This is a long post. My apologies, and go get a coffee. I’ll wait…
Ready? OK. Settle in, y’all, and click the spacer for my recap of Tough Mudder Toronto – Spring 2013.
The course map and obstacle list is here: http://toughmudder.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/04/13.15.11.ON-Spectator-Map.pdf for y’all to get some perspective on what we did.
This has taken a couple of days, so it is in snippet form. I may jump around a bit as I put it all down…
I was standing at the start of the path that lead up to Walk the Plank. Wet, frozen, muddy people streamed around my husband and I as I stood, almost uncontrollably shaking from the cold, staring at that 15 ft platform, hearing the occasional splash as a body would somersault into the murky, 3 to 4 degree water.
I was in tears.
This was why I was here. This was what I had worked so hard to overcome.
But if I jumped off that platform, there was a good chance I would not complete the course. Hypothermia was a real possibility, foil blankets were not being handed out unless you needed to be seen by a medic. I had to decide. DO I do this and risk being too cold and needing evac, or do I go around and finish strong? My husband held me up, talked me through it, told me there was no shame in going around it. He hugged me hard. A cold, wet, clammy hug. He was just as cold.
No shame. No judging. No less of a warrior if I go around, right?
I felt absolutely devastated inside as we continued on past the obstacle, half our team skipping it in the name of staying somewhat warm, and finishing upright. With a wind chill offering a near 0 degree celcius temperature, we switched from feats of bravery to surviving and trying to get through the course without seized muscles, blue lips, and bonks.
I blurted out through my tears, as we continued away that “Everyone is going to be disappointed that I didn’t jump.” I think the effort of the day in the cold was finding all my insecurity buttons and pushing them.
Reefer Truck, Oh Reefer Truck, How I Despise Thee
Arctic Enema, was, I guess you could say, where I faced my fear of water and it was successful. The obstacle is thus; Climb up a ladder. Stand at the edge of a dumpster filled with extremely cold water, either cooled by ice floating lazily in the neon dyed liquid, or by circulated water from a refrigerated truck (which we think is how it was so cold with not one cube of ice to be seen). Jump. Scream or swear. Duck under a board, then out the other side. Swear some more and do a funky chicken dance to warm up.
Our water was a muddy orange colour, and I remember there was barbed wire above the boards. My husband and I held hands, I steadied myself, closed my eyes, and jumped.
The water was over my #$^%ing head. I had to frog-swim in the damned dumpster, with all my clothes on. My husband, who was in the same $%&^ing water as me, stayed with me as I ducked under the boards. I was able to stutter “Get me out of here” once to the other side as I could not get purchase on the plastic-draped side of the dumpster to push out of the water. I was not tall enough. He literally lifted me, baby-seal like, onto the edge and I half rolled and climbed out.
*^&% it was cold. I did not warm up until Kiss of Mud, which was a crawl through mud under barbed wire. I had to fuel two obstacles in, because the cold of the water sapped me completely, and as I went up the hill after the obstacle, I felt my vision getting blurry and my head feeling light. A gel shoved into me (without water), and I immediately cleared, albeit still 100% cold and soaking wet.
Zaps? What Zaps?
The Electric Eel was one of the easiest obstacles for me. I kid you not. There were people freaking out on the entrance side, worried about the pain of the tiny wires dangling into the crawl lanes. I saw one girl ugly crying as a team mate tried to pull her in, telling her it would be ok. I heard random loud screams and bellows as folks got the end of a wire on a muscle.
I had a memory flash to the first time I touched an electric cow fence, remembered how brief the pain was, the shock being more of a muscle spasm than anything else, and slid in.
I realized I could hands and knees crawl this thing when I situated myself (being short has its advantages, just not in a dumpster of water). As I crawled through, I kept waiting for that *thud* feeling of a shock hitting my shoulder, arse, or head.
I was hurrying more because my knees were telling me how pissed off they were to be mashed against cold ground. My quads were upset because *^%& we were in water again and it was %^&$ing cold. My head was down, I was simply crawling along, arse in the air, breathing in cadence with my arms and legs, and then I was done. I stepped out, dripping.
Cows are pussies.
