With over 7 miles of mud and obstacles behind us and about one mile to go, the race has been shut down. The expected bad weather is arriving right on schedule, and it could get ugly (possible hail, high winds, heavy rain). There are a couple thousand Spartans on the course north of Chicago, with about 100 of us on this hill. The volunteer lady is getting the crappy job of delivering bad news to us; we can smell the finish line and are ready to push on, but the call has been made. She’s being peppered with questions.

In true racer fashion, most of them revolve around shirts, medals, and race times (and the availability of beer…). She assures us the clock has been paused; the race is suspended – so if we run on ahead and cross the line (several did), there will be no swag. No finisher shirts, no medals (and no clear answer on the beer). We all joke about that – we’ll do anything for a shirt and a medal, right?

But really, why are we all out here? Why do I do this? I know my beautiful, sainted wife wonders what is wrong with me… Originally, it was the challenge. I wanted to prove I could do it – prove it to me, and to anyone else who saw me. I like to act all “this is me, take it or leave it”, but let’s be honest – who doesn’t like to have people be a little impressed with them?

Now I’m three years and two trifectas in, and yes, that challenge is still there. I have race skills I need to work on, but I’m probably not going to trifecta this year – so that wasn’t a major concern when, in the end, we were pulled off the course. No shirts, no medals for any of us who didn’t jump the fire.

The frustration bubbled over for some folks (looking at you, ridiculously obnoxious bro hurling insults at the volunteer by bag check!); it’s a big commitment of time, training, money. Doing this type of event is a huge deal for a lot of people; it’s often a bucket list item. Racers have their real lives, responsibilities, day to day challenges. When we get out there, it’s our time, our moment to prove it.

The race is not a workout; the race is showing what we gained in all the workouts. It’s proving to yourself, and yes to others, that you are stronger, tougher, faster than you realized. It’s confirming what we mean when we say, “You can do it. You just don’t know you can do it – yet.”

Empty Hands?

All of this makes walking away with nothing to show for it difficult. But was there really nothing to show?

  • I was able to meet some fantastic 1DOS sharks in person for the first time.
  • We watched a first time racer surprise herself with how strong she was. Mal, you flat killed it out there!
  • We got to cheer on our scholarship recipient as she crushed her first ever 5k back in New York.

    Schedules being what they were, we couldn’t be there side by side. She knew we were with her in spirit, though, just like the two sharks that ran in with her to the finish.

As we stood in line for the shuttle bus, having just had the storm that ended our race break all over our heads, soaking wet, cold, hungry – I was talking to a Spartan employee. He thanked us for smiling; it was a crappy situation for everyone, but it certainly wasn’t his fault. I could vent at him and be a jerk, but what exactly would that serve? I would still be wet, cold, hungry. And he’d still be wet and cold, too. (I don’t know if he was hungry, I didn’t ask. 😉 )

Was I frustrated? No doubt about it. Hell, I slid down a 15 foot slope, landing on my shoulder in the mud for this! On reflection, though, I was reminded why I really do this. As post after post came through, our friends, our shark shiver, our families reminding us that we faced the challenge and crushed it – and the weather preventing us from jumping the fire didn’t change that.

In your life, what do you face your challenges for? Is it a medal and shirt? Is it a paycheck? The satisfaction of helping someone or beating a deadline? For me, I know my why. It’s my family – all of them. Some of my family are related by blood and marriage, but a lot of them are not of relation. They are my shiver, my brothers and sisters in spirit.

My hands could not be more full.

The Aftermath

After getting stuck in the parking lot, pushing the van out, driving 90 minutes to our hotel, and finally showering – we celebrated. HARD. The party was just as good without a medal as in previous years, for the record. So no, I am not leaving Chicago empty handed. The aches and scrapes, the “Spartan kisses,” will fade, but the smiles and joy and friendships, new and renewed – they are here to stay.