[Editor’s note: Spartan Race is often sent emails by finishers of our races giving us their reasons to run. They are vast, they are varied, and they are inspire as much as they are themselves inspired. This is Lizzy’s story in her own words.]
I’ll be running my first marathon on November 6th to raise money for the Meg Berte Owen Survivorship Fund which supports cancer research at Memorial Sloan-Kettering. While training in the past four months, I’ve learned that running for a cause brings about a new-found sense of purpose, humility, and some serious self-analysis. I’ve come to realize that it’s really in no way about me. Yes, I’m going to use my legs to actually cover 26 miles, but my story itself is nothing out of the ordinary. This being said, the part of my story worth telling is the way in which the athletes I’ve encountered along the way, both through Spartan and MSKCC, have affected my athletic mindset and helped me establish my own answer to the question, why run?
Like countless other athletes, I thrive on the combination of physical pain and euphoria involved in pushing my body past what I think I’m capable of. It’s a mind game that forces you to reach your breaking point and then tap into reserves that you never knew you had. I’m also passionate about the idea of using what I’m capable of to try and make some sort of positive difference, however small it may be. Though not every act in life is a valiant one, we must all occasionally use our particular passions and strengths to do just that much more – whether it be through philanthropy, medicine, social justice, athletic endeavors, or something else. With this in mind, I’ve come to the realization that though I’m not some highly-gifted athlete, I must use use my ability to embrace the pain of pushing myself and do something with it. As Robert Browning said, “When the fight begins within himself, a man’s worth something”. If I am able-bodied and healthy, why wouldn’t I partake in a Spartan Race, a marathon, or more? Upon deciding to get involved with Team Meg in June, it hit me almost immediately that the very least I can do for Meg and for others is to run. Simply stated – if the tools are there, then action is necessary.
Now with all of this being said, let’s back up a little…
After completing the Spartan Sprint in Tuxedo this past June, I was immediately hooked and my first thought was “when can I do this again?”. I’d just started training for the marathon and changing my routine broke up the monotony of logging miles and miles on pavement. Between work, training, and life, the summer got away from me and I neglected to make any concrete plans for my next Spartan. On August 5th, the day before the inaugural Spartan Beast in Killington, I found myself serendipitously bumming a ride up north with a group of friends for a last minute weekend getaway. When we were roughly half-way between NYC and Dorset, Vermont I had a mini-revelation…wasn’t the Beast tomorrow? I frantically emailed Joe Desena to see if he could get me and my partner in crime, Elise, into the earliest heat at 9AM. Moments later I got the one-word response I was hoping for – “Yes.” Before passing out that night, I realized it was probably a good idea to figure out the logistics of actually getting to Killington from Dorset, check the weather, find our misplaced car keys, etc. I opened up my computer at 11:12PM to find an email from Joe – “Want to run a special 7:30AM wave?”. No details. But that was all I needed and I told Joe we were in.
Elise and I rolled out of bed at 5AM the next morning and hit the road with no idea what to expect. This was pre-Irene/Hurricane Heat and there was no reason to arrive that early to run a Spartan on our own other than that we were intrigued and quite honestly, had no reason not to. Why not do it? We managed to make it to the start line in ample time where we found Joe, a few other race coordinators, and two hilarious, welcoming, and seriously ripped men with a striking resemblance who were standing next to a massive tire. We were introduced and soon learned that these were the Foster brothers, Jeff and Bruce. Both had completed the famed Death Race in Pittsfield just a month earlier (they were 2 of the 35 who finished out of a field of 135 athletes, and not to mention 2 of only 6 finishers who completed the race under the 45 hour time limit). Post-Death Race, they took on an absurd bet that they wouldn’t be able to complete the 13 mile Beast before sunset while lugging a 200-pound tire along for the entirety of the race. It didn’t make sense and there was no real reason but in typical Spartan spirit and as they so aptly put it, “Why not?”
After some great laughs and pictures, words of encouragement, and an offer to carry myself and Elise instead of the tire (no dice), it was 7:30AM and the four of us crossed the start line with no idea what was in store. Less than five minutes in, we were kindly encouraged by our new friends to push on forward, as they would be taking a bit longer with the added 200 pounds they had willingly taken on. With a high five and a “see you at the finish line”, we were off. Met by uneven terrain, insanely steep hills, relentless obstacles, and trails that were barely discernible at times since we were the first ones out there, it was literally just the two of us and the mountain. Anyone who ran the Beast can attest to the fact that it was truly a once in a lifetime experience and we LOVED it. Thirty pound sand bags, buckets of gravel, mud crawls, barbed wire, lake swims, and fire pits were just some of the fun we encountered along the way and around 11:15AM (just under four hours after we had embarked on this insane adventure) Elise and I found ourselves nearing the end. Bleeding, bruised, dehydrated (of course we hadn’t planned on bringing water), and on a massive adrenaline rush after floundering across a lake for one of the final obstacles, we made our way to the finish.
Post-race, we had to bolt immediately and hit the road in order to make it back to Dorset in time to meet family friends. So instead of doing the logical thing and rinsing ourselves off, we stripped down in the parking lot and tried to put on whatever clean clothes we had haphazardly thrown in the car that morning. The real icing on the cake was when our car broke down just over a mile from our final destination. Barefoot, covered in mud and blood, and without cell phone service, we took to the dirt road and hiked the final mile to the house. Though perhaps not adequately conveyed in writing, the comedy of the entire situation at the time was absurd. It was the perfect way to finish our Beast experience and as we finally wandered into the driveway nearly nine hours after leaving and resembling two homeless vagabonds, we were doubled over in fits of laughter.
After the Beast and still three months away from the marathon, I actually did a bit of planning for my next race and was set on the September 24th Super in Staten Island. After hearing of my previous Spartan experiences, a friend and fellow Team Meg runner, Wes Owen, was thrilled by the prospect of competing in Staten Island. The week before the race, Joe asked if Wes and I had any interest in showing up at 5:15AM with a headlamp and extra batteries to compete in the Hurricane Heat. Again, Wes and I had the same reaction – why not? Of course we would. Wes’s excitement for his first Spartan was contagious and knowing that I’d be running with a fellow marathoner who I had spent the last four months training and raising money with was invigorating. On the morning of the 24th, along with 100 other Spartan enthusiasts, we found ourselves in Staten Island well before sunrise embarking on an 8-mile trek. My palms were already bleeding as we set out from pre-race burpees and pushups in the parking lot led by Joe himself and within moments of starting, we were filthy from head to toe thanks to a great barbed wire mud crawl and the previous nights’ deluge. All of the Hurricane Heaters were split into random groups who started and finished the race as a team. Wes and I were part of “Team OD”, along with fellow Spartan and good friend Tom McCormack who had been helping us raise awareness for Team Meg and MSKCC in the previous months. Crossing the finish line and completing the Super Spartan together roughly three hours after setting out was an awesome feeling and my third Spartan race proved to be yet another incredibly inspiring, painfully enjoyable, and meaningful experience.
As I look forward to the coming marathon this Sunday, I know two things for certain. Both that what I have learned through my involvement with Spartan in the past five months is what has led me to the starting line and that most importantly, keeping in mind these lessons and experiences is what will get me to the finish line. Remaining mindful of my ability to push past physical pain for the good of others is something I know that I must do and as Tony Loden so eloquently stated, “What the mind can perceive, the body can achieve”. Embrace the pain, count my blessings, and put one foot in front of the other. And finally, why do I run? Because I can and if I can, I must. All of my thanks to everyone who has made me better and encouraged me along the way.