“No pain. No pain. Just a few more steps. Man the f!@* up.”
I repeated these words to myself through each agonizing step. But the worst part was not the physical pain or the fatigue, it was the shock.
The shock that after only 14 miles, I felt so exhausted and drained. Every mile seemed like an eternity.
The run across Barbados was supposed to be between 27 and 28 miles. Having just completed a 31 mile race two weeks ago in rocky trails with far more elevation gain than Barbados, I felt confident in my ability to handle the mileage.
So what was happening here? Why was I so beat up after just 14 miles? What could be going wrong?
The fear before glory
I arrived in Barbados the day before excited, anxious and scared. I had put in countless hours on the roads in preparation to run across one more country on my journey across every single country in the world. Now, the time had come to put my mind and body to the test.
Driving toward the lively and colorful Saint Lawrence Gap, I became mesmerized by the beauty of the Atlantic Ocean, the palm trees and the Caribbean sun. For a few moments, I got so lost in the present that I forgot about the fear.
As I pulled into the Yellow Bird Hotel, the Now continued and the fear remained dormant. In support of this insane endeavor and the higher mission behind it, the Yellow Bird Hotel graciously hosted me during my time in Barbados. As soon as I stepped into the huge room with a spectacular view of the beach and ocean below it, I felt blessed to have their support.
They gave me the luxury of a comfortable night in preparation for the pain that would follow it.
Although comfortable, especially with a full fledged kitchen that made it easy for me to prepare my protein shakes and vegetable smoothies, the night was far from relaxing.
In a 6 and a half mile warm up run the day before leaving for Barbados, the pain in my IT Band flared up. Considering I had 125 miles of running planned in the next week, this was somewhat of a concern.
It ate away at me throughout the night. How bad would it get tomorrow, I wondered?
Why even do this, I asked myself? It would be so much easier to relax at home. Even if I wanted to run, I could just do it in New Jersey. Why come to this new place where I was uncertain about the route I would run? Where I barely knew anyone? Where I had no family or friends? Why embark upon this journey around the world at all? I could just as easily not run tomorrow and relax by the beach. No one would know any better if I didn’t say anything. What was I trying to prove by being here?
A flurry of questions went through my mind as I laid in bed.
What is Fearvana?
The next morning on my drive to Animal Flower Cave on the Northern tip of Barbados, I got lost in conversation with my guide in Barbados, Andrea.
She reminded me why I was here in the first place. She showed me that we were the same person, driven by the same motivations, just expressed in a different way. In her, I got to once again see the reality that we are all part of the same family.
After a short, guided tour through the cave which hosted a Rihanna photo shoot, I began my long journey to the Surfers Bay Beach Bar on the southern tip of Barbados.
As soon as I started putting one foot in front of the other, fear, nervousness, tension, everything disappeared. Now I was in it. This was Fearvana! A new state of being coined by my wife – a state of unity, connection and bliss without fear that is only achieved through immersion in fear.
Within minutes, sweat poured out of my body. The heat and humidity were ferocious. And with no hint of shade anywhere, I got the full brunt of the sun’s rays. At first this did not present a problem. My mind was too preoccupied with route finding. I needed to find my way to the ocean and then I simply had to keep it on my right for the rest of the run.
As expected on any adventure, it did not go exactly as planned. I got lost. Fortunately though, I only had to backtrack about a mile.
After that slight detour, a very friendly police officer guided me back on track and I soon found my way to the ocean. With my focus no longer on the challenge of finding the correct route, it once again zoned in on the brutality of the sun beating down on me.
I was not used to these conditions, but I could handle it. In fact, for a while there, I even enjoyed it.
I remember it specifically at mile 14 because that is when the very warm Vicky, from the Barbados Tourism authority met me to say hello. As a fellow runner, we instantly bonded. She could relate to the misery that swept through my body, so I got no sympathy. We chatted for a few minutes, and she lovingly sent me on my way.
Meeting Vicky gave me a momentary motivational burst. I felt energized again.
The human connection is a powerful force.
But soon, the pain returned and the suffering continued.
All I could think about at that point was arriving in Bridgetown, the capital of Barbados. If I thought about how far I had left to go to complete the run, I don’t know if I could have made it. Like any endeavor, I needed to mentally break it down into small chunks.