Mud in my Ass
Mud Mile is a series of trenches dug into the ground, filled with water. The trenches are thigh deep for most folks, or waist deep for me. The earth from said trenches are piled up between them, rocks and all. So the rhythm of the obstacle is climb, slide, splash. Climb, slide, splash. Repeat about a dozen or so times. This obstacle is a favorite, since it is muddy, and not difficult to complete, just a grind.
I was enjoying this obstacle, actually having fun, warming up from the effort despite the icy cold plunges. About the fifth mogul in, tag-teaming with my husband so he could help me heft up onto the next climb, I felt cold hit the skin on my bum. More than just water, seeing as how I was already soaked. I felt back.
A giant, gaping hole greeted my hand.
&^*%. Are you serious? I had ripped my pants sliding down the last mogul. I got immediately angry and tearful. What else could go wrong? I stood there with my husband, debating on whether I should finish the obstacle. I didn’t want to make the tear worse, I did not want mud down my pants, and I was ^&*$ing MAD that my wonderful, favorite CW-X pants were now useless. Thank GOD I was wearing underwear, and it was black.
How the ^&%$ was I going to complete the second half of the course with a massive hole showing off my dimpled butt? I was embarrassed and pissed off all at once and for a moment forgot I was cold.
I deeked to the side, trying to calm down, while my husband monkey-flew through the last of the obstacle to get to the other side, the rest of our team, and our Mudder Moms. He then sacrificed his warmth for me by giving me his shorts to wear, and I held them up with my SPI Belt full of gels. On we went, me feeling embarrassed, mollified, apologizing to my husband who was now just in his run tights.
But at least my ass was covered. When I finally got undressed in the change tent, I had mud in a place where no one should have mud. Let’s leave it at that, ok?
Fear of Heights
I was almost to the top of Balls to the Walls when I realized my legs were giving out. I could not lift my leg to the next rung. It was spasming. I looked down.
The shock of hitting the ground from that height echoed in my head as I contemplated what I should do. With my husband beside me, I slowly climbed back down, onto wobbling legs, and calmly walked around the wall to the other side, trying not to cry.
I did not even try the Berlin Walls. I was cold, tired, and with 12ft of wall x 2 to get over, I was shocked at how much I did not want to do them. I hadn’t exactly given up, but I had let my fear of falling win. I had given into the worry of dangling off the side of a 12ft wall, with 6 ft of drop.
Snapping ankles or femurs was not on my list of things to accomplish this past weekend. I am sure there would be someone to help me down. I was silly not to try. But my fear won, and I stayed firmly planted on the ground, shivering and cheering on my team mates to heft over.
Those walls really wobble back and forth, fyi. It was not comforting to see my husband and friend sitting on top of the wall, facing one another, hefting my other two friends up and over, having to shift and wiggle with the wall.
I still have shivers thinking about how high they are. Insecurity button #432 got pushed, right there. Don’t let anyone see you fail or be afraid, so don’t try.
The man that gets us started on course is a genius at his job. Also? He has a megawatt smile. You cannot keep a straight face when he smiles at you. I dare anyone who does a Tough Mudder, and who meets him, to try.
When Tough Mudder HQ hired Sean Corvelle, they found a gem and they should never let him leave. Like, ever. http://seancorvelle.com/ is his own web page, but seriously, check this out: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kNxYZzFRtVA , and http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SAmEAGcbAQE – that was exactly like our start box. Despite having to kneel on gravel, I was so pumped by the time we shuffled ourselves out of the start box, I likely could have lifted a car.
His high five as we left the start box was a highlight. I had to jump to reach his outstretched hand, since he was on a ladder. I felt bad ass.
The cage Crawl was a water obstacle closer to the end of the course. It was in between a few obstacles on a boggy, long, muddy stretch of the course. I felt like a dairy cow meandering up the field paths in Spring, nonchalantly chewing my cud, squelching mud out between my cloven hooves with the boredom only a cow can exude. At one point I may have mooed just for fun. (what is it about cows this past weekend? Maybe my steak on Saturday night was that good…)There was no going around it, you just had to wade through the sometimes knee deep muck. This is a mud race after all, right? Ugh.
