Have you ever been really afraid to do something awesome, or just didn’t believe you could?… and then you did? That happened to me this past weekend.
Tough Mudder is a twelve mile long obstacle course with twenty-four obstacles modeled after British Special Ops training, designed to test your physical stamina and mental grit. A Facebook friend had posted pics of herself doing it and after watching a bunch of videos, I caught the bug. I signed up partly because I wanted to prove to myself that if my friend could do it, so could I. I mean, how much could 10,000 volts of electricity hurt, really? But honestly, my main reason for signing up for Tough Mudder is that I thought all that hard core training would make me skinny. I would have no choice but to lose a ton of weight!
In February, I put out a general Facebook invitation asking if anyone wanted to do Tough Mudder with me, and began training immediately.
People volunteered and backed out, new teams were split from ours, but on race day, Saturday, December 1, our team had six firm members. We were a motley group:
1) Me: Age 33, insecure, ten pounds away from “overweight,” bad joint issues (especially my knees), but determination out the wazzoo, and training consistently. No phobias to speak of other than aliens, and fortunately that was not one of the obstacles. NICKNAME: “Grunt” (Because I’m a noisy exerciser.)
2) The Hubs: Age 35, hardly exercises, but is one of those annoying people who loses weight by thinking really hard about it and is back in shape after only two workouts. Doesn’t train consistently and claims he will “just go around” any obstacle he “doesn’t feel like doing.” Which makes me want to slap him. NICKNAME: “The Antagonizer” (Because he is one.)
3) Kim: My neighbor. Around my age, Asthmatic and terrified of heights. Tae Kwon Do expert, aerobics instructor, tiny but freakishly strong, endurance and stamina out the wazzoo. NICKNAME: “Gazelle” (The only difference between how a Gazelle runs and how Kim runs is that Gazelles eventually get tired.)
4) Joel: Kim’s husband. Around my age, similar to Hubs as far as ease of getting into shape, supremely confident about handling any obstacle, looking forward to wearing his Vibram Five-Fingers to run the event. NICKNAME: “MacGyver” (Because he likes to fix things with paperclips, rubber bands, and chewing gum? I have no idea.)
5) Mark: My mom’s husband, a decade or so older than I am (I know, I know, high-fives for my mom), former paratrooper, natural athlete, makes anything athletic look easy, no fear at all. Hardly trained for the event. NICKNAME: “Grandpa” (Because he’s proud to be one.)
6) Other Mark: Joel’s friend from work. I don’t know this dude other than that he barely trained and enjoys sleeping outside. NICKNAME: “No Eye Deer” (As in: “What do you call a deer with no eyes?” or alternatively, “Why the heck are you running Tough Mudder???”)
We called ourselves the Motley Mudders.
|No Eye Deer, Gazelle, MacGyver, Grunt (me), Grandpa, The Antagonizer|
The first obstacle of Tough Mudder was the traffic. We left that morning expecting to arrive an hour and a half early, and ended up sitting in traffic for over three hours, with both kids in the car – thank God for DVD players – so we barely made it in time to run the event. Then when we finally parked I almost forgot my knee braces and temporarily lost my gloves and just about had a minor panic attack, shrieking “How’m I supposed to do the monkey bars without my gloves?!?”
When we were almost to the registration tent (at least a half mile from where our car was parked), the Hubs realized he forgot his I.D. and had to run back for it. It was chaos and mayhem. Thank God for my mom and Katye (my other neighbor – there for support, photography, and to drive everyone home when they were too exhausted and weak to press the gas pedal), because I seriously might have hyperventilated. I told my mom, “See? This is why I can’t have another kid.” I was so frustrated with the Hubs because he kept asking me “Do you have my such-and-such? Where’s my such-and-such?” Argh! I don’t freaking know! Take care of yourself please!!! Plus I was already so nervous and I’m extremely high-strung and bitchy when I’m nervous. But take note: Before we even began Tough Mudder, the Hubs had already run at least a mile.
Anyway, we finally made it. But we cut it so close that when we were in the holding area, they told us we were the last group to go. We later found out that they let two more groups go after us. I think maybe people were threatening to mob them or something if they didn't let them run. These people are serious about exercise, ya hear me? Freakin’ serious.
