#MyTAR17 Leg 5 – Overcoming mountains and mud while finding self-acceptance

Leg 5 began with the application of sunscreen.  Actually the application of 2 different types of sunscreen and then a layer of bug spray.  This is what happens when you take a girl who’s so white she’s transparent and put her out to pasture in the blazing sun for the day.  Oh, and then throw in 25 obstacles and a whole crap ton of dirt and mud.  Welcome to my first mud run, the Rugged Maniac Kitchener – https://ruggedmaniac.com/obstacles  

Gotta admit, that while I’m an avid gym-goer who particularly likes lifting heavy things, I was always intimidated by these mud runs and obstacle course races, partially because I thought they catered more to elite athletes, partially because as a bigger girl I always think of myself as too big to do things, and partially because I don’t like getting wet.  I was wrong.  So wrong.  Except for that last part.  Despite growing up in Vancouver on the wet coast, I will never enjoy getting wet.  But last year, some of my Zumba friends talked about the mud runs they had done in the past, and I decided that one of my goals for 2017, even before this #MyTAR17 challenge had come up,was to complete a mud run.  I read all the blogs about tips for beginner mud runners, went to the OCR gyms a few times and before I knew it the day had come.

The atmosphere was joyful when we arrived, we were running at noon and heats had been going off since 945am, so there were already a lot of finished racers enjoying the free beer and food trucks and DJ.  It was also good to see both people taking off from the starting point and crossing the finish line.  From the pics online, I had come in thinking we were going to be wearing like 15 pounds of extra mud by the time we were done, but people were coming out surprisingly clean, which made me happy.  At this point I was still making stink face when I thought about the wet and muddy parts.  And the few obstacles we could see from the basecamp looked super fun.  Excellent.  Ironically, the starting line was the most intimidating part at first glance – we all knew the race was being held at Chicopee Ski Resort, but I had never expected the starting line to be at the base of a ski run, that you needed to run straight up before you hit the first challenge.

The before:

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You may remember from my previous blog posts that I’m not a runner.  Like so not a runner.  I strongly dislike it and thusly never practice it, as I’ll gladly get my cardio from something more interesting like spinning or zumba.  As we headed to the starting line there was that voice in the back of my mind asking me what the hell I was doing here.  How was I going to keep up with these people?  I totally became that person who sizes up the competition, looking everywhere for people older/bigger/less fit than me to bolster my confidance – if they can do it, I must be able to, right?  Just to get into the pen that they put each wave in before the starting gun you had to jump over a 4 foot wood wall, and as I was climbing over I got my hand stomped on.  I couldn’t help but wonder if this was an ominous sign of what was to come?

Boom, we were off, running straight up a ski hill.  I should definately have warmed up better.  I know this, and I was stupid, caught up in the moment. It happens to me all the time with cardio: the the first 10 mins suck, then I hit a wall where my breathing siezes up and the world is a horrible place for about 1 min, and then I get my breath back and I’m fine for all the rest of the time, no matter how long it may be.  Here I found myself walking before I hit the first obstacle, and pissed at myself for being the slowest amongst my friends.  I chose not to wear my glasses for this, which was a really good idea, as the mud and rocks would have destroyed them.  But I don’t have contacts as a backup, so I could see everything, but if it was more than 2 feet from my face it was in soft focus.  This didn’t help with my running either, as I was tentative on the uneven ground, worried about rolling an ankle and being taken off the course by the medics.  This is a legit fear for me, I have a history of being the one who somehow manages to hurt themselves in the most unlikely of ways.

The first 6 obstacles were rough.  Not so much the obstacles themselves, but the fact I was battling my breathing and wheezing in between them.  We jumped over walls, climbed a wooden tower thingie (technical term), and then reached the first mud pit of the day, while crawling under barbed wire.  Before you’re in the mud, it doesn’t look appealing, like sweaty chocolate milk with rocks.  But once you’re boobs-deep in the sloppy goo that had been warmed to the perfect temperature by the midday sun, you can’t help but thinking “this feels really good”.   Another, deeper and goopier mud put followed, then some giant wartime trenches to jump over and a crawl through a steep dirt chute.

This was where I hit the breathing wall and needed to stop for a second.  We were still moving exclusively uphill, though we had almost reached the summit.  My legs and arms still felt fantastic, though, and I clung to the fact that I had trained for power not speed. Despite the fact that I was embarassed at my slow pace, the setting was lovely, with trees and wildflowers.  As we reached the peak, surrounded by perfect sunshine, not only did the killer climb end, but my breathing cleared up and I suddenly felt like myself again.  Don’t get me wrong, it had been tough but it was definately still enjoyable.  With each obstacle I completed my confidance grew, as did my comfort in my abilities.

