It's just the details about the course that I mostly forget.
I don't forget the hills but I don't remember how tough they are until I'm finally out there. I don't forget the mud per se but I do forget what it feels like to run several miles with sand and pebbles in your shoes. And I don't forget the river crossing but I don't recall just how slippery and slimy it can be.
Camp Pendleton greeted me bright and early on Saturday morning as it does every year. My brother Jesse and I made the nearly 80-mile trek in a little more than one hour, record time for us. I was looking forward to the race for several reasons, but one was to meet a blog reader who had planned the first part of her vacation around the Mud Run. Tahoegirl and her husband, Mr. Tahoegirl, flew in from Michigan earlier in the week and were staying a few days in Southern California before driving up the West Coast. They will fly back home from Seattle. I was happy to meet them both, especially Tahoegirl. She recently ran her first half marathon and will tackle her first 26.2 in October as she'll run the Chicago Marathon.
|LB and Tahoegirl|
I wore a bright yellow shirt so she could spot me. It really was a treat to meet her and her hubby, and we hung out together before the race. Once it got closer to 8:30, we made our way down to the start line area. This was our fatal mistake. At the Mud Run, you can not approach the start line until about 25 minutes before the race. They will herd you into the starting area at that time so if you are concerned about your time, then you need to stand around for quite a while until they let you get near the start line. I wasn't concerned about time simply because I had not been running all week, plus with the Tahoegirls there I was far more interested in talking to them than I was in worrying about my time.
But we did make our way over there before they let the runners in, and once they did we went into the starting chute like cattle. As soon as we got to our little spot amidst the mass of humanity, I had a strong feeling the race was not going to feature a new PR. We were too far back from the start, and there were way too many people between us and the start line to get past.
That was fine, though. I was a bit relieved since I knew I wasn't going to PR. I didn't want to push myself and feel bad about not having been in prime condition to do so. Instead, I was going to take some friends' advice and just enjoy the race.
With about 15 minutes left until the start of the race, my brother Danny, his wife and brother-in-law finally showed up, and they made their way through the crowd to get to us. Finally, I gave Tahoegirl a few final words of advice and then the gun sounded. Off we went.
Except. Too. Many. People. Prevented. Us. From. Running. Right. Away.
It was crowded and the crowd slowly moved forward but there was virtually no room to run. I tried to run, tried to get out in front but it was tough. The road was narrow enough, but the mass of people made it tough to do anything. I could almost see my PR flying away on wings, but it really didn't matter. It was for the best, I told myself.
I'd told Tahoegirl to not worry about water early on. You're going to get wet and muddy at the Mud Run, no sense in trying to avoid it. Having said that, I wanted to avoid it. Near the start there were three water trucks shooting water at the runners. The first water truck was by itself and I managed to avoid getting completely soaked. The second water truck was across the street from the third, and there was no getting around this obstacle. I looked up to see water raining down on me and I emerged on the other side completely soaked.
Among the things I told Tahoegirl was that the first half of the race was just hills, but we'd been running a good portion already and so far it was flat. I hoped that she wasn't thinking badly of me when we'd only gone through a mild incline at best for probably the first mile of the race or so. While we didn't encounter hills right away, we did hit a stream, and with a splash splash, splash splash my shoes and socks were now completely soaked.
I only remembed one stream crossing the last two years but this time there were three streams early on, so by the time we hit the hills, our feet were nice and saturated.
The hills.... ah yes, the hills. The neverending hills. I remembered with clarity the hills once I was actually on them. I remembered what I felt like the first year, looking ahead and seeing a stream of people going uphill, of seeing a hill that had no top, of wondering how I was going to get through it. This year, though, I was excited. I wanted to tackle the hills, wanted to take the challenge on... and I did, but part of me was sad. I was sad that I wasn't in optimum condition and that I wasn't able to tackle them with the same ferocity I'd hoped to tackle them with. Instead, I was reserved because of my heel/Achilles issue and I was wondering if I should just take it easy. But my foot was not bothering me so I plowed through.
Sometime near the top, it felt like we'd been running for days on the hills, and I wondered if Tahoegirl would think "Eff these hills already" when she'd come across them.
Finally, though, the summit and then downhill. It was a speedy downhill, and I was feeling the beginnings of exhaustion. I was worried though because of the walls. I knew I had the strength to scale them, but was worried that if I was too tired to jump over them, that I'd flail like crazy and become frustrated. So as we descended down into the first mud pit, with water to our knees and a muddy mess beneath that, I mustered up the strength to scale the wall. I did on my first effort, pushed myself up, got my right foot on top and leapt over. I'd like to say it was a graceful landing, but it was about as graceful as box falling out of a moving truck. I landed on my hands and knees, apparently too worried about leaping over the wall in the first place to concern myself too much about the landing part.
From then, it was onto the river. When I saw it, I smiled. All I could see were heads peering out of the water, and a line of runners getting out on the other end, dripping wet. A volunteer shouted over and over "Watch the first step; it's very slippery" as I descended into the river.
The first step was slippery and so was the second and so was the third. In fact, I think all 100 or 200 or however many steps we took to get across were slippery. There was no sense in trying to swim either, because even though the river was nearly up to my neck, you'd be best served to just walk it instead of trying to swim. Why expand the energy it takes to swim to save maybe a few seconds?
As I slipped and slid across the slimy bottom, pieces of algae caught my eye. Some of them found my hand was I waded through the water. I picked up algae in my hand and tossed it aside and out of my path. Several times. The river was filled with it, and while it did not smell I just figured the less time I was in it, the better.
On our way out towards the next part of the race, we were headed towards the runners going into the mud pit and into the river. I scanned for the Tahoegirls and was wondering if I'd missed them when I saw them. I said "Tahoegirl!" over and over again and she didn't hear me at first. Mr. Tahoegirl did and waved and smiled, but she had to force a smile once she realized it was me. I don't think she A) like the hills very much and B) liked me very much for having ever given her the idea of running the race in the first place.
I moved along, though, and pretty soon met up wtih the next obstacle: mud pit and wall number two. This wall was my nemesis from a year ago, the wall that stole my watch. In case you missed it, in last year's race a beloved watch of mine, a Polar F4 heart rate monitor my wife had given me as a present, popped off on this wall and was lost in a sea of mud. I vowed to conquer this wall for the sake of the watch, and I came upon it with focus and concentration. On my first leap, I got up high, got on leg on it, leaned my body forward, got my second leg over and all but fell on the water down below. I'm not the most graceful at climbing, okay?
The tunnels were next and I loathed them. You have to crawl through them - there is no other way. My knees were in pain from the moment I started crawling and I had visions of blood dripping down them. After about a mile's worth of crawling, I came out the other end. I plopped out the end - picture a metallic caterpillar regurgitating a piece of meat.
After that was Slippery Hill, a steep hill made more fun by the addition of water. A water truck sprayed water down the hill, causing the hill to be super muddy and slippery, tough to climb. However, if you run where the water has carved out a path in the hill, it is easier to navigate up the hill, which I did.
I got past that, ran some more, began to sprint even, when I realized we had the mud crawl to complete. Crap. I wasn't prepared. I got into the water though and began to crawl. The mud was thicker than last year, making it hard to get through. I gripped whatever I could and hoped to not scrape up my knees. Finally, I came out other end, with only a few slurps of muddy water into my mouth.
Then one immense downhill portion ensued before the final stretch.
|Giving it my all|
I waited around to see both my brothers finish (yup, I beat them both, holler) and then saw the happy vacationing couple slog through.
|The Tahoegirls thinking 'Thank goodness this is over.'|
|Tahoegirl is a Muddy Runner too!|