By Jim Biery
Let me begin by stating this is not a “collect your participation trophy and orange slice” type of sporting event I am going to discuss today. Not even close, my friends. This is a soul-crushing, spirit-testing, physical and mental test that not only tries to crush the will of its participants, but actually can leave them thinking they cannot possibly be able to finish what they have started — and many don’t!
Even the titles of these events can be intimidating. Would you be excited to compete in something called a Tough Mudder or Warrior Dash? How about a Spartan Ultra Beast? The event I mentioned last includes a total of 30 miles of course that presents participants with 60 plus obstacles in order to complete the course in one day.
What I want to focus on is what it takes physically and mentally to not only attempt one of these ultimate events but what it takes just to train for an event. This sport demands participants to be at their absolute best in their upper body strength, cardio endurance and the ability to block out rain, mud pits, freezing temperatures and changes in rough terrains and elevations. This is not the obstacle course at the Battle of the Network Stars.
So, I set out to try and understand what the mindset is for these athletes. As a very, very competitive person, I can relate to having to push yourself well beyond your comfort zone to reach that level of determination that is needed to overcome pain, injuries, even insecurities that may limit you not only in competition but in life.
What might surprise some people is that there are a good amount of women taking part in these races. Although it really shouldn’t. When the going gets tough, tough women get going! I’m sure we all know that you take the strongest man you know and give him a little case of the flu, and you have just created one of the biggest babies you know, whining about his fever, can’t make his own food, needs to be waited on hand and foot.
As I was researching this story, I was introduced to one tough mudder (pun intended). My wealth advisor Kim Knight has raced many, many times, including some races that required her to crawl through mud underneath barb wire that was electrified. She did this alongside several former Marines and told me she had the perfect person to talk to: Allow me to introduce Nicole Austin, who grew up in Michigan and played many sports including soccer and basketball, and was on the women’s rowing team at Michigan State University. While at MSU, she attended a class that required her to choose an event that took her beyond her comfort level and write about the experience. She took part in what is called a Spartan Race, which is a three-mile course that started with having to jump over a four foot wall. This race ignited Nicole’s love of competing in ultimate races.
My goal was to uncover the mental toughness it took to overcome pain, failure, and self-doubt. All of these things are common fare in this sport. Like a lot of athletes, she has had to overcome many injuries, including a snow boarding accident that resulted in a lower back injury. Nicole finished a race with a broken bone in her foot, and to be covered in sweat, mud and a little blood means nothing to her. Keep going. Don’t let anything or anyone get in your way or stop you. That is the mindset that helps her climb walls, run many miles, lift 70 pound sacks and carry them on her back to the next drop off point.
She is so competitive with herself that she mentioned she was becoming depressed because she was “racing for the podium.” This meant if she didn’t finish high enough in her class, she couldn’t be recognized as a top finisher and stand on the podium as she collected her medals. Once she realized that she was trying to overachieve on every race and that it was affecting her mentally, she began to look around and appreciate the close-knit society she was part of and how everyone is so supportive of each other. “If someone is struggling getting over an obstacle, others in the group will fall back to help that person conquer his or her stumbling block,” she said.
As she continues to train for the next event, I asked her how she deals with all the pain from the injuries she had endured. “Although my back pain was excruciating at times, I just realized that it will always be there and hurt because it is in my bones,” said Nicole. “So, I decided to train smarter and get my core stronger to overcome the pain.” Since she has taken part in so many races, she knows exactly what obstacles will be on the course so she can train specifically for that instead of just running and lifting weights.
So why does she keep going? Is she trying to prove something to herself? Is she trying to prove something to someone else? “You can have a really high tolerance for pain,” Nicole explained, “but then you can have an even higher mental tolerance for pain. So, once you hit that physical pain, you know that it can’t get worse. I know my foot is broken and it’s going to hurt, but it won’t get worse from here.”
And, she tells herself, “You paid for this, you’re gonna do this.” (By the way, the average cost of an entry fee is $125 and that doesn’t include travel and food.)
Nicole – and other “mudders” and “maniacs” like her – are proof that if you truly want something in life, it may come with pain and setbacks, but if you want it badly enough, nothing can stop you. Not even yourself.