From left to right: My brother’s work buddy, my brother, me, my long-time friend, another long-time friend, college friend. In front is my brother’s work buddy’s wife. We settled on black shirts and red shorts for the race.
I thought my chest was going to explode into dozens of red streams. That’s what I was thinking about half-way through Cincinnati’s first mud run. As is usually the case, I whimsically signed up for the race a few months prior without thinking much about it. I didn’t train or do cardio or anything to prepare for it. In fact, the day before the race for lunch, I went to Wendy’s and had a Baconator with French fries and a coke; the lunch of champions, right?
On race day, I woke up at around 7:00 AM with an enthusiasm and an unshakeable vigor. I even texted my brother in our usual parlance: Ready to kick some fucking ass? To which he replied, yes, sir, but we’re going to suck. I told him you couldn’t go into the race with that attitude and I’d carry him if I had to. By 8:00 AM, my vigor had abated seamlessly. I was nervous. I usually am when there are unknown variables involved. I had never done a race like this and I had no idea what to expect.
I guess, to be honest, I’m a bit of a control freak. I don’t like surprises and I’m not a spur-of-the-moment type of person. My friends generally joke with me – or I them – that, if you want to do something with me, let me know three weeks in advance. Moreover, given that it was a mud race, I had to do it without my glasses. My glasses have always been an extension of me, so without them, my confidence lowers somewhat; not to say nothing of the fact that I also, as a matter of practicality, can’t see as well.
My brother came over around fifteen minutes until 10:00 with our race scheduled for 11:15. We headed over to our friend’s house to be driven to the race. The others on the team were doing the expected self-deprecation that we’re all familiar with. Quips like, “We’re going from couch to the race…and back to the couch; it’s a cycle.” Hearing them poke fun at themselves reassured me in a sense that I wasn’t the only one hesitant about the race. We packed into the car with our bag of clean clothes to change in after and we were on our way.
After parking, we walked and walked and walked until one of us quipped, “Is this the race?” We ran into others that had already finished the race and were covered in splotches of mud. They seemed to be alive and walking, so that was promising.
Upon seeing more people once we reached our destination, that whole “confidence lowers” feeling was there. There were guys without t-shirts on showing stomachs rippling with muscles, wide shoulders and tree branches for arms. Girls as well were fit and lean. And there I was, sucking in my stomach, insecure and terrified of what was to come. I was trying to hype myself up, though, even still. Repeating the usual mantra to myself, “You can do this. Let’s do this.”
Ready? 3…2…1, and we were off. That early morning vigor had returned and I just wanted to kick some ass the best I could. I was at almost a brisk run, hurling myself over haystacks, over wooden beams and then arriving at a long, white slip n’ slide. The others hesitated and I just launched myself down it…until about the middle when I stopped sliding. I was wet, but not that muddy. So far, it didn’t feel like a mud race. I felt great at this point, however and marched on.
Doubt, she reared her ugly head. Over walls, balance beams, just straight jogging, into mud pits (it had become a mud race) and then there she was. It’s really amazing, when you reflect upon it. Because, your mind seems all into it, like a giddy virgin about to have sex for the first time, but then the realization kicks in that you’re about to climax without a condom on. My mind was pulling on the reins of my body, saying, “What the hell are you doing out here? Let’s go sit down, come on.” And damn, did I want to sit down. At that point, I had nothing in the gas tank or so I thought. It didn’t help that the mud/wetness was weighing me down and causing me to slide, even if I somehow managed to pick up the pace.
Keep going; you have to keep going, come on. That was the voice of my brother, alongside me, both of us seemingly getting by on the proverbial fumes of an out-of-shape body. From there on, I would get the occasional spurt to move and move and then, I would slow down again. The last obstacle was a gigantic wooden wall; the biggest of the race by far. My arms felt like two deflated balloons hanging limp at my side, my legs didn’t know what was going on and my mind was in full-on retreat mode. Still, I leaped at the wooden wall and slipped down. Holy shit; it seemed like before me stood every negative thought in my head that was saying, “You can’t do this, back down now,” in wooden wall form. And it was right, I couldn’t. I even verbalized that to my teammates and started trying to walk away. I didn’t want any more of this. Nope, one of my long-time friends wasn’t letting me off that easy. He pushed me back to the wall. I gained footing on the ledge half-way up and then they elevated me to the top. I swung myself over and dropped down. I took to a knee and was breathing heavy. But damn that was cool. It felt amazing to have friends there willing to pick you up and get you over your own insecurities, doubts and fears. I had never felt that type of bonding in such a tangible, gritty way.
I finished. I was caked in mud, elbows, legs, face, my shirt was sticking to me, but I finished the race. Through the help of my brother, friends and maybe a little bit of my own will (however little was left), I finished. I didn’t feel great physically and if I’m being honest, I wanted to lie down because I thought I was going to black out, but mentally, I was back to my early morning vigor. It just felt so overwhelmingly pleasing to have finished. In some respects, I was still partially frustrated with myself and still am, that I was so awfully out-of-shape and it is what it is, but it doesn’t have to be.
What I’ve taken away from this experience – and I would do it again with the condition of taking it more seriously – is that, sure, there will be people in your life when you’re down, they’ll want to push you even further down. However, there are also those people when you’re down, they’ll offer a hand, motivation and say, “You can do it, even if you don’t think you can; I think you can.” That’s empowering.
Now granted, I took all that empowering and ordered a calzone and ten hot wings afterwards, but hey, I’m not perfect…