Doesn’t have to feel good to BE good.
I turn forty this year, in the fall of 2016. I started training for this decades ago. Laying groundwork, running trails, lifting heavy things, moving my body when all it wanted to do was slow down and fall apart like an old grasshopper in autumn.
Unafraid of chronological change, I am actually looking forward to this next decade. A lot. I decided to celebrate in advance by competing in a Spartan Race with all of my siblings. I’m the oldest of five and uniquely qualified to lead the way toward a better birthday bash, in general.
Cake and icecream? Bah. Party streamers? Pooh. Balloons? Pop.
The music of the Spartan fife calls me in real time, not just for the momentary fun of challenging obstacles and playing in mud and barbed wire- but as a measuring stick. A reminder that we are only as good as the time and training and consistency we apply to each and every day of our lives.
When the race rolled around, I had every reason in the world to sit out. To tap out. To cancel, defer, explain myself away completely. I was utterly spent before even boarding the red-eye flight to travel 1,500 miles to Washington State. I had trained hard, worked hard for months (years, actually) to be at the point where I could participate in a challenge like this one, with my family, and be an asset to the team. The wheels came off the wagon in February. Sick with pleurisy and pericarditis, I was exhausted to the point of near-incapacity. Unable to take the time off work to actually recover and heal, I was staggering toward exhaustion every waking minute. Immune system compromised, I succumbed to bronchitis and a nasty sinus infection shortly thereafter.
Our bodies have this way of having the last word. Lack of quality sleep, profound stress driven by an ongoing family emergency, long-term overwhelm at work and an increased caseload that just wouldn’t end… and down I went.
When the week of the race arrived, I hadn’t been able to actually train for about three weeks. Lung capacity compromised, I was ready to call it off. After talking to my sisters, I realized two things: one, we are a team and this is a team endeavor. Two, if they were willing to take the chance on me- move at my pace, pick up the pieces I couldn’t- then who was I to determine that I was inadequate?
It was pretty grim. My joints were in bad shape from the extended illness. My blood sugar and insulin were out of balance, continually. I was spiking and depleting and crashing and burning, hard. And yet? I ran. Easy. Opened up the throttle and just relaxed into my trail running stride, between obstacles. When it was time to climb walls and ropes and crawl through mud and carry heavy things, I found that some things were easy and some things were difficult, just like the rest of life. The biggest mountain we will ever climb is the one in each of our heads. The one that says, “What if I look ridiculous?”
I did. Look ridiculous. I’ve seen the pictures. It’s okay. I’m not a super hero. I’m just a woman who won’t quit. It isn’t pretty, especially when conditions are suboptimal. In fact, it’s kind of ugly. Messy. Chaotic. Ridiculous.
My family had my back. Literally. When both of my calves cramped up as I clamped my legs around the rope for a Tyrolean traverse, my sister and brother-in-law were right there to grab my toes and pull them back and release the tension that I couldn’t. They shared my burpees with me when I failed obstacle after obstacle. They walked with me when I couldn’t run. They know. As embarrassed as I was, as dark as the places were in my mind in those moments, I learned something far more valuable than words can express. I learned, again, that vulnerability is the gateway to strength. That strength is perfected in weakness. That family and friendship is stronger than any obstacle and that even at my worst, on my worst race day EVER, I am enough. Not because of what I can do (because that was fairly limited), but because of who I AM.
I am not afraid of failing. Of being the slowest, the weakest link. There was a good enough reason, and that’s all I needed. In life, we don’t often get to feel amazing. Great. Fantastic. Heroic. In fact, if we do… we should look around carefully to see what we aren’t fully comprehending.
I didn’t race on April 23rd so I could prove anything. In fact, if that had been my goal- I would have never climbed the wall at the starting line. I would have stayed on the course as a spectator, with every good reason in the book to back me up. I knew better. I have made a commitment in life to bring all of my pieces to Life’s starting line, every single day. I bring my 100%. It’s not always pretty. In fact, it’s rarely even a little bit adorable.
I ran those trails, crawled through mud pits full of cow manure, climbed walls and slid down rocky hills… because family matters more to me than how fast I run, how cleanly I climb or how horribly I fail at the margins of my experience.
I raced for my best friend, my Anam Cara- whose entire life is dedicated to his family, his children. I raced for his children. For their future. For all the uncertainty that lies ahead.
I raced to remind myself that my best is good enough. That life is meant for living. In the now. I raced to give myself hope for today and for tomorrow- that even in my own frailty, I can do my part. Can be a valuable part of something greater.
As I ran the course, I passed a man with no legs. Amputated so completely that he is literally without a lower half of his body, this man was navigating the obstacle course with his torso and arms. He was completing every single obstacle, just as I was, and he had no team. He was doing it alone. As I slowed to acknowledge him, to look him in the eyes, he said aloud, “No matter what life gives you, no matter how bad it gets, you have got to RISE UP.”
He locked eyes with me and I stopped. Knelt down. Cried. Kneeling next to a man who knows what it means to rise up, I found what I came for that day.
I brought everything I had to that race course, just as I do with my everyday life. He did the same.
I’m leaving this thought here today, with you. For your todays and your tomorrows, for all that you are and all that you can be: rise up. To do that, you have to start where you are.
Make a damned choice. Mark Twight nails me to the wall, again, with this one:
“The hardest thing to do is one thing at a time.”
You likely won’t get to feel amazing and look like a hero and collect a special medal for doing that one thing today that will make a difference for your tomorrows.
You know what that one thing is. Go do that. I guarantee you, you’ll find me out there doing the same.
Life won’t wait.