Be one of the first in the world to earn the Spartan Race “Perfect Delta”, or at least get it in year one, was my major goal in my 35th year on earth. Change everything that I had become along the way was the method. “Unlearn what you have learned”. Wake up, look at my delta pieces, eat well, train hard, sleep and then do it again. This has been every day of my year. Each day has been focused on attainment of that specific goal. It was close to happening for me, but that is no longer a possibility, and that’s ok. I did not feel that way in Lake Tahoe three weeks ago, when the Ultra Beast was shut down due to inclement weather. I have many friends who also feel upset and confused, after what just happened at Agoge 003 in China, and I think now is a good time for this conversation. Please, let me tell you a story of how I have grown as an athlete and individual over the last month. I hope this perspective is able to help a few of my brother and sister Spartans out there who are pursuing the “Perfect Delta” with the same vigor as I.
Every person who runs an OCR style race is there for a reason. Some people were invited by a friend, are taking the first steps in getting healthy or are trying to get that first trifecta. For me, every event that I do is a step on my mission: to destroy every bit of the drunk, lazy and complacent person that I had become. After running my first Spartan Race back in 2014 at AT&T Park, I became obsessed with OCR but did not yet have the commitment level to start changing my life. That changed last fall when I read “Spartan Up” and decided to ditch the cigarettes, horrible eating habits, exert some control over my binge drinking and try to change my life. Time to stop wearing my Spartan shirts around and talking about how I’d get that Trifecta “one day” and do what I needed to do to earn it.
It was August of 2015 when I got busy. I was tipping the scales at 262 pounds, which for a 5’9” man with not much muscle on my body, put me right around 40% body fat. I had been out of the military for ten years, having served the better part of a decade in the U.S. Navy Submarine Force. I dealt with a lot of trauma as a young man that had never been dealt with and pretty much inflicted as much damage as I could to my body and soul as an adult, struggling with depression throughout my entire life. I had considered suicide on numerous occasions. I had a problem. I’d gotten used to filling gaping holes in my soul with anything that “hit the pleasure button” and getting messed up and being the “party guy” helped me numb myself and avoid everything I needed to deal with in my life. By thirty years old, I had been through a gauntlet of heartbreak and found myself a single father. I had my little girl one week on and one week off, and was trying to figure out how to avoid winding up like my Mother. She lost her struggle to mental illness and substances when I was just 15, by taking her own life. I could not end up like her. My daughter deserved more than that.
My life took a major turn when I met Danielle Burmaster. She is a super smokin’ hot first grade teacher and athlete, great Mom to her young son and was getting ready to start her master’s degree. She loves life, art, fitness and truly loved my daughter and I with all of her soul. I could not lose her but she was way out of my league and I’d need to mature by leaps and bounds to make this relationship last past the honeymoon phase. I remember seeing her head out for training runs while I was playing video games and having a drink, thinking I’d really have to step up my game to keep her. So I did.
Spartan Race had already been introduced to me and I focused all my energy on getting healthy so I could achieve that first Trifecta. The effect on my life was immediate and powerful. I took a break from alcohol for the first few months, which eventually became full sobriety. I implemented a new way of eating, based on the structure in “Spartan Up” that JDS gave us. My life began revolving around training, and I found coaches who inspired me to get stronger, stay sober and work harder. The drunks in my life began to lose interest in hanging out with me, and I them. I began attending counseling with a therapist and aggressively diving into the issues of my youth and the problems that I carried into adulthood, which led to me becoming the person that I was. I was fat and had gotten accustomed to never dealing with any of my problems. I was not genuine with myself and therefore never putting my best foot forward in life.
I found meaning in helping veterans through my work with BRAVO Co. (Bringing Resources & Activities to Veterans Operation). My life was new and exciting. After attaining my first Trifecta at the end of 2015, a new goal was set. I’d be one of the first in the world to earn the Spartan Race “Perfect Delta”, and do it in the first year that the award was possible, 2016. There was a “new itch” that I had to scratch. I began to meditate again (having been introduced to kundalini yoga early in my life) and the authentic self finally began to emerge after months of sobriety, therapy and aggressive goal seeking. Today, I’m under 20% body fat, completely sober, eat super clean and have racked up quite a few endurance accomplishments in 2016. It has been my year of change. It took 35 years to do it, but I was finally living life, not just being alive.
Having barely survived the Shackleton 12 Hour Hurricane Heat in January of this year, I trained hard for what I anticipated to be the hardest part of the nine requirements of the perfect delta, the first ever “Agoge 60 Hour”, in Pittsfield, VT. I started Olympic weightlifting, ran and rucked hard, tried a few different eating styles, and pretty much attempted every endurance event that I could to train for it. Agoge 002 was, undoubtedly, the most transformative weekend that I’d ever had in my life.
I put out everything that I had on that mountain. My team and other participants helped me keep my head in the game when my body was shutting down, which nearly happened twice, and I, them. Our team honored me with a coveted Spartan Race coin at the closing ceremony, an honor certainly more for work ethic or some shred of leadership, not athletic ability. That gift honestly brought tears to my eyes. My training and discipline intensified after, as I had set the last major event for the completion of my delta, the Tahoe Ultra Beast.
I am not an elite athlete but paid for the elite registration to buy myself more time on course for the cutoffs. Bad weather was coming in, so I shelled out hundreds of dollars for insulated compression leggings and top, cold weather gear, new headlamp, and all the fuel that I would need. I bought new shoes, socks and had vaseline in all the right places prior to the race beginning at 6AM that dark Sunday morning. I had 15 hours to get this race done.
