Sorry it has taken so long to get this posted, but here it is! The Tough Mudder Recap!
I trained for 10 months and every sweaty, painful moment was worth it. Some said it couldn’t or shouldn’t be done. But it was done. And I live to tell the tale…
At 6am on that cold Saturday morning, me and the posse gathered to head to Maysville, KY. It was 45 degrees. Yikes. Originally, I signed us up for the 10:30am wave for the event because last year it was 90 degrees in October and there’s not much I hate more than exerting myself in the heat. Except maybe in the extreme cold. It was not to be a worry.
My Emergency Contact Extraordinaire, Amie took the wheel and with my son and his best friend Brenden, passed out in the back seat we took off. The car behind us held some of my very favorite people. Amy, Glenn, Eileen and Matt. They were coming along just to cheer me on. Amy L. had made signs for her and the boys to wear. I was very touched and a little intimidated by this. I hadn’t expected anyone else to go watch me attempt this madness and with this many witnesses, it was going to be really difficult to wuss out. Seriously, I have the best friends ever. The rest of our team “Ditch, Please!” would be meeting up at the registration area.
Two hours later we had driven through the true heartland of Kentucky. There were farms and rolling hills and lots of fall color. Amie and I chatted like old ladies about the scenery. What lovely trees, Edith. Why yes, Myrtle and just look at those wildflowers, and giant buzzards! (Amie hates birds.)
She hates them THIS MUCH!
The event did not have on-site parking so we parked at the local fairgrounds and were shuttled in. The lines moved quickly and soon we were on a school bus headed for Big Rock ATV Park. At the park, I went through registration and had my number written on my thigh and forehead as is customary for the Tough Mudder. They want as many identification points as possible. That’s when the nerves set in. I started shaking. Amie had to help me pin my bib on. I was, so far, not holding up my self-proclaimed bad-ass-ed-ness. Ridiculous. The inner monologue started up. Shake it off , killer, you have a wall or three to climb.
The posse, except Matt, who was to my right and didn’t get into the frame.
My hands were shaking so hard!
Seth adding UK eye-black stickers. BBN is everywhere.
We soon hooked up with Joel, a co-worker and teammate who had driven up the night before and he was quickly signed in, his forehead sharpied. Then we waited for the others to show up. The four remaining members of my team were 3 of my favorite cousins and a buddy of theirs. Michael, Josh, Luke and Darren. All of them are at least a foot and a half taller and at least 13 years younger than me. They showed up a wee bit late, but raring to go. They signed in and the team and our supporters headed to the start line.
We took some “before” pictures in front of the wall we had to climb just to get to the start line. (I have to stop here and point out my cousin Michael’s biceps. Do you see how massive they are? Good grief.) Later we found out we were in one of the most crowded waves to go through the event and there was some waiting around that would support that. It seemed to take forever to get started, but it was probably more like two minutes. I gave my crew a thumbs up as the national anthem began to play and was not surprised to see that my son had already hit the food area and was cheerfully snarfing down a bratwurst.
The National Anthem wound up and a chorus of WWWOOOOOOOOO!! and OOOORAHHH! rippled through the crowd. The gun blew and we were off! I stepped up to the wall and it hit me that this was what I had been training for for all these months. This was it and everyone was watching. My giant cousin Michael offered to heave me right over the wall, but again, everyone was watching. With what I hope sounded like supreme confidence, I said, “Nah, I got this.” (I am Chuck Norris) and I somehow was over the wall and off down the trail!
My First Wall
The first obstacle came up after a short jog. #1 – the Kiss of Mud. You had to belly crawl under some barbed wire in mud. But this really wasn’t mud. It was more like clay. Like you were crawling over soft silly putty. About half-way through, one of the cousins shouted, “I sure hope they have some real mud around here somewhere.” Aw, hell. He just had to say that out loud. I knew at that moment that we were completely screwed.
After another short jog came obstacle #2 and the one I was actually worried the most about. The Arctic Enema. Yeah, that’s it’s real name. What it is is this: A dumpster filled with ice and water where you have to jump in and completely submerge yourself to go under a wall half way across and then pull yourself out. I trotted right up to it and jumped in before my sensible self could say “I don’t know about this, Dawn!!!” I found myself in a state of shock that I have never before experienced.
This is where I discovered something about myself. I had the ability to compartmentalize for survival. I could now separate myself into two parts. One part, the rational Dawn was over to the side, just watching what was going on to Physical Dawn and wanting no part of that crap. Physical Dawn simply gave simple commands that moved the body through the obstacle, knowing that I wouldn’t die and that it would all be over in a moment and that I would be stronger for going through it.
