Tuesday, October 30, 2012

My Tough Mudder: Part II

A philosophy that all our fellow Mudders adhered to.
And now for the rest of the story.

At the conclusion of my last telling, we had traversed about 14 obstacles including a number of mud and water crossings that may or may not have been actual obstacles.  We had encountered three water/fuel stations including one with bathrooms (this is important for older people and those who have given birth at least once) and had stopped to wash the sand out of our shoes a few times.  One of our teammates, Suzanne, was starting to feel the effects of the cold made obvious by her shivering and her nose turning blue, and I, as our team leader (mother hen), made her put on a hat (swim cap).

Happy Halloween!
The next segment was a longer running bit during which we encountered some rather friendly characters including three young men who were trying to get into the spirit of Halloween by carrying a pumpkin and a bag of candy throughout the race.  They very generously offered us some of their candy supply as they ran past with their pumpkin.   We were taking another clean-the-shoes break and they might have thought we were collapsed with hunger and/or were overtaken by our fatigue and gray hair.  Nevertheless, we kept up with them until the next obstacle and then did not see them again until the end.  I'm happy to say that perusing the pictures of the day, I saw that the happy pumpkin carrier made it up Everest with his pumpkin.

The next obstacle was called the "Dong Dangler" and this was a cable stretched over a large pond and (thankfully) covered with a
thick plastic covering.  We were to use that cable to cross the pond by grabbing on with hands and feet and sliding our way across.  We had to wait a short time to get over this obstacle, but we had a pretty decent mud coating to protect us from the wind.

Now, I do have to stop here and be serious for a minute because as we approached this obstacle, we were passed by a lone Marine carrying a Marine Corps flag.  As he got in line, he simply rolled up his flag, place it on his belly, and crossed the water before unfurling it and continuing on his way.  As I mentioned in the last article, there were a lot of military folks at this event.  Some were there to have some fun with their friends, some were running with the names of their fallen comrades on their shirts and their bodies.  When I was checking in, a young soldier with a prosthetic leg was in line behind me.  The Tough Mudder is a fun and challenging race, but it is also a fundraiser for the Wounded Warrior Project.  One of the great things about this race is how it encourages teamwork and camaraderie between complete strangers.  We are there to support each other and through the work of the organization, support our soldiers as well.

So, back to the Dong Dangler:  A cable across a pond.  Not actually that bad, although at the middle, you were pretty much in the water again.  And, we had a bit of a back-up on my cable which meant my face got right under my teammate Mereth's muddy foot.  And yup, I got a big dollop of mud right in my left eye.  It didn't really bother me all that much so we crossed the pond and got back to running.  We probably ran another half mile or so before getting to one of the bigger challenges of the day, the Underwater Tunnels. Thankfully, just before this obstacle was water/food/bathroom station that was greatly welcomed by our team.  After a very short break, we continued on to the large pond in front of us.

The Underwater Tunnels did not look that bad from the shore.  There was a sign up just before it that encouraged people to opt out if they could not swim or didn't feel confident in the water.  The water that day wasn't freezing, but it wasn't warm either.  Being fully dressed and wearing shoes helped some as did being active, but the water was going to drain us of heat and we were about to be in the water for a little while.  As we went into the pond, it became very deep right away and I could no longer touch bottom only ten yards from shore.  This was a little unnerving, but I found that I could float easily on my back and do a half backstroke, half sidestroke to get about two thirds of the way across the pond to where the barrels were.  A few people turned back when they realized the depth of the water, one from a sudden and severe hamstring cramp.  Although there were plenty of lifeguards, the water was murky and you couldn't see much more than an inch below the surface.

There were three lines of barrels floating towards the opposite shore and our task was to go underneath of them.  The barrels were floating and had a wooden frame around them which was good because I needed to hang on to something for a second while I felt underneath of it, caught my breath, and got enough nerve to go under the water.  My friend Steve was right there with me and he went under first and so I followed him.  It was a little scary.  We went under the next set, but by then, I could touch bottom and the third set I practically walked under.  However, by now we had been in the water for five minutes and the wind was picking up.

