Recently some friends and I completed the Spartan Trifecta. This is three obstacle races in one calendar year, all on off-road courses with varying terrain and elevation. The goal was set in January at a fireside party. Some of us had run a few Sprints, and with us was someone who had run a Beast. With sparks flying, we decided to go for the Trifecta this year.
The races are:
- Sprint: 5+km, 20-23 obstacles, 2800 meters above sea level
- Super: 13km, 24-29 obstacles, 2800 m.a.s.l.
- Beast: 21km (half marathon), 30-35 obstacles, 1850 m.a.s.l.
If you don’t know what a Spartan Race is, watch the trailer here.
Less than two years ago the thought of attempting a Beast would make me cringe. “Who the hell actually runs a Beast?!?” I’d ask myself. It was certainly not something I’d ever be able to do. I wasn’t a runner. I didn’t have the discipline for such training. Many competitors are half my age. How on Earth would I be able to do this?
Nonetheless, I accepted, and my world began to change.
What It Took
- First and foremost: I accepted a big challenge that scared me and was aligned with my true desires. Both of these factors were essential. Had the goal been big and scary, but not something I was excited about, it would have lost steam and fallen by the wayside. Had it been exciting, but not big enough to scare me, I may have completed it but without much growth. Both factors had to be there.
- Resuming training: I had not trained rigorously for months, so I’d have to start again. It was by enduring the pain of the first couple of weeks that I’d reach my next level. I had to push through if I was to get anywhere near those finish lines.
- Rearranging activities: Minimizing non-essentials so I’d have enough time and energy to train was important. This meant spending less time on the web, continually being aware of time passing by, and declining certain invitations. This is one of the biggest benefits I reap from these races and mountain summits. The fear and awe I feel about each upcoming challenge put my Big Picture in perspective. Compulsive Facebooking and late nights of alcohol and hot dogs won’t make you a Spartan.
- Appointment with a nutritionist: I had always kept decent nutritional habits but thought these races would require help from a pro. This required me to set my ego aside and accept guidance from someone who knows more than I do. It really helped.
- Discipline derived from determination: It was important to ‘not die’ during any of the races. This meant that on a day scheduled for running I was going to run, and on a strength day I was going to do just that. No matter if it was raining, cold, or if I would have rather watched Dexter. I would either have results or an excuse for not having them, and the latter was not an option.
- Fine-tuning the relationship between me, body, and mind: This intricate process, as I’ve also experienced in mountaineering, was key. This is when the needs of the body supersede my plan to train it. Sometimes I’d get home feeling the need to rest, and face the difficult choice to either train or stay in. The trick was to discern between a temporary glitch in my energy and an actual sign that the body was asking for a day off. Days came when I had to reluctantly let go of my plan and give the body some extra rest.
- Dealing with injury: During the Super I injured a tendon on my wrist. This was my first real sports injury. This was naturally followed by,
“Maybe I’m too old for this shit. I won’t be able to do the Beast anymore. Will this hand ever go back to normal?” I had to re-commit to the plan and do what was necessary to be ready for that Beast in November—regardless of what I thought about my hand. I wore a brace for over a month to immobilize my thumb. I went into rehab under the care of a physiotherapist. I purchased a book about tendon care and repair. I wondered whether I’d be able to beat certain obstacles at the Beast—crawling under barbed wire, carrying logs, hanging from ropes with my hands. I was torn between a fear-based reality and one inspired by desire. I chose the latter—even when there was no physical evidence of it.
- Finding my own way: I found training schedules that barely left time for anything else and feared I may not be able to meet their demands over many months. But as the races came and went I realized that I didn’t need to train so much. In fact, it was better that I didn’t. I realized my body improves best by getting enough rest between workouts. A program with little rest would have been a huge detriment to my training—and the risk of training injuries may have increased. I learned to walk the line between what others recommend and what is actually right for me.
- Enrolling in traditional races—running only: To measure my progress and identify weaknesses. These stretched between 10 and 18 km.
