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Finding My Inner Farmboy in China

As I wrote a few weeks ago, a large part of the reason I decided to go to China to participate in Spartan’s Agoge 003 was to “Find My Inner Farm-Boy.” Who knew that they would actually “let” us do farm work on an actual farm in China as part of the Agoge. I keep getting asked: “How did it go?” The short version is it was Epic, Amazing, Awesome, Inspiring, Uplifting, Challenging, and Wonderful. Was it a good use of my time? Absolutely. In all honesty, I can’t even begin to express in words how much this event meant to me. I made priceless friendships, explored wonderful places right out of stories, and felt like I was a part of an epic adventure where mere humans were transformed through blood, dirt, tears, pain and suffering into real life superheroes.

This kind of event is obviously not for everyone. Not everyone handled the challenges we were given gracefully. We were forced to come face to face with our weaknesses. Several participants were specifically told to ring the bell and quit, even to the point of having the bell brought directly to them. I think only one or two took that easier way out while many others simply choose to continue fighting even if they were unsure whether they could continue suffering until the end of the event. Several people were pulled from the race for medical reasons. This event was a nightmare for knees, ankles, asthma sufferers, back pain, etc. Several people hallucinated, sleep walked, completely zoned out at periods, and/or became delusional. I have to say going into the event, I had massively high expectations for how hard it was going to be, and the difficulty of the event exceeded my expectations.

At times I was disappointed in a few people that came unprepared for the event. At times I was disappointed in a few people who made bad choices, or seemed like they did not take the event seriously. During the event we were given several opportunities to eliminate either one or a group of individuals. In some cases, the vote was extremely close. In each case, I voted to keep those that had made mistakes, not because I felt like we should ignore their mistakes, but because I felt like those people still had so much to learn and that continuing on in the event would provide them with that opportunity. Looking back and after hours of mulling it over, there isn’t a single person who survived the 60+ hours of the Agoge that I feel ashamed to count as a brother or sister and there are many that had to quit for medical reasons that I am more than proud to count as a brother or sister. I am so proud to have been one of the 47 who managed to survive to the end. Every one of those 47 gave everything they had to make it there, and deserves to hold their heads high and with pride.

What kinds of obstacles did we overcome during the event?

  • We rode on a 2.5 hour bus ride to the event, during which our packs couldn’t hit the ground and we had to hold leaky 40 pound bags of water (and use the clothes in our packs and on our bodies to keep the floor as dry as possible-needless to say, I was soaked before the event began).

  • We had the 40 pound bags of water dumped on us as we held a plank, ensuring our packs and the clothes we were wearing were soaked before we really even got started.

  • Our backpacks couldn’t touch the ground during the entire event (and early on we were forced to trade packs so that we had to keep track of who had our food and other stuff during the event).

  • We hiked up and down extremely steep terrain while carrying our packs and bags of dirt (the bags of dirt kept getting heavier and multiplying so that while initially we were carrying two 20 pound bags of dirt, eventually many of us were carrying four 30 pound bags of dirt).

  • We made several treks along the top of the Great Wall of China, sometimes roped in because of the dangerous drop offs and the treacherousness of the terrain.

  • We built shelters for ourselves while blindfolded and some of us got to sleep for about 1.5 hours while holding our packs on our stomachs. For most of us, this was the only sleep during the entire 60+ hours of the event. For some of those that didn’t get to sleep here, there was no sleep during the entire 60+ hours.

  • We had awesome history lessons from William and Tommy Lindsay.

  • We made a stretcher and hauled one of the Krypteia up the mountain to the Great Wall along a narrow and rocky path.

  • We did countless burpees, including some where we had to hold a mouthful of water in our mouths for a significant amount of time and then spit it out one at a time to show that we succeeded in not swallowing it.

  • During the last night when it was around 45 degrees, we were told to remove our shoes and socks and dig up corn stalk roots for several hours out of a field using our fingers, our knives, and/or our sporks.

  • We hauled 100+ pound bags of corn from the fields to the market, up a rocky trail, while still barefoot.

  • We were able to do Tai Chi with some Tai Chi masters and then watch them perfom.

  • We were given some amazing hot tea part way through the event and some delicious dumplings at the end.

  • When those who were injured or in duress needed help, we carried their packs for them along with our own.

  • We encouraged one another, strengthened one another, fed one another, and cared for one another. We shared our water, our food, our strength, and did all we could to make sure that as many as possible would still be standing at the end of the event.

  • We laughed, we told stories, we forged bonds, and we grew to love one another as brothers and sisters.

