03/09/2015 12:31 pm ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

Finishing Behind Lance Armstrong

At what point is winning not worth it?

This is a tale of dignity.

I recently interviewed a nine-time Tour de France competitor who raced during the Armstrong era. You probably wouldn't know his name. He never won. He never wore yellow. He didn't experience the glam of the limelight. But he did retire with something that almost none of the top names in the sport did: dignity.

"I started with my legacy," he said. "I wanted to be a clean competitor, and knew that if I kept that goal in sight I wouldn't make any short-term bad decisions. And now I get to sleep at night knowing I finished one of the most grueling races in the world--nine times--all without the use of performance enhancing drugs."

In an era in which countless racers resorted to illegal extremes to gain an edge, he didn't dope. He didn't lie, cheat or steal. He played the long game. By avoiding getting his jersey dirty, he earned a lifetime of rewards.

It was a refreshing perspective in a society so steeped in me-me-now-now instant gratification. As an endurance athlete with a long history of pushing my body to insane extremes, and as an entrepreneur whose business model relies on forsaking the quick buck for the bigger picture - I can relate.


Joe and Johnny Waite

On the Spartan Up! Podcast I spoke to Johnny Waite, a psychologist, who said that living an easy life would be the worst thing. "So many people have bought into the tick-tock..." In other words, too often people get in a rut; clock in and clock out, get a raise, buy more and then want more. Waite quoted Mihaly, writer of Flow who said:

"Contrary to what we usually believe... the best moments in our lives, are not the passive, receptive, relaxing times... The best moments usually occur when a person's body or mind is stretched to its limits in a voluntary effort to accomplish something difficult and worthwhile... For a child, it could be placing with trembling fingers the last block on a tower she has built, higher than any she has built so far..."

Waite spoke of the correlation between amount of work put in and what we get out of it. Our efforts and intentions are the key to dignity. Only we know how hard we worked, the decisions we made, the bridges we burned, and opportunities we got on our hands and knees to build. Only we know why we did it to start with and, more importantly, why we continue to do it.

Towards the end of the podcast, Waite, a quote enthusiast, quoted W.B. Yeats who said "short of impossible, the satisfaction we get from a lifetime depends on how high we choose our difficulties."

I launched Spartan Race because I believe in the power of Spartan Race to change lives.

We're living in the most sedentary society in human history. Comfort and convenience are making us soft and sick, anxious and isolated. We're impatient and entitled, and freak out when the call drops or the kids are screaming or the traffic is bad. We sweat the small stuff. And it's making us miserable.

My goal is to bring everyone back to our basic needs, even for a day. To remind us what it's like to only want water, food and shelter. I want to change your frame of reference. I want you to Spartan Up.

We need to get the hell off the couch and run and crawl and climb and tap into our animal nature because it's what our bodies are designed to do. And study after study shows what we all inherently know, that exercise and play are great for us. It makes us smarter and healthier and happier. Need proof? Check out Spark: The Revolutionary New Science of Exercise and the Brain. People need a new frame of reference, and it's easier to find when you're outside, you're crawling uphill, over rocks, beneath barbed wire, and far outside your comfort zone.

I've dedicated an absurd amount of time and most of my life savings to get this brand off the ground. I'm all-in on Spartan succeeding. The company has become, and has always been, about so much more than myself.

If I were driven by the bottom line, we wouldn't be timing our events. We wouldn't have created a global ranking system. We wouldn't offer a half million dollars of prize money. We wouldn't have created a Pro Team. We are investing huge amounts of money to create a new sport from scratch. But we're also building a platform for everyday people to shine.

If I were driven by the bottom line, I'd make our races easier. I'd ditch the dreaded 30-burpees for failed obstacles and let people freely skip obstacles they don't feel like doing without any penalty. I'd make our event more accessible and pat everyone on the back. But I want our finishers' medal to mean something. I don't want to dumb everything down. I'd rather give people the tools to rise up to new heights. And with this in mind, we hired a team to design Daily Recipes and WODs and 30-Day Challenges. We offer free group workouts at beaches and parks and stadiums all across the country.

We're investing massive capital into building this out and scaling it up because I believe in this mission. I know that by playing the long game, we can create a global sport and lifestyle that can shake society out of its sedentary slumber and make us healthier, happier and smarter.

How often in life is the easy way out also the wrong decision? How often these things are handed to us, gift wrapped, begging for us to accept. And how difficult it can be to say no.

At a young age we stop seeing the world in black and white - right and wrong - and are able to see gray. We live in a complex world. Most things live in the gray area. Most people can think of a time where good intentions had bad consequences and vice versa. The world would be a simpler place if the two danced in sync.

I think dignity comes from knowing that your intentions were positive, that you legitimately worked as hard as you could, and that your goal was to create the best outcome for society as a whole (not just for yourself).

Maybe in this deeply complex world, our dignity is the only thing that keeps us sane.

The Tour De France athlete I interviewed never won. Whether or not he would have won with performance enhancing drugs, is irrelevant. That's in the past. What I do know is, he sleeps soundly at night. He traded dreams of winning for dignity.

I'm proud to say that I, too, have put dignity above all else. Don't misunderstand what I'm staying; I plan to win the race too.


The Spartan Up! Podcast can be found at, on iTunes, Stitcher, and YouTube.

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