Friday, September 13, 2013

Mud, Sweat, and Beers

So, here's the tally:

Dirt? Bruises? Dirty bruises!
Bruises: Countless, including a nice electric-wire-zapped one on my inner arm and a large, impressive mystery bruise on my shin/calf
Scrapes: Multiple, including a roughed-up shoulder and the aforementioned shin
Sore muscles: All of them. All the muscles.
Exhaustion: Complete and all-encompassing
Triumph: Like nothing I've ever felt before!

You guys, Tough Mudder was awesome.

My three roommates and I awoke in darkness at 4:30am after a late night of anxious packing and fitful sleeping. I could hardly eat -- I think I managed to choke down a hardboiled egg, some of a banana, and a protein drink, but it was tough to fit any food in a stomach full of angry butterflies. Our house was the meeting point for most of our team, and by the time 5am rolled around we had a caravan ready to depart . . . until the minivan carrying 7 people got a flat tire. (At least it was at our house!) After shuffling into new vehicles, we were finally underway.

We spent the next few hours discussing the order of the obstacles and our various strategies and concerns, peppered with the occasional "oh my god you guys, what are we doing" and "hey look! lightning!" We pulled in early around 6:30am and were suddenly swept up in throngs of spandex-clad (or cutoff jean shorts, for one team) people of all shapes and sizes looking tough and excited.

Our numbers drawn on and wristbands attached, we stopped by the free "mohawks for charity" tent (no, I did not get one -- maybe next year) and then climbed our first obstacle: a 6- or 7-foot wall that would corral us into the starting pen.

Kilts optional.

After a pumped up intro by the MC, the massive cannon sounded and we were off! Since we were in the first wave, we had a nice pristine field ahead and only a few early morning spectators as we jogged the first mile or so to obstacle #1!


After belly-crawling through mud underneath strings of barbed wire, more running, boosting each other over some walls, and more running, we reached the first truly anxiety-inducing obstacle: the Electric Eel, where you belly-crawl through shallow water under dangling live wires. (All of you think I'm crazy right now, I know. You're probably not wrong.) Despite my valid concerns, I tried not to think about it and slid in when it was my turn, and -- OW! -- shrieked as I encountered my first wire.

I think "delicate slither" accurately describes what I'm doing back there.
Crazy or not, I made it through with "only" a few minor shocks and was gratefully pulled out by one of my teammates at the far end. We stuck around to cheer and encourage the teammates and strangers behind us, then posed for a triumphant group picture before the 16 of us separated into smaller groups based on our running abilities. Shortly thereafter, we passed a sign letting us know we were at the 5k mark and "would be done right now" if we had signed up for a shorter mud run. But ours was only beginning, with push ups, lunges, bear crawling, steep hill climbs, and giant round haybales to vault/leap/scramble in the next few miles.

Go team!
As we reached the first "mud mile" -- a stretch of muddy hills and trenches -- somewhere around the five mile mark, the ominous dark clouds that had been hovering in the distance finally reached us, and as we shook muddy grit and stones out from our shoes and headed out again, from the sky came heavy, sideways rain. I happen to enjoy running in the rain, but it was coming down so hard and on such an intense angle that I started wishing I had goggles just to protect my contacts from washing out of my eyes! It was still pouring as we reached an obstacle intended to be a jump over two stretches of fire and into a deep pool; for our group, we jumped through smoke over some nice warm logs. The pool on the far side was much deeper than intended, and my left calf seized up as I hit the cold water and hauled myself out on the other side. Ah well, only six miles to go, right?

Our faster teammates had a few flames left, at least!
This was a fun one, actually - not as claustrophobic as I feared.
The rain did not let up at all, and soon I was shivering in my tank top (the weather said 87*F and scattered thunderstorms!) as we approached one of the obstacles I feared the most: the "Arctic Enema," a jump into a tank of freezing water. The best part? You have to submerge completely underneath a half-wall before you can emerge on the other side. Brrrr!

Once again, I didn't stop to think or agonize when I got up on the platform. This was one of the most unusual (and best!) parts of the Mudder for me -- I like to overanalyze and stress about things and I definitely stall when I'm nervous. Not here. When it was my turn at each of the obstacles, I went. I seemed to be stuck in this great "The only way out is through" mentality, and despite physical aches and pains, I never mentally "lost it." It was a really cool state of mind to experience for me, and one I hope I can tap into again.

Not me, but I shared her sentiment -- plus, it was still raining when I went through!
Though our Team Captain (who happens to also be my boyfriend) and I had intended to stay with the tail end of the group for the entire event -- which, as a weaker runner, wasn't a problem for me -- we apologetically picked up the pace after the next obstacle, two ten-foot-high "Berlin walls" that left me shivering harder and turning blue as we came down and waited for our teammates on the other side. A few jumping jacks and some sport beans helped, but I needed to run to get my body temperature back up. The going was tougher now. We were around mile 7 or 8 and the temporary drizzle had turned back into strong, driving rain. My right hip flexor, sore around mile two, was now insistently reminding me that it had been a long time since I'd traveled so far on foot. My calf cramp flared any time I tried to jump. I pitifully scrabbled at the wet hay bales, no longer able to charge but instead needing a boost through the mud and rain. Despite the pleasure of realizing I had more jogging left in me than I thought, I quietly acknowledged to myself that I wasn't having quite so much fun at that particular moment.

