This post was requested via Twitter by Nicole.
The previous weekend changed my life. I walked my dog and left her bowls full of food and water and walked out my apartment door with a cup of coffee.
I got in my car and began driving. Driving alone soothed me. As I left the city, eight lanes narrowed into two lanes. Driving outside the city isn't about traffic and who cuts off whom; it's about steadfastness and consistency. I could finally use cruise control and worry about more important things like my playlist. I made a mental note to leave the city more often.
I was driving two hours North for a race. Warrior Dash isn't just any race though. It's a 5k with 11 obstacles positioned throughout it, similar to a military boot camp. I parked the car and boarded the bus that would take the runners to the woods where the race was held. Every seat inside the bus was covered in trash bags, ensuring that no one would actually touch the cloth seats.
As I walked to the fields, I passed people leaving after running an earlier heat of the race. Warrior Dash starts every half hour to accommodate the thousands of people that attend. The people leaving cheered at us... and were completely washed in mud.
At the starting line I saw Katie, Jenna and a few other girls.
"We know you've been running, so if you want to go ahead of us, you can," they offered.
Instead of a starting pistol, Warrior Dash has starting... flames. Either side of the start banner shot fire into the sky. I took off and that was the last time I saw Katie, Jenna and crew.
I did well on the running portion. I started at the back of the heat and kept passing people. I've never passed so many people in my life. By the time I made it to the first obstacle, I was mixed in with the athletes.
The first obstacle was a lake. As in swim across it. Most everybody waded through it as far as they could, but I reached a point where my feet no longer touched the ground. I propelled myself forward and began swimming freestyle, which wasn't as weird with shoes on as I thought I would be. But as I did that, I accidentally kicked the girl behind me in the face. She was pretty pissed and started yelling at me. But really, this is Warrior Dash and not doggie paddle. So, I'm sorry.
The other side of the lake began the second obstacle: Knee-High Hell, which was tires tied together. Only there was so much mud from the lake in between the tires, that my foot sank in an extra two feet. It was easier to go slower and tred on top of the tires instead of going inside them.
After the tires were a bunch of gutted junk cars and trucks that completely blocked the path. The only way was to climb over the cars. I slid through the cab of the first truck and then over the hoods of the remaining cars, landing with a resounding thud back in the mud.
Then I approached a hill. The hill was covered in more tires and long rope to help pull yourself up them. That wasn't very hard.
After a short dash, I came to the next obstacle. They were over-unders: A 3-1/2 foot wall to go over paired with mud and a barbed-wire fence to go under. There were five of these. At the start of the obstacle, a guy next to me urged everyone to go faster. "Just jump the wall like you stole it!" he shouted.
I studied him. "Do you have experience with that?"
He laughed. Then it was our turn.I rocked out the first three, still keeping up with the athletes as I propelled myself over the wall and then slipped into the mud each time, but by the fourth wall I grew tired. By the fifth wall, I missed my first attempt at heaving myself over it.
"Do you need help?" the guy asked.
"Yes, just give me a good push."
I hurled myself at it and he pushed me over by my ass. I fell completely and landed in the mud.
He peeked over the other side of the wall. "You okay?"
He jumped and we ran another short distance to the next obstacle. The next obstacle had me nervous: it was an 18-foot tall vertical wall with a knotted rope. Uh, I've never climbed anything in my life.
I found the guy who shoved me over the short wall. "Uh, excuse me. Do you mind if I go in front of you? That way if I need another good push, you can-" I made clicking noises as I imaginably made more butt-pushing motions.
"No problem," he laughed. He turned to me, "Hey, is my make-up running?" The lower half of his face was covered in warrior face paint.
I laughed. "Nothing worse than runny make-up! But you look fine."
Then it was my turn at the rope. Yep, the guy immediately needed to grab my ass and lift me up to get started. Then I learned it was better to take one step and use the rope than it was to take two steps and use the rope. He called ahead for the guy in front of me to grab my hand and help me up the top of the wall, but the other guy didn't hear and disappeared down the other side. It was up to me. And I did it.
And then I sat at the top of the 18-foot wall, one leg straddled over either side as I repeated "Oh shit. Oh shit. Oh shit." I didn't know how to lift the other leg and climb down. A girl next to me met my eyes and told me to calm down and that I could do it. So I lifted the other leg over the top of the wall and dangled it below me until I could feel a foot hold. I did it.
After the wall, there was a long run through the woods. This was a difficult run because I'm a distance runner not used to exerting excess energy climbing over things. I was also carrying about 10 additional pounds on me. My clothes and my shoes were holding so much mud that it weighed me down.
There was a cargo net going up another hill, similar to the tires before it. Then there was a cargo-net wall which was anti-climactic after the rope wall. And then there was a flat cargo net that didn't extend in the air, but instead extended horizontally. It required you to either traverse it in a bear crawl or on your hands and knees. I did on my hands and knees and I regret it because it dug into my knees so much that it hurt. I also missed a foothold climbing down it and stuck my leg through the net.
Another trail run, but Warrior Dash had flooded the path so it was sludges of mud coming towards me as I tried to climb the incline. As much as I hated to, I walked this part. I knew I'd slip and fall in the mud if I didn't. Everyone around me was walking it too. By this point, the packs of people had thinned out. Whereas at the beginning of the race I couldn't run as fast as I wanted to because there were so many people, at this point in the woods I only saw three or four people at time.
I emerged from the woods into a clearing. The clearing had another obstacle. It was opaque, black tent that I had to crawl into on my hands and knees. The low wooden beams inside the tent ensured that I army crawled my way through complete darkness. I heard more than one person smack their heads on a wooden beam. I just moved one knee in front of the other in a steady slow pace. The rocks were digging into my skin and were quite uncomfortable. In the darkness, maneuvering through this obstacle, I had my surreal, out-of-body experience. If anybody saw me right now, they'd see a badass. They wouldn't see someone who just took up running four months ago; they would see someone doing it. I wasn't tired. I wasn't panting. I was just steadily moving forward. I was a warrior.
