Sunday, September 30, 2012

But I'm Not Doing Anything Else Weird For A Long Time!

Right before I took off work to run the Ragnar (two weeks after I took off work to try to sleep off a head cold before Tough Mudder), I looked sheepishly at my boss and said "you know why I took the day off this time, right?" And he gets this look on his face like "do I even want to know?" and I explain that this time it's to run in a 200 mile relay race from Maryland to D.C.

And he just starts to shake his head so I blurt out "But then I'm not planning to do anything weird for a long time after this!"

(Which we all know will probably not last long but still. I can't look completely unstable.)

And Ragnar was pretty weird. More because of everything leading up to the race than the race itself. Here we go-

The Ragnar Relay is a race they hold all around the country. You typically get 12 people, two vans, and you run about 200 miles as a team, passing a "baton" at each exchange point until you cross the finish line together.

Here's the funny thing -- this is the third time I've been on a relay team like this, but only the first time I've actually ran the race.

Relay #1: some friends I used to play Kickball with in D.C. (for those of you who don't live here, yes. Kickball. Like the game 4 year olds play. They form leagues here and adults play to blow off steam after working in the Federal Government all day. Don't ask...) wanted to form a team and all wear superhero costumes.

Of course I was in.

Then we realized how much work is involved with this race and that you have to take off work because the race starts on a Friday morning.

So that dream died.

Relay #2: A year or so later, I found out coworkers were doing another relay called The Odyssey and they needed people. So I convinced two of my girl friends to join with me.

Then one dropped out.

Then I started thinking about how much I really didn't want to run through battlefields alone in the middle of the night.

So I dropped out.

Then our third friend hated us for leaving her alone to live in a smelly van with my coworkers, so she also dropped out.

And I went on to do other running adventures like Muddy Buddy, Run Amuck, Warrior Dash and Tough Mudder (as told Here). And I kind of forgot about the relay type races until - I randomly got asked to join a team from Tennessee.

My old youth pastor, Robert, from the church I attended during college apparently loves the Ragnar series now and was looking to form another team for the D.C. Ragnar. I got a text from a college friend asking me to join that team.

I said no.

Then I get a Facebook post from Former Youth Pastor Robert saying "we need you."

So I said yes.

So there I am, having just completed Tough Mudder, ready to relax for a bit, but instead I now need to meet up with a team from two states away, on which I only know two people - one of which I haven't seen in over a decade- and do an overnight relay race with them. In less than two weeks.

And as I've said before, most of my favorite adventures are the spontaneous ones that weren't well-planned at all so I just do it anyway. Even though I don't have details. Not who else is coming, not where we are sleeping, not how many miles I'm being asked to run - not even how much it's going to cost me. I just say yes. And try to wait patiently for more instructions.

And Former Youth Pastor Robert also happens to be a former Green Beret. So no matter what he tells me about how "safe" or "fun" this race is, all I can think of is the time he told us about eating a live rat that wandered into his cage during P.O.W. camp training so his idea of "not fun" and "dangerous" is leap years away from mine.

What did I just get myself into?

I wait several days without getting any more details and then go through a series of alarming discoveries.

-I'm asked to pick up a teammate from the airport. Who I don't know.
-his plane lands smack in the middle of my work day
-he's flying into an airport too far for me to get to during the work day
-then I need to figure out how I'm supposed to drive up to West Virginia to meet the rest of the team, but then jump into a van and go back down to D.C. - yet my car will still be in West Virginia
-then I wonder "why West Virginia? the race starts in Maryland"
-then we learn we are staying with friends of Former Green Beret (FGB)Robert in West VA the night before the race. Who I don't know.
-Then I'm told another teammate - who I don't know - also lives near me and maybe me and Airport Boy can just ride up to West VA with him

Ok. I'm sure all this will work out. I won't worry about all these unknowns....even though I coordinate things for a living...and I have a Type A personality.... no I'm fine, really. 

Sometime early the next week, Airport Boy calls me. Finally! Someone on the team who wants to discuss details! So we chat away as if we know each other  already (I figure everyone else on the team knows each other and I know FGB Robert so that's kind of like knowing everyone else) and we figure out the other teammate is in fact going to just pick us both up and we'll all ride to West VA together.

So Other Teammate picks up Airport Boy at the airport, drives all the way into Arlington to pick me up at my apartment, then we head out to West VA. And we chat away at what we all do for a living, and how I know FGB Robert, and we get about 40 miles down the road and I finally ask how they know Robert -

and they don't.

I've just jumped into a car of two random strangers who now know where I live and we are heading to a different state.

Okaaay. So how are you guys on this team? Apparently people can check on the Ragnar site for teams in need of runners and just sign on as a random. And apparently Airport Boy actually lives in Utah and Other Teammate actually lives in Pennsylvania (very close to the race starting point) but because FGB Robert asked if he could pick people up - he just did! Even though it was completely out of his way! I could not believe he went to all that trouble. But I was so glad I didn't have to figure out all the logistics on my own. Now we just needed to get up to the house where we were apparently staying the night with people none of us knew.

Wait, where is that house?

We realize FGB Robert never gave us an address. And I know he and the rest of the team were driving up from Tennessee that morning so I call his cell. And it turns out they are driving one of the vans we are going to use during our race.