They definately started us off boring and amped up the fun level of the obstacles as well, as the farther we got into the course the more fun they got.  Here we had to balance our way accross teeter totters, carry weighted sandbags around a marked path (seriously, can there be more of these?  This was definately my wheelhouse),  lift and crawl under weighted doors, run and jump to try hit a hanging gong before landing in a deep pool (I got it) and then climb over another really tall wooden thingie (continued use of technical terms).  Aside from one very steep but short climb, this was all downhill as well.  It was nice, finally to be able to focus on the onstacles and not the trek between them.  This is what I had signed up for, and it rocked.

The next section of the course was what I consider the “off road” section.  It was still predominantly downhill, but we were going down steep hills of loose dirt and rocks, made slick by the water trekked in by the competitors before us.  There was lots of “please stay out of my way, I can’t stop!” and “this is going to hurt if I slide down on my butt”, but I loved it.  I was refreshed and really having aA wade through the deepest, muddiest mud yet, then climbs up and over 12-foot mounds of dirt brought us to a belly crawl under a chain-link fence.  By now we were about half way though the race, and I was feeling awesome, like each obstacle refreshed me, bringing more and more energy with it.  We were all in great moods, laughing and high-fiving and cannonballing, really in the spirit of the day.

Image result for cannonball pool

The mood of the obstacles had changed too.  They even looked different, with inflatables and trampolines, like a muddy children’s party with much more body hair.  We swung across a deep trench, then bounced our way across a field of trampolines to a cargo net, climbed over a giant bouncy castle and then up the famed warped wall.  Since we were all slippery and tired and human, there was a guy stationed at the top to catch anyone who didn’t managed to clear the wall.  Could you imagine that job?  That guy was jacked – who needs a gym when you spend all day hauling people?  I actually did better on the wall than I had done in most of my training runs, reaching the top with my hands, only to get hung up pulling myself up and over.  All I heard was someone say “give me your leg”, so I did and I was flung over before I knew it.  This led to a cargo net climb to a giant inflatable water slide.

Ironically, this was where my team actually ran into injury.   Four of us slid down the really tall slide together, holding hands, only to have us all land on one guy, resulting in a pretty epic floor burn on his elbow that got him all the way down to the cartiledge.  #WarWounds.  But he bounced back right away and soon we were scampering over a giant cargo net, pulling ourselves up through pipes, belly crawling through more mud, jumping over rows of fire, swinging accross rings, and pulling weights up on long ropes.  But we had made it.  One final sprint to the finish line and we were official Rugged Maniacs!  We had made this mud run our bitch!

The after:Image may contain: 3 people, people smiling, people standing

I felt like a monster.  27 obstacles in under an hour and a half, we had crushed it.  I don’t know if it was adrenaline or training, but I didn’t even feel tired.  I could have kept going, and I already mentally was planning my next race.  I need to do more of these.  So much fun.  We took the photo above at the finish line, and we were all glowing.

That evening though, looking back at this photo, it hit me in the wrong way.  Looking at it, all I saw was the roll of where my wet shirt was sinking into my wide stomach and the way the sunshine rippled off the lumps on my arms.  Arms that, had you asked me that morning, I would say were more muscular than fat, but here made me question my workout routine.  I felt I looked huge, like I used skinny bitches for snacks.  It was a blow to my body confidence.  A blow that made me sad at first, but then made me angry.  I was angry at myself for thinking that way.  This body had just crushed it’s first mud run, had energy to spare, and had breezed through the strength challenges.  Was dramatically less bruised than expected and I wasn’t even sore the next day.  Sure, I had struggled on a few obstacles and sucked at the running portion, but this was my first OCR, a learning experience, and now I know what to work on in the future.  And there will be a future.

Then I remembered that there is also so much more to a good picture than the subject.  I’m no model, but if you cover some models in mud and take their photos on an iPhone they’re not going to blow your mind either.  Plus, I could probably lift them.  Lighting and angles can make all the difference as well.  Here is a photo I had taken two days earlier, while trying to decide what to wear for the race, and I look freaking awesome.

Same weight, more flattering angle, better pose and soft lighting.

Gabourey Sidibe said that self-confidence is like lipstick, you have to reapply multiple times a day.  Preach, sister, preach.  After a few days of forgetting this and wallowing in self-loathing, I pulled out the lipstick, applied a nice, thick layer and said fuck it.  I got this.  And I registered for 2 more Obstacle Course Races this summer.  Even if I train my heart out, I don’t have enough time before then to really change my fitness level or weight by much, and that’s ok.  I’m probably going to see myself as fat in those soggy, dirty photos, too.  But I’m also going to see myself as strong, capable, and truly enjoying life, and that really, honestly is all that matters.

Pit stop – 1st place.  We weren’t the fastest runners or the best at the obstacles, but the emotional improvement pushed us to a lead no one could touch.

Eliminated – The team of ultra-fit dude bros who thought they could show off and ended up with a race-ending injury and a trip to the ER.

The Amazing Race Pit Stop Poster