(Here's another lengthy entry where I suggest brewing some coffee, otherwise you may nod off while wading through the story. Last weekend was WTM 2014, hosted in Las Vegas, that was quite a race where the overall winner completed 95 miles. I was a fortunate participant 2 years ago meeting some great people along the way.)
More coughing erupted from the overweight passenger in the window seat that occupied space well into the middle seat. Not once had he covered his mouth during the flight and this episode was no different. I felt sorry for the pretty 20-something year old female that sat between us. She was my shield from him, or, just maybe, she was his shield from me? Each time another coughing fit kicked in, she and I were synchronized in turning our backs to him. In between coughing spasms, there was no escape from his labored mouth breathing and fingers pounding on a laptop that balanced on his rotund belly. To make matters worse, his blister-shaped belly caused his shirt to ride up, exposing a wedge of milky skin scribbled with dark hair. He never tried to cover the eyesore, which aggravated the annoyance. He was needy with the stewardess, asking for various foods and special drinks, and I had a flash of fury when fatso needed out to use the bathroom.Disgusting…he’s so disgusting…what a slob cycled through my brain. And, the absolute icing on the cake of his repulsiveness? He raised and arm, scratched his armpit and proceeded to sniff his fingers. Then, as if to double-check that he really did smell that bad, he turned his head and took a hearty snort from the same armpit. Get me away from this hideous pig.
I could not wait to get off the plane in New Jersey to participate in the World’s Toughest Mudder.
The plane landed and never a word was shared between Mr. Gross, The Shield or I. I left them behind, grabbed my suitcase and proceeded to look for the rental car area where reservations were made. No signs directed me, so I needed directions from multiple airport employees. Riding the “Air Train” eventually dumped me at the rental agencies and soon I was sitting in a Ford Focus prepared to drive to Englishtown. I was handed a generic map that only detailed major roadways and headed out.
CRAP! I missed a southbound exit and kept telling myself I would ride some cloverleaves at the next interchange and return to go south. Surprisingly, cloverleaves did not exist and the highway seemed only to have exits, no entrances. I kept driving, in the wrong direction, and became more lost. I knew I needed to head southeast and soon realized the roads were like a bag of snakes; twisting and turning everywhere, not knowing which part connected to the other. I brought out my I-phone to assist. That was a joke…what was I thinking? I could somehow use some type of GPS Google map app to save me? I can hardly text!
I kept zig-zagging on roads that took me southeasterly and somehow ended up in the dormitory area of Rutgers University. Slowly, I crept closer to my final destination. I stopped at a motel and asked for directions. I was getting closer, but again got lost. I called the front desk of my motel to have the clerk guide me in. He barked directions and, getting lost again, I called back. He literally yelled over the phone in utter disbelief that I could not simply drive directly to the motel. Finally, I got a glimpse of my motel’s street sign, but could not get to it due to cement “Jersey” barriers dividing the roadway. I noticed bahzillions of those barriers linked together during my pilgrimage and now know why they are called “Jersey” barriers—they’re everywhere in that state serving as median dividers.
I also had a quick education that turning left from a roadway is rare. In order to do so, you need to exit to the right PRIOR TO the targeted intersection and take a “jug handle” loop to a traffic light. The green light finally allowed me to make a left turn and return down the street to my motel. Two and a half hours from the airport to the motel. I checked in and, out of curiosity, asked how long it typically takes to get from the motel to the airport? “Twenty five, thirty minutes maybe,” was the response. How ridiculous, but, at least I was finally at the motel.
I unpacked and walked next door to IHOP and ate cool eggs with even cooler pancakes. It didn’t matter, I felt starved and the meal was good enough. Returning to the motel, I began to plan my strategy.
It was Thursday night and my stomach was on the mend after the flu flattened me out Tuesday night and all day Wednesday. I needed to grocery shop in the morning and figure out where Raceway Park was for registration. The neighboring room partied all night with people coming and going. Doors slamming, loud voices, and alcohol fueled laughter woke me frequently during the night as I buried my head deeper under pillows since I didn’t want to be “that guy” to confront them or call in to complain. Sleep was fitful and morning eventually arrived.
A free continental breakfast was included in my stay and I went to view the options. Needless to say, a simple bowl of Raisin Bran was the safest choice. I approached the front desk clerk and asked if my neighboring room had checked out and was relieved they had. She added they were out of state tree trimmers who migrated to the area for cleaning up the aftermath of hurricane Sandy. It fit the “work hard all day and party all night” mentality of many laborers.
I walked 2 blocks to the grocery store. Coconut water, cup of noodles, microwaveable brown rice, bananas, agave nectar, canned pears in heavy syrup and peanut butter were bagged and I headed back to the motel.
On my return trip, I encountered what appeared to be a young man with his mother. As we passed, she queried about the grocery store and I provided directions. They had heavy English accents and I learned Matt and “Mum” flew over from England where Matt was also participating in the WTM. They were in room 224, had no rental car and were relying on overpriced taxi’s or buses. I offered to drive them to registration and learned they met another Mudder in our motel, but he was from Scotland. Mum hinted that Crazy Scott was "different" and I said he could join us in the carpool.The trio had seen me the night before at IHOP and had spoke among themselves if I was “The Moustache Man”—a man with entertaining training videos on the internet who sports a large moustache and has trainings specifically for Mudder events. Matt said he was a huge fan of Moustache Man and they weren’t sure if I was him or not at IHOP. Having their curiosity satisfied, we parted ways with no real plan formalized.
Hours later, I ventured to room 224 and met Crazy Scott who had such a thick and heavy accent that I often turned to face Matt and Mum for interpretation. Crazy Scott’s voice was deep, sounding primitive, and made me envision him thundering around in medieval castles in Scotland, going up and down large stone steps, carrying a flaming stick that had a kerosene soaked rag tied on the end for a flashlight.
Early on, he asked me how hard it was to get Viagra? Not having any idea, I asked why a 30 year old would need it. He said something I didn’t understand, but I determined he “likes the wimminz.” He had noticed “The Tilted Kilt” across the street and said he would go there after the race for a pint of beer. There was no doubt this former elite paratrooper probably drank with his mates, headed butted one another instead of high fiving, and if one head butt missed the target and flattened a nose, I was sure they raised their pints to proclaim “I’ll drinkz tuh dat!” If blood flowed from the smashed nose, even better since it was probably celebrated with even more endeavor.
Both Matt and Crazy Scott looked healthy and fit, but Crazy Scott had that raw, extreme focus where if he was tasked with a job, he would have pure tunnel vision where nothing else mattered until it was complete. His accent continued to be a challenge. Instead of listening to words, I found myself focusing on his mouth where lip reading was proving to be better than guessing actual words being said. He commented how no woman would ever beat him in a race and I warned him that he would soon be eating those words. He proclaimed he would not allow it; that he could somehow muster up whatever it took to prevent a female beating him in a race. I maintained he was about to see some females who would make him rethink his machismo.
Later that afternoon, I drove Crazy Scott and Matt to the race grounds for registration. Comments were made about different car manufacturers in the USA versus England and I learned they were both personal trainers. We were talkative and Crazy Scott asked a question that I deciphered was directed to me. The only word understood during the question was “Dodge” so, since we had earlier spoken about cars, I answered “Ya, but we have a lot of Fords and Chevys, too.”
Both erupted in simultaneous laughter and I commented that I obviously misunderstood the question which Matt then translated. Crazy Scott had asked if I had ever told anyone the famous American quote of “Get out of Dodge” like he had seen in American movies. We all laughed over the misunderstanding and we arrived at the raceway.
We walked to the registration area where hundreds of Mudders milled around in a disorganized mass. Everyone was in half-assed lines that led to the alphabetically organized registration tables. Finally, my file was pulled and handed to me. I waited for Crazy Scott and Matt and the three of us headed to the pit area to set up camp and had to pass through a memorable tunnel.
