Friday, May 16, 2014

Why I race...

Spartan Race

As someone that is not an "athlete," doing things considered very athletic would seem out of the norm. Oh yes, I've had hobbies that have taken me outside into the mountains. I've enjoyed mountaineering (when I lived near mountains), which included hiking, rock climbing and camping (often in the snow). Many considered this exceptional, but it was not "athletic" as much as it was adventurous. I've enjoyed swimming all my life, riding bicycles and just about anything else that was a fun and rigorous activity that took me out into nature (including skiing and kayaking). These also, though indicative of an "active lifestyle, " do not make one an "athlete." I've known many that are serious athletes, and I've revered them for their discipline, their drive, focus and the results of being able to perform such incredible physical feats.

So then, the decision to engage in such an "athletic" enterprise as the Spartan Race is seemingly a step up from dabbling in just being an "active person." After all, there are plenty of fun opportunities, in the marketplace of activities now, to merely get muddy while trampling along a trail with friends headed to the beer-flowing party at the end. Why the decision to test myself with a race that, though also fun, enjoyable and "family friendly," is also a seriously athletic event that requires significant training in advance? Why engage in a race that required lifestyle changes and discipline I had not previously maintained? Why voluntarily sign up for something that mandated so much transformation?

Spartan Race offers a wide variety of races to participate in...

The Spartan "Sprint" is a race billed as "3+ miles with 15+ obstacles." The "+" is an important caveat because each course is custom designed. Thus, the "+" could mean a few more miles AND many more obstacles. You never know what you're going to get (*says in Forrest Gump voice*).

The "Super" Spartan is advertised as "8+ miles with 20+ obstacles," and the Spartan "Beast" being "12+ miles with 25+ obstacles." The Sprint is an athletic event in itself, but is also designed to be the most accessible of their races, wherein a person could enter who had never gotten off the couch before. The Super is where it starts requiring some training in advance in order to have an enjoyable experience, rather than a miserable one. The Beast is a half-marathon in length, but the inclusion of the obstacles make it, according to the testimony of some athletes, more difficult than a normal marathon (which I have never considered trying). As seen from the graphic above, the events that Spartan Race conducts go well beyond the Beast. Nevertheless, to set a goal for achieving the "Trifecta" (completing the first three - Sprint, Super and Beast - in a calendar year), is by far a more athletic pursuit that I have ever considered before...

...yet that is exactly what I am attempting in 2014 (the Spartan Beast is on November 1st)!

Spartan Race (and admittedly other race companies has risen up attempting to duplicate this function) has provided an activity that challenges many to push themselves beyond where they have been before. However, I have found, along with multitudes of others, that these races are indicated of more than merely physical struggles. They wind up being a physical, athletic analogy of other "obstacles" in life that must be overcome as well. 

The opening line of their promotion video is "Could a race change your life?" One might not think so, but an unexpected internal event occurs on the course. Suddenly what started out as a fun idea for the day turns into a test of will, and a nexus of mental, spiritual and emotional struggles. It demonstrates the folly of the ancient gnostic heresy that sought to separate body and spirit (it lingers on today in many forms). We are integrated complexities of matter and energy that cannot be separated even at death (thus the Christian doctrine of resurrection). Disciplines of the body cannot help but have a corresponding affect on the soul. The religious practice of fasting is an example of this. Several Biblical passages either elude to this or downright proclaim the connection.  The apostle Paul says "Instead I subdue my body and make it my slave, so that after preaching to others I myself will not be disqualified" (1 Cor 9:27). The classic spiritual disciplines have all had this as their motive. Training of the soul via discipline of the body. The connection is inescapable. Does this mean that all who discipline the body are spiritual growing? Not at all. But the connection is such that seldom do people find internal development that was not manifested externally also.

Classic spiritual disciplines have included both abstaining and engaging disciplines; meaning that one either abstains from an activity as their discipline (fasting), or engages in an activity (study/meditation) as their regimen. In most cases, it's a choice that involves activities of the body, and comprises actions of will, speech, choice, appetite, rigor and difficulty. Many perform these spiritual disciplines with full expectation that they will be changed as a result of it.

"Could a race change your life?" Those that understand and appreciate spiritual disciplines would answer in the resoundingly affirmative. For in training for the race, decisions are made regarding schedule, exercise and motivation that disciplines life and brings it into an order that might not have otherwise occurred. Encouragement and accountability is sought from other racers to prepare well and plan to gather for the event. The race itself brings all of this together, serving as a living analogy for struggles and trials faced in other categories of life.

Why do I race? Because of all of the other aspects of life that benefit from the decision to struggle and emerge. Because the discipline of it that hones the senses and sharpens the spirit. Because of the camaraderie among those racing for the same reasons. Because of the spontaneous moments of community evident on the course when people help and encourage each other. Because of the accomplishment of attempting and achieving something out of the norm. Because even training for it develops a fitness level, with the accompanying positive health benefits, that seemed out of reach before now. Because I believe that, were the apostle Paul writing much of the New Testament today, he would have used these races as analogies to make his point in at least a few places (along with the other sports, gladiatorial and military analogies he used). Because the course is all a physical, spiritual and mental challenge all put together. Because being "Spartan" has taken on meaning that applies to myriad struggles off the course as well.

Certainly this is not why everyone does it, but it's why I race.