This could not have come soon enough:
I took a short break in Bridgetown to use the restroom and bring my heart rate back down, at least briefly, before I got on the road again and it would inevitably shoot back up. The pause revealed to me that I was severely dehydrated, despite drinking 2 more liters of water than I had on the 31 mile race 2 weeks ago.
I should have prepared better for the heat and humidity, I thought to myself.
But there was nothing I could do about it then. Quitting did not even occur to me as an option, it just seemed like more pain was inevitable. I stepped out of the door of the coffee shop and continued on my way.
I fought onward, grateful that the suffering was not as bad as it could have been.
(For the record, these brands do sponsor my run across the world, but I firmly believe in their products, which is why we chose to partner with each other in the first place)
The inevitability of obstacles in any worthy battle
The battle took a lot longer than I initially expected it to. By the time I arrived back at the Saint Lawrence Gap and the Yellow Bird Hotel, darkness was upon me and I still had 5 miles left to go to arrive at the official Southern tip of Barbados.
I decided not to trouble Geeta, the director of the Yellow Bird Hotel, and Andrea so late in the night. They would have had to pick me up to bring me back to the hotel and it did not seem right to bother them, so I decided to break for the night and continue my journey the next morning.
But the truth is, that was not the only reason. I could have used the break at that point.
I knew that most countries I run across would take more than one day. I just didn’t anticipate Barbados being one of those countries. But as with any worthy endeavor, obstacles tend to present themselves and all we can do as human beings is choose how we navigate through them.
I chose to take the night off and finish the last 5 miles the following day, starting from the exact point I stopped running.
As I painfully hobbled up to my room on the 3rd floor, the cramping began. But this was mild compared to what I would face the following day.
I replenished my body as best I could and before passing out for the night, out of curiosity, I decided to measure how beat up my body was using my Omegawave device.
Omegawave is a revolutionary new technology used by many professional athletes that allows you to measure your cardiac, metabolic and central nervous system readiness. It is used to optimize the manner in which you train, so you train smart, not just hard. Their support helped me and continues to help me bring this run across every country in the world into the realm of possibility.
In this case though, no matter what the reading, I would continue running the next day, because this was not training. This was battle.
To give you some context, the highest stress level is 7 and the lowest adaptation reserves level is 1. You probably know what stress is, but adaptation reserves is a “measure of the cardiac system’s ability to adapt to physical exercise. Higher adaptation reserves increase the chances of successful performance and improve your recovery.”
Clearly, I was not destined for a successful performance the following day…
Any man’s finest hour…
Never in my life had I been so scared about a 5 mile run. Back home in New Jersey, I didn’t run less than 5 miles in one sitting. But here I was the next morning, with the sun beating down on me, terrified. Once again, not a cloud in the sky.
I hoped it wouldn’t hurt, but deep down I knew it would.
By the second mile, my legs, chest and abs showed signs of cramping. I knew that as soon as I was done with this run, the pain would be much worse. Fully expecting lots of misery, I pushed on, knowing that the pain of completing would be far better than the lifelong pain of quitting less than three miles from the end.
Fortunately for me, the last few miles kept me right beside the ocean. The beauty of Barbados pushed me onward.
I can barely remember the last mile or so of the run. It was as if I stepped out of my body and something else took over to guide me to the end. With me today, I only have flashes where I can see myself staggering, taking each step in a manner that would minimize the cramping as much as possible.
And finally, the reward – Surfer’s Bay Beach Bar.
There was no prize money, no medals, no one even there waiting for me at the finishing line. Geeta and Vicky only arrived 15-20 minutes later. It was just me. And at that moment, that was all I needed.
As Vince Lombardi said, “I firmly believe that any man’s finest hour, the greatest fulfillment of all that he holds dear, is that moment when he has worked his heart out in a good cause and lies exhausted on the field of battle – victorious.”
What makes this all worth it?
When the body is clearly beat up, the mind takes over. This wasn’t just something that existed in me either. I felt it during brief moments throughout the run. I felt connected to those suffering all over the world. I may have chosen to suffer, while most are forced into it, but when you are in it, it doesn’t matter how you got there, suffering is suffering. And there is a bond that forms through adversity. It’s what created the camaraderie I experienced with my fellow Marines in Iraq.
Through my pain, I felt the resilience of my fellow human beings to endure. Deep within me, I literally felt the infinite capacity of the human spirit. And that’s why I was here.
