On Saturday, May 19, 2018, we made perhaps one of the more ill-advised decisions of our marriage. We decided to run in what is called a Spartan Beast race. This is a 13 mile race with 30 obstacles. The obstacles include scaling walls, crawling under barbed wire, carrying sandbags up a mountain, swinging across monkey bars, and many more physically demanding tasks.
Oh, and the race took place in Big Bear, California—going straight up a ski slope.
Just think about double digit miles going the wrong direction on a Double Black Diamond ski course.
Why did we do this? For fun, obviously.
We mostly did it just to see if we could even finish. As it turns out, we could! And it only took us seven and a half hours. To our credit, we didn’t come in last place.
A grueling obstacle race across rugged terrain serves as a great metaphor for life. Sometimes it feels like we’re just trying to reach the end in one piece. Much to our surprise, we learned some lessons about marriage along the way.
Here are four things the Spartan Beast, and endurance sports in general, can teach us about marriage.
1. Marriage is about adventure.
Stepping out into the unknown together can really unite a couple. Attempting such an ambitious goal really banded us together.
And while we exchanged very few words during our seven and a half hour adventure—mainly because we were continually trying to catch our breath—our souls were drawn closer together.
Couples can accomplish so much more when they decide to dream together. Ambitious dreams challenge a couple, both as individuals and as a unit.
Big dreams help us reach our full potential.
Adventure involves risk. Whenever you undertake one, it can either push you apart or bring you together. But really the choice is yours. Even though Tamara was a little afraid that some “ugly” would come out, and while the race pushed our limits, the adventure truly brought us closer together.
2. Marriage is about struggling well together.
The first 8 miles of the race were relentlessly uphill, with no relief. Remember, Double Black Diamond.
Along the way, we could read the struggle on each other’s faces. But mile after mile, we were there for one another. Supporting one another was far more important than finishing quickly. (And quickly is a relative term.)
We both pushed ourselves to do our best, but our individual achievement was never the priority. We both excelled or struggled depending on the obstacle. Sometimes we were well matched on an obstacle. On others, one would struggle more than the other. But in those moments, we chose to be only as strong as the weaker of the two.
Honestly, we didn’t know how we would react. Would one of us become frustrated with the other? Would we feel held back? But our unspoken agreement was that we were in this together. And that’s because marriage is about struggling well together.
Throughout our life, moments will come when one of us is struggling more than the other. But marriage is about focusing on the unit rather than the individual.
We don’t always get this one right, but we know that the struggle is far more bearable when we’re in it together.
3. Marriage is about seeing your partner’s limitations.
Some of the obstacles were difficult. At one point, we had to crawl like a sloth across a horizontal rope. The distance across the rope was considerable, and this obstacle came after 9 miles of exhaustion. Tamara made it only a few feet before Dale saw despair in her eyes.
Up until then, we had been able to conquer each obstacle without much help. But it took just a look on Tamara’s face for Dale to run over and help her reach the end of the rope.
That same obstacle took just about everything out of Dale. Tamara could see that he was struggling. But she also knew that he could do it. While she walked down the line with him, cheering him on, she let him feel the victory of completing the obstacle on his own.
And she ignored all the people staring at us as Dale let out an audible grunt with every movement forward.
During the 30 obstacles, there were moments we needed help and many others when we didn’t. But without needing words, we were able to read each other’s needs. We were encouraged by how well we know each other.
It would have been a completely different race if we weren’t able to read each other’s unspoken cries for help.
Truly knowing one another helped us work together, encourage one another, and be there when needed most. While it’s possible to live with a person for years and never really know them, to be truly known is what God intends for marriage.
Learning to read your partner is an investment that pays dividends to the success of your marriage.
4. Marriage makes victory sweeter.
Tamara had run several obstacle races, but this was the first one we ran together. It was also the hardest race either one of us has ever done. The grueling nature of the race made crossing the finish line a sweet victory.
Being able to do it together made it even sweeter.
We made it through burning lungs, runny noses, chapped lips covered in dirt, aching knees, and body parts giving out. And we did it together.
After our last obstacle, we ran across the finish line hand-in-hand, at which point Dale asked Tamara, “Do I look as busted as you?” Tamara quickly responded, “Worse.” But she still kissed him even though he appeared to be wearing lipliner made entirely of mud.
Our love, respect, admiration, and care for one another grew just a little deeper that day.
Here in the early stages of marriage, we have it far from figured out. We still have plenty of learning ahead. But the more we talked about this race, the more we realized how much it images the kind of marriage we want to have.
We pray that the foundations we lay now will sustain us when the struggles of life test our union.
The Bible always seems to be comparing the life of faith to endurance sports. We feel like it fits. Marriage is simply choosing to run the race together. To grow and mature together. To struggle and get hurt together. To step out in bold faith together. To endure until the very end together.
This is what married life is all about. Loving and serving Jesus. Together.