Perhaps you have been wondering if and, more importantly, how I survived the Tough Mudder in Kentucky two weekends ago. The simple fact that you’re reading this must mean I came out on the other side relatively unscathed, right? Well… unscathed? Yes, save for a few black and blue Rorschach designs on all extremities. But, unaffected? No.
I’m fairly “numero uno” and “every man for himself” in my approach to life. I’ve never played a team sport and I’ve never had to take someone else into consideration when making major course decisions. I float along and light wherever I land. So be it. Then enter Team Mahna Mahna, the running group I crashed back in May after Knitiot invited me to do so.
Fast forward through six months of weekly training sessions that included, but were not limited to, climbing vertical truck beds, running up and down mountains, jumping in horse troughs of ice water, crawling through drain pipes, hanging from monkey bars and lots and lots of laughing, joking, eating, drinking, socializing and even better, the serendipitous rise of Gemini.
It was also six months of whiney team musings ala, “What will the Tough Mudder be like? How high is 12 feet? How far is 12 miles? Can we actually lift each other up? Will jumping in a dumpster of ice give us a heart attack? Should we duct tape our shoes to our ankles? Are we wearing gloves? With fingers or no fingers?” And so on and so forth until our anxiety became just another member of the team.
The Tough Mudder is billed as being “probably the toughest event on the planet.” Sure, we could all run 5Ks after a couple of Bloody Mary’s and chug Irish Car Bombs with the bestofem, but 12 miles of 21 British-Special-Forces-style obstacles in, what turned out to be, chilly 40-something temps? Ummm. Maybe?
I do not anticipate ever experiencing another 5.5 hours quite like those I spent on October 20th alongside the first teammates I’ve ever had in my entire life. I can say, without a doubt, it was the only time I reached the end of my physical and mental rope at the same time. Typically when one runs out you can rely on the remaining strength to pull you through adverse situations. But when both are gone? When your eyes glaze over and you shiver uncontrollably? There is no choice but to surrender and allow others to pull you up and out. It all sounds pretty dramatic. And living it actually kinda was.
Enter the obstacle known as “Everest.” A slick, muddy quarter pipe you sprint up while grasping for outstretched hands that will [hopefully] catch you and pull you on top of the platform. It loomed on the horizon around mile #10. So I tried it. And I failed. Tried again. Failed. After 5 or 6 times of slamming into the wall and sliding down in defeat one starts to lose the gumption to continue. The mind and the body – as noted before – both weak. My entire team made it up and over, but for some reason I couldn’t do it. Me, who proudly does everything all. by. myself… couldn’t do this.
Cue the fellow mudder dressed as a 70s hippie who had spent a good deal of time watching me fall, fall again and fall one more time. Just as I was stuttering “Enough. I’m done,” he was climbing down, rallying Mahna Mahna members and declaring, “C’mon, we’re getting her up.” Before I knew what was happening, the happy hippie had planted himself as the anchor for what would be a human chain of people leading up the edge of the ramp.
So up the quarter pipe I went, humbly climbing over each person one at a time, yielding to the very real fact that I could not have made it by myself. I climbed through the failure I felt inside and found a team of people that had become my friends. A team that I was not only a part of but was a part of me; a team connected by matching orange shirts and a relentless determination to hold each other up and pull each other through. I wouldn’t have to worry about falling down again.
At the end of the day I crossed the finish line high on camaraderie, high on adrenaline and, to be fair, perhaps a little high on being shocked by electric wires. But if you were to ask me right now if I’d ever do it again I’m not sure I could answer you just yet. I can still see my bruises and I haven’t been able to run without disconcerting flashbacks of falling into cold, muddy pools of water. But I do know I made the right decision to join up with that random running group last Spring. It was a decision I made by myself that trained me to understand that running, and life, sucks a little less when you’re not by yourself. If anything, it’s also given me a pretty good story to tell. And I’m always up for a pretty good story.
View the full Tough Mudder Kentucky slideshow: HERE