Sunday, May 19, 2013

One Tough Mudder

Apparently raising my two children isn't enough of an adventure for me.  It as led me to take on insane challenges such as getting up at 6 a.m. on a Sunday mornings to run races, ride my bike for 100 miles and now has come to driving 2 hours to a farm outside Joliet to run 12 miles through mud and obstacle courses that include electrocution and ice baths.

It all started last year when a friend of mine competed in his first Tough Mudder.  He enjoyed it so much, he thought enough to call me and tell me that I need to run the next one with him. Not sure what kind of "friend" that really makes him, but I was flattered.  He ran it with some friends who were a mixed bag of runners and determined that next time he ran it he wanted to run with someone who ran at the same pace.

Now, my dear friend Chris and I met about 8 years ago through a networking group we belonged to while I was still working.  We became fast friends as one of the first things I said to him was "Shut up!" as I gave him a smack upside the head when not only would he not stop talking, but everything that came out of his mouth was nonsense. 

Soon we learned we both had a love of running and found ourselves on the same 5k committee for the Raue Center for the Arts. When we learned we both ran at approximately the same pace, we developed a friendly rivalry. I am convinced has helped make me a faster runner knowing he is always behind me.  And I do mean ALWAYS. Well, except one time I was a pace behind him and he actually spit on me.  It was as good a reason as any never to be behind him again. I think it killed him that he could be beat by a girl. 

Over the years I have gotten to know his family and his wife uses me as a tool to diffuse his gigantic ego.  It seems it is so enlarged, it takes two women to take it on.  Being the ball-buster I am, I gladly agreed to help her out on this task. 
Despite our rivalry to keep us on our toes, it seemed 5k and 10k's were getting mundane and even marathons were really just putting one foot in front of the other.  After he asked me to join him on this adventure, I came up with several excuses not to.  Among them were washing my hair, getting a root canal and even thought about getting pregnant exactly 9 months prior to the event to get out of it.  Since I don't have any cavities, a root canal was out of the question. There is the small issue in that I had my husband fixed that prevented me from getting knocked up. 

In the meantime, I did a race called the Muddy Buddy with my girlfriend from high school, another Chris.  We decided to forego mani/pedis, shopping and lunch to do this adventurous course with some dirt, some mud and obstacles.  I think it was 5 miles and the real dirty part came at the end when we had to army crawl through mud.  She and I cracked jokes the whole way through and realized the best training for that race was playing more at the playground with our kids.  We did end up filthy at the end, but once we hosed each other off we sat and relaxed in the farm field and had a few beers.  It gave me an inkling that perhaps I could take on this challenge.

Unfortunately, Tough Mudder makes Muddy Buddy literally look like a day at the park with the kids.  It is 12 miles and has 22 obstacles.  The mud is much more prevalent, the walls are higher without pegs or ropes to help you out.  There's electricity, fire and a great deal of manhandling.

Somehow I eventually caved and agreed to take on this challenge.  Mainly because I caught wind of some guys from high school doing it, and being the competitive chick I am, signed up.

I checked out the course online the night before and both my husband and daughter feared for my life.  I ended up Googling, "What does 10,000 volts of electricity feel like?" It varied from "you will die" to "it feels like a bee sting."  The good news is my friend happens to be an insurance agent, the bad news is we didn't finalize my life insurance policy before the event.

So after all my worrying, excuses on why not to do it and general fear of the unknown, we set out to do the race.  We showed up to the event and the first thing we saw was the finish line that included large patch of mud and water with live wires hanging down that you had to run through.  You could literally hear people getting zapped and them yelling with each charge.  Despite this, we headed for the start line. Let me break it down for you by obstacle.
Obstacle 1: Artic Enema
A large dumpster filled with ice water that you have to jump in.  Then go under water.  It was one of the obstacles I was most fearful of since I learned that a 27-year old died a few weeks ago after jumping in.  Granted, he had a heart-condition, but still.  It actually wasn't that bad until the dude in front of me took what seemed like 10 years to get out.  I finally got myself up and out and gained some confidence since that one was out of the way.

Obstacle 2: Kiss of Mud

Now that we were cold and soaking wet, we had to army crawl through mud.  At least we didn't have to crawl under live wires on this one. 

Obstacle 3: Electric Eel

Oh, wait.  Here came the one where not only is there about a foot of water/mud, but this time you had to army crawl under dangling live wires.  Luckily I only got shocked twice and I barely felt it.  My confidence level was boosted another notch.

Obstacle 4: Glory Blades

Two walls slanted \ this way making it harder to climb.  I'll admit I kind of cheated on this one and used the two by fours supporting it to climb up and go over the edge/side of the board. 

