“I wish somebody would’ve told me that someday these will be the good old days…”
—Macklemore feat. Kesha
What if the worst times in your life might ultimately be the best experiences you’ll ever have?
Joe De Sena tried to explain it to me. He looked at me during the early days of Spartan, back when hardships were our daily grind and we lived in the worn torn trenches of a start-up. He warned me that if everything worked out and Spartan took off, these early days of suffering would be what I’d miss the most.
And, well, he was right. I just didn’t believe him at the time. Hell no.
Why? Because those were dark days.
I lived in a barn. Winter sucked. I’d wake up at 4:30a.m. and—if I was lucky—it’d be 50 degrees inside before I got a fire going. I’d then snowshoe a mile in layers of Salvation Army-sponsored clothes to hike with Joe up to the top of a nearby mountain, carrying rocks. Sleep-deprived in the brutal cold and in deep snow we’d finish up before ducking back into a barn and do burpees. Lots of burpees. Then the bodyweight exercise sequences that soon became the DNA of our Spartan Workout of the Day.
Then some basic eggs and potatoes before we’d hit our computers for hellacious days of emails, shit-shows and frantic struggling to keep the lights on and ball rolling. After this I’d crawl back into my sleeping bag at night, cold and exhausted, and get not enough sleep before starting it all over again.
Waking up at 4:30 to a freezing room to do it all over again was less than glamorous.
It was insane. It was awful. And in those days, nobody was really paid. Most compensation came in the form of a cold barn, a dirty mattress, and some free food at the Pittsfield General Store. I had farm chores though, on top of working 80 hours per week, as we tried to stand up a business no one believed in or understood in an industry that didn’t yet exist. Yes, I’d be feeding chickens and ducks all the while.
I had no possessions. Everything I had fit in the eight-by-eight-foot spot of barn floor I had separated from farmers and other assorted people crashing at the farm in what was some form of hybrid athletic and farming commune. Matt the Trail Master, Joey Bean-burger…
Still, it was lonely in the Vermont mountains back in 2011. No women. When I’d meet a girl and she’d try and date me long distance, I’d get dumped because I worked and trained too much.
Ask Joe: I’ve been dumped more than any other Spartan in the history of Spartan.
(Editor’s note: We asked Joe De Sena and he confirmed. He also remarked, “There must be a Greek or other ancient world story of the guy who gets dumped a lot.”)
My best friend was a handicapped duck named Roland. True story.
During these early days of Spartan my life consisted of hard training and unyielding and merciless hours of work and suffering.
And, at this point in time, it was likely that all this hardship was for nothing. In all probability Spartan would go out of business. We were losing money like crazy. No one understood what we were doing. In 2018 you can look at the obstacle racing industry from the context of an industry that exists. It is no longer a hypothesis that we were wagering our lives on. Back in 2011 most people were still weirded out by the prospect of getting their running shoes muddy. This thing that makes sense now made no sense then.
Forget all the normalizing of obstacle racing that’s taken eight years to accrue. In 2011 people thought we were crazy.
There we were, desperately trying to not go out of business and not making money. Trying to start a counterculture that no one took seriously so we could create a business no one believed in.
If only I knew that I was having the best time of my life back then.
I looked at Joe and asked when it would it get better. When would I be making some money? When would I be able to meet a woman, get married and start a family? When could I work a little less? When could I have a home that was heated and more than a dirty barn floor? When will I get to live a normal life?
Joe explained that one day in the future, when I lived in a house with a family, I’d look back at this time living a solitary life in a barn, where I did nothing but train hard in austere conditions and work on a project I loved as if my life depended on it, and I’d miss it.
I’d miss the simplicity. I’d miss the straightforwardness of life. I’d miss the craziness. I’d miss the adventure. I’d miss the hardship. I’d miss the trenches. I’d miss living on the edge where you felt truly alive because you were desperately clinging to life. I’d miss being cold and hungry because those were the conditions that let you know you were alive and needed to keep crawling forward to better things.
And as how all great wisdom handed town from a person of experience to a youth is lost, this wisdom was lost on me.
Now I live in a Boston suburb, a quick T ride from my downtown office; an office where I overlook South Station and high rises.
There’s heat in my house. There’s delicious food on the table. There’s also a restaurant on every single street corner. I can go to malls upon malls around me. There is fine art and cosmopolitan sophistication everywhere.
Instead of training in a barn I work out in a luxury gym a block away from the office. There is a motherfucking chandelier above the main stairway of my gym. There are a thousand goddamn machines where gorgeously put-together people meander around looking great while refusing to sweat.
While I’m doing burpees in the corner.
And what do I think about while living in this new world? Life is great, right?
It is. But most often I think about how much I miss living in the barn in Pittsfield, Vermont.
I think about how great I had it back in 2011. I think about how straightforward and simple it was. I think about how much I was able to accomplish.
I think about how much nonsense gets in the way of doing the stuff I love. I think about all the upkeep needed to maintain a life that extends beyond a dirty mattress and an eight-by-eight square of barn floor.
But, at least, I take all the wisdom I learned during that earlier time and use it now. Thankfully a Spartan life is on the inside. Why? Because this world around me now would kill the Spartan I learned to be during the early days.
Now I have to walk past miles of fast food. Now I have to keep moving past every conceivable distraction. Now there is media everywhere. Now there are billboards telling me what my goals are.
That’s why I’m there doing burpees in a gym that has every exercise gizmo in the world. That is why I walk everywhere and take the stairs when there are Ubers and mass transit, and elevators and escalators.
Because this is all luxury. This is all plush. And it will never change me. Why? Because I know the secret that this isn’t as good as it gets.
The best it gets is back in the good old days, when I had so much less.
My message to you is to embrace the hardship you find yourself in, because I promise you that it might be the best time of your life. You just don’t know it yet.
Maybe you are out of shape, broke, dumped and cold. Maybe you are just beginning an impossibly long and arduous journey towards your dreams. Been there.
Well, the journey is better than the destination, I promise. Your dreams you currently seek might not be what you are truly looking for, anyway.
One day when everything works out, you might understand that you not only survived the struggle, but thrived in it. You really lived when you were on the edge. You really existed when destruction hovered outside your door. You really appreciated the essential things in life because you had so little.
Think back to your last race or last workout. Remember when you were suffering the most, when things were most dark and hopeless. Think back to your greatest struggles. And, honestly, let yourself consider that maybe this was your finest moment when you were most alive and happy.
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