Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Tough Mudder

I have been thinking about how to sum up my Tough Mudder experience since before I even left the course yesterday, but I can’t take you there without taking you back a little further. 

I was never an athlete growing up.  I practiced Martial Arts for a few years and was pretty good, but I didn’t compete, or race or play in sports.  It wasn’t my thing.  My very athletic siblings and coach Father contributed to my feelings of inadequacy athletically, through no fault of their own.  I was the smart one, or the creative one, and always the determined one.

Almost three years ago now I left a hellacious marriage.  My ex tore me down and was abusive.  I left that marriage overweight and a shell of a person.  But I was determined to survive for my children and provide for them.  Since then I can not begin to tell you what I have had to do to survive, how close to not surviving we have been, how many times I cried at nights thinking about what I could sell so we could eat.  But we have come through that.  My children and I, my family in tact.   I don’t tell you that for pity, we are doing great now.  I tell you so that you can understand I know what it means to fight hard for something and that spirit is what I have brought into my physical journey.

In the beginning of this year I began to focus more on my physical journey.  I had lost quite a bit of weight since my ex left (plus his 190lbs) but I needed an outlet to fuel the emotional frustration I was experiencing.  I began working out consistently and quickly got hooked.  Shortly after I found a supportive online community committed to health and physical fitness and loved the atmosphere I found there.  I found people who believed in themselves the way I wanted to believe in myself.  It didn’t take long for me to realize that the same belief I had in my ability to survive for my family I could also translate into belief in my ability to accomplish anything physically. 

My determination and focus has only increased.  I brought that and all of my support network with me to the Tough Mudder course.  I could not wait to start.  The high in the beginning was huge.  Once we started, I was off.  Occasionally slowing down to help another Mudder or wait for a teammate.  I had no trouble running as much as I possibly wanted, although I walked a decent portion of the course. 

By mile 2 or 3 it became clear to me that I was just going to need to keep going on the course solo.  Not because of any fault of my teammates but this challenge was between me and the course and my mind.   I had survived the Arctic enema and lost my inhaler in the process, which was disconcerting.   I was so thankful to round that bend after that obstacle and see my parents cheering me on.  A truly great moment for me.

Who smiles like that after swimming through ice? Me, apparently. 
Ahead were miles of obstacles where the spectators wouldn’t be.  At this point I’m going it alone.  I’m alone on this course with hundreds of other people who are all in teams.  Just me and my thoughts and about 7 miles to go.  The Tough Mudder people know what they’re doing; they set mile markers really obviously up at mile 1 and then again at mile 2 and then even though I started vainly looking for where I was on the course at some unknown point I never so another mile marker until mile 9.  Because after all, you’re tired, you’re wet, you’re exhausted (and if you’re me you’re alone) what good is it to know you have 6 more miles to go and you’re not even halfway there?

I trudged through mud and ran slowly through the little hard ground there was and talked to many other fellow mudders along the way.  I finally made my way to the Funky Monkey.  I had practiced the hell out of this sh!t I knew I was capable on a normal day.  But today was not a normal day.  I kept looking at my hands, totally wet and caked with mud, and then looking at the rungs, also wet.  I knew I wasn’t going to be able to get a solid grip. I tried in vain to dry them off on my clothes, which was utterly pointless because they were also drenched.  But I stepped up and it was my turn, a volunteer turned to the guy behind me and said

“Listen I want you to step up close behind her and if she falls, push her so she goes in the water.”

And that pissed me the f#ck off.  I had trained hard for this, I was ready and I knew the volunteer was right; I wasn’t going to make it.  I didn’t.  Swinging to the second rung I lost my grip.   I was disappointed.  I swam out of the water but I won’t lie, it bummed me out that I had failed that obstacle I had worked hard to make sure I could complete.  

There was more course to go.  Never once after I stepped onto that course did I  doubt my ability to complete it.  There were two thoughts in my head the whole time: avoid injury and keep going.  That’s all I thought about, how do I complete the obstacles without injury and what is next. 

No idea, just a random badass moment on the course
I would get to each obstacle and often times you need a team or a partner.  I ran up to the Warrior Carry and I knew I didn’t have anyone to carry but I also didn’t want to skip it.  I didn’t want to skip any of them.  So, I waited and sure enough a big guy named Kevin said, “Does anyone need a partner?”  I said “yep” and looked at him thinking I have to carry him half of the way?  Of course we did it.  He outweighed me by at least 40 pounds of solid muscle and insisted he could carry me the whole way, but I have never been one to punk out and I didn’t this time either.   I said thanks, and never saw him again. 

I can’t tell you how many times I lightly touched a mudder on the shoulder to keep them from falling into the mud or someone offered me a boost that I had never seen before and I didn’t ever get to see them again.  The feeling of camaraderie even going it alone was amazing.  You also incidentally end up touching a lot of butts, I promise you no one cares.    

The Tough Mudder people made the Pyramid Scheme more difficult by digging a trench in front of it to make sure we were all nice and wet before we could get on it.  But I completed it on my first try.  Everest was awesome; I definitely felt a rush conquering that one, first try again. 

After that something shifted.  It could have been because I was running it alone, or the mixture of exhaustion and muscle fatigue, or the fact that we were now running through the woods and I was cold, but around mile 7-8 everything went silent.  No one was talking or joking around it was quiet.  I’m longing for that shirt I threw off before we started.  We were in the woods running, trudging through mud and everyone was fatigued.  We couldn’t see the sun.  Here is where my demons came for me.  I don’t want to imply that the battle wasn’t intense but this was my mental ground that I needed to fight and what they kept saying was “You’re alone” it was these little whispers in my ear for about a mile straight.  “You’re alone, Shannon, you’re alone.”  I kept thinking, yeah ok, I’m alone; I know I’m alone.  “But you’re alone, don’t you realize, you’re alone.”  And that’s when I realized I had won the battle.  Because going at a challenge like this alone didn’t scare me.  I came out of those woods and thought, “Yes, I’m alone and I am more than capable of completing this course alone.”

The Tough Mudder gave me more than just the confidence in my physical capabilities; it reminded my internal make up is able to overcome anything I want to, even if I have to go it alone.  

I’m so thankful for my online community.  I’m thankful for how you all have believed in me.  I hope you can feel my belief in you.  And I cannot wait to run another Tough Mudder, to be with my friends cheering them on, beside them, helping them beat back their own personal demons.  Because even while I was alone, I carried all of you with me.

Thank you

- S

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