What I Learned From My First Spartan Race

Over the past few week’s I’ve referenced my upcoming Spartan Race, and last weekend I attacked the course head on and survived!

Minutes before my heat took off, the announcer said that this race would challenge our “mind, body and spirit,” and I knew I was exactly where I needed to be.  I was inspired, fired up, and ready to do battle with the unknown challenge that awaited me.

It wasn’t easy, but it sure as heck was fun (and messy)!

The race, along with all the preparation and training leading up to it, was a tremendous experience.  I was reminded of what it felt like to really train for something – to feel like an athlete again.  Whether it was scaling walls, trudging through mud, throwing spears, swinging between monkey bars and rings, or jumping over fire, I was competing with myself to go above and beyond what I thought I could do.  There was no fear – only determination.

I was reminded of many truths during my adventure, and I wanted to share them here.

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The Beauty in Challenge and Adversity

Nothing about the run was easy.  Whether it was the nerves before, all the challenges during, or the soreness for days after, the pure challenge of the event was a beautiful experience.  When we compete in anything in life, we have a tremendous opportunity to walk away with lessons to help us elevate our game in the future.

Walking off the course with my finisher’s medal in hand, I couldn’t help but smile and reflect on the following:

You can do more than you think – While listening to a podcast a few months ago, the guest was discussing fatigue and noted that when you think you are spent, you are really only about 40% of the way towards what you can truly do.  This proved true on race day.

In the weeks and months leading up to the race, part of my training consisted of  doing 30 burpees after each 2-3 mile run. It was exhausting and hard.  I incorporated this because on race day, if you fail an obstacle, you owe 30 burpees.  Well, throughout the 4.2 mile course I managed to rack up 180 burpees in penalties.  Ouch!

My point is that we all encounter difficult things in life – whether it be physical, mental, emotional or spiritual.  Often we hear of difficult circumstances that happen to others and think to ourselves that we could never handle it.  Maybe its having to come back from a serious injury, getting laid off, dealing with the loss of a loved one or losing our home to a housing crisis or a natural disaster…

Whatever the scenario, the physical, emotional and mental pain can be crushing.

However I challenge all of us to believe that in the face of adversity we are stronger than we think.  We can and will rise above the challenges and make it through to the other side.  We can do more than we believe to be possible.

While I am not comparing an adventure race to any of the examples I listed above, I do believe there is a common vein inside each of us that allows us to rise above any challenge that stands in our path.  Have faith in yourself, your resolve, and your ability to conquer any adversity.

Pay the price for failure – Speaking of all my burpees… throughout the race I felt like I noticed people joining me in the burpee zone after I started my 30 and finishing up pretty quickly after arriving (and before I was done).

While volunteers were making sure you headed to the burpee zone if you failed an obstacle, no one was counting how many you did other than you.  The reality was, I could have slacked off and continued forward before completing my 30.  No one would have known… except me.  I could have finished my run much sooner, but it wouldn’t have felt as good.

We all screw up in our lives – it’s normal.  We aren’t perfect.  However once we screw up, the choice is ours to accept the failure and the price with self-respect, dignity, and professionalism.  Don’t make excuses, and don’t slack off when no one is watching.  Be your best even when no one is watching.

Fully prepare – For as much as I dislike running, my endurance was where it needed to be for that race.  However, I quickly realized I neglected building strength and stamina in my upper body and paid for it in burpees.  Anything having to do with swinging across bars or climbing ropes and supporting my body weight did not go well for me.  I thought I was strong in those areas, but once you are “in it”, reality sets in…

If we are to fully prepare for our challenges in life then we cannot only prepare for a single aspect of it and expect to win.

Being prepared means knowing your strengths and weaknesses, and committing the time to let those strengths grow and shine while minimizing or mitigating the weaknesses.  If we are to be successful, we cannot turn a blind eye to our weaknesses or overestimate what we believe to be our strengths.  Be honest with yourself and where you are in life, and prepare accordingly.

