After finishing a Spartan Sprint in January, my husband, our friend Cameron, and I all decided that we wanted to get our Trifecta medals. What this means, is that we would need to complete a Spartan Sprint, Super, and Beast within one calendar year. Easy, right?
If you know nothing about Spartan Races, here’s a quick rundown:
*Image from spartan.com
Almost immediately following our Sprint we went online and looked up the closest Super and Beast so that we could reach full badassery and get our Trifecta medals. Because of the locations and timing, we ended up needing to book our Beast (the hardest race) before our Super. But hey. no biggie. We’re badasses now, remember?
We had been doing a fairly decent job at training until I came down with something that had me unable to do any extreme exercise for about a month. So walking into this race, I was nervous.
The Beast took place in Big Bear at the Snow Summit Ski Resort and it was the first time they had ever used the location, meaning that even seasoned vets didn’t know what to expect.
The moment my eyes met the mountain I was petrified, which clearly showed because Derek nudged me to take a quick minute to meditate and get right with myself.
Before I knew it, our time slot was being called to the bullpen and the announcer was leading us all in a Spartan chant.
AROO, AROO, AROO.
Suddenly, we were off and headed up an almost perpendicular hill. Within minutes (and I do mean minutes), I had already gotten inside my head.
My breathing quickened, my legs trembled, and I felt like I was going to pass out.
WHAT. IN. THE. HELL. WAS. I. THINKING.
There was no way I would complete this race, I couldn’t even make it up the very first hill.
Thankfully, Derek knows me almost better than I know myself and he came rushing over, urging me to place my hands above my head and breathe deeply.
Deep breaths, mama. Deep breaths.
After the panic attack subsided we began moving again and finally reached the top of the hill, only to find another one immediately waiting for us—as steep as the last.
I placed my hands on top of my thighs, using force to keep them moving as I trudged up the mountain. Again, the “top” turned out to be a ridge and up we went some more.
After climbing for about 50 minutes with only a very small decline in-between, we came across an absolutely gut-wrenching sign. It said:
My heart sank into my chest.
There is no way I’m going to be able to finish this 12-mile race.
I felt ashamed, embarrassed, and defeated.
Why did I think I could do this? We climbed for another mile until we finally reached the sandbag obstacle, which, big surprise, included more climbing.
I began my mantras for the umpteenth time in the hour and a half since we started.
ONE FOOT IN FRONT OF THE OTHER.
I AM STRONG, I AM FIT, I AM ABLE.
LEFT, RIGHT. LEFT, RIGHT.
I CAN DO ALL THINGS THROUGH CHRIST WHO STRENGTHENS ME.
My face says it all. The internal struggle hit its peak right here.
I reached the top of the hill, dropped my sandbag, and sat down. I still had to bring it all the way down, but I needed a moment to catch my breath.
Derek and Cameron were already at the bottom of the hill waiting for me and I didn’t want to slow them down anymore, but I couldn’t find the strength to stand back up.
But then I looked around me and saw all of the faces of these men and women carrying their sandbags—covered in dust, and sweat, and determination—suddenly I was rising. Putting the sandbag back over my shoulders from the ground was taxing. I had to push all of the weight to one side so that I could lift it over my neck and then shimmy the sand to even it out before heading back down to finish.
When I met with the guys at the bottom they were taking a few bites of a protein bar and I was shaking all over. I sat for 2 minutes or so, and then back up the mountain, we climbed.
We were ascending for the greater portion of the course. Every time we would reach a peak, we’d turn the corner and see another climb ahead. It did a number on everyone’s mental state. There were people crying, complaining, and contemplating their life choices throughout the entire 12 miles.
The event page said that the race, “can access elevations as high as 8,200 ft and take you back down 1,200 ft of vertical drop” but what it didn’t say was that you would make that climb TWICE with 30 obstacles thrown into the mix.
Nobody, not even the most elite, were prepared for a course quite like this one.
I knew if I was going to keep myself going I needed to find pockets of joy and beauty wherever I could, so I began looking for them everywhere.
