Chasing the “Perfect Delta” and finding myself

Be one of the first in the world to earn the Spartan Race “Perfect Delta”, or at least get it in year one, was my major goal in my 35th year on earth. Change everything that I had become along the way was the method. “Unlearn what you have learned”. Wake up, look at my delta pieces, eat well, train hard, sleep and then do it again. This has been every day of my year. Each day has been focused on attainment of that specific goal. It was close to happening for me, but that is no longer a possibility, and that’s ok. I did not feel that way in Lake Tahoe three weeks ago, when the Ultra Beast was shut down due to inclement weather. I have many friends who also feel upset and confused, after what just happened at Agoge 003 in China, and I think now is a good time for this conversation. Please, let me tell you a story of how I have grown as an athlete and individual over the last month. I hope this perspective is able to help a few of my brother and sister Spartans out there who are pursuing the “Perfect Delta” with the same vigor as I.

Every person who runs an OCR style race is there for a reason. Some people were invited by a friend, are taking the first steps in getting healthy or are trying to get that first trifecta. For me, every event that I do is a step on my mission: to destroy every bit of the drunk, lazy and complacent person that I had become. After running my first Spartan Race back in 2014 at AT&T Park, I became obsessed with OCR but did not yet have the commitment level to start changing my life. That changed last fall when I read “Spartan Up” and decided to ditch the cigarettes, horrible eating habits, exert some control over my binge drinking and try to change my life. Time to stop wearing my Spartan shirts around and talking about how I’d get that Trifecta “one day” and do what I needed to do to earn it.

tahoe

It was August of 2015 when I got busy. I was tipping the scales at 262 pounds, which for a 5’9” man with not much muscle on my body, put me right around 40% body fat. I had been out of the military for ten years, having served the better part of a decade in the U.S. Navy Submarine Force. I dealt with a lot of trauma as a young man that had never been dealt with and pretty much inflicted as much damage as I could to my body and soul as an adult, struggling with depression throughout my entire life. I had considered suicide on numerous occasions. I had a problem. I’d gotten used to filling gaping holes in my soul with anything that “hit the pleasure button” and getting messed up and being the “party guy” helped me numb myself and avoid everything I needed to deal with in my life. By thirty years old, I had been through a gauntlet of heartbreak and found myself a single father. I had my little girl one week on and one week off, and was trying to figure out how to avoid winding up like my Mother. She lost her struggle to mental illness and substances when I was just 15, by taking her own life. I could not end up like her. My daughter deserved more than that.

My life took a major turn when I met Danielle Burmaster. She is a super smokin’ hot first grade teacher and athlete, great Mom to her young son and was getting ready to start her master’s degree. She loves life, art, fitness and truly loved my daughter and I with all of her soul. I could not lose her but she was way out of my league and I’d need to mature by leaps and bounds to make this relationship last past the honeymoon phase. I remember seeing her head out for training runs while I was playing video games and having a drink, thinking I’d really have to step up my game to keep her. So I did.

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Spartan Race had already been introduced to me and I focused all my energy on getting healthy so I could achieve that first Trifecta. The effect on my life was immediate and powerful. I took a break from alcohol for the first few months, which eventually became full sobriety. I implemented a new way of eating, based on the structure in “Spartan Up” that JDS gave us. My life began revolving around training, and I found coaches who inspired me to get stronger, stay sober and work harder. The drunks in my life began to lose interest in hanging out with me, and I them. I began attending counseling with a therapist and aggressively diving into the issues of my youth and the problems that I carried into adulthood, which led to me becoming the person that I was. I was fat and had gotten accustomed to never dealing with any of my problems. I was not genuine with myself and therefore never putting my best foot forward in life.

