Inside: There will probably be some cursing; Post-game analysis; McDavid Hexpad; Don’t ask me if I’m doing it again; Callipygian
I’ve written about this a lot so it’s only fair that I write a recap now that the event that’s been stressing me out for the past 6 months has come and gone.
HERE’S THE SHORT VERSION
I can honestly say that I finished first out of all the UA team.
THE LONGER VERSION
There was a golf cart involved. And severe, recurring cramps. Details, details.
I was wrong
Rob Mac will read this eventually, I’m sure. We had a Facebook conversation where I said that I didn’t really need to run in order to prepare for the Tough Mudder. I said it was more like a 12 mile hike.
I was wrong, Rob. We were pretty much trail running the whole time. Well, I walked here and there, of course. I’ve never run 12 miles before. I don’t think it would have mattered except that I made some huge mistakes.
My choice of gear was pretty much on the money. Although, if it had been a hot day I would have been a bit overdressed. I had on three layers.
- HeadSweat do-rag
- UnderArmour open fingered training gloves (light-weight, silicon grip in the palm and on the fingers, mesh that allowed water/mud draining)
- UnderArmour short-sleeved compression shirt
- McDavid Hexpad goalie shirt
- UA cotton T-shirt
- Cycling compression shorts (with crotch padding)
- McDavid padded 3/4 compression pants
- Some kind of running socks
- New Balance Minimus T-10 nearly barefoot trail running shoes (with big band-aids over my Achilles’ tendons to prevent chafing that worked perfectly)
The McDavid Hexpad “armor” helped, in some situations, but was not necessary. The padding on the 3/4 compression pants and goalie shirt I wore is meant to protect you on your outer edges for the most part. Sides of the arms and on the shoulders, sides of the rib cage. The pants were a little more thorough, but still, the knee padding is on the outside. When belly crawling over rocks you’re taking the bruising on your front parts, not your side parts.
The foam padding is also pretty buoyant, but I need to test that again somehow.
Sliding shorts would have done fine, too.
LESSON: If you buy a pair of barefoot-ish running shoes, they come with a warning that says, “Hey. Idiot. We know what you’re thinking. You’re thinking you’re going to put these on, go out in the woods and sprint like a gazelle. But no. Seriously. You’ve got to work your way into these things. Only do a mile or two at first. Then a little more. Then a little more. ‘Cause without all that padding you’re used to, there’s going to be a lot more stress on your Achilles’, ankles, feet and calves.”
I’ve been training in these shoes, but other than a few endurance drills — is that an oxymoron? — I haven’t actually run in them. Well, now I have. My feet were sore from dealing with rocks and things. But … whatever. I actually like running (particularly on trails), which is odd, because I like it more than I’m good at it.
It was fun. Kind of freaky but fun. I won’t describe each obstacle, otherwise this would be a book instead of a drawn-out blog entry.
The ice bath freaked me out, but Lisa was with me. We went in together. Of course, she said the magic words. Essentially, that I’d have to help her in. I have more guts for other people than for or by myself, if that makes sense.
LESSON: Have a buddy and look out for each other.
Ice water, which I’ve never been in, hits you like a hammer. I couldn’t breathe. Like, you can’t take a deep breath. I instinctively tried to push myself up — you know damn well I was holding on to the edge even though the water wasn’t that deep — just to get more of my body out of the water so I could breathe. How do you take a deep breath when your lungs don’t want to expand?
But you have to go UNDER a wooden divider (with barbed wire on the top) before you get out. That was tough and not pretty. I think the hexpad foam made it hard to get under it but when I did I popped right back up, blinded and groping for the side. Before I could open my eyes I kept working my way toward the exit. That was the only obstacle that was freaky. Well, the only one I got to. There were ones later on that would have tested me.
Around mile 5 I started getting twinges. Cramp foreshadowing. So I started walking more. I got thirsty.
All I had for breakfast was a KIND bar and some scavenged eggs. Maybe 400 calories of food on a day that I’d be expending thousands of calories. There were a few water stations along the way. They had electrolyte gummy bears but it wasn’t enough.
Soon — too soon — I started getting the twinge whenever I tried to jog uphill. Then whenever I was walking. I slowed down a lot. Not because I was tired. Not because I felt bad or weak. But because I felt my left calf getting glitchy. I was at the rear of the pack, which isn’t ideal but I can live with that. I can live with slow and steady … for now. Got through a few more obstacles.
