Arriving at a starting line is an enlightening journey.
The trip is riddled with a monumental amount of questions. Endless questions. Every little detail examined, re-examined and then triple examined. What shoes am I going to wear? Should I taper three or four days before the race? What socks should I wear? Tailwind or Hammer? Will I blister, chaffe, bonk or twist something? If there is a supreme being, please can I go to the bathroom before I get to the starting line?
We can debate and discuss hydration vests, gels, goo’s, headlamps, socks, shirts, shorts, water bottles, compression anything until the cows come home.
That phrase may have a Scottish origin, the cattle in the Highlands are put out to graze where grass is plentiful. They stay out for months before scarcity of food causes them to find their way home in the Autumn for feeding.
As athletes, we can fixate on every training detail. Did I run enough? Did I lift enough? Did I do enough speed work, hill work, grip work? Months and months of training and obsessing over what we eat, what we don’t eat. What we drink, what we don’t drink. How much sleep we get, did I train enough or did I over-train?
All that effort, research, energy and time sweating every detail so you arrive at that starting line ready to go full beast mode and have the race of your life.
He who has a why to live for can bear almost any how. – Friedrich Nietzsche
How many of you have toed a starting line with a why?
What is a WHY?
A WHY is something bigger than you.
Mark Divine is a former navy seal and he instructs a course called SEALFIT. He puts non-military civilians through the same gauntlet a Navy Seal has to endure. Mark asks victims to write a letter along with a check and explain why they want to go through his crucible. Mark can tell just by reading the letter who might succeed and who will most likely fail.
If the letter says, “I want to find out how tough I am”.
Most likely that individual will be ringing the bell. You ring a bell three times to announce you have quit. Everybody hears it. Everybody knows it.
If the letter says, “I’m here for my wife and kids, I feel like I‘ve let them down. I’m an alcoholic and I’m here to show them what kind of man I am.”
Very doubtful you with hear a bell ring. That guy will go through hell. He will not quit. He will endure any amount of suffering. Why? Because his WHY is bigger than him. His WHY isn’t about him.
The first guy. He may be tough. But when real suffering meets an ego and vanity based goal, the ego isn’t that tough folks. As a matter-of-fact, it’s pretty damn fragile in case you haven’t heard.
Start by asking the question ‘why’. This is because behind the question ‘why’ there lies answers to your questions. – D.S. Mashego
I try to bring a WHY to all my “A” races. The Spartan Ultra Beast in Killington was that race.
In high school I ran cross-country, indoor and outdoor track. I ran the 880, the mile and the 2 mile, depending where coach needed or wanted me. My friend and teammate Mike and I trained and raced together. He was one hell of a runner and a fierce competitor on race day, training day…any day. We battled hard. I hated losing to him and I loved beating him, but after we crossed the line, friends. Always friends.
After our junior year, he banged his leg getting out of a car. The bruise became a lump, the lump was cancer, and the cancer demanded they took his leg off at the hip. Just like that, he was never going to run again and neither was I.
Our senior year Mike attended cross-country, indoor and outdoor track practice. Mike found a way to be part of the team. He would time runners and emotionally support them. Despite his situation, he acted like a teammate.
I did not.
We were having lunch in the cafeteria and Mike asked me if I would come back to the team. He wanted me to run again.
Sorry, there will be no Hollywood movie script ending with me coming back and running for my legless friend with cancer and winning a state championship with him on the sidelines on his crutches fighting back tears.
I went to parties. I listened to loud music and I didn’t run.
Those that have failed to work toward the truth have missed the purpose of living. – Gautama Buddha
I didn’t run again until 2014 when I started training for my first ultra marathon. (Which I was inspired to run because three people I knew were battling cancer, but that’s a different WHY.)
Ladies and gentlemen, that is exactly 32 years of quitting. That’s a boatload of quitting. The funny thing is I never saw myself as a quitter. Which is hilarious. I also never faced the truth or the reality of the decision I made as a 17-year-old boy.
That’s called denial.
When I started running again that wall of denial started coming down. Slowly and painfully with every training run. When you run for 5 to 7 hours, it gives you a lot of time to reflect, think, and look in the mirror.
Fortunately along with the pain a WHY started to slowly emerge.
The wound is the place where the light enters you. – Rumi
I went to Killington Vermont because of my actions towards Mike and all my teammates who I didn’t support and respect. I let them down. I quit on them.
I specifically signed up for the Killington Ultra-beast because it was a race that made people quit. It should be called Quittington.
2 laps. 28.14 miles. 12,770 feet of climbing and 72 obstacles.
It traditionally has a 30% finish rate. Racers don’t even go out for lap 2 because they can’t imagine going through that again. Factor in time cut-offs and a section called The Death March that you have to climb twice and you see a lot of DNF’s.
You can have anything you want if you want it badly enough. You can be anything you want to be, do anything you set out to accomplish if you hold to that desire with singleness of purpose. – Abraham Lincoln
I trained for one year with that WHY.
I packed up that 32-year-old WHY and I brought it to Vermont.
I stood at that starting line with it.
That WHY was so ready to race that day.
I can’t fully explain what happened that Saturday September 16th, 2017 in Killington Vermont. I had the race of my Spartan career.
I know this. It wasn’t the shoes, the hydration vest, the socks or anything else off the endless list of things that we think make us better racers.
Please consider having a WHY before your next race.
Maybe have a WHY before you start that business.
Write that book.
Lose 25 pounds.
Quit that job or start a new one
Maybe a WHY can make us better parents, film-makers, humans, APP builders, friends, students, leaders, software designers or Facebook posters.
Look around at your competition you might want to consider the size of their WHY.
It might be why they are successful and not ringing that bell.
Sometimes it takes a wrong turn to get you to the right place. – Mandy Hale
Thank you for reading, Namaste.