One of the best things about belonging to the Second Wind community is that we are constantly surrounded by people who are downright inspiring.
There are five people at Second Wind who, in the month of September, will complete ultra-endurance events. Like a marathon, you ask? No, I mean like a marathon was a “training day” kind of event.
On September’s endurance calendar we have three people doing an Ultra Spartan obstacle course race and one doing his first Ironman triathlon.
dani-gnarlyAnd then there is Dani Grigsby.
On Saturday, coach Dani will be running 100 miles over the mountain trails of Sausalito, CA in the Headlands Hundred. She will be doing a 25 mile loop four times with a total elevation gain of over 20,000 feet.
When our WOD starts Saturday at 10am here, she will start her run. She will be running when you have lunch, go shopping, have dinner, go to bed and wake up on Sunday.
I asked Dani the question you want to ask: Why?
“It is wholly impossible to talk about ultra-running, and an individual’s drive to conquer the seemingly impossible, without wading into the personal, murkier essence of what it means to be human, and keep going anyway,” says Dani.
“I was raised by a Navy SEAL. My earliest memories are trying, and failing, to keep up with my father on runs, hikes, swims. You name it, I tried to keep up, and for most of my childhood, I couldn’t. And that feeling, being left in the non-proverbial dust, made me hungry. I wanted to be like these people who seemingly floated up mountains. Why wasn’t I?
Turns out, all that was missing was a little more life experience, a little more literal suffering, to train my brain, and body, to, well, suffer efficiently.”
Suffering. Finding joy in suffering.
This is a topic that has interested me since I was training for my own Ironman 11 years ago. It’s something Lance Armstrong talked about, back when he was cool. And anyone who CrossFits knows what we are talking about. Every day people finish hard workouts and say to me, “that was fun.”
There is joy built into extreme challenges. And being able to tap into that joy of suffering is a real gift.
“Some serious life challenges drove me to take athletics seriously as an outlet for pain, stress, and grief in my early twenties,” says Dani. “A career that exposed me to some of the ugliest parts of life led me to train for endurance sport events as a way to return order to my world.”
spartansGrant Barker, Theo Hadjimichael and Andy Howells are all headed out next weekend to hit the mega-obstacle course race known as the Spartan Ultra (Beast). Again.
The Spartan Ultra is a 30-mile slog through, up and over all manner of terrain. Oh, and all along the way there are obstacles. 60 of them. You have to climb things, carry heavy loads, scale walls, move heavy shit and probably fight a few bears.
Again, why?
“Because it’s the most badass thing that I could maybe actually accomplish,” says Grant. “There are definitely harder/tougher races out there, but this is the one for me.”
All three tried this event last year, with mixed results. Theo managed to finish under the time cap, but both Grant and Andy missed it. Immediately, all three signed up to do it again.
“The morning after the last race, which I failed to finish, when we were driving away you could see the Sunday racers out doing the regular Beast, and I felt such longing. I missed being out on the mountain,” says Grant.
“I’m not sure how immediate the sign up was,” says Theo. “I’m pretty sure I said ‘thank god I don’t ever have to do that again‘ leaving the mountain. The next day I new that was a lie.”
When I used to coach triathletes who came to me wanting to race an Ironman, my first question was always “Is your spouse on board with this?” and my second was more of a statement to make sure they understood: You know this is less about the race than it is about the training. The race lasts a day. The training can take up to a year. Are you prepared for that?
Most people accept that, but best laid plans don’t always work out.
Andy was all in and then found himself short-staffed in his business. Hiring the right people took more time than he hoped and he found himself picking up the slack. Naturally, his training suffered and recently he has decided to pull out of the Ultra race and just do the Beast, which is half the distance and presumably, half the number of bears.
“Life hasn’t cooperated with me this year,” says Andy. “About 6 weeks ago, watching the days close in, I made the really hard decision to back my registration down to a single lap, ~15 mile Beast, rather than the Ultra. I had to be honest with myself and recognize where where my body is and what it can do.”
Andy did however sign up to do the full Ultra in November, so he is just delaying it a few weeks.
At the end of the month, Brian Bunch will be attempting his first Ironman triathlon.
Triathlon is the sport of swim, bike and run…in that order. There are four different distances in triathlon: Sprint, Olympic, Half-Iron (70.3) and Iron. (Ironman itself is a brand name). Iron distance is:
bunch-swimSwim: 2.4 miles
Bike: 112 miles
Run: 26.2 miles
For reference, the best in the world can do that in about eight hours. It took me 13:49:11, not that I really keep track of that stuff.
“Why Ironman?” says Brian, responding to my usual question.  “The short answer is – to make my dad proud. One childhood memory that always sticks with me is Dad watching Ironman on television and telling me how impressive those athletes were to be able to continue persevering through each event.”
For many people, the barrier to entry in a triathlon is the swim leg, especially when it comes to open water. For Brian, the swim has always been his weak point, but isn’t necessarily what he’s worried about.
“Given the relatively larger volume of bike and run, I think I’m wiser to fear the run. I now have a much better appreciation for how fatigue sets in, and the run will really test my ability to actively recover and manage my nutrition well. I think Steve was right – ‘There’s no swimming in Ironman. Swimming is just what people do before the Ironman begins.'”
Five people doing five incredible things this month. Look around the gym. People are doing incredible things all the time.
Look around. Be inspired. What’s your challenge?
Editor’s note: I asked all five some questions for this article and immediately realized there was no way I could add all the answers to this. So please, follow up with each for more insight into what drives them and, importantly, how training for these events impacts their family life.
Going Long: Dani Grigsby
Going Long: Brian Bunch
Going Long: Theo Hadjimichael
Going Long: Grant Barker
Going Long: Andy Howells