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Friday, March 1, 2013

The Spartan Race, a Prayer and Marital Bliss...

Is this mud or raw sewage?...
As I tried to sit up the morning after competing in the Reebok Super Spartan Race last Sunday, I honestly felt like a truck ran me over.

Without exaggerating, every single muscle in my body, except maybe the orbicularis oris, which enwraps the mouth, including places I didn’t even know I had muscles, was hurting.

To top it off, my head was pounding, as though I had spent the previous night drinking with the boys on one of those wild nights of my youth, where I could stay up past midnight without falling asleep, and a five-year-old boy wasn’t going to wake me up in the wee hours of the morning to get into bed with me, due to dehydration (those couple of beers at the end of the race didn't help!).

Just trying to sit up, felt like someone had taken my intestines and tied them up in a knot while I was sleeping. Luckily, my gluteus maximums were hurting more than my stomach, so it didn't feel it as bad, and my lower back was hurting more than my gluteus, making the pain in my buttocks seem less painful as well.  When I finally rocked myself up in our mattress, which seemed particularly soft and consuming that morning, I think my eyes teared up.

I should have known what I was getting into. As they were marking my arms with my number (88594), which happens to be my lucky number and the number in the back of my high school baseball uniform (I had broad shoulders!), I couldn’t help but think whether it was for in case they found me by the side of the trail a few hours later.

It was the first of several times that day, where I wondered, “Why am I doing this?”

Oh, yes. And, the answer kept coming back to one reason; my wife!

The culprit...
Ok., maybe, I can’t blame it all on her. I volunteered for it. No one twisted my arm (as she would say). But it was her idea!  She said it would be fun and give us something that we can do together.  Besides, she said, we could help each other; famous last words!

In any event, just days before my 49th birthday, I undertook probably the most grueling and draining endeavors of my life, outside of running cycles after baseball practice in high school, or the time my friends and I broke down on the highway and, in our enthusiasm, vigor and, most of all, naiveté, decided to jog almost 10 miles home to Hialeah in the early morning hours.

As the eight-mile race got underway, and I passed the first few hurdles; two four foot fences to jump over, two others to crawl under, running in ankle deep water and then walking in waist-deep water, I thought, “Hey, this is not so bad. I can do this.”

Needless to say, it didn't take long after failing to successfully cross the monkey bars, and being forced to do burpees, swimming, climbing over two 8-foot wooden walls, over and under and through several other walls and running for about two and a half miles through a treacherous black diamond bike trail, where we had to run through uneven terrain, duck tree limbs, avoid countless stumps, roots and branches, negotiate makeshift bridges, logs and steps, and work our way through the maze of twists and turns, up and down and around, of what felt like never-ending foliage, that I started having second thoughts.

By that time, I had lost my, "It'll be fun! We will all do this as a team and stay together" spewing wife, and most of the fifteen other friends and fellow "Reluctant Warriors," as we had named ourselves, and I was basically running by myself.

From time to time, I would pass a runner or two or be passed. But, for extended periods of time, I was all alone with my thoughts, and, as I tuned out the noise around me, all I could hear were my running shoes hitting the ground and my breath blowing out of my mouth.

It was actually very peaceful and, if I do say, spiritual. I started praying a Rosary when the race began and by the half-way point, after climbing up and down a 12-15 foot rope ladder, dragging a chain with a block of cement wrapped at the end for God knows how long, going through two muddy waste-deep pits, where we were getting pelted with water from a high pressured hose, I started a second Rosary.

It was apropos that shortly afterwards, we had to carry a heavy sandbag for about a quarter of a mile on our back, which, despite my fatigue by that point, gave me inspiration to proceed, since I thought, "Jesus, you carried a much heavier load on your back for my sake, I can carry this sandbag for as long as I have to (but not a second longer, because it was starting to weigh and my shoulders were screaming in pain!).

I was able to dump off the sandbag just in the nick of time and resumed my running, as I continued to pray.  Then, before I knew it, I reached the end of the trail and a sign that read, "Mile 6." Mile six, only? Are you kidding me? I thought I was almost done!  

By that time, a tendon behind my left knee, which had been bothering me for the last couple of weeks of training, was barking fiercely and my lower back was already pulling a Roberto "No mas" Duran on me. And then, as I looked up, I noticed there were three obstacles back-to-back. Great!

I guess, you can say I felt like the dwarves in JRR Tolkien's The Hobbit, where after hearing the great news that the dragon, Smaug, who had terrorized the region and amassed mounds upon mounds of gold, was finally dead, and their months-long adventure to recover the gold, which had led them to face giant spiders, wolves, trolls, goblins, elves and several encounters with near death, was apparently going to have a happy ending, they find out that the Lake-men and elves were organizing armies to come get the dragon’s loot. (As my son would say, “Oh, man!”)

Anyway, after catching up with the intermediate group of friends (my wife was in the advanced group!), and getting past the three obstacles; carrying a huge block of cement about 25 feet, some more burpees, then climbing over two more 8-foot walls and finally flipping truck tires; which is probably where my gluteus took a beating and made me consider once again, "Now, why am I doing this?" Oh, yes; my wife!  (I'm sure my life insurance would come in handy to her and the kids!)

Then, I noticed that another friend, who had been trailing behind me most of the way, was missing. I decided to wait for him.

For the last two miles we stayed together, as we lifted a heavy a cement block using a rope pulley (they have a thing for cement!), repelled down the side of a bridge, pulled buckets full of water from a river into a trash can, climbed back over the other side of the bridge (yes, just writing this is wearing me out again!) and walked/ran until the final obstacles at the end of the race.

Crossing the finish line...
In fact, after attempting to climb a rope, while my wife, friends and children cheered on (and having to do more burpees when I failed), climb a wall sideways from one end to another, roll about 100 yards under barbed wire in the mud (which smelled like raw sewage!), climbing over a mud-covered ramp while pulling myself up with a rope, and getting past three muscle-bound men with poles at the end, we finished within a couple of seconds of each other.

It took us slightly over three hours and may not have been a pretty win, as they say in sports, but we finished! 

Therefore, after crossing the finish line, as friends and family cheered my name, a volunteer placed a medal over my head and another gave me a t-shirt that said, "I survived the Super Spartan Race" (and I felt an uncanny urge to call out, "Adrianne!)," I high-fived my friend and gave him a muddy hug, and the thought crossed my mind again, "So, why did I do this?"  Oh, yes; my wife.  Thank you, wife!  As the late 70's song once said, "The things we do for love." 

We already signed up for a 5-mile Mud Run next month...

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