Saturday, September 29th, Citizens Bank Park, the last Spartan Race of the year for my racing team, The Uptown Gentlefriends. John, Mike, and I decide on a gentlemanly agreement to not assist one another, rather we will compete to the best of our abilities (in the past we have tried to stick together based on difficulty/danger). Now I have to say this is probably a bit of a joke, especially between John and Mike. They generally leave me in the dust within 15 minutes, I cry mercy, and wave them off. They just perform at a higher level than I. Simple fact. Even still, I was going to do my best to put on a show. I trained my ass off this year. I put the work in. And now it was time to collect on that investment.
I arrived nice and early with my family to register and get my oldest son Giovanni signed up for his first race ever, a half mile Spartan Kids obstacle course. I am beside myself with pride. More on that later. Our heat begins at 11:00 and the kids go off at 12:00, so I am highly motivated to complete the course in an hour. Just in time to cheer him on. The last time I did a course like this I clocked in around 1 hour 20 minutes. I am confident I can get it done. Why not?
We line up, the announcer gets us pumped up, and we are off! First up is a series of concourse ramps with bungee mazes and O-U-T walls. No biggy. Mike and John are right with me. Now we move onto the fun stuff. Stairs, stairs, and more stairs. John and Mike pass me pretty quickly. Shit, here we go. Actually, I felt fine strength-wise, but I’m just not a very coordinated stair climber. Something I will rectify for next season.
Next up we hit a nice series of obstacles: 25lb ball slam, O-U-T walls, more damn stairs, and the Hercules hoist. Mike and I had an earlier conversation on our unpredictable success rate with this particular obstacle. As luck would have it we dive in right next to each other and both complete it flawlessly. We yell “AROO” as we sometimes do. I have no idea where John is, which is not looking good for me already. Back to the stairs for a bit, and then the monkey bars. I know for a fact this particular set has some tricky spots to mess everyone up. I fly across with no drama. I didn’t know it at the time, but John slipped, had to do his burpees, and I passed him.
We may have done more stairs, then the rowing machines. 500m in 2 minutes. Killed this previously, and it wasn’t a problem again. At this point I see John and Mike. It’s basically a tie! First water station is ahead, pffft, I ain’t got time for water. I’m now feeling more comfortable with the course and I’m sprinting every damn chance I get. I know for a fact I pass both my teammates here, but doubt it will last. Honestly I’m thinking more about completing in an hour to see my boy race. More concourses with bungee mazes, a few 6 ft walls, and more sprinting past everyone. I’m slaying every dragon in my path. Now we need to do two concourse ramps worth of Hobie-Bands. I am loving this. The thousands upon thousands of jump rope reps over the past few months are about to disappoint all those around me. I get to the top and still no sign of John or Mike. Wow, I think I may have a sizable lead! More stairs, then a series of 8 ft walls. Ok, I’m coming back down to earth. I’ve never completed these on my own; I’ve always had my team or other Spartans boost me over. I look around and no one seems too friendly, and they are all just standing around. No one wants to go. Fuck it, I sprint in, grab the top of the wall, and pull myself up and over. Holy shit. I do it again 3 more times, on my own. Still no sign of the Gentlefriends. Hello adrenaline, nice to meet you.
