Saturday, October 18, 2008

The Mud Run: A cold, wet and muddy experience

Months of training and somewhat worried thoughts culminated on Saturday morning. The Mud Run, which promised to be the most physically challenging event I've ever participated in, awaited me. Finally, it was here.

The Mud Run, the original purpose for having started this blog, is a 10K obstacle-course run. It's in Camp Pendleton, so the course is grueling and quite challenging, as you would expect from such a course on a military base.

Now, although I hadn't logged my training sessions and workouts here on this once-trusty blog, I had prepared well. I was able to run six miles as late as Tuesday, five days before the event, and I knew that the distance would not destroy me. But everything else... well, that's why I was worried.

The first thing that greeted me this morning was the chilly morning air. I got to the event with my youngest brother and we would soon meet up another brother, his wife and her brother. Later, a pair of uncles joined us. But the air was chilly some 90 minutes before the event.

Let's hope the sun comes out and burns some of this off.

Eventually, that happened. The sun came out and it went from chilly to comfortable. Which was a good thing. As we made our way to the start line, an uncle told us to be prepared to run the event dripping wet, with soggy shoes and possibly stones or sand inside our shoes.

Great. That's just what I need.

Soon, the clock started counting down rather quickly. 26 minutes 'til the start. Then 19 minutes. Then 12. Then 6. Pretty soon 2. And then it got down to the seconds.

It's now or never. You can do this.

Those were my last words of encouragement I muttered to myself. Of course, I'd been storing away every single last scrap of encouragement I'd received from family and, especially, my exchange buddies who chimed in with some well-needed and well-received final words earlier that morning.

And then, it began.

We were somewhat lucky in that we were pretty close to the start line. There were supposedly some 4,000 people signed up and presumably many of them showed up. So we did not have to wait behind 3,500 people to get off and running. I came out of the gate somewhat slowly. I didn't want to burn up all my energy early on. During a six-mile run, I like to save my strength for miles 3 and up, preferably with a lot left in the tank for miles 5 and 6. But I didn't know what to expect from the course so I especially needed to pace myself.

Oh no! Here comes the water!

Up ahead, there were water trucks that sprayed all the passing runners. The first truck got me just a tad bit wet. But I took a direct hit from the second truck. I was wet from head to toe. Now, I can deal with water on my head but I don't usually run with wet and soggy feet.

This probably will be nothing compared to what awaits.

After that, the runners started to thin out a bit. Some of the people who had been in the front slowed. Others made their move from the back toward the front. I tried not to get in any sort of speed races with people in front of me. Figured I'd save my strength for the end. Now, I didn't have a goal of beating people per se. I wanted to run it in under 1:10:00 so I just had a time I wanted to best.

The run at first had few obstacles. It was basically a dirt road, even in some parts, uneven in most, that cut through a hillside covered in brush and weeds. I trudged along, now a bit more dry than I had been.

Get ready to get wet again.

There was no avoiding the first water hazard. It was a stream, probably six inches to a foot deep, pretty muddy. I plodded along, high-stepping, kicking water in the process. Maybe some 30 steps to get past it. Now, that's not that long in the grand scheme of things but it was long enough to leave an impression, a cold one, on my feet.

The path started to deviate uphill, ever so slightly. I remembered looking at the map.

Suicide Hill.

It wasn't quite suicidal but it took a toll. I tried to keep my pace, tried to keep running, and I did. Others were walking but I felt good. I had trained hard for this event and now was the time to show it. I didn't sprint up the hilly parts but I ran. Hard. I had my trusty heart rate monitor to help me pace myself and it worked well. On the hills, I stayed in the 170s, probably got up to the 180s at some points. That was good. Had I been in the mid- to high-180s, I'd have been worried.

So where are the obstacles?

I wondered when we'd get to the dreaded walls and river crossing and Slippery Hill as we went down the back side of Suicide Hill. I soon got my answer. As I rounded a bend, I could hear splashing. I knew there would be mud and/or water there, and I was right.

