Why do people do something as ridiculous as a Spartan Race or other similar obstacle races?
For many, it’s about doing something personally challenging and pushing beyond their individual comfort zones.
It can also be about overcoming literal and figurative obstacles.
For some, it can be about defying expectation and proving what the human body is truly capable of doing and achieving.
For me, it is all of these things. But it’s also about one other very specific thing.
I do these races to experience failure.
Yeah, you read that right. When it comes to race day, I come to play. But I also come knowing full well that there’s an extremely high likelihood that I’m going to fail an obstacle or two or five. And I dig that. Bring it on. Bring on the humiliating and crushing failure!
Turns out, I’m pretty pumped about failing obstacles. And I think you should be, too. Here are just a handful of reasons why I believe it’s important to fail even while you’re kicking ass at a Spartan Race:
Failure creates new goals.
When I ran my first Spartan Sprint in December 2015, I failed a number of obstacles…as one usually does in one’s first race. One failure that really stuck with me was the rope climb. Granted, I had not practice nor had I learned any solid technique before going into this race. But coming out of that failure, I had a new goal: learn that damn rope climb so I wouldn’t fail it again. I spent the next month practicing whenever I could. And then one month later at my next Spartan Race, I nailed my rope climb.
Cool. Check! Got that! But then I ran another race in March of 2016, where I was introduced to the Tyrolean Traverse. And I failed that one…hard. As in, slammed flat on my back HARD. But guess what? I had a new beast to conquer. I studied video. I practiced in whatever ways I could. And the next time I faced off against a Tyrolean Traverse, I won.
So what I’m saying here through my own Spartan Race history is that failing an obstacle very specifically illuminates what you need to work on, and gives you a focus for future races. And that, my friends, is a very good thing.
Failure makes success even sweeter.
How fun would it be to go into every race kicking serious ass on every single obstacle? What kind of challenge would that be? People who do obstacle do them because of the challenge. Because every course is different and impossible to predict. Because failure is a very real option. But on the other side of failure is success. And there really is no better feeling than what comes from succeeding at something you had previously failed.
A particular weakness of mine is monkey bars. I’m a small human with short arms and tiny hands. I once asked the instructor of an obstacle training class what techniques can help someone of my stature get through the monkey bars. His response? Practice doing penalty burpees. So I’m already conditioned to go into a monkey bars obstacle ready to do a bunch of burpees. Flash forward to a race I did in July where, for the very first time, I somehow managed to successfully get through a long monkey bars obstacle. Despite the 100 degree temperature weather I was running in, you better believe I had an extra spring in my step after that glorious moment.
There’s a reason we celebrate milestones and PRs. If they were easy, they wouldn’t be worth celebrating. The same goes for obstacle fails. Every failure opens the door for an especially glorious success at a future race.
Failure reminds us…all of us…that we are human.
One thing I really love about the Spartan Race is that everyone runs the same course. The elite racers, the pro team, the weekend warriors and the first timers all run the same number of miles and complete the same exact obstacles.
You know what else is cool? All of the above mentioned groups of people also fail obstacles. Nobody is immune.
I’ve followed the stories of many of the top elite racers on the Spartan Race show on NBC Sports. I get to see their journeys through some of the same race courses I’ve run. For them, failing one obstacle can mean the difference between coming in first place and not placing at all in a race. And even at their peak fitness levels, with the stakes as high as they are, sometimes they just don’t land that spear throw. Or they have tired arms and slippery fingers that can’t quite keep them on the multi-rig.
It can be a very “Stars, they’re just like us!” thing to see.
Truth is, failure is a very real possibility for every single person that runs the race. And that serves as a reminder that we are all human, and this is a tough sport for every single one of us, from the newbie to the elite athlete. But that’s also what brings us together and connects us through this experience.
Failure = penalty burpees. Burpees are good for you.
Love ‘em or hate ‘em, it’s the truth. Deal with it.