  • We were given absolutely brilliant guidance from the Krypteia throughout the event. One of my favorite quotes that carried with me throughout the event and will continue with me, came from Krypteia Mark Peterson: “When everyone gives 110%, no one has to.” He explained that this meant when those that can give 110%, as a group we will be able to overcome everyone’s weaknesses, whether mentally, physically, or otherwise. During the second day, when two individuals from other teams were injured and needed help, my “Team Dim Sum” took their packs and by rotating the packs through at 5 minute intervals, we were able to each give 110% so that those injured individuals could continue on with the event. I am so happy to say that those two were among those that completed the entire event. It was brilliant, magical, and effective.

For me one of the absolute highlights of the event, was on the last day, after our last hike to the Wall, David, one of the Krypteia came over to me and asked if I’d be interested in going with him to do a “bat-sh**” crazy run up and down the part of the wall where everyone had been roped in before. There would be no ropes, no safety net, and as much speed as we could possibly manage. (and he’d even let us leave our packs so we could go faster). At this point, I had more blisters on my feet than I could count, I had several thorns in the bottoms of my feet that I could feel from carrying the corn barefoot, my knees hurt from all of the hiking, my back ached (it’s still only been a little over 2 years since I had a ruptured disc and could barely walk). I was thirsty and hungry (I’d been one of the last ones up the hill, because I was helping make sure one of my friends made it up). But if you know me, when someone says “Hey this is a bad idea, you in?” I can never resist. I told him “Bat-sh** crazy is what I do.” That was one epic run and completely reminded me why I do these crazy events. I wouldn’t trade that opportunity and experience for anything.

I also have collected some of what some of the other participants wrote about the event. I think you can see that this was a one of a kind, exceptional experience. I truly believe that those that made it to the end are heroes. I only am posting a few, but you can see that the experience was pretty universal.

Tan Eng Han:

The weakest candidate who refused to ring the bell

This is to-date the longest and toughest endurance event (60 hours with cumulatively 1 hour of sleep) I have done and I am glad I persevere to the very end. Without any prior experiences in other Spartan races, I do not know what to expect coming in, and I only started to prepare the gear list 4 days before the event (Tonnes of gratitude to Tay Choon Mong for his guidance and some important items). Training wise, I didn’t train specifically for the event but continued with my running practices of about 70-100 km per week.

Now almost 3 days later, I am still overwhelmed with emotions (and muscle soreness) recalling it all. I have never been actively involved in group adventures and the experience I had with my team of 14 other incredible human beings simply and totally changed my perspectives about life and relationships. When our Krypteia (instructor) said that motto of Spartan is “Building Better Humans”, I have no doubt that every one of us who push through to their limits (whether full 60 hour or less) must have emerged a “better human”.

Spartan Agoge challenged you both physically and mentally. When you think you cannot take it anymore, the Krypteia and fellow teammates pulled us from the rut and pushed us to move forward – one step at a time. When we saw a teammate in trouble, we did not hesitate to unload his rucksack or take his sandbags, even when we ourselves were struggling. For almost the entire event, we were carrying someone else’ rucksack and this meant that we had to tag close to each other and allow each other enough time to take items in and out of the bags (because no rucksack can hit the ground).

When my team was punished on 1st night and forced to sleep on top of a Great Wall tower, (because some teammates fell asleep before the final inspection), I am surprised that there is no finger-pointing or blaming around. Everyone simply sucked it in and did the best under that circumstance (means trying to sleep for 30 min in open cold air).

I can clearly remember my lowest point at the 2nd night when we were told to do more than 100 burpees, I was really struggling and all the Krypteias demanded me to ring the bell, they ridiculed me, they shamed me and even bring the bell to me, but I just refused to give up. I continued doing my “burpees” (which by then, were only a series of body crashing up and down the dust). Not satisfied with my refusal to bail out, they dragged me up on the stage and tell the others that they can only stop their burpees if I can do some proper ones. I continued to fail, and only saved by 2 comrades who locked their arms around me and we all do it together. I owed them too much.

Later in the night, I told my team leader, Drew that I am considering quitting because I do not wish to put my team to further unneeded punishments and danger. Drew simply asked me to go to one corner and think it over very carefully. Upon hearing his tone and his encouragement, I told myself I cannot let my team down anymore. The rest of the 2nd night was a blur because all of us were busy trying to keep ourselves busy, pulling corn roots from the ground, stacking roots, moving large bags of corns up the hills in barefoot. Nothing seemed to matter anymore, I simply kept my body moving and stopped my mind from thinking.

I have the greatest respect for all my team mates, who never fails to shout words of encouragement and to ask if each of us is alright when things are tough. We shared food and water freely and to take additional initiatives when circumstances demanded. I have enormous gratitude for all Spartan staff who have made this happen. I believe Sir William Lindesay and his family has played a tremendous part in getting the logistics and permits to allow us to hike up the Wild Wall in the middle of the night – something which I can attest it unheard of. Every single activity was planned and executed flawlessly and all Spartan staff deserves every credit.

