In this chapter, David reflects on how self-doubt can affect an individual. The world is full of difficult circumstances but, just like David, an individual should be able to rise to the challenge and be self-aware of their actions. In David’s case, he recalls various instances of self-doubt that would have changed the course of his life.
For example, there was a point in David’s life that led to the change in the traditional course of the Badwater race. The National Park Service had refused to approve the traditional race course so Chris Kostman had to redraw the course for the 2014 event. Instead of the race starting in Death Valley National Park and proceeding into the dreaded hot desert, it was to start at tens of miles further upcountry. This adjustment made the already challenging race all the more punishing but this was not David’s major problem. David was more concerned by the fact that he had gained ten pounds in the previous week to the race. Badwater demanded the very best out of participants to conquer its dreaded course so being in sub-optimal condition was not acceptable.
The previous year in January, David had participated and won the Frozen Otter race in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. The race was one hundred kilometers in a harsh glacial environment, exposing participants to the extreme weather conditions. The race organizers provided all the necessary information to make sure that the participants were well equipped for the event and did not die of dehydration or hypothermia. The course was laid out as a lopsided figure eight and greatly demanded high levels of fitness and perseverance from the racers but not to the proportions needed for the Badwater event. The Badwater event was the thresh hold of physically and mentally demanding races that needed utmost preparation to not only participate but also perform well in the race.
The unplowed terrain did not make the Frozen Otter race any easy, as participants had to contend with the snow that had piled into drifts along the race trail. For David, it seemed that the trail was purposefully glazed with slick ice, which made the course all the more difficult to David as he was not wearing boots like most of the other racers. Instead, David had opted for his normal running shoes and tucked in some crampons, which he assumed would help grip the ice better and prevent slips. Much to his dismay, the crampons peeled off just a few miles into the race but he was still leading the race within the first hour. His feet were cold and wet right from the start and within the first hour, his toes felt frozen but he soldiered on. Further, his sweat had crystallized into salt and his body movement was chaffing off his skin. This, however, was still below David’s pain tolerance threshold and it did not affect him as he felt like he was running free.
David was in the optimum condition to conquer the race. The successful heart surgery that he had previously undergone ensured that he was getting 100 percent oxygen so his endurance and strength were excellent. His technique in this particular race was spot on as he was way upfront and could even afford to stop for a sandwich. In the last twenty-two mile loop, David drew inspiration from Karl Meltzer’s running technique during the Hurt 100 event. Just like Meltzer, David sprung forward barely touching the ground with his feet as he accelerated to the finish line. His motion was quiet and steps silent as he ran using the front of his feet. For a moment, David felt like he actually became Karl Meltzer, as he was elevated into a meditative state and disappeared into the white wind. Just as Meltzer, he was levitating over an impossible trail and finished the race in sixteen hours, smashing the course record and winning the Frozen Otter title without losing any toes.
Before winning the Frozen Otter race, David had gone through a rough patch in his running career. He had needed to walk about one-hundred miles in the 2013 Badwater event, thus finishing in seventeenth place. During this low moment, David thought that his days of challenging for titles were long past and his racing future was bleak. However, after winning the difficult Frozen Otter race he felt rejuvenated with a new sense of belief. David aptly notes that the victory gave him the confidence to believe that his best days were ahead of him and that he still had a bright future in these races. With this energy and a renewed sense of hope, David trained for the Badwater 2014 race with much determination and self-belief of performing well in the event.
