Dear Tony: From Enemy to Friend at BattleFrog Charlotte 2016

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Dear Tony,

Hey. You mentioned not having social media when I introduced myself at the end of the BattleFrog Charlotte race, so you likely won’t see this, but our interaction left a mark, and so I thought I’d leave a note here for you–in gratitude–in case you stumble this way.

My story begins nearly a year to the day since my tragic collision with BattleFrog in Winnsboro, S.C. in 2015. The day was soaked with a cold, bitter rain. Were you there? I wore the wrong shoes, ran with a knee weakened by IT band issues, and had underestimated the savagery of a course that left dozens of participants sitting along the path hugging their knees as they rocked and wept. If you were there, I hope you made it through unscathed.

This is my "having fun" face.

This is my “having fun” face.

I left BattleFrog that day obliterated in body and soul. It was my first major race, and having been battered into the rusty clay of the hillsides, I pondered for weeks if I had any business on the course. Months later I received a confidence boost with a 1st place open heat showing at Spartan Ft. Bragg, but injury sidelined me not once, but twice, pushing my season into late April.

BattleFrog Charlotte 2016

As fate would have it, my first race of 2016 was BattleFrog, nearly to the day, and in the same region. We took the same heat time at 1:45, and “Coach Pain” delivered his signature rousing speech, but I didn’t hear him. I was zoning out, entering that singularity of focus that lies somewhere between civilized and savage.

Locked in, I thought I had singled out my competition from the herd, but then Coach Pain sent us off and within seconds my perceived opponents vanished as I launched forward. The path was clear, but then there was you, already 25 yards ahead. My nostrils flared as I guzzled the dry, dusty air kicked up from the freshly trimmed hay field. You were at least 5 inches taller, your stride twice mine.

The battle had begun.

Tony vs Andrew

 

Running for my Life

Once we crossed the “Over-Under-Through” virtually in tandem I understood my strategy. I could not overcome your stride, but I was better at obstacle execution. Your pacing was like a steady barrage, but I eventually pulled ahead by about 20 yards. I felt you on my heels through the field and into the woods until the Jerry Cans where your stride took the lead once more. For every step you took, I required two, and I fell behind by at least 50 yards.

I dropped the cans and bolted toward you down the path. My lungs ignited and my arms burned, but I had to catch you; I had to hunt you down. We eventually met at the first rig, which we both failed, and executed the 8-count body builders in tandem. From there we bolted away side-by-side.

Battle for Inches

I don’t know how long we ran, but worry swept over me as my original strategy seemed to loose ground. If I didn’t beat you, then how would I finish compared to the hundreds in the heats before us? I only had influence over our heat. You could not win, I couldn’t let you, even if my heart were to burst, I had to defeat you no matter what.

Our war of inches finally ended midway in a series of climbing obstacles in open field. I don’t know if you lost your pace, or if some primal drive coursed through my body like NOS, but I eventually looked back as I entered that long, wooded path toward the creek and found myself alone.

The End of the Line

I spent the rest of the course completely alone, and though I ran hard, I often wonder if I would have gone just a little harder, a bit faster, had you been by my side. In a word…

I missed you.

Jesse Owens said that,

Friendships born on the field of athletic strife are the real gold of competition. Awards become corroded, friends gather no dust.

If steel sharpens steel, and true friendship is defined by those who bring about the “real gold” of ourselves, then competitors like us must be the best of friends.

BattleFrog 2016

I finished BattleFrog Charlotte 4th overall in the Open Heat, with only a 7 second separation between myself and 2nd place. Would I have done this well, pushed that hard without you?

With my eyes set upon the Elite Heats of the autumn races, I understand that I have a long way until becoming a podium threat to more seasoned athletes, but I want to thank you for teaching me the values of true competition and friendship. I also enjoyed our brief, semi-lucid chat after the race once I ate my banana and could once again count to 10 and remember my birthday.

From the bottom of my heart, best of luck wherever the beautiful and savage beast of OCR takes you, and I look forward to meeting you on the field again.

Your friend in strife,

Andrew Bowen

 

 

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