About me

Sunday, October 28, 2012

So Grandpa finished Tough Mudder


It's been a rockin' year with a series of minor injuries more irritating than anything else, and so as I step onto the glide path to 60, what better to do than relive my miss-spent youth and enter Tough Mudder. If you don't know what that is, Google it. The website will catch you up quickly.

The trail started in February when Danger posted the notice on Lily's Facebook page about the Mudder. Normally, I wouldn't pay much attention to such, but this time I clicked the link, and the landing page video had me from the opening scene. I had been long lamenting my obvious decline into couch potato-hood, and this was my climb out. I had no idea just how deep the hole I was in was, and I’m not sure I’m really out yet, but that's okay. One step at the time.

And so yesterday, we drove to Society Hill, SC, parked, and stood in line to enter Tough Mudder. The entry was uneventful. They wrote our numbers on our face and arms, the stated reason being so they could identify the bodies later, the reality being to make picture identification easier for the post event picture sales. We knocked around a bit. I got a haircut and a beard trim. We went through our individual rituals of eating, drinking, and supplement taking. We watched the preceding heats line up and leave. We discussed tactics for the obstacles and called it strategy. We hit the potties. Repeatedly.

And then it was time.

And no, you don't just line up. To get in the line, we had to scale a 6-foot wall. No big deal, but still a foretaste of glory divine.

In the lineup, we had the motivational speech. The pledge. The Star Spangled Banner. The gun. The waiting for the pack to spread. We assembled at the rear of the wave to let the sharks take off first. Pacing is important, especially when you're an old fart and bitter old queen. Besides, Tough Mudder is not a race. It's an endurance event. It's where we explore our limits, and it's important that we know our limits. Very important.

Run. Run. Run. Up hill. Down hill. Headed to the first obstacle. Arctic Enema, a huge cargo container filled with a slurry of ice water. Because we're special, they dumped in extra ice for us. With a front-end loader.

The slurry was only a few degrees above 32 when we jumped in, and as mammals, we had only a few seconds to figure our way out, which included a dive under a barrier, before we locked up in the cold and they had to use the front end loader to get us out.

They next hundred yards of running were special, what with the numb feet. From that point forward, I stopped counting the obstacles. Counting got in the way of living in the moment, and being exactly in the moment is not negotiable. Later, I was to learn that the hard way.

We crawled through tunnels, dark and winding, and by dark, I do mean dark. Very dark. Think no photonic activity. Just the wild splashes of color that arise when your eyes are trying to see things in the dark. Hands and knees. Close quarters. No stopping. No thinking about getting stuck. 

Controlling thought is probably the most important thing because claustrophobia is a constant companion in the tunnels. It's always just on the edge, and you simply cannot go there and survive. The thought would flitter in, and I'd just have to pay no attention to it. The current moment was sufficient in and of itself. I didn't need to bring in any additional responses that would arise from imagined problems. Unfortunately, the calorie count for that work is undocumented. 

One tunnel was dry with gravel to make my knees happy. The other tunnel was initially dry, as it slide us easily into a small pit of warm muddy water under a nest of barbed wire. Then we had to get out. Up a tunnel. Equally slick. My body size and shape made hands and knees useless. Yes, I did try, and I just slide backwards. Rolling over to the side didn't help the cause. Finally on my back, mostly, I was able to scootch an inch at the time by kicking my left foot while arching my back. It was slow and steady progress, and I even had to pause occasionally for the Marine ahead of me who was using another technique. 

You really can't study for something like this. You have to find what works in that moment, and what works in that moment for the one might not work in that moment for the next because of conditions, body types, preparation, and skills. And shoes filled with mud from the previous activities.

You have to find your own way.

You also have to walk the plank. Twenty feet up. Jump. Come down in a pit of water equally deep. Get out the best you can. Unlike the wild boys, I didn't jump. I sat upon the ledge, dangled my feet, turned, and slide into oblivion. I underestimated the weight of my mud-filled shoes, and they pulled me down in the water such that the lifeguard tossed me a lifeline. I also underestimated the vigor of the splash down, which removed my tied on glasses. Could I not have seen that moment coming? Someone will find them next week when they drain that pit.

