“I will not whine. Kids whine.”
This phrase kept going through my head as I endured the 12 mile, 29 obstacle course in Edna, TX last Saturday.
On Saturday, January 28. 2012, I competed in what is considered “the toughest event on the planet” – Tough Mudder. My experience actually began on Friday as my brother, my son, and I met up with a friend at Brackenridge Park outside of Edna to camp out for the night. The evening was relatively peaceful sitting around the fire mentally prepping for the next day. The challenges began for me at midnight, however, as parties around us began to be increasingly louder. I couldn’t fall back to sleep until after 1:30 am. I was frustrated and tired. “Didn’t they have to get up early and compete too?”
The next morning I woke up around 6 am. I couldn’t sleep, so I walked out to the edge of the lake and watched the sun rise in all it’s magnificence. There’s an old saying: Red sky at night, sailor’s delight. Red sky at morning, sailor’s warning.” Saturday morning’s sunrise was red, and the wind was already starting to pick up speed to its projected 20 mph. It was going to be windy for sure!
We got over to the check-in tents at 8:30, and before I was really mentally ready we were being called to go to the starting line. We were the 10 o’clock group. To even get to the starting line we had to surmount an 8′ wall. It was time to gear up and shut up.
We recited the Tough Mudder pledge amid a barrage of “Hoo-Rah”. Then, there it was, the phrase that stuck with me the rest of the day: “I do not whine. Kids whine”. This would be my mantra for the rest of the day.
The whistle finally blew and we were off. The very first obstacle was a mere 50 yards from the starting line. We had to drop to our bellies and crawl under barbed wire through thick South Texas mud. It had begun. Within the first mile we crawled through mud, climbed over muddy eight foot high walls, jumped off a 15 foot high platform into the lake, and plunged into the frigid waters of “arctic enema” – a box car with ice water. My body was in shock, but I was determined.
We crawled through tunnels, scrambled over mud hills, and ran, a lot. I was prepared for this mentally. Then it happened – we came to an obstacle that wasn’t on our pre-race map. Apparently unbeknownst to us they had to substitute obstacles in place of the hay or fire obstacles. What we had come to was jumping over mud holes increasingly wider with the hopes that we wouldn’t slip or miss our mark. Success!
Then we ran over to a cargo net and climbed over. Then we ran some more.
There were obstacles on this course that weren’t official obstacles. We were constantly watching out for the holes in the ground created by this year’s drought. It would be very easy for someone to twist or even break an ankle by stepping into one of them. There was also a place where we had to drop down a steep embankment into water filled with reeds and grasses. When we got in there we realized that we couldn’t touch bottom. We had to swim, but we made it and scrambled up the muddy bank on the other side helping each other out.
We crawled over and under logs. One time I stumbled upon trying to stand back up after going under a log pile. When I tried to steady myself by holding onto the log I had just gone under I impaled my thumb with two barbs from the barbed wire that was there to hinder going over that log. Blood had been drawn – I was already a tough mudder.
My brother and I spent much of our childhood in the woods exploring every nook and cranny as we blazed our own trails. We climbed everything we could find. When we got to these obstacles we realized that our childhood had develop many of the skills needed to complete the course easier than many of the other people. When it came time to balance or hang upside down we were in our natural element. Navigating through fallen trees would have been a normal afternoon walk for us growing up, but here it was as an obstacle! Sure, we were exhausted, but it was fun!
Our muscles were cramping, but we endured. It was absolutely wonderful to have my brother and my wife running this course alongside me. Their encouragement made this possible. We fed off each other’s enthusiasm to complete each obstacle.
We finally got to the last mile with five obstacles to go. The first was the monkey bars. The rungs were muddy, slippery, and they spun. When I realized that they would spin I put my feet in the rungs and crawled upside down across the span. Success! I wasn’t wet! In my mind I thought I might dry out before the final obstacle, but that dream was short lived. We then had to swim out into the lake and go under a series of barrels. Then we had to swim to the other side. Once on the other side my fears were met. My daughter alerted us to the fact that we would not have to go through one electric obstacle, but two.
After swimming we came to a wooden framework with yellow wires hanging down. This was all a few inches off the ground. The ground was covered with the slush of melting ice. We had to belly-crawl under the wires on the ice. I didn’t want to do it, but this wasn’t called the tough quitter. The first wire shocked me. It felt like someone hit me in the lower back with a hammer. I don’t remember the second hit. All I remember is waking up face down in the mud after a split second. I had blacked out. When I finally realized where I was, I knew I had to get out of there fast. I got hit two more times before crawling out through the mound of ice.
I stood up and gave a primal scream.
Next up was the obstacle called Everest. We had to run up a quarter pipe that was about 15 feet tall. Those who had gone before us were on top waiting to grab the hand of those coming below. My brother had made it before me, so when I attempted it was his hand that grabbed mine. I made it up first try, but only with the help of my brother and my neighbor.
This was it. One more obstacle, and it was the one that struck the most fear in me. There was a framework with hundreds of yellow wires hanging down. Some of them had 10,000 volts flowing through them. We watched as one man went through and got hit with the juice. It dropped him to his face. He tried to get up but couldn’t move his legs. Eventually he pulled himself out with his hands. This was not a good sign.
My wife went first, and God blessed her with a good breeze that caused all the wires to float up just above her back. She didn’t get hit even once. I then ran through, and God decided I didn’t need such a breeze. About halfway through I got hit. It wouldn’t have knocked me down on normal ground, but they were hosing the ground as we were running through and I slipped onto my belly. That was actually a relief. I crawled through to the other side.
I had completed every single obstacle they threw at me. My wife and I and our four friends jogged together to the finish line, and my wife and I finished this course the same way we had finished the marathon we did together seven years before – holding hands.
We were exhausted and shivering from hypothermia; we were sunburned and sore, but we had overcome! 4 hours, 12 miles, and 29 obstacles had not been enough to take us out. We were tough mudders! Hoo -Rah!
Would I do it again? Yes. It was a feat of athleticism, but it wasn’t something that is beyond the grasp of any normal person. I saw people of all ages and genders and races competing. Two of the competitors that day had only one leg. One guy lost his shoe in the water on the third obstacle and ran the rest of the course barefoot. By doing this, however, I have gained so much in my mind. I have built friendships through this common experience that I would have never had. I got to share this with my wife and brother – both of whom I love dearly. This event was totally worth it.
I cannot describe to you the ins and outs of why it was worth it. All I can say is that I will do it again, and I think you can do it too.
If you want to see pictures of our trip through the muck and mire check me out on Facebook.com/mrjdobbs. I am a Tough Mudder!