Knowing that my knees start to hurt around 15-20 miles into races, I took my time, moving slow and steady, and fueling my body with 300 calories on the hour, every hour. Tahoe was a challenging course, and my knees were not feeling great 14.7 miles in. I returned to the festival after wrapping lap one. The double sandbag carry, required for elites, pretty much took out my 30 minute advantage and I was tired. Shortly after heading out for lap two it began to snow. A lot. When we reached the top of the first loop of the second lap, Spartan Staff told us that all obstacles were closed and that we had finished the Ultra Beast. The “weather was our final obstacle”. We were elated. We were instructed to get back to festival safely and “claim what we had earned”. We took our time getting down the hill safely, took selfies and went live on our cel phones for the world to see. Posing for pictures with friends, I could not have been happier at that moment. I had done it. The Perfect Delta was in the bag for me, and I’d just need my SGX certification to complete the award.
Upon return to festival, we were preparing to find out where to get our Ultra Beast medal and delta piece when we had our timing chips cut. We were then informed that we would not be getting either. We had earned a Beast finish and could go claim that shirt and medal. This directly contradicted what we were told by staff and I became unbalanced and lost my cool. I had been told I was an Ultra Beast finisher and now my “Perfect Delta” was on the line. I complained and fought for the finish I was told I earned. I went back to the staff to make my case and ultimately, was given the Ultra Beast belt buckle and delta piece. However, back at the house and on the ride home after, I felt horrible and sick about both my complaint and the “achievement” itself. I had friends who were told the same thing that I had been who went home, even more crushed than I, with a Beast medal. Even worse, were the cases of those who crossed the finish line and still got nothing as there was mass confusion at the award tent about who truly finished, and who did not.
Apparently, many of us were told we had finished but did not meet the metric of a true finisher. What really was a true finisher? People were super upset with Spartan and sadly, I was one of them. How did they not plan for the weather? They moved our UB requirements back because of the weather that we all knew about and prepared for. They called the race, I never quit! I felt that I had done what I was told by the staff, told I finished my race by them, and went home with the medal I was told that I’d earned. I finished my race, right? Or did I just complain louder than others? Did I not let myself get rolled on or did I take something home I had not earned? Damn it. Was my “Perfect Delta” now completely ruined by this tainted piece?
I tuned in to the ORM Podcast the following week where Matt B. Davis interviewed Joe Di Stefano and Joe De Sena. I heard Joe Di talk and listened with an open mind. If you had not run 26.2 miles by the time the race was called, “could you feel good wearing that buckle?”. I already felt like crap about the entire debacle, but hearing that made up my mind. I had to “reset the karma” of the event. I calmly pulled the delta piece away from the others and then packed it up with the coveted belt buckle and finisher shirt I had left the venue with. I shipped it off to another athlete who did finish the race and who was preparing to head to China for his first Agoge. He crushed the course but received nothing from the staff in the kerfuffle that followed the race closure. The staff was overwhelmed and I understood that now. Their priority was our safety and getting everyone off course, in accordance with their plan, when the race was called. I was not proud of how I acted when my chip was cut. Too focused on the material achievement and not appreciating the moment I was in. I knew nothing about 26.2 mile requirements for an Ultra Beast, and was very attached to my final chance to earn that delta piece in 2016. My goal for the year was now unattainable and I had earned a DNF. Life is not always fair, but its no fun eating crow. Spartan has since worked out the details on the UB and given those who truly finished the opportunity to claim their swag.
The reality is that I had truly run “my own race” on the mountain in Tahoe that day. I was not an Ultra Beast finisher, but that was fine. I spent valuable time with the people I love that weekend. I got to meet Randy Moss, one of my favorite receivers of all time, enjoy the Spartan Race festival as a spectator for once, and then see my fiancé take 5th in her age group on her first ever Elite heat in the WC Beast. I got to run the UB with close friends and see the beautiful day turn into a winter wonderland. With two trekking poles swinging wildly, screaming knees and hip, I prayed and asked God to keep me safe and told him/her that “I see you”. I felt the snowflakes melt on my eyeballs as I ran with every fiber of my being down a snowy mountain like a madman. That was MY race and I won it. That is what this life is all about. For me, “You’ll know at the finish line” has new meaning. It is not about the medal you get there but the total experience you had during the event.
If we can learn to detach our emotions from the material achievements that we seek (be it cars, homes, money, medals, “Perfect Deltas”, or patches), and simply enjoy being “in the moment” and experiencing the journey, we can reach a new level of growth as individuals. Our sense of internal value and accomplishment should not be based on how many achievements we have hanging from our walls or how cool that shiny pyramid looks on our desk (even though I still really, really, want that pyramid on my desk one day). I will finish my “Perfect Delta” as soon as I can, but now the timing is of no matter. There is life to live first.
I empathize with the people who are bummed with how a few things have gone down lately at Tahoe and China, as I was one of them. Joe De Sena held a call for all Agoge finishers and Krypteia this weekend to formally announce their changes to the Agoge finisher metric and he gave a chance for those who feel they earned their finish to claim their swag on that event, as well. If you plan on doing this event in the future, you had better prepare and give your all when you get there. That may still not earn you an “official” finish!
Life, love and racing are rarely perfect in totality. Let’s grow together and focus on the positives. Spartan Race will continue to change many lives moving forward and I hope we can all continue to be models of that change. I will always try my best to be, that’s for sure.
If you ran the Ultra Beast in Tahoe but got pulled due to the weather, be proud of your accomplishment. If you finished the Agoge on the Great Wall, I’m jealous, and you’ll have those memories for the rest of your life. A delta piece does not define that experience or your journey as a whole.
My Agoge experience changed my life. Danielle and I are now training for our first Ironman, and I, for the big rowing expedition (more on that to come, stay tuned).
“Aspire to inspire” and choose to evolve.
(Sorry, I stole your phrase, Don)
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