In order for you to truly understand what I mean, I am going to share with you a few of the obstacles we faced throughout the 11-12 mile course. Even before we started the race, we all had to work together to get ourselves over a 12 foot wooden walls to reach the start line. What you need to know about this race is that it is not about time. It is about working together as a team to finish the course and all its obstacles. In the past I have shared how difficult the k-rails and walls have been for me in prior races--weak upper arm strength is to blame. This time, while I needed help to get over, thanks to my Crossfit workouts I could actually pull myself up enough so I wasn't a complete burden on my teammates. We would meet these same wooden walls two other times along the course, only each new time we encountered them, there were two. I actually hit the side of my shin so hard on the last wall as I threw my legs over that I got a huge bruise and had trouble running for the next mile or so--no pain, no gain.
After the gun went off, our first challenge was to run straight up a mountain. Luckily, Emily had taken us on a similar course just a week before, so this was not as hard as it could have been without the training. There were a lot of walkers clogging this part of the course, but we just ran every time there was an opening.
Once we reached the top, we climbed over two more wooden walls before hitting Leslie's fear--dark, confined spaces. We had to crawl through long, narrow, water- and mud-filled tunnels that were laid under hay covered planks on our hands, knees, and bellies. They were dark, deep, and disorienting, making you feel as though you were lost underground. Physically, we were all prepared for this, but poor Leslie had to overcome her fear to crawl out the other end. Leslie was not about to let this stop her, so she sucked it up and went for it--we were a team and she wasn't willing to sacrifice the team even for a genuine fear.
The next obstacle did not seem that challenging--after all we were "just" crawling through the mud under sharp barbed wire. What we could not see was that all along the planks that the barbed wire was strewn across were hanging electric wires. We had been told that the shocks didn't hurt, but we came to realize that was a big lie. Both Leslie and I brushed against a wire that hurt like heck. Mine was so strong my muscles actually started to twitch uncontrollably. By the end of this one we were both so "shocked" that a few not-so-nice words might have slipped through our lips.
Our next obstacle was innocent looking enough. We had to climb up a ladder and jump into some toxic- looking green water. It wasn't until we got into the water that we realized that it was completely filled with ice cubes (I later learned that they had just refilled the ice before we reached this obstacle). After the shock of the extreme cold, we then found out we had to actually dive under the water and below the center wall to get to the exit on the other side. This was Karrie's killer obstacle: not only can she not stand being in icy water, but she was especially disturbed at the thought of having to submerge herself in the icy depths to get under the wall. Once I jumped in, I looked to the left and there was Karrie trying to claw her way up the side like a cat--it was one of the funniest memories of the race for me and Leslie. If you look at the picture below, you can see the look on Leslie and Karrie's faces after they surface from under the the wall--it says it all. I cannot adequately describe how truly cold we all were as we were finally able to drag ourselves over the wall at the other end. My limbs were so frozen that I could not bend them to get out of the ice water. My teammates had to pull me up until I was high enough to just roll out. And for at least ten minutes after this obstacle our body parts were tingling from the cold. It couldn't get worse, right?
But just when I thought things couldn't get more difficult, I got to face the one thing that scares me more than anything else--heights. When my oldest was a baby, we decided to take a trip to Arizona, which included a stop at the Grand Canyon. I am ashamed to admit that once we got there, I was so scared of us all falling to our deaths, that we did not stay longer than 20 minutes before I asked Sean to drive us back to our campsite in Sedona.
Flash forward to this Tough Mudder obstacle where we had to climb up a 20 foot tall platform and jump into the water below--and it might as well have been the Grand Canyon in my mind. I got dizzy, I felt sick, and I actually thought I would not be able to do this one. My teammates cheered me on, but still I paced back and forth on the platform trying to convince myself that I wouldn't die from this fall. However, I kept remembering that I had actually signed a death waiver for this race, so death was not out of the question. Finally, Emily yelled up at me that she wasn't getting out of the water until I jumped in. So I closed my eyes and went for it. I don't remember anything until I hit that water, but my teammates were sharing on the drive back to civilization that I actually kind of curled up in a fetal position on the way down (not pretty, but at least I didn't crawl back down the ladder). As I hit the water, I went down deep enough that I felt like I was never going to come back up. When I was finally able to surface again, I gasped for air, swam to the side, where I promptly burst into tears. I must be honest--I was the only one to shed tears during this race.
At this point we weren't even at mile three, and so far the obstacles had gotten progressively harder--I was starting to think they really were going to kill me off after all. Luckily, the next few miles were mostly running up and down mountains, which we had trained for. What I didn't expect was that the hills would actually be steeper and more plentiful than the ones I faced in Sedona. They threw in rock running, mud running, running through fallen branches, running through rivers--just about anything you can imagine we encountered it on our run.
There were also some really fun obstacles that we experienced. We had to climb over and under stacked, fallen logs, but actually carrying a log up and down a hill at another obstacle was a satisfying experience because Crossfit had specifically trained me for this one. On the Wednesday before the race, my Coach, Al, had us running 125m sprints carrying a weighted ball on our shoulders. It is amazing how easy an obstacle can be when you have the confidence that comes from something being familiar. I had never carried logs, but I knew I could do it because of the ball running I had experienced.
We also all loved the slippery slide they created for us to slide down the hill to Vail Lake. We decided that we would once again do this obstacle as a team, so we all held hands as we plummeted down the hill to the bottom. I would not say we loved the next obstacle, but none of us had trouble swimming to and diving under floating barrels in the lake. At this point we were now less than a half-mile from the finish line--and headed toward the final two, very challenging obstacles.
At this point, we came to a what looked like one side of a giant skateboard half-pike. It was covered in a melamine (white board) material, so with our water and mud covered bodies, it was very slippery. The object was for the first person to run up as far as possible, grab the lip, and pull themselves up. The other team members would then do the same, but the first person would help them by pulling up from the top. The great thing about this race was that even the runners that weren't on your team helped one another conquer this challenge. I am proud to say that we all made it up on the first try with the help of our teammates and fellow racers.
We could finally see the finish line about 100 feet in front of us when we reached the obstacle called Electroshock Therapy. There are hay bales dividing little mud pools, which the competitor must get through to reach the finish. The only real obstacles in our way were hundreds of live wires hanging down so far there was no way to crawl under them. I decided the way to tackle this one was just to plow through and not worry about the wires. So I took off running, made it over the first hay obstacle when I got shocked so hard that both my calf muscles cramped up, throwing me to the ground. I don't even remember exactly what happened, but Emily came back to pick me up and stretch my calves so we could run the last 100 yards with our teammates across the finish. As I look back at the Tough Mudder website, I see that the Electroshock obstacle touts some 10,000 volt shocks. I must have encountered one or more of these wires, which is why my body reacted the way it did.
What I find most amazing about this experience is that none of us could have done this easily without the help of our teammates. Leslie conquered dark tunnels, Karrie lived through the fear of icy water, and I jumped off a twenty foot platform because my teammates would not let me fail. Even Rusty and Emily had points in the race where they needed support. Rusty got a terrible thigh cramp at about mile 7, and Emily got some cramps in her stomach muscles that doubled her over for a bit. Each one of us faced adversity, but we didn't quit. We knew that we started this race as a team, and we were going to cross that finish line together--and we did.
This morning I woke up and muscles I didn't even know I had are aching. I have bruises on my legs and between my thighs from throwing my legs over the wooden walls, and after eight hours of sleep, I could still use a few more to feel fully rested. But pain is temporary, and no one can ever take away the fact that we conquered this ridiculously difficult course. We ARE Tough Mudders!