Challenge accepted: Colorado Tough Mudder tests journalist’s mettle
Snowmass Village — “When was the last time you did something for the first time?”
That was the question the ridiculously fit-looking motivational speaker posed to me and several hundred other clearly insane weekend athletes, who’d gathered in Snowmass Village on Sept. 10 to take part in the 2016 Colorado Tough Mudder.
And in my case, it truly was a “first time.”
It all started about six months ago, when Danilia Trisollini, one of my oldest, dearest friends, texted to ask if I’d be interested in running with her in the aforementioned Tough Mudder. Dani, who’s one of the toughest people I know, had participated in three such runs previously, but never in Colorado and never at more than 10,000-feet elevation.
As for me — well — I’d never done such a thing, period.
In case you’re not familiar, Tough Mudders — which are routinely held in various locations across the country — consist of 10- to 12-mile courses interspersed with numerous obstacles designed to make running that 10 to 12 miles a lot more interesting.
There’s the Funky Monkey, in which you hand-over-hand your way up to a trapeze-like apparatus, which, in turn, swings you to a vertical bar you then use to hand-over-hand your way back down to the other side. If you lose your grip, a pit filled with cold, muddy water awaits below.
Then, there’s the Arctic Enema, which plunges you through a sheet of Visqueen and into a muddy ice-bath, from whence you must climb over a wall into yet another muddy ice bath to reach the other side.
And, of course, there’s Electro-Shock Therapy, which does pretty much what the name implies.
In total, there were probably 15 obstacles (forgive me for not keeping up with the precise number, but I kind of had other things on my mind) — all of them separated by a course that included endless treks starting at the wrong end of double-black diamonds.
But all that was to come later. Standing there at the starting line, surrounded by a throng of other runners, I found myself being caught up in the growing enthusiasm that surrounded me. But still, I had my doubts.
Could I actually make it? Would I sustain some sort of horrendous, mud-related injury, or would I simply wimp out somewhere around mile three?
I didn’t know, but I slowly found myself taken up in the speaker’s words, and soon, I was whooping and hollering just as loudly as everyone else.
I would do it, or, at least, I’d leave everything I had out there on the mountain in the attempt.
Not a race
The thing about a Tough Mudder is, it isn’t a race; it’s a challenge. The goal isn’t to finish in a certain amount of time; the goal is to finish.
Turns out, that was a good thing.
Dani and I did the first mile — the only mostly downhill mile of the whole blessed thing — at a pretty decent pace. Then, came the Funky Monkey, which, surprisingly, I managed to cross unscathed, but which earned Dani her first mud bath of the day.
After that, they started us up the mountain, and a few thousand yards of that pretty much ended the running portion of our day. Our pace — and the paces of the folks around us — decreased in inverse proportion to the elevation gain, and by mile three, the first cramps had begun to burrow their way into my calves. And while Dani was faring better than I in that department, she was beginning to suffer the effects of altitude.
Still, we slogged on.
The organizers claimed the course traversed a 1,300-foot elevation gain, which doesn’t seem like all that much in a town where people routinely run up and down Emerald for fun, but what they didn’t disclose was that the 1,300 feet was only an aggregate and said nothing about the endless, switchbacks that took us up and down and up and down and up yet again.
As my legs — with an ever-increasing and more strident fervor — screamed at me to just stop, that I was 51 years old and had no business putting myself through such a thing, I stubbornly kept throwing them out there, one in front of the other, and little by little, the obstacles — and the miles — dropped behind us.
Of all the sights I’ve beheld in my lifetime, few were as sweet as that huge banner that hung over the trail proclaiming “Finish,” but as we limped beneath it to claim our finishers’ beers — without a doubt, the best beer ever to have crossed my lips — it wasn’t with the sense of individual accomplishment I’d expected. Oh, that was part of it, for sure, but the fact is, I’d never have made it alone. And as I thought about it, I realized that had been the whole point.
It wasn’t a race. It was a challenge. That was why so many of the obstacles had been designed to preclude a single person from traversing them alone. You had to have help — you had to have it, and you had to give it.
And that’s the thing I’ll remember most about the experience — not the pain, not the cold, not the looking up another 60-degree grade and thinking, “I don’t know if I can do this,” but rather, the sense of having united with a group of strangers to accomplish a common goal.
That was the point, and that was the payoff.
When was the last time you did something for the first time? For me, it was Saturday, Sept. 10, 2016, in Snowmass Village, Colorado.
It was the first time … but it definitely won’t be the last.
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