Story of 20: How My Life Has Changed After 20 Races

It’s funny writing this post after I recently completed my 21st race (Mud Titan 8 in Plant City, Florida), but that doesn’t change one major fact: my life has not been the same since I started this journey.

Let’s start from the beginning:

In April of 2014, I was sitting in the conference room at my job’s end-of-week meeting where we went around the room and shared how things went. My boss liked to do these meetings to recap the week and discuss plans for the future, both professionally and personally. He was very good about getting all of us involved in helping each other with what we hoped to accomplish. (Just so you know, this was a small company of eight team members at the time, including the CEO, so this was not as time consuming as some might imagine.)

It was on this particular Friday when he asked everyone, along with recapping their week, to share something they plan to do to improve their personal health. When it came to me, I shared that I was thinking about trying a mud run, so I would have to start training for that. This was supposed to be an excuse to start working out again since the generic goal of “get healthy” was too broad. The following Monday, it turned into a thing where I was periodically asked by various teammates how things were going. “Have you started running?” “You hit the gym?” “This might be a good idea to try…” and so on. And it was like that every few days or so for the next two months until June 14, 2014, when I took on my first Rugged Maniac.

I didn’t preregister, so I spent 80 bucks the morning of, plus 10 bucks parking, and signed up. (I wrote a whole blog about my first experience at Rugged Maniac here.) I took pictures, did one quick video to prove I was there, and wore my finisher shirt on Monday proudly.

When Things Changed:

When I initially decided to go out for Rugged Maniac, and as I kind of hinted above, it was supposed to be an excuse to start working out again. When most set fitness goals, it’s always something hugely lofty, like “get healthy,” and that lack of tangibility makes it difficult to achieve. So I thought training for a race was more achievable. And it worked. I went to the gym at my apartment complex three to five days a week, rotating between treadmill runs to rebuild endurance and weight training to build strength. I finished Rugged Maniac somewhere between an hour and an hour and fifteen minutes. Not bad for a first try. But then something else hit me that I oddly didn’t expect to happen…

I had fun. A lot of fun.

Rugged Maniac is a great first race because they know how to remind people that you’re out there to have a good time. And I had a blast! The post-race party, the accomplishment of getting through the course, the pictures, the free beer, the music! It all was more fun than I’d had in a long time. I don’t know why I didn’t think I’d have that much fun, but I did.

Then the change happened…I started looking for more.

Later that year, I ran my second race, the American Mud Race. The was the first time I started analyzing organization’s efforts to put on an event like this. This time, my dad came out with his camera and took pictures. This was the dirtiest finish to date that I had. But again, I felt like I wanted more. But that would have to wait…

2015 Saw the Big Change

After the clock struck midnight for 2015, I decided I wanted to do more races than the previous year. I had a few in mind early in the year, but none panned out. But when I saw Rugged Maniac was coming back to Florida, I couldn’t resist signing up again. At this point, I also started to count how many races I had done. So Rugged Maniac 2015 became the third. Space Coast Mud Run became four. Savage Race (my first time venturing out of the 5K distance) became five. Insane Inflatable 5K became six. I doubled the number of races from the previous year. And as you can guess, I still wanted to do more.

Another interesting change that took place was a change in careers. While I started racing as a marketer, I discovered that I missed the classroom, so I returned to teaching. My students LOVED hearing about my racing adventures and enjoyed it when I brought in my medals to show off. And this motivated me even more to want to push myself, doing more races.

In all of 2015, I ran four races. By May of 2016, I matched that amount. Warrior Dash in February (seven), Savage Race in March (eight), Rugged Maniac in April (nine), and then the AIDS Orphans 5K Mud Run in May (ten). My tenth race also had nearly my whole family out enjoying the race since it was local for them, and had my muddiest finish at that point.

That is when it finally hit me:

This is no longer a hobby. It’s a lifestyle.

Obstacle course racing had officially become a part of my life. And I continued to seek out ways to push myself. I finished off 2016 with the Melbourne Mud Bash (11), Bone Frog Challenge (12), another Savage Race (13), and another Insane Inflatable 5K (14). I once again double my total number of races for the year, and decided I needed to set more goals for myself. My 2017 goals were set to change my way of looking at this sport.

