The time has come, the time is now, to move beyond, to race again…..
You have to have a few “bad” races to appreciate the good ones. You have to be beat down to really appreciate how tall you can stand…..so here it goes….
There is so much to say about Worlds Toughest Mudder (WTM) that this will have to be a multipart write up. This is the raw, emotional part of my WTM experience. It is a long read and kinda sorry but it’s what happened. The next installments will be much better, and educational as I will talk about all my new friends I met along the way, the awesome athletes I saw on the course, my amazing support both on course and online, my gear, and the good, bad, and the uglies :)
So here it goes.
Last year I was too traumatized to write about my experiences. This year I am not. I have already let go of the night, the dream, the pain, the glory, the cold, and the isolation. Letting go of it all so easily leads me to think it wasn't really as meaningful to me as I had imagined it would be, feared it would be, and thought it was.
If you haven't heard the news I am not the worlds toughest mudder and dropped out at my favorite spot - the 4.5 lap mark. In many ways it was almost a complete deja vu of last year. I choose to drop out, I could have waited out the night, could have pushed through the cold and the pain but I simply didn't want it bad enough. I had come to WTM 2012 to win, not to "finish" as many others had. I think I may have been able to add a total of 3 more laps during the night and likely long after the 24th hour but that would not have been enough, not even close!
In some ways the decision to drop out was easy, but in some ways it was very painful. My demise started about mile 8 of the 4th lap (38 miles total), probably somewhere around 11pm, on the "lake side" of the course. I had finished swimming across the lake, hopping across the floating islands, swimming under the barrels, and climbing up the ever so difficult and treacherous cargo net with numb hands. The obstacles were beginning to ice over, the "mud mile" was ridiculously slimy and I seemed to be the only one sliding in and out of the mud trenches. My legs didn't want to bend anymore and I was getting stuck in each mud trench. After about 11 hours of fighting the resistance of a compression 5mm wetsuit my joints were jello. I lifted knees instead of feet, literally crawled and rolled between the trenches. I felt alone. I started getting frustrated. Frustrated that I was cold, frustrated that I wasn't even close to the leader, frustrated that my hands were swollen (again), frustrated that I wasn't keeping it together mentally. I started making animalistic grunting noises in attempts to avoid an all out scream or cry. I grunted, signed, groaned with each step. I tried to turn off my meltdown button and thought of all the people that inspire me, I pictured the poster in my tent. I thought about my dad and began saying out loud "Padre", "Padre", "Padre". Before the race I imagined that thinking of him looking down on me and being proud of me would give me strength...but it only made me sad and I cried more and more each time I said his name. Clearly that strategy wasn't working and so I blocked him out of my mind. I emerged from the mud mile defeated, crawled my way under electroshock therapy without getting shocked and ran the mile to the "finish line".
At the finish to my 4th lap the medic asked me how I was doing. I could barely speak. Partly because I had just tried to push back about an hour of crying, partly because I had two wetsuit hoods literally compressing my jawline upward into my face and forcing my mouth shut. I told him I was OK but my feet were cold. "What are you going to do about it" he so condescendingly asked. I asked if there was hot water and he directed me to a med tent which the prior year I had spent many hours in. The med tent sent me away, told me I couldn't come in without being disqualified and that there was hot water in the middle of the tent pit area. I felt a small burst of energy and headed through the "pit" to my tent. I had a plan. I would pour hot water on my feet and shoes until I could feel them, pour water on my gloves until they were clean enough to take off and add another layer of neoprene. There was no hot water anywhere, no one had any idea what I was talking about, 5 empty thermos’s sat on a folding table, and people started to get rude. At this moment I was keeping it together. I grabbed a Tupperware from my tent, filled it with water and went to heat it up in the one microwave. No go. Three other mudders huddled around the ONE pint size microwave and watched it countdown from 5 minutes as it heated up a chef boy or dee noodle cup. I started to get cold. I didn't have time to stand around and wait for the microwave. Time standing meant time freezing. I made a decision. I needed more layers.
In order to put on more layers I had to take off some that I was wearing. I ripped off my last muddy pair of gloves, took off my windbreaker and tried to take of my wetsuit vest so I could change the battery in my deeply buried electric rash guard. My arms twisted around my shoulders and I tugged at the vest with all my strength but couldn't get it off... fail. The vest would stay on and I would continue the next lap with a dead battery in my rash guard.
I grabbed my final layer which was a shorty suit, and changed out my windbreaker for a warmer one. My layers now consisted of a 4/5 compression full wetsuit plus 4mm hood, a polypropylene farmer john style battery operated heated rash guard with a dead battery, a 3mm vest/hood combo, a 2/3mm shorty suit, a windbreaker, and my bib. It was clear that my gloves were no longer going to fit as I had barely got them on for the last lap, and they were now caked with mud. I grabbed a pair of wool socks, put them on my hands like gloves so that my thumb was in the heal part of the sock, and my fingers were in the foot part. For a minute I felt proud of my innovation and my hands were relatively warm and dry for the first time in hours. I tried to eat some of my food by my mouth didn't want to chew with my jaws wired shut by neoprene. I drank a Frappuccino and headed out. This time my friend Jeff headed out with me, hobbling along with his hurt ankle and attempting to be whatever "legal" emotional support Tough Mudder would allow.
