To achieve optimal suffering potential, you need a few different ingredients. Sometimes I try to mix it up, like trying a new cocktail at the same bar, but the results are typically the same.
On Saturday – this particular day of suffering – I’d been runhobbling for three hours with nearly 30 pounds on my back while the sun cooked the earth into a ceramic trinket for the gods. The dust-to-oxygen ratio had me feeling like a pack-a-day smoker.
That thought made me wish I actually did smoke, because then I probably wouldn’t have been out there doing that to my body.
This was a race unlike any I’d ever done, but I should have known. The U.S. Air Force SERE instructors created the event to commemorate their friend and colleague, Emory Corwine. They raise funds for the That Others May Live Foundation, supporting families of USAF men and women who have been injured or killed.
SERE stands for Survival, Evasion, Resistance, and Escape. These are not normal people who qualify to be SERE instructors. They are like terminators with a tan, a big knife and good manners. Traipsing over mountain tops with a loaded pack is what they do for fun.
But to keep the rest of us without survival skills from dying, they placed conveniently located aid stations along the course: A 50-mile trail with approximately 7,900 feet of elevation gain. Which, when carrying a loaded pack, is just as hard on your way back down.
The weather forecast was simply “Hades’ Armpit” and I instructed my team to hydrate starting at sun-up. We had five people in the group and each of us was prepared to take on a single leg of the relay. Somehow, once again, my lack of judgment had me volunteering for the 18-mile section, because schlepping my kit around for hours in mid-day heat always sounds like a good idea.
But after three hours in the heat, I told myself to just keep moving as fast as possible and to ignore the fact that my pack was scarring my back like I was some “50 Shades” aficionado. I believe I had a conversation with myself about whether or not such behavior is healthy.
Why can’t I just run three miles at the gym like … you know … sane people?
But then I saw a few other dusty, sweaty runners. They were all wearing the same grimace-smile. At least I wasn’t alone in my madness.
When I reached the aid stations, they were full of families that serve. They serve all week doing jumping jacks and saving the country, and then they somehow convince their wives and children to come out and serve us sports energy drink on the weekends. God bless every one of them and their smiling faces.
For a moment, it all made sense to me. These events are about camaraderie and support. They are about family and community. They are about challenging oneself and others – and about seeing each other through those challenges. Some of the challenges we choose, and some are simply given to us.
The suffering we endure can be self-directed if we so choose, or it can remind us to live in gratitude and find ways for our personal journeys to have a positive impact on those around us.
As I trudged my last few miles in some sort of Quasimodo gait, I thought about all the people that made it possible for me. Not the race, but the life I so fully live. Thank you.
To the forest service workers who cut the trails, thank you. To the wives and children that handed me oranges, thank you.
To clerks that smile at me, insurance agents that figure out how to do my darn paperwork, people who hold traffic signs in road construction, soldiers who fight, doctors who heal, the blessed people who make coffee, human rights activists, environmentalists, politicians with a cause, and everyone else contributing to this great life, thank you.
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