It also smelled heavenly… NOT.
I did this obstacle, oh yes I did. I was getting tired of going around water obstacles, getting tired of being a wimp, and I felt I needed redemption for not doing Walk the Plank. Besides, this was floating on your back, how hard could it be? I can do that! My face is out of the water! I don’t have to swim, I can propel myself by hauling on cages! Yes!
This is a video of a Cage Crawl from another event: http://contour.com/videos/watch/tough-mudder-cage-crawl – Now remember, it had been raining. Also, this was in the lowlands of the mountain and the smell from the mud and spring ground was intense. Remember I was &^*%ing cold, and %^&$ing tired.
I had to duck under the front, and went all the way under the water just to get my head in under the wood frame at the edge. I came up sputtering, and bonked my nose on the chicken wire cage. As I began to panic, I realized I was stuck, I had to finish. (At this point I did not know all you had to do was stand up, the cages are not fastened down. Likely a good thing.) So I said this: “Breathe you moron. Breathe slowly. Look at the sky. You have to do this.” Then it was breathe, hand, hand, breathe. Breathe, hand, hand, breathe. The float was easy, but the close confines of the cage and the coldness of the water was excruciating. I was employing all my calming tactics, and when I got out the other side, someone (I think my husband) hauled my ass out of there, back into the wind. Brr…
But… I did it! I completed Cage Crawl, which is a new obstacle for this year, and a complete mind fark more than a physical challenge. I felt a bit better about myself at this point, and happy to have accomplished at least one obstacle that others found too scary.
But, as I had been all course, I did chastise myself. If I did this, why couldn’t I nut up for the others?
I shook it off in favour of Just. Keep. Moving. We wanted to be done. Nothing else mattered. We had a few obstacles left, and by the time we got to Boa Constrictor, I was shivering again. My husband simply steered me to the pass-thru lane and said “I am not dragging you across the finish line.” or maybe that was another team mate. I wasn’t sure at that point.
I didn’t resist. I simply stood there, numb, waiting for my team to slither out the other side so we could Just. Keep. Moving.
Tough Mudder Toronto Spring 2013 was unbelievable, if you want to sum it up with a word. I crossed the finish line on my own two feet, with my team, got my orange head band, and I am still sore and a little numb. I am also trying hard to feel I deserve the head band. Perhaps a post-event blues of some sort is holding on, or I am still working through some of my emotions discovered out there on the course.
Now before you get all up in arms saying “YOU DO DESERVE IT!!!!!” and slap me, hear me out, please. My expectation was that I would complete most of the obstacles. I was going to do my best to nut up and be what the Tough Mudder attitude expounds.
Face all fears. Challenge yourself.
I ended up going around half the obstacles in the race. Half. I was very disappointed in myself, and in the weather that was wreaking havoc on my body and mind. I found all my old insecurities. I found all my old fears. I found several new ones I didn’t think I had. I defeated myself as the weather battered me, and I do think the weather had a huge part in my ability to believe in myself.
Anyone who has done a polar bear dip knows how cold can affect you, right? Well, on this course, there were eleven water obstacles where you were submerged in more than ankle deep water (ditches, or crawling, or landing in 4ft deep pools that were really more because of the rain… etc). Eleven quasi polar bear dips, including the really cold one, the Arctic Enema, which I did do (and should have skipped, in retrospect).
Eleven. In weather where most folks would be wearing toques and insulated jackets to go get groceries. Oh, there was also two areas of man-made snow we had to trek through. Brr…
In total, I completed 11 of the 22 obstacles, and attempted 13. I completed: Glory Blades, Arctic Enema, Kiss of Mud, Electric Eel, Cliffhanger, Hold Your Wood, Dirty Ballerina, Trench Warfare, Wounded Warrior Carry, Cage Crawl, and Electroshock Therapy. I attempted Balls to the Wall. I did not finish Mud Mile.