In one day I experienced fear, anxiety, pain, suffering, misery, joy, connection, bliss and the greatest feeling of personal accomplishment. In one run, in a strange place I had never been to before, I felt the entirety of the human experience and a greater sense of community with those around me. By the end of the run, this was no longer a strange place. This was a part of my home on planet earth. And all the people that helped me throughout this journey were all part of my family.
Before coming to Barbados, I read about a person that had been mugged here. This clouded my judgement and planted fear in my mind, especially when I got lost. Yet, every single person I encountered could not have been any friendlier. Although I do not know all their names, each one of them became a crucial part of this endeavor. Each one guided me onto the correct route so I could complete this journey.
That one news story planted demons into my mind. The reality I experienced destroyed those demons.
On the way back to the hotel after the run, Geeta stopped to buy my a jug of coconut water. She told the man running this little coconut stall on the side of the road what I had just done. He walked up to my window, stuck his fist out at me and said “respect.”
Landing into Grenada one day later, I experienced a similar encounter. When I told the immigration officer what I was doing there, he smiled and began asking me a lot of questions about this insane endeavor, much to the anger of everyone else waiting behind me. But for that moment, we connected in a deeper way. He even took down my website so he could reach out to me in the future and follow along with my journey.
I have found this to be the experience no matter who I shared this journey with. I think we are all inspired by the greatness within each one of us, because that represents humanity at its finest.
Which is why people from all walks of life seemed to resonate with this endeavor. They were all doing the same thing, just in their own way.
When I finished my run across Barbados, there was no ego within me for what I had done. What I felt was no different than what any one of us feels when we push ourselves to our limits to accomplish something worthwhile. And since everyone has faced and overcome adversity, for me this was simply a human experience, at its most human.
When pain hits, philosophizing quits
The reality is though that much of this analysis of the experience occurred for only a few brief moments during the run. Almost all of it came to me a week or so later, because until that time, there was just a lot of pain. An inside of that struggle, it was too miserable to think about anything else.
The worse part was that this continued for days after my run.
I felt so drained that I found myself panting while walking from my hotel room to the hotel restaurant in Grenada two days after the run across Barbados. My resting heart rate stayed above 80 for over 3 days. Normally, it is in the high 40′s, low 50′s.
I finally recovered only after coming home and getting two IV’s at my local hospital.
I chose not to risk heat stroke by continuing my run across Grenada, Antigua and Barbuda and Saint Kitts and Nevis. I was alone out there and if I passed out somewhere on any one of the islands, my run across every country in the world might have ended a lot sooner than I would have liked. Considering I could barely walk a few hundred feet without panting and my resting heart rate was above 80 three days after Barbados, I decided to be smart and come home to live to fight another day.
Despite all the physical pain I experienced, want to know what was the hardest part throughout this journey? Check out this video:
So really, was it worth all that pain?
I would not have traded that experience for anything in the world. I got to experience a beautiful country with beautiful people. Barbados is spectacular and I would absolutely love to visit that country again some time in the future.
But what about the misery? If nothing else, the heat cramps and heat exhaustion certainly makes for a better story But it also made the crossing of Barbados even more rewarding, because I worked so hard to attain that success.
I am sure that I will not feel this degree of pain on every run, or at least I hope I don’t, but having overcome it, I am grateful for that experience. And I am very excited to see what happens on future runs.
The next of which will be 5 countries in Europe in 1 month from today.
But I think a wiser man than myself best describes the rewards of such an experience. After decades of research on what it takes to be happy, Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, a professor of psychologyy, found that:
“The best moments in our lives are not the passive, receptive, relaxing times – although such experiences can also be enjoyable if we have worked hard to attain them. The best moments usually occur if a person’s body or mind is stretched to its limits in a voluntary effort to accomplish something difficult and worthwhile… Such experiences are not necessarily pleasant at the time they occur. The swimmer’s muscles might have ached during his most memorable race, his lungs might have felt like exploding, and he might have been dizzy with fatigue (I experienced a lot of this) – yet these could have been the best moments of his life… These periods of struggling to overcome challenges are what people find to be the most enjoyable times of their lives. By stretching skills, by reaching higher challenges, such a person becomes an increasingly extraordinary individual.”
Now it’s your turn
This was my journey, but I would love to hear something about yours in the comments below. Share a challenge you have overcome and what were the lessons you learned. When have you felt Fearvana?
Together, we can individually accomplish anything. So share your journey with us. Let us all gain the benefit of it and use it to push our own barriers.
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