My mom and Mark (“Grandpa”) had T-shirts made with our nicknames on the back. Thick black cotton ones. I almost decided not to wear mine because the day was so warm and I didn’t want to be bogged down with heavy, mud-laden cotton. Kim changed out of hers right away; she was absolutely swimming in her size medium (whoops). Mark was so sad because he wanted us all to be the same, so I agreed to wear mine in place of my super-cute purple dry-wick tank-top that I had just purchased. *sniff*
Oh and by the way, that holding area I mentioned two paragraphs up? You have to climb over an eight-foot wall just to get into the holding area. You have to climb a wall before you even begin the course! These Tough Mudder people are not messin’ around. The Hubs was still pinning on his bib as we inched forward, awaiting our turn to go over the wall. I was holding the pins for him and handing them to him as he worked. He had three of the four already fastened and said, “Where’s the last one?” and I snapped at him, “I don’t know! You’ll just have to make do!” And after I got over the wall and into the holding area I realized I had the forth safety pin in my mouth, clenched between my front teeth! I had yelled at him and climbed an eight foot wall without realizing I’d had a safety pin between my teeth! That’s how crazy nervous I was.
|This is how you get into the holding area. (That's Kim, a.k.a. 'Gazelle')|
Once we were in the holding area this motivational speaker dude gave us an awesomesauce pep-talk and we prayed and sang the National Anthem and saluted the veterans and jumped up and down in time to Eminem’s Lose Yourself, which is totally the perfect song for that moment when you feel like you’re going to pee yourself and you’re beginning to wonder what the hell you were thinking signing up for this shit in the first place. At one point the dude had us take a knee and asked us to think about the reasons why we would do something like this. Charity. To prove something. To bond with our spouse or friends. Fitness and good health. Or to do it out of love for someone else, someone who can’t run it themselves. During this talk someone jumped up shouted “FUCK CANCER!” and I quietly joked, “GAH, my kids are right behind us, but yes, definitely do fuck cancer.” I had to make a joke so I wouldn’t cry. The whole thing was seriously moving.
And once our knees were good and sore from kneeling, it was time to go conquer Tough Mudder.
I have to tell you about each obstacle, because I need to write it all down while it’s still my head. Details have a way of getting fuzzy with the passage of time, and I just can’t let that happen. So this post is as much for me and my Mudder teammates as it is for anyone else. But please do come join us as I recount our adventure…
1) Kiss of Mud #1: About a half mile in… we had to crawl on our bellies through the mud under barbed wire. Nothing scary about that, really. They just wanted to get us dirty. Piece of cake.
2) Underwater Tunnels: A deep lake, and we had to walk down into it and swim under big barrels in murky water. The water was cold. Some people were freaking out because it feels like you could get stuck under the barrels, you couldn’t feel the ground to push off of, and the water was cold and dark. I lost my breath because of the cold, and almost lost a contact lens. We all made it through pretty easily, overall. The hubs rolled around in the mud on the other side of the lake to be funny (it was funny) and regretted it about ½ mile later when his shirt was heavy with crusty mud.
3) Log Jammin’: Climb over a 5-foot-high stack of logs, then roll under a log that is about 18 inches off the ground. Over, under, over, under, again and again. This was physically challenging, but no fears to conquer, and overall a pretty fun obstacle.
4) Mud Mile #1: Up a slippery muddy hill, and down the hill into a sloppy ditch of mud-pudding, over and over again. Good thing we all had our shoes tied tightly; some people were losing their shoes in the mud. My foot got stuck at one point and I had a moment of panic that I wouldn’t be able to get it out. There was no place to grab for leverage because everything was so slippery and slimy. This is the first obstacle that really covered us head to toe in wet mud. No worries; we had an opportunity to wash it off about a half mile later.
