When signing up for the Mudathalon, I was sure it would be a really fun experience. But I had no idea just what a memorable day it would be.
Our team name was Summer Strangers as we didn’t all know each other (get it: some are strangers? A play on words.) And by the time we lined up at the start line, we were huddled up, dancing to the music blasting around us and coming up with our new tag line: strangers when we start, family when we finish. And honestly, that’s exactly what happened.
Only 75-100 people could be on the course at a time so we were all aligned with a start time. Ours was 12:45 and we spent the first hour talking to other teams and admiring some people’s outfits. There were some awesome ones from men wearing women’s golf shirts, girls dressed up in tutus for a bachelorette party, a team dressed as hillbillies and a pair of polyester pastel shorts most won’t forget. We had a game plan: no man left behind, run throughout the course and help each other out. Being that it was just a 5K, we were sure we could get it done in about 45 minutes. Ha!
The first 1/2 mile was pretty simple. We climbed over obstacles, barrel-rolled over a car, crawled through a long dark tube and hurled ourselves over stacks of hay. The first mud pit was small, but slick. I went down fast and my teammate Jamie had to wipe the mud from my teeth. We then got into the woods where we ran up and down slippery hills and through small creeks full of muddy water. We were still making good time when we came upon a long line for the biggest obstacle we’d face that day (or at least for me). It was maybe 20 feet high (?) and you had to climb up a wobbly rope, crawl over the top, and down ladder-like boards. I am deathly afraid of heights and the more I watched people go over, the more frightened I became. We waited in line for about 20 minutes which only amplified my nerves. But I was at least going to try. My teammate Mike was up and over easily and Jamie was right beside me. I slowly maneuvered my way up but paused about halfway up the ropes. My heart was pounding, my knuckles white around each rope hold and I was shaking. There was no way I could go any further up and as I started to descend, the entire crowd behind me cheered me on “You can do it!” But I couldn’t. I was embarrassed to be a quitter, but the man running the obstacle told me I made the right choice. He said if I was that freaked out at that height, there was no way I would have made it over. Then Gwen got up there. She made it to the top and froze. She couldn’t move any part of her body and started to tear up in fear. Jamie crawled over to help position her hands and the crowd went wild. They cheered her on and shouted encouraging words. Mike crawled up the other side and helped Gwen drop her leg over the edge. By this time, the crowd was getting louder and louder cheering her on. It was the most amazing moment of the day. We called her Rudy the rest of the race for her outstanding moment and accomplishment.
About halfway through the race, we ran through a mudpit that was long and deep. We were told by runners who ran before us that we could avoid getting really muddy and make better time if we stayed on the edges where the mud was less deep. That’s what I did, despite some spectators yelling that it was cheating. Mike, on the other hand, ran right through the middle and lost both his shoes and socks in the mud. There were buried deep. He completed the rest of the race barefoot.
Soon after we hit the monkey bars and I got across 5 of them before my strength weakened. As we jogged through the woods, you could hear Mike’s bare feet slapping the ground. I finally took off my gloves and put them on his feet as make shift toe-socks. He lost those in the next creek.
The water felt awesome on our legs and cleaned us up. But as soon as we felt refreshed and less muddy, we’d have to pull ourselves out from the creek by going up a mudslide using just a rope. We jumped over hay stacks, climbed over and through tires and over large wooden spools. When we got to the walls, Marshall always had to boost me up and over. It truly was a team effort.
The last creek was rocky and after I got through it, I went back for Mike. His bare feet weren’t handling it well so Marshall and I tried to carry him. Two steps in and we realized we were all going down if we continued. Mike braved it on his own. I had energy to burn and Gwen started calling me Richie for Richard Simmons….given that I never seemed to slow down. Hopefully I wasn’t as annoying as he is!
We hit the 3 mile marker and were sure that .1 miles would take us only about 2 minutes to hit the finish line. Nope…I swear it took us 20 more minutes. Part of that was the mudslide which was so much fun to go down. But right after, was a steep, slippery incline that we had to pull ourselves up using just our arms. I fell at least 3 times, dangling by my hands and each time, laughed. It was hard to make progress as I was cracking up, my team pushing me up from behind.
We did a sack race and then turned the corner to face that long, thick mud pit one more time. This time, I wasn’t going on the edges…I was going all in. I started running through it which quickly turned into a walk. It was deep and sucked my feet deep into the earth. My shoes were easily being pulled off by the mud and I heard one person scream “Save your shoes, go on your hands and knees.” I thought that it would make sense to distribute my weight so dropped down to a crawling position. Though covered in mud, I was making good progress and time. One of the organizers of the race dropped a camera down in front of me and followed my progress. I am sure I looked a hot mess, but he was loving it and said I would be on next year’s promo video. When I finished, mud caked my entire body. Our team was together and though exhausted (and well past our goal time), we had huge smiles on our faces.
I could not have asked for a better team. We weren’t too competitive, we weren’t too serious. But we worked hard and pushed ourselves. And we helped each other every single time we needed it. Someone from our team did every obstacle and though we didn’t know each other when we started, we ended as good friends.
What a truly fabulous day.