At the time for training for Badwater 2014, David was a BUD/S prep instructor in Chicago with the responsibility of imparting wisdom to would-be and wannabe SEALS. He was to prepare the recruits on how to deal with the harsh realities that they would face in BUD/S. It was his final year of service before retirement but he still maintained an intensive training and exercise regime. David ran ten miles to work and back and a further eight miles at lunch. On the weekends, he would do a forty-mile run to stay in an optimal physical shape. This demanding regime was still not enough for David as he added a heat training component in the spring in which he ran with heavy clothing, much to the dismay of his fellow instructors. Problems started lurking when David started his taper four weeks to the race. Instead of feeling strong and rejuvenated, he felt his worst. He was neither hungry nor could he sleep at all. Upon seeing his doctor, he discovered that his thyroid was off, but it did not justify the extent to which he was feeling ill. David could not understand what was happening to him and he was worried that it was his heart failing him again as his pulse would go racing furiously even while jogging. This turn of events forced David to consider dropping out of the race, but when a doctor in Vegas confirmed that there was nothing wrong with him, he decided to move forward as planned.
In the initial miles of the Badwater event, David’s heart rate was high but he explained this away as due to the altitude. He was in a comfortable sixth position and hoped that he would use the downhill descent to reset and calm his breath. However, on the descent, his quads shredded and he could not catch his breath. David experienced severe muscle spasms as his thighs uncontrollably shook and his quads rattled as if there was an alien in them. David knew that something was wrong and he slowed hid pace and started walking to Lone Pine motel where the Badwater medical team was located. The medics assessed his blood pressure to be low but believe it could easily be corrected. David was offered some solid food, rested, and decided to continue with the race. However, six miles later, David was no better as his muscles trembled and twitched vigorously and his heart rate paced rapidly. Again, he knew that something was wrong and had to stop. With great pain and humiliation, David quit the race, as he was certain that had he pushed himself anymore he would have died. While still in Vegas, David attempted to jog one morning but he could not as his heart was in his throat and he felt seriously ill.
David’s condition worsened with each passing day. This was exasperated by the fact that all the doctors that he visited seemed not to know what was happening to him. Back in Chicago, David went to see his personal doctor who put him through a series of tests, but also came up with the same results. After much more tests, his personal doctor decided that he was suffering from Addison’s disease. He prescribed various medications but none seemed to work.
All along, David did his best to hide his condition and deteriorating health condition from his colleagues at work. None of them knew what was happening as he showed no weakness in his daily activities. However, the pain continued to escalate and he was forced to call in sick one day. While lying in bed, he looked into his troubled past and the various challenges that he had overcome in his life. It seemed that this was the end. He was dying. Tears filled his eyes as these thoughts ran across his mind, not because he was scared, but because he found clarity at his lowest point. From this point of clarity, David had a deep self-introspection and also evaluated the various mistakes that he made in his life. He recognized his rage as a point of weakness—he had scorched some people with his judgmental attitude—and it was on his bed on that day that he decided to let all the judgement go. David decided to release himself and everyone he knew from any guilt and bitterness.
David recalled how Joe Hippensteel had noted years back that the problem that he had was overusing his muscles without the appropriate balance of flexibility. Joe had recommended hundreds of hours of stretching to remedy this flaw, but David did not heed this advice. All that David was concerned with was strength and performance and he was convinced that stretching would negatively affect him. In this low moment, David started to wonder what if Joe was right all along and this was the cause of his current predicament, so he decided to try out stretching as none of the other conventional methods of healing were making him any better. With each stretch, David body ached with immense pain but he decided to stretch daily. Soon it became a routine and David even bought a massage ball to help tenderize his psoas. The more he stretched, the better he felt and his condition improved. Stretching helped David get his powers back and he continues to do it to date. Soon enough he was back to his old self and upon retiring from the military, he participated and won various races and ultras, these times managing to run with zero side effects. After retirement, David became a wild-land firefighter in Montana.
David concludes his biography by noting that he retired from the military as a Chief in the Navy in November 2015, the only military man ever to be part of Air Force TAC-P, three Navy SEAL Hell Weeks in one year (completing two of them), and graduate of the BUD/S and Army Ranger School. According to David, an individual should not be let their life be defined by the low moments but rather by their ability to surmount them. Life is dynamic and we cannot evade daily struggles. Instead, we must be ready to counter any challenge that we meet to fulfill our potential.