The atmosphere was electric, humming with excitement, and the grassy pit areas were filling fast. We walked far along the eastern pit and finally found vacant spaces. Matt set up his tent that he was going to share with Crazy Scott and we all laughed since one person hugging a teddy bear would barely fit in their tent. My neighbor from Florida pitched a monster 8 man tent and generously offered to share his condo-sized tent with Crazy Scott. Oddly, Crazy Scott secured Scotland’s flag over Matt’s tent, but then moved into the neighbor’s condo.
The grass was wet and my feet cooled, which concerned me since it was going to become much, much worse the following morning. Crazy Scott admitted his feet were also cold which made me feel slightly better knowing I was not alone. Nineteen year old Matt, with eyes opened wide absorbing the entire experience announced, “I can’t believe I’m at the World’s Toughest Muddah.” He explained he had not made the initial qualifying time, but was allowed to enter via the Wildcard application process where a question was asked why he should be selected. His reply was he was rebuilding his mind and body from epilepsy and wanted to challenge himself at the World’s. As much as Crazy Scott was, well, crazy, Matt was equally as good and well spoken of a young man that a person would like to meet. He commented how he was going to beat Crazy Scott and disregarded me being just an “old man”…little did he know how this “old man” can still move.
We snapped pictures and returned to the motel hoping to get some sleep before morning. Sleep was sporadic with my mind cycling through equipment, strategy, nourishment, and the hundreds of “what if” questions that a worrisome mind in the middle of the night can dream up. A trash truck emptied a dumpster from under my window around 2 o’clock in the morning which made me realize the area was so populated that trash service was a 24/7 job. Not my idea of an area to live. Almost a relief, dawn broke the horizon and my stomach got jittery thinking about 24 hours of who-knows-what was soon to begin. Bags were packed and Matt, Mum, Crazy Scott and I wedged ourselves in my rental car and we set off to Raceway Park.
I parked close and we humped our packs to our tents and stirred around the pit area getting nervous and talking to fellow participants. The sky was Colorado blue and cloudless with the forecasted high nearing 50 degrees. I visited the porta-potty multiple times, cussing the residual flu nonsense. As 10:00 am neared, we changed into what our individual opinions felt was a smart outfit to race in.
Under Armor compression shorts were covered with basic running tights which were partially covered with Lava Core scuba shorts (about 2 mil). Up top, I simply wore the long sleeved Lava Core scuba shirt and my feet slipped into ankle length Smartwool socks. My race shoes were my best friends. I superglued the old, worn out, orange colored Salomon XT Wings back together as pieces were badly separating. Those shoes carried me over hundreds of training miles and became a perfect fit to my feet. The heel cup was a custom fit while the toe-box made my toes giggle because they were so happy inside the shoes. I worried about my sock situation. Other Mudders spoke of multiple socks and neoprene socks and drying off between laps and I was simply rolling with one pair of socks in my old, worn-out shoes. I forgot a cap, so I bought a WTM camo colored stocking cap to cover my head since I felt the scuba neoprene hood would be too hot for initial laps. Finally, thick neoprene gloves covered my hands and the timing chip was secured to my ankle with a Velcro strap. Both ankles had a band of exposed flesh between my ankle socks and running tights that I hoped would not become a big mistake. The bib numbers were printed on an apron-style type of vest. I poked my head through the neck hole and the numbered flaps fell front and back. Single cloth straps were tied under my armpits and I was race-ready.
The race sounded really good in July when I registered and, as the event neared, I told a co-worker who regularly runs 100 mile races that I may have bit off more than I can chew. He simply replied in his smooth southern drawl, “Take little bites.” Made sense to me. I planned on attacking the event with lots of little bites.
Crazy Scott hopped on top a short cement wall, raised his hands up high and slightly tilted his head back. “Are you not entertained?” he bellowed towards the empty grandstands.
I knew the scene well from my favorite movie, Gladiator, and Crazy Scott said that would be his response if anyone from the media asked him for a comment. We went to the start line and stayed near the inflatable arch and timing mat. We did not want to get behind the mass and then get stuck waiting in line at obstacles, so we pressed hard to stay near the front as more Mudders filtered into the area.
“There’s Moustache Man!” announced Matt as he pointed through the crowd. I saw who he was pointing at and looked around at other participants. Just like a Dr. Seuss story, there were big ones and small ones, short ones and tall ones, heavy ones and skinny ones, young ones and old ones… Most wore assorted combinations of wet suit gear, but some were scantily clad and I watched a chubby dude walk up in sneakers, cotton shorts and only his bib vest on top. What was he thinking?
“Three…Two…One” was overheard and the race began.
Pace yourself…24 hours is a loooong time as I reined in my run to something more of a shuffling trot. I badly wanted to open up and let my legs fly, an easy thing to do in the early excitement of a race, but constantly reminded myself …Pace yourself, race smart, 24 hours is a looong time! Stay in tune with your body and listen what it’s telling you.
While the herd moved forward, I noticed Moustache Man nearby and rambled up beside him.
“Are you The Moustache Man?” I asked.
“It looks like you’re one yourself,” was his response. “But, yea, I’m The Moustache Man.”
“I’m your imposter,” I laughed and explained how at least a dozen racers had approached me thinking I was the Moustache Man and I told him how a friend from England was a huge fan and wanted to get a picture taken with him.
“Not a problem…” was his response as we got separated in the running crowd.
After running down the Drag Strip, the course jumped over the wall and through a large puddle where feet were immediately soaked and mud properly introduced. Racers passed me and I passed others. I missed my music! I love running to my playlists which were replaced by labored breathing from others. Many were huffing and chuffing and we weren’t a mile into the course. Maybe I wasn’t pushing myself enough, but 24 hours stood before us. I began my “All Systems Check” analysis from bottom to top.
Feet? Wet but fine. Ankles? Check. Shins/Calves? Ok. Knees? Fine. Quads/Hamstrings? Good. Pelvis? Uh-oh. Darn it, my pubis osteitis was already noticeable. That upper groin/lower abdominal/pelvic girdle condition wasn’t debilitating, but was a nonstop annoyance and reminder that something was not right. It was nothing new, but very nagging. Torso? Fine. Arms? So far so good. Hands? Scuba gloves keeping them warm. Head? The knit WTM cap I bought was doing its job.
The first obstacle was ”The Cliffhanger.” In Beaver Creek at the regular Colorado Mudder, it was a climb up a steep ski slope. New Jersey offered no such terrain, so heavy equipment bulldozed many large mounds of dirt to run up and over. Sprinklers made the surface slick, but the hills weren’t a big deal. I kept trotting along and “Berlin Walls 1” arrived. I could reach the top and easily pulled myself up and over the 2 (or was it 3?) walls.
The course folded back on itself and, whoa! Crazy Scott was in the lead and looking strong! Good for him, I thought, hope he can keep that pace. The “Kiss of Mud 1” appeared and I simply got on my belly and began the marine type of belly crawl under the barbed wire. Many racers sported Camelbacks which frequently snagged in the wire. I popped out the other side and soon was at the “Rock Out with Your Block Out” obstacle. I picked up my cinder block and balanced it on my right shoulder and quickly walked the down and back distance that was maybe 300 yards. I noticed others holding the block at their bellies and wondered why they were taxing their arms? Perhaps they knew something I didn’t? Regardless, I wanted the weight to be carried on my shoulders and not my fingers clutching the block with my arms carrying the weight. My theory was similar to carrying a water bottle while running. I much prefer it being strapped to my waist or shoulders so I’m not working smaller arm and hand muscles. I set my block back down in the start/finish pile and noticed hundreds of racers behind me. I felt fortunate staying ahead of the traffic jam.
Another glimpse and “Go Scott” was yelled as he was still in the lead. I came to another dozed hill of dirt, but this one was like potter’s clay, very slippery. I scratched and crawled up the short slope and the “Funky Monkey” waited for me on the other side. I removed my gloves and clamped onto them with my teeth. I grabbed the first bar and noticed it wasn’t too greased up. I swung out and was able to skip many rungs as I went across the bars like a school boy out on the playground at recess. I finished and went to the next obstacle, “Trench Warfare.” These tunnels zig-zagged underground and had lots of pointy rocks mixed in with the mud, tearing up my knees. I popped out the end like a gopher and the course returned to the “Funky Monkey” where bars were slippery with the mud from the tunnels.
