Earlier this year in a fit of insane optimism I signed up for a 4-mile obstacle course called the Hard Charge. I don’t even know how I got the idea but it was probably Facebook. I’m pretty sure all bad ideas start on Facebook.
My husband decided not to partake in the festivities but volunteered to drive me and two others because he’s either a loving and supportive saint or a sadistic bastard. Maybe both. Probably just the first one though.* We arrived about an hour before our heat began so we had some time to watch a bit before our turn. The last handful of obstacles (aptly named “The Abusement Park”) are bunched together in front of the finish line so the spectators can cheer on the chargers and/or feel ashamed of themselves for not trying harder. Watching those people probably should have lit a fire under me or something but instead I was terrified because I knew that would be hard for me, especially after running 4 miles through the mud and facing all those other obstacles. Those chargers bounced over the obstacles like they were on springs for crying out loud!
Here I am right after the first charger came in:
You might think I’m smiling, but the subtext says “What the bloody hell have I gotten myself into? I think I might die today.”
I was hoping to start with my Aunt Peggy and her team, but wasn’t sure how I was going to find them. Luckily, she found ME while we were watching the first few chargers come in. Peggy informed me that they would be walking because one of her teammates had injured his knee and the other one had been up all night vomiting. “YEEEESSSSSS!!!!!” I said, raising my fists in triumph. “Oh, I mean, how terrible for them but I am so glad to hear that you are walking too.”
In case you’re wondering what we faced, click here for the website’s list of obstacles. There are a few on that list which we didn’t have, but there were also some others which are not on the list at all. This does not include the MANY muddy trenches filled knee-deep with water. Every time I thought we were done with the muddy water, we’d turn a corner and there would be another muddy puddle. Somewhere around mile 3, I was sure we’d seen the last but then I turned the corner and there was another one, and my inner Samuel Jackon screamed “I’VE HAD IT WITH THIS MOTHERF***ING MUD IN THESE MOTHERF***ING DITCHES!” (But only in my head.)
Anyway, I managed to get through most of the obstacles, though I admit I needed a boost to get over a couple of the flat walls. The climbing things were a cakewalk for me though; if that’s all they had, I would have had no problem doing 4 miles of those. Thanks to the encouragement and support of my aunt and her running buddies, I kept going and made it all the way to the end without serious injury. My Aunt Peggy is the best. If she had not been there I wouldn’t have had the courage to push myself as far as I did and I really don’t know if I could have finished.
Some things I learned from this race:
1. Wearing short shorts or loose clothing is a Very Bad Idea. It may not be the most flattering material, but spandex is the only thing keeping the mud out of all the places where people should never have mud. Embrace it. In fact if I ever do another race like this I think I will scour the internet for spandex footie pajamas. I also saw a guy who had treaded padding sewn into the knees of his calf-length spandex pants. Brilliant.
2. Register for the earliest heat available because the later you go, the more the mud has been churned up by others, which makes it even more difficult to navigate (see #3 below).
3. Tread carefully in the muddy water. If it was just water or just mud, it wouldn’t have been as bad, but when you put them together it’s exponentially worse. You can’t see the bottom so you have no idea where to step, and when you put down your foot you might be stepping into a knee-deep sinkhole or a shoe-sucking pocket of mud. After the first lengthy stretch of ditch I understood why more than one charger came through the finish line barefoot or wearing only one shoe.
4. Contrary to #3 above, If the water is very shallow (less than 3 inches deep) it is much easier to run through it than to walk. Don’t ask me why, because I don’t know. DAMMIT MAN, I’M A DOCTOR, NOT A PHYSICIST. Actually I’m not a doctor either. You’ll just have to take my word for it.
5. No matter how terrified you are, try the obstacles anyway. You might surprise yourself with your own bravery. There were a few obstacles that scared the crap out of me but I did them all anyway, even Stormin’ the Desert** which terrified the hell out of me. Even if you try and can’t finish, at least you tried! You will never regret trying, because when you conquer your fear there is nothing else like it.
6. Don’t wear expensive shoes (refer to #3 above); they will get irreversibly dirty. Make sure your shoes fit properly and tie them tight. Avoid slip-on shoes because the first time your foot sticks in the mud you will quickly learn that slip-on shoes are also slip-OFF shoes. In fact, don’t wear any clothes that you care about. We saw so many discarded articles of clothing on the side of the trail that we half expected to see a naked runner at the finish line.
7. Try to keep your mouth closed whenever possible. Trust me, you do NOT want a mouthful of muddy water. It tastes even worse than you think it will.
8. Whatever distance they tell you it is, THEY ARE LYING. According to the website this was supposedly a 4-mile race, but after I passed the 4-mile marker I still had to run at least another half mile before we even got to the Abusement Park. Also if you consider all the climbing into and out of ditches and over mud hills and over walls, it way more than that. It was probably closer to 6 or 7 miles of mud and mayhem.
9. Mud is not only an excellent sunscreen but also a really effective insect repellent.
10. It is way harder than you think it will be, but YOU CAN DO IT. I fell on my ass in the muddy water more times than I can count. A couple of times I fell on my hands and knees in the water too. I hit my head on the crossbar in the Deep Freeze tank because I misjudged how far forward I had gone under the water. I got mud in my mouth, up my nose, and on my ears. When it is all over you will be exhausted, filthy, and bruised, but you will feel a sense of accomplishment like never before. Even though that race kicked my ass, I totally kicked it right back. You know who won the fight? I DID.
Here’s me after the race, wearing my mud with pride:
See the difference? That smile up there says “I totally did that. I am one badass mama. But I am going to be so damn sore tomorrow.”
* Actually it’s because parking was an outrageous $10 per car so it just made sense to carpool.
** This was by far the hardest obstacle for me. It’s hard to tell what it is from the picture so I really didn’t know what to expect. It was essentially a large wooden platform with very shallow trenches carved out of the sand below it – just deep enough for an average person to crawl through on his/her belly, and just shallow enough to scare the crap out of a tunnel-phobic person like me. I stood in front of it for about 10 seconds, just staring at it, telling myself just to get down and do it. Then I was on my hands and kees looking through the tunnel for what felt like an hour but was probably only a few seconds. Then I was in the tunnel. Halfway through the tunnel I felt a desperate need to back out, but I couldn’t because someone else was behind me already so I took a deep breath, started to cry, and pulled myself through until the end. Yes I was crying and hyperventilating and covered in sand, but I fucking did it!