As I shared in my article My Journey at the Gym, a few weeks before the Spartan race my personal trainer, The King, had to drop out. He left for New York for a chance at his own studio and I was alone for the remaining time before the race. I didn't slack off with my training, but I didn't workout as hard as I had been (a workout is still better than nothing). Flipping tires alone wasn't fun and I just felt isolated. It didn't last long though, as the Spartan Race was rushing up on me.
I woke up early the morning of November 2, 2013 and drove to Miller Park in Milwaukee. Traffic was great, so I arrived pretty early. I saw the stadium looming before me as I approached. I got through registration and then was able to spend an hour worrying my brains out. My start time was called and I headed back into the stadium. You know that feeling you get when your chest feels like it is being beaten up from the inside by your heart? I'm not talking about just a little thump, I'm talking your heart wants to literally explode through your ribs. That's how it was when I walked up to the starting line.
We were given circles to stand in. I tried to steady my breath, but it seemed impossible. I remembered the tips The King had given me and looked to my team (filling the other spaces) knowing we would take this on together. The race started and I was able to get through the clothes line gauntlet without much hassle (it helped that the guy a few feet in front of me totally got clothes lined so I realized they were there). There were stations where we had to row, lift heavy weights (I think one was the Atlas walk or whatever it was called. 55lb?), climb over walls (not climbing walls, these were smooth), and of course, if you failed an obstacle you had to do thirty burpees (one veteran of the race was actually just doing burpees whether he succeeded at the obstacle or not, that was his goal, wow!)
About half way through, I realized that I didn't recognize anyone around me. I had fallen behind. I figured I would just catch up or there would be another who fell behind with me and we would finish the course. Then I came to the tallest wall there. People were running and jumping, just barely grabbing the top. I'm height challenged (weight challenged, too), but I didn't want to just resign to burpees and give up. I was going to make it over that wall! How though? I spotted a few of my teammates and asked them. They told me about how to do a running start and then showed me how to get over the wall. I took that running start! I lept! I...face-planted like in the old Looney Toon shows.
So, obviously that didn't work well for me. While everyone moved on, I was still stuck. I understood that everyone has their own view of a race. Fastest time, first to cross, fun, but mine was teamwork. That was what The King and I had discussed when we planned to run together. He had said, "Whatever your pace, that will be mine. We'll cross that line even if it takes us half a day."
While I stood there missing my friend, I watched another team of five at the wall. They created a stepping ladder for each other, boosting each other to the top, the ones at the top reaching down to help the last ones over. That's what I needed. Just as that thought crossed my mind, two guys race up next to me and offered to boost me over as well. One guy had on a spartan cape, the other had on a Flash mask. The Flash took a knee by the wall and The Spartan Cape stood in front of him. I climbed onto the Flash's knee, then onto the Cape's shoulder. Slow and steady got me to the top of the wall (I was afraid my weight would hurt them). As I was crossing over, the two took a running jump and joined me. They showed me how to do the next few obstacles smarter, not harder, and then we parted ways.
It was a brief encounter, but they had made my race all the better. I continued on my own. The last few obstacles were vertical challenges, climbing rope, lifting a weight by a rope, let's just say that I did a lot of burpees the last half of the race. The others who were stuck doing burpees with me encouraged me to keep fighting on and I did the same for the rest that joined (I was slow at burpees). Soon, the end was in sight. I was almost there! I could hear Chariots of Fire in my head as I ran towards the finish line. I was going to make it!...and then I saw the guy ahead of me get clobbered in the face with the blocker. Again, it made me focus on what was in front of me, and it wasn't the finish line. Thanks, Craig, for my Tai Chi blocking.
I crossed that finish line in all my glory and was able to claim my medal and my shirt. It was such a fulfilling experience. I joined some of the other teams to look up how we did. I made sure to write everything on the back of my number tag (saw people tossing them out, so I figured I could keep mine). I had made it fifteen minutes under my goal! It felt great (I'm ignoring the 2.3 secs)!
I walked around to cool down and search for my teammates. I figured they might want to grab a bite to eat or get something to drink (water for me all the way). I walked for fifteen minutes before I texted to see where they were. The text back was, we're already halfway back. We finished and headed home. I think we can agree that this felt like a kick in the teeth. The weeks leading up to the race, I kept hearing people tell me that they would help me get through the course, that there was no one left behind. Well here I was, dolled out in their calling card, "teamwork all the way", and they left me. This wasn't the race I had signed up for. I decided to head home as well.
I managed to take a shower when I got home (how did I even get up the stairs?) and climbed into bed. I didn't fall asleep, but it felt good to just lay there (though I did get up every once in a while to stretch my muscles). I looked at my bib, my new shirt that I earned, and my medal. I wanted to feel hurt and betrayed, but I couldn't. Why? Because while my own team had gone off, there was help from others. The ones I did burpees with, the two that stopped their own race to help me over the wall, the guy who got hit by the lines, and the blocker alerting me to their presence. Every one of them made my 1st race (I'm not counting track and field day in elementary) wonderful.
Sometimes I look at my medal and wear my shirt, not to feel nostalgic, but to wonder what else I can accomplish. One thing is for certain, I'll be looking for a team that sticks with me to the end. You have my back, I'll have yours.
"What do you mean that was level one? There are more!?" - Me, being invited to race in a Super (blue) by spartan email.
~ Philip M. Warden ~
Warden's World Thoughts
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