In Sports as in Life… Things I learned from competitions

In my previous article “Feeling Stuck? Break the infinite loop of time!” I mentioned how taking “any” action is the first step to breaking yourself out from a “stuck” feeling. Last Friday I completed a Spartan Beast Elite race in the Mleiha Desert in the UAE. For those who don’t know what a Spartan Beast race is, well, in short, it is self-inflicted torture! “12 miles (or roughly 20 KM) and 30+ obstacles on a rough terrain stand between you and the finish line. The website ( adds: “… the Spartan Beast will test everything you’re made of: your strength, your endurance, your resolve. The unpredictable terrain and Spartan Obstacles are masterfully designed to push you deep into your discomfort zone, and well past those self-imposed obstacles you once considered your limits”. Although the disclaimers mentioned the possibility of death, I am happy to announce that I made it and lived to write another article. However, this got me thinking: Why? Why did I do it? And how did I get to this level?

I have always been active but nothing really too special. Come to think about it, I only started properly going to the gym when I turned 27. Before that it was the occasional trip to the gym or a basketball game here and there. So what was the trigger post 27? … After a long management consulting project in Europe, I gained some good 10 kg (14% extra weight) and my health started deteriorating (including a hospitalization episode). Before that, I thought my body was blessed with eternal youth and that I could eat anything and my body would handle it! My body had other plans…

So I started paying more attention to exercise and hired a personal trainer so that I get enough motivation to start exercising and sticking to it no matter what my schedule was like. It was once or twice a week only and that felt like an achievement. Little did I know back then that this was where it all started… At that point in time I would have never imagined myself 8 years later participating in challenging competitions like the “Desert Warrior Challenge” or the “Spartan Beast Race”. Frankly I thought that twice a week in the gym were a great achievement. But then results started showing and I got interested in more. I started paying attention to what I eat: why waste good money and great effort during the exercise sessions? I wanted to be as efficient as possible. But with exercise came other benefits: More self-confidence, determination, better looks, more knowledge, etc. We all know or read about these things.>.

From there, it kept going, I started wanting to exercise more, I added swimming, and walking everywhere (I was in London… so that was an option). Then I started getting bored of the same exercise, so I started trying martial arts, boxing classes, yoga etc… Then came cross-fit and boot camps, you see where I am going… Basically, it was a whole new World that had opened to me and it became a part of my life. So much so, that it is one of the important aspects of my life that I share with my wife. Today I exercise 5 to 6 times a week and in a variety of skill sets. But somehow, that was still not enough.

Which brings us back to “Why?” above: It is true that it all started from one wake-up call back in 2008. However, the challenges I participate in today are in essence because of this deep need to challenge myself, to face my fears, to push my limits. It all started with a relatively small action… To hire a personal trainer and get my body moving again … But in reality it was about challenging the status quo.  I believe we all have this desire deep inside to be the ultimate version of ourselves, but the world is full of distractions and excuses that we can give ourselves to not do so. Instead, we find others things to do; we numb ourselves and go through our daily routines. Sometimes we are lucky and we get wake up calls that we can recover from and react to. In other cases we might not be so lucky… I honestly didn’t know if I could do a 20KM run in the heat of the desert and overcome all these physically demanding obstacles, but I had done enough so far to know that nothing comes without trying. Of course, I have the minimum required training and gave the challenge the respect it deserves. I am not preaching that people go about doing these challenges unprepared. Even then, with all the preparation I could do, it was a tough challenge and taught me a lot. But you can at least start the journey with one step at a time. Here are a few things I learned:

There are always surprises in life:

I learned that just like in life, you might be super prepared but things don’t go always to plan. After the 7th KM I hurt my right leg in one of the high jump obstacles and my ligament was hurting like crazy. I was not tired even, but just in pain. It was a very frustrating feeling. I had to carry on for the next 13KM with an injury or quit. I refused to quit… This is where I learned my second lesson, having people around you helps.

Having people around you helps you succeed:

We can’t go about living our lives alone. No matter how strong you are, you will need others to succeed in life. And here just like in life, my teammates kept beside me and kept mentally pushing me to continue (some even ready to quit with me when they saw me in too much pain).

You are stronger than you think you are:

As I reached the 11th km or so, the next challenge was an uphill climb to pick a rock and bring it back down the mountain (total distance up and down must have been 1KM). It was so steep and rugged; people with normal body functions were already struggling. This mountain challenge came straight after a mud lake walk and a vertical rope climb which had killed my injured leg. I really could not imagine myself going all the way up. But I did… one step at a time. It was painful! But how many of us face similar situations in real life. I could have quit anytime but somehow you keep going and you discover that you have more strength. It is truly the power of the mind. How many situations are like this in real life? They seem hopeless no? Well, just “keep walking”.

After that the challenges kept coming but quitting was no longer an option. I had crossed the tough part and I am not letting go of my objective. From there on, we kept moving and eventually faced more obstacles, but at that point I had learned that it is just another obstacle and I will figure out a way to cross it….

Face your fears…and ‘yes’ it is easier said than done… but you will be a different person afterwards:

In the “Desert Warrior Challenge”, one of the challenges toward the middle of the race was to climb a platform and when you reached the top, you had to slide on a long metal pole down a hole and then free fall for like 2 meters or so into a big bucket of water. I never knew I had a fear of heights until I so that challenge. Somehow the idea of sliding into an unknown daunted me! And how many times in life have I aced that!? I had the option to take the stairs and skip that challenge but I had to go for it. Something was compelling me to move forward but it was easier said than done: I went once on the pole, and then backed off saying out loud: “I can’t do this”. Then I waited as others went through, some quitting, and some making it and started talking myself into trying it again. Then I wrap my hands around the pole but my feet would not respond. My body refused to obey me and so I backed off again and let others through. The third time I told myself to just go for it, not to think about the risks, or the optimal position to slide so I don’t hit my head and just went for it eyes closed. Suddenly, with a big splash I emerge from under the water and man! what a feeling! I have rarely experienced such a feeling of achievement… after completing that challenge, the race was over for me. I felt I could do anything and in fact I did! Other challenges were way tougher and scarier with a lot of people suffering serious injuries but for me they seemed simply easy… So the lesson: If you don’t face your fears you do not evolve to the next level… in sports as in life!

I could easily have titles this article: “face your fears” or “keep walking” or “Never give up” or “you are stronger than you think” or “determination is everything” etc. as they would all apply and many more I am sure. The biggest lesson I have here for you is that unless you let yourself experience things, then you will exist but you won’t really live and your mind and body know it. You just need to listen…

Now, I am searching for my next challenge and for more things to learn…



P.S: Have you ever experienced something similar to what I described above? Any thoughts? Please feel free to share!

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