I headed back into the woods. This time trail sloped downward and I ran again. I was thankful for the times Schmoozer convinced me to go trail running with him. I heard his advice, Just take short, steady steps. I clopped my way down the hill and to the next obstacle: Arachnophobia. It was tangles of ropes blocking the trail like a spider web: you had to decide which ropes to step on and which ropes to duck under.
The woods portion was over. I could hear the music from the festival playing beneath me. I was almost at the end.
I approached a giant tarp laid down a hill. Above, hoses poured water down it. Think epic Slip and Slide. At the beginning of the race, I had to sign a waiver agreeing I would go feet first; now I knew to what the waiver was referring. I found the wettest part with the most water streaming down it. My thinking was that it would clean the mud off me. What I didn't comprehend is that more water = faster.
I sped up much faster than I thought I was going to go. Without any control I spun around and began sliding back first. I hollered out to the girl below me that I was coming towards her. She screamed. I plowed into her and did a flip and landed in a pile of hay. Above me a safety volunteer was shouting at me to get up and keep running. Only I didn't know which way was up.
Now that the mud was cleaned off me (as well as the blood running down my leg from an unknown incident), I approached... another mud pit. This was a deep mud pit with barbed wire stretched across it at regular intervals. I jumped into it and splashed down. I could feel the mud run down my face. I crawled my way under the three or four sets of barbed wire. I emerged from the mud pit as a swamp thing.
There was another hill to slide down, but this was pure mud. In case there was a crevice of your body was mud free at this point, this hill ensured that there wasn't. I splashed into a pool with barrels and logs floating across it. I had to roll over them. I saw pictures of the event throughout the day. In the morning, this pool had clear water. By the time I reached it at 1 p.m., it was another mud pit.
I climbed out of yet another water obstacle. I could hear the announcer at the finish line encouraging everyone to sprint. I understood why: two fire pits punctuated the end of the race. The purpose of the mud and water obstacles was to get the racers wet enough that we wouldn't be burned by the flames.
I approached the first strip of fire. It was much taller than I expected. It was at least 2-1/2 feet tall in some places, even taller in others. I looked down. My shoelace was untied. I imagined my shoe catching on fire due to the dangling lace and I panicked. I leapt. It didn't burn, but I could definitely feel the heat of the fire. I came upon the second fire pit and this time leapt a little more confidently.
The finish line was a short distance ahead. I crossed it and was greeted by smiling volunteers. One handed me a medal, one handed me a cup of water and one handed me a banana. A girl in clean clothes came up to me and offered to open my banana for me. I mumbled and thanked her.
The adrenaline began to leave my body and I just stood there with my hands shaking. Boys approached me and high-fived me. I couldn't figure out why so many guys were coming up to me. I learned later that it was because I was soaked in mud. I had huge streaks of it splashed across my face. If I felt like a warrior, I certainly looked like one too.
I don't know why I ended up so much filthier than everybody else. Harvey looked like she hadn't run the race at all. I went into the race knowing that everything I wore that day was going to be thrown out, so I didn't care how dirty I got. I took off my shoes, tied the laces together and tossed them on the heap. Warrior Dash works with Green Sneakers, a program that takes our old shoes, cleans them and then sends them to third-world countries. Seeing the pile of unwanted sneakers really made me stop and think. Americans are so wasteful that we deem shoes trash when they become aesthetically unappealing. The shoes I wore were fine. I bought them used at a thrift store just for this occasion. And even they seemed brand new with much of the padding left. I used them once and was done with them. Because of Green Sneakers, they are now being shipped overseas to Africa where someone doesn't care that the laces are no longer Clorox white. She's just happy she can afford shoes.
Harvey tossed hers on the pile as well. She says she buys new running shoes every year and this is the excuse she uses to get them.
I then peeled off my socks and tossed them into the trash bin. I fished my flip flips out of my bag and stepped into them. More high fives with strangers. If a muddy person passed a muddy person, we'd smile and think, I know, right? If I saw someone that wasn't muddy, I'd smirk and think, You're next.
The Warrior Wash was the original lake I swam through. I jumped into it and began scrubbing, but scrubbing off mud in a muddy lake proved pretty pointless. Embrace the mud. Love the mud.
With all the other racers, I then redeemed my free beer. That was probably the hardest I ever worked for a free beer. But my self-esteem was soaring. Screw therapy; what one needs is to try new things outside her comfort zone. I said the same thing when I learned how to pole dance last summer. I didn't know how to run and jump on a pole and now I do. I didn't know I was capable of climbing an 18-foot vertical wall. I didn't know I was capable of racing over junk cars. Climbing short walls and sliding under barbed-wire fences. I'm stronger than I think am. I finished the race a good 20 minutes before Katie, Jenna and company. For the first half of the race, I was with the athletes, playing with the big boys.
I was so proud of myself that I called my older brother in Texas when I got home. We're not close and we rarely talk. I told him about my day.
"Wow," he said impressed. Neither of us are athletic—he's the brains and I'm the personality—but at least he rowed at college. "I couldn't run two miles without stopping," he said, "Let alone do all of that."
"So what did you do today?" I asked.
"We went out to eat. Tried this new burger place that has unusual toppings. I had arugula..." he droned on.
I laughed to myself. My life is so much more interesting than his.
For an abridged video of the exact course I ran, visit here.
~Monday, May 23, 2011
This post was requested via Twitter by Nicole.
Love, Sarah at 9:09 PM|