For Sonora CA resident Mike Higuera – 46 years young, father of 2 boys, and married to his best friend of 21 years – OCR and Spartan racing has become more than just a pasttime. After a humble entry into OCR, his upward journey and amazingly successful OCR career has been nothing short of a personal whirlwind. Balancing his work as a RN for organ donation for the past thirteen years, Mike has found a reason for racing that transcends just simple winning and camaraderie – cultivating the OCR movement and staying on the Spartan path indefinitely.
More Than Inspiring Beginnings…
My first OCR race was the 2015 Spartan World Championships in Tahoe. My son’s friend Joe, wanted to be the first person w/ Cystic Fibrosis to run a Spartan Beast and he asked me if I would join his team. The team consisted of a group of super fit, cross-fitters, a gym owner that had run Spartan races before…and me.
I was the oldest person by far at 44. I hiked and climbed but had never done any kind of OCR race. And running? Not so much. So, I read Born to Run by Christopher McDougall, believed every word, bought some minimal running shoes and drove up Sonora Pass to run on the PCT as much as I could. I SO did not want to be the old guy they had to wait for out there. So I ran.
I bought more minimalist shoes, and ran some more. I talked a nephew who is a Marine to race with us and we all met the day of the race.
Race Day…Race Day.
Crazy nervous, we started and all tried to stay together, but when some started falling off obstacles and doing 30 burpees, the rest had to keep going to stay warm. The rest is kind of a blur, but I do remember seeing my nephew lying down in the middle of the trail during the bucket brigade, and losing everyone’s food from my cargo pockets during the alpine swim.
Then it was all cold, until it wasn’t, followed by elation. I finished in 4:49:58 after only 60 burpees. I had no idea if that was fast or slow but I knew I was hooked. Two of our team got pulled for hypothermia, but my nephew finished and Joe finished. They let me put the medal around his neck. Mission Accomplished! Joe Desena was right, you’ll know at the finish line, and you’ll remember that feeling and want it again.
Mid-Life Crisis Initiated!
I turned 45 the following week and finished the year with my first trifecta after racing the Van-Vleck Super and Sprit. Flaked by my co-workers, who were supposed to race the Sprint with me, I wondered what would happen if I really ran this thing. I finished in 1:01:53, 7th out of over 4000 in the open and immediately started planning the next year of Spartan races. Thinking to myself, “This could be my mid-life crisis!”
The 2016 World Championships in Tahoe was my first Elite race. Dressed a bit more appropriately, or at least not wearing cargo shorts, but still having no real clue on proper race fuel or nutrition, we hit the alpine swim and both my calves cramped, forcing me to paddle like Little Nemo. I came out of the water, both of my feet frozen with toes pointed down and no option but to keep moving. I remember thinking it looked like a zombie movie with all of us trying to run while our muscles rebelled.
Thankfully it was sunny and downhill after the swim and the muscles seemed to be back in line before the next obstacle, a 10-foot wall. Before I jumped, I remember enjoying the heat radiating from the black wall. I grabbed the top, but the jump locked my calves so my toes were stuck pointing down (again). I got to enjoy the warmth of the wall a bit more while I tried to flex one foot to get over.
When that did not work I hooked the top like a ballerina working the bar and hung from the shady side with both feet stuck pointing down. I stretched the right foot enough to take the fall and knelt to make the left foot a deal, “you let go…and I promise not to do this to you again.” I finished in 3:59:17 after 60 burpees right at the end, totally out of gas, 21st overall and 4th in the Master’s Category.
Something I AM…Spartan.
After that race, Spartan went from something I do, to something I am. Clean eating, Cross-Fit and running became the things that I had control over and I wanted to see how well I could do. My next race was back in Van-Vleck where I earned my first Masters podium in the Sprint, taking 1st and meeting the likes of Kevin Gillotti, Rea Kolbl and Ian Deyerle. In hindsight, this was the day I discovered the reason that I race.
It wasn’t because I won, or got to hang out with amazing athletes, but because we had to come back for the awards ceremony. Before this, we would always get to the venue early, I would run, hang out a bit, then we would leave. Now we had to get back to the hotel, clean up, check out and go back to the venue. On the way back, I could not believe how many people were out there on the course, it looked like a line of ants. Then we were in a huge line of cars still coming to race.
This Is A Movement
Seeing the sheer number of people along with the diversity of the crowd, all here to find out what there is to know at the finish line, I thought, “this is not just a race, this is a movement.” And this movement is the answer to the question, “How do we fight the epidemic of diseases caused by a sedentary lifestyle and our Standard American Diet?” The challenge of OCR brought us all together and we are made better for rising up to it.
Whether we’re here to compete or just finish, we choose to eat right and exercise in preparation. When asked if he thought he would win the 2017 Spartan World Championships, Hobie Call said, “I’m already a winner just by being here, the race is just a celebration for all I did to prepare for it.” I race to be a part of this community, part of this movement. I race to feel good about myself and to test the limits of this body I’m in. I race because it really is a celebration and I’m having the time of my life.
If you’re on the Spartan path, there are plenty of ways to keep pushing your boundaries. I found mine and signed up for the 2017 Hawaii Trifecta weekend. My plan was to race the Beast, run the Super, and just finish the Sprint. I ended up getting 10th overall in the Beast and the Super, 8th overall in the Sprint, 2nd Masters in all races, and earned a coin for the 2017 Spartan World Championships. This unexpected windfall was nothing compared to the connections we made with the wonderful people you meet through Spartan. The true accomplishment was getting all three of those plaques to fit in my carry on Patagonia bag.
My goal is to stay on this Spartan path for as long as I am able. Doing what I can to make the 40-49 age group legit, while taking part in the rise of the next generation of Spartan racers. But, the real goal is to see if I can keep on running forever. So far, so good.
Images courtesy: Mike Higuera. For more, connect at @mhiguera1919