I found meaning in helping veterans through my work with BRAVO Co. (Bringing Resources & Activities to Veterans Operation). My life was new and exciting. After attaining my first Trifecta at the end of 2015, a new goal was set. I’d be one of the first in the world to earn the Spartan Race “Perfect Delta”, and do it in the first year that the award was possible, 2016. There was a “new itch” that I had to scratch. I began to meditate again (having been introduced to kundalini yoga early in my life) and the authentic self finally began to emerge after months of sobriety, therapy and aggressive goal seeking. Today, I’m under 20% body fat, completely sober, eat super clean and have racked up quite a few endurance accomplishments in 2016. It has been my year of change. It took 35 years to do it, but I was finally living life, not just being alive.

ussss

Having barely survived the Shackleton 12 Hour Hurricane Heat in January of this year, I trained hard for what I anticipated to be the hardest part of the nine requirements of the perfect delta, the first ever “Agoge 60 Hour”, in Pittsfield, VT. I started Olympic weightlifting, ran and rucked hard, tried a few different eating styles, and pretty much attempted every endurance event that I could to train for it. Agoge 002 was, undoubtedly, the most transformative weekend that I’d ever had in my life.

I put out everything that I had on that mountain. My team and other participants helped me keep my head in the game when my body was shutting down, which nearly happened twice, and I, them. Our team honored me with a coveted Spartan Race coin at the closing ceremony, an honor certainly more for work ethic or some shred of leadership, not athletic ability. That gift honestly brought tears to my eyes. My training and discipline intensified after, as I had set the last major event for the completion of my delta, the Tahoe Ultra Beast.

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I am not an elite athlete but paid for the elite registration to buy myself more time on course for the cutoffs. Bad weather was coming in, so I shelled out hundreds of dollars for insulated compression leggings and top, cold weather gear, new headlamp, and all the fuel that I would need. I bought new shoes, socks and had vaseline in all the right places prior to the race beginning at 6AM that dark Sunday morning. I had 15 hours to get this race done.

Knowing that my knees start to hurt around 15-20 miles into races, I took my time, moving slow and steady, and fueling my body with 300 calories on the hour, every hour. Tahoe was a challenging course, and my knees were not feeling great 14.7 miles in. I returned to the festival after wrapping lap one. The double sandbag carry, required for elites, pretty much took out my 30 minute advantage and I was tired. Shortly after heading out for lap two it began to snow. A lot. When we reached the top of the first loop of the second lap, Spartan Staff told us that all obstacles were closed and that we had finished the Ultra Beast. The “weather was our final obstacle”. We were elated. We were instructed to get back to festival safely and “claim what we had earned”. We took our time getting down the hill safely, took selfies and went live on our cel phones for the world to see. Posing for pictures with friends, I could not have been happier at that moment. I had done it. The Perfect Delta was in the bag for me, and I’d just need my SGX certification to complete the award.

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Upon return to festival, we were preparing to find out where to get our Ultra Beast medal and delta piece when we had our timing chips cut. We were then informed that we would not be getting either. We had earned a Beast finish and could go claim that shirt and medal. This directly contradicted what we were told by staff and I became unbalanced and lost my cool. I had been told I was an Ultra Beast finisher and now my “Perfect Delta” was on the line. I complained and fought for the finish I was told I earned. I went back to the staff to make my case and ultimately, was given the Ultra Beast belt buckle and delta piece. However, back at the house and on the ride home after, I felt horrible and sick about both my complaint and the “achievement” itself. I had friends who were told the same thing that I had been who went home, even more crushed than I, with a Beast medal. Even worse, were the cases of those who crossed the finish line and still got nothing as there was mass confusion at the award tent about who truly finished, and who did not.

Apparently, many of us were told we had finished but did not meet the metric of a true finisher. What really was a true finisher? People were super upset with Spartan and sadly, I was one of them. How did they not plan for the weather? They moved our UB requirements back because of the weather that we all knew about and prepared for. They called the race, I never quit! I felt that I had done what I was told by the staff, told I finished my race by them, and went home with the medal I was told that I’d earned. I finished my race, right? Or did I just complain louder than others? Did I not let myself get rolled on or did I take something home I had not earned? Damn it. Was my “Perfect Delta” now completely ruined by this tainted piece?