First was to run my first competitive wave at Warrior Dash (15). (I have a whole series about preparing for this, in case you missed it.) But then I decided to volunteer for and run Terrain Racing (16) and take on another Bone Frog Challenge (17). Those all occurred within three weeks.

My second goal was to shoot for a Spartan Race Trifecta. Along the way, I ran my fourth Rugged Maniac with my girlfriend and two friends (18). I also completed my first Spartan Race, the Sprint distance in Miami (19).

And Then Came 20…

After the Miami Spartan Sprint, I enjoyed my summer vacation (probably more than I should have), and realized that my next race would be my 20th OCR. And it turned out it was going to be a big one: Spartan Race Super in Fayetteville, North Carolina. My second on the way to the Trifecta. My first out-of-state race. And my longest distance to date at 8.3 miles. (I already talked about Spartan Race Super in a previous blog; check it out if you haven’t yet!)

When I crossed that finish line and received my medal (and Trifecta wedge), it dawned on me how far I’ve come since that fateful day in my meeting where I said, “I think I might try a mud run.” From random excuse to get myself back in the gym to full-on lifestyle change, 20 races has taught me a lot about myself. It has taught me the importance of self-discipline since I know what happens when I don’t train probably. It has taught me about personal limitations and how often they are simply temporary. It has taught me about personal confidence and how the one thing typically separating me from accomplishing each obstacle is my own brain being in the way.

But most importantly, it has taught me that the only way to ever improve in life is to push myself. This is a lesson I often wish I learned when I was 15. Perhaps I could’ve finished in the top 20 of my high school class or gotten better at balancing school work and sports so I wouldn’t have to quit cross country my freshman year. But we can’t go back and change the past, so instead I use this lesson for my future.

This is the lesson that made me take the chance to ask out a girl who I am now looking at spending the rest of my life with. This is the motivation I used to go for the teaching job I wanted and I’m seeing a major upswing in my career (granted my girlfriend also helped push me with that, but still my point stands). And it is what’s helped me start a club at my school for students who are also looking to push themselves in the same way that I did three and a half years ago.

But perhaps the most exciting part about 20 races: I know I’m not even close to being done. As of this writing, I actually completed OCR number 21, with plans of Spartan Beast later in the year, plus possibly two more with the new OCR Club at my school. If that works out, I’ll complete this year with 10 races in 2017, and 24 races overall.

Then I get to spend some time thinking about a question that makes me (and should make anyone) excited to think about: What’s next?

Road to Trifecta 4: Don’t Call It a Comeback

Well, it’s been a really, really long time since I’ve taken the time to sit down and write a new blog post. For my loyal readers, my apologies. It’s been quite the busy summer. I’ve taken on a new teaching challenge which took up a good chunk of my summer, plus a couple opportunities to travel, and the adoption of a sweet black lab puppy (yes, puppy; four months old when we adopted her), it hasn’t left me much time for writing. But I’ve decided it’s time to get back to it and catch you all up on the happenings of the year, especially as I continue my trek for a Spartan Trifecta.

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Road to Trifecta 3: Where I Went Wrong

In my last post, I outlined how my first Spartan Race went, and, as I often do in my posts, I discussed the areas where I fell short and how that affected me through the rest of the course. For this post, I decided to take things in a slightly different direction: I know where things went wrong for me; now I need to work on how to prepare for them so when I take on the Spartan Super (most likely in Fayetteville, North Carolina, in September), I will be ready for it.

This will also be a challenge on its own since I haven’t had time to work out much since I got back from Miami. Not to make excuses, but the month between then and now has been busy. The school year came to an end (for those who don’t know, I’m a teacher), which meant lots of grading, my girlfriend fought off mono, plus I’m preparing to teach a new level of my subject, which means I have lots of professional preparation to focus on this summer as well. But, as long as I create a good routine, I know I’ll be able to get back on that horse quite easily and somehow manage to accomplish everything I hope to.

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Road to Trifecta 2: One Down, Two to Go

This past weekend, I ran and completed my first Spartan Race with the goal of getting my Trifecta this year. While I’ve decided to take on the Spartan challenges in order, I’ve learned something very important this weekend: Spartan Race is no joke, and I’ve got a lot of work to do.