These were much more fun this first time, pre-rain!
But we were at least 8 miles in; we had less than 4 to go. And it had to stop raining at some point . . . right?

We waited for the rest of our group at the next hydration station, idly noticing the golf-cart-ambulance light flashing a short distance away and hoping everyone was alright. But as the rest of our group arrived, we recognized a bandana on someone standing out there with whoever was down -- it was one of our teammates. Worried, my boyfriend and I took off again. Even though the cart was a short distance away "as the crow flies," the course's path wound around quite a bit, and we must have had nearly a mile to go. One obstacle, a high jump down into a water pit, was closed because of lightning, and we didn't wait, instead running on ahead through heavy mud.

We caught up to the "middle" group and checked on our teammate, who had bad muscle cramping and a sore leg that he was struggling to walk on. Fortunately there was no damage, but he was done for the day and got a ride back to the finish line to cheer us on. The amazing part of Tough Mudder, though, is that it isn't a race at all -- and all of us, my teammate included, were still proud and excited for how far he had made it. 9 miles is still quite the accomplishment!

There were now only a few obstacles and a few miles left. My boyfriend and I joined up with two other guys who had been the "middle" group of our team, just in time for the partner carry -- and luckily, one of those guys was the second-lightest on the team after me. I stumbled through a piggy-back ride with him halfway, and then we switched and he took off! The rain was letting up and we were starting to taste victory as we passed the 10 and 11 mile marks and closed in on one of the final obstacles: the "Funky Monkey."

Some of those monkey bars are greased, too! 
I'd already known that I wouldn't be able to manage this one. I'd be okay on straight monkey bars (I think), but exhausted, wet, covered in mud, and on an incline/decline, it just wasn't going to happen. I feebly reached for the second bar out and had no grip strength on the muddy, greasy bar. With resignation, I dropped to the water and awkwardly swam to the other side, cheering on my teammates. My boyfriend made it all the way and my partner-carry teammate had only a few rungs left when he slipped. It was impressive to watch!

Hopefully this will be me next year!
We had half a mile left, and the best part? The sun came out. It had been nearly four hours, and we were so ready to reach the end. But three obstacles remained: the "cage crawl," where you swim on your back through muddy water right underneath a low chain link fence, and two of the most infamous Tough Mudder obstacles: Everest and "Electroshock Therapy."

Instead of being claustrophobic, this was kind of relaxing to drift through.
Many people struggle to make it up this one, but the enthusiasm and assistance of those at the top is just fantastic.
I was exhausted and in no shape to sprint when we reached Everest. But, as with the other obstacles, when it was my turn I charged ahead, not thinking about the spectators or the mechanics or when to reach -- I just ran. I slid back down on my first attempt, but again made eye contact with one of the guys at the top, who nodded and motioned to me to try it again. I gulped and took off.

And suddenly I was grabbing his hand.

I have absolutely no idea how I made it high enough. We came back to watch our final teammates' endeavors later and so many people failed over and over, sometimes connecting fingertips but inexorably sliding back again and again. I wish I could see a video of me getting up there. I can still hardly believe I did it.

I dangled awkwardly after grabbing on, too exhausted to try to pull myself over the top. Someone grabbed my other hand and my boyfriend hooked me by the shoulders, and the three of them hoisted me, grateful and gasping, over the edge. I made it.

There was only one obstacle and perhaps 50 feet between us and the finish line now . . . and definitely the most feared. We had to run through mud (and over mud hills) amidst countless dangling electric wires. Faceplants were commonplace here. Honestly, I was more afraid of falling than the pain of getting shocked -- I am terrified of falling in an irrational way. (I'm barely over five feet tall, it's not like I'd have far to go.) In solidarity, my teammates linked arms with me and we marched forward, facing it together.

I don't know that I had the courage to pick through -- or charge through -- on my own this time. Yikes!
I'm normally a quiet person and I don't like to be loud or draw attention to myself, but we've learned that in tough lifting CrossFit workouts, I will absolutely roar, shrieking in pain/determination/pain/defiance/pain. And oh, did I unleash the full power of my vocal cords on this one. I got shocked a number of times, and it hurt -- but we stayed together, me roaring in the middle, and we were through.

I shakingly and triumphantly remarked that I felt as though I had just done 15 espresso shots. A mix of exhaustion, exhilaration, electricity (literally), and triumph were coursing through me. I have never done anything like this before in my entire life. And yet somehow, here we were in the finally sunny noon heat, getting orange headbands, t-shirts, beer (I sadly skipped mine in favor of water) and cheers from family and the teammates who had finished before us. WE DID IT!

You guys, it was absolutely incredible. It may have been long, cold, muddy, and challenging, but it was also full of adventure, encouragement from teammates, cheering from spectators, and badassery. I can't even convey the physical exhaustion and emotional high we felt as we stuffed our faces with energy bars and high-fived enthusiastically, cheering on the last of our teammates and brandishing our orange headbands proudly.

I have definitely never been so sore in my entire life as I was on Saturday, Sunday, and Monday. (Maybe even Tuesday, too.) But I can say -- without a doubt and only a tinge of nervous anticipation -- that our team, and several more friends convinced by our crazy pictures and stories, will be at it again next year.


I would add, "I will not wear cotton" and "I will have a blast!!"


  1. Sucks about the rain but you did it! You should be very proud of yourself! :)

    1. Thanks! The rain just made it more of an adventure :)