You might think you work out a lot. Maybe you play a sport. Maybe that sport involves the training and maintenance of one or more groups of muscles. Whether or not that’s the case, steal yourself for plenty of harsh self-criticism before reading about Greg Faxon ’14, a nationally ranked obstacle course athlete scheduled to compete in the World Championship Spartan Beast later this month.
For those unfamiliar with the world of obstacle course racing (OCR) brands, Spartan Race is basically the most insane thing you could ever consider putting yourself through. Imagine Olympic track and field combined with the opening scene of the movie “Saving Private Ryan” and you’re roughly in the ballpark.
The courses range from 3 to 13 miles—often uphill—and are interspersed with a variety of ridiculous obstacle course challenges like crawling under barbed wire, flipping logs and tires, and running through fire. Participants show up to the mud-clogged tracks with no idea what obstacles they’re going to face.
Spartan Race is the most rigorous of the various brands of OCR. Unlike other brands, like Tough Mudder and Warrior Dash, Spartan Race ranks contenders in a highly competitive system and attracts top athletes from all around the world. What kind of Wesleyan student would attempt to fit this into hir schedule?
A New Movement In Athleticism
“I think we summited four green mountain peaks over the course of the day, went through 35 obstacles, and had however many feet of elevation,” Faxon said. “That was a tough race, but I did well. I got fourth or fifth in my age group and 35th overall, so I was right in the mix. That’s the race that everyone else is coming out for, so that’s what I wanted to see, is how I compared with the best people in this sport.”
Faxon humbly described his performance at last year’s Spartan Race World Championships as if he were still getting his feet wet. As a matter of fact, he was: after only his second Spartan Race event ever, he qualified for the highest national-level competition of the grueling, uncompromising sport. By now, he has already competed in two of the season’s most challenging races—he placed 20th out of approximately 6,000 in his most recent race in New Jersey—and has high hopes for the World Championships on Sept. 21.
Faxon was a high-performing varsity wrestler throughout high school, and he came to the University expecting to continue that. After a year of college athletics, however, he decided that he needed something different.
“I loved wrestling here, loved being on the team,” Faxon said. “I think, personally, I reached a point where wrestling was really all-consuming with the weight-cutting and things like that, where I needed a break.”
Soon after leaving the wrestling team, Faxon signed up for a Spartan Race event in Massachusetts. After coming in first among the non-elite section of the competition, Faxon knew he had found his niche. He said that the aspects of wrestling that he valued most ended up translating perfectly to OCR. For him, the regimen of wrestling was never about learning to put people on the ground, but rather a constant effort to shape himself into a perfectly rounded specimen of athleticism.
“What I got out of [wrestling] was how I could be the fittest I could be…If you think about it, Spartan Race is perfect for that, because the competition is the training,” Faxon said. “You need to think about how to be well-rounded, and it’s a test of fitness. There aren’t really skills involved, there’s not really technique, and I was never the most technical wrestler. I guess my advantage was that I was fit; I was in shape.”
Spartan Races are excruciating and prolonged, serving as a trial for participants’ willpower in addition to their athletic abilities. Faxon said that the races have offered him an opportunity to refine his capacity to focus.
“It sounds a little bit weird that it would help with the races, but meditation is all about staying focused on one thing, like staying focused on your breath or your body and letting other things pass through,” he said. “For endurance sports, you have to have the same skill. If you’ve been summiting a hill, and you’ve been going straight uphill for ten minutes, the worst thing you could do is think, ‘I probably have 10 hills after this,’ or ‘I’m halfway through the race right now.’”
Running For A Friend In Need
Faxon isn’t just running the race for his own gain. He’s also using two of his races—his recently completed race as well as the upcoming world championship—as platforms to raise funds for Zack McLeod, a friend who suffered a traumatic brain injury at a football game during his sophomore year in high school. McLeod’s current condition requires him to have constant residential care and regular therapy sessions, which federal funding may not provide as he progresses into adulthood.
Faxon has already raised over $3,000 of a projected $5,000 to go toward these services. Although some may attribute the fundraising success to Faxon’s athleticism, he says the real reason for all the support is the impact that McLeod had on his local community before his accident. Faxon made it clear that his racing is just a way to remind his hometown of McLeod’s lasting influence.
“In a way, it’s not really about the money,” Faxon said. “It’s definitely not really about my racing for Zack, but it’s not really about the money either. It’s more about keeping him on the top of people’s minds.”
For Faxon, McLeod’s legacy of selflessness and support for his community ties in perfectly to the values shared by the Spartan Race community. While Faxon feels a strong sense of competition toward his fellow racers, he said that this doesn’t detract from the sense of broader community like it has in past athletic events in which he has competed.
“In wrestling, you were always sizing up your opponent. You would never talk to your opponent before a match,” Faxon said. “But [these races are] so demanding and so brutal, that you’re gonna have a guy next to you climbing the same hill, and you want to do well, but it’s for yourself. It’s not to beat him. You’ll exchange a few words; you’ll be like, ‘Wow, this sucks right now’… Everyone’s really in it together, and that…connects back to how [Zack] continues to view his life, which is helping other people out and the sense of community that, whether it comes from his faith or his personality or his family, is really a unique thing.”