I’m not sure where to start this story! (Happens all the time.)
Last year? When I watched my husband do his first Tough Mudder obstacle course – when I decided, maybe, since it was coming to Buffalo in 2013, I’d do it, too?
With the Dirty Girl Mud Run I did last year? (The post is here.)
In April, when I wrapped up my ECC course and decided I could add running to my schedule without going nuts?
Or 11.5 years ago, when my first post-partum hemorrhage started my body and my health on a slow slide toward fatigue and chronic pain, so you will know this isn’t entirely about me being a badass? That it’s about getting strong again and reclaiming my self, my power? For so long, I felt like one more setback might actually break something important.
The Tough Mudder is an 11.5 mile obstacle course designed along the same lines as the one done by the British Special Forces during training. Or something like that. You can read all about it here. What it means to me is mud, fire, electric shocks, ice-cold water, and running farther than I have ever run in my life. But I paid my money. I trained. (Well, sort of. My husband said if I could run 4 miles without stopping, I’d survive. I could run 5 by the day of the event.) It dawned cool and rainy. We drove to the site which looked like this: mud.
What was I thinking? I’m glad the sun isn’t out so we don’t get a sunburn. Running that far is going to be brutal, but I’m going to do it. That Cage Crawl looks like a mindfuck. Don’t think about it. There is no way I can do the Funky Monkey bars without falling into the mud pool. Not enough upper body strength. Chicken out or do it? Do it. Walk the plank? I haven’t willingly jumped into water in a decade. 20 foot drop. Shit. Do it. Arctic Enema. Hell on earth. I hate being cold, can’t even think about it. Gonna do it. Mt. Everest. Nobody can lift me up for that one. What if…
So, yeah, we got our numbers pinned on, written on our heads, arms, and we went over the wall into the “whipping up” pen – the holding tank where one of the most inspirational speakers on earth got us ready to run. The National Anthem. And then we were jogging. In mud, rocks, mud puddles, and more rocks. Slow going. First obstacles were 15-foot inclined wood walls. My husband, Ben, lifted and Mark, our other teammate, boosted, and I dropped down the other side. Done.
It was good to have two strong guys on my team, guys who would never, ever, leave me behind. This was Ben’s third Mudder, and Mark has run several marathons. I wasn’t worried about them having trouble. I was free to obsess on my own bumps, bruises, burning lungs, 400-pound legs, etc. I kept jogging. Next obstacle was that 20-foot drop into a deep, muddy swimming pool. I’d read Don’t think about it or you won’t do it. Just jump. My husband asked me if I wanted to go first…so I jumped.
It’s not a good idea to scream before you hit water.
But at least my glasses were clean now. I did it!
Honestly, the smaller obstacles and first few miles were just bumps on the road on the way to the obstacles I feared…like the Funky Monkey bars. Which were closed! I was secretly thrilled even though the guys were bummed. Who likes failure? The bars spanned the length of an average-sized yard and they were peaked. Up one side. Down the other. There was not a doubt in my mind I would fall. We ended up getting rerouted and making our way back to the monkey bars later, when I was totally Zen from endorphins and having run at least double what I had ever run before. I did fall. And I screamed again. I felt muddy water go up my nose, and I spit it out my mouth when I broke the surface. Both of the guys made it across, and it was fun to watch them be so strong. I didn’t care about falling by that time. Lots of big brawny dudes fell, too. Those bars were slippery little suckers. (CLICK THE RED BOX BELOW TO READ TIL THE PAIN!)
Each time I saw a sign announcing the next obstacle I felt a zing. Especially for the Electric Eel. Time to crawl through mud under barbed wire with electrified wires hanging down. If I got low enough, maybe I wouldn’t get zapped. Right about the time I heard someone shout, “Stay low and just keep moving!” I got shocked on the ass. Just a little goose but enough to make me get lower and move faster. Four shocks total and I was running again. Through the Mud Mile. The Warrior Carry. Easy for me because I got carried! Then…
The Arctic Enema. You could hear the howling before you saw the obstacle. How long was the chest-deep swimming pool full of ice and water, mostly ice? I have no idea. But I knew I had to wade through it and duck UNDER the surface to get beneath a couple of boards in order to get to the other side. Couldn’t go over the boards. Barbed wire on top. Bastards. Did I mention I hate being cold? The three of us jumped at the same time, going for distance. Less time in the ice. Holy fucking shit! Move! Move! Monster brain freeze. Move! Can’t breathe. Muscles thick. Fury. I have to duck. Terror. No thought process. I grabbed the board and pulled myself under it, instinct forcing me to the other side because I goddamn well couldn’t see or think with my hair in my face and water and mud and fear all over my glasses. The woman who had jumped just before me still wasn’t out, and she was stuck. I hated her. Because this whole Tough Mudder thing is about teamwork. I put my hands on her ass and pushed up. Twice. With my dwindling might. I sensed others pulling on her, and then they were pulling on me. I heard my husband shouting at me, and I told him he was going to have to pull me out because I couldn’t fucking move. And I knew he would.
