The Journey to Iceland
My Journey to the Spartan Ultra World Championship in Iceland. 39 countries represented in one of the toughest 24 hour races on Earth.
It seems that we lean most on God, when our own ability isn't enough. This can be seen more clearly when one is diagnosed with a terminal illness, or an accident has one on the brink of death. Prayer comes to existence, we pray so hard, " please God, help me or please God, help him or her"
I remember when my son was born, he couldn't hear. He didn't pass his ear tests. Danielle and I prayed. There was nothing we could do but pray.
God delivered. Today, my son has some of the most acute ears I have seen. He is very sensitive to sound, he hears profoundly well!
God delivered in Iceland.
I wrote this as this event has given me the opportunity to share what can happen when we give it to God, when we rely on something other than the mind and the body. Ironically this test was naturally a mind and body test, but when my mind and body failed, my spirit came alive. To me, the spirit is the purest form of existence. Sometimes the only way to acknowledge it is when the Mind and Body are no more. When my legs were frozen and my mind was defeated I was forced to rely on it, I didn't have anything else to lean on.
To get into this space I had to be shook up a little. God tested me prior to even getting to Iceland.
The Friday, prior to my flight, which was on Monday, I tweaked my neck doing a sand bag carry. I was having a hard time turning my head. I felt like if I gave it time, it might heal in time for the race, I continued on. Then on Sunday night as I am checking in to my flight online, I come to realize that my passport was expired!
I had committed a lot of resources into this event. From building a full rig at my house, buying training equipment, to the races leading up to this event, to the time away from work to train. When I looked at the possibility of getting a new passport rushed 1 day, I was looking at $500, plus rebooking fees to re-book my flight to Iceland. I sat on the couch sad, thinking there was no way. Danielle baked me some cookies. I ate all of them. It was over for me.
As I woke up, I felt this immediate surge, that I needed to do the race. I don’t know how to explain it, other than I felt it. I looked on one of the message boards to see if anyone had responded to by desperation plea of how to get a passport in 1 day. There was a message, that said go to Atlanta.
I dropped my son off at school, and started driving to Atlanta without any expectation. En route, I called, they said, get here by 12 noon. I drove, no music, I pulled over on the highway to pee, and I drove. I had an absolute determination about me. I arrived just before noon, a 3 and ½ hour drive. I provided the documents they needed, and within an hour I got a new passport. $170 😊
Rebooking the flight. The guy from Wow airlines said, just cancel the flight. It will be cheaper, there is a flight that flies out of DC for $200. Zing!
The extra time at home led to prayer for healing. A friend Skip Allen, prayed over my back, referred me to a physical therapist | Jonathon A-hearn, next day, my neck is all better. I finalized some details with my grip to continue strengthening using rice buckets and fat grips, without over fatiguing my hands.
I felt like God was back in my corner. The truth is, he never left my corner, I just needed to find his corner.
I get to Iceland, and I get a text from a friend, George - who says he may just be able to swing the trip to support me. No way! He shows up the next morning, and provides some needed encouragement, just what I needed.
I had a calm about me, as the winds blew, and my body shook, my soul was still. Ready. The Viking chants roared and we were off. I wanted to see how long I could stick with the top guys, so I scooted into 4th place just behind Jon Albon, Ryan Atkins and last year’s winner Josh Fiore. Relaxed tempo going to the first 4 miles. Then the climb. I love climbing, this is a particular strength I have, this climbing was different though. Not really runn-able, I don't know what the elevation gain was on the climb but I believe it was over 700 ft over 1/2 mile distance (I'm really not sure)
This is a night shot captured by Spartan
Here is a video of the climb captured by someone on the course
Going into the first sand bag carry, the bag felt like 100 lbs. It was only 60 lbs, but I had been training with 50 lb bags. Big mistake. As I barely traversed the snow and ice, others were running. Bucket Carry, more of the same, and then the 2nd sand bag carry was the equivalent of death. Steep ¼ mile to 1/3 mile climb that ascended a good 300 ft, I honestly have no idea but I remember that climb being the toughest 10 minutes of the race for me. No trail, just a steep pitch up the side of a mountain, with winds chasing my breath from my mouth.
I highlight the carries, because they were a significant weakness for me. I came in weighing about 148 lb, the bags were solid 60 lb frozen chunks. I also didn’t focus on the carries as much in training. Last year in Iceland the sand bag carry was a joke, flat circle that maybe went a ¼ mile. The buckets were also not as full.