I grabbed the 1st one and it was too slippery. I reached out and grabbed the 2nd and 3rd and they, too, were slippery. This mud was a high-grade lubricant that needed to be introduced in Detroit to the automobile manufacturers since it had an incredible slick’em quality. I grabbed the edges of the rungs and began to cross and barely, as in falling off the last rung, made it across. Others fell into the water below and I felt fortunate. I kept trotting along and climbed up and over the “Ladder to Hell” that was an oversized ladder made of telephone poles with 2”X12” rungs. After dropping to the other side, the course ran along the edge of the woods with ups and downs over dirt mounds, feeling like a roller coaster. The “Devil’s Beard” arrived. With so many people getting under the rope netting, it was pretty easy to move forward under the barrier and exit. The course continued near the woods where there were many hurdles of logs called “Log Jammin.” Over, under, over, under several of the hurdles and I pressed on.
All systems check? But for the nuisance pubis osteitis, I was feeling good.
The “Boa Constrictor” arrived and I crawled into the big black tube that angled down into water. I tilted my head at the exit to keep my face out of the deepening water, but some water flowed down my neck hole in the Lava Core top. Not bad, so I crawled across the water and into the exit black tube that angled out of the muddy pond. It was smooth inside, not ribbed like a culvert, and I used my elbows as a wedge to slowly advance up the incline and get out. Soon, I was standing at “Twinkle Toes,” a balance beam about 25’ long with the width of a 2”X4”.
Big Mudder then provided an option. Some of the beams had about a narrow, 1 ¾” board nailed the entire length to make the crossing more difficult, while others had a stacked pyramid of lumber in the middle with the top of the stack being more of the 1 3/4” lumber. I elected the pyramid and concentrated. One careful step at a time and…yahoo, made it. Those who lost balance fell in the water below. The “Walk the Plank” obstacle was immediate and I crawled up the wooden ramp and stood on the top platform. About 15’ below waited another pond of muddy water and I jumped out. The freefall was brief as I splashed into the water and went under. I swam to the edge and got out and looked down. I had a pregnant belly and realized my Lava Core shirt had inflated like a balloon when entering the pond and the water was trapped. I “broke water” by pulling out the waistband and watched gallons of water spill out.
System check? Cool, but fine.
The course returned to “Twinkle Toes” and I followed my initial victory and went for the beam with the pyramid stack and was happy to cross without falling into the water. Trudging along finally took me to “Kiss the Mud 2” where I began my belly crawl under the barbed wire. The distance was 80’(?) and I noticed others log-rolling. Aside from more pointy rocks jabbing into my knees, I felt good belly crawling and told myself that maybe log-rolling was something to try on another lap.
I kept rambling along where the field of participants was beginning to settle. The ebb and flow of passing and getting passed was decreasing and, “Hey Matt!” My English friend was kneeling on a muddy hill as I caught up to him and he said he was alright. I let him be and continued moving forward and came to “Peg Legs.”
This obstacle looked fun! A muddy pond of water was before me, but logs standing vertical poked out from the water. These vertical logs were arranged in lines, somewhat straight in nature. The size of the logs varied a little, maybe the size of large dinner plates, and were all at different heights. The object was to step across the tops of the logs to get to the other side. I selected a line and went for it. While crossing, some of the logs tilted which caused a problem if it tilted left and I needed to get my right foot on it. I somehow managed to cross without falling into the water and told myself to mentally run through the line next time to ensure my left foot would land on the logs tilting left and vice versa on the right side.
The course doubled back several times and I could no longer see if Crazy Scott was in the lead. I ran up to “Smoke Chute” and climbed up to the platform. While on top, there were many chutes divided by plywood. I looked down the chutes and could only see the curve at the bottom. They were like laundry chutes in old apartment buildings and I could not muster enough trust, so I began to Spider Man down the chute with hands and feet stabbing into sides to slowly descend the vertical shaft. At the curve, I could not Spider Man any further, so I dropped and slowly came out the end and into water. I told myself on the next lap just plunge down the chute since the obstacle was masterfully crafted to prevent injuries.
Continuing on, the course went into the woods and I found it to be my favorite area. The course became more of a trail instead of a dirt road and the woods smelled of organic matter. Fall had the trees bare of leaves and high winds from Hurricane Sandy had uprooted selective victims in the forest. A huge rope cargo net, the “Spider’s Web,” blocked the trail. One step at a time and I was up and over the huge net and moving on. The trail wound through the woods and I was then standing at “Hanging Tough,” a series of 5 or 6 rings all in a row with water waiting below for punishment should I slip and fall. The rings were spaced far enough apart to prevent sticking an arm through to the elbows or armpits, thusly limiting the obstacle purely to grip strength to get across. One ring to the next I ventured across, and just like the Funky Monkey, I had removed my slick neoprene gloves and held them in my mouth. The last ring was grabbed and as I swung, my fingers slipped but I luckily landed on the platform.
The “Dong Dangler” was quickly faced with some people hanging under the cable while others slithered across the top. The huge metal cables were covered with plastic sleeves and strung across, you guessed it, more water. The distance was maybe 60’(?) and I was able to balance on top and begin to use grip and arm strength to pull myself across. Legs were busy balancing and worthless to assist the crossing. It took longer than expected, but I managed to get across and was off again on dry land heading through the woods.
Several aid stations were earlier passed so I began to take water at the next aid stations. The green bananas were under-ripe for my taste, but I crunched one down and questioned if it was hard enough to drive a nail?
Emerging from the woods, I noticed we were on the back side of the half pipe obstacle. A nylon web ladder was climbed to get on top and then I was to go down the half pipe like a kid on a giant slide. My butt hit the slope and down I went. My left leg was bent and after sliding off the end, my left foot stuck to the turf as my body propelled forward. Ouch! A sharp pain shot through my left knee as I slid over the top of my own leg. I stood, rubbed it and, no biggy, so I kept trotting. I made a mental note for next time to slide with both feet in the air to allow my butt to be the brake scooting along the ground.
Incessant Forward Motion (IFM) was thought of frequently and reminiscent from the founder of the Imogene Pass Run who told all of us to keep moving forward. “Run if you can, walk if have to and crawl as a last resort, but keep moving forward and eventually you will get to the finish line”.
The course returned to the “Ladder to Hell” where I climbed up and over and returned to the half pipe, “Everest.” Several Mudders were on the top dangling their arms down to grab those in need. I approached and hit high gear running up the half pipe and smiled when my fingers reached over the top and grabbed. I had a solid grip and hoisted myself up and over. I looked back and a few Mudders were approaching with plenty of help still dangling from the upper lip, so I went down the ramp and pressed on.
All system check? A little cool, groin thingy really pissing me off, but still good overall. Left knee from the slide is complaining, but not worth crying over.
The trail dropped back into the woods and slowly turned into a mud stomp, complete with hidden tree roots, huge hidden holes that swallowed other Mudders and finally a pit of thick, kind of warm, chest high, sticky shit. It was a foul mixture that even had the faint odor of, well, sewage. I waded through the “Swamp Stomp” and “Log Bog Jog” muck and crawled out and emerged again from the woods.
The course was snaking behind the buildings at the start/finish line and circled over to the east side of the drag strip. I reluctantly approached the “Electric Eel.” Belly crawling through standing water with electrical wires dangling from above was not appealing. I carefully slid into the water to avoid wires, but Big Mudder strategically placed them where it was impossible to not to get hit. I tucked my chin and began a panic stricken, high speed crawl. Like a jet ski, I skimmed along the top of the water, making quite the wake, and felt several zappings. Shooting out the end, I realized the electricity did not make me wet my pants and suck my thumb, so I pressed on, elated that obstacle was over.
“Hanging Brain” was next encountered which was nothing more than a shorter version of the Berlin Walls, but angled towards the participant. I was able to grab over the top and scale the 2 (or was it 3?) walls and rambled on.