The course now leads us out of the stadium and I know exactly the hell that is waiting for me. Spear toss, my feared nemesis the rope-climb, and the atlas carry. I’m 33% on the spear toss, which is actually good, but I’m feeling major pressure. On one hand, if I miss I will have to take the burpee penalty and Mike and John will most likely pass me. On the other hand, if I nail it, they might miss and I’ll open a huge lead. I think this is about halfway through the course, so I actually allow myself a few sips from the chalice of glory. I launch a deadly toss. Beautiful, level, powerful. It skips 2 inches off the top. 30 god damn burpees. I get it done ASAP, and move onto my most feared obstacle, the rope climb. I have never ever ever even come close to completing this, and it embarrasses the shit out of me. I’m a grown man… technically. I raise children, I pay bills and stuff, but I can’t climb a rope? As I get close, the volunteer yells, “Women – ropes with knots; Men – grab a rope with no knots!” What??? Fine. I grab a rope, take a mental second to remember my training, my improvement, and all my hours at physical therapy. I climb up about 1/4 of the way and think, “Hey that’s not too bad if I fail now, but let’s keep going.” Then I’m 1/2 way up, then 3/4. Am I finally going to conquer this? Two more pulls. I ring the bell at the top as loud as I possibly can, letting my competition know I came to play. I hear a few cheers. Oh hello again adrenaline. Then, out of nowhere, I hear John… “Whoa, Chris!!!” He’s genuinely surprised and proud. I am genuinely happy to hear him say that and sad that he caught up. I start to ease my way down and disaster strikes. I lose all grip strength and slip. I grab on the best I can with my left hand, but I end up sliding down about halfway and fall safely into a hay bale. No time to lose, John has caught up so I sprint to the atlas carry, but something is seriously wrong. My hands are on god damn fire! I look at them and there are massive blisters everywhere within seconds. Oh my god, the pain is immense. I get to the atlas carry and try to pick up the stone, but I’m having a hard time because my hands are shaking. They won’t stop shaking. I finally lift the stone and carry it across the course. It could have been made of magma. Now I’m starting to lose it, I seriously almost cry. John runs over to check on me, but I wave him off to keep our gentlemanly agreement intact. The burning! I hear a volunteer telling me he’s calling for medical assistance. I must have looked terrible. I say no and belt out my burpees to prove to him I’m OK. Medical assistance means I’m out of the race. Hell no. I somehow pick the stone back up, scream something obscene, and carry it back across the course. John is gone and I never see him again. It made sense at the time but I tell myself to sprint and the pain will go away…
Jump rope next. Felt like I was using Satan’s tail, but whatever. Sandbag carry through bleachers, no problem. I would have sprinted if I didn’t get stuck behind a slow group. Then Jerry-Can carry. This was the worst for me. The grip was just unforgiving. My hands starting shaking uncontrollably again and I’m forced to stop a few times. So disappointing.
The last stretch was a ton of stairs. Great. I really want to sprint now. Opportunity given and taken. Then we get into the locker room for hand-release pushups, which I think I do well until the beautiful baby across from me knocks them out like an animal. I fully understand at this point I’m not winning but I will continue to push to see my son’s race. More stairs. I love it. Somehow the burn in my legs and lungs is like sweet relief. Then I hear an announcement that the kid’s race is pushed back to 12:50. I’m mad because now my tired body has an excuse to go over an hour. I’m happy I won’t miss it, but still I wished I hadn’t heard that…
Now I’m out on the field. The finish line is right there. Box jumps. I rule at these. I knock em out, and as soon as I’m about to move on Mike shows up. I smack him on the ass (because that’s what you do when you look upon this mammal) and he looks surprised. We nod. Full confirmation that Spartachris is taking care of business. Next were a few walls. My hands were calming, so no problems. Next was my other nemesis the traverse wall. I just can’t figure this obstacle out, but if I can rise to the challenge, I beat Mike. I try my best, but fail. I don’t waste any time, I just get right into the burpees. Right around #20 I see Mike ring the bell. Game over for me. I climb the cargo net, then blast through the gladiators. I yell something unacceptable at them partially because of my hands, partially because they weren’t hitting anyone hard, but mostly because I came so close to shocking my mates and came up short.
No time to really dwell on anything. My only priority is to get to my son and see his race. I find them quickly, and go over the mantra I taught Giovanni earlier that week, “The secret to racing is NEVER GIVE UP!” He yells it and gives me thumbs up. They run, he finishes, gets his medal, and gives me a huge hug. We compare medals and take a few photos. Mike nudges me and asks, “How proud are you?” I seriously choke back some tears. Giovanni is a sensitive guy. I won’t/can’t shield him from adversity, but I can set a good example for him, and try to teach him how to deal with it. He keeps smiling and we keep hugging. Amazing.
So the smoke clears and John finishes in 1:01, Mike is 7 minutes behind that, and I am 1 minute behind Mike. I get some huge compliments from my teammates. They are equally surprised and impressed with my improvement. I honestly don’t think they thought I could compete. I am really proud and I’m loving the comradery, but I feel like I’m just getting started.
So what do I take from this? 1 – I love my little boy and I’m beyond proud of him. 2 – Conquered a few obstacles that I couldn’t handle in the past. 3 – I still have two fingertips with absolutely no feeling. That’s not really great, but it is freaky baby. 4 – I made a game of it with runners beyond my abilities. 5 – I fell short more than a few times, yet I saw massive improvement.
But that is exactly what this journey for the past two years has been… A giant pile of disappointment with a very few sweet victories. A view from the back, sometimes from the front.