I took on the Sprint in Miami, the shortest of the Spartan Race series. This one was approximately 3.2 miles with 22 obstacles standing between me and my Trifecta wedge. I ran at 11am, later in the day than I’d prefer, but that was fine. The weather was nice and there was a constant breeze that kept it from being crazy hot.

Early Successes

I have to say that I saw within the first two miles that training and past races were starting to pay off for me. In Warrior Dash this past February, I completed their 5K distance in 47 minutes. And even though I didn’t have a watch and couldn’t keep track of time, I genuinely felt like I was setting a personal best. I was going through the first obstacles with near perfect precision. I got over the hurdles and walls with ease, even rearranging my technique a bit to take stress off my arms. Even a challenging cargo net climb felt easier to take on. And I was jogging through most of the first two miles, sticking very well to my pace.

Perhaps the first big success came at an obstacle pretty much only Spartan offers: the Bucket Brigade. For those reading this post and knowing nothing about the obstacles, the Bucket Brigade is a simple challenge in which each competitor takes a 5-gallon bucket, fills it with rocks, then carries it around a small loop, approximately 200 meters (if I were to guess). Now, despite my screw-up of grabbing the wrong bucket (they had black buckets for men and red for women; I grabbed a red one…though I didn’t hear anyone say I was supposed to get black and no one else corrected me), I managed to go around the loop without stopping, something I saw others unable to do.

Because I didn’t have the proper means to train for this, I followed the advice I have heard a few Spartan Pro athletes suggest for carrying the bucket. As it turns out, it worked pretty well, and I was able to finish the obstacle. However, this is also incredibly deceptive. While the premise itself is simple, the act of carrying a bucket that, all told, is probably close to 60 pounds or more, and then doing a lap is an incredibly draining feat. And while I got through it, this is what led me to have more difficulties later on.

Challenges

The first big challenge hit me right at the Mile 2 marker: the Atlas Carry. Again, for those unfamiliar, this obstacle requires athletes to pick up a large concrete sphere (for men, it was about 75 pounds), carry it a 10-yard distance, put it down, do five burpees, then carry it back. Here, I hit my first big road block. I didn’t know the proper way to pick it up, and within a few minutes, it seemed obvious that it wasn’t going to happen. And here’s what makes Spartan especially difficult: the penalties. Because I was unable to complete Atlas Carry, I had to perform 30 penalty burpees. And, I’ll admit, I lost count at 15. So maybe I did more, maybe less. I couldn’t tell you.

From here I went on to the Monkey Bars (which are not your average Monkey Bars). Despite my arms still being pretty tired from the bucket carry and the burpees, I got through this. But then I hit the Rope Climb. This is where things took a tough turn. I’ve completed rope climbs before, but for some reason, I just couldn’t get my technique down. I wasn’t able to get the rope wrapped around my leg. I didn’t have the arm or grip strength left to pull myself up. I couldn’t get off the ground. I spent about twenty minutes at this obstacle, cursing at myself (both in my head and out loud), because I just couldn’t get off the ground. At this time, I had been on the course for an hour, and was getting way behind my time. After about 10 tries (no exaggeration), I took defeat, and had to do another 30 burpees. These I couldn’t count at all. I think I did 30. Again, I couldn’t tell you.

Following the Rope Climb was Olympus, a slanted wall with three types of grips. My first try, I made it over three-quarters of the way before my leg gave out and I slipped. I walked back to the start, getting incredibly frustrated. I tried again, but couldn’t even get halfway. I slipped again. I gave it one more attempt, but again, didn’t make it to halfway. So, for the third time in four obstacles, I failed at completing the obstacle, and suffered my third set of penalty burpees.

At this point, I was on the losing end of another very important battle: the head game.

Getting Out of My Head

Before I continue on my recap, I wanted to discuss this part of the OCR game that isn’t often discussed. This sport is not just about pushing their athletes physically. It’s also about pushing them mentally and, to an extent, spiritually. Well, after my third failed obstacle in the Spartan Sprint, I was in my head, convincing myself that signing up for the Trifecta was a mistake. Convinced that I wasn’t going to finish. That I didn’t deserve my medal, my T-shirt, or my wedge. I wondered if Spartan would refund me a portion of my Trifecta pass to cover the one race I did and call it even.