I tuned in to the ORM Podcast the following week where Matt B. Davis interviewed Joe Di Stefano and Joe De Sena. I heard Joe Di talk and listened with an open mind. If you had not run 26.2 miles by the time the race was called, “could you feel good wearing that buckle?”. I already felt like crap about the entire debacle, but hearing that made up my mind. I had to “reset the karma” of the event. I calmly pulled the delta piece away from the others and then packed it up with the coveted belt buckle and finisher shirt I had left the venue with. I shipped it off to another athlete who did finish the race and who was preparing to head to China for his first Agoge. He crushed the course but received nothing from the staff in the kerfuffle that followed the race closure. The staff was overwhelmed and I understood that now. Their priority was our safety and getting everyone off course, in accordance with their plan, when the race was called. I was not proud of how I acted when my chip was cut. Too focused on the material achievement and not appreciating the moment I was in. I knew nothing about 26.2 mile requirements for an Ultra Beast, and was very attached to my final chance to earn that delta piece in 2016. My goal for the year was now unattainable and I had earned a DNF. Life is not always fair, but its no fun eating crow. Spartan has since worked out the details on the UB and given those who truly finished the opportunity to claim their swag.

The reality is that I had truly run “my own race” on the mountain in Tahoe that day. I was not an Ultra Beast finisher, but that was fine. I spent valuable time with the people I love that weekend. I got to meet Randy Moss, one of my favorite receivers of all time, enjoy the Spartan Race festival as a spectator for once, and then see my fiancé take 5th in her age group on her first ever Elite heat in the WC Beast. I got to run the UB with close friends and see the beautiful day turn into a winter wonderland. With two trekking poles swinging wildly, screaming knees and hip, I prayed and asked God to keep me safe and told him/her that “I see you”. I felt the snowflakes melt on my eyeballs as I ran with every fiber of my being down a snowy mountain like a madman. That was MY race and I won it. That is what this life is all about. For me, “You’ll know at the finish line” has new meaning. It is not about the medal you get there but the total experience you had during the event.

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If we can learn to detach our emotions from the material achievements that we seek (be it cars, homes, money, medals, “Perfect Deltas”, or patches), and simply enjoy being “in the moment” and experiencing the journey, we can reach a new level of growth as individuals. Our sense of internal value and accomplishment should not be based on how many achievements we have hanging from our walls or how cool that shiny pyramid looks on our desk (even though I still really, really, want that pyramid on my desk one day). I will finish my “Perfect Delta” as soon as I can, but now the timing is of no matter. There is life to live first.

I empathize with the people who are bummed with how a few things have gone down lately at Tahoe and China, as I was one of them. Joe De Sena held a call for all Agoge finishers and Krypteia this weekend to formally announce their changes to the Agoge finisher metric and he gave a chance for those who feel they earned their finish to claim their swag on that event, as well. If you plan on doing this event in the future, you had better prepare and give your all when you get there. That may still not earn you an “official” finish!

Life, love and racing are rarely perfect in totality. Let’s grow together and focus on the positives. Spartan Race will continue to change many lives moving forward and I hope we can all continue to be models of that change. I will always try my best to be, that’s for sure.

If you ran the Ultra Beast in Tahoe but got pulled due to the weather, be proud of your accomplishment. If you finished the Agoge on the Great Wall, I’m jealous, and you’ll have those memories for the rest of your life. A delta piece does not define that experience or your journey as a whole.

My Agoge experience changed my life. Danielle and I are now training for our first Ironman, and I, for the big rowing expedition (more on that to come, stay tuned).

“Aspire to inspire” and choose to evolve.

(Sorry, I stole your phrase, Don)

The final GORUCK NOGOA (No One Gets Out Alive): NOGOA West

The Final GORUCK NOGOA: NOGOA WEST

From the eyes of a relatively new OCR/Endurance Event Junkie

“Team Leader, explain your plan!”. I was probably visibly frazzled to everyone, trying to rationalize my Gold and Black EXFIL (exfiltration or escape) plans that I had just hurriedly created in a few minutes with compass, military protractor, and a USGS area map of Warner Springs, CA. This was mere hours after a short but informative class on land navigation, led by a U.S. Army Green Beret. I thought he was aware that I was the Assistant Team Leader and that I was just trying to get our navigational plans in place for my Team Leader. I am a U.S. Navy Submarine veteran, and though confident with charts and plotting, I had never done land navigation. I paid attention during our course and thought I could best serve my team by helping with some navigation. I wanted to step up, but not too much. I attempted to correct our Cadre about my role, but that did not work out the way I thought it would.