Heart was my buddy and she helped the best she could. Massaged the muscle for me a little.
We got to a log obstacle around mile 6. I swung my right foot over and SHAZAM!! the left calf went. A very specific muscle, too.
So you know how I sometimes talk about muscles burning. Feel the burn and all that. You ever get a cut and then get lemon juice or salt on it? Well, during those hard workouts it feels like someone has slowly injected fresh squeezed lemon juice directly into your muscles. You just want it to go away, but you end up learning ways to cope with it, push through it, work around it. Micro-rest or breathe and dig deep into your personal reservoir of fortitude. Your workout buddies may lend you some of their strength with encouragement. They can give you a psychic boost to work some mind over matter magic.
This cramp felt like someone shot me in the leg with a stun gun (or what I imagine it would kind of feel like). Like a demon fist from another dimension reached through the thin membranes between realities, grabbed on to a bundle of muscle and squeeeeezed with a bitter rage against humanity itself. Give or take.
Then there was that awkward phase of extricating myself off from that log with the help of a fellow Mudder whose face I never actually saw because I was in the midst of going fetal the whole time.
I stretched the leg, the muscle kept clenching. Stretched some more, the cramp fought back. It was a bad one. Shiiiiiiiiit. Because I know and you know that once you start getting cramps it’ll keep happening. It was such an awkward spot, too. Way high up right below the rear of the back of the knee. We were only halfway through the course with a debilitating cramp. Not good.
Sara, Justin, Matt, Cristal and Lisa were waiting for me and Heart at obstacles if we were behind, so they came back to see what was up.
Of course I told Justin to go on. And of course, he wouldn’t.
“You know it doesn’t work like that.”
I did NOT want to be a friggin’ anchor. I told him, “You can’t stay here for the next however many hours.”
“Neither can you.”
Grrr. Just like a Marine. He found a stick and had me lay down and rolled out the muscle. Massaged and rolled it out some more. People, let me tell you. That was the most painful thing I’ve experienced in … it was the toughest part of Tough Mudder. Obstacle #9: Justin Case. I was laying on the ground face down banging my head against the grass, teeth grinding, trying to suppress guttural groans of pain and foul-mouthery. I failed.
It was intense. Matt was literally holding my hand and told me to go to my happy place but I never managed to get there. It was like a lemon juice stun gun blast right in the muscle tissue.
But it bought me another 45 minutes. It was some Mister Miyagi shiznit.
LESSON: Stretch it out, roll it out. Hydrate.
I went around the log over-under obstacle. It was too soon. Right after that was “Carry Your Wood”. You pick up a hunk o’ log and carry it for a while. It wasn’t a good idea but I did it. I don’t know why I didn’t just pick a smaller log but … eh. Not much of a problem. Switched shoulders a bunch of times. Rested once or twice. The shoulder padding eliminated what would have been a lot of discomfort. It was actually a lot easier than carrying the heavy bag from UA down to Rt. 50 and back. By far.
Got through that. Heart was with me. Matt came back to make sure I didn’t do anything stupid while I was doing something stupid.
After that was more “jogging”. Slow walking for me. I started out at a good pace and then felt a little twinge in my right calf. Uh oh. But — change up! — the left calf soon cramped up again and it was nasty.
One more time in the grass. One more roll out and some intense stretch manipulation by Justin. Matt stood watch and helped another Mudder roll out a little. Sara came back.
So pissed at myself. Holding everyone up. I had done really well up to that point and I felt fine. Actually, I was having FUN up to that point. All systems functional except there’s a hairline fracture in the dilithium crystals.
I knew there was nothing I could say to get them to leave me. I mean, seriously. Short of dying they were not going to go ahead without me and even then Matt and Justin would probably have carried my corpse to the finish somehow and put an orange headband on it.
Sara brought over a stick for me to walk with and so we went on and, thankfully, we heard music. Music means something interesting is coming up. A water station with bananas! Score.
Sara brought me a banana. Matt and Heart gave me water. I went to a portajohn to urinate and, I’ll just put it this way, it was far from clear.
LESSON: Urinate every appropriate chance you get. I said appropriate chance.
That was it. My legs were still twitchy. It was clear that they were done. From the water station you could see a cargo net climb. In my mind I was picturing what it would be like to cramp up mid- or top-climb. Justin asked me if I wanted to go on. He told me that you could go to a medic and they’d call someone up to take you back.
