9 Things I Learned While Running in a Spartan Race

Last year around this time I ran my first triathlon and wrote a post about 9 ways it compared to fundraising.

A few weeks ago a friend joined me as we ran our first Spartan obstacle run, and like last year as I successfully finished (a.k.a. survived) the obstacles, I started to make some comparisons to the world of fundraising. See my musings below:

  • Just like fundraising, you need a friend or mentor; my friend, Randy, helped me over a few obstacles, like most of the Walls, and I helped him with the Hercules Hoist. Fundraising staff need someone to test ideas, proof drafts, etc. and cannot operate for long in solitary confinement. Allow your staff to attend conferences, interact, and network with peers.
  • Sometimes you have to do things differently, and learn from others. On the Barbed Wire Crawl I found it difficult to get low enough to clear the barbs, so I mimicked others my size that found success with a barrel roll. In nonprofits, the standard is to borrow from others and copy what is working.
  • I didn’t complete everything; there were 22 obstacles and 4.4 miles of running involved and I couldn’t do at least 4 of the challenges and had to do the penalty for each, 30 burpees. Sometimes fundraising staff can’t get everything done in time or correctly. However, with good data you will know what to work on for the next time.
  • Once you start, don’t stop. We had to carry a large bucket full of rocks uphill over 100 yards and return back (see my picture). Some of the “young guns” stopped half the way, and put their buckets down. However, they had an even harder time re-starting their efforts. Same with fundraising; you will never get where you want to go by stopping with every bump in the road.
  • Sometimes, you have to do things your way. With the Spear Throw, the volunteer was showing participants how to do it, but it wasn’t working for most. I threw a different way and succeeded. Tom Ahern, the leading expert on donor communications, notes that “if your board doesn’t like your appeal letter, you are probably doing it right.” You hired the fundraising staff to fundraise, so let them do it!
  • You have to know your limits. I knew I couldn’t do the Rope Climb, so I took the penalty and moved on to the next obstacle. Nonprofit fundraising = limited resources. You need to focus on what works and where your strengths are.
  • Sometimes, you will get dirty and have to roll in the mud.
  • At the end, after completing your task, it’s OK to have a bit of fun like the Fire Jump. Celebrate, take the picture, and look forward to the next competition.
  • It is good to remember why we are doing what we do, and for Whom. Perhaps my biggest takeaway, or as Pastor Henry Graf says would be my “Kairos Moment”, was seeing Christ during the Sandbag Carry. We had to carry a heavy bag of sand on our shoulders uphill, through the woods, and back. My back hurt; my hands went numb; I was miserable. However, I knew I would be going downhill eventually; I knew it was going to end; and I knew I would get relief. Compare this to Christ’s journey to the Calvary, all uphill, beaten to the brink of death, carrying the cross, and knowing how everything was going to end. Sharing the the love of Jesus with the children in our care seems worth it to me.

Well, anyway, that’s what I think about when exercising. And I know I will never complain about taking out the trash ever again.