Each lap was 6.6 miles with 25 obstacles. There were 6 obstacles that required successful completion or a 30 burpee penalty was sanctioned for each missed obstacle. The other obstacles were either a ¼ mile lap penalty or mandatory completion.
At the end of lap 1 I had only missed one obstacle. That was the Olympus. I actually touched the bell, but as I touched the wind blew, so it didn’t ring. I did my burpees to be sure. I wasn't sure of my place, but I knew a lot of people had passed me. I felt defeated. I'm running hard, I only missed 1 obstacle, but so many others are stronger. As I came through transition George said " you ok? " his look of " I flew all the way out here to see you squander this opportunity? "
He didn't say that, but it made me think of it. It got me fired up. Fueled up, in and out in under 10 minutes. The next 12 hours I went hard. I didn't look at who I was passing or who was passing me, I just went as hard as I could, focusing on the best I could do.
My arms were beginning to fatigue, and I had injured the inside of my thigh on the Tyrolean traverse. When I was approaching the Tyrolean traverse I was already thinking I was going to have to do burpees, I didn't want to aggravate the injury, nor fatigue my forearms further. This is where I began to pray, I really began to reach out to God. I was tired and I was hurting. In that moment, a guy ran passed me. He got on the Tyrolean, but instead of doing it the normal way, we got on top of the rope, using his body as his shield. I thought, perfect! I had never tried it that way, but there is no better time than now. I was slow but I got it! My arms and legs were preserved. The execution of that move, and that answered prayer gave me a huge lift.
The volunteers here were also particularly great, they cheered me on and gave me hugs.
As I ran through the night, less and less people were on the course. There were moments were I was all alone, lost in my thoughts. My prayer became very affirmative. As my feet were frozen, I began to pray " i feel warm, thank you God for his warmth" as everything tired i prayed " God, thank you for this strength, you are making me stronger as the night goes on" "thank you for giving me everything I need "
" Therefore I tell you, whatever you ask for in prayer, believe that you have received it, and it will be yours " - Mark 11:24
These prayers become my reality. I was running faster, and I was still able to overcome the obstacles. I also noticed something, others were beginning to quit. As I entered transition, I saw a great many, getting comfortable, and getting warm. I kept going.
As I was departing transition, George goes "hey, do you need this? " It was my survival kit that had all of my safety gear. It had fallen out of my bag. As I exited transition, there was the race director and crew checking everyone's gear to ensure they had the requisites for the race. I had mine, thanks to George and to God. If I didn't have it, it would have been a 10 mile penalty. My race would have been over
It is said, you must give to receive. Ironically 15 hours in, I felt exactly that. My greatest surges of energy came when I encouraged others. While my breath was short. I gave what I could. " Great job man keep it up echoed into the darkness as light returned to my frame. "
It was interesting. A great many didn't say anything back. But the ones who did, we fed off each other. It was everlasting fuel. I began to extend this gratitude, and thankfulness to all of the volunteers. Thanking them for being on the course. Hi-fiving and hugging, extending love any way that I could.
Competition often times fuels the desire to out do, but for me, it encourages love. We are all suffering, the greatest cure for suffering is love. Sometimes we don't know that we need it, until we are suffering.
It got me to the end. On the second to last lap, George said - you are climbing up the leaderboard! I said " i don't want to know " with that, I transitioned before I could think of my place. I just went as hard as I could go.
As I crossed the finish line, I was filled with so much joy. I don't know if it was because it was over, or if it was because I gave it my all. I just knew, I did exactly what God called me to do. My number 1 goal of this race was to be the light. To encourage others to find the light within themselves. The light God put in them, and use it to eradicate darkness.
In the end, I placed 10th, completing 188 out of 200 obstacles, eclipsing 55 miles and 11k of vertical gain. This course and race is being recognized as the hardest course in obstacle course racing history, and one of, if not the toughest 24 hour test on the planet.
God is good. Thank you to my wife Danielle for supporting me through all of the rigors of training, food, and love, and allowing me to take on this challenge knowing full and well I was exposing myself to great risk. Thank you George, for making the trip. You made all of the difference. Thank you to Yancy Culp for the grip training. Last year in Iceland I did over 700 burpees due to failed obstacles. This year I was much stronger and did less than 250 burpees.
Thank you to the YMCA Dover and Boiling Springs North Carolina for providing a great venue to train. Thank you for the prayers, love and encouragement from Hope Community Church and the community of people that support me.
To my son Phoenix, one day you might read this. This one was for you. Keep going buddy, stay focused on God, and he will provide a way. Things might get tough, just keep going. I love you.