So, I ignored the cold. I was in it. The only way out was on the other side of this @$%*! dumpster. I wasn’t about to whine. I slogged to the wall, ducked under the water, came up on the other side, reminded myself to breathe and then tried to get my frozen arms to pull myself out of the pool of icy hell. My arms wouldn’t work. Great. I pulled and pulled on the edge of that dumpster, but couldn’t lift myself out. I started hearing shouts of “MOVE! GET OUT!” from behind me and I just couldn’t. Then I felt arms lock around my thighs and I was forcibly thrown out of the dumpster. Thanks and I’m sorry to whomever that was!
Out of the dumpster!
I made it!!!! Yeah!!! YEAHHHH!!!! That was the one I was terrified of! If anything was going to beat me this day, it was going to be that dumpster. I wanted to turn around and give it a big double bird salute, but there was a photographer right there and I am a lady after all. I straightened up, tried to smile, look good sopping wet and started running to get warm. I was freaking freezing. NEXT!
After about a half mile run, we came to the first of what would be 2 sets of The Berlin Walls. I was pretty excited about the walls because I had put in a lot of work on my upper body strength and I’d already climbed one, this one was a piece of cake, too. It was higher, but there was a small ridge of wood to get a foothold. It was pretty muddy, but I hoisted myself to the top, slid over and slowly lowered myself down. That’s the trick on the walls, folks. SLOWLY lower yourself down off the other side. Don’t jump or drop. The ground is muddy and possibly uneven and you can snap an ankle in an instant.
Right after the walls was the Dirty Ballerina. No big deal really. You just had to leap over some water-filled ditches. Easy peasy. Onward to Bale Bonds which was several stacked hay bales that you had to climb over. This one wasn’t a big deal either mentally, just a bit physically. Actually, many of the obstacles were no big deal. It was the terrain in between that started to kick our tails. It was raining off-and-on and it was 45 degrees. The hills were STEEP and slick and there were a lot of them. There were a couple of hills that I wouldn’t have made it up if it hadn’t been for Joel and his spiked trail shoes. And there were a couple of long hills that I slid down like the cave/waterslide scene in Goonies. I hit a couple of people on the way down and took them to the bottom with me. And boy did they throw in the mud. Waist-deep mud that wasn’t officially listed on the obstacle course. My cousin got his wish. We heard later that the officials said that TMKY was one of their hardest courses to date and at some point (after we went through, of course!) they cut out over a mile of the path because so many people were dropping out from injuries and hypothermia. We toughed it out for the whole thing. And in between the toughest parts, we completed most of the obstacles.
Up next was the Fire Walker. This required jumping into a pit of water, climbing out, jumping over a low row of wood on fire and back into water. Then came the Mud Mile which had us tracking once again through waist-deep mud through the woods and sometimes hanging on to trees at the edges to pull ourselves along. I remember laughing a lot through this one as my whole team looked pretty ridiculous. We came out the other end with all shoes upon our feet!
Log Jammin‘ was next and it was a lot of fun. It was a series of fences that were crossed and built lincoln-log style and you had to climb over or under based upon signs that were tacked to them. TIP: The easiest way to get through this one is climbing at the corners! On to King of the Mountain which was another climb up and down a huge mountain of hay bales. This one was memorable because as I was trying to climb up the 2nd or 3rd level, my cousin Luke must have thought that I needed a boost up, so he grabs me around the knees to lift me. But I didn’t need a boost necessarily and would have still been grateful had he not been repeatedly slamming my head into the bale above me. I had to shout at him..”LUKE! ::slam:: PUT ME ::slam:: DOWWWNN! ::slam::” Put me down he did and over I went.
After the King, it was another Kiss of Mud. This one MUCH muddier than the first and the crawl under the barbed wire across the pit was sloppy. TIP!!! Watch out for safety pins in the mud, this one is a race number ripper-off-er!
Following the KOM, we went on to Hold your Wood. Here we found a much needed water/food station and we all stopped for a few minutes to down some water and snarf down some bananas. I have to say, this obstacle was a slight disappointment to me. Maybe we got there late, but the only wood to carry through the obstacle were round “slices” of logs, no real logs. They had two or three really long logs that required multiple people to carry them, but my team had gone on ahead so I was left with a disc.