Obstacle 5: Trench Warfare

Simply put, if you are claustrophobic, this one will be rough.  I am slightly claustrophobic, but usually when it involves lots of people crowding around me and stealing my oxygen.  Luckily, I was able to squeak through this one fairly quickly given my size.  I actually did squeak like a mouse just for effect.

Obstacle 6:  Walk the Plank

We stood in line for 20 minutes like they were giving away $1,000 to each participant.  Rather, we waited for 20 minutes to climb 15+ feet then jump off into cold, muddy water.  As luck would have it, I saw one of my friends from the gym and her husband ahead of me. This one I definitely hesitated on and the only way I finally jumped is because my friend threatened to push me.  I finally did it and felt incredible afterwards.

Right after I overcame my fear of heights and water.  Victory!

Obstacle 7: Log Jammin'

This one reminded me of that episode of Mickey Mouse Clubhouse where Goofy trains for an obstacle course and his friends help out.  They coach him to "go under, then over, then through."  Except Goofy didn't have to worry about barbed wire.  If you didn't pay attention to the arrows and tried to climb over a log that they wanted you to go under, you might find yourself in some pain.  Overall, this one was fairly easy.

Obstacle 8: Wounded Warrior Carry

You and your teammate(s) are supposed to carry each other across a field.  Technically, you are supposed to switch carrier/carried half way through, but I am not quite strong enough to carry a 175 lb. man, so he carried me.  A little uncomfortable seeing as he's not my husband, but we made it through.

 Please note the photo of him carrying it by himself was merely for effect. 
We carried it together up until this fabricated photo op.
Obstacle 9: Hold Your Wood

Speaking of uncomfortable sexual innuendos among a bunch of men, none of which are your husband...we had to carry a log on our shoulders about a quarter of a mile.  Good times.

Obstacle 10:  Ladder to Hell

Ladder to Hell seeing as Hell for me is anywhere above 6 feet off the ground.  Overall, not too bad except when I had to swing my leg over the top and since I have short legs it was a bit terrifying reaching my toes down to that first rung that was about 3 inches lower than I would have liked.

Obstacle 11:  Hangin' Tough

This ain't no New Kids on the Block song.  Rather rings hanging over 6 feet of water that you have to swing across...or in my case drop down after only making to the second ring and swimming the rest of the way.  Now, I'm a nose-holder and didn't think to grab my nose when I dropped into the water and that was where I gulped in some of the yummy dirty water and struggled a bit with my lackluster swimming skills.  I still made it out alive and kept running.

Obstacle 12: Fire Walker

I had several issues with this.  The first was that I realized I had to jump over a row of flames and into muddy water.  Then the smoke hit me.  I found a spot on the end with relatively little flame and just leapt into the water and up the muddy hill to get out.

Obstacle 13: Dong Dangler

I didn't know that was what this was called until I just looked it up on the event website.  I'm not gonna lie, it made me blush.  We had to hang off a hose that stretched the length of a pond and slide backwards across the water.  I was doing fine until Chris got on and my legs came off the hose.  I got my bearings and actually found that if I put my legs down and just used my upper body it was easier.  Now that I think about it, that was probably cheating, but at this point in the game...who cares.

After some of the obstacles there were long stretches of super mucky mud to run through, but this one was the worst.  I was feeling as if a torn ACL or Meniscus or Achilles tendon or something debilitating would result.  It was like the scene for "Never Ending Story" where the boy, Atreyu, gets stuck in the quick sand along with his horse, Artex.  I found it necessary to yell, "Atreyu" at least three times for comedic value.  Luckily at least 3 people got the joke. Of course it smelled like the horse Artex did his business in much of the mud we came across along with that large flying dog-like lucky dragon, Falcor and a bevvy of other farm animals.
Obstacle 14: Berlin Walls

Oh goody!   Next obstacle we had to climb up wall that is at least 12 feet, with no rope or rungs to grab onto.  The silver lining--at least 6 strange men grabbed my ass between the two walls to boost me up and then catch me.  Just a regular Saturday afternoon for Michelle Stien.