5) Arctic Enema: A longish dumpster filled with ice water, with a two-by-six board covered in barbed wire across the midpoint so you’re forced to duck your head under the frigid water in order to escape. You can’t change your mind and jump out over the side because each dumpster is sandwiched between two large trucks. Everyone is terrified of the Arctic Enema, and it’s probably the most talked about obstacle of Tough Mudder. I’m a total sissy when it comes to cold water, so I had my doubts about this one. But I told myself before I went in to all of this that I would attack every obstacle without hesitation. The six of us lined up and prepared to jump together and someone started to count to three. I looked at that icy water and knew that if I thought about it one second more that I would chicken out. I screamed “I GOTTA GO!” and threw myself head first into the dumpster, seeing everyone fall in after me. I came up on the other side of the two-by-six gasping for air. My muscles started to freeze up but my mind was sharper than I could have ever imagined it would be! I sucked in a huge breath of air, pushed off the bottom as hard as I could, and grabbed the other end of the dumpster. I have NO upper body strength, but you gotta have a little to push yourself up and out of that thing. So I don’t know how I did it and at the time I was oblivious to how the rest of my teammates were doing, but somehow I managed to throw one of my legs over the side and roll over the edge. I heard someone yell “Careful, it’s slippery!” and I snapped to attention and realized I was sitting on a ramp with little cross-boards nailed to it as foot-holds. I made sure to hook my heels on the footholds and inch down without killing myself, all the while screaming some variation of “fuckity-fuck I fucking did it I did it I did it I fucking did it!” I ran a few yards with icy toes – it felt like every centimeter of my feet was being jabbed with needles – and I remembered about how when a person gets hypothermia, all their blood rushes away from their extremities and flows toward their vital organs as a survival mechanism, which means your feet and hands are the last to recover. That stupid T-shirt I agreed to wear was like a leaden jacket of ice so I ripped it off, knowing the Florida sun would warm me and I would soon feel my toes again. I carried the shirt for several miles and got sick of it after a while. I threatened to throw it out but the Hubs said no, that he would carry it for me.
(I still have my T-shirt.)
6) Mud Mile #2: Just like Mud Mile #1.
7) Boa Constrictor: Two narrow culvert pipes. One going down into a two-foot-deep puddle of mud soup, the other going up, slippery as hell, with only a rope to pull yourself through. Fortunately I’m small enough that I was able to get on my hands and knees and use the rope to keep me from slipping. This obstacle is much harder for those who are large or tall. I still had my knee braces at this point and they actually gave me a little cushioning, so I feel like I cheated a little. Oh well, I still ended up with bruised knees. Around this time, I took my first Gu. https://guenergy.com/ Stuff is awesome, yo.
8) Cliffhanger: A very steep, slippery hill. We didn’t have any trouble with this. So many people had gone before us that there were footholds dug into the hill going up, and long downward ridges on the downside from our predecessors’ butts. It was a slide made out of mud! Weeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee!
9) Berlin Walls #1: An eight foot wall you have to climb over. Then just when you think you’ve conquered it, you turn around and see another wall that you have to surmount. No foot-holds. A few people are strong enough to jump up and push themselves up and over, but most need help. Other Mark, a.k.a. “No Eye Deer” is like 6 feet tall (maybe taller) and was a lifesaver and a total beast on this obstacle. He either lifted or pulled almost all of us over that damn wall. Except Mark (Grandpa) who just hops over everything like it’s a little twig lying on the ground, and the Hubs (The Antagonizer) who somehow managed to get over by himself after giving me a leg up, and we caught him on the other side. A lot of people were banging their knees really hard or twisting their ankles on the way down. I chose to go over at the wall’s seams, where the two-by-six support beams stuck out at a 45-degree angle. I used those two-by-sixes to help myself climb up, and I recommend this technique for anyone who is like me and has like zero upper-body strength. The guys had to catch me on the way down. We were all a little concerned one of my knees would go out.
10) Electric Eel: Reason Number One why I have to do Tough Mudder again. They cut out two obstacles in the interest of time, because of how late we started, and this was one of them. You have to slide under electrified wires on muddy plastic. An electrified slip-and-slide, if you will. I won’t be satisfied until I’ve laid claim to this obstacle as well as all the others.
11) Hold Your Wood: Reason Number Two why I have to do Tough Mudder again. You have to carry a giant piece of lumber or a big log over a specified distance. I feel so slighted that I didn’t get to do these two obstacles.
12) Lumberjacked: This was really hard for me. It was a big thick log suspended about five feet from the ground and you had to find a way to get over it. Like the wall, a lot of people needed a leg up. I wanted to do this by myself, but couldn’t get enough height on my jump to get on top of the damn thing. I ended up using the supports to boost myself over, but I did at least complete the obstacle without help.
13) Mud Mile #3: The same as the other Mud Miles. After this, I tossed my knee-braces aside. There was so much mud that the Velcro was no longer holding. May you rest in peace, knee-braces.
14) Ballshrinker: This was a thick rubber wire suspended over a lake and you’re supposed to hold onto it with both hands and wrap your ankles around and hand-over-hand across the lake. This was easiest for light people because the heavier folks pulled the wire down into the water and ended up submerged. I was just light enough that I was able to shoot myself across that lake in no time at all and it was nothing but a good ol’ time. Actually, I think I’d like to install one of these in my back yard.