"Don't jump down into the water!" a Marine shouted at us. We climbed a four-foot high dirt pile and down on the other side was a 20-foot stretch of water and mud underneath, probably water a foot or two deep. At the end, the first wall awaited.

Oh, that doesn't look that bad.

In my mind, I'd built up an image of a 10-foot high brick wall and everyone but me was scaling it. Well, in reality it was a wall that went up to my chest and everyone scaled it, including me. I grabbed the top of the wall, heaved myself up, swung my right leg over, then the rest of me and SPLASHED! down into the water. More muddy water followed before climbing another short dirt heap and into a straightaway before...

What is that, the Rio Grande?

Yeah, it was a deep river crossing indeed. I saw arms and heads sticking out of the water. I pictured myself swimming with fish.

Oh man, it's cold!

That's the first thing I realized in the water. It was cold. Refreshing, but cold. It was a chance to rest, actually. Even though I was moving, I wasn't running. My heart rate went down to 155 almost instantly. My heart took a three-minute break. But when I came out the other end, my feet were blocks of ice. I had no choice but to run.

Squish. Squish. Squish. Squish.

Heavy blocks of ice gave way to sopping wet shoes but the break did me well. I was able to find my rhythm soon enough. Right in time to reach the second climbing wall. This one was quite a bit higher, maybe a foot more, than the first. Same muddy water before, same initial fears arose. I grabbed the top, started to heave and paused. A quick breath, called my leg muscles into action and HEAVE! got to the top. I couldn't swing my leg over so I sort of placed it on top. I did a half-roll on the foot-long width at the top and SPLASH! back down into the water once more.

What the...?

Up ahead were tunnels. Big pipes actually. Couldn't do anything but crawl through them. It was very slippery and I thought of blood gushing down me knees so I figured I'd try and walk with my hands and toes, sort of outstretched. Kept slipping and sliding, probably went really slow through, but I came out unscathed on the other side. Came out the other end fine only to see a fearful sight.

That's like an escalator of mud.

A steep and intimidating muddy hill awaited. It really was like a long flight of stairs, only instead of stairs there was mud, a stream of water muddying up the little patches of dirt that remained bare, and people slipping and sliding trying to keep their balance.

Slippery Hill. Ha. I get it.

I tried to stay on the side but that didn't work. My foot kept getting caught in the mud. I jerked my foot away from a patch of mud when...


... my shoe popped off. I grabbed it and tried to shove it back on my foot. People walked past me. My sock was drenched and folded over my toes. Finally, POP, my shoe got back. I was almost crawling when I remembered my uncle's advice. I got in the middle of the hill and found my footing. I paid for it because a truck sprayed water on me but I didn't care.

We've got to be almost near the end.

Sure enough, soon after I heard a Marine tell us we were about a quarter-mile from the end.

That's nothing!

I picked up the pace. Passed some people. Then, back to the final mud crawl. There were ropes extending from one side of the mud pit to the other. I had no choice but to get on my hands and knees. I took a header into the water to get under the first rope but crawled through the rest of them without doing so again.

I had one final daunting challenge. Ran up a hill then down a very steep decline. I nearly lost my balance as my feet tried to keep up with the rest of my accelerated body. Came out on the bottom, ran across a final giant puddle of water and mud.

The finish line!! Finish for the foodies!!

I sprinted. I took off as if I had nothing more to lose, which I didn't. I felt fast. Not sure how fast I was going but nothing was going to stop me now. My cold feet responded and the rest of my body was prepared for one final giant push.

Breathing heavily, I slowed right as I crossed the finish line. I walked through a line, past some Marines who took my ticket from the bottom of my bib and came out the other end. Final time was 1:07:44.

I was tired, cold and dripping with water, sweat and mud. But it was over. The most challenging event I'd ever done was over. And I did it.

As I walked around to find the rest of my group, I could only think of one thing.

When's the next Mud Run?


wexfordcindy said...

The Foodies are HONORED! So Proud!

wexfordcindy said...

That was me AR Cindy Lepp, I collect wexford pressed glass...
Luv ya, LBueno!

Ben Harrer said...