So … you know. They wouldn’t leave until they made sure I got hooked up with transport, salt, water and all that. Sad to see them go.
But I did get back in time to take some photos. My sister was kind enough to keep an eye out and got the shots of some of UAs first finishers coming down the final stretch. So I got to do Tough Mudder and take photos. All in all a pretty good day.
Like I said, I’ve never jogged for 12 miles before. I used to jog a lot on the treadmill a few years ago. I stopped because … I’m not sure why. That and the elliptical with intervals thrown in, usually focused on heart rate and calories.
And I was doing fine, too, but here’s the thing. I’ve always been prone to getting cramps. Charlie horses. Collapse in a heap on the ground charlie horses. Back in the days when I played soccer (poorly) on the courts every day — 10 degrees to 105 degrees, overdressed, under-hydrated — I’d get cramps. One day I was riding my bike home and caught cramps in one calf and then when I tried to slow down to pull over BOOM!! in the other one.
In California I would go on somewhat epic mountain bike rides — Montebello and Black Mtn. — and get cramps every time. Baked by the sun on the sides of winding switchbacks climbing for 45 minutes. Or 7 miles up Montebello to get to the trailhead. It was ridiculous and I never figured out how to deal with it.
My family tells me that an uncle who used to run track and whose build I share used to get bad leg cramps, too. Justin prepared the hell out of us, for real. Like I said, my legs are practically bulletproof. But that’s not enough to compensate for poor maintenance, fueling, nutrition, hydration and epic amounts of something I’ve never done before, i.e. 12 miles of trail running.
Here’s what I’ve finally realized. It came to me during a conversation with Kathy, Tippie and Jo.
LESSON: I have the metabolism of a truck.
Heavy, strong, sturdy. I can do a lot of work but I need constant fuel and maintenance. You have to do you, as they say. You can’t compare yourself to the Professional Being Buff guy next to you. I mean, you shouldn’t judge yourself according to people who are completely different than you — you don’t know their history, all the effort they put into being fit, how old they are, their metabolism and genetics and biometrics, where they are on their fitness and life journey, etc.
Use it as inspiration, but learn your own machine and do what you can to take care of it and get the most out of it.
I didn’t wear my glasses for obvious reasons. It wasn’t too bad without them but by the end of the day I had a screamin’ headache.
I don’t know where my fellow UAs get all their energy. I wanted to hang out, but I was wiped. I was thinking, “Come on, body. Killer headache, killer leg ache. Pick one or the other.”
Three Advils and a night’s sleep later, I feel a lot better. Sore, of course. But better.
My younger sister came up with two of my nephews (our older sister’s kids) to support me. She managed to arrange a timeshare about 40 minutes away from the event. I went up early on Thursday night and stayed there. Got to use a soaking tub! I need one. That’s livin’, baby. (Except I’m a dumbass and never figured out how to turn the jets on.)
She said it made her think about fitness. She’s been going to a personal trainer, but you know how it goes. When you see all of these people doing amazing — and sometimes crazy-ass — things, it puts life in perspective a bit.
The other nights I stayed with the UA crew at the Animal House. That place was sweet.
My family still thinks I’m crazy. They still want to know why. Hell, I don’t get it myself. Especially after they heard about the guy — my sister observed this — who got shocked, like, nine times in the head during the Electric Eel obstacle. I saw him when I was in the Med tent. He did not look good. He was disoriented big time and the paramedics took him to the hospital.
I got to nearly mile 8. Two thirds of the way through. Don’t ask me if I’m going to do it again. Not yet anyway. At least wait until I don’t hurt anymore.
But you know what? I don’t feel like going to work tomorrow. I want to go run in the woods.
Actually, right now I’m going for a steaming hot shower. Peace out. And I’ll see you on Tuesday, UAers.
Many thinks to my little sis and the nephews. That was much appreciated. I wish they could have met the UA crew, though.
To the Underground Athlete crew. You all are amazing people. I’m proud to be a part of the … thing there. I’ve still got a long way to go but I’ll be keeping up with you one of these days. Soon.
You got me to it and you got me through it. Always challenging, never a dull moment and always humbling/character-building.
I’ll see you all at the gym.
Also, I saw some aMAZING asses out there. Wow. All day long. Just keep doin’ what you’re doin’, ladies.
I’m going to do you a favor and improve your vocabulary. “Callypygian” is one of my favorite words. You’re welcome.
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