Too Much (Of A Good Thing)

07 May 2017

I do obstacle races to feel unstoppable. The mud, the pain, the relentless cold, the hours of driving - it's all for that moment, swinging smoothly across the monkey bars high over a freezing lake, where you think "if this can't stop me, nothing can - and this can't even slow me down".

I didn't feel unstoppable, this time. Which is funny, because I didn't stop. At 20 miles and 200 obstacles, the Dirty Weekend is apparently the longest, largest race of its type. And I finished it. But it didn't feel good.

Years ago, I got my ass kicked by the Spartan Beast. But, at the end, I still felt like I'd achieved something. Your identity is what you have proved to yourself, and I proved that "this terrible thing is going to end - because I am going to end it". I finished that race. I'd never finished anything like it before, and that learning was important.

But, this year, I already knew that. All I proved with this race is that I am weaker than I was two years ago. The Achievement Treadmill, like the Hedonic Treadmill, is relentless: just achieving at the same level is bad enough, and achieving less is psychologically damaging.

Part of this was bad course design. Some obstacles were so difficult, or even broken, that the race marshalls straight-up told us not to waste our time. The race ended with a shivering 30-minute queue for the final obstacle - hardly a glorious, high-energy conclusion. Part of it was a vicious cycle of weakness: utterly unable to get warm after the Mile 6 swim, I skipped a water trench at Mile 10. But if you skip one, why not skip the next one? Why not skip all of them? Why are you even here?

Most of it, though, was that I just wasn't ready. I suffered, all right, but it didn't feel like my suffering had purpose. You can go into a race unfit, and your story is "I went up against impossible odds and didn't die". But you can't go into it less fit than you were last time, because the story becomes "I went up against fairly reasonable odds and got hammered".

I didn't enjoy this and I didn't emerge stronger, which makes all the sacrifices - the incredibly expensive ticket, the day off work, the post-race pain and weakness - a waste of time. I guess I learned something, a more general personal policy which I think goes far beyond OCRs:

If you have not done the training, there is no point in turning up to the race.