This race report started out completely different.
This being my major event focus of the Fall, I spent hours writing out paragraph after paragraph of how I trained and I approached this event. I talked about all the obstacles, the conditions, the terrain, the highs and lows of being hot and cold and fatigued and hungry and sore and…
…and then I deleted it all.
Suffering with a Smile
I’ll just come right out and say it. I like to suffer. I don’t know why, but plenty of others think they know why, and love to share their infinite wisdom with me.
“You are running from something…”
“You are punishing yourself…”
“You cannot enjoy the present, always moving on to the next thing.”
It’s especially vocal when people know me well, my past, what I’ve been through, and you know what? Maybe they’re right about all of it.
But, cliches be damned, I want to change the world. No, it’s more than that – I am dedicated to changing the world. Somehow, someway, but I know that’s why I’m still alive. I believe it in my bones.
I want to change the perception of Masters athletics. I want to push the limits of what people believe 40+ athletes can do. 50+ athletes. 60+ athletes. Hell, I want to be running and challenging myself past the age of 100. Set new bars. And, I will.
Do I expect to be the best? The fastest? The strongest? Possess the most stamina? Endurance?
No, I do not. I’m realistic. But, I can strive to be all of them and let the chips fall where they may. Never quit. Never let up. Never give in. Never say “I can’t.”.
I want to rattle my peers – athletes or otherwise. I want to shake up “normalcy.” If my brothers are relegated to a lifestyle of routine that’s killing them, I want to offer a different way. I want to inspire others to experience the joy of new challenges, in new locations, around the world.
I want to instigate experience.
“It’s 3:00 A.M. and I Must Be Lonely”
It’s 3:00 a.m., and I’m deep into the 24-hour World’s Toughest Mudder, and I’m not one bit lonely.
Getting by with a little help from my friends, I arose from a shivering sleep in a clammy wetsuit deep in a now muddy, dirty, stinky sleeping bag. I was 8 laps and 40 miles into an event I swore I was going to pace evenly, but didn’t.
I was suffering, but I was happy.
Then, it hit me like the movies depict heaven hitting people as they pass. Bright lights, violins, and harps kinda shit.
“That Funky Monkey”
The obstacle was called Funky Monkey. A series of monkey bars, maybe 15 of ‘em, that climbed uphill to an immediate transfer of moving wheels, one that spun horizontal, and three that spun vertical, that we had to negotiate on a descent to completely clear the water and thus the obstacle challenge. One could easily be holding one’s bodyweight over the water for as long as a minute or more and it challenged your grip strength like crazy. It was my favorite obstacle as it played to my strengths and training style. I breezed through this obstacle eight times already but had approached it from exactly the same spot every time. I mean, “if it ain’t broke…”
But when I arrived this time, there was a bottleneck in that spot, leaving an open lane off to the right that would position me completely different than any of my other attempts.
“Screw it, I’m going over there.” And I did.
No idea why, but the first set of inclining monkey bars were wet, like, way wet. I found myself slipping to my finger tips as I made my way across the bars, scared to drop into the water. I could hear the encouragement from the spectators circling the obstacle.
“Keep going man,” they’d scream, along with the obligatory, “you got this.”
As I made it to the end of the first set of bars, I feared I did not have enough grip to negotiate the spinning wheels. As a 195 lb athlete, climbing spinning wheels, while descending, creates a lot of extra jolting.
I reached out to the horizontal wheel, gripped it tightly, and quickly transferred my other hand so as to stay suspended by one arm for the least amount of time as possible. Once my entire bodyweight was suspended, the wheel spun around, and I just froze.
“Shit, I’m going to fall…”
…and that cheesy harps sentiment I was talking about a few paragraphs ago kicked in.
Everything around me became clear and vivid.
The people yelling. I could single them out. Each person. I could see their mouths move, their fists shake, the spit fly out of their over-excited mouths. All in perceived slow motion.
I looked down at the water, noticing the detail in the ripples as athlete after athlete fell off the bars and into the cold green soup. I watched their faces when they came to the surface, mouths open wide from the instant chill, and swimming furiously for the edge to escape.
I looked ahead. I was blinded by one of the huge spotlights but remember very clearly a stocky Asian dude yelling at me. It took a minute to register he was talking at me.
“Is he yelling at me?”
“What is he saying?”
“Am I tripping?”
And again like the movies, it all of a sudden became clear, like, came rushing into my brain – he was yelling at me to continue climbing.
“Come on man, you got this,” he said, but not because I heard him, but because I literally watched his mouth move.
I have no idea how long I hung there on that horizontal wheel, but for someone who had no grip left, I somehow had a lot of grip left when I was no longer concerned with it.
I got myself together, looked out for the first vertical wheel, grabbed, and spun quickly south, bottoming-out rapidly, but instead of bringing my other hand to the wheel for support, I kept moving, reaching out to the next vertical spinner, grabbed it, and transferred. I had momentum now, and moving on to the third spinning ring was as easy as if I was still fresh. I felt like a spider monkey.
When I leaped to the platform, I just stood there in a kind of daze. Asian dude reached out and slapped my hand. “I knew you’d make it, good job.”
Where I Belong
As I made way down the long, dark mountain trail to the next obstacle I felt this huge rush of wisdom. An acceptance. An agreement with myself that yea, maybe life is always going to be hard, and most of the pain and struggle and frustration and aggravation will be self-induced, but that’s me.
I force challenge on myself. It’s just what I do. Sometimes healthy, sometimes not-so-much.
It might equate to me having awesome brief encounters, but in the end being alone, broken, and shattered. Might not… But, I’m pretty sure I have no choice in the matter.
This is why I left normal life. This is why I’m not even a candidate for normal life. I am what I am. There is nothing, and I mean NOTHING, I love more than true personal, physical intensity.
Intensity in athletics, yes, but way more than that. Intensity in daily existence.
Intensity in experience. Love, relationships, good, bad, whatever. Just intensity. Don’t give me anything mediocre. Normal just sucks. Sucks so much it frightens me when I find myself conforming. Yes, it can be easier. Calmer. Less volatile.
But I hate it.