a Heart broken DNF at my first World's Toughest MuddeR
It’s 30 minutes to the start of the 24hrs race. Sean Corvelle, as he does at the beginning of every Tough Mudder. starts his motivational pep-speech. The beautiful vociferous words spewed out of Sean’s smiling mouth, reaching out to everyone in the crowd of 2000+ people.
“When was the last time
you did something
for the first time.”
I mean, who isn’t a sucker for a good inspirational quote, right?!
I am anxious, sitting in the dirt, trying to hide from the hot desert sun. People tower over me as they chant along side one another, “HOORAH! HOORAH! HOORAH!” I’ve had the privilege of experiencing a lot of ‘first times’ in my life and I use the word ‘privilege’ because I take it for granted. Not everyone has the opportunity to step out into the world and let those experiences like these happen. And there I am, sitting in a crowd of people, where together, we are all about to do something for the first time.
I went into this race with one goal: to run for 24hrs straight. I knew if I could make this happen I would be in good standings. Till this point I hadn’t ran further than 60k or longer than 10hrs. But I trained smart. I coached myself for all the ‘firsts’ that were about to happen. I knew it wasn’t going to be easy. I knew mentally it would be tough. I knew it would be cold, wet, hot and dry. I was prepared for it. What I didn’t prepare for was the possibility that [spoiler alert] I may not finish.
The first hour of the race was an obstacle/mud free sprint. Meaning, if you were smart enough to start right at the front, you could potential get upwards to a 1 ½ to nearly 2 laps out of the way with out any obstacles. I, on the other hand, am not at the front of the start line, but rather waaaaayyyyy over on the south pit side, day dreaming (in the shade) on Sean Corvelle’s last words and about all the wonderful ‘first times’ that are about to happen. I try to scoot on over to the front of the start line. I never make it. I get stuck in a bottleneck of hundreds of walkers.
It took nearly 2 miles to break through and finally get some room to run. It is so hot I’m about to explode. My heart rate is high. It’s too dusty to breath. I feel claustrophobic. I am on cloud nine.
I finish lap 1 nine minutes behind schedule. Come 3pm, I had only bypassed 2 obstacles before I am forced to start on obstacle #3: ‘The Liberator’. (a 12’ high peg board)
Now would be a good time to probably mention that I have never done a Tough Mudder race, of any sorts, before-good thing I have 24hrs to get the hang on them right?
[sidetrack/note (if you know what WTM is all about please skip to the next paragrpah)]
Wait…wait…wait... Before I go any further into a ramble of words and obstacles, let me quickly breakdown the course into linear details:
- The course consists of a 5 mile loop (repeated over the course of 24hrs)
- The race started at Saturday 2pm and ended Sunday at 3:30pm
- 90% of the obstacles are either swimming in water, dropping into water, or fallen off into water.
- As a human of shorter stature, the majority of the obstacles I needed a helping hand to get up’n over. In return, I lend a hand the human behind me. And it can me this beautiful chain of humans helping humans.
- The first 2 miles of the course consisted of a cluster of back-to-back-to-back obstacles.
- The last 3 miles consisted of lots of running up hill and only a few obstacles
- There was a 35’ cliff, appropriately called ‘The Cliff’, that did not open till midnight, meaning you got a whole 10hrs to build up your anxiety before you were even face to face with it.
…Ok back to lap 2:
The first water crossing I reach is ‘The Statue of Liberty’. (a 50m swim with a tiki torch) Holy smokes! That’s cold! This was followed by an obstacle called “Operation”: Replace the honk with a 10,000v shock and it would be just like the traditional kids board game. (But I’ll come back to this obstacle at lap 6.)