Timing mats were sprinkled throughout the course and beeped each time I crossed. The beeping was good for my brain since it told me my timing chip was still attached and sent a message home that I was still moving forward in case anyone was tracking me.
“Island Hoppin” was a series of 5 or so floating wooden decks (maybe 4’ X4’ in size) in a line. The object was to jump from one to the other of these man-made lily pads to get across the water. It appeared Big Mudder slowly increased the distance between these lily pads where the final few required huge jumps with belly flop landings. Getting across without getting too wet, or too bruised, was good and the trail took me around the end of the lake.
While running just outside the chain link fence for the raceway, I saw JY Pak, last year’s winner, headed to the buildings at the finish line. Holy shit he’s amazing! I realized he was almost at the 10 mile mark and I was only at the 8. Four wheelers with cameramen drove beside him as I watched his effortless stride eating up the ground. Suddenly, the trail dumped into the lake.
“Pirate’s Booty” was a swim of 130 yards (+ or – who knows how much) with life guards on kayaks. I hopped in the cold water and began to wade, but opted to go to a boundary rope and pull myself across since it was faster than wading. Plus, when it got too deep, I did not want to waste energy swimming. Hand over hand I pulled myself across the lake and finally hit the opposing shore where a cargo rope net awaited. I began the ascent and soon was on top the platform and dropped to the ground to press on.
“Underwater Tunnels” used the other end of the lake for another crossing. But, this time the distance was much shorter and three lines of floating barrels had to be swum under. I headed back out into the chilly waters and one…two…oh shit!
While going under the 3rd set of barrels, my $20 WTM knit stocking cap floated off and I blindly turned underwater sweeping with my hands hoping my flailing would get lucky and grab my hat. No such luck. I popped up from the 3rd set of barrels and got to the opposing shore and crawled out.
My Lava Core gear was working well being lightweight and keeping me modestly warm after the swims. A one piece would have been better to prevent “ballooning” full of water from upper deck jump, but I was happy with the gear.
Running again was good since it built heat and soon I was standing before “Balls to the Wall.” This obstacle had huge ropes with periodic knots hanging from a vertical wall. A few lumber cleats were nailed to the wall and one Mudder could not climb the rope high enough to get his feet on the lowest cleat. I called out to him to stand on my shoulders. He did and it enabled him to get high enough to place his feet on the lowest cleat. He called out “I owe you” as he disappeared over the top and I began my ascent. Fortunately, my body likes to climb and soon I was up and over and moving on.
“Drag King” looked like a thigh burner. Two tires tied together needed dragged down and back on asphalt. It looked like ¼ mile to the turnaround point (but was probably less) and I grabbed a rope and leaned into it. My hands were at the small of my back clutching the nylon rope and a Mudder in front of me was carrying his tires on his shoulders. Officials had barked orders to drag and he still carried. I spoke to a fellow Mudder beside me. We were loud announcing to each other we were to drag and not carry the tires. Another official approached the carrier and demanded him to follow the rules. The carrier dropped his tires, turned to me and childishly snarled, “I hope you’re happy!”
“Shut up you little cheatin’ bitch!” were the only words on the tip of my tongue. But, I opted to stay quiet since nothing good would happen if I spoke my mind. Instead, I focused on dragging my tires. Mudders are a great group with wonderful camaraderie, but this dipshit gave Mudders a bad name. Mudders do not cheat!
My thighs began to throb as I neared the turnaround point and noticed an attractive female dragging her tires on the return trip. I gave her a thumbs-up and she smiled and her build caught my attention. Her legs were bulging with bodybuilder muscling. Quads were huge and cut with hamstrings large and powerful--and this was noticed while she was in a wetsuit! I glanced down at my chicken legs and felt out of place. My legs have little muscling and I wondered what they were built for? Definitely not bodybuilding…not running…not swimming…not powerlifting…not bicycling…guess they’re attached to my body for…um… entertainment.
“You riding a chicken?” is not unusual for me to hear and I cannot argue. But, one advantage is I require no globs of Vaseline, Monkey-Butt powder, Crack Spackle, Butt Butter or anything else for chaffing—my stuff doesn’t rub! Sand found its way to tender groin areas that I flushed in water obstacles. Those Mudders with gooey anti-chaffing products soon had a problem. Sand mixed with goo creates a super abrasive gel that not only removes hair, but exfoliates multiple layers of tender skin. My little chicken legs unknowingly did me a huge favor and they finally got the tires to the drop off point. Elated, I released the rope and moved on.
The course turned and began to head towards the finish line. The “Mud Mile” was a series of large mud humps with, of course, waist high water between the humps. Up and over and into the water, up and over and into the water, up and over and into the water. The motion was repetitious and the mud humps were slick. Up and over and into the water…it, quite honestly, became annoying. Finally, the last hump was conquered and off to the finish line with only 2 more obstacles to go.
“Berlin Walls 2” were more formidable. These suckers were tall. I could not reach up and grab the top, but noticed wooden cleats nailed low on the wall. So, I ran to the wall and jumped up to let my foot land on the cleat to help me get enough height to grab the top. Slip and womp! My foot immediately came off the cleat and I face-planted into the wall with a splat. Counting it off as a simple slip, I backed up and attacked again. Splat! My foot slipped off the cleat and I figured out what was wrong. The toe of my shoe was hitting the wall, forcing the ball of my foot off the cleat which caused my entire foot to slip. A third attack had the same result. I stood and lifted my foot to the cleat and tried to boost myself up and slipped off. Darn it!
The penalty for not completing the obstacle was the “Arctic Enema”. The huge container of water filled with ice cubes with a barrier that forces complete submersion. It was not appealing. Finally, I placed a foot on the corner of the cleat, grabbed the edge of the wall and stretched upward. My fingers barely curled over the top as I straightened my body. Success! I scampered over the top and dropped down to the other side. The drop was further than anticipated and a slight stinging shot through my feet as I moved forward for another tall wall and then onto the next obstacle.
The words make me uneasy of this Mudder signature obstacle. A mass of long, orange colored electrical wires dangle from a lattice type structure. Mudders need to run through the electrified spaghetti strings and absorb what shocks they encounter. The “Electroshock Therapy” at my first Mudder was miserable. Historically, electricity never bothered me too much, but I got struck by lightning while running through the wires. I heard the electrical arc snap at my lower back as I blacked out. My knees buckled as I collapsed into the mud and woke looking up at those nasty wires. Figuring we were there to run through the wires, I stood and began to run and BAM! Lightning struck a second time. Sparks shot out my rear-end on that second strike as I crumpled again into the mud. Having no desire to get struck a third time, I belly crawled under the dangling wires to exit the obstacle. I watched others go through and it appeared only a select few hit the turbo-charged lightning bolts while most giggled as they pranced through the obstacle. Murphy’s Law…he likes me and was present at that obstacle.
That experience haunted me every time I approached the “Electroshock Therapy” obstacle and at the WTM, I felt the same. DREAD. I stood before the obstacle as fellow Mudders ran up and through the wires. I was envious they were on the other side and headed to the pit area while I nervously looked at the wires. More Mudders passed and I watched. Even though they giggled through the wires, I knew there were a few wires with near lethal doses of electricity and I would be the lone Mudder to find them.
More Mudders passed and I glanced over at the “Arctic Enema.” It became appealing. Suffer through some 33 degree water versus getting fried? Hmmm…. I opted to roll the dice and ran through the dangling mass. Bam! I got zapped. It was not bad at all, but my dread and mind set had me immediately drop and belly crawl out the other side. Pathetic!
I ran on and closed in on the finish line. I came around the corner of the building and saw the time clock…just under 2 hours for the first 10 mile lap. Not bad. Each completed lap got an appropriately colored bandana tied to the race bib. Lap 1’s white bandana was tied on and I headed to my tent.
One lap down, who knows how many more to go. An all systems check made me realize I was feeling good and was satisfied with my pace that I felt I could maintain for awhile. I grabbed a protein bar, swallowed a bunch of Powerade and spooned mouthfuls of peanut butter as I stood before my tent.
Having lost my knit cap, I snatched my heavy duty scuba neoprene zippered hood from my tent as I wanted to preserve any head heat that would otherwise be lost. I zipped it on and began to trot out for lap 2.
