“The Spartans do not ask how many are the enemy, but where are they.” — Plutarch
Without conflicts to resolve and obstacles to conquer, we never grow and reach our goals. But often, it is when we resolve our internal conflicts that we fulfill our external goals. Sometimes, we achieve external victory and may momentarily feel successful. But when we fall short in resolving our internal turbulence, we realize we are fools for wasting an opportunity to journey from weakness to strength.
Last July, when I joined the Tough Mudder, I had the goal of embracing the dirt and finishing strong with my team. The idea of an obstacle race in the mud sounded like a good challenge. Not only that, I knew I had to prepare well both in training and nutrition to set an example for my team. I was training consistently and eating clean but I think I lacked specific performance goals for such an event. Since I have been doing CrossFit, I thought this race would be a walk in the park! I couldn’t have been more wrong.
All seemed well at gun start but after a few minutes, I immediately felt something was off. Perhaps I didn’t sleep deep enough that night, or maybe I was simply distracted because the usual strength I enjoyed during competitions was not with me. On a high sloping wall during the final stretch of the race, I lost my balance and crashed down and dislocated my finger. Instead of finishing at the finish line, I finished at the hospital. The pain was excruciating but the disappointment was harder to bear. I was foolishly overconfident and I paid the price for it. The seeds of redemption were deeply sowed. I wanted to do better the next race.
“Instant gratification takes too long.” — Carrie Fisher
Fast, instant, and with little effort. Such is the menace of our times. In a world where comfort and convenience are lauded as markers of progress, one would be crazy to join an event with elements of mud, barbed wires, high walls to scale, and fire. To immerse ourselves in an endeavor that will test our physical and mental limits is unimaginable. But perhaps what’s even more mind-boggling is reorienting our minds to embrace discomfort and change.
“There’s one thing worse than change and that’s the status quo.” — John le Carre
In ancient times, the Spartans are warriors especially known for their courage and discipline. Boys at the early age of seven are subjected to military training. They are taught how to live simple and straightforward lives mainly focusing on war tactics and poetry. At the ripe age of 30, one who has endured and learned to embrace pain and suffering is called a Spartan. Camaraderie was the key in their victory as an army and, unsurprisingly, they were feared as the fiercest warriors of their time.
Enter the Spartan Race. Upon hearing about it, the first thing that came into my mind was, of course, redemption! Me and my team signed up and we started preparing. I designed for them a program focusing on building strength and endurance. Also, we went to different camps to experience the actual obstacles. My online coaching clients Rina, Faye and Ayn are beginners when it comes to training but with proper guidance and programming, they have become better versions of themselves even having the boldness to take on the Spartan Race.
Here’s an overview of their 8-week program leading up to the Spartan Race:
Weeks 1, 2 and 3
Goal: Body awareness, core stability and cardiovascular endurance.
Staple exercises: Hollow holds, Planks, Running and Mountain climbers.
Weeks 4, 5 and 6
Goal: Muscle hypertrophy, core strength, cardiovascular endurance.
Staple exercises: Push ups, Bodyweight squats, Hollow holds and Running.
Goal: Muscular strength, core strength and cardiovascular endurance.
Staple exercises: Heavy Goblet squats, Heavy dumbbell Deadlifts, Heavy Dumbbell presses, Planks and Leg raises.
Week 8 (One week out from the Spartan Race)
Goal: Specific adaptations for the race, muscle and cardiovascular endurance.
Staple exercises: Running, High volume Deadlifts, Duck walks, Lunges, Push ups, Burpees and Mountain climbers.
The 8-week program that I specifically designed for each of my online coaching clients was about to be tested as the Spartan Race was fast approaching. More than the programming, what will really be tested is the will power, mental fortitude, and sheer determination of my online coaching clients. A well-designed program is only as good as the athlete’s commitment to trust the process and embrace the pain of hard training.
Race day came and what perfect timing for typhoon Ompong to greet us! It made the already gruesome event even harder. As I was racing, my legs felt like logs traversing on mud and my hands could barely hold a firm grip on the monkey bars. Add in the elements of nature— wind, rain and sun—and you get a recipe for disaster. But somehow, in the midst of physical exhaustion and at the brink of giving up, I realized what’s truly important.
I was so proud that my friend Sharon together with Rina, Faye and Ayn, my online coaching clients, finished the race. I was pleased to hear that by religiously following my program they were able to perform well coming from a sedentary lifestyle. But what made me even more proud was their counter-cultural mindset. And by counter-cultural I mean making the choice to embrace discomfort in order to shatter their preconceived limits. Sharon has been training for about a year and has joined a couple of fitness events in the past and unhesitatingly signed up for the race knowing what that would entail.
Sharon has learned a lot about herself through her fitness journey and was able to encourage her sisters Rina and Faye to pursue fitness and give the Spartan Race a try.
Rina, has been sedentary all her life. When she was studying to be a doctor, her number one stress-reliever was a liter of Coke. Unbeknownst to her, her brother signed her up for the Spartan Race. Fear and uncertainty sunk in really quick but a sparkle of faith made her reconsider. She knew she can get stronger with the right mindset and proper guidance. She immediately decided to train and subscribed to my online programming.
Rina encouraged her friend Ayn to also sign up and join her in training! Both of them finished the Spartan Race and were pleasantly surprised of their newly acquired strength.
Faye has been regularly doing yoga for the past year but when she learned about the Spartan Race, she knew her training wouldn’t be enough. She signed up for my online programming to prepare herself for the race.
The Spartan Race is an antidote to modern man’s chronic addiction to comfort and convenience. Perhaps what’s more nerve racking than running and surmounting obstacles is the idea of deliberately subjecting ourselves to unpredictability, danger, and stress. Indeed, this is a big “no no” in our times. We cherish spic and span, routine and ease. I dug deep, remembering that I am not just an athlete but, first and foremost, a coach. I must uphold a high level of physical performance and mental fortitude. My clients and students look up to me to embody what I preach. When my legs were giving out in the mud, that was the time I ran harder. When my mind was breaking down over fear of getting injured and sick amidst the storm, I reached serenity. The people who love and believe in me gave me the second wind to finish strong. I managed to pull through and rank 64th out of 870 Spartans, finishing well within the top 7%. Not so bad! Redemption achieved!
Despite how modern culture shapes our thinking, we still have the freedom to choose. And choosing to have faith in oneself is perhaps the only reason one would sign up for and ultimately push through the Spartan Race.
Faith— a belief in oneself—makes the change happen. The discipline to pursue our goals and the courage to challenge our thinking are daunting obstacles to overcome. But perhaps the greatest obstacle of all is swallowing our own inflated egos or shattering our own self-limiting beliefs. I for one suffered the latter having to battle anxiety growing up. A hundred negative voices in the head can be paralyzing and self-defeating. Without a certain degree of personal faith, it’s easy to miss the silver lining. It takes faith to trust the process and take no shortcuts. It takes faith to jump over that first hurdle and realize we can do more. It takes faith to realize that the podium isn’t the only measure of success.
“Success is peace of mind, which is a direct result of self-satisfaction in knowing you made the effort to become the best of which you are capable.” — John Wooden
Victory is in the grind, the sweat and the hard work we put in on the daily. More importantly, redemption is humbling ourselves and doing what is right, not what is easy. At the end of the day, all of us are capable. Have a little faith in yourself because we are all created to overcome. Maybe, today is the day for you to unleash the Spartan within.