After a restful night's sleep in nearby Carlsbad, my brother Jesse and I found ourselves on a bus headed towards the start line of the Camp Pendleton Mud Run. Madonna's "Holiday" blared overhead, in stark contrast to the Metallica songs that accompanied us to the parking lot.
As I had run this race three times before, I knew what to expect. My mind wasn't so much on the obstacles or the course or the logistics, but rather a bit free to think about things like Madonna.
The bus ride was short enough to keep us from having to endure the entire 80s hit song and before we knew it, we'd checked our bags in and were pinning our bibs on our backs. We'd met up with our other brother Danny and his brother-in-law David, the four of us setting out for our fourth consecutive Mud Run together.
It's called a tradition.
There were more casual conversations, jokes and a sense of calm around us than before. It felt a bit low-key, although everything around us was not. There were hordes of runners, throngs of stands and vendors and a field full of checked-in bags. This was no small event.
After running for about five minutes or so to get my heart rate going, I met up with the other three and waited. We weren't quite ready for the start line yet but rather waiting to be let in to get to line up at the start. Yes, a pre-start line start. If there was anything we'd learned about this event, it was this - if you want to avoid being stuck like cattle for the first stretch of the race, a good starting position was imperative.
Finally, we were allowed to go to the start line. We walked. Sort of.
This is more of a walk-shuffle-almost run.
We were in prime position to start off well until...
Um, this isn't the start line?
... we walked forward a few hundred yards to the start line. Previously the early part of the course thinned out quite a bit, and with the crowds made it impossible to avoid getting herded like cattle. To avoid that, the start line was moved up. The four of us got split apart, but no bother. I was ahead and hopefully I would finish ahead, of Danny anyway. My goal was to finish ahead of him.
Even that's not a really big goal... just something to target.
As we were at the real start line, Metallica's Enter Sandman serenaded the runners...
Now that's more like it.
... and after a few more words from the host, we were off.
I got off to a quick start, was moving past runners and trying to focus on my breathing. I got wet with the first water truck that sprayed runners down.
After the first turn, we went up on the road and then the path cut through some trees. I was keeping a good pace, passing some runners, getting passed by others. So far, no mud or water.
The dirt trail weaved out of the brush and meandered uphill. We passed the first mile marker very quickly and were still going uphill.
And more uphill. And even more uphill. I looked to my right and saw runners running up another hill.
Did they add more hills too?
Of course, this part of the route was unchanged but it certainly seemed as if there were more hills. We kept going up and up and up, and when I thought we were done going uphill, there was another one.
Finally, after about four miles, we started our descent.
Okay, here comes the wall. I was worried about the wall. I'd hurt my wrist recently from a bike spill and while it had been feeling better, I feared that I wouldn't be able to get over the wall. Add to that the fact that I was tired from the hills and I wasn't exactly expecting to prance over the walls.
I sloshed through some foul-smelling water and mud...
I don't even want to know what's in there.
... and came up to my nemesis, the wall. I put my hands on top, leapt and got my right leg on top. I wanted to step up onto it and leap over but I had no energy to do that, so I sort of rolled my other leg on top and let myself fall over into the stinky water/mud on the other side.
As graceful as a swan.
I was exhausted. Wasn't sure why I was feeling more tired now than I had in other races at this point, or perhaps my memory was fuzzy.
I tried to run hard to the next obstacle, the river, but I was too tired to hit the extra gear. I just maintained my pace, got to the river, and got in. The water was about to my chest and I grabbed one of the two ropes that stretched out across the river. I tugged on the rope to keep my balance as slippery algae on the bottom threatened to knock me down.
Once out of the river, I took a few steps before starting off on my run once more. More running, another uphill, and then we were at the famed slippery hill. A water truck on top made for a muddy hill, but I went up the middle and didn't encounter too many problems. Once at the top, I encountered my nemesis once more, the wall. I got to this wall okay but wasn't sure of myself. I must have had a look on my face because one of the Marines near the wall asked me: "You got this?"
I think so.
Again, I placed my hands on top and pushed, and again I laid my leg on top. Somehow I will the other leg on top as well and as I was falling over I heard "There you go!" from the other side.
Something was dragging me forward. I sure didn't feel like I was blazing through the end of this race as the obstacles and the hills had done a number on me. Now was probably the worst obstacle for me, the tunnel crawl. I had to get on my knees inside a tunnel and crawl through. Others, like the lady in front of me, managed to stay on her feet, sort of crawling along on all fours. Not it. I didn't have the energy to do something like that, nor did I have the agility. I got on my hands and knees and shuffled forward, certain that I'd be slicing my knees up in the process. I eventually made it through, and the giant metallic worm I'd been in regurgitated me out.
I bet you looked like a ballerina, you were so elegant.
I got up and tried to reach down inside. We were a quarter of a mile away. The last obstacle was upon us, the mud crawl. I rather liked this. I got into the water, extended my legs behind me and moved across with my hands. I felt better doing it this way and actually crawling. I felt...
... quicker going this way. I got up, got out and pushed forward towards the end. Almost at the finish line, I passed someone but then someone passed me. A woman. She was gonna chick me. Wait... she was gonna chick me?
Um, NO, I'm *NOT* going to get chicked.
I went full throttle. She'd passed me up but I overtook her, and as soon as I did she picked up her pace but I was too strong for her. I finished ahead of her, glad that I wasn't some dude to be chicked.
I got past the finish chute and saw Danny.
Aw man!! What the hell?!?
My finish time was 1:07:35 and his was 1:07:10. Had I known he was so close to me, I'd have run harder towards the end.
No matter. Not even finishing behind my brother could ruin this day for me. I conquered the Camp Pendleton Mud Run once again, and again I had one thought running through my mind.
Next year's gonna be fun!