LAP 2 AND BEYOND
Keeping a steady shuffle, I moved through obstacles without any problems. After crawling through the mud tunnels and returning to re-cross the “Funky Monkey,” I slipped and splash. I went for a swim. What happened to my grip? I thought my forearms and hands were still strong, and blamed the high-grade lubricant mud for my plunge. I crawled out and ventured onward.
Obstacles came and went and a systems check showed I was still feeling good and moving decent. My pelvic condition plagued me and was painful, but I could tune it out and make it more of an annoyance instead of a hindrance.
What do I hear? It was “The Hand That Feeds” by Nine-Inch Nails. The course had many sound systems playing different music and this one was playing a song from my playlist that has a beat and rhythm that makes my feet want to dance. What are the odds of so many songs to choose from that one of my favorites was blasting from the speakers? I loved it, smiled and quickened my pace to match the music.
I gulped water at aid stations and had another very under-ripe banana. Having to pee was easy in the Lava Core gear since I could hop in a porta-potty and simply pull down my shorts to take care of business. My top again ballooned full of water after plunging off the “Walk the Plank” obstacle, but I emptied my balloon and kept shuffling on. After nearly crossing the vertical logs in the “Peg Legs”, I lost my balance and fell in the water. Darn it! I crawled out and was mad at myself for taking an unnecessary plunge. “Smoke Chute” arrived and, again, I spider-manned down the chute as far as possible before gently sliding out the end. I simply could not trust the obstacle and was happy to be on the trail in the woods. “Hanging Tough” was before me and I began to swing from ring to ring. Ker-plunk! I came off and went for a swim.
In addition to getting wet, failing at the rings also had a 1/8 mile added loop to run as a penalty. I trotted off on my penalty loop and was curious about my grip. What is going on? I blamed blowing up my forearms and grip while grasping the rope and dragging the tires. I had noticed other Mudders had tires with much longer ropes that they wrapped around their waists and told myself I would do the same in order to preserve my grip.
“Dong Dangler” again had me inch-worming across the top of the cable while others looked like sloths hanging underneath. This obstacle also taxed my grip as I pulled myself across the cable and made it to the bank and trotted on.
I completed other obstacles without any problems and hit the after-burners to run up the half-pipe “Everest” obstacle. I swung up on top and layed on my belly and hung my arms down to help other Mudders running up the slick ramp. A big boy Mudder hit the half-pipe and was headed up towards my dangling arms. He reached out and we grabbed hold of each other as my toes hooked under the back side of the deck since he nearly ripped me off the platform. Both of us called out for help and soon a mass of hands were reaching down and grabbing him. The big Mudder was soon rolled onto the platform and gave a hearty “thanks.” I smiled how Mudders worked so well together; pure strangers joining forces to help others achieve their goals. I was humbled being with such a group.
The remaining obstacles went well and I was back at the finish line happily getting my lap 2 brown bandana tied to my vest.
A systems check made me realize I was getting cold and I knew the sun would go down during lap 3. So, I plundered my tent and peeled off my Lava Core shorts and tights and wrestled into my wetsuit.
My daily personal wardrobe consists of baggy clothing, so this wetsuit imposing its will by tightly constricting my body was annoying. To make matters worse, I have a long torso and short legs so the neoprene was constantly giving me a “wedgy” that I had to address. I found my blinker strobe and headlamp and glanced at my phone. Friends and family had sent inspiring texts. I replied to a few, but left others unanswered as I wanted to get back out on the course.
“Matt? What are you doing?” He was at his tent with Mum, obeying the rules, standing just outside the pit area. He was dry, clean and warm and I was slightly jealous. He explained cramping up on Lap 1 and questioned continuing. I told him he did not fly across the ocean for one lap at the WTM and told him to get his ass in his wetsuit and join me.
My 7 mil wetsuit was thick and I felt as nimble as an overweight butcher hog on ice. I had tried it on at a Colorado scuba shop for maybe 4 minutes where I was told it was a good fit and I had to trust their expertise.
My favorite word in the English language is FREEDOM. I love how the word looks, how it makes me feel when it is heard and anything that restricts, removes, limits, reduces, and/or takes away from that word typically annoys the thunder out of me. Personal freedoms living in the glorious USA are cherished, but I also like freedom of movement by wearing baggy clothing. The wetsuit became a straight jacket and was instantly my enemy. I told Matt I was not going to burn out my legs running in my cumbersome cloak of thick neoprene and we set off together at a quick walking pace.
Steadily we crossed timing mats and obstacles and boom, my grip was gone. The “Funky Monkey” dropped me into the water on both crossings. Likewise, I lost balance on one trip across the balance beam of “Twinkle Toes” and realized my body was slowly breaking down.
The sky turned to dusk, then blackness where headlamps and blinkers were turned on. Matt referred to his handlamp as a “torch.” I also found his mother referring earlier to aluminum foil as “silva paypa” equally as entertaining. We kept jabbering and I chuckled when he explained being startled at the grocery store when the pressurized misters jetted on while he was looking at the vegetables. It was new to him and suddenly, JY Pak lapped us.
We cheered everyone who passed and discovered several people passing us were females. Good for them! They thanked us for the encouragement and the eventual female winner, and 2nd overall finisher, Amelia Boone, turned to make a point of thanking us for cheering her on. Unlike Crazy Scott, Matt and I did not mind “getting chicked” as I have a tremendous amount of respect for anyone who goes out and pushes themselves. Plus, it’s good to humble others, but it is even better to be humbled.
During lap 3, we were in the “Swamp Stomp” and “Log Bog Jog” with Moustache Man and his team. Matt was star struck. He was Moustache Man’s #1 fan and scrambled out of the sewage pit of warm mud to turn and eagerly offer Moustache Man a hand. But, Matt stepped in watery mud that squirted directly into Moustache Man’s left eye. I laughed out loud. Moustache Man wiped his face and Matt cringed in embarrassment. I could not help commenting on how Matt gave Moustache Man “a money-shot.” Both were unsure of my humor. Oh well.
We continued on and the two lake crossings made me realize my rental wetsuit leaked like a sieve. After crawling out of the lake, flooded waters rushed down my torso and into my legs. The cascading water pooled in the wet suit’s ankle cuffs, requiring me to squeegee out the water that also carried away valuable core temperature. But, I enjoyed the buoyancy the wetsuit provided during the lake crossings.
We got back to the finish line and Lap 3’s yellow bandana was tied to my vest and… whoa! My stomach churned and I shook my head. I felt it earlier, and it was not going away. I had to go to the bathroom. Unzipping the back zipper and peeling out of the torso portion of the wet suit was depressing as steam released from my body. I wanted to physically grab the heat that was dissipating into the atmosphere and reuse it after I zipped back up. But, it floated away, taking a little of my spirit with it—I worked hard for that heat. After going to the bathroom, I struggled punching my hands through the wrist cuffs of the wetsuit, and, with way too much effort, I finally got back into the miserable outfit. I was chilled and went to my tent.
Cup of Noodles! Yeah, that will help. I grabbed one and headed to the microwave provided in the tent area. Five people were already in line as a couple grubby dudes cooked their meal. The microwave looked circa 1985 and the Grubby Gonzo Brothers kept zapping their meal. After 10 minutes, I was getting irritated as they kept cooking. I asked the Mudder ahead of me if they were cooking up a pot roast and he laughed and was equally as irritated. A few Mudders huddled in the heat from the oily exhaust fumes spewing out of the generator that was providing electricity to the microwave and the Gonzo Brothers finally walked off with steam puffing out of their well cooked cuisine. Others in front of me heated up their soups and finally, after 25 wasted minutes, I stood before the glorious microwave.
I set my Cup of Noodles inside and spun the dial for 2 minutes and started the radiation treatment. The line had grown behind me and…”ding”. I removed my cherished meal and stepped off line and eagerly rolled back the top to dig into the gloriously hot meal to warm my innards!
