What Outdoor Endurance Racing At 51 Has Taught Me About Human Potential

Photo: Twenty20

As a busy sales exec, I've spent much of my career jet-setting from one meeting to the next, wining and dining prospective clients. While seemingly glamorous to some, this lifestyle left little time for my own interests, and I found myself wanting more.

First, I joined a 3-mile race.

Last year, I joined a thriving health and wellness company, which viewed employee happiness as its No. 1 priority. Employees were actually encouraged to take time away from work for themselves and the things they love.

With this in mind, I discovered a positive outlet in the form of outdoor endurance races, and I set my sights on my first Spartan Race at AT&T Park in San Francisco. As a 3-plus-mile course with only 20 obstacles, it was the perfect intro to endurance racing, and heck, when else would I get to do push-ups in the locker room where my beloved World Champion Giants lace up their cleats?

I loved every minute of it and was immediately hooked.

Then I signed up for a Tough Mudder.

On the way home, I turned my attention to my next challenge—the Tough Mudder in Lake Tahoe—set against the breathtaking backdrop and 10,000-foot elevation of Northstar in the Sierra Nevadas.

Tough Mudder boasts that it is "probably the toughest event on the planet." Never one to shy away from a challenge, I registered, and this fiftysomething joined the sea of twentysomethings who tend to partake in these events.

According to Tough Mudder, the race is made up of a 10- to 12-mile mud and obstacle course designed to drag you out of your comfort zone by testing your physical strength, stamina, and mental grit. With no podiums, winners, or clocks to race against, it's not about how fast you cross the finish line. Rather, it's a challenge that emphasizes teamwork and camaraderie.

A few days prior to the race, I traveled to Lake Tahoe to adjust to the mile-plus-high altitude. I set out on a trail run with my white lab, Bo. Halfway through the run, Bo decided he had had enough. He lay down in the shade and did not budge. I knew we had to get down, so I picked up all 90 pounds of him and began carrying him down the mountain. A local grounds crew took pity on me and let us ride the rest of the way down in their flatbed truck.

Was Bo trying to tell me something?

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Here's what happened on Tough Mudder race day.

Race day started with a team of six. Only three would finish. We set out through obstacles aptly named Arctic Enema, the Block Ness Monster, and Everest 2.0, among others.

As I headed toward the finish line, I proudly commented on how good I felt. That is until I entered the final and requisite obstacle, Electric Shock Therapy. This particular obstacle sears you with live wires pulsing with as many as 10,000 electric volts as you trudge through a field of mud.

It was physical pain like I had never before experienced. I honestly thought one of the electrodes had cracked my skull, and another had cut off my right ear. But once the shocks subsided, and I picked myself up; my teammates and I victoriously crossed the finish line together covered in a lot of sweat, and mud, and yes, even a little blood.

So, was it all worth it? Absolutely. And as I continue to challenge myself, I'm reminded of the following valuable life lessons:

1. Do something outside of your comfort zone.

Outdoor endurance races challenge me and push my personal boundaries. Since Tough Mudder, I have completed two more Spartan Races, a Spartan Super in July that covered 10 miles and 20 obstacles in Central California's 100-degree heat, and on October 1, a Spartan Beast that spanned 15 miles and more than 30 obstacles in beautiful Squaw Valley.

2. Raise your own bar.

It's good for all of us to have something to aspire to in life and along the way. Setting goals to participate in these endurance events gave me a healthy way to channel my well-known energy. And by raising my own bar, I just achieved my most coveted goal: membership into the exclusive Spartan Trifecta Tribe by completing a Sprint, Super, and Beast in the calendar year.

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3. Put in your hours and sweat equity.

Just as I prepare for a big sales presentation, I knew training for these races would be key to not just building my strength and conditioning but also to allaying my fears and giving me confidence to take on these increasingly difficult challenges. And aside from the Electric Shock Therapy experience, these races haven't been as painful as I thought.

4. Teamwork will get you through anything.

Tough Mudder and Spartan Races attest that the strength and stamina of one person pale in comparison to the power of a team. This is true in life and in work and, frankly, is my favorite part of competing in these amazing events.

Did I mention I also joined an adult kickball league this past year? You are never too old to have fun and try something new.

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