This was, without questioning, the lowest I had ever felt in the middle of a race. I walked the rest of the way, only picking up to jog once or twice. When I got to the Sandbag Carry and the Barb Wire Crawl, instead of knowing that I’ve done these before and that they were easy, I struggled the whole way through, wishing that there was an end in sight. And even when I saw the end, I didn’t feel any closer to it.

I’m sharing this because it’s important to know that this is a part of the OCR lifestyle. There will be times in races where you might question yourself. Question if you can do it. Question if you can finish. One of my biggest problems is getting in my own head. There were no reasons why I shouldn’t have finished those obstacles. But I didn’t. And it’s because I let it get to me. I’m still working on this. Hopefully I’ll figure out a solution soon.

Getting Back on Track

At the Hercules Hoist, a sandbag lift through a pulley, I was still stuck at the mental wall. I gave a rope two pulls and was done. I had turned my back and started walking away when, as cheesy as it sounds, I was reminded of why OCR is the great sport it is. Two strangers, guys I never met, didn’t get their names, and never saw after that obstacle, stopped me before I walked away. They refused to let me leave the area without giving it another chance. They stood on either side of me, talking me through it. I pulled the rope and got the sandbag up a foot or so. They helped by holding the rope, but never helped me pull. They stood there encouraging me, talking me through it, and after a few minutes and several more pulls, the sandbag got to the top of the pulley. They helped me lower it down, helped me off the ground, and congratulated me. To those two guys, I don’t know if you’ll come across this post, but thanks. I really needed that.

After that, I hit the last few obstacles without any problems. I was up and over the A-frame cargo net, down through the Dunk Wall, easily up and over the Slip Wall (with no slipping), and blasted through the Multi-rig. With the last push I had, I leapt over the fire and crossed the line. Finally, my first step toward my Trifecta was done. It took me way longer than I wanted, just short of two hours. But as they often say, it’s not about how you finish, it just matters that you finish.

Next Steps

My next move is to bump up to the next level in the Trifecta, which would be the Spartan Super, the middle distance at 8-10 miles. There is one taking place in Florida, but there isn’t enough time to properly prepare for that.

So I have a couple of options moving forward:

  1. Focus on training for Spartan Beast in December, and then find the most convenient Super that’s along the way. The options are currently the Asheville Super in July or the Atlanta Super in October. (The only issue I have with Atlanta is I don’t know what the weather will be like at that time of year, so that’s something else to consider.)
  2. Pick a Super and go for it. The best candidate right now is Asheville. Not only is it a relatively short drive, but I have a friend there who may let me crash on his couch. It’s already going to be a long and expensive trip; avoiding extra costs is a smart move.
  3. And this, by the way, is the option I would hate to go for, but an option was been presented to use my Trifecta pass and just run two more Sprints. I would hate to use the pass on doing races not adding up to my Trifecta, but with how much the first one burnt me out, it is an option to be considered.

From here, it’s just a matter of time to decide. What do you all think of my future Spartan plans? Get in touch through Facebook and Twitter, and now, Instagram!

Road to Trifecta 1: Revving Up

One of my big goals for the year is to complete a Spartan Race Trifecta. For those who are unfamiliar with this, here’s a short rundown:

The Trifecta is earned when an athlete completes the three levels of Spartan Race within a calendar year (or from January 1 to December 31). Those three levels are: the Spartan Sprint, which includes 20-23 obstacles over three to five miles; the Spartan Super, which kicks up to 24-29 obstacles over eight to ten miles; and finally, the Spartan Beast, the toughest of the three at ten to twelve miles and packing over 30 obstacles. Continue reading

From Casual to Competitor 7: Changing My Vocaburlary

from-casual-to-competitor-7

Two weeks ago, I thought I closed out my From Casual to Competitor series. And then, I somehow pulled out a personal pinnacle: completing three obstacle course races in three straight weekends. After that, I had a conversation with my girlfriend, and I was talking about being a casual obstacle course racer. She then made the very obvious point I’d been missing: “You probably should drop the word ‘casual’ from your vocabulary.”

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