@#$%!!!! The noodles were still crunchy, the broth was luke warm and the dehydrated peas and carrots rolled around my mouth like gravel. I managed to choke down the contents and returned to my tent. A few more spoonfuls of peanut butter, some agave nectar and another protein bar topped off the noodles. Powerade washed down the meal and Crazy Scott showed up and grunted at Matt and I.
A tuft of hair stuck out a barbed-wire tear in his latex swim cap as he ripped open a protein bar wrapper with his teeth. He chewed, with crumbs falling from his open mouth, and threw the wrapper to the ground. He was a muddy mess and stirred around in the neighbor’s tent and pulled out a bottle of water and guzzled it. He tossed the empty bottle to the ground and took off. His tunnel vision and target lock on his mission were focused. I picked up after him and soon Matt and I were off as Lap 4 began for me.
Systems check? @#$%!!!!! Not only was my pelvis condition aggravated, but my left knee had a stabbing pain, which was very noticeable while going downhill on the dirt mounds. I realized it was from my initial slide down the half-pipe obstacle and was irritated that the easiest obstacle had caused some kind of injury. The colder the night got, the more my left knee pained me, but Matt and I continued on in the middle of the night.
As I scratched and clawed my way up the hill of slippery potter’s clay, a ghostly outline whispered past me. I anchored into the greasy mud and watched Pak gracefully move, like a cat, up and over the hill and to the monkey bars. Without hesitation, he grabbed the bars and swung across with ease and disappeared. Soon, I grabbed the bars and, very unlike Pak, made a big splash, crawled out and continued on with Matt.
What is that? It’s more music from my playlist playing on the loudspeakers! Instead of Nine Inch Nails, this time it was Led Zepplin’s “When the Levee Breaks.” The song has a rocking chair rhythm to it and we matched pace to the beat, generating body heat.
The longer “Kiss of Mud 2” obstacle arrived and rather than belly crawling, I thought log-rolling all the way under the barbed wire obstacle would save energy and save my knees. Tore up knees are another signature of Mudder events since crawling in gritty mud takes its toll on skin. Even through thick neoprene, I could feel my knees had been brutally tenderized on the first two laps. So, I rolled…and rolled …and rolled…and rolled. Mud, wires, starry skies… mud, wires, starry skies. The pattern repeated itself until I finally rolled out and stood.
Whoaaaaa…right after standing, I toppled over to my knees and reached down to the ground to brace myself from complete collapse. I had a woozy brain and a nauseous stomach. I felt like crap. I focused on a distant light that spun and I tipped over. While flattened out on my back, I had the famous “bed spins” from college days of drinking too much. The night was cloudless and the stars were like millions of luminescent spiders dancing in the sky. They slowly stopped their spinning boogie and came into focus. I managed to stand and that sickening feeling thankfully went away. Mental note, don’t ever do that again!
Matt and I continued and steamy vapor from each exhale was lit up by my headlamp and became a source of entertainment. Having never been a smoker, I was curious if I could create smoke rings with my mist. Lips were pursed in a circle and, nope. Not even close--just a vaporous cloud floating up in the atmosphere.
The slick and gooey mud had a frozen crust on top from the freezing temperatures, and…
NNOOOOOOO!!! My gut rumbled again. @#$%!!!! @#$%!! @#$%!!! Unzipping the wetsuit when the temperature was in the mid-20’s plagued my mind. But, I didn’t have a choice. I found myself in a porta-potty, pissed off at whoever had infected me with the virus a few days before the race. I dejectedly watched more precious body heat leave my body and rise into the chilly night sky, with a little more of my spirit wafting along with the vapor. After finishing, I had the usual fight getting my big hands through the wetsuit’s wrist cuffs. You know what they say about a guy with big hands? Me either…but I wondered who was the original fool of that stupid saying.
Matt and I continued on and were eventually facing “Everest,” the obstacle forcing Mudders to run up the half-pipe. Matt ran up and was successful getting on top. I backed up to get a good run at it. Zip zip zip zip zip zip zip zip zip zip zipzipzipzipzip and jump.
My hands went over the top and fingertips felt the edge of where I needed to grab, but I was an inch short as I lip skidded down the half-pipe. Darn it…oh so close.
I returned to my starting point and repeated my effort. Again, my fingertips were an inch short of success. I reset and sprinted again and as my fingertips touched the same exact spot. “@#$% YOU EVEREST!” I yelled out loud as I belly slid down the slippery ramp for the 3rd time.
My mind was chapped at my fatiguing body and both my mind and body were pissed at “Everest.” I returned to my starting point and shook my head. What’s the point being so angry at an inanimate object? How juvenile! Grow up! Think of something that inspires you because anger will not get you up and over this thing!
Changing my mindset, I started my sprint. Upon reaching the edge of the ramp, I roared out loud, pressed on and jumped. My fingers grabbed tight and I swung up and was elated to be on top since the “Arctic Enema” waited as a penalty for failing. We climbed down and a race official grabbed my shoulder.
“Hey, how old are you?” he asked.
I wanted to tell him my thoughts about age…”you are as old as you feel when you don’t know how old you are.” I still can be an overgrown kid and my body feels in its early 30’s, but my skin has a 45 year old label attached to it. I told him my labeled age and his eyes opened wide and he said, “You’re inspiring!”
“I don’t know about that,” I replied and took off with Matt.
Matt and I moved forward and…wham! My left foot occasionally has a mind of its own and stabs a toe in the ground, forcing a quick slam to earth. I picked myself up and later reflected on the incident. “Even falling down is moving forward,” was later told to me by a cherished friend which made me smile at the true statement.
We pressed on and returned to the first lake swim and climbing out on the vertical rope cargo net was difficult. My grip was gone so I bent my wrist to make hooks to climb. The cold night air had transformed the wet rope cargo net into frozen ladders. Happily, Matt and I got over the platform and continued on. “Balls to the Wall” where a huge knotted rope dangled from a vertical wall with cleats spaced far apart was difficult, and dangerous. Since the obstacle was immediately after the lake swims, water poured onto the obstacle from Mudders and immediately froze. The entire structure was ice encased and I was slow and methodical completing it.
My body was fatigued and very cold and Matt and I formed a plan. We would hop in the warming/medical tent at the start/finish line to warm up before pressing on.
My understanding (or misunderstanding) of the rules to be labeled a “WTM Finisher,” you had to cross the finish line AFTER the 24 hour mark. If not, you were labeled a quitter (a word I detest as much as the word “can’t”). Furthermore, I understood after the 24 hour mark, the course was open for an additional 4 hours to allow people to finish the lap they were on. My brain said if I cross the finish line at 23 hours, 59 minutes and 59 seconds, I had to do another lap, otherwise I was a quitter. And, if that final lap is not completed at the 28 hour mandatory “the course is closed” cutoff time, I’d be labeled a “did not finish.” So, I calculated I would cross the finish line right after the 24 hour mark and be done with the event.
As we approached the super tall “Berlin Walls 2”, I clambered up and over and hung on the opposite side. I willed myself to be taller, longer and lighter as I dropped. I landed with stinging pain shooting through my feet. It felt like I jumped off a 3rd story balcony. All the little bones in my feet, brittle from the cold, must have shattered and I gimped to the next wall with a repeated, painful performance. Gingerly I hobbled onward with Matt. We approached the last obstacle of the lap and “Electroshock Therapy” smirked at me as I approached.
I noticed paths well worn under those dangling wires of death and was not ashamed as I belly crawled under ALL of them. Yup, the ultimate pussy move…I own it. But, it sure beat getting struck by lightning and, as freezing cold as I was, the penalty “Arctic Enema” may have been enough to knock me out of the race altogether. We pressed on and I crossed the finish line and was pleased as Lap 4’s green bandana was tied to my vest with 40 miles completed.
We went to the medical tent to thaw and I was accosted by an employee. “What are you doing in here!” he demanded.
Where did this dude come from?? Is he really that naive?? I answered the obvious with “Uh, getting warmed up.”
He interrogated me like I was there to rob the tent of all heat, and supplies, and kicked me out. Hmm. I already had a conversation with myself that there was no way I was going to strip down and crawl in my sleeping bag to nap within my tent. If I did, I knew I would never get out of the bag to slip back into a frozen wetsuit. So, I had to keeping moving forward.
