Life Lessons from a Shoeless Spartan

I completed a Spartan Race Sprint last fall (Sun Peaks) and finished 4th in my age category.  I completed another Sprint yesterday (Mt Seymour) and finished 78th in my age category.  Why the difference?  One word.  Shoes.

Actually, that is slightly misleading.  The real reason is “no shoes“.

If you know me, you know that I am the kind of guy who likes to think ahead.  If possible, look at the future and always be prepared.  This wasn’t my first obstacle race, and I wanted to make sure that everything went well, including my shoes.  So I tied them tight.  Not tight enough, apparently.  🙁

If you notice these two pictures, you’ll spot the difference:

no shoes

Before = shoes.  After = no shoes.  Here is the crazy story:

About six minutes into the race, we came to the third obstacle, a mud pit.  Because the race had just started we were still close together, and most people were slowly walking through the mud.  “Well that is dumb”, I thought to myself, “I am going to run through instead”.  So I did, and I passed a few people.  It seemed like a great idea!  Until the last step.

Because the mud was thick, and because the force of my last step was strong (remember, I was running rather than walking), on my very last step the mud grabbed my left shoe and I stepped right out of it!  Instantly, I turned, fell to my knees, and started searching through the mud.  Where was my shoe??  Argh!  It can’t be lost!  A Spartan volunteer came over and helped me look.  But … nothing.  My shoe was gone.  Noooo!

So … I stood there, at the beginning of a Spartan race, with only one shoe.

I had three options.  Quit, run with one shoe, or get rid of my other shoe and run in my socks.

Quitting was not an option, and running with one shoe seemed ridiculous and uncomfortable, so really … I had no choice.  I went to the next obstacle – the wall traverse – with one shoe, thinking that it might help.  It did.  For a while.  I made it just about to the end when my slippery wet sock slipped on a foothold and I fell off the wall.  Darn missing shoe!  Now I had 30 burpees to do.  🙁

After I finished my burpees, I took one last look at my one remaining Altra running shoe, and … threw it to the side!  Time to go up the mountain with only my socks!

My enthusiasm evaporated about ten seconds later as I tried to run across a seemingly endless path of sharp crushed rock.  Socks do not protect your feet very well!  I slowed to a careful walk as I tried to pick my way up the trail, walking as gently as I could as I tried to avoid the sharpest rocks.  It was a slow process.

Eventually, though, I came to bigger rocks, and I discovered that if I strategically lept from rock to rock, with arms outstretched to balance myself, it actually didn’t hurt too much!  In my mind, I am sure I looked as graceful and powerful as Legolas (all I was missing was the bow and arrows), but in reality, I probably looked like a misguided middle-aged ballerina wearing a Spartan headband muttering “ow, ow” over and over again!

Anyway … I continued on in the race like this, picking my way through and over sharp rocks and sticks, completing all the remaining obstacles (other than the cursed spear!), and eventually, 1 hour and 43 minutes after “the incident”, I finally finished the race.  Without shoes.

So … what did I learn from this experience?  A number of things:

  1. Next time, I’ll tie my shoes even tighter!  And use duct tape.  Seriously, my shoes will be tight next time!
  2. Spartan volunteers are awesome, even if they couldn’t find my missing shoe.
  3. Spartan racers are awesome.  Most people who saw me with no shoes encouraged me, told me I deserved an extra medal, or generally helped motivate me to keep going.  A few even offered their headbands for me to wrap around my feet (I tried … it didn’t work), and one actually offered me her light jacket to wrap around one foot!  Pretty amazing.
  4. When adversity hits, you have two choices: 1) quit, or 2) adapt and move ahead.  Don’t quit.
  5. When your goals get crushed, change your goals.  I was clearly not going to finish the race with a good time, so I changed my goal to simply “finish the race”.
  6. Celebrate your victories.  Even though 1,219 people were faster than me, I was faster than 729 people!  🙂
  7. Wear amazingly awesome SOS socks (fully intact at the end of the race!).  You never know when you’ll need them.


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