A few more muddy crawls, heaves over high walls, propels down cliffs, some greasy-ascending monkey bars and then I get to ‘The King of Swingers’. (You start on a 5m high platform, jump out to a t-bar, swing over a pool of water in hopes you can reach the bell at the other end.) This year, every time you rang the bell at the end of the swing you received a gold carabineer that let you bypass one of four obstacles. The word on the stre(course)et is that they purposely made this year’s “Swinger” extra tough; ie. You came directly from some muddy obstacle making next to impossible to hold on to the t-bar, the t-bar itself was several feet further than in the past, and the bell was just reachable for those who were blessed with a wingspan of a condor. [sidetrack/note]:come the 12th hour people began to jump the 5m directly into the water rather than attempt swing. I never once came close to the bell, but I figured the further I can swing over the pool the less swimming I needed to do, even if I was only able to hold on for a split second.
Then came, what appears to be everyone favorite obstacle on course, ‘The Rolling Dice’. I’ve attached a little video because when I try to explain how it works I usually lose people as soon as I start talking dimensions…“So you have, like these 3 huge rectangular cubes, they are like, 3x3x3x3x15 and then they spin horizontally! And your chest deep in water! And half the people push and while the rest pull! It’s so cool!” … yeah, I know…WTF is she talking about? So please just refer to the video below.
Lap 2 came to end shortly after the rolling dice and I am back on schedule. I decide to switch into my 2-piece wetsuit a lap early (In theory I should have just switched into my whole piece wetsuit because putting on a wetsuit when you are already wet and kind of cold is just so much fun…said no one ever.)
I have finally found my groove. I’ve got this. My heart rate is now back to normal, I’m floating through the water nice and toasty in my wetsuit, I’ve got the hang of most of the obstacles. I even managed to channel my childhood spent as a gymnast and perfectly rebound off the mini-tramp, catch the zip line handles and slide to the other side of the pool ever so gracefully on the “Tramp Stamp”. (or at least that’s what I’m telling myself)
Despite running through the remainder of the loop with relative ease, and coming across the pit area 10 minutes ahead of schedule, I start feeling some niggles in my knee/ ilio tibial area. “Oh it’s fine… it’s going to go away in a few more kilometers. I know it!” I try to ignore it, grab my lap 4 goodie-bag and head out for round 4.
LAP 4 & 5
Despite running both these laps penalty free, my ITB goes from not-so-good to really-not-so-good. I manage to walk/run both the laps adding a bit of a peg-leg gate to my downhill running, “Just keep truck’n” I tell myself. Both pit stops the girls try to rub out my ITB and I stop when I can to give it a little stretch, but it’s just not going away. Even if I have to walk the rest of race, if I can just make it to 2am I’ll thenI will be over the hump and time will start counting down quickly. Just….4….more…hours…to…go….
This is where things start to get a bit silly.
For the first time in the race I am electrocuted on “Operation” not just once…or twice… but three times. Once it became dark, the rings (which you were trying to fish out with your 12’ long metal rod, through a tiny hole that was full of electricity) were next to impossible to see with dark shadows casting over them. I had already failed the obstacle on the first zap, so the second and third zap was just cruel and immediately sent me in a rage on uncontrollable crying. Not just puttering of the lips, I mean newborn baby sobbing. I’m not normally an emotional person, nor do I get lonely often, but all of a sudden I had an over whelming sense of homesickness for my husband. Jesse has always been at races with me, usually he is racing them himself, but this would be the longest race with out having him by my side. All I wanted in that moment was for him to be running alongside of me, telling me to keep going.
I recently listened to a podcast about how the Ginger Runner had to call his wife in the middle of the New York Marathon because he was in such a dark place. I remember making fun of him for being such a wimp. Well, I take it back. Here I am, a grown woman, who prides herself in her independence, wollowing to call her husband not even half way into race. What a baby! Right?! A doctor friend recently told me that getting electrocuted is the closest way to simulate the feeling of sheer terror with out actually experiencing it. I’m pretty that sums up that experience, and I’m just going to pass it off as a moment of “sillyness” and move on.