Matt was also treated like a criminal in the tent and we started another lap. It was bone chilling in my leaky wetsuit and I told Matt I was on my final lap. My groin condition, my newly injured left knee, my right foot pained from dropping off the wall and being cold were starting to beat me. I told Matt how I was simply going to hop from medical tent to medical tent along the course to cross the finish line at the 24 hour mark. Matt understood and said he felt like he had another lap in him and I reminded him to not allow me to slow him down.
“Hey,” grumbled from behind us and I turned to see Crazy Scott approaching with a shiny mylar heat blanket wrapped around him.
“Me feetz…..thayr fooked!” Crazy Scott announced. I was walking peg-legged like Captain Hook, but poor Crazy Scott hobbled like a man with two ill-fitting prosthetic legs.
We three plodded along and my jaw began to involuntarily quiver. Teeth soon were chattering. Uh-oh, early stages of hypothermia? or is it hyperthermia? Doesn’t matter…I was @#$%ing cold! My torso had the core temperature of a side of beef hanging in a meat locker. My body would have drastically shrunk the mercury of an inserted rectal thermometer and obstacles became a chore. Wet again, move forward, wet again and penalty loop, wet again and ………gurgle-gurgle.
Unbelievable! My gut was rumbling and I hit a very low spot knowing I had to again expose my frigid body to the night air. Why doesn’t someone make wetsuits with a zippered trapdoor in the rear? (I see a fortune for someone who takes this seriously, especially when obstacle racing becomes more mainstream.) Thankfully, the porta-potties were beside a medical tent and Matt and Crazy Scott continued on while I made a pit stop.
The tent was wonderfully warm and I wrestled off my gloves and ….holy shit! My hands were so swollen they looked like boxing gloves and my middle finger on my right hand had tiny bloody cracks. The swelling was so great that my skin was starting to split. I’m a mess!
Gurgle gurgle. Could this get any worse?! I needed help unzipping the wetsuit and getting my hands through the cuffs. As I hightailed it out of the tent, I could hear the EMT say that the swelling in my hands was due to the cold. I flung open the door and entered the ice-box.
Inside the gross porta-potty was a balmy 25 degrees. I watched precious body heat vaporize and fog up the potty like a steamroom. I was sure that cherished heat vapor exited the roof vents making my porta-potty look like a frosty Colorado cabin in a snowy forest with smoke lazily wafting out the chimney. Or, in New Jersey terms, my porta-potty must have looked like an industrialized smokestack belching out plumes of toxic vapor. All that work dissipating into the night sky was depressing and more of my spirit went with the vapor.
I got back in the tent and began the cumbersome job of climbing back into the wetsuit with dysfunctional hands and fingers. I was shivering and too cold to care about anything but getting that darn neoprene layer zipped back up. I watched a fellow Mudder quit and a 4-wheeler whisked him away. Getting back in my wetsuit was a major accomplishment and I took a chair in front of the vent blowing hot air. My hands were hideous as I rubbed them in the heat. I took a drink from the hot chicken broth container and found the scalding hot fluid to be the nectar of life. I sipped multiple cups as my body craved the salty brine. I opened 2 salt packets and poured them in and kept sipping. Sharkies were also on the table and I grabbed a couple packets of the gummy-bear type of fruit chews.
My head was down in my seated position as I massaged my hands. A peculiar odor filled the tent and I looked up to see Pak. He moved to the containers of scalding chicken broth and filled a cup. Systematically, he poured the fluid down his arms and legs, all over his shoes and lastly filled up his gloves. The drenching took several cups and he was out the door. Smart man, I thought.
The EMT was friendly and polite and, surprise… she kept track of time. She told me and another Mudder, “You have been in here for 1 hour and 10 minutes…what are your plans.”
“I’m not quitting,” was my response as I stood to put on my gloves. My hands looked like catcher mitts as I fought with the neoprene gloves. The other Mudder said the same and we departed together.
His strategy was very similar to mine and we ventured off into the freezing cold and heard over an employee’s handheld radio that the “Balls to the Wall” obstacle was closed since it was too dangerous. No shit! That giant wall of glazed ice spooked me and I was happy it was closed since my hands were so trashed I didn’t think they would allow me to climb the knotted rope, providing I even got that far.
Rich was my newfound traveling partner and was career military. We crossed timing mats and I smiled when they chirped to me. I commented how each time we crossed a mat, people at home were getting an update that I was still moving forward, albeit vincredibly slow on this lap. The philosophy of taking the race in “little bites” became racing from tent to timing mat to tent to timing mat.
Rich was a family man and shocked me when he said he could not wait to see Bob. I was confused since he spoke of his wife and 3 young boys and I raised an eyebrow. I wondered if Bob was part of Rich’s secret life and was waiting for him at the finish line while his family had stayed home? He looked at me and laughed.
“B.O.B., it’s army talk. Big Orange Blob…the sun! Get it?” he said.
I laughed and was looking forward to seeing Bob as well. It would provide a huge mental uplift that I drastically needed. Rich and I kept moving forward and…..unbelievable!!!! gurgle gurgle
We were only 2 miles from the tent we got kicked out of and here my stomach was forcing me out of my wetsuit, again. How depressing. We jumped into the next tent and I began the process. Why didn’t I do shots of pepto-bismol with Immodium AD chasers before the race and eat a block of cheese for good measure? The super miserable stripping, freezing, porta-potty experience was repeated and I was back in the tent rubbing my humungous hands in front of the heater.
Rich had a watch, thankfully since the course had ate mine, and formulated a schedule to get us to the finish line exactly at the 24 hour mark. We left the tent at the prescribed time and got wet and cold, wetter and colder, while we pressed on. My wetsuit “wedgy” did not matter anymore since my fingers could do nothing about it. Mudders behind me were entertained as it appeared my butt "was munchin’ on neoprene.” I was far beyond caring. I was in a battle that was slowly gaining ground on me.
A system’s check revealed one trashed body. I could feel creaky bones, thrashed connective tissues, a GI tract that was upside down, a bum left knee, a damaged right foot, hands so disfigured that I was worried about permanent damage, a chilled torso, aggravated pubis osteitis, and the list went on.
And, that pesky little voice that periodically shows up visited again.
“Good enough. Call for a 4 –wheeler to haul you in so you can get to the motel room for a long hot shower and crawl into a comfy bed for some well earned sleep. It’s alright…go ahead…” My suffering body pleaded with my brain to listen to the voice of reason, please!
Thankfully, my brain had not succumbed to the cold, yet, and gave the middle finger to my body that was begging for mercy. I wasn’t quite swayed by the persuasive voice, but, with each visit the little voice became more convincing.
It took four tries on “Everest” during the previous lap to get over the obstacle and I had serious doubts while gimping up to the slippery ramp. Here on lap 5, just like all other obstacles, I had to make an attempt. My right foot had the most noticeable injury as each step felt like I was stomping on a spiny cactus in bare feet. I tried to sprint to the half pipe, but had the speed of a crippled turtle. I failed at my attempt and went straight to the penalty, the “Arctic Enema.” Jumping in, wading across, plunging under and getting out of the ice water wasn’t a big deal, since it couldn’t make me much colder and another medic tent was within eyesight. Rich and I staged in the next tent as Bob burned through clouds and lifted everyone’s spirits. I was getting antsy sitting in the tent and wanted to get going. If it wasn’t for the 24 hour mark, I think we would have pushed on and finished hours earlier, but Rich kept us on schedule.
At Rich’s designated time, we set out again and plunged through the goopy swamp, crawled through the water with wires dangling down and kept moving forward. We crossed the lake, and started to re-cross it. Apparently, the little lake gremlin hiding under the 3rd set of barrels who took my stocking cap on lap 1 wanted another souvenir from me and took my headlamp on my final lap. Screw it. The sun was up and it wasn’t needed anymore. Rich and crawled out of the lake like salamanders slowly morphing into humans and hopped into the final tent.