- Variations in my training: To avoid boredom and repetitive-motion injuries. I’d run on flat pavement, then on hilly gravel roads. I’d sometimes train strength at home; other times I’d use exercise machines at the park. I also complemented cardio with cycling on my commutes—in Mexico City traffic!
- Using the Elevation Training Mask: This covers your mouth and nose to allow only a small amount of air through, imitating high-altitude training. The result is a very efficient cardiopulmonary system. Without it my training, races, and hikes would not be as successful as they are.
The Lessons Learned
Now that I can reflect on the training, mindset, and the races that have passed, here are some of the lessons learned:
- I can go much further than my fear tells me I can. This is one of the most important lessons anyone can learn, ever, about any endeavor. Read it again, say it out loud, make it your mantra.
- The body is a magnificent bio-machine: While it does have limits, the human body will adjust to whatever is needed to complete almost any task—far beyond what the mind may initially think.
- Growth can be exponential: A startling discovery is that I trained about the same for the Beast as for the Super. My gains throughout the year built on themselves, so my training didn’t have to get harder. I just needed to train smart by staying aware of my self-body-mind relationship.
- Age is bullshit: It’s just a number. What matters is how you interpret your number. I’m now 43 and ran the Beast with two guys 15 years younger than me – and I was frequently the one pushing them on. Never use age as an excuse not to attempt something you feel is right for you.
- Not the same person: Once you accomplish a difficult goal you’re not the same person who set it. You’ve gone through conscious effort toward growth, and your old ‘pants’ will not fit anymore. Be ready to take on even bigger challenges now. You can—and should.
- The pack will go farther: It will go longer than the lone wolf. Find people with similar goals to support each other. Our team was of eight at its peak—see the photo of some of us above. We shared tips, articles, and encouragement. When our schedules permitted we would train together. At each race we split up into sub-teams according to our running speeds so that everyone would run in company. Deep focus and analysis work well when you’re alone, but having a team backing you up will make the road seem shorter and the load lighter.
Curiously, the Trifecta ended up being not only a physical challenge, but an emotional, psychological, and spiritual one as well – and one of the proudest achievements of my life.
So, back to my initial question: “Who actually runs a Beast?”
The Spartan slogan ‘You’ll know at the finish line’ sums it up. It is, I realized upon finishing the Beast, for someone who sets a scary goal, that’s aligned with his true self, and declares himself willing to go through hell and high water to achieve it. When I crossed the finish line at the Beast the awareness of what this enormous challenge represented in my life came to me, all at once. It was like a gate opened to a new reality, where I felt clearer in mind, more powerful at heart, and more aware and alive in spirit. Months of focus and sacrifice paid off. I feel a bigger and more capable human than ever before.
So, who runs a Beast? Someone like me. Someone who I had previously thought I wasn’t.
My point isn’t necessarily for you to enroll in a Spartan Race, although I can almost guarantee it will push your limits. My point is that anyone who’s willing to grow, can attain their next level by identifying their Big, Bad, Scary Goal and committing to it. That’s all it takes to open that new door.
Pick. Commit. Start.
You can go much, much further than the story fear and comfort will tell you you can. The way will appear as you walk the path.
Find something that makes your heart dance, that you gotta Be, Do, or Have, that gives you the heebie-jeebies when thinking about how on Earth you’ll achieve it.
Then set an exciting goal that scares the shit out of you. Don’t think; it will keep you avoiding it. Set it, give it a date, and declare yourself willing. The hardships don’t matter to anyone but your ego. You’ll be summoning your future self who’s already done it to pull you onward. With every step you’ll become that person more and more. And find a support network to help you through. The world will listen, and the assistance you need will arrive.
- Your body will adjust.
- Your mind will expand.
- Your emotions will act up – and eventually handle more.
- Your spirit will grow in proportion to the difficulty of the task.
Now get out there and be outrageous!
—Photo Credit: Carli Bauzá Feliciano