Despite this little glitch of vulnerability, and my IT getting worse, I am still feeling really good. I’ve managed to stay warm, no other part of my buddy hurts, I am full of energy and have fueled exceptionally well to this point. So when I come into the pit area it was short and sweet and was able to move onto next lap with no hesitation.
Despite feeling well otherwise, at this point my knee has gone from really-not-so-good to reall-reall-really-not-so-good. The only time my knee doesn’t hurt is uphill, so I try to run up hill, but everything else hurts. The swimming, the walking, the downhill, the kneeling, the bending all hurts and knowing that the first cliff jump will be coming up at the end up the lap and that doesn’t seem to be helping things.
Fear is a funny thing. I’m not scared of heights or of falling, or of the swimming part. I might be slightly scared of getting hurt landing in the water, but nothing out of the ordinary, so when I try to break down why the heck “The Cliff” makes me so freaking anxious, I can’t quite figure it out. It’s just one step over the platform and down you go. I practiced with Allison Tai at the Vancouver Aquatic Center and was completely comfortable falling from the 7.5m platform. 11m is pretty much the same as 7.5m right?!
The Cliff is located about 100m from the finish line of the lap. As I approach The Cliff I am greeted with about 20+ other mudders waiting to jump off. 5 of which are in the middle of having a panic attack. This is not helping. I wait around or about 60 seconds and the line doesn’t move so I thought, “I’m gunna give the penalty lap a go rather than wait here and stress myself out more for the next 5 minutes. How bad can The Electroshock Therapy be?” Well let me tell you: I will now, and forever, always jump off a cliff before every going through that obstacle again. It didn’t help that I didn’t realize you were suppose to crawl under (rather than run directly through) the thousand of dangling live wires that stretched for about 30’. On my last stretch of wires I got zapped by a big guy and it sent my flying about 10’ forward head first into the mud. And than the tears started, again, uncontrollably.
Thankfully, Tory and Arielle were right there to great me. That lap was significantly slower than the previous laps and I wasn't sure if I'd be able to make it through another lap. By the end of the lap I couldn't even put pressure on my leg with out a heck of a lot of pain. The girls were so wonderful, and assured me that I could keep going. They told me I had moved into 5th place. (which is not bad since I walked the last 4 laps) I knew 4th place was just slightly ahead of me since we had been running together at the beginning of the 7th lap. That was enough motivation to get my ass in gear and head out for another lap.
Well... to keep things simple: Lap 8 sucked.
Pretty quick into the lap I realized I could barely walk anymore. I also realized pretty early on into the lap, that this was most likely going to be it for me. I also realized if I didn't jump off the damn cliff I would regret that more than anything. 'Just-get-to-the-cliff-Michelle" I was saying to myself. I had to side shuffle backwards down the hills, and anything involving swimming results in a weird limp body doggy paddle. It took me nearly 2 hours to get through the first half. And it took everything in my soul to not quite at the tramp stamp. It was nearing 3am, I was awake, mentally doing pretty darn good all things considered and in the beginning stages of a WTM broken heart.
I pulled up to The Cliff 2hrs30mins into my 8th lap. No one was around this time. I didn't hesitate. As soon as I got the go ahead, one foot stepped off and the rest of me followed.
One rolling down of the windows .
Slap arms around my body.
HOLY SMOKES! THAT WAS THE BEST THING EVER!
I couldn't believe how good that felt. How much better that was than being electrocuted. How warm and inviting the water was. I wish I could have had a chance to do it all over. But alas, as I pulled myself up and over the cargo net and made by way to the finish line I had to surrender into the medical tent for the night.
THE SLEEP and THE MORNING AFTER
Tory made me go to bed in my wetsuit. Which only a few days after the race did I realize that she did this in hopes that I'd be able to get back up in the morning and get out there again. Unfortunately things only got worse while I rested and my knee was now 100% locked/seized and I officially made the executive (and it wasn't very hard at that point) decision to pack it up for the remainder of the race.
one word: REDEMPTION