Study Up! Prepare more mentally – Very similar to my last point, I didn’t prioritize the time to read up on and watch the videos about how to approach the different obstacles throughout the course… and once again, I paid for it in more burpees.

I mentioned above the importance of minimizing or mitigating weaknesses, and I had the opportunity to do just that by studying up on all the potential obstacles that would be laid out on the course and learn the tips and tricks on how to best approach each one.  The problem was, I never took that opportunity.

When we come across a new challenge in our lives, there is a very high likelihood that someone else has already been there and solved it.  We can either reinvent the wheel (and potentially a worse wheel) or take the time to see if the shortcuts or solutions to our problems are already out there courtesy of someone else.  This by no means cheapens the success.  Honestly, it’s selfish not to learn from those who came before us.

If we can conquer a challenge in a fraction of the time then we can move forward and go after bigger and more impactful challenges in the future.  Study up, win faster and accomplish more!

Support one another – When it all comes down to it, we are in this life together to become the best we can be.  While I can’t say enough about the incredible experience throughout my race, what impacted me most was the positive environment.  Before, during and after the race I was met with encouragement, cheering, and congratulations from the staff, volunteers and fellow racers.  You can’t help but reciprocate!

While there are a small percentage of racers in the elite class who are running for prize money, the overall sentiment and mission is to get people up off the couch and to make better fitness and nutrition focused choices.  Therefore in that spirit, the Spartan Race created an environment and culture where everyone is treated as a winner for pushing themselves beyond what they thought they could do and becoming a healthier version of themselves in the process.

The vast majority of us operate in a competitive landscape.  We are competing to win within our sport, win new customers and gain more market share in business, or even win donations in the non-profit world.

There is nothing wrong with healthy competition – it pushes us to be our best.  However I challenge us to also encourage those around us whether competitors or colleagues!

I know it sounds odd, but the reality is that we are all here to get better and improve, and as the competition improves, we will be pushed to get better and keep improving as well.  This means our work product – whether on the field or in the business world – also reaches new levels and positively impacts those we serve.

There is always another level – Finally, I was reminded (and humbled in the process) that even if we think we are at the top of our game, there is ALWAYS another level.  Even if we are undeniably the very best at what we do, there is always a higher level – another opportunity to compete against ourselves and raise the bar for those that follow.

Now let me make it clear that I know I could drastically improve my performance on the course.  Between getting in better running shape and perfecting the obstacles, I fully acknowledge my room for improvement.

But WOW… I finished the 4.2 mile course in 1 hour and 39 minutes.  And the overall winner… 38 minutes!!!!  He could have finished 2.5 times before I finished once!

I’m not at all embarrassed or mad at my performance – I am just 100% amazed at what is possible – what we can accomplish when we put in all the time, sacrifice and effort to be elite!

This is an example of world class – finding something you are passionate about and great at, and taking it to a whole new level!  We may not all know what that ‘thing’ is yet, but once we start to get a feel for it or find it, let’s commit ourselves to the blood, sweat and tears needed to go from that 1 hour and 39 minute finish to that 38 minute domination!

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The Road Ahead

All I can say is that I have the Spartan Race bug – I can’t wait to do another one!  The feeling to train for something more than just my general health and wellness was exhilarating and brought me back to when I would train for the upcoming football season.

More so, the feeling of pushing beyond what I thought I could do and finishing the race was extremely empowering.

So now I want to keep pushing those limits – on the course and in life.  How can I be a better husband, father, son, brother, friend or colleague?  How can I take Will Athletic to the next level?  How can I push my physical and mental boundaries?

I don’t have any of the answers, but they are all questions I’m excited to attack.

So in closing I challenge all of us…

Push yourself.

Go beyond what you thought was possible.

Be better.

Be more.

Discussion Question: What can you do this week to challenge yourself to push past what you thought was possible?

Disclosure of Material Connection: I have not received any compensation for writing this post. I have no material connection to the brands, products, or services that I have mentioned. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission's 16 CFR, Part 255: "Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising."

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