Kyle Foster:

Coming home after a long and eventful week.

I can't even really recap it all, it's just so much. So many emotions all over the spectrum.

Agoge-003 was physically rough, and incredibly challenging for me on many levels other than physical. I appreciate every single one of the Krypteia and the effort they put into this, and their constant push to make us better during the event, both as a team and individually. Sometimes, you just need someone to tell you (loudly and in your face) that you can't do something, that you should just go ahead and quit right now, to realize that, "no, f*** you, I can!" They were not there to fight us, but help us learn and guide us to new strength.

I appreciate spartan staff and support for going through who knows how much and what much to put this on. I can't imagine how complicated the planning for this was. Literally the adventure of most of our lives (up to this point).

I greatly appreciate Sir William Lindsey and his family for letting us use their house and land, and their incredible knowledge of the wild wall. Their hospitality was unreal (and those steam buns were magical... anybody remember the name of that beer because it was really really good). I appreciate the villagers and townsfolk for being incredibly kind and almost thrilled that we were there helping them. We did work for some of them that would have taken 10 days without us. We got the chance to truly impact other people's lives.

No joke, the camera people were badass. They were constantly filming. Literally everything we did, no matter how tough, they were right there getting action shots while wearing like blue jeans and sneakers. It was unreal.

Being on top of 3 different parts of the wall, and climbing part of it at night will be part of my memories forever. My teammates (not just the 15 people on team 1, who did a lot for me, especially at the start when I was given the team lead assignment, but also the other 43 people who made the commitment to this adventure) I will remember forever and I know I won't lose touch with at least some of them. We came from all over the world, to conquer the wall. And we did it, together.

I am proud of all 16 of the delta wedge finishers. You all did an amazing job. I'm proud that you all got the recognition you deserved for being exemplary.

And I appreciate Joe for pushing us past our limits and breaking points as well, and staying true to his message of "sometimes life's not fair, you have to deal with it and move on." Joe is brutal and I had no idea just how brutal until 3 days ago. It's never about the medal, and it will never be about the medal. It's about the experience, the growth, the people. It's about finding what truly drives you so that when you're at your end, you can focus on that internal motivation that will always be there. hurts, to make it that far, to travel that far, to work that hard, to be told... you weren't good enough. You finished, but you didn't earn it really. This is something I'll brush off and use for motivation, but I can't help but feel wronged in some way. Like this awesome adventure, wasn't really all that awesome after all.

That being said, I'll come back, I'll grow, I'll be a better leader, and I'll use this as a spring board to give another big fat "F*** you, I am a finisher. I am deserving. I did this. We all did this, together, and you can't take that away from us" into the next thing I decide to do.

Bu dao chang cheng fei hao han.

Jeremy Anderson:

Amazing lessons learned... new life long friends... unforgettable experiences... and one of the hardest things I've ever done, but it was all worth it!! #TeamDimSum #WSOM #AROO

Ali Tucker:

On a positive note, I would like to say how thankful I am to all the krypteia that ran Agoge 003. They worked hard night and day to give us a challenge/event of a lifetime. I will never forget my team and all we accomplished together on the Great Wall. We sweated, cussed, laughed and cried together and I am forever thankful for the lessons I received. Strangers from around the world became a team and we will forever share a special connection! AROO!

Hunter Manuel R Montiel:

Good Morning Spartans, already back from the event more hard for me to date, 003 Agoge, where I've been finisher, along with my fellow Raul Oliver, Tomy Rodriguez, also where I got to be a better choice for my spartan team and they gave me My Medal! In a few days I will show you all! Every effort carries his reward, the pain is momentary, the glory is forever! Word of Hunter! #Agoge60china #Teambanana #Spartanracees #Endurance#Spartanheroes247 #Spartansgxsevilla

Jozef Svetlosak:

They call it a pentacle for a reason. Peak of the Spartan Races with no forgives.

60 hours later, I'm fortunate enough to have experienced Agoge 003 at the Great Wall or the "wild wall" with the most amazing team ever! Staying together through thick and thin, pushing each other through and not willing to let each other quit; carrying heavy sandbags on the top of carrying rucks after being sleep deprived for tens of hours up the wall, 100lb bag of corn barefeet on sharp stones up the steep hill for a mile had me crying like a baby but the team helped me push through.

The amazing scenes we've seen and things we learned and experiences we shared, seeing sunset and moonrise at the top of the wall that's closed to public, sleeping shoulder to shoulder with someone who was a stranger to you just hours before are just few of millions of things we have been through during the Agoge.

A massive massive thanks to all Krypteias who pushed us to our maximum, showed us that limits are only where you put them, not where you think they are and kept us safe during this event.

The gallery below is of pictures I gathered from Facebook from participants, Krypteia, and others involved.

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