I did great for about a mile. I don't know what exactly happened but the brief high of crossing the 4 lap finish line ended quickly and by mile 2 of the 5th lap I was melting down again. This time I couldn't hold back the tears. I felt like I was failing. I felt so badly that I wanted to quit and I knew how easy it would be to quit. I knew that at any time all I had to do was ask for a ride back to the medic tent and I would be done. I wouldn't even have to walk off the course. I wanted to quit so badly but I didn't want to quit. I didn't want to be the same quitter that I was last year. Besides the mileage difference I was at almost the identical point this year to last year. Stuck somewhere between the 4th and 5th lap. If I quit now I felt like it meant that I hadn't learned a thing. I felt like if I were to quit I was no better of an athlete physically or mentally than I had been in 2011 and how pathetic was that??? I cursed myself for being so weak mentally. I cursed myself for not being able to hold it together. I walked so slow, I cried, I whimpered, I walked on. I bent over, hyperventilated, cried, walked some more. I wasn't going to give into the fear of the cold, I wasn't going to let knowing what was to come stop me from moving forward, I wasn't going to be that girl I was last year. I wished Margaret was there with me and I shouted for her out loud. Eventually I covered some distance, I made it over the berlin walls, I carried the cinder block that felt so heavy, I climbed up cliffhanger, I came to the monkey bars. I sat at the top of the hill before the monkey bars contemplating if I could even go down there. I looked at the volunteers and Jeff hoping they would see deep into my eyes and into my soul and see my pain and somehow pluck me off of that hill and rescue me. I sat there for what seemed like an eternity. The volunteers didn't see into my soul, no one rescued me from my own pity.
I wasn't ready to quit. I approached the monkey bars, socks hanging limply off the ends of my hands and I grabbed the first bar. I anticipated that I would immediately fall into the cold water and feel the pain of the night. I didn't. I grabbed the second bar, the third, wholly F I was doing the monkey bars!! My momentum grew and I made it all the way across. Not only had I done this with socks for gloves on lap 5 but by crossing the monkey bars I avoided falling in the water and a 1/8th mile additional walk of shame. I was so high!!! I screamed "That’s how its done!" and walked on. I made it about another 5 minutes before I had to cross the monkey bars again, this time with muddy sock hands, and this time not so successfully. Big downer and the whimpering resumed. I would walk about 20 feet, lean over put my hands on my knees and want to quit. I wanted to shout but didn't have the energy. I cried myself into a coughing fit. I started hacking up mucous so bright green I could see it in the darkness. I felt my lungs burning and could barely catch my breath. I looked at Jeff hoping he would give me some encouraging words, tell me to fight through the pain, tell me I could do it, tell me to go on, but he couldn’t. He couldn’t watch what he was witnessing any longer. I don't blame him.
I walked a little further, my feet numb and frozen, my body shivering. I came to the devil’s beard. In the daytime this obstacle is easy. At night, alone, it is a pain in the ass. It’s pretty much the equivalent of a human gill net. If there are a lot of people under it, you can push it up and crawl below. If it’s just you, it is heavy, and each knit square of it grabs you and pins you down. I got so tangled. It grabbed my headlamp, my strobe, the stupid bandanas they made me wear, my bib, my shoe. I lied flat under it like a pancake. I felt so defeated. At this time I was really letting the little things get to me. I was getting totally beat by a piece of net, I was acting pathetic! I started breathing hard(er) I moved inches at a time. Finally a group of three passed through the net and helped me out. I rolled out from the net and lay in the dirt looking up at the sky feeling sorry for myself. Oh the negative things that go through my head in these times.... they are like no other.
Again I tried to say the things I said I would say to myself when I wanted to quit: "Its only 24 hours, 1 day of your life, that’s nothing, you don't want the shame of last year, its only cold, its only mud, you can do it, don't quit, be strong, think of all the strong people you know" It didn't work. It didn’t work because I think deep down inside I knew I didn't want it to work. I didn't want to go on. I didn't want to be strong or brave anymore, my heart wasn't in it. I got up from the ground and could see ahead of me "walk the plank", an obstacle that would have me jumping about 15 feet into the water and guarantee that I would be fully submerged. I didn't want to be wet again but knew I couldn't let the water beat me. The fear of, and knowing of, an upcoming water obstacle caused my downward spiral last year. At this moment I had 100% decided that I was leaving this race, but I couldn't let the same "fear" beat me, eat me up, and haunt me like it had last year. I so pathetically approached "walk the plank". I stood at the base of it for minutes just looking at it. I had to do it. I had to jump before I could let myself tap out. I looked at the lifeguard at the base of the water and wondered if they would save me if I didn’t surface.... I wondered if it even mattered. I climbed one knee, then one foot, then one knee, and one foot up the back of the platform. I stood at the edge. All the emotions of the night flooded my mind. All the emotions of 2011 flooded my heart. I took a step back and jumped!
I emerged from the water proud that I had jumped and ready to leave the race. I was done, I didn't love it anymore, I didn't want it anymore, I gave it a solid 14 hours and that was all I had to give. I waived down a volunteer, he cut off my timing chip, and drove me back to the start.....