"Are you ready to get pummeled by Big Mudder? Eat a hearty breakfast (it could be your last) and get ready to sign your death waiver."
I think the normal reaction, upon receiving this text message on a Sunday morning, would be to grumble, turn off the phone and roll over.
But for the participants in the Norcal Tough Mudder that took place on September 17 and 18 in Squaw Valley, Tahoe, the text message was a call to action. Then again there's nothing particularly normal about deciding to take part in an 11-mile mountain run peppered with 23 crazy obstacles...
"You're doing this for fun?" asked a coworker when I told him about my weekend plans. I nodded. "I didn't realize girls could do that race," chimed in another.
To be fair, it would have never have occurred to me to sign up for "probably the toughest event on the planet," but when a friend asked me to join his team, I couldn't say no. Sometimes it seems that in order to hang out with friends in San Francisco you have to be willing to do extreme outdoorsy sports.
One weekend a guy invited me to go camping and biking. Last weekend it was completing this race where "Ironman meets Burning Man." Maybe someday I'll get to wear a dress and go out for dinner or something.
But back to the race.
Members of my team and I ate Cheerios and scrambled eggs before making our way over to Squaw Valley for our 10:40am start. There had been talk of team-coordinated costumes, but that got waylaid due to hectic work schedules so each person had their own flair. I tied a yellow shoestring around my head, applied some face paint and called it a day. Others donned gorilla outfits or business suits. Some coordinated teams had matching shirts. Everyone lined up together at the start.
I know those prerace nerves all too well. During my stint as a college runner, those nerves consumed me. But I didn't feel that uncomfortable competiveness before starting the Tough Mudder. I was with a team of nine fun, chill people and the race was supposed to be about teamwork, not finishing first. In fact, the only way to know your time was to wear a watch.
The DJ gave us the cue and we started the race. It was a hot day and the first obstacle -- swimming through muddy water and ducking under barbed wire -- was pretty fun. Running in soaking wet sneakers was a bit of a drag and some girl mentioned something about a UTI and some guy muttered about pink eye, but the beginning of the race didn't seem so tough.
And then the uphill continued. This was no 11-mile run in Golden Gate Park. We ran to the top of the two highest peaks at Squaw Valley, a total elevation gain of 23,000 feet.
But unlike those collegiate cross-country races, no one seemed to excel on the steep uphills and there was plenty of walking. My team would spread out during the run, only to meet up before completing each obstacle.
The coldest obstacle was a swim in the Chernobyl Jacuzzi. If someone hadn't been there to pull me out of the water I might have never made it. I'm not much of a polar bear swimmer.
The obstacle that involved the most teamwork was a half-pipe where we climbed on shoulders and then got pulled up at the top.
The only obstacle I skipped was one where you had to crawl through aluminum tunnels and then under barbed wire (called the Boa Constrictor). As I walked around, a Marine officer called out to me, "Taking a short cut, eh?"
"I get really claustrophobic," I responded.
"Okay, well then go do some push-ups. I'm watching you."
Yeah right. I definitely didn't do any push-ups as I cheered on my teammates.
My favorite obstacle was Twinkle Toes, the balance beam over water. I didn't expect to make it, but then I used that yoga warrior focus and made my way across.
I got kicked in the face during one obstacle where people were tumbling through a net, but the most painful obstacle by far was the electric field. My shirt got caught on a wire and I got zapped at least four times like a dumb bug attracted to a light. At one point, halfway through the field, I kneeled down in a ball and whined, "I don't want to do this anymore!"
Thank goodness that was the last obstacle before crossing the finish line with my team, five hours after we started.
What really stood out to me at the Tough Mudder was the teamwork. I would not have been able to scale those walls without the encouragement of my team and the other mudders. In a world where people seem to go out of their way to inconvenience others, there was something so tangibly special about people taking initiative to help strangers through water, over logs, under barbed wire, across ice, and around all of the other elements.
Apparently only 80% of participants finish the race, but everyone on my team made it across the finish line with all limbs intact. I did witness one guy break an ankle and one girl get rescued from an icy pond, but most people seemed to make it across the finish line -- some were covered in blood, others were limping, but all seemed extremely satisfied.
And although Tough Mudder did not encourage the drinking of beer post-race (i.e. post five hours of intensive exercise at altitude with no food), there were frothy glasses of Dos Equis being served up at the finish line.
I'd say the race was worth it for the beer, the sense of camaraderie, the post-race shower, and the money that was raised for Wounded Warriors, a nonprofit that helps American servicemen and servicewomen who've been severely injured.
The Tough Mudder is great in that it's accessible to anyone who's physically fit and up for challenges. You don't have to be a world class Ironman triathlete to enjoy the race. And in a life where most of us spend our days sitting at computers, completing this event elicits a sense of accomplishment that isn't felt enough. But I agree with that text message: you should definitely be sure to eat a hearty breakfast beforehand.