When was the last time you did something for the first time?
That question bounced and tripped and rolled over in my brain for the next four hours (and some-odd minutes) as I leaped, swam, pushed, ran, walked, heaved, laughed, gasped, and grunted my way through my first Tough Mudder.
For the past two years, my boyfriend had done Tough Mudder with his friends. Each time he came back, he was on fire about it. The obstacles sounded impossible, the conditions sounded grueling…and yet, in my masochist form, I really wanted to do it. I needed to.
So, I kindly decided to crash his party and join him this time. Boys can’t have all the fun, right?
A couple days beforehand, I got a little nervous looking at the obstacles (again). Although I strength train, my upper body is nowhere near 1. my boyfriend’s, 2. any of the tough ladies I saw who were crushing it in YouTube videos. Despite my pretty good fitness level, I felt like I was a beginner. I let myself be totally intimidated. Lucky for me, Jacob gave me a pep talk and my nervousness gave way to domination preparation.
The morning of, we drove down to Pulaski, Tennessee in the pouring rain while listening to “Sabotage” by Beastie Boys (my request), The Rolling Stones and other pump-up hits. From the get-go, I started mentally prepping myself: I was going to be very uncomfortable. It was going to hurt. I was going to be cold and dirty, and that’s just the way it was going to be. But most of all, it was going to be worth it. And hopefully really fun.
I was relieved to learn I wasn’t the only girl on the team, even though I knew that the guys would be cool if I was. I quickly bonded with Laura whose first Tough Mudder it was also. There was also Amanda, a kick-ass lady who had given birth only four months ago! #badassmom
What struck me was how unapologetic Tough Mudder is about their sponsor presentation. So corporate, it felt completely contrived and was a little annoying. Before we even got to the starting line, we were inundated by Cellucor pushing their pre-workout energy drink something-or-other and warmed up in the “Cellucor Warm Up Spot” or something like that. There were obstacles that had Oberto, Toyota, Radisson, etc. all over them. I know how much money I paid to do this thing…I can’t imagine how much sponsors shelled out to get their names on a “beached whale” obstacle. But I digress…
At the starting line (after you get over the 10 foot wall first, of course) we listened to the National Anthem and then were told to “take a knee.” I had comforting flashbacks from high school cross country. The motivator guy came out with his microphone and gave a pretty damn good speech. Goosebumps, chills, all that. As he prepped us for the event we were about to put ourselves through, he asked us a simple, yet compelling question: When was the last time you did something for the first time? I think Jacob and I even looked at each other with an expression of, “Yeah, when WAS the last time?” It held a lot of power.
Well, that romantic notion quickly floated away on the breeze as the air horn went off and we started running – up a long, huge ass hill. Well – bring. it. on. Tough Mudder. I eat hills for breakfast… Oh if I only knew what lied ahead.
The first obstacle were trenches. Your average 10-feet-deep, muddy, no-grip, gotta-ask-for-a-boost-to-get-out-of trenches. Immediately the camaraderie spirit took over everyone and as soon as you jumped down into one trench, you were being helped up. Then, you turned around and helped the next person (or people). It was a pretty cool thing and an experience that gave you a little faith in humanity. If we could all help each other out like this for an obstacle race – think about what we could do for each other in everyday life! (hint: now’s the time to go commit a random act of kindness)
Now thoroughly dirty and 100% in it, our group caught up and ran/jogged to the next obstacle. “Rocks in my shoes! Mud in between my _____” complaints started coming out (and wouldn’t really stop, though it was more commiserating and laughing and self-deprecation).
Throughout the 10.2 miles, we encountered over 15 obstacles. I had a few favorites, and a few not-so-favorites.
