TOUGH MUDDER 2015
There were many reasons for me to skip out on the Central Florida Tough Mudder. I hadn't trained worth a damn. Our team, twenty people strong in January, had dissolved to just me, Charlie and Maddy by November. And on the morning of the Mudder, my one-year-old son, Cooper, woke up wheezing severely with a terrifying cough. He needed medical attention. But Maddy, who'd shelled out $150 and made the trek to Palm Bay, needed another Mudder. After some discussion, we decided Charlie would take Coop to the doctor himself and I would add "feeling like a crappy Mom" to the list of things that would make this endurance challenge even more challenging.
It was a typical Florida fall day – 87 degrees and humid by 9am. We arrived at the site with a few minutes to spare before our heat. Hundreds of Mudders strode about, bulging with muscle and purpose. They lunged. They sunblocked. They wrote their bib numbers on their foreheads without using a mirror. It was a sea of compression socks and sleek workout wear, the kind that makes you look like you're wearing the exoskeleton of an alien warlord. By contrast, Maddy and I looked like two gals who'd taken a wrong turn on their way to the YMCA.
But lack of wardrobe coordination was the least of my worries.
I'd studied the course earlier in the week. It was 11.5 miles long with 19 obstacles, only a handful of which looked like they wouldn't kill or maim me. My plan was simple: if it involves crawling, falling or plunging, try it. If it involves climbing, scaling, or supporting serious weight (including my own), skip it.
We headed toward the Warm Up Zone, passing a series of motivational signs along the way. "The time to turn back was before you registered." Up on the stage, a muscled, tattooed emcee led us through a series of stretches, imploring us to bend deeper, jump higher, get some air goddamn it. Finally, as the heavy metal song blaring through the speakers reached its crescendo, he released us to the starting area with a roaring "GOOOOOOOO!!!!!!"
We ran toward the big black archway that marked the beginning of the course and a single goal crystallized in my mind.
Get to the end in one piece. Even if it's on your knees.
WE AIN'T HEAVY, WE ARE MUDDERS
I began by immediately hurting myself on the little wall you have to climb over to get to the start line. This is no mighty obstacle. It's around six feet tall, with generous footholds to help you scale it. They probably put it there just so people can start the challenge with a little boost of can-do confidence. But I somehow managed to bang my calf–hard–on one of the steps. As my leg began to swell and darken, reality sunk in.
Holy crap. Some of this shit is going to HURT.
The thought was strangely comforting. I crossed the start line bruise and all, and away we went. Maddy and I had resolved to run at least a little bit between each obstacle, but it wasn't long before our brisk jog became a brisk walk and we settled into the back (but not the back back) of our heat. The pace didn't bother us because according to MC Tattoo, "Tough Mudder isn't a race. It's a challenge." After about a mile, the challenge rose up for real.
Skidmarked is a ten-foot wall angled toward Mudders. With gravity and physics working against you, you're supposed to "work as a team to ultra-boost each other up to the Mudders hanging down from the top." In my mind, that sort of teamwork was reserved for people wearing matching sweat-wicking shirts with inspirational sayings such as "Cry on the inside. Like a winner."
Maddy and I had filed this obstacle squarely in the "skip" column. But, just as we were sneaking by in the passing lane, the perkiest Asian girl I've ever seen in my life (and I know from perky Asian girls) popped into our path.
"Do you guys need help? We can help you!"
"Umm, I don't know...it's just me and her," I said, gesturing to Maddy. "I don't think we can really make it."
"Sure you can! You're smaller than me, and I did it!"
Sure, we were about the same height, but she probably weighed about 100 pounds soaking wet while I was still carrying two babies worth of extra weight. But she would not be deterred.
"Tim! Tim! These girls need help! Let's give them a boost."
Before I knew it, Tim, tall and wiry and wearing an earnest smile behind his hipstery brown beard, was down on one knee before me. Something told me denying an ultra-boost was a Mudder faux pas, so, mortified as I was, I stepped into Tim's cupped hands. He managed to lift me a few measly inches before I lost my balance and fell back down to earth. We tried again. And again. I was ready to quit, but God bless Tim and the girl, they just didn't know how to quit me. She came over to my other side, and as the couple double ultra-boosted me from below, a voice boomed down from above.
"Give me your hand."
I looked up to see two giant arms reaching down. They were attached to a bald black guy so buff that, had he told me he played pro football by day and danced for Cirque du Soleil by night, it would not have surprised me one bit. He grabbed hold of one of my hands, but I was still too far from the top to pull myself over. So I hung awkwardly, suspended between my three saviors for what felt like forever.
"Your leg! Give me your leg!" the black guy commanded. It was terrifying. But if I was going to trust any total stranger to pull me up a wall sideways by an arm and a leg, it was going to be this guy. I did as I was told, and before I knew it, I was straddling the wall. Tim and the girl beamed at me from below and the black guy put his mighty hand on my shoulder. "You good?" he asked. "Ready to keep going?"
It felt like what I imagine being glamoured by a vampire feels like. Their will, their power, their majesty simply takes over and does the thinking for you. "Yes," I said. With that, he leapt to the ground, never touching the tires that mere mortals use to descend the wall.
GETTING DOWN & DIRTY
By the time Maddy scrambled down from Skidmarked, something had clicked in our minds. We'd been baptized by mud. Reborn under the chiseled wings of our fellow Mudders. We hit the course with new vigor, ready and willing to try anything. Well, most things.
We received the Kiss of Mud. We went Balls Out (turns out Maddy has more powerful balls than I do. Who knew?) We slid through the Birth Canal, waded through the Mile of Mud, crawled through the Devil's Beard, plunged into the Arctic Enema and got Shawshanked, which is a lot more fun than it sounds. Or looks.
We tried to jump from a platform to grab a trapeze bar that swung you out to ring a bell before you dropped into a pool twenty feet below. I came nowhere near the trapeze bar and Maddy just screamed before falling straight down, but the King of Swingers was one of our favorite obstacles of the day. We even bumped into the Asian girl and Tim again at the Warrior Carry, where Mudders take turns carrying each other across a stretch of uneven terrain. Maddy and the girl tried to carry me at first, but my weight, their height difference, and Maddy's uncontrollable laughter thwarted the attempt. So the two girls carried each other, Tim and another guy carried me, and at the switch point, in a flash of gratitude, I offered to carry Tim. All six feet, one-hundred and seventy pounds of him."Let's do it!" he shouted. So I did, moving as fast as I could with so many extra inches of limb attached to me. I wavered a bit at the end, but when a couple of Mudders at the finish line saw us and started yelling "Don't give up! Don't give up!" there was no way I could.
We didn't try everything though. I bypassed Cry Baby, a chamber filled with "a safe tear-gas like substance" (I have asthma and there was a warning for people with respiratory issues). We both skipped the Berlin Wall and Ladder to Hell – the wait was long, the walls were high and we were sick and tired of climbing at that point. And no ultra-boost in the world would get us through Liberator and Funky Monkey, both of which forced you to rely on your own upper body strength. So we walked around these obstacles just like we'd planned, but now, instead of saying "no way," we said, "next time."
EARNING THE ORANGE
It was pouring rain by the time we arrived at the final obstacle, Electroshock Therapy. All that stood between us and our orange Finisher headbands were hundreds of electrical wires dangling above three pools of mud and hay bales. An Army Ranger stood at the entrance, yelling at any hesitant Mudders to "suck it up, put your head down, cover your face, and GO!"
We'd heard from a couple of veteran Mudders we'd met that some shocks felt like "a little zzzzzt" while others felt like "getting hit with a baseball bat." The reactions we observed seemed to support that. Some ran straight through unscathed. Others crawled, suffering the occasional jolt. A few fell flat on their face and laid still for a horrifying instant before dragging themselves the rest of the way through.
"I don't think I can do this," Maddy said. And she didn't have to. A few miles back, we'd agreed to hold ourselves to five obstacle passes. She had one left, but because I'd skipped Cry Baby, I was all out. "Maybe skipping for medical reasons doesn't count as a pass?" she offered. But as I watched the Mudders sizzle and flop, I knew what I had to do.
You made your poor sick baby go to the ER without you. You better goddamn give it your all.
I sucked it up, put my head down, and went. Went about three steps that is, before getting absolutely flattened. I wouldn't say the jolt was painful. It happened too fast for pain to even register. One second I was running, the next I was face down in the mud with hay in my teeth. I forced myself up and kept going. Okay...little zap here, little zzzzt there...FUCK! I was knocked off my feet again, and that one hurt. But I got up and kept moving. I'd seen plenty of people fly through this thing on two feet, what were the odds that I'd get three–BAM!
I'm pretty sure I blacked out for a split second. When I came to, I was clutching a hay bale, my body submerged in mud from the waist down. From where I wallowed, I could see smiling volunteers waving black swag bags at the finish line. I could also see three more feet of wire waving a few inches above eye level.
Even if it's on your knees.
I crawled through the final stretch, praying for the Mudder gods to spare me a fourth assault. They listened. Five hours after climbing that first tiny wall, I climbed out of the mud at last. Maddy and I grabbed our victory bags and pulled on our orange headbands. We were soaked. We were filthy. We were invincible.