Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Ultra Beast?

Saturday morning on Killington Mtn. Photo courtesy of Spartan Race.

“People say that what we're all seeking is a meaning for life. I don't think that's what we're really seeking. I think what we're seeking is an experience of being alive, so that our life experiences on the purely physical plane will have resonance within our own innermost being and reality, so that we actually feel the rapture of being alive. That's what it's all finally about. " - Joseph Campbell

Third barbed wire crawl at about mile 17 (lap 2). Rolling over the camelback = a little awkward.
Going forward preparing for the Spartan Ultra Beast, I was asked several times by my friends and family why I choose to take part in what appears to be an incredibly masochistic hobby- obstacle and adventure racing. It is not unusual for one of these self-inflicted sufferfests to take on 10, 15, 24 or even up to 58 hours leaving me in a dehydrated, bruised, sore, marginally functioning haze for the better part of a week.Truthfully, until being directly confronted with the question, I have never really felt a need to come up with an answer. It has always just seemed like the thing to do. In the last few months, however, the answer to the question has alluded me and a lack of cognizant awareness of my own inner motives has eaten at me. While I continue to be a work in progress, I have begun to find clarity on the matter through some insightful conversations and a little old-fashioned introspection.

This past weekend offered me some unique insight. At Killington Mtn. I competed in the Spartan Ultra Beast. The Ultra has been heavily hyped as it was to be the inaugural marathon-distance (actually 28 miles) military-style obstacle course competition covering 70+ legit obstacles and 12,000 feet in elevation gain over the course of one day. The best of the endurance obstacle racers from all over the country applied months ago to be selected to face off against each other and see where everyone stacked up. As I normally do, I signed up without thinking twice about it. I mean, what could be more fun?

Maybe I am simply enticed by all the mud? Photo courtesy of Spartan Race

It would be easy to say that I am enticed by the competitive spirit of it all. It is true, in fact, that there is a part of me that is a competitor; however, competition alone is not enough to motivate me through long, grueling workouts day after day, month after month, year after year. Worrying about how others are training or preparing for the next event would be utterly exhausting. Unbearable.

It would be easy to say that I seek to find my own limits; however, I am still not entirely sure that I want to define them. Limits are, well, limits. Who wants those?

Still smiling and chatting at mile 9 at the first sandbag carry.

What I seek is something far more personal: something far more powerful than the celebration of a win or the devastation of a loss. As the hours wear on and my body enters the red zone I begin to find these answers. In these moments, all of the clutter disappears forcing me to focus on the moment. Not the next moment, not the moment before. There is no energy for that. Every twig snapping underneath my feet is there for a reason- to remind me that I am alive and that every moment is here for the taking. I just need to take it.

As the mountain takes my strength, it empowers me to find strength in new places. Places I normally don’t need to tap into that force me to dig deep into myself. It is then that I realize that the human body is stronger than I have imagined. Physical strength eventually fades to emotional strength forcing me to focus in a way that is so difficult to seize on a daily basis. One step at a time. One moment at a time. Limits are only self-imposed.

Mile 23 with my Spartan sandbag friend. We hugged a lot.
In these moments time stands still. Perhaps crazy hallucinations and endorphins are responsible for this euphoria? I don’t know. But I know that I am not the only one to experience it. The connections that exist between once-competitors and the mountain are lifelong. Each interaction carries with it new connections that embed themselves somewhere in your soul, only to be revealed in time.

This is what I seek. To those of you who shared this one with me, thank you. Finisher or not, we all came to learn a little something to take with us into the next one. There is no finish line.
Happily representing Simple Brandz and coaching my CVA athletes at the Teen Challenge on Sunday. Photo courtesy of CVA.


  1. Wow Shelley! I found myself welling up while I read this. Such honesty and insight. A beautiful synopsis of your spirit and drive.

  2. Thanks for your kind words and feedback. I was a little nervous to write an honest, somewhat raw blog, but I figured why do it if you can't be? I appreciate you guys reading my blog-spam.

  3. Self discovery is a beautiful thing. And I, like you, discover new things about myself when doing races like this. As ridiculously hard as the Ultra Beast I discovered that I can dig even deeper and have more to give. Limits? What limits?

  4. Self discovery is a beautiful thing. And I, like you, discover new things about myself when doing races like this. As ridiculously hard as the Ultra Beast was I discovered that I can dig even deeper and still have more to give. Like you eluded to - Limits? What limits?