Having run the Camp Pendleton Mud Run in October, I wasn't as nervous on Saturday as I had been before the first event. I'd trained hard for that one, though, and this time around the last stretch of time before the race featured a weeklong trip outside the country. But a four-mile run on Wednesday gave me the confidence I needed to head into the Mud Run with a full head of steam.
The morning was cool, downright chilly at times, but that was mostly a positive. No running under a blazing sun, as I'd feared when I first signed up for the race in January. The forecast was in the low 60s, great running weather. Except, of course, we were going to get absolutely drenched.
We were rounded up like cattle and steered into the starting gate with about 30 minutes to go before the race. Now, if you want to get a decent position and not fight crowds for the first stretch, it's beneficial to get there early and stand as close to the start line as possible. There was a Marine on a microphone riling up the runners, raising everyone's spirits and giving instructions. I remembered Sue Ann Jaffarian's awesome blog post when he said the following:
"Here are your instructions: You start the race alive, you finish the race alive. We will not memorialize the track in your honor. This is the Camp Pendleton Mud Run, not Joe and Sarah's Mud Run."
As the clock counted down, though, I started to feel butterflies in my stomach. At three minutes, I was amazed that there were only three minutes left. At two minutes, I was nervous. At one minute, I refocused and said my little saying to myself. 30 seconds, 20 seconds, 10 seconds... five, four, three, two, one...
I had a strategy for this year. Since most of the first 3-4 miles is running, I figured I'd approach the beginning as one longer run through hills. But aside from that, I'd also try to run it faster than I normally would. The last couple of miles has built-in breaks, such as the river crossing and the mud crawl, breaks in that they don't require running.
I got nailed twice by the water trucks. The first one I was able to mostly avoid but no such luck with Water Truck Nos. 2 and 3. By the time we hit the off-road portion of the race, I was dripping wet.
The first big obstacle was a stream crossing, except it was quite a bit deeper than last year. A year ago, the water was about ankle deep but on Saturday it went close to my knees. And the worst part was that the mud was smelly. That was an added bonus for no extra charge.
I plowed through, though, and was determined to make it through the hills unscathed. I was doing well, my heart rate was in the low 180s (a bit high for so early in a run) but I felt great. On the uphill parts I passed several runners and was going at a strong pace. I even passed my brother Danny! I was surprised to see him because I figured he'd taken off quickly, which he had, but he apparently witnessed the difficulty of running hills first hand. That's when I knew my runs up The Hill had helped. For next year, I think I'm going to try and The Hill several times, weekly maybe, in preparing for the Mud Run.
But that would have to wait. What laid before me were the hills. The last stretch was difficult, but once we started to go downhill I knew we were close to the obstacles. And sure enough, the first wall was upon us. I scaled it without much problems, though I felt a slight twinge on my back when I splashed into the mud. It quickly went away and I was relieved. Didn't need an injury. I splashed through some more mud and ran quickly to the river. Last year I jogged to the river but I figured I could go a little faster now before hitting the water since I'd rest in the water.
My heart rate went from the mid-180s to the mid-160s by the time I got out of the river. At the end, I slipped when getting out of the water - which was about chest high. I hit a patch of slippery, hard-packed mud and caught myself with the palms of my hands. Otherwise, I would have went face-first, a fate other runners had suffered. My shoes were like bricks when I finally emerged, sopping wet. It took less than a minute for my heart rate to get back up to the 180s, the last time my watch would give me assistance.
I came up to the second wall climb and at the same time as Danny had, and approached the wall. I slipped in a hole at the base of the wall, forcing me to regroup. I grabbed hold of the top of the wall, forced my weakened legs to shove off and elevated slightly. My arms couldn't hold, and my hands slipped off the top the wall. In that instant, my watch flung off my wrist, twisted a few times in the air and made it over the wall before I did. I went around to the other wall next to mine as that one had a wider top, willed myself over and made it to the other side. I scanned for my watch, figuring it would be floating somewhere. But it wasn't. I felt around for it as runner after runner scaled the wall and nothing. I tried to get close to the wall and nearly got stepped on. I made a few last fruitless reaches for my watch before painfully turning away and heading out toward the last leg.
I'd blown my chance to compete with Danny since we were pretty even but at that moment I did not care. I was saddened by the loss of my trusty Polar. It had been a Father's Day gift from Mrs. LB, just one year ago, and it drastically changed my approach to training and helped mold me into the runner I am today.
Still, there was a race to be run and I had to do it. Although my wrist felt nuder now than it had in a long time, I plodded forward. The tunnels were up next and I remembered why I hated them. They were slippery, hard to find a grip and very cramped. I didn't want to crawl on my knees but had no choice. My tunnel exit was less than graceful, as I imagined a large worm regurgitating some bad chorizo as I came out.
I ran a bit more, came up to Slippery Hill and tried to refocus once more. I remembered that I'd called it an Escalator of Mud a year ago, but this time the hill was a little less slippery, a little less muddy. One Marine said to go through the water (there was a stream of water knifing through the heart of Slippery Hill). I noticed steps in it, as previous runners had carved out such steps in the hill. I followed them and was happy to have gotten up unscathed. Last year, my shoe got stuck in the mud and it had popped completely off my foot.
With both shoes still firmly in place, I continued on. It was mostly running here near the end but there was the final obstacle to scale, the Mud Crawl. I went in head first and tried not to go completely underwater upon entering the challenge like I had a year ago. I was successful - only my chin and mouth were underwater. I had some sand and mud in my mouth, but it was all good. Again fearing the skin being ripped off my knee, I straightened my legs behind me and let them go limp in the water. Using the palms of my hands, I dragged my body forward. Since it was watery, it worked well. Not until the water gave way to more mud near the end did I have to crawl, but I did so just fine, jumped out of the challenge altogether and emerged poised for one last charge.
I went down a really, really steep hill and nearly lost my footing at the end. When I got down, I saw the time. I was under 1 hour 7 minutes! I went into a full-on sprint at that point, passed three other runners and crossed the finish line at 1:06:54. I lamented the loss of my watch once more and wondered if I would have been able to shave a minute off my time from last year had I managed the second wall better.
I tried not to worry about the watch but I felt bummed. It was a reminder, though, of the challenges of the Mud Run. I noticed too that I had scraped both knees and was bleeding slightly from them. There were others, though, who had full on bloody streams pouring out of their knees so I got off lightly. My shoes were muddy as they'd ever been, I feared that I'd ruined my good running socks (which I'd accidentally taken with me) and my clothes were a much darker shade than they had been in the morning.
The Polar notwithstanding, it had been an excellent day of running. I can't wait until the 2010 Camp Pendleton Mud Run.
And from now on, no watches allowed on the course for LB.