I went around Funky Monkey, Fire Walker, Walk the Plank, Berlin Walls, Underwater Tunnels, Smoke Chute, Boa Constrictor, Everest, and the Greased Lightning obstacle had been closed by the time we got to it, so we couldn’t even attempt it. By the time we lined up at Electroshock Therapy, and Clinton asked me how my course had gone, all I could croak out was “Oh. My. God.” which made him laugh, and that made me smile since I enjoy Clinton’s rolling dialogue at this obstacle. My legs were shaking, my left hip was having sharp pain with each step, and all my energy was gone. I was done. I felt defeated. One last run through the mud to the finish line, and I could collapse.
We lined up, I counted us down, and we leapt to a run through the wires as a team. That was phenomenal to feel, the rush of adrenalin into my tired, beaten up and shaking body overwhelming me until we were on the other side.
I could not have gotten through the course without my four other team mates. Seriously. My husband, his best friend, my longtime “let’s do something nuts” friend, and his best friend waited for me when I was slow, hauled me over walls, high-fived me, laughed at my wardrobe malfunction (yes, it was funny, I’ll admit it after the fact) and basically kept me going. Also? Best Mudder Moms ever kept up with us, made sure we ate and drank, and took some great photos.
As we crossed the finish line, I didn’t collapse, I simply staggered through the throngs of tired, zombie-like folks, got my headband and t-shirt, was handed a Builder’s Bar (that got eaten in three bites) and looked around at everyone else who (I hope) looked and felt just like me. Of course, they were out of foil blankets. (Dear Tough Mudder HQ. This is Canada. In SPRING. Bring more foil blankets, folks.)
But… As we made our way to the bag drop, I felt the sun come out, beating on my back for the first time since 9 AM. Heaven. I warmed up within five minutes. I even drank half a beer! Me! Drinking beer! It was the best beer ever. Also, I had the best cheeseburger ever from the food stand. I may have eaten it in three bites. Ok, four.
At some point as we all ate, rested, drank and chatted, I spied a cement block, beside an ATM machine. I lowered myself onto it, and cocooned myself. No talking, no breathing hard, no shaking. I was changed into dry clothes. I was in dry shoes. I was not moving.
It was shocking how good it felt.
The mind%$&^ that is this race is incredibly debilitating. I was not prepared for it, and even my husband had not mentioned how much mental %^#@ you go through. Maybe he doesn’t… who knows.
So when I was sitting on that cement block, shoving the world away for a few moments? I let the tears come.
In the End
It took us over 5 hours to complete the course, which from talking to other groups afterwards, was the norm for groups sticking together and slogging it out. We were far from the only group to skip obstacles, and far from the only group to rationalize not going in water in order to stay upright, and moving. There was a higher DNF rate, from what we were told, from the early groups. We saw so many people simply sitting on the side of the paths, wrapped in the foil blankets they eventually started giving out, shivering, huddling in groups, eating food brought to them by spectators. I saw at least ten ATVs taking people out, wrapped in blankets, and two on stretchers with neck braces. from all repeat participants, this year was extremely harder than last August.
Even my husband said so.
Will I do another one? Not until I am in much better shape. I will never do one if there is any chance the weather will be cold. Given the amount of water on course, and how my body (and mind) handles cold, that would be a recipe for disaster, and not very much fun.
Am I proud of myself?
I want to be. I trapsed 16k up and down a %^*$ing mountain, sliding through mud, carrying logs, crawling through tunnels and electricity. I did do something amazing, even if I feel as if I only did half of what was expected of me. This was the hardest thing I have taken on since starting running again last year. This was also a huge mental challenge to get through, more than I ever thought it would be. So in some ways, I am really proud of myself. In others, no I’m not. My expectations did not meet the reality of the day, and I will shake it off, but that might take a bit.
I will be ok though. I completed it, I experienced it.
Tough Mudder puts on one hell of an event, and I want to say how impressed I was by the well-oiled machine (despite lack of foil blankets) It was easy to figure out where to go, the shuttle busses were on time and efficient, and there were no parking or traffic woes (and was free because we carpooled!). Safety seemed to be of utmost concern at obstacles (likely because of this: http://www.runnersworld.com/races/man-dies-after-tough-mudder-race) and folks actually cared if you were ok. The staging area was just miles more organized this year. Thumbs up there!
Now if only they could strike a deal with Mother Nature. ❤