It was past midnight, as I lugged a 45-pound sandbag up a mountain, when I realized that I was in over my head. I’ve run some gnarly races in my day. But in a moment of delusion, I’d signed up for the Spartan Death Race, a 60-hour obstacle run, the rules of which are made on the fly. Fun, right? Now, as 70 other runners and I scrambled upward, I grasped just how unprepared I was for this Super Bowl of masochism, this buffet of pain. What the hell was I trying to prove?
Still, I grew up believing, stubbornly, that quitting is contagious and to be avoided at all cost. So before the race began, I’d decided that they’d have to roll me away on a gurney before I’d give up. And that was almost the case.
At dawn, we reached the 3,000-foot peak in Vermont’s Green Mountains—then had to crawl down the other side. At the bottom, we hauled rock-filled buckets and repeatedly threw in and fetched sandbags from a pond. That night, running on no sleep, we cleared brush for at least three hours. I ran out of water just in time for the next challenge: 3,000 burpees. By rep 300, I was running on fumes. By 400, I started passing out. At 500, I had mini-convulsions. That’s when a medic intervened. I was dehydrated and borderline hypothermic. After 27 hours, my race was over.
On one hand, I could hold my head high, at least metaphorically, that I didn’t quit. On the other, I should have bowed out before my body made me. I pushed as hard as I could and got lucky I didn’t seriously hurt myself. When I run the DR again in 10 months (yes, I’m going again), I won’t let a rookie mistake, like not bringing enough water, trip me up—so I can at least reach burpee 501.
This essay is part of our Art of the Fail series.