Ok – so we’re over 2 and a half hours in to this shindig and we discover on our way to the next obstacle that we are just NOW half way through. Yikes. I hate to keep harping on the cold, but we were frozen to the bone by this point and while I tried to keep the excitement level up, we were a little disheartened to discover that we were so far from the finish. Being able to handle some long distance running is definitely a plus in this event. Lots of large, muscular people were starting to cramp up and fall by the wayside. It had to have been a combination of the cold and the endurance that this event requires. It’s not just about strength, you have to be able to handle some distance.
As we came upon The Electric Eel, I saw a familiar face. My friend Kim had made her way across the land to find us and her husband who was running the course with his sister. It was great to see her and get some encouragement before we took on the electrified Slip-n-Slide. And that’s exactly what this obstacle was. You had to get across a long, low swath of mud, water and black plastic, staying under a wooden rail barrier from which hung electrical wires. Joel and I stood back for a bit to watch the other competitors and strategize. It became clear quite quickly that the best way to handle this one was at a running start. The people who were slowly trying to scoot their way slowly around the wires were just prolonging the inevitable. You WERE going to get shocked. It was best to just grit your teeth and pull off the band-aid. So I steeled myself and took a running leap under the first barrier. I made it about half way across before I had to start using my arms and legs to push myself forward. I remember getting shocked 3 times. None of them were painful. The third one, though, hit me square on the back of the neck and every muscle in my body contracted and released. It was the most bizarre feeling, but it didn’t hurt. And the girls seemed to have an easier time of it than the guys. Maybe it was all that upper body mass. Oh and big TIP!: If you are bald, be sure to put on a cap or cover your head somehow because a wet, bald pate is a prime shock zone!
Thanks for the pic, Kim! That’s me, in the middle.
After the Electric Eel, it was quite another jog to the next obstacle. And once again, there were some pretty steep hills. Unfortunately, this is where we lost Joel to muscle cramps. I have never, ever seen someone fight through as much pain as he was going through to try to keep going. But with several miles left to go, he knew it was safer to withdraw, heal and start training for next year. He will do this and get that headband, I know he will!
As the rest of the team and I headed to the next obstacle, we met up with our supporters! Seth, Brenden, Eileen and Matt were waiting for us at the top of a hill. Eileen stayed with Joel to make sure that he got back to the start safely and Matt, Brenden and Seth trekked on with us to the Berlin Walls 2. It was great to see them. Matt took pics and they all cheered us on just when we needed it most. And the guys and me? We scaled those walls like it was our JOB. Michael, Josh and I took a moment to yell at each other about how awesome we were.
Who’s the man??? We’re the man!!! Hell’s Yeah!!
We were up to obstacle #15 and we were getting tired. Did I mention that we were wet and cold? I did? Ok. Just didn’t want you to think we had dried off. In fact, every time we seemed to start to feel minimally soggy, the TM dunked us again. Up next? Hanging Tough – a.k.a. The Rings. While the Arctic Enema intimidated me the most, the Rings and the Monkey Bars (Funky Monkey) are the obstacles that I really wanted to do well on. There was a bit of a line when we got there so we were able to stand back and watch how those before us handled the challenge. The rings were coated in mud. The competitors were coated in mud. Gloves were coated in mud. There didn’t seem to be any way to get a good hand grip on these rings. The trick to this one was to slip your whole arm through up to the elbow and swing like that. Luke made it across, no problem. I grabbed the first ring and got my arm in, stepped back and took a leap. I was out of reach of the next ring by quite a lot. I swung back to the platform. My cousin Michael offered to throw me out. Great idea! Let’s do that! I was hanging on tight as he picked me up and threw me toward the 2nd ring. I grabbed it!!! I tried desperately to get my arm into that ring. Momentum swung me back and forth a couple of times. Then the mud won. I took a beautiful header into the pit. But right before that, Matt snapped the below pic of me. I could have just posted the pic and let you guys think that I made it across in spectacular fashion, but honesty won out. Josh and Michael both made it across with Michael taking a lump on the bicep as he fell and hit the platform on the other side.
For a moment, all was glorious!