This was a major GORUCK (GR) event, and the last of the NOGOA (No One Gets Out Alive) events, a “Custom Heavy” that two people, Scott Roberts and Mike Grobelch, poured a ton of time and energy into making a reality. People had flown in from all over the country to participate in this 24-hour plus Endurance Event. I was the “greenest” of the 40 GRT’s (GR Tough Athletes) that were in attendance and was reluctant to lead any of them during the event. As a TL (Team leader), the fear of messing something up and getting my team smoked (physical training, or PT, at a high level) is a real thing. So much for that, I was now the Team Leader, and the Cadre  “did not love but accepted” my EXFIL plan. Then it began. Damn near immediately. Headlights hit our campsite, people started yelling, shots started firing, and my team of 39 seasoned GRT’s and myself started hauling ass on azimuth 300 for “one click” while taking incoming fire. Welcome to NOGOA West!

Your standard GR Heavy event will involve around 24 hours of some pretty intense PT and involves plenty of “rucking”. Simply put, rucking is moving with weight in your rucksack, or pack. The military has used rucking for many years to condition its soldiers for battle. Strap weight on your back, move out for a planned distance, often not a quick or short evolution, move heavy things or “casualties” while doing so, and then go home and repeat tomorrow. Ever wonder why so many Army and Marine service members are incredibly fit? This is why. Rucking was named the Men’s Fitness #1 Fitness Trend of 2015.

Ruck March

NOGOA participants got to learn invaluable skills from Green Berets and then implement them in a real world scenario while rucking together, having fun, and becoming more physically fit with every step. This was all accomplished while forging new friendships with amazing people, truly what makes any GORUCK event a special thing. Cadre Kevin and Doug of GR are both fit and seasoned soldiers. They are each skilled and qualified to teach us in the real world application of what we were about to learn. They went to work fast. The event began on Saturday morning at 0800 with instructions to “not be late”. The Cadre instructed us to unpack our racks and then began to check our gear, The packing list specifically instructed us to “bring enough food for the event”. Of course, all food was then immediately confiscated at commencement of the event. This was not done to torture the attendees, but to begin the process of truly feeling what it’s like to be hungry. After identifying our food source for the evening, we began our Land Navigation Course. The most amazing thing that I learned was that one can measure distance traveled simply by counting their own steps. The method of counting pace is done by first seeing how many steps it takes for one to walk 100 meters. For me, 73 steps, on average was how many steps it took for me to travel 100 meters. The count can be measured with “Ranger Beads”, where one moves a bead down for every 100 meters traveled to help keep track of distance while navigating in the pitch black of night.

Applied Navigation

The class then got to fashion weapons and tools.  In the wild, you may need hand fashioned weapons and tools to survive. We also brought fire starting tools (magnesium stick or something to that effect) and were then told to find a safe place at camp and start a fire with a partner. My partner Chris and I had a bit of a difficult time getting our fire lit, but eventually were able to get it up and running with the help of a fellow GRT, Liz (don’t laugh at us out their fellas, GRT women are no joke). Once all fires were up and running, we spent time searching for firewood as we were going to need to keep these going for a while as we were starving at this point and would be cooking our meat on them. We learned how to field dress wild game, prepare the meat for cooking and then we roasted our dinner on the fire. That was pretty special for me as I am a bow hunter who has only harvested two animals my whole life, but I had never actually prepared game, cooked and had my meal around a fire of my own making, in the same day, ever. While dinner was cooking over all of our fires, I was tasked to start digging a hole about a 1.5 feet deep as we would be having a class on making a “solar still”. This skill could be used in the event that we were stuck somewhere that water was scarce. Once dinner was wrapped and our fires all snuffed in a responsible manner, we all gathered around the table to start the planning of an exit route in the event we needed one, and as previously explained, we did.

