How to beat the Agoge

By Danielle Rieck

A few quick disclaimers: Agoge is my absolute favorite event. I would do one every weekend if it was offered. Ok, maybe not EVERY weekend. But A LOT. Also, they are incredibly difficult to describe. They are absolutely life-changing. They are brutal. They make you a better person. They make you go to deep, dark places you never thought you had. Then you come out the other side, have a snack, brush your teeth and start looking forward to the next one.

I could honestly write a whole series of blogs just on Agoge. And I don’t think I would even come close to the experience. Each one is very different from the next, but with the same beautiful outcome, but more, and deeper.

First and foremost, attitude is EVERYTHING at an Agoge. There are some really hard moments. Moments where you have to look into the ugly parts of yourself and decide to be more. If you come in with a shitty attitude, you will fail. If you come in open to the experience, open to the adventure, open to learning, you will be a giant success.

So, what happens at Agoge? All the things. Sometimes you ride horses, sometimes you ride bikes, sometimes you have tea, sometimes you go to Japanese bathhouses. Sometimes you carry heavy shit for so many hours you wonder if there ever really is an end. You learn survival skills, you use survival skills. You do burpees. Like, a lot of burpees. But in cool places sometimes. You walk in the footsteps of ancient monks and learn their history. You eat Japanese food in a room that smells so intensely of your feet that Krypteia suggest a doctor visit is necessary. At least one person will vomit. Several people will cry (It’s me). You will eat an MRE eight hours in and think it’s the most disgusting thing you’ve ever tried. You will eat an MRE forty-eight hours in and think it’s the food of the Gods. You will dig leeches out of a new friend’s butthole. Yes. You will. You will bleed. And not a nice, sanitary bleed. A, crap this is gross, kinda bleed.

And you will grow.

You will make friends that aren’t friends, they are truly family. Shoutouts to Team Short Bus (001), Team Awesome (002), Team 4 (003), Team International Incident (003A) and my amazing 004 team that didn’t have a name, or that I couldn’t remember the name long enough. These are the people that have such an impact on my life story, that I can’t imagine a time when they weren’t a part of it. When I go to Spartan Races, these are the people I look for.

The thing about Agoge is that the most HORRIBLE parts are the parts you look back most fondly at. And I don’t really know how to explain that. I wish I could. But, you have to be there, to have made it to the other side, to know.

I could go through and make a chronological list of the things we did at each Agoge. But that won’t help you prepare for an Agoge. The text won’t show what it’s like on no sleep, when your body is exhausted, when your brain won’t fill any thoughts except how hard life is at that moment, which is the last thing you need to be thinking, but it somehow won’t go away.

A list also won’t show how important a smile from your teammate can be. How a mildly dirty joke in the middle of a cornfield in China can have you in hysterics. How chanting Agoge can get you through a bad moment. How cuddle puddles and sharing sleeping bags and clothes and everything else can be your saving grace. Lists won’t talk about how the first time you drop your pants to pee can be soooo awkward, but by the last few hours, your team seeing you pee is the least weird thing you’ve gone through together.

When you see Agoge participants talk to each other on the Facebook, we call each other brother and sister. Because we truly are family. That’s reason enough to do one in my book.

So, with all this talk of how a list isn’t important, I’m going to write a list anyways.

Bullet points for Agoge:

