Last November, I ran my first World’s Toughest Mudder (WTM) and completed 50 miles, 200+ insane obstacles, in just over 24 hours. Last weekend, I attempted my first ultra-marathon, the 68-mile Georgia Death Race, an insane 35,000ft elevation run that’s quickly becoming known as one of the toughest ultras in the nation. This coming June, I will be trying to survive and finish my first Spartan Death Race (SDR), a 60+ hour hell on earth (“Mind F*ck”) in the Vermont mountains.
I’m constantly being told that I’m crazy for wanting to do these extreme races. I may be crazy, but I believe in order to follow my heart that sometimes I must confront the fears that dwell within my mind. Less than a year ago, I didn’t know these extreme events existed, let alone, did I suspect that I would go down the rabbit hole to a place that would forever change my life. It started out innocently enough.
Last April, I was excited about doing my second Tough Mudder. For several months, I had trained for it and I thought I was in OK shape at 200lbs (it’s amazing what you think you see in the mirror). The longest run that I've ever done was a 14 miler back in 2009, where I lost a toenail. According to TM website, if I can run 3 miles, then I could complete a TM. Piece of cake, I was running three to six miles several times a week for years – fearing injury, I never tried to go beyond 10 miles after losing the toenail.
I completed every obstacle at the TM in Georgia (April 2013) as I did the first TM in Sarasota (Dec. 2012), and the 10,000 volts of electricity were painful. But it was the pain that sparked something deep down that resurrected the warrior that I have long since forgotten, and now I craved for more. That craving would lead me to join Gold’s Gym last May, so I can be smarter about my fitness and get into better shape for more obstacle course races.
After training hard for the first 30 days and getting good results, I had learned that WTM no longer required a qualification to enter. After doing my research of WTM, I found the 24-hour, death waiver, extreme event, got me both excited and fearful. The fear part was a surprise and the driver that made me press forward into the world of extreme racing.
Fear of failure, fear of pain, fear of embarrassment and fear of death can be a paralyzing cancer keeping us on a comfy couch. Fear is like a ghost that can haunt even the most adept optimist.
I have always been of the mindset that anything that scares me must be confronted. By facing our fears, we take that first significant step at becoming a warrior in our life’s journey. The WTM scared me and I had to sign up to face my fears, but I got out of it so much more!!
Once I announced that I was doing my first WTM, that’s when I started hearing from friends and family on Face Book that I was crazy for wanting to do it, but they still cheered me on, which I’m forever grateful. This is when I began my warrior transformation. Less than 3 weeks after signing up for WTM, I went outside my self-imposed sensibilities and did my first 40 mile training run on July 4, 2013.
It wasn’t pretty or fast, it was painful, but by channeling a combination of my stresses, fears combined with bold determination, I was able to push myself beyond what I thought I could do. And that was the first taste of experiencing fitness success beyond my comfort zone.
It was an important self discovery.
I would run many 10, 20 and 30 mile distances, coupled with tabattas, circuits and intervals. Finally the time came to test myself and confront the demons awaiting at the WTM, in NJ last November.
On race day, I was down to 188 pounds and determined to accomplish a minimum of 40 miles by simply following the strategy of “keep moving” for 24 hours. Fear would physically manifest itself, around 25 miles, when I fell off an obstacle and slammed my left foot on a ledge as I was falling into the water. My left foot was severely sprained by the fall and the paramedic was quick to single me out – I guess it was that bad of a spectacle.
He asked if I needed to stop i.e. quit. It was a deciding moment…a moment of truth that would determine my warrior’s journey. I replied, “It only hurts when I stop, so I’m gone.” It was a lie, but I wasn’t going to give in, but rather “suck it up.” I would limp for the remaining 25+ miles and endure great pain, especially landing on the Leap of Faith. Loved and hated that obstacle!
But I was having a blast, meeting terrific people and making great friends for life (that will be another blog entry). I would cross the finish line and complete 50 miles.
I faced my fears at WTM and left the race with clarity of mind and exorcism of demons. I discovered the obstacles on the course were a microcosm of the obstacles we face in life.
I was hooked on extreme events from that moment on.
Fast forward to last weekend, the Georgia Death Race was my next big test. A great indicator to see where my training had taken me these last few months, but I would be beaten down by the steep mountains. The moment of failure manifest itself on top of a peak around mile 26, when I realized that I would not make the cutoff at 28 miles.
Pride and sense of failure are a powerful tag team, but it was short lived. I realized that I signed up for something I had never done before, a positive. I’ve never raced in a marathon, but will have completed 28 miles in some of the sickest elevation changes in the country, another positive. That I’m one of just a handful of racers in the nation who had the privilege of running these trails, experiencing the beauty and feeling a pain that many races cannot offer, yes that’s a positive too.
So I conquered the fear of failure and I was able to run the last few miles, injury free, good spirits and thankful for the chance to not just compete, but also come out of the race a better athlete for the upcoming Spartan Death Race in June.
Last year I didn’t know these events existed, but also I didn’t know the warrior that existed within me. I believe the popularity of these events are intrinsic and the pain we suffer actually helps us feel more alive.
Yes, I’m crazy, but I’m crazy about living a satisfying life free of fear. I’m joined by thousands of likeminded crazy mud eating friends.
It’s never too late to get crazy and conquer your fear. The reward is finding yourself, becoming a warrior in this world of illusions.