And that van had just broken down somewhere outside of Knoxville.

Yep. This is starting out pretty typical for one of my adventures.

More in the next post.

Wednesday, September 26, 2012


So, not sure if I mentioned it or not, but as soon as I got back to the car after completing Tough Mudder, I got a text from a friend -

asking if I would join his Ragnar Relay team.

*Face Palm* I replied "You literally could not have picked a worse time to ask me that." since I was exhausted, covered in mud, and didn't want to think about running for a while.

A couple days later, of course I joined anyway. Sigh.

Post about that adventure is forthcoming. Until then, I'll leave you with this video teaser about what Ragnar is:

Monday, September 17, 2012

Tough Mudder Four: The Finale...and then a couple more obstacles

So I mentioned I had a head cold during the race and my tissues got destroyed immediately. I also mentioned you cannot be vain and do this race. You are covered in mud, your clothes start to fall off or become completely see through and form-fitting, and if you are like I was, your nose is running. I tried everything: wiping it on my sleeves - muddy; wiping it on toilet paper in the one port-a-potty I used during the race - my hands were muddy; I tried wiping my nose on a banana peel at one of the refreshment stops - not helpful. At one point I looked at my teammate and asked, "is there mud and snot dried on my face right now?" and I got a matter-of-fact, "Yes." And on we ran.

And besides what you look like, you begin to not care how you get through obstacles. I mentioned strangers willingly being pushed and pulled up things but I also remember hearing a big strapping guy next to me during one of the low crawls grunting loudly with each new heave he gave to push himself forward. Even after I started giggling. Meanwhile, I had given up the "slither move" and had turned on my side, arm out, head on my arm, feet shoving myself along like some deranged dog on the carpet. You just did whatever it took to get through.

So I'm proud of myself because I did every obstacle and we finally come to Everest, which I mentioned is a half pipe that you run up, then leap and hope some stranger grabs you, holds you, and has the strength left to hoist you up over the top ledge, lest you fall to probable severe injury back onto the bottom of the half pipe.

And remember, this is after about 10 miles and about 23 obstacles. So you are tired. And the strangers on top of this thing are tired.

Then it starts to pour the rain.

My resolve starts to wash away. And the half pipe has emblazoned across it the words "No Quit In Here" and I start to think "well there's quit in HERE, buddy!" as I examine my own constitution. But I get in line and I'm prepared to give it a shot.

And that's when I find a man's tooth for him after he knocks it out on that darn half pipe.
I'm not even kidding. I'm standing in line and we see a guy bleeding, asking everyone to help him. So I leave the line and go over and find out he desperately wants us to find his tooth. And it starts to rain harder, and a bunch of us are looking, and I pray that I'll find it for him (I've had over a decade of looking for my own lost contact lens -- if anyone can find this thing, it will be me!) and I do. I'm the one who found it. So the paramedics take him off one direction, and I take off towards my team and I simply breeze past them with a "I just found a guy's tooth -- I'm out!" and I skipped Everest.

Sigh. In retrospect I wish I'd just ran up it for the sake of it but honestly I wouldn't have even wanted to get caught, that was what scared me the most -- that the people on top wouldn't have the strength left to hold me. And it didn't help that I watched my own tiny teammate get hung upside down and be suspended for entirely too long before she was finally pulled to safety (and if they can't pull her up, they sure the heck aren't getting my 5'8 self up). And the rain continued to get worse to the point where everyone I watched just slid back down unsuccessfully. Not even half my team made it up so I do think it would've been futile had I even tried.

After that, we sort of had an anticlimatic end since the thunderstorm was forcing everyone to just finish as fast as possible and obstacles kept getting shut down. We crossed through what was supposed to have been a muddy run through more electric wires but we were told they had been turned off due to the storm. I made a joke halfway through about how funny it would be if they switched them back on right then since we were caressing them and pushing through them like a beaded curtain from the 70's rather than trying to dodge them for fear of our lives. And this photo was captured right at that moment:

And even though I feel cheated out of some of my experience, I do kind of love that pic.

So the race ends, we buy hotdogs that we cradle from the rain until we get to our car (then I forget about mine, step on it, find it in the floorboard miles down the road, and eat in anyway. Because this day has turned me into a boy.)  We buy dry clothes at the concessions tent and then later realize the futility of that given we have to change clothes in the parking lot...in the rain. And we corporately make the decision to abandon our sneakers in the parking lot like others have done because those things ain't never getting clean.

And then we realize our obstacles aren't over. Because first, we have to change in the parking lot. And since we have mud in places where mud should never be, we really need to strip completely naked and throw on our "dry" (but now rain-soaked) clothes. After we all get way more acquainted, we jump in the cars -- and realize the parking lot has become, well, a parking lot. Where cars can't get out because they get stuck

in mud.

Oh the irony. We finally get out and as we are going down the highway, we hear a weather alert that there is a tornado warning -- as in, they've actually spotted a tornado and are tracking it's possible path -- for basically right where all of our apartments are.

We should so get extra Tough Mudder points for this day.

We then have to drive in the median on a parkway to avoid giant trees that had just fallen into the road. I finally get home, thankfully just after the tornado warning had shifted to another county -- and I find my electricty is off.

Son of a!

So I shower, slather my wounds in neosporin, take nyquil for my cold, and prