It was just supposed to be a race.
But the Warrior Dash turned out to be so much more.
It was New Year's Eve and like we are prone to do, resolutions were being bandied about.
Like many others, Andy and I had let our bodies fall into the shape of that couch you had in college: squishy, poor support and well, it may have been better served sitting out on the curb than in the living room.
A friend of mine had posted on Facebook a link to this race he was running in June in Logan: the Warrior Dash. It was a 5K with 13 obstacles built in: a river to run down, cargo nets to be climbed, fire to be jumped over and mud to be crawled through, just to name a few. You got to run up and down hills and jump over junk cars and in the end, you were awarded a medal, a furry hat with horns and a beer. Somewhere, Tim Allen was grunting in approval.
Like two 5-year-olds outside after a heavy rain, the idea of getting to play in the mud sounded fun, even if neither of us was in the shape to do it. What's $40?
So we signed up, assuring our wives that we could commit to getting in shape to do it. And both were skeptical, and for good reason.
Andy bought a Bowflex a few years back. And for a month, I came over four times a week and worked out with Andy over our lunches. But before long, it became the thing clothes were hung on when it was too cold to hang them on the line.
It wasn't long after that, my wife Bobbi bought a bike and we were going to get a bike rack and take our bikes and ride the trails of Ohio and America. Now it hangs, next to mine, upside down in the garage, with bags of recycling draping from the various handles, pedals and knobs.
But this time was going to be different.
I looked up the Couch-to-5K program online and found a nice nine-week plan we were going to do, outside, in the middle of the winter.
That first night of training, I was sure we'd be making a trip to Wyandot Memorial Hospital. It calls for a brisk 5-minute warm-up walk, followed by 60 seconds of jogging and 90 seconds of walking. You alternate that for 20 minutes and walk for five minutes to cool down.
As Andy and I set out on the 60 seconds of jogging, it became quickly apparent that what looked like a simple workout the first week was going to be anything but. If anyone had been outside that night when we passed their home, they would have thought there were two women in labor jogging, our breathing was so heavy and arduous. When we got back to his house, we committed to do it again, regardless of how awful that first night felt.
And we did stick with it. Each night got a little easier and felt a little better. We started praying for success in our endeavors and in this Warrior Dash preparation, found ourselves wondering what other areas of our lives we could be better Warriors.
Could we be strong Warriors and husbands for our wives? Sure we were the breadwinners for our stay-at-home wives so they care for our families, but could we find ways to be more helpful around the house or with the kids?
Could we be better Warriors and fathers to our children? Were we showing our kids the way to lead, talk and setting a good example through our efforts to get in shape?
Could we be tireless Warriors in our work place? Were we being respectful of our superiors and reflecting a Warrior-like attitude about the tasks in front of us?
Each night drew Andy and I closer as friends and committed men. Like the U.S. Postal Service, we delivered in the sleet, snow, rain and cold. On the nights or mornings that we couldn't run together because of our work schedules, we vowed to each other that we would still run. And each time we did.
Then it happened. About two months in, for about a week, I didn't run. I had gotten sick. And once you let one excuse settle in, it becomes easier to find a reason not run going forward. Like a Warrior not ready for attack, we let the enemy (apathy) into our camp and affect our performance for the next six weeks.
When we got back to it, the effects of our layoff were felt. It wasn't like going back to our first week of working out but clearly the foundation we built before had eroded away.
We drew the parallels to other areas of our lives. How many friendships of ours had gone away because we didn't put in the work? How many disciplines had gone by the wayside because we let life get in the way?
When race weekend rolled around, neither of us had run three miles yet. Like so many other areas of my life, I hadn't made consistent training a priority until the last possible moment and the results were evident. With the race on Sunday, I thought I should at least run the 3.1 miles required in the race by running in my first ever 5K at Angeline School and Industries annual fundraiser Friday night.
With my daughter's godmother alongside, I ran (and sometimes walked) the flat, paved course and finished in a robust 35:03. I felt like someone who had slacked in their preparation and the thought of doing it again a day and a half later in terrain far more wilderness than tame, scared me.
I prepped on race day with a mohawk and face paint, Ultimate Warrior-style. Andy wore eye black.
I'm 6-2 and Andy's 5-10. Together we look like Laurel and Hardy, except I'm a fat Laurel and well, he's Hardy. On the back of our shirts for the day was a picture of the two of us from our first week of training, with the phrase "Five months ago this seemed like a good idea" below it.
On the front: "They will be like mighty warriors in battle, trampling their enemies in the mud under their feet. Since the Lord is with them as they fight, they will overthrow even the enemy's horsemen." It came from the book of Zechariah (10:5) and was our way of acknowledging that there was no way we were going to be able to do this on our own.
One February night, Andy asked me after one of our workouts if I was just going to "leave him in the dust come race day." I told him I didn't know yet. It depended on how fast he was come June as I was running a lot faster than him at the time.
We headed over to the starting gate to join 498 of our not-so-close friends for our flight (22,000 people ran in all over the weekend). Andy told his wife Dawn she would see me come through some of the obstacles that spectators could see long before she saw him.
I told him no that wasn't the case.
Warriors don't leave other Warriors behind and that I would be with him every step of the way.
We started this together and by God, we were going to finish this together.
And we did.
So what that we were lapped by some of the front runners of the next heat? With each obstacle, Andy and I tackled them side by side, jumping over junk cars, swimming over logs, sliding down hills and navigating treacherous muddy cargo nets 20 feet in the air.
In the end, we hurdled fire and crawled through mud under barbed wire to the finish line.
It felt like our journey getting to that point. We had to get dirty to get there. We had to learn when we fell, to get back up and keep on running, no matter how much it hurt.
Like life, we have to keep trying to be Warriors for our wives, our families, friend and in our jobs, even when we fail. In fact, especially when we fail.
It's not easy.
But that's what Warriors do.
Not just in a silly race, but in life, too.