Once again sopping wet, we set off for The Boa Constrictor. This obstacle turned out to be one of my favorites. It was a series of two long tubes. One pointed down into a pit of water, then you crawled across the pit into the other tube and upward to the other side. On this one, the gloves I was wearing were indispensable. My shoes were caked in mud, so I was able to pull myself through using my hands. Crossing the pit, I went headfirst into the 2nd tube. As I got near the end, I encountered the feet of my cousin Luke. He was shouting at me to grab his ankle and he would pull me out. Sounds good. Let’s do that! I grabbed on and before I knew it, I was shooting out of the other end like a rocket. I hit the mud and went sliding across an embankment laughing myself silly. I couldn’t stop until I hit grass and I tried. And then I fell down a few times trying to get up. It was just that slippery. I was covered head to toe in mud, but no worries; the Walk the Plank would take care of that!
Halfway through the Boa
Walk the Plank is another water obstacle and challenges ones fear of heights. You have to climb a slanted wall up to the top of a platform and jump off. It’s that simple. For some people. I’m not scared of heights. I have gotten a thrill out of free-falling ever since I was a kid leaping off the Crow’s Nest at Allen’s Lake. However, there were some poor people who stood at the top of the platform for a very long time, I’m told, confronting their demons. My only goal was to jump before the guys.
What goes up…
…must show up all her guy cousins and jump first!
After we climbed out of the pool, our posse was waiting for us. I got some hugs and, I think, a solar blanket from Amie. I’m not sure about that part, my brain was frozen. We chatted for a few minutes, they told us some stories of the previous competitors that had come through, reminded us that we were completely nuts for doing this and wished us well for the rest of the course. They’d be at the end waiting for us. I have the very best friends in the world. The BEST.
I can’t remember what time it was after the Plank, but it was getting late. Our bodies had reached the limits of what we could take. We could no longer properly move our hands. So I’ll just get right to this one. We skipped Everest. I kind of hate that now, but in the moment it was quite alright with me. The line was 30 people deep and if you missed, you seemed to have to go to the back. People were landing on their heads and backs and it looked painful. I hope my Tough Mudder friends that I made won’t judge me too harshly and IF I ever do another one of these, Everest will be my #1 goal. Promise. So then we jogged off to…
The Funky Monkey – The Monkey Bars. WHY did these have to be right at the end when my limbs had ceased to function? WHY? I did not make it. And I really wanted to get across those stupid bars! Luke was successful and so was Josh, I think. I don’t remember if Michael and Darren made it or not. That’s how dumb I was getting. But at last, we were headed to the finish! Right after a half mile trek through more mud and hills. What I remember from the walk to the end was that this guy in front of me fell backward up a steep climb and elbowed me right in the face. I dropped in my tracks. Michael was right behind me and caught me and stood me back up. I was beyond capacity for either pain or rational thought so it didn’t faze me much. The guy turned around and apologized. I saw that he was wearing a UofL shirt and I had on my UK face stickers so we made a joke about him punching me on purpose, ha ha.
Finally, FINALLY, we had the end in sight. Only Electroshock Therapy remained. I had read so many times that the electricity bothered the guys more than the girls and I hadn’t had an issue with the Electric Eel, so I just took a deep breath, covered my face (didn’t want to take an electrified wire to the eye) and barged through. I made it! And the promptly fell on my butt in the mud. All Class, Everywhere! I got up, hoping that the photographer missed that one, (he did not) and much to my complete irritation, was looking right at a bunch of giant muddy tractor tires that I would have to climb over to get my headband. Those turds!
Right before the tires.
This is what I look like when I laugh & cry simultaneously. It ain’t pretty. I don’t care.
The guys disappeared after we got our headbands. They were just too cold to regroup. I hit the showers and the dressing tent which was one big open tent with everyone changing together. There was one girl shouting for everyone else to not get mud on her clothes! Sorry, sister. That really wasn’t an option. Amie gave me her yellow North Face jacket to help me warm up and Eileen gave me an orange Tough Knots necklace that her husband had made for us. Hugs, pats and cheers were all around. Someone gave me a diet coke and I remember being led like a puppy with Amie waving a cheeseburger under my nose to a picnic table to sit down for a minute and eat. My poor friends were starving. This was supposed to take around 2-3 hours and we were out wondering the wilderness for six. We took the shuttle back to our cars and hit the nearest Pizza Hut.
::Queue soft epilogue music::
Getting my headband was one of the proudest moments of my life. I had worked harder than I ever had in my life to get there. Some people doubted I could do it. Some very concerned friends worried that I would injure myself and cautioned me to think twice. But I have never really been able to turn down a challenge and when I started training for the Tough Mudder I was at a point in my life where I desperately needed to feel strong and self-reliant. Training for this event certainly did the trick. The very next Saturday I ran my first marathon proudly wearing my Tough Mudder shirt.