I found happiness in the breathtaking views of Big Bear Lake from the top of the summit. I found energy from fellow Spartans around us that had music playing (including one moment when “Don’t Stop Believing” came on right as we turned a corner and saw yet another hill to climb). I found strength from a little girl who had taken the ski lift up the mountain and then climbed down to a turning spot, purely to pass out high fives to every runner that passed her.
Each moment of weakness was met with an equal moment of power. And finally, as we reached mile 8, I knew that absolutely nothing was going to stand in the way of me finishing this race.
Without Derek and Cameron, I would have never made it.
Not only did they help me over walls, lift me up to bars I couldn’t reach, and grab my footing when I was slipping—but they showered me with encouragement the entire time and never left me behind.
Toward the end, we reached an obstacle called the “Bender” (pictured below) that rocked me.
I contemplated even trying it because my entire body felt exhausted by this point and I wasn’t sure if I would have the strength to pull it over the bars, but I finally decided to give it a go anyway.
The guys gave me a boost and the next thing I knew I was sitting on this bendy obstacle trying to figure out how to lift my weight and pull myself over it.
Derek and Cameron were both getting worried because I was so high up and I couldn’t get my footing right.
“Lift your body over the side! Pull your arm over! Don’t put your leg like that!”
I paused. Dangled my limbs, centered my breath, and finally, pulled myself over. When I jumped down, I ended up knocking Derek over with my butt which then turned into a giant joke, but in that moment I felt like a damn BEAST.
That obstacle scared the shit out of me, but I conquered it.
Momentum kicked in and we all picked up the pace.
The sun had set and darkness was filling in all around us, but we just kept moving.
And suddenly, we were surrounded by a group of people who were saying, “less than a half a mile left!”
Were we really at the end?
I zipped through the tire obstacle that stood between me and the finish line, did some burpees for the rope obstacle (because there was no way I could do that even if it was at the very beginning), and as we made our way to the slip wall, we saw Cameron’s wife, Kelly, on the sidelines.
She took our hydration packs for us so that we could go through the mud without ruining them and we bolted over the slip wall and came face to face with our last set of obstacles: The rolling mud and underwater wall.
By this point it was 6:30 pm and only 50 degrees outside, so the volunteers were telling racers that they could skip the obstacles and waltz on over to the finish line, but I wasn’t having that.
“Guys, we came all this way. We are fucking finishing this thing the right way!”
Derek and Cameron were less than thrilled with my enthusiasm, but they made their way into the chilly, muddy, water anyway and after 7 hours and 4 minutes, we finally crossed the finish line.
The moment that medal was placed over my head I began to cry. I kept whispering, “I did it. I can’t believe I did it.” as we walked over to a series of booths where they passed out energy drinks and snacks, before cutting our timers off of our shoes and then sending us off to claim our shirts.
The guys were freezing but I wasn’t aware of the cold. In that moment, all I felt was alive.
I had conquered a beast. I WAS a beast.
Before the first mile marker I was convinced that there was no way I could finish this race—yet there I stood, 7 hours later, with two rolled ankles, bruises all over my body, and a finisher medal.
I always knew I was a fighter, of sorts. Stubborn and strongwilled.
But this race presented me my true level of strength. It pushed me past my breaking point over and over again and showed me that I can do hard things.
And most of all, it solidified my belief in the fact that with a helping hand and a heart full of faith, we can tackle any mountain that comes our way.
Eleanor Roosevelt famously said, “You gain strength, courage, and confidence by every experience in which you really stop to look fear in the face. You are able to say to yourself, ‘I have lived through this horror. I can take the next thing that comes along.’ You must do the thing you think you cannot do.”
So the moral of the story is this: Do the things you think you cannot do.
This mountain was literal, but we face figurative hurdles every day. Money issues, marital problems, parenting woes, self-doubt, and so on. Life is in no short supply of ridges to climb. But if you trust that you can do hard things and keep putting one foot in front of the other, you will surprise yourself with the level of strength that comes from within you, every time.