runners broke away from the pack. One foot in front of the other until we got to the first obstacle, the much anticipated barbed wire. We had heard that the course was designed to get you literally down and dirty from the get go and it was and we did. Although one of my fears was having my shirt and my back ripped by barbed wire (was my tetanus shot up to date?) as it turned out, I need not have worried…about that at least. From about that point on, everything is a bit of a blur. I know I pulled pieces of rock with a chain, carried jerry cans full of water uphill and munition boxes downhill, scaled walls, walked through chest high freezing cold water and encountered more mud.
A few of the challenges are etched in my mind and I suspect always will be. Once we had climbed the hill a.k.a mountain once, I assumed that would be it. Wrong! We went up another hill AND then we went up a third hill. As difficult as the first two were, the third was a killer. I have no idea what the gradient was but the word steep just doesn’t even begin do it justice. And as tough as going up was, in many ways, coming down was even harder.
My greatest fear in the world is confined spaces. I came upon a tunnel that was barely wider than shoulder width. I looked at it for several minutes, debating whether I would just take the penalty and do the requisite 30 burpees. But I had told myself earlier in the day that if I had the chance to face this fear, I would do it. I got down on my knees and started in but backed out. One of my team mates, Trudy, was at the other end and she yelled at me in a way that would have done any Drill Sergeant proud. “Go! Do it! Do it now!” She may have said other things but that too is a blur. I got in and kept my eyes glued to the light at the end of the tunnel. I do remember shouting at her to keep talking to me. I made it through but didn’t have time to revel in my accomplishment, at least not then.
My moment of crowning glory was conquering the last obstacle, the rope wall. With Connie right beside me as she had been since the beginning, I started up. It was going well until I slipped just as I reached the top. I didn’t think I would make it over the ledge but after some struggling, I did. Then the real problem. I had to wrap my legs around a rope and slide down. Oh, right-damn fear of heights! The volunteer at the top was amazing. While I whined that I couldn’t do it, he told me calmly and encouragingly that I could do it and that he would help me. With Connie holding the rope at the bottom, I closed my eyes and just did it. I was done!!! My new PB (personal best to the uninitiated) is 3:02:53!
The Spartan tag line is “You’ll know at the finish line”. I’m sure that means something different to each participant and here is what I know. I know I felt and faced my (myriad of!) fears, both real and imagined. I know I accomplished the singularly most demanding mental and physical challenge I have ever faced. (As a bonus, we found out the next day that because of a calculation error, the 5K route was in reality, 6.7 K!) I know I wouldn’t have made it through the tunnel without Trudy screaming at me and I know Connie could have shaved 30 minutes at least off her time if her mantra hadn’t been ‘we start together, we finish together’. And I know for sure I never would have done this without Tanya insisting that I could. And if I had never done it I would never know this great feeling of being absolutely amazingly proud of me!
I am Spartan Warrior, hear me roar!!!