Joe DeSena, founder of Spartan Racing, tells a story in Spartan Up! about mud dragging an elite athlete to a standstill. Basically the guy just froze up – “his mind vapor-locked”. Mud is the unexpected element, adding the question of what might happen – how deep is this mud? Will I sink in? What’s under there? That’s why Spartan races (except for the Stadium series) always have a mud element.
When you’re already fatigued and struggling, the addition of mud can make for a toxic mix, exacerbating the desire to surrender.
– Spartan Up! by Jeff O’Connell and Joe DeSena
At the Boston Spartan Sprint, May 13th, we were treated to some epic mud. There was the thick sucking mud that pulled 1DOS teammate Tammy’s shoe clean off her foot. There was the continuous mud created by the combination of nature trails, steady rain the day before, and thousands of feet passing through. There was also plenty of brackish sludge – the kind of thick mud pie soup you would make as a kid – covering good chunks of the trail. The racers talked about (read “bitched about”) the mud the whole time. It can be debilitating stuff if you let it. You slip, you fall, there’s no footing for jumping a wall, it’s transferred to your hands climbing the cargo nets – it’s everywhere, and you can’t perform at your best.
The theory behind the Spartan racing format is it’s like life. You don’t know how far you have to go; obstacles will pop up and you have to deal with them. You get one shot at the obstacle, and if you make the wrong decision or fail to execute, there is a consequence (burpees) – and you move on. On the course, there is amazing camaraderie. At Boston, I helped a couple ladies I didn’t know with a boost on the ridiculously mucked up slippery wall (right after the dunk wall?? Sweet, thanks for that!!). Some guy I’ve never seen in my life gave me his knee as a stable base to get up that same wall. Of course, just like in life, there is sometimes “that guy” (or gal) who thinks he has the answers and is superior. They complain about someone carrying the bucket in their shoulder, or not doing all their burpees, as though it makes one speck of difference to them and their race.
I personally didn’t have a great race – I still failed the same five obstacles I have each race. While I got closer than in the past to passing four of them, I didn’t put in all that work for a moral victory. I came into this event with a whole ready-made list of excuses: I was tired from the Ragnar relay we just ran. The mud caused slow going and I never got into a flow. My focus was more on helping my teammates, one a Spartan virgin – and so on. On some level all of those were true, but still I was frustrated by my perceived failures instead of focusing on how much I had accomplished and how far I have come.
As I flew home from an epic weekend, I realized I was getting stuck in my own mud. My focus and confidence were lacking as I hit each of my trouble obstacles. I convinced myself I wasn’t going to complete the multi rig before I started it – self-fulfilling prophecy there! Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying just by believing in myself I could have made it – I’m not Tinkerbell, after all. I can take what I saw and did on the course, and learn from it – or I can make it an even bigger pile of mud. How often do we do that? The sludge piles up, the sucking mud pulls us down. Meanwhile, while I was busy being frustrated, one of my best friends was doing things he never thought he could or would right next to me. He didn’t hit every obstacle, but he didn’t give up. Walking back to the car, he said he’d be in Chicago with us, and keep working to improve. I have to do the same – progress not perfection is our mantra, after all.
It’s, like, a metaphor, man…
What’s the mud in your life? Is it the excuses you make to cover a failure? We all fail. We all have our own issues to deal with. You can be “that guy” who is so busy worrying about other people that he doesn’t focus on himself, or maybe just distracting others from his own shortfalls. You can be the person who feels like they can’t ever succeed, that life is hopeless – or you can find that friend to get a boost, push through the mud, figure out where you need to improve, and go back to work. Just as important, BE the boost someone else needs to achieve their goals. That is the real joy I’ve discovered over the last couple years – seeing the looks on people’s faces as they achieve what they thought they couldn’t.
June 9, Warrior Dash with my friends from the gym. This one is going to be a blast. We will just turn it loose and go! Then two weeks later, it’s off to Chicago for the Spartan Super and the second annual 1DOS Sharkfest – our “convention”.