Business As Usual

01 Sep 2014

The process, now, is absolutely smooth. Alarm at 0630. Porridge. Grab the pre-packed backpack. Into the waiting car at 0715, at the site by 0900, coins ready for parking. Pre-printed race waivers, QR code scans, timing chips, headband, waistband with energy gels, stretching, showtime.

There are going to be long, slippery monkeybars above a lake. There is going to be a 10 metre rope climb. Last time I failed at both. Standing nervous at the start line, somehow it’s worse, knowing what you’re up against.

But the race itself is easy. We ford rivers, scramble up muddy banks, lift heavy things, boost over walls. I hit each obstacle with “oh yup, there’s that one”, already knowing how to do it but more importantly that I can. Well, except for the monkeybars. I slip off those, again.

Then we burst out of the woods and confront a huge gantry of climbing ropes. A tennis ball is tied at the top of each one. Touch it, or do thirty burpees in the mud.

This is it! I knew this was coming. I’ve trained for this. But standing at the bottom of the rope, it’s suddenly daunting. I take a few seconds to steady my nerves.

It goes wrong immediately. This rope is much thicker than my training rope, and needs much more slack in order to curl around my legs and provide an anchor. I can’t reach high enough to do that. I brute-force it, going hand-over-hand until I have enough height to use the J-hook. It’s clumsy but it works. Two-thirds of the way up, never quite stable on the rope and trying not to think about the fall, I think I hear someone yelling my name. I tag the top and slide down, burning my thighs to protect my hands. Yes.

I don’t care that I can do this. Lots of people can do this. I care that I couldn’t do it before. This momentum, this process, it’s working.

My race partner can’t climb ropes yet, and is suffering through the 30-burpee penalty, her fourth. As with the others, I drop and do half of them with her. Nearly a year ago she stuck with me as I staggered through the Beast, and I’ve been looking for a way to show the same loyalty ever since.

Later, running along the trails that serve as inter-obstacle rest periods, I comment to her, “Y’know, it’d be nice to win one of these”. We’d entered the Elite wave, after all. But I’m never going to. I’m 33. I completed this race in just over two hours; the winner did it in slightly less than one. If the goal is to add new challenge to something that’s now almost routine, extreme competition isn’t going to be the way.

But we were passed, about halfway, by a guy racing in a suit - complete with dress hat duct-taped to his head. And apparently a Dutch bloke did it carrying a tire the whole way. Now I understand. It’s a way to extend the challenge and the interest in a different direction, beyond simply “go faster”.

“Life-changing” doesn’t have to mean a big change, just a permanent one, and the Beast was exactly that. This race was just business as usual. On the drive back I was planning the rest of my day (quick sandwich, then moving house). But even as a lifestyle rather than a one-off highlight, with the post-race glow, the countryside flashing past, the fact that it’s not even really lunchtime yet, this isn’t bad.

This isn’t bad at all.