Don't feel too bad. I was scheduled for new glasses over Thanksgiving, so it more nuisance than tragedy.

Facing an obstacle, it's easy to see that most people brute up and power through, and sometimes that's about all you can do. You just have to disengage brain, stop thinking about doing it, and just do it. I sound like a Nike commercial. Toting the logs for a mile, half of that through a pond, was one of those activities. I picked up my log, put it on my left shoulder, cast my gaze on the next step, and marched forward. It did occur to me to let the water float the log in the pond, but at that point, I was locked in, and I believe I could have hauled that log back home if necessary. The chiropractor will be smiling over that Monday morning.

Sometimes facing an obstacle reveals alternative approaches. There was a hundred yards of lateral mud pits to traverse. Dirty Ballerina. Someone had a field day with a large ditch witch. And a fire tanker of water. As I walked to the obstacle, the fellow before me started jumping across the trenches, one after the other, until he face-planted on the fourth. We applauded. Then I noticed the boundary marker to the right included the end of the trenches along with about six inches of solid ground. I hopped a zigzag path along the side of the trenches and skipped out.

Now, before you fuss at me for taking the easy route, let me remind you that there is little to nothing easy about 12 miles and two dozen military-grade obstacles, and I have no compunction against engaging brain now an again to augment the encounter, bend a rule, or otherwise take another path. In fact, such seems perfectly reasonable. There are many ways to skin a cat.

I also have no problem respecting my limits. The Berlin walls. 15 feet of wall. No foot or hand hold. I helped others up and over, and then I walked around. I’m not, yet, ready to do that. Yet. Yet. Maybe next year, Lord willing and the creek don't rise. (I had previously successfully scaled the 12-foot walls with the aid of a fellow who patiently offered hand, knee, and shoulder to help the rest of us over. How did he manage by himself? He jumped, grabbed, and flipped himself over.)

The rings and monkey bars were much the same. I watched men who I thought had the upper body strength, and grip strength, to defeat these obstacles fall directly into the muddy iced water below. I just waded across. We'll work on that business of monkey bars in the upcoming year. I was glad just to get my running back up to where moving through the 12 miles was possible. One step at the time.

I felt much the same about the quarter pipe, Mount Everest. However, as I stood and watched the people engage this obstacle, I was privileged to witness an event that was astounding. For the previous three miles, we had been following a group of a dozen Marines, at least one of whom was running on a blade, and doing so better than me, I will add. We reached Everest, and they never broke stride. They walked directly up the the pipe, laid themselves out in a pyramid, and sent the guy with the blade to the top where he, in turn, started pulling up the others as they ran up the pipe.

I would not want that group of men angry with me.

In that brief five minutes, I witnessed more teamwork from those few men than I have witnessed these 59 years at all the jobs I've ever held combined, even those workplaces where the word, “team,” is bandied, espoused, and glorified as though a team were present. That sight all by itself was worth the price of admission, the bruises, the sore feet, and the lost glasses. I walked around Everest, even as a team member ran up it, knowing I had nothing to offer here but a poor example, though I would be back in about nine months.

The last obstacle was Electroshock Therapy, a gauntlet thick with charged wires. Most people chose to barrel through, and in doing so, engage the wires. At 10,000 volts. Quite a few f-bombs are dropped here. I suppose I could have done that, but instead, I walked through, slinking this way and that way until I stepped out the other side. (Previously, I managed the Electric Eel much the same way, by flattening down in the mud and crawling on my ample belly taking path that, mostly, avoided the charged wires hanging down. It probably helped that I ate enough mud to lower the level of the pool.)

It seemed anticlimactic, and I suppose it was. The feeling I had was exactly that of my dissertation defense when I stepped into the hall to let the committee discuss what I had done. At that point, I didn't care what they said or thought. I knew I had passed. It's just this time, I got an orange headband for it instead of a five signatures.

And it was over. Dos Equis never tasted so good, and it probably won't again until 01 Jun 2013 when we do it all over again.  

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