Roasting

The next 13 or so hours were spent rucking. Once the attack on our unit occurred, and we were safely away from the incoming shots, we moved deliberately and quietly through the terrain as our pace keepers coordinated with the navigators to ensure that we were on track. After some time, we made it to what we thought was our destination and formed a security watch with all eyes looking out in 360 degrees to ensure that we could see any incoming contacts and move appropriately. While awaiting further tasking, Cadre Kevin asked if he thought we had to made it to our destination. We had. We were informed to make it up to the road, head North and wait in the field for further tasking there. At that point, we were excited that we were dialed in and when the Cadres got to the field, we did a brief assessment and I was promptly fired as Team Leader. Something to not take personal during a GR event, as they regularly change this role to put people in the position to challenge them.  Setting a TL magnifies one’s leadership strengths and weaknesses. The Cadre fire, and repeat through the event to get the most out of people. This is both a team and individual learning opportunity. GR seeks to build better Americans with every event and every activity has a purpose. Usually. We learned some “Ranger Movements” and signaling techniques in that field that we could implement during the event on our movements from Cadre Kevin. The new TL discussed the next plan with Cadre Doug. I was still unrelieved by the incoming Team Leader, and upon hearing that we had two incoming contacts while assembled in our security circle, I gave the order to move out of the field. We hid the unit under a tree, in the shade of the full moon using evasion techniques and tactics that we had just learned. I then felt quite silly for having 40 GRT’s rush across a field to hide under trees while the Cadre wondered what the hell was wrong with us, as there was nothing there but the trees. Well, we did what we were taught to do, despite the fact people were starting to see things.

We worked as a team and spent the entire night slowly moving towards our secondary objective, which was a cache of weapons, food and water that we were meant to utilize for further evolutions. The class made it to the top of the ridgeline that was the highest point and we took a few nice class pictures in the middle of the night. We screamed all at once at the top of our lungs for the role players (RP’s) to “come get us” in challenge from the mountain top. The team stopped before moving again to use the “resection method” of locating our position by recording some bearings from off the mountain. We located a few known points on the map that were visible, recorded and converted the bearings to our map, and were able to locate our position where the lines intersected. Suffice it to say, we had a long way to go to hit our target.

Night Photo

I could spend time talking about our movements until the sun came up, but the only thing truly worth noting is that Mike, one of our event planners, suffered a real world injury to his knee on the way down the mountain. We pulled together as a unit, determined to get our team member to the end of the exercise, come hell or high water. These were not your average civilians, but they are your average GRT’s. You can expect that from someone at your side during one of these events, you can expect it from them in friendship, and you can expect it from them in the workplace. “I will never leave a fallen comrade”.

Suddenly a car came speeding down the road at first light and we scrambled for the tree line, running for cover and lying prone to avoid being seen. It was Cadre Doug, and after a brief conversation, we were told to fall in by Cadre Kevin. Good news! We were about to have some fun and turn the tables on our attackers. Cadre Doug came back a few minutes but this time he was in character. He pretended to be a foreign shyster who was out for money and hoping to make a quick buck from an American unit in a hostile territory. He sold us some munitions and supplies (paintball guns, and water) for a handful of Euros (toilet paper, I believe) and drove off after giving us intel on the hostiles (RP’s) . They were back at camp, relaxing and getting ready to come out and find us. We armed a few of our GRT’s and formed a plan to ambush them with our whole unit. We came in hot, armed with paintball grenades and a few loaded paintball guns and rushed the camp. The RP’s were ready for action with weapons close and an epic firefight for the ages ensued. All participants, role players, Cadres and cars were left covered in paint. It was an epic and fitting end to the event. As usual, our GRT’s had managed to get themselves killed, again.

Terminator

I have a laminated picture of the late SFC Jonathan Michael Downing, a Green Beret, zip tied to my ruck with an American Flag bandana framing the picture. Our Cadre’s allowed me a moment to speak about who Jon was and we took a few pictures with him front and center for the Downing family to have. Jon was a hell of a soldier, father and friend. He is survived by his wife Vanessa and their three children, Dylan, McKayla, and JJ. Honoring the fallen, another important piece of what GORUCK is.

SFC Jon Downing, RIP

In closing, NOGOA West was well planned and executed. It was fun, educational and I got to meet and spend time with some pretty fine Americans. I’m confident that I came out of this experience a bit more prepared to take on the Spartan Agoge for 60 hours this June in Pittsfield, VT. Hopefully, we get to ruck with you soon!

Class Photo NOGOA Patch

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