The Arctic Enema is infamous within the Tough Mudder community, and for good reason. You slide into ice water (with actual ice, like the kind at Sonic) with a fence overhead to keep you lying on your back, and are forced to go under the ICED water in order to cross a threshold to get back up. Then, you have to jump over a board in the ICED water before you get into another pool of ICED water, and then make your way out. Icy dicey. Now. I’ve done a polar plunge or two before. Growing up in Colorado, I’ve done the usual jump-from-the-hot-tub-into-the-snow gig. But this. This shocked my system so completely, I couldn’t even mutter a curse word. Nothing came out. I just had to keep moving.
The Cry Baby was next and reprehensible. You start by swimming into cold, muddy water and underneath a portal where you come up for air only to be met with excrutiating gasses. I think it was probably menthol as it had a hint of Vicks to it… but I coughed and sputtered as I army-crawled through, hoping to goodness my contacts would still remain on my eyeballs. Yuck.
The King of the Swingers was my favorite by far. We climbed a rickety wood platform that sat on the edge of a 14-foot deep pool, about 20 feet high. There was a rescue scuba diver at the other side. Huh, reassuring, I thought. The feat was to leap out, grab the bar in front of you that would swing you out over the water…and you were supposed to hit the bell on the other side before you let go and fell to your death, I mean the water. Of course, it was a fear for a lot of people to overcome – heights, water, falling… And I was nervous too! But when it came my turn, the bell rang for us to go, and I didn’t have to think twice. I just went. I didn’t hit the bell, but when I plunged into the water, the adrenaline rush was REAL. I would have tried it again and again. So, I’m taking this to mean I should go sky diving. Totally.
My (other) least favorite was the Electroshock Therapy: running through volted wires hanging down over hay bales. If you trip from the voltage, good luck getting back up. Luckily I didn’t trip, but enough said.
Between obstacles, the course was beautiful – and tricky. Rugged and lush, the woods of the farm we were running on had plenty of hills to keep the dirt baggiest dirt bag begging for mercy. I found my trail running experience came in handy, as that’s essentially what a lot of it was. At one point, Jacob, Laura and I started running down this hill with little to stop us and a LOT of momentum. Slip-sliding on mud, grabbing tree limbs for “stability” as we leapt by, I realized at one point we were all just laughing. We were having so much fun, that we were all laughing out loud. When was the last time you DID something like that?
Those hills, though… I kept up with Laura for some of them, and walked some with Jacob and our other teammates. Brutal, those hills. Like nothing I’ve ever ran!
By the end of the challenge, I had cuts and scrapes I couldn’t even tell you how I got them. I was probably the dirtiest and least attractive I’ve ever felt. And yeah, it was awesome and liberating. I felt exhilarated. I asked myself why it took me so long to do something like that, and I resolved to challenge myself more. To go out on the edge and do new things more often. To TRY. Although there were obstacles I couldn’t overcome and had to give up on (seriously, strength was just not at the right level), I was satisfied that I even tried each obstacle. I owed it to myself (and the $165 I paid, right?).
Despite the expensive ticket in and the ridiculous corporateness (and the cheap t-shirts, c’mon man!), I can’t recommend Tough Mudder – any obstacle race that tests your mental and physical abilities – enough. You’d be hard pressed to find a grittier, more challenging, fun, adrenaline-pumping time with obstacles that you can’t really make in an afternoon with your buddies (and live to invite your closest friends over). After TM, I felt empowered, confident, and kick ass. Maybe I had a lot of boosts up the walls, and was pulled up the Mt. Everest thing…I still did it. Despite running half-marathons and marathons, I learned more about what I was made of. The sense of accomplishment was REAL and I’ve been on a motivational kick ever since. Better sign up for my next race right now…
After our celebratory beer and spraying ourselves off at the official spray-off station (where nakedness was displayed without shame by other Mudders) we indulged in Chick-Fil-A and warily drove home. The next day was full of soreness, ICY HOT and stretching, but I still wouldn’t have traded it for a safe Saturday at home. I made a new friend, and got to share the experience with my boyfriend, who, I must brag, kicked total ass and looked good doing it!
Now. What was the last thing you did for the first time?