Pastor finds spiritual, physical growth in obstacle racing

Pastor Bryan Fields had no idea what he was getting into when he agreed to train for a Spartan Beast obstacle race with a few men from his church. Six months later — and 20 pounds lighter — the Elloree First Baptist Church pastor found himself transformed spiritually, mentally and physically.

“I can truly say it has increased the positivity in my attitude,” Fields said. “I think participating in the race as a Christ-follower is an experience that developed me as a man and as a leader, and opened the door to new possibilities.”

Fields began training in April for the November race, which consisted of 13 miles of rolling hills and 25 challenging obstacles ranging from rope climbs to monkey bars, crawling under barbed wire through mud, climbing inverted walls and jumping into ice-cold water.

“I think it’s made me stronger, more confident,” he said. “When I first started, I was pathetically out of shape. I couldn’t even run a half-mile. It has enabled me to achieve things I thought were unachievable. Now I’m in the position to help motivate and bring others along. Being healthy will only enhance a pastor’s ministry.”

Fields and his teammates got together every Saturday to train with obstacle-specific drills: riding bikes to a location, picking up 40-pound backpacks and hiking seven miles. He said he would also run three to four days a week and do strength training. “There were days when we did 500 burpees (see note below),” he said. “That’s part of the rigorous training that prepared us.”

Fields said he saw the race as an opportunity to step outside of his comfort zone. It was a chance to set a goal and work toward achieving it with a group of friends. As he began the training, he began to realize what a challenging goal he had set for himself and embraced being able to strengthen spiritually and physically with his team.

“I started to really rely upon and ingrain in myself Philippians 4:13: ‘I can do all things through Christ who gives me strength,’ ” he said.

Fields serves on the Executive Board of the South Carolina Baptist Convention, which is supporting a pastor health initiative designed to encourage pastors to take better care of themselves physically, emotionally and mentally. He said South Carolina has one of the highest pastor suicide rates in the country.

He can see from his Spartan experience how training and competing have helped him. “It is possible to be a pastor and to be physically active,” he said. “It is possible to shed some pounds and grow as a person in the process. It is possible to set your heart to accomplishing something big and allow God to give you the desires of your heart.”

Fields said the experience was one that drew him and his teammates closer together. “We grew together spiritually,” he said. “It was just an incredible bonding experience — the feeling, the adrenaline, the sense of accomplishment at the end — one of the defining moments of your life.”

— Laura Stokes, a certified personal trainer and a contributing writer for The Courier, says a burpee is “your worst nightmare” and is a staple of the Spartan race. “For each obstacle you fail, you have to do 30,” she said. “You hop down into the pushup position, do a pushup, hop up and jump with your hands over your head.”