The tent filled with excitement as fellow Mudders were anxious to be done with the race. A cute EMT from Texas casually spoke to all and I was pleased everyone behaved themselves in her presence. Rich kept a close eye on his watch and we set out on our final stretch.
When we got to the “Berlin Walls 2”, there was no way I was going to drop on the back side and further injure my feet from the fall. Rich told the official to watch his attempt and I laughed out loud as he went to the wall, raised his hands and demonstrated maybe a 2 inch vertical. Satisfied of his required attempt, he headed to the “Arctic Enema” for the penalty. Rich’s vertical was easily double my required attempt and to the “Arctic Enema” I limped. After everything I had put my mind and body through, a little vat of icy water became nothing to endure. I climbed out with ice cubes, caught within folds of my outfit, periodically falling.
Rich and I stood before the “Electroshock Therapy” and my aversion to the possibility of being electrocuted to death on my final lap had me head straight, as in without hesitation and skipping the required attempt, to the “Arctic Enema” penalty. As I climbed the ladder, the lady officiating at the obstacle questioned, “You’re going to do that?” while pointing to the container that staff had just filled with more ice.
“Yup,” I replied as an ice cube that hitched a ride from the last “Enema” fell right between my legs. The official was still looking at me, as if she needed a better answer of why I elected not to run through the wires.
“Look!” I said while pointing at the falling ice cube, “I’m so cold that I'm crapping ice cubes. It doesn’t matter anymore...” I hopped in, went under and climbed out the other side.
Rich and I hobbled along and were finally at the building and I peeked around the corner to the finish line. The large digital clock showed we were a few minutes early as more Mudders with the same strategy lined up behind us. Rich kept us on a strict schedule that was perfect. Finally, the clock showed 24 hours and we headed to the finish line.
Twenty four hours and twenty three seconds was my official time with 5 laps (50 miles), and 165 obstacles, completed. I was not overcome with emotion and did not celebrate and lost Rich in the crowd after a handshake and, regrettably, didn’t even get his email address. I was too cold and miserable and my body was trashed. The ever-smiling, ever-cheery, wonderful volunteers and employees graciously approached finishers and removed my timing chip. Throughout the miserable night, they manned obstacles and tents and patrolled the course cheering everyone on. God bless each and every one of them.
Mum was there with Matt nearby. He was dry, clean and had his pit area packed up and told me he finished the lap with Crazy Scott and called it quits. Crazy Scott had continued and he was soon crossing the finish line. We all headed to the pit area to change and pack up our gear.
Mum was a savior. As I fought to get out of the wetsuit, she grabbed on and yanked, pulled and tugged. My hands looked like I was suffering from elephantitis and she kept helping me fight the wetsuit. As she pulled on the sleeve, the wrist cuff ever-so-slowly slid over my inflamed hands, much like a baby with a huge head slowly exiting the birth canal.
SNAP! Mum nearly fell over backwards when the wetsuit released its grip on me. I learned the wrist cuffs on the wetsuit acted like a mild tourniquet throughout the race, interfering with proper circulation causing fluid to build and make a grotesquely disfigured set of hands and fingers. I leaned against the short cement wall and Mum was immediately at my feet ripping off my shoes so we could finish removing the wet suit. Together we attacked and I stood in victory, so happy the neoprene outfit was crumpled on the ground beside me. But for being exhausted, I would have enjoyed an old fashioned Mexican hat dance on top of the miserable thing. Mum did not mess around as she grabbed my feet and was prepared to take off my socks.
“Oh no you don’t,” I told her. She was such a selfless person willing to help that removing my socks did not phase her. I’m blessed with good feet and skin, but the thought of having some type of “funky foot” after the last 24 hours was for me to address, not her. Mum wanted to argue and Crazy Scott commented how Mum wouldn’t stop until she ripped off my compression shorts and had me standing naked in the sun which my bare torso was greedily absorbing the warm sun rays.
Everyone laughed and I took care of my own socks and was pleasantly surprised that other than being wrinkled from being wet for so long, my feet looked good. Mum approached with a towel and was reaching to grab my feet to clean them off and get them good and dry. I almost lost the argument and found her to be an amazingly caring, selfless, kind hearted lady. I dried off and changed and glanced back at my tent. Mum had already dismantled it and had it rolled up and bagged. God bless her! She took the wet and muddy gear from all three of us and stuffed it into a tent she had trash picked (trash cans were overflowing with tents, towels, wet suits and other assorted gear) and said she would clean it all up back at the motel. Again, God bless her!
I examined my faithful friends, my shoes. They were beyond worn out at the beginning of the race and my superglue job had held them together. The mesh uppers were nearly disintegrated and, almost ceremoniously, I laid them to rest in a box of trash with my Smartwool socks. Together, they were my most faithful, best functioning, pieces of equipment for the race.
We finally had everything gathered and began our crippled journey to the rental car. The only thing I forgot to pack in the tent was underwear. I went commando under my baggy jeans and soon realized how much weight I lost during the race. Despite being buttoned and zipped, my pants dropped to my knees. It was a "whoops" moment where exhaustion trumped any feelings of embarrassment. Once again, Mum saved the day by handing me a bungee cord that I threaded through belt loops which kept my pants up.
Mum then ran off to a vendor type of tent as I went to another tent to claim my WTM t-shirt and headband.
Mum returned and later informed us that Matt took 4th in his age division (233rd overall), I took 3rd in my age group (71st overall) and Crazy Scott, in the most competitive age group, also took 3rd (and 10th overall).
I found the results rather compelling. What were the odds that the three of us from different parts of the world would coincidentally meet, become friends and finish with such similar age group placings? Kind of weird and far-fetched, but also very true.
Crazy Scott was a good sport eating a large slice of “humble pie” when told how two girls beat him. He smiled and said he learned a lot of lessons and would be back next year “and I’m gunna bring it!” If Vegas will be taking bets, I’m not sure to put money on Crazy Scott or Pak battling for the win next year.
It took hours at the motel to thaw and injuries after the race weren’t too bad. My left knee and right foot caused problems for over a month and my left thumbnail turned black and eventually came off. Other fingernails darkened, but did not fall off. Fingertips were tingly and I lost most of my sense of touch. Exactly 2 weeks after the race, skin on all fingers peeled much like Elmer’s glue on grade school fingers. Layer after layer kept sloughing off my fingers and also in the palm area. This reptilian shedding continued for several weeks, but with each peel, the newer delicate skin had a better sense of touch. I blamed the cold, poor circulation and the pressure from my hands swelling so much inside the gloves for the damage. The tip of my left thumb that lost the nail is partially numb with a concern that it is permanently damaged…I guess time will tell. My hands and fingers with new skin are also more sensitive to the cold, forcing me to wear gloves during runs on even mild days. The pubis osteitis is a somewhat of a constant condition that I try to ignore. The road rash on my knees healed quickly and I happily shared with other Mudders, who scoffed at my legs, my favorite non-injury. I had none, zero, nada, chaffing to recover from while they hobbled around very bow-legged. I was all good down there!
I don’t want to focus on what the event cost, in health and in dollars. I’m sure the financial total would floor me. But, the t-shirt I earned (and have yet to wear), and the headband (that is still in its unopened package), are my trophies for an event that proved to be…well, priceless.
The event was a battleground. Not against fellow Mudders, but against myself, the course, obstacles, weather, the little convincing voice telling you to quit, the injuries, and all other challenges that were faced.
I was asked if I was going to do it again. The question was initially asked while I was still in a state of misery and my answer a few days later had changed.I want to do it again. In fact, I NEED to do it again with lessons learned from New Jersey.
(Crazy Scott returned to Englishtown in 2013 and was sitting in the top 5 well into the 40 mile mark and fell from an obstacle and was medically terminated from the race. This year, in Vegas where the overnight low was in the 40's, he returned and was in the top 10 going into the night and he dropped in the standings. I'm waiting to hear from him and I'm guessing injury forced him out. But, on WTM's website, he is interviewed pre-race and his thick accent still makes me laugh as I can not understand much of what he was saying. Perhaps next year we'll meet again. )