TEXAS SPARTAN RACE WITH IRAM LEON
This race had a lot more to offer than just competitive racing. It was a lesson about courage, dedication, perseverance, and the correct attitude on how to attack life!
I was prepared to race back-to-back days in Texas in the elite heats. I was finally starting to feel better from a respiratory infection that haunted me for the previous three weeks and was very excited to be racing in 80-90 degree weather. After a light workout on Thursday night, I opened an email from Robert Coble, Spartan Race athletic director:
—I have Iram Leon racing in the elite heat in Texas.
He has terminal brain cancer and needs to be guided, because he gets lost easily now. He won a marathon pushing his daughter, so unlike our other “story” athletes he’s probably going to be very fast.
I am asking for someone to guide him on the course for Saturday. I know you guys have a race to win, but your close friends that are fast may be interested in doing this? I’ve been following his training and I have a feeling he could finish in the top 20—
I responded instantly. The rewarding experience of running with Iram far surpassed any placement on a Spartan podium. For every Spartan obstacle I would help guide Iram through (he did not need much guidance), I learned tenfold how to attack life when the deck is stacked against you. Iram and I did not discuss his terminal illness at all, I made a point not to bring it up and I figured if he wanted to talk about it, he would. Iram has a glowing personality with wit and comedic innuendos that leave you smiling each conversation. I knew after our first interaction that it was going to be an enjoyable hour on the Spartan course. Iram was full of questions about how to attack the race and I was deliberately vague with my answers. There is a reason Spartan does not have a course map or let participants know how long or what obstacles will be on the course. We are all in the same lonely boat grasping for answers on when to run harder, how to accomplish obstacles, and cursing the race director for why he has made the course so difficult.
Iram is a marathon winner and an extremely fast runner. My first concern was that I would not be able to keep up with him during the race. I wouldn’t be a very effective guide if I was behind Iram during the race and this is what gave me most of my pre-race anxiety. As always, the starting pace was fast and aggressive. Iram had no problem hanging tight within the top 10 while I struggled to keep up with him during mile one. The Texas Spartan had some long stretches of running and this was Iram’s specialty, definitely not mine! I managed to stay within 20 yards of him coming up to one of the first obstacles, the atlas stone. Iram had never done a burpee before a Spartan Race and he was in for a rude awakening. The atlas stone obstacle consists of carrying a heavy stone about 20 yards, performing a burpee and carrying the stone back. This was a simple obstacle we were able to breeze through, but Iram mentioned he had injured his wrist in a biking accident a week prior and I knew it was going to be a problem later in the race. As we got back to our aggressive run pace, we chatted briefly about upcoming obstacles and what the race had to offer. Again, I tried to be vague with my answers. During mile 2 we approached the tire flip. Iram didn’t have a problem flipping the tire twice, but his wrist started to irritate him for flips 3 and 4. He managed to switch his technique, squat extra low, and use his entire body to compete the obstacle. We continued on another half mile to the monkey bars. I believe this is when Iram experienced his first classic Spartan “oh s**t” moment. Iram told me he had not been on Monkey bars since elementary school and his wrist was now really aggravated. He bravely attempted the monkey bars anyway, but did not make it across. We did 30 burpees. Next obstacle: the dreaded spear throw. Despite Iram’s major success with marathons, he never chucked a spear 30 feet into a hoisted bail of hay. This obstacle is a Spartan Race staple. Iram was very close but hit the frame of the hoisted hay, and was reduced to 30 burpees. Iram had never done a burpee in his life and was now 60 burpees deep into a Spartan Race. This of course was unfortunate for Iram, but fortunate for me, as it slowed Iram to a running pace I could manage. You never forget the day after you do your first few sets of burpees…you feel terrible. The other challenging obstacles throughout the race were the 8 foot wall which Iram got over after a few tries, the log hop which he breezed through, the traverse wall where his wrist abandoned him and the rope climb where his wrist was still acting up. All in all, we finished in an hour and ten minutes after doing 120 burpees. Pretty impressive for an initial Spartan Race and accomplishing that many burpees!!!
The story does not end here. I watched Iram after the race. I could see him thinking, analyzing, evaluating every right and wrong move he made during the race. We discussed the race throughout the afternoon and I could tell the missed obstacles were eating him up. I could tell he could have run faster, but after doing so many burpees he was hesitant. At the end of the day we said our good-byes, but I had a suspicious feeling I would see Iram sooner than later. Sure enough, Iram was right back at it on Sunday, running in the elite heat again, this time without any assistance. Iram managed to shave more than 10 minutes off his previous time and more impressively, did 90 less burpees. The monkey bars were the only problem due to his severely injured wrist.
As we said our goodbyes for a second time, I had trouble processing that Iram was terminally ill. I had read the article about him before the race but I had not fully registered it until that moment. I have had people in my life with terminal illness before, but unfortunately I see them and they look miserable day in and day out, having accepted the fact that they are going to be miserable. Unlike Iram, these people are unable to make the necessary changes in their lives to be happy. Iram got dealt a rough hand in life but remarkably has had the courage to transform the cards as best he can. He does not shy away from challenge or adversity; he attacks it just like every runner he passes. Iram makes it a point to sprint by fellow racers on the course. That tenacity is infectious. Its not how long you’re on this earth that matters the most… it’s the impact you leave on the world around you with the time you are given that makes ALL the difference.
Congrats Iram! I’ll see you at the finish line!!!