I went face first over the side of the tank and down the shallow wooden steps because getting out was more important than saving my face or keeping my glasses intact. More important than not breaking my arm. Halfway down I turned it around and got my feet under me. Then I started swearing. And running. How else was I going to get warm? Eventually I stopped swearing and started laughing. Some of the obstacles were easier than I expected, but that one was much worse. I’d run 11.5 miles again, but I’d kill a man before I’d jump into ice water without a damn good reason. It gave me a new respect for Titanic survivors. It was the purest adrenalin experience I’ve ever had in my life, probably because the other times I was kind-of dying, and this time I knew I was not.
So which obstacle was easier than expected? The Cage Crawl. The Tough Mudder site describes it like this: “This obstacle will take your fear of confined spaces and water and combine them. Flip over on your back and pull yourself across 60 feet of cage with only 6 inches of breathing room. Floating along on your back may seem like a tranquil experience, but the sense of entrapment will quickly begin to play on your mind.” And the pictures made my heart pound. The actual experience? Plenty of breathing room. Warm water, comparatively. Very relaxing. Just a simple little mindfuck, nothing to fear after all.
And then we were running again. And I was wondering where the freaking adrenalin was now. Because I wanted to walk. But the guys were running. Of course they were. Jerks. Lots and lots of people were walking by now, but…I was only planning to do this once. So I ran, as fast as I could, which wasn’t very fast, but it wasn’t walking. When it got really painful I pondered title ideas for Book Two of the Hot Nights series. That worked for a while. Still hurt. Only two obstacles left. Everest and a little Electroshock Therapy. And then someone was going to give me a friggin’ beer. The thought made me want to throw up.
I did not want to suffer the shame of spectators watching me throw myself up Everest again and again and falling back down. I didn’t want them rooting for my eventual success. I didn’t want a dozen guys yelling down to me, “Jump! We’ll catch you!” I wanted to get up that wall. I knew from watching it last year that you had to jump. You couldn’t run in mud fast enough to scale the wall. If you were tall enough, strong enough, you could jump, reach the top, and pull yourself up. All I had to do was jump high enough for Ben to catch my hand. Then he and Mark would pull me up. I took a deep breath and started running.
I got halfway up the wall and lost faith. I didn’t fall. I turned around and ran back down.
I did it again. I lost faith again.
I was afraid to jump. Afraid to fall. Afraid to fail.
I hadn’t come all this way to not jump. I started running again.
And I jumped.
I wish I could say it was easy. That I got a leg up and was on top of the wall grinning like a fool in no time. But I felt like my body weighed every one of its 145 pounds and then some. They had to pull me. Not just my husband, but Mark and another guy, too. But I finally got a leg up. I made it. And I stayed up on top of the wall long enough to lock eyes with the woman behind me, who was in the same boat I had been in. I shouted, “Jump.” I pointed. “Jump right there. They will catch you.” She jumped. I shouted again, “Get a leg up. You’ve got this.” She did. I climbed down the other side very carefully. So close to the finish line. Breaking a leg now would be tragic.
Just one obstacle left. All we had to do was run through some electrified wire, jump over some bales of hay, and they’d give us the Tough Mudder headband and t-shirt. And beer, which wasn’t sounding bad now that Everest and 11.5 miles were behind me. Mark got zapped mid-jump and took a mud dive. I don’t know what happened to Ben. I got one little love tap on the ass before I saw a huge hole through the mess of wires and I took it.
By this time the sun was shining. We staggered around drinking beer and eating energy bars, trying to decide if washing off the mud for the drive home was worth it when adding water might make more mud. Eventually we opted for the hose down, but as we expected, it didn’t help that much.
But we didn’t care. We felt like heroes. Perhaps not as heroic as the 70-year-old man who finished right after us with a broken nose, who shrugged off the blood and said, “Not the first time it’s been broken.” Not nearly as heroic as those who had served our country and were running in memory of fallen comrades. Or the mother who was running in memory of her beloved son. But heroic none the less, grateful and humbled by the strength and spirit within us and around us.
Why did I run? I ran to reclaim my strength, my spirit, but I also I ran for Ben. The man who inspires my books and my life. The man who will never leave me behind, although he might have to haul me out of ice water, up walls, and through 11.5 years of slow recovery. I ran because I’ve seen him covered in my blood, and mud looks much better on him.
Darling, I never would have done it if you hadn’t done it first, and I couldn’t have done it without you, my hero.