Maxine going into the ravine.
By this time, we were eight miles into the race and had three left to go.  We were feeling pretty good, but the chill was starting to set into all of us.  We ran for probably another mile before coming to another mud crawl under barbed wire.  We then encountered a back-up going through a narrow ravine.  Getting into it wasn't a problem, but getting out was a bit harder.  Luckily, us womenfolk had some help from a group of young, well-formed, mostly naked men sporting mohawks.  I think there could be a legitimate reason to have such assistance on a regular basis, but I'd have to come up with a convincing proposal to make that idea fly around these parts.

No one ran though here.  
Once out of the ravine, we hit another extremely muddy area with a very small hill to climb.  However, this mud was so slick, it was like walking on ice.  Everyone moved very carefully through this and there was a wall of people on top of the hill pulling people up.  My husband Terry and the other guys, Brett, Todd, and Steve, all took turns pulling folks up the slick hill while us girls kept moving to stay warm.

The next obstacle was the King Of The Mountain hay bales.  These were very high stacks of hay bales, probably twenty feet high although I might be exaggerating, that we had to climb up and over.

Suzanne and Todd coming down off the mountain.
This was actually looked kind of easy, but it was not.  For me, the hay came up about chest high.  I could run, jump, and press myself up, but I only had about two feet of a ledge to get up on.  I found I had to jump, press, and quickly turn such that I was sitting on the hay when I landed.  These bales were not your standard rectagular ones either.  They were the large cylindrical hay bales that you often see sitting out in fields with a large number of cows.  There were two mountains of hay and once we got over that, we had to go over two rows of hay bales.  The first one was okay, the second one, Mereth and I had to help each other over.

Brett going for ring number two.
The hay helped dry us off just a little bit and removed some of the mud which was good because we had a bit more running to do. Just a few more obstacles left, but the next three involved falling in or walking through water.  The first one was called Hangin' Tough and it was the most challenging technique-wise, but also the most fun.  It was an overhead wooden structure with gymnastic rings hanging down.  The rings were placed singly, about five feet apart.  I don't think there were more than four or five rings in the whole obstacle.  There was a pool of water beneath us the goal was to swing across the water via the rings.  Suzanne's husband, who was watching the race with their three children, had been standing there watching for a long time said he didn't see more than one or two people make it.  But that didn't stop us from trying.  The most difficult part of this obstacle was the reach.  Unless you could get a good swing going, it was hard to get close enough to grab the next ring.  Most of us got to the second ring and most of us fell off reaching for the third.  I tried to swing myself hard enough to reach the third ring, but finally decided I was just going to defy gravity and go for it.  Note to self:  Gravity does not care if you try to defy it.  Needless to say, I went for a swim.

Suzanne being awesome.
We regrouped on the other side of this obstacle and continued to run on to the Funky Monkey which wasn't that far away.  This obstacle was a set of inclined and declined monkey bars, again, over water.  We had actually practiced monkey bars quite a bit at home, but couldn't replicate the incline.  In addition, the race organizers tend to like to add a little butter to the bars to make it more "fun".  Only four of our team members made it across:  Brett, Terry, Todd, and Suzanne.  I'm especially proud of Suzanne as when we started this training, she was the only one of the four of us women who didn't think she could do a pull-up (she could), but on race day, she was the only one of us who got across the monkey bars.

I myself found the bars to be very slippery and decided to combat that by using my incredible crushing grip strength to hold onto each bar.   What I ended up doing was wearing myself out, near the top of the incline which meant I had further to fall into the water.  So, out I swam, waited for all my teammates, and found that we had yet another water obstacle to go through.  And this one was gross.  We went from stepping through mud to stepping through some sort of mud/slime/water mixture that provided just enough resistance to make you wonder exactly what was on the bottom of that pond and whether or not there were any snapping turtles down there.  I'm sure if there were any they'd have left after the first wave, but I wasn't taking any chances.  I picked up my feet and swam my way out.

Terry, Suzanne, and Steve about to enter the Boa Constrictor.
And finally, we only had three obstacles left.  The Boa Constrictor was next and after a short run, we were standing in line waiting to go through these pipes that inclined down into a pool of water.  This was a surprisingly difficult obstacle.  The pipes were small and you didn't have a lot of room to maneuver or propel yourself forward.  Going up was even worse.  I was lucky in that I'm small enough to get my feet under me and crawl, but it was a bit claustrophobic.  It was on this obstacle that we almost lost Brett.  In the pool between the two tunnels, he got a severe hamstring cramp and had to just sit and wait while it subsided before coming back up the tube.  We were all pretty cold by then so we moved on to the almost last obstacle:  Everest.

They pulled him up.  
Everest is one of the signature Tough Mudder obstacles that I think is present at every race.  Its a very large half-pipe that you simply have to sprint up.  I'm being facetious of course.  Sprinting up an almost vertical climb after running 11 miles is no joke.  However, this obstacle was designed because it is so difficult, most people need help getting up it and it can't be done alone.  Therefore, there were a line of men and women at the top holding their hands down and encouraging their fellow Mudders to run up and grab hold.  Right as we got there, there was an epic struggle going on up top that lasted three minutes or more as the guys at the top struggled to pull a guy over the ledge.  He had lost his grip, but they didn't let go and when they finally pulled him over, the entire crowd cheered.

I don't have a half pipe in my back yard so we mainly trained for this by doing hill sprints with very high knees.  I don't know if that helped or not, but most of us made it up Everest on the first try.  Mereth opted out after two attempts, but completing the majority of the race with a sprained ankle is pretty awesome in my opinion so she gets a pass from me.

A very happy group.
After Everest was the dreaded Electro Shock Therapy obstacle and it was only a short distance from the finish line.  Its basically a bunch of dangling yellow wires charged with 10,000 volts.  There are some bales of pine straw to keep you from running through too fast and a big puddle to make sure you get the most out of your shock.  I decided I was just going to try and run between the wires as best I could and not go too fast.  And once again, I didn't get shocked at all.  My teammates weren't so lucky, but we were all so grateful to be finally done.

For hypothermia, we moved on from swim caps to hugs.
The finishing area was probably one of the best things about the race.  When you cross the finish line, a volunteer gives you your headband and directs you into a largish area that is strictly for the race finishers.  There are tables on either side where you can get your T-shirt, your free beer, and most wonderfully, a thermal heat sheet which works far better than you think it might.  We had grand ideas about hanging out after the race that morning, but by the time we finished, we were all cold and just wanted dry clothes.  So, we took our free beers (somehow the most delicious beer I'd ever had), reclaimed our bags from the bag drop (another really awesome thing about this race), put on some warm dry clothes, and started to head back to the cars.

It was a 2.5 hour drive home from the race and we were pretty hungry so we stopped at the first fast food place we came to and got some cheeseburgers.  I wish I remembered what restaurant it was, but I suppose it didn't really matter, cheeseburgers somehow seemed like Nature's most perfect food at that point in time.  I'd have eaten three of them, but I knew we had some great food waiting at home.  It was, after all, my 40th birthday celebration and my parents had planned on feeding us all on our return to Raleigh.

This evening, I'm just past the point where my everything hurts.  I finally removed the significant amount of sand in my right ear and my bruises are just now achieving their full bloom.  I plan on taking the rest of the week off from doing anything particularly ambitious, but I am already thinking about my next training cycle.  I have another Highland Games to train for in April and I might just do the Master's National Weightlifting meet in the Spring.  But, all that remains to be seen.  One thing is for sure, I don't intend to lose this running base so I will probably be keeping a once or twice a week run in the training schedule.  However, if I start talking about doing a marathon, somebody please talk me out of it.

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