  • Integrity. I’ve said it before. I mean it more now. Half-assing this event will get you nowhere. Don’t bother showing up for this event if you aren’t going to do it with integrity.
  • Choose the Agoge that is right for you at the time, not the one you think you have the best chance at “finishing”. I hear from WAY too many people that they want to do summer because it is “easier”. First off, it’s not. Nothing about Agoge is easy. But don’t avoid Winter because cold is scary. Use it as a learning opportunity. Learn what extreme weather gear is. Don’t avoid China, Japan, or any of the other travel ones because they are far from home. But also, don’t go because you think it will be a silly vacation. It’s hard work. And before the event you’re too busy preparing. And after the event, you’re exhausted. I loved China and Japan Agoges, and we saw a lot. But I’d never call it a vacation.
  • Be ready for anything. You will never know what is next. When it happens, take a breath, make a plan, execute that plan, get ready for the next thing.
  • When things are fun, love those moments. Cherish the times you get to put down your bag and have a cup of tea. Love riding horses, laugh that you are on the very largest horse. Times by the campfire that you built (YOU MADE FIRE!) are beautiful.
  • During the learning portions, use this time to listen. Take your shoes off, massage your feet, and learn everything you can from the experts they brought in. Because these people are experts and you are blessed with an opportunity to hear from them.
  • Eat. Eat so much. You need fuel. And you won’t realize how much you need until you are sad, on the side of a path and can’t get your brain to work. Someone made fun of me in China because my pockets were full of snacks, but I had energy. And if someone offers you food, eat some. That bite of gross MRE may be the thing you need. Food should never go in the trash.
  • Any chance you have to sleep, use it. Don’t spend time worrying about where the perfect spot to put your bag is, or if you should change clothes. Sleep. You don’t get to do it often.
  • Tell jokes. When things are bad. Tell so many jokes. Be that person. You’re going up that mountain anyways, might as well do it with a smile.
  • When things are bad, realize you are not alone. Because you feel alone. And you feel like everything and everyone will be better if you quit. But it won’t and you won’t. Be vocal when things are bad. Look at your team and tell them you are struggling. They will help you. And once you are past that point, you will have your chance to help others.
  • NEVER EVER use phrases like “fuck you” or “shut up” or any other condescending, non-productive phrase. This event is all about team. If your teammate is struggling, you are at fault. Breaking them down more will not help anyone. This is the number one issue I’ve seen at Agoges that tear teams apart. Things get rough and nerves get shot. Don’t fall victim to this. Be bigger, be better.
  • Don’t be afraid to lead. Don’t be afraid to follow. Everyone will get their chance. If the mission is building a shelter, and you don’t know how to build a shelter, this is your chance to follow. If the mission is riding horses, and you are a four-time champion horse breeder, now is your time to speak up.
  • The Krypteia and medics are on your side. I know sometimes it seems as though they have it out for you, and after a while, you may dread the sound of your name. And you may often wish that you could just blend in with the trees, or at least the crowd for just a few minutes while you break down. But, I know personally that they want to see everyone at the end. That’s the goal. But there’s no point in getting to the end if you haven’t been pushed, if you haven’t been changed. So, that’s also their goal.
  • Don’t go for the medal. This is bigger than a medal. If you are going just for the medal, don’t bother showing up. You can buy a much bigger, much sparklier one on Ebay. There was so much controversy about China and who got what and why. You know who didn’t care about the medals in China? The people that were there. If you asked 98% of the people there, they would say the experience was amazing and they got everything out of it and they can’t wait to go back. I would argue that none of us are the same people we were when we arrived in Beijing. We are all much better, with or without a wedge. And I love that.
  • KNOW YOUR WHY. I can’t stress this enough. If you don’t have a deep purpose for being there, when things get tough, you won’t make it through. I’ve seen it. God knows the Delta has personal importance to me, but your reason has to be more than “I need this for my Delta”. And I’m as competitive as the next, but your why can’t have anything to do with anyone else. This is your journey. And it has to be deeper than “I want to challenge myself”. Ask yourself why you want to challenge yourself. Look into that question and you’ll find your why.

So, why should you do an Agoge?

Everyone has their own reason for doing an Agoge. It’s a very personal journey. And, each Agoge can have a very different purpose from the next.

You won’t be the same person you were when you arrive.

Agoges are tough. They will break you down. You will want to quit so many times. But if you don’t, if you make it through, you will forever be a better person.

The best way to learn to handle adversity is to go through adversity. If the hardest thing you’ve ever gone through in life Starbucks screwing up your order, when life hands you a bunch of shit (as it will, eventually, at some point), you won’t know how to cope.

Agoge is about learning to survive, learning to cope, learning to take a deep breath and handle situations. You discover what is really important in your life. You learn about your value and worth.

There are three different concepts that always roll in my mind after an Agoge (watch out, I’m going to go a little deep here):

  • There’s the concept of the Overview Effect, where, when astronauts view Earth from space for the first time, there becomes a cognitive shift in how they view the world and their place in it. Suddenly, Earth is not a big thing, but a small blip in the universe as a whole. The world as they know it, is now much bigger.

Agoge has that same effect, (on a smaller scale, I’m guessing, until Agoge Moon happens (Get on it Joe). You learn who you are as an individual is less important than the impact you make on the world as a whole.

  • There’s also the Butterfly Effect. Where, when people discuss the hypothetical idea of traveling back in time, there’s always the concern that they shouldn’t change even the smallest thing, in fear that it would change big things in the future. But people rarely take the time to think about how even the smallest changes they make in the present day might change their whole future.

Agoge makes you think about this. What small changes can you make to change your future? What decisions are you making today that might make your future easier or more difficult?

  • Finally (and hopefully less new-agey and crazy sounding), there’s the idea that you are the average of the 5 people you spend the most time with. If your circle of friends are complacent, and are happy just sitting on the couch watching the latest episode of The Bachelor, that is where you will be in life. But, if you surround yourself with warriors, with people who do amazing things, people you are in awe of, you will become one of them.

And that is my favorite part of Agoge. I’m now part of a family of people who believe I can do things, when I’m not sure I can. I’m better because of the people I’ve met through Agoge.

Anyways, I hope you’ve enjoyed my blog series. Or at least found it not awful and decent reading while you were in the bathroom (because that’s when all the important reading happens), and maybe even learned a thing or two somewhere in there.

I look forward to seeing everyone at future events!