Written by Mike Yebba
“You pay money to do this?“ I probably get asked that question at least once a day by either someone at work or by someone who sees me wearing a Spartan shirt or pretty much anyone who asks me what I do for “fun.” This past weekend in Lake Tahoe, as I approached the dreaded swim obstacle at mile 9 of the brutal 15 mile Spartan World Championship Beast about to go for a 200 meter swim – into a frigid 40 degree lake – 8000 feet above sea level – with 30mph winds howling – I asked myself the same question: “Why the #%&$ do I pay money to do this?”
An important thing I learned in my first year at P360 is that you need to know your “why.” In my opinion, your “why” has to be like a good daytime soap opera. Every workout is like a daily episode with its own story that has a focused mission with a beginning and end but then it must always link back to a main story arc that drives the show. Kind of like a micro-why and a macro-why.
My micro-why is almost always related to Spartan racing. As of this writing, I have run over 25 Spartan races in 7 different states and over 50 other obstacle course races overall. I even programmed and led a free Spartan bootcamp for two years at Kate Sessions Park to train with fellow masochists. On any given day I do heavy squats or hundreds of weighted uphill lunges to get better at climbing steep hills; dead lifts and farmer’s carries to help with the many heavy carries on the course; long runs to build endurance; pull-ups and dead hangs for the upper body obstacles. Pretty much every vacation my wife and I take nowadays is hinged on me inevitably crawling under barbed wire. So why does my wife put up with me doing this shit?
Other than being a saint, she’s probably the only person who knows the real journey I took to get here. I’ve been an avid fitness enthusiast for about 5 years but prior to that I spent the majority of my adult life in the bowels of depression, self-loathing, and completely void of self esteem. For years, I resented most aspects of my life – my job, friends, family. I would routinely sabotage vacations with petty BS and obsess over any minor thing that didn’t go my way and then blame others for my unhappiness. I wasn’t even 30 years old, having my entire life ahead of me, but I had absolutely no zest for life.
On top of having a negative mindset I was REALLY unhealthy and unfit. I was 50 lbs overweight and lived off pizza, beer, and take-out. Living in Boston, I couldn’t even walk up a flight of stairs without being out of breath and my buddies would make fun of me because I would break a sweat when I played cards or ate dinner! One night I got rushed to the emergency room at Mass General because I thought my heart was literally going to beat out of my chest and explode. I ended up being admitted for an abnormal heartbeat and a resting heart rate over 120 (I can now jog pretty close to that for two hours straight). They kept me overnight and ran a barrage of tests. Everything came back “normal,” they told me I was “healthy,” and sent me home.
It had always been a dream of mine to move to California but after this incident and several others like it, my wife suggested I find a job out here and finally make it happen. In an effort to meet people and take advantage of the outdoors, we joined Vavi beach bootcamp. At the first workout, the warm-up was to run to the water and back and I couldn’t even do it. I couldn’t even do half the workout itself and sat on my ass during the finisher. Fully expecting me to quit after the first class, my wife was like “we already paid for 6 sessions”. I assured her I was going to stick this out… and I did for 2 years – making it a point to just show up.
And now this is where my macro-why comes in and what motivates me to get up at 5:15AM everyday to train and Become More. A Spartan race is just one day but fitness has taken me on a journey unlike anything else in my life. Beach bootcamp led me to gain self confidence, which led me to overhaul my diet and nutrition, which led me to run a Tough Mudder, which led me to run a Spartan race, which led me to start my own Spartan bootcamp, which got me into Primal Endurance, which got me into swimming and trail running, which led me to joining another Spartan bootcamp, which introduced me to rock climbing and strength training, which led me to P360, which provided me the strength to fail only one obstacle in Tahoe this past weekend. My passion for fitness even got me cast in a workout video for a local nutrition company in San Diego. If you told me 10 years ago when I was having my 28 year-old heart probed with an ultrasound that I would be traveling to Lake Tahoe, Colorado, and Montana to compete in ultra endurance events or… that I would be doing barbell workouts at a gym like P360 or… that I would be a father… that would have been unfathomable to me. Now at 38, I am in the best shape of my life – physically and mentally.
One point that Dave and Pritz make regularly on their podcasts that literally has me saying YES out loud in my car is that if you are successful in the gym you are successful in life. This is so freaking true. The way you do anything is the way you do everything. Before I started working out, I was a yeoman at best at every job I ever had. I always had a strong work ethic but never really got ahead, never spoke up in meetings, and just kind of blended in. Once I started achieving my fitness goals and being more successful in the gym, for the first time in my life I had supervisors literally coming up to me and asking me if I was interested in a promotion and taking on a leadership role.
In addition to being more successful professionally, I credit fitness for giving me the confidence to be a dad. I am so happy to now have a healthy mindset that enables me to be a good example for my daughter. Fitness has put me in control of my own happiness. Like Joe DeSena describes in his book Spartan Up!, when I do an intense workout first thing in the morning, it sets the bar high and I know the rest of my day is going to be a piece of cake. So yes I pay money to suffer at Spartan races. They keep me focused on my day-to-day goals but the journey will keep me going forever. It was a long road to get here, but I’ve loved every minute of it and I love knowing I still have a long way to go!
Mike Yebba is a member at Performan360 in Pacific Beach, San Diego 92109.