Prologue: From the picture above, you can see that we finished. However, if you knew me six years ago (or even three years ago really), Tough Mudder is an event that I would never even fathom wanting to participate in, let alone finish. If you had asked me back then if I wanted to do it, I would have said, “H.E. to the double L to the NO!” And quite honestly, there would have been no amount of money to convince me to engage in such a grueling physical activity. And if for some otherworldly reason there was an incentive shiny enough to motivate me to attempt it, I surely would have failed part way through it. And with that, I give you my Tough Mudder experience…..
We stayed in a cabin up on Big Bear Mountain the night before. Of course we wanted to be close to the start of the event, but more so, I wanted to have time to adjust to the altitude. When I went to Big Bear as a kid, I had an altitude sickness SNAFU, and wanted to make sure that I wouldn’t have a repeat incident. Naturally, I had a really hard time sleeping the night before because I was nervous about attempting something I had never done before, and also because I was sleeping on an air mattress, and every time you turn over on one of those things, it squeaks you awake. But I got just enough sleep to feel rested, and the adrenaline made up for the rest.
The morning of, we packed up the car and headed down to the course. The weather was a tad chilly when we left the cabin, which concerned us because we knew the arctic enema (i.e. the ice bath) was the first obstacle of the course but as soon as we arrived and parked, the weather had gotten drastically warmer. So much so that I worried my sunscreen application might not cut it. But alas, that quickly became the least of my worries once I saw several packs of men and women who looked like they were straight off the set of ‘300’.
We got our bib numbers, got written on with permanent marker (ew!), double knotted our shoe laces, and headed straight for the port-a-potties to have one last pee before our heat started. Part of it was actually needing to go because I guzzled a lot of water but part of it was having the “nervous pee”, as all CrossFit folk are privy to. Of course, the line for the bathrooms was atrocious, and our heat was going to take off before we would make it to the front, so I held it. And it was crappy . . . until the ice obstacle.
My whole team jumped in before me, and that’s when I knew I had to, too. It’s not the kind of obstacle you dip your toe into either. You have to get in there fast, and get out even faster. When I first jumped in, the ice water went up to my waist but with a wooden post in the middle of the tank (lined with barbed wire on the top), I realized I would have to completely submerge my entire body under the iced water to get out. I hesitated for a second, and then all of a sudden it was as if there was a little team inside of me controlling everything, and one of them hit a big red “JUST DO IT” button. I suddenly found myself rocketing up through ice cubes on the other side of the post, clambering and whimpering to get out the same way a cat does when you try to give it a bath. There was a guy in front of me struggling to climb out, and in the interest of full disclosure (and in complete survival mode), I had a flash fantasy about pushing him off so I could get out of that thing! I have no idea what it feels like to have a heart attack but how I felt afterwards is what I imagine it would might be like – I was jumping around like a fish out of water, wincing, and suddenly the urge to pee had completely disappeared. I knew at that moment that I had to push myself to complete every obstacle on the course.
After that, it was steep hill after steep hill after steep hill. At some point early on in the course, I was slowly jogging / walking it by myself. It’s not that my team didn’t care about me, it’s that they wanted to go hard, and so they did. But they always waited for me at every obstacle. Around mile 3, our team stopped at a water station and one of my mates said, “Uh Rebecca, I think you need to go to the medic tent.” That’s not the kind of thing you want to hear when you feel no pain, because you know the moment you look at whatever they’re seeing, the psychological freak out begins. So I looked down (where he was looking) and saw that my left shoe had blood pooling out of the heel. It turns out my New Balance minimus had chafed my skin and created a wound on my achilles, and it was bleeding . . . a lot. So, I got some gauze and tape on it, which lasted for all of 1 mile, at which point I made up my mind that I was going to finish the 8+ more miles with rocks, dirt and whatever else in my wound. This was a pretty big decision for me – to give you an idea of how big, let’s just say that my nickname growing up was “crybaby.”
For the rest of the course, I sucked it up as best as I could. I wasn’t able to run, and I certainly couldn’t keep up with anyone in my group. I had to stop and rest a lot. I have a herniated disk in my lower back and the inclines were brutal to that area but I knew I had to finish. As guilty as I felt about slowing my team down, I knew that in order to achieve the honor of being called a Tough Mudder, I was going to have to listen to my body very carefully, and obey. At one point during the course while I was carrying a log up a steep hill, I took a rest to stretch my back and a really sweet guy asked if I was okay. I told him I was and that I just needed a rest. He offered to carry my wood up to the top. As tempting as that was, and believe me I considered it, I told him, “No thank you. I have to do this on my own.” Saying that out loud gave me the strength I needed to keep going. He gave me a nod of respect and went on his way.
With each mile, it got harder and harder to fake my enjoyment. At about mile 5, my sole goal became about finishing. I felt like a loser for huffing and puffing, and as such, I found I was verbally beating myself up. I felt envious of the people who were at ease climbing the hills but then something dawned on me: You really have to choose what works for you in order to complete / achieve something. Some people can sprint, some people have to jog, and some people need to walk. You have to make peace with your plan of attack, and so I did. The point is that I was out there, doing the best that I could.
The highlight of the course (for me) was when we were climbing the Black Diamond hill (pictured above), and a guy next to me said, “Now I know how Frodo felt when he was climbing Mount Doom.” Everyone starting laughing really loud, including myself. It was a moment of laughter I think we all needed.
Obstacle after obstacle, mile after mile (about 12 miles total), we finally neared the end of the course. I don’t know how I did it, but I made it. The last obstacle before the finish line was electric shock. My CrossFit mate Lynzee and I ran through it together, and it was the most bizarre experience of my life. I couldn’t figure out why anyone would inflict that on themselves but seeing that black inflated “Finish” on the other side of the wires was enough to make me go through with it. And we made it out… and that was it. We were done. I finished. It was surreal, and quite possibly the hardest thing I’ve have ever done. But the feeling of accomplishment was worth the 5+ hours it took me to complete it.
Thank you to my CrossFit 310 team for letting me tag along on such a crazy, yet difficult adventure. I’m inspired by every single one of you.