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Saturday, April 21, 2012

I survived the Rugged Maniac


I think. I did exit under my own power, what little I had at that point. One thing was crystal clear: I am not ready for Tough Mudder. Fortunately, TM is a few more months away.

I arrived about noon for my 2:30 wave, and somehow managed to park near the event, not at the five-mile-away parking lot. This was probably because I ignored the signs and followed my GPS instructions. Upon checking in, I dropped off my bag and stepped away to tie my RFID into my shoe laces. Kneeling down, I crunched an unseen piece of gravel with my left knee. That was the first, and definitely not the last, time I used vocabulary unbecoming a gentleman. Following that, a couple of Army guys made my acquaintance. I don't know why, but I'm glad they did because they briefed me on the structure of the course. Although that information didn't give me any edge, it did give me some piece of mind.

I had some time to kill, and I killed it by searching the crowd for my running companion. Lots of black hair, a camo tank, and some kind of tutu. I never saw her. Apparently, she was waylaid by the bus schedule, and I wound up entering the ranks all by my lonesome. Now, the thought of running alone was not the issue. It was the thought of facing some of the obstacles alone that worried me, and so I found myself calling upon my week-long leadership training session at CCL. I would create a team by exerting leadership as needed, or to phrase it more according to Ms. Scarlet: I was going to cast myself upon the kindness of strangers.

So off we went, the mat at the start beeping as I stepped upon it. An hour later, the other mat would beep again, but with far fewer people around me. The trail started on a motocross track, and we encountered the humps to start with. Steep ups and downs. Then came about 50 yards of some very sticky mud. It was sucking off shoes right and left. Mine tried to pop off, but a little shift in stride kept them on.

Then came the tunnels, tunnels underground, with a 90-degree turn, tunnels with no light, tunnels with gravel, tunnels too low for me to crouch in, tunnels that wanted me to crawl on hands and knees, which I did. I'm an obliging man at times. The shorter fellow behind me was, probably, wishing I'd go faster. We both agreed the dark tunnels sucked.

Now, we face water, water with big floating things. We can go over or under. I went under to keep better footing. That worked until the last one where someone had dug a hole just for me to slide into as I went to stand and breathe. Being the good guy I am, I warned the fellow behind me. He was about to go over the top, and that'd been quite the surprise as he landed some three feet lower than expected. He thanked me, and then went another way.

Climbing out of the pond, I took off down the forest path. Along the way, I found the root left just for me by the designers. That was the only time I fell. Yes, I paid extra for that special obstacle.

By the way, I'm not describing the obstacles in order. I do not remember the order. There's a reason for that.

Oh look! Barriers! The short ones, I stepped over. Yes, I stopped running, walked up to the barrier, and then stepped over it. The taller ones were about waist height. I just bounded over them with two hands and a twist. Yes, I was still fresh then. The 10-foot barriers were in the third mile when I was less than daisy fresh. They only had a single step. Earlier in the race, I could have cleared them alone, but in the third mile, I grunted something unbecoming a gentleman, and stepped around them. I also stepped around the posts we were supposed to step across. They were just too far apart for me to feel comfortable with the leap. I suppose there goes my career as Indiana Jones.

The multitude of tires were pretty much nothing. Some were hanging. Some were in the path. Stepping through them was easy enough. Bobbing the hanging tires just took a little timing. I had it a little easier because I held back on the approach to be sure the others would be finished getting through before I got there.

The balance beam was also simple, give that it was a foot wide. Just walk across. Later, the fire would be equally simple. Just step over the burning logs. Back in the day, we burned fields as a part of what farmers considered best practice. Aside from the memories of going to school smelling of smoke, there was no impediment to my progress here.

Climbing over the cargo net was equally straight-forward. It was a ladder with rungs that stretched as expected. Farther down, there's something else to climb, not a rope. It's about 15 feet high. Up I go. On top, there are tunnel openings. The slide down will be easy. The coming out in muddy water under barbed wire will be an attention getter. I paused briefly to watch the guy before me. He seemed to have it figured out. The woman beside me wanted to go down feet first. That'd be a big mistake.

Down I went. At the bottom, face and arms in the mud, the rest of me up in the tunnel, the all of me unable to get any traction, I ask the guy behind me to give me a bit of a push. He obliged. In the mud, I stayed low, slogging through the muck just like the grunts on that TV show from the 60s, Combat. I avoided the barbs, and only got muddy on the front. My back was clean.

But wait, there's a little more story here. The exit from the mud and the barbs included a 20-foot climb. Mud and wire still in abundance. 45 degrees. Ropes available. Feet were of no use here. The woman in front of me climbing the hill was about to give it up, and told her friends so. I pulled myself up closer, my left hand seeking out the knot that was just under her belt buckle, if she'd been wearing a belt. I put her right foot on my right shoulder, and told her to push. We inched up the second half of the incline together. At the top, her buddy gave me a hand to get out. I might still have been there had she not.

At the top of the mud hill, I see the other side is something like a water slide but without the pool of water at the end. I went down on my back. Very fast. I fully expected a thump at the bottom, but I just stopped. Having about had it with red slick negative static friction coefficient mud mined from the seventh level of hell, which is directly under the State of Georgia, I noodled over to the side where the mud blended with the dirt, and I walked out without falling. Just a few slips.

More water. More floaty things. I face it with a tall 20-something woman. She can't get over or under because the float is bobbing. I stabilize it, she passes, and then moves to the next as I ask her to hold it for me. She's gone. I have to do this one alone. I dipped under. Three times for the first three floats. I checked the ground on the other side of the last floaty. It was sloped upward. I'd never dip under and be able to take a step to get out. What to do? Roll over the top and claw my way out. I hope that gal who left me broke a nail just like I did in that clawing out.

By this point, I'm walking. Even downhill. Another 15-foot obstacle. I climb it. I notice I'm not alternating feet this time. Yeah, I'm about at the end of what I have to give today. At the top, I see it's a slide. A water slide. With a pool at the bottom. A pool of mud. Where do they get this crap? I'm alone except for the safety guy. He points out my glasses. I thank him, grab the bar, swing out over the slid, and propel myself at warp 42 down the slide and into that pool, that pool five feet deep, full of mud and what we'd call water and good living if we were snot otters.

I thanked myself for getting the rope that held my glasses on my head, and I crawled out of the pit to trudge down the last couple of hundred yards of dusty gravel. My glasses are coated with red mud, and wearing them left me unable to see at all. I let them dangle on my chest like a librarian, a librarian coated from top to bottom with thick red-orange mud slowly drying in the Carolina sun, a mud we might pay top dollar for in a high-end spa. What little water I carry drains slowly into my shoes. I'll later toss the socks into the trash.

I beeped the mat as I ended the route, found a chair, put my foot on it, removed the RFID chip, and tossed it into the bucket. That'd be a $20 souvenir if I missed the return bucket. On the way out, a crowd of college students called to me. All hail the Flying Spaghetti Monster! They recognized my FSM t-shirt. A shower started to fall as I walked to my car. I didn't much notice.  

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