It was 0630 when I arrived at Citizens Bank Park, Philadelphia, for my first Spartan Race of 2016. In honesty, it’s probably going to be the only one too.
Daylight had just begun to break across the sky and, with it, the chill in the air began to lift as I navigated the usual hustle and bustle that is the registration tents for Spartan events. With only 4 hours sleep behind me, and a metabolism that had barely begun to work on the calories I had thrown down my throat on the drive to the stadium, my thoughts steadily began to move from, “D, you need to work on your preparation for these races. Training, sleep, food, hydration, timekeeping…” to, quite simply, “Is this really where my passion lies?” A brief conversation with Joey Patrolia, at the end of the race, put things into a great perspective for me. Joey doesn’t necessarily train for these events, per se. He JUST DOES THEM. Like a lot of conversations I have, these words that carried a lot of relevance to me, filtered very slowly through my communication intake channels. As though my mind wanted to sap them of every possible mental nutrient on offer!
The race itself was cool. I made the mistake of getting caught at the back of the starting pack but these are things we just learn from. I quickly realized that I wasn’t going to make any real impact and just focused on getting through without stopping. My only failure was on the Hercules Hoist. I’m pretty sure there was a problem with the pulley but I took the burpees penalty on the chin and jumped out my 30, with perfect form, in sets of 10. The last thing I wanted was to be caught on a phone not doing the burpees properly and have the Spartans of the North East Facebook group complaining about it for a week! LOL!
As you do, I pondered over my race. The winner, Brakken Kraker, had run the race in 23 minutes and some change. I had run it in 37 minutes. The difference was massively down to people in front of me walking, especially where we ran in the seated area of the stadium. Plus the Jerry Can Carry and Sandbag Carry, where there were numerous stoppages in front of me. However, I know how I felt in that race and it wasn’t a feeling that would have put me that much closer to the winner, if I’m honest. During the entire race, in retrospect, my only drive was competition. The event could have been croquet, for crying out loud. There was just a part of me that didn’t feel like I belonged there.
This is no reflection on Spartan Race, OCR as a sport or even the competitors that slowed me. I have all respect for athletes of all abilities and backgrounds. The simple fact is this. My passion is channeled in Track & Field. This isn’t to say that I don’t want to do anything else but it IS to say that I don’t want to dedicate to anything else. I have goals and achievements lying ahead, that involve running, cycling, swimming, climbing, OCR competitions but Track & Field still courses my veins and, as long as it does, as Joey Patrolia put it, I’ll just do them.
The level of fitness I attain, putting in work for the 400m Hurdles, is ample for getting through OCR events, triathlons and other boundary-pushing achievements. I just cannot get motivated when it comes to preparing for them. This means that I may not necessarily be fighting for podium positions when doing them but that’s cool with me. It’s taken some time to sink in but I feel that I’ve made peace with myself, regarding that issue.
I remember when I ran my personal best over the 400m Hurdles, in Belgium, 2005. I had an incessant surge of butterflies. I had maybe 4 or 5 hours sleep and could just about eat that morning. I was forced to sip tea and choke down on a croissant!
Warming up for the race, I remember my legs feeling like jelly and I had my ‘don’t talk to me’ game face firmly affixed. I could feel the competitive atmosphere surging through me. I knew how hard I’d worked to get there, following an injury, but anyone beating me that day was going to have to run their heart out.
When the gun went, I remember throwing myself out of the blocks and fighting this thought in my mind that wanted me to not attack the race so hard but I knew that this was what I’d worked for. The cold nights on dark running tracks. The early morning runs, done while others were still sleeping. Frankly, I knew I was worth my salt and I’d be damned if I weren’t going to push the envelope!
Hurdles 1, 2 and 3 were a blur. The only thing I could tell you about them is that I landed so sweetly, coming off them, it was like I never left the ground in the first place. It wasn’t until hurdle 5 that I realized I was in first place, barely. The American athlete outside me was coming off his hurdle just after me but I was closing. When I nailed hurdle 6, where I began to alternate my lead leg, I knew I was on to something good and, even though I clipped hurdle 9, I knew I just had to nail hurdle 10 to win. I didn’t panic, I didn’t break stride. I just hit the last 3 strides, hard, and drove my knee at the hurdle. I came off it smoothly and sprinted through the line with everything I had left in the tank.
Sadly, I can’t recall my Spartan Race with the same memory or passion. I can remember how tired I was and I can remember most of the race but the fire and rush of adrenaline just aren’t present, unfortunately. Which leads me to a real big decision…
It’s time to take it back to the track, somehow.
Training facilities aren’t plenteous in Central New Jersey but there are some make-do spots that I can utilize. Most importantly, I’m smiling thinking about being on a dark track, running through cold winds, as I churn out 400m repetitions. A smile that just hasn’t been there for a while now.
I’ll still be taking part in other sports and events but I’ll just be doing them. It’ll be competitive fun, something out of the norm. Something that’s a little different. But Track. Track is Life!
Everything just isn’t for everybody.