15) Walk the Plank: Another obstacle that scares the crap out of a lot of people. It’s a 15-foot-high platform and you have to jump off of it into murky water below, which they tell you is 14 feet deep, but you just can’t be sure, because the water is so damn murky! Gazelle was freaking out because she’s terrified of heights and has asthma, and of course no inhaler with her, but she got up there. I had told her I would push her, but the wild look in her eyes told me I’d better not try. She would have drop-kicked my ass right then and there. Plus, I had my own fears to contend with. Before the Hubs and I got to our turn, I told him, “DON’T HESITATE.” I felt that if I hesitated, I might not do it. There was a lady at the top of the platform who was controlling the flow of jumpers so that people weren’t jumping on top of one another. When it was our turn, she reminded us to swim as fast as we could after we jumped so that we wouldn’t get landed on. Between those words and making the mistake of looking down those 15 feet (plus my own 5’4” height) I felt a huge surge of fear and adrenaline. In fact, I’m feeling that same surge again as I write this. I reiterated to the Hubs, “DON’T HESITATE.” Then the lady said ‘three’ and we jumped. And I almost shit my pants. Like, literally, had to squeeze my butt-cheeks together and sort of wiggle around to make sure I didn’t really shit my pants. I was all good, praise Jesus. I swam as hard as I could, kicking my heavy, muddy shoes and scrambling up the edge of the water hole, turning around to see how Gazelle was doing. She was still up on the platform deliberating and looking all freaked out and we were all screaming at her from shore to jump, but she retreated and circled around to us from behind the platform, wiping angry tears from her eyes, MacGyver consoling her and all of us telling her not to worry about it. She’ll do it next time. I know her; she won’t let it beat her. I’m glad I didn’t push her, because it will mean a lot more to her when she does it by herself… next time.
16) Berlin Walls #2: One foot higher than the first set of Berlin Walls. A tiny bit scarier, but we’d already practice by this point, so we conquered these with confidence.
17) Kiss of Mud #2. Same as the first Kiss of Mud.
18) Mud Mile #4. We’re getting used to this, now. Around here I took my second Gu, but gave half to the Hubs, because he had only brought one. Found out later he “didn’t like it and threw it away.” Grrrr.
19) Wounded Warrior Carry: Carry your buddy for I-don’t-know-how-far. It seemed really far. The Hubs carried me first – piggy-back style – and I know it was hard for him. It was such a nice break. Then it was time to switch, and I carried him. He jumped off of me after a while, feeling sorry for me and worrying about my knees, but I was proud to have carried him as far as I did. Bonus: When he climbed off of me I felt as light as air!
20) Trench Warfare: Long, narrow, zig-zaggy, pitch-black underground tunnels. If you’re truly claustrophobic, this obstacle would suck giant monkey balls. Luckily, I’m not. I thought it was fun and jokingly told the dudes in front of me to not fart, please.
21) Funky Monkey: I get warm fuzzies now when I think of this. (Or maybe those are cramps…) I had watched all the Tough Mudder videos where people fall off of this greasy, spinning, incline-then-decline sick parody of the children’s recess structure – the monkey bars. Underneath, there was (what else?) a pool of muddy water. I am mindful that, even though I’ve been training since February, I have very little upper body strength. So I planned ahead, and even practiced at the playground (where other moms looked at me like I was a crazed lunatic), to pull my legs up and hook my ankles on the bars ahead of me to give me an extra hold and to take a little weight off my arms. Grandpa crossed the monkey bars like he was an actual kid going across regular, un-greased, non-spinning, level monkey bars. Or so I hear. I was too self-absorbed to notice what anyone else was doing. I should probably ask the others how they fared. Before it was my turn, I watched the Hubs splash into the water as he slipped off the fifth or sixth rung. People were falling left and right. And who am I to think I can do it? I’m a nobody! Plus I was already sooooo tired from having run eleven miles. I wondered if I could even do it. If I should even bother trying. I determined I would try it, and give it everything I had. I used my abs to pull my lower body up, hooked my ankles over the bars, and started ‘walking’ across. Foot, hand, foot, hand… I had made it all the way up the incline when my arms started to tremble with fatigue. My hands became especially weak, thanks to all those years of viola playing and babying my wimpy little hands. Tendonitis, carpel tunnel, repetitive stress injury… I have the wimpiest hands ever. I dropped my arms and hung upside-down for a second so I could wipe my slimy gloves on my pants. I began the decent down the monkey bars and almost lost it. I had to change my hand-hold so that I was using my wrists to hang on, flexing my biceps to keep my body up. At one point my ankle got stuck. I finally wrenched it free, and as I neared the end I heard the Hubs screaming, “YOU’VE GOT IT! YOU’RE THERE!” and I turned and looked beneath me, but I was still mid-way over the platform and if I slipped I would fall and land on the edge of the platform right on my back. I needed one more rung to be safe. By this point I was really living up to my nickname, “Grunt.” Beyond grunting, I was screaming in agony and determination. I had a momentary flashback of labor, how you get to that moment when you think you can’t, know you can’t, but you know you have to… and then… you do. And I dropped my ankles off that last wrung and the Hubs caught me and hugged me and squeezed me and lifted me up and spun me and told me how amazing I was, and I was ugly-crying because I couldn’t believe I had really done it. He knew how much I wanted to conquer those damn monkey bars, because I’d been whining about it for the last three months. He has this glow of admiration in his eyes now when he looks at me, a look that hasn’t worn off even though the event was three days ago.
|That's me being awesome and doing something I didn't think I could.|
22) Balls to the Wall: After the Funky Monkey I made some jokey comment about how there’d better-damned-not be any more obstacles involving arms, and what should I see as I round the bend but a giant 15-foot wall with knotted ropes hanging down. To ‘help’ us get over the wall, I presume? Ha-ha. Hilarious. And then I surprised the crap out of myself and scampered right over that thing. There was a rope on the other side too, so we could repel down. I’d like one of these in my backyard too, thank you.
23) Everest: OHMIGOD. It’s a quarter-pipe, y’all, a greased one. You have to run as hard as you can, and jump when you get to the top, and pray you either land on the top or that someone will catch you. I was so freakin’ tired by this point. I had a serious thought that it was futile to even try, and I might as well walk around. But again I had the follow-up thought that I would give it everything I had (left) and go all out, one good shot. I didn’t let myself think about it anymore after that. I slammed one foot after another into the ground, pushing off and pumping my arms as hard as I could, and – in slow-motion, it seemed – ran my tired ass up that quarter pipe, jumped with all my might and stretched my arms out to Grandpa and MacGyver, praying to God that they had better hand-eye coordination than I did. Not only did they catch me, but I didn’t even have to slam into the quarter-pipe while dangling from their arms, as so many other Mudders did. I managed to hook a foot at the top of the ramp and they pulled me right over on the first try. In fact, I think we all made it up on our first try.
Sweet, sweet victory. Well... almost.
24) Electroshock Therapy: On the other side of what first appears to be a pretty little pergola with delicate, leafless yellow vines hanging down over an absurdly muddy puddle, is the finish line, the coveted orange Tough-Mudder headband, a T-shirt, and A BEER. The problem is, that structure is not a pergola, and those are not vines. They are wires, and at the end of each one is 10,000 volts of electricity. I hesitated on this obstacle more than any other. But I saw my teammates darting through, bravely pushing aside the wires, twitching tellingly as they did so. The Hubs made eye-contact with me and bolted into the wires. That was it. I cast aside my fears and ran after him, doing what I had practiced a thousand times in my mind. Push the wires aside, like you’re parting the clothes on an over-stuffed sales-wrack. GO, GO, GO!!!!!! BZZZZZZZZZZZT!!! WHAT THE FUCK I THINK I JUST GOT SHOCKED!!! DID THAT REALLY JUST HAPPEN?!?!?! GO, GO, GO!!!!!!!!!!! And then I was out – I slammed into the Hubs and he picked me up and spun me around again and we jogged together, just a few more yards… and crossed the finish line together.
|These are not vines. They are LIVE WIRES!|
Tough Mudder turned out to be so much more than electrocuting myself just because I was envious of my Facebook friend. And I’m not skinny now either, by the way. I’m exactly the same weight as when I started except now I can do man-pushups. And I feel amazing. Incredibly sore, but amazing nonetheless.
And I can’t wait ‘til next year.
That's all of us. Read those signs carefully.
(They say, "REMEMBER, YOU SIGNED A DEATH WAIVER")