Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Spartan Ultrabeast: Waiting for the fog to lift.

For each new morning with its light,
For rest and shelter of the night,
For health and food, for love and friends,
For everything Thy goodness sends.
~ Ralph Waldo Emerson
(- photo taken from the Stratton Brook Pond hut at sunrise)

The only thing I hate more than failing is not trying. In fact, I have little tolerance for excuses. I know most people are well-intentioned, but find it infinitely frustrating when people feign passion for something but flake out on game day. "I don't have time to train." "I have an injury that I don't want to aggravate." "I don't have the money." What all of these things have in common is that they indicate a failure to commit: an unwillingness to be vulnerable to the possibility of failure.

One thing I have learned about myself is that I am a little stubborn and tend to swim upstream. While most people fear vulnerability, exhaustion and failure, I embrace it. When most people consider quitting, I push through. While others wonder why someone would want to suffer needlessly, I seek ways to push a little harder. And I love it. I care very little about boundaries. Boundaries are only set by those who want an excuse to quit. I worry less about what I can't do and focus more on what I can.

Going into this fall's Spartan World Championship Ultrabeast, I felt confident. I had trained hard over the summer and knew I was well-prepared. Having completed the event in 2012 successfully, I knew where I needed to be stronger and how to improve my stamina for the 10-11 hour effort that surely would be required for the event. My dad and I planned the details of our trip to Vermont together, which would be the first time he had watched me race since college. I was beyond excited.

Then, in an instant, things changed.

Two weeks before the event, a simple unsuspecting hit in a strong hydraulic on a rafting trip led to a collision with two other helmets: one to the front of my bright yellow helmet and the other to the back. In the immediate aftermath of the collision, I didn't  feel all that bad: a little angry at the tactics of the guide, but otherwise OK. It wasn't until hours later when I arrived at home that I knew that I had taken more than just a little hit and that something was very wrong.

The days that followed are a bit of a blur. I slept for hours upon hours, fumbled through the workday taking naps whenever I could sneak away. I avoided lights, loud spaces, TV's and computers. After 4 or 5 days, holding out hope that I would be able to return to play in time for the World Championships, I began to take short walks in the afternoons. It was not until the 7th day that I was forced to wrestle with a decision where I would have to consider the possibility of what seemed unthinkable: quitting the race.

Completely paralyzed by the notion of quitting something I knew I was fully capable of, I began to panic. I considered racing with 1/2 effort (after all, I had been injured before and always found a way to work around it). I considered putting off the decision longer allowing for a possible recovery in the final days before the race. In the end, I was not capable of making the decision. Instead, I turned to a friend with a lot of experience coaching elite-level athletes. I pretended that I needed his advice. As I knew he probably would, he reminded me of the seriousness of a brain injury and helped me to put into perspective the gravity of taking a risk with my brain. He was also the first in 7 days to tell me that I looked like shit. I know now what he knew then: what I needed was permission to be weak. He let me off the hook. I needed permission to quit.

In the weeks that followed, I stayed home while the races went on without me. I watched the fall go by while I disconnected from my family, work and the community of obstacle racers that had become a regular part of my daily life. Six full weeks went by without a workout, hike, or run. Suffice to say, I have had some
I make a mean salsa. Who knew?
time on my hands to reflect without the distractions of 
computers, TV, phones, or even friends. In these 6 weeks, I have finally realized the qualities that I admire in others. I am so indebted to the kindness, selflessness, and love that those around me have shown me. I have learned the real meaning of gratitude and humility and that my unwillingness to step back on my own accord showed a lack of either.

For so many days after this accident I felt unlucky. Wrong place, wrong time I told myself. Today, I realize how lucky I am that I will recover from my accident while so many other people don't. I have now returned to my workouts with renewed vigor and enthusiasm simply for the love of sport and a lifestyle of fitness.
Although there are many reasons I am drawn to endurance obstacle racing, probably the most profound is that I learn something new from each race I do. The Ultrabeast was no exception, just delivered in a different way. I know now that I am even strong enough to quit.

Stan, always grateful for a good walk.