Obstacle 15: Mud Mile
See, we thought the mile we ran in the mud after the Dong Dangler was the "Mud Mile," but as luck would have it, that was not the case.  This was hills and trenches of mud and water that we had to make our way up and down.  I excelled at this one and was probably one of my favorites.
Obstacle 16: Dirty Ballerina
No, not my nickname in high school.  Rather an obstacle where we had to leap across a series of trenches of mud and water to the next patch of grass.  I had a little fear kick in on this one because I knew if I missed I would slip and truly feared injury.  Luckily, grace kicked in and I was able to leap over each trench to the other side.
Obstacle 17: Underwater Tunnels
The sign said, "Strong Swimmers Only."  In the words of Martin Short "I'm not a strong swimmer."
While I can't swim a long distance, dive or jump into water without holding my nose, I can hold my breath and go under water and swim for a good stretch.  I had to swim under 4 barrels.  I scared Chris on one set when I waited a minute to get some water out of my nose and he was waiting for me on the other side.  When he saw someone come under he thought it was me, but instead it was a guy, he got a little frantic.  Luckily I appeared a few seconds later.
Time to keep running.
We were keeping a pretty good pace on the running part and then passed a guy Chris ran with last year who said he started at 9:40 a.m.  We gave ourselves a pat on the back since we started at 10:40 a.m. 
No time to brag.  Time to hit
Obstacle 18: Twinkle Toes

Basically, this was a balance beam except if you fall off you end up in water.  I was sure that I would fall off, but the night before Tom gave me a vote of confidence and told me that it should be easy for me with all my Pilates and Core strength.  I repeated, "Core Strength, Core Strength, Core Strength" to myself the whole time and made it across!!! 
Obstacle 19:   Boa Constrictor
This one we had to crawl into a tube that slanted downward into a puddle of mud and water and then climb through another tube upwards.  Luckily, I am small enough that I could crawl through rather than drag my self on my forearms and spared some energy.
Obstacle 20: Funky Monkey
Monkey Bars have never been my strong suit and these were no exception.  I took a clue from the prior obstacle with the rings and simply made the choice to jump in and swim across that water on that one.
Obstacle 21: Everest
We had to take a running start toward a slippery half-pike and run all the way up it where several men were waiting to grab my arms.  It took me a few tries, but on the fourth try (one of which my partner failed to grab my arm) ran with all my might, got to the top, the guys caught me and the only thing that suffered was my left boob.  Good thing there isn't much there to lose, because I think I left some of it on the edge of the half-pike.

This is how I felt at the beginning of the race at the prospect of getting electrocuted.
Final Obstacle!!! 22: Electroshock Therapy

This was the obstacle we saw when we first got there, and now it was time for us to take it on.  We waited our turn to ensure we didn't get jammed up and stuck in the middle of a bunch of live wires. Finally, it was time to just do it.  I had contemplated just skipping this one, but after the first obstacle with live wires, I wasn't as scared. This final one packed a bigger punch and they were not pleasant, but way easier than giving birth.  Before I knew it I was finished and had a beer in my hand.

I felt an incredible sense of accomplishment as well as dirt and mud in places there should not be dirt and mud.  Growing up with two older brothers, I always wanted to "one of the boys."  Of course, I'm not exactly your quintessential Tomboy and have a great deal of fear for the unknown. I could barely do the slip 'n slide in the backyard, never jumped off the high dive, never climbed trees or made mud pies. Hell, I did speech and theatre in high school and didn't realize my athletic potential until my late 20s. Instead, I developed a big mouth and I've been known to talk a lot of trash. However, doing Tough Mudder allowed me to not only talk the talk (seeing as how I dropped more F-bombs during this event than I have in my entire life), but to walk the walk.  I felt extremely strong and empowered, not only because I endured the physical aspect, but I overcame the mental challenge of the course.  I learned that the only thing that held me back on any of the obstacles  was my own fear, not physical ability. 

I also learned something about my friendship with Chris.  In my life, I've always had my brothers pushing me to do more, be better and overcome obstacles.  Sometimes their "encouragement" came in the form of sitting in the stands of my little league softball games making the buzzing sound of hair clippers because they threatened that if I didn't get a hit, they'd shave my head. Seems Chris now fills this role in my life especially when he threatened to push me off the 15 foot drop.  But most importantly, like my brothers, he was also there to cheer me on, give me encouragement and give me a high five when I completed a task despite my hesitation.
Mission accomplished.
Last night a dreamt of being electrocuted and climbing piles of dirt and mud. Today I'm a little sore and I'm still cleaning dirt out from under my nails and toe nails. In fact, Maddie just informed me I still have dirt in my ear despite taking 2 showers.  I'm slightly bruised, a little scratched, but overall I'm glad I got talked into doing it.  I am a little concerned about a staph infection or a mean case of dysentery will set in, but now the question remains, will I do it again?  I have a feeling this will be a bit like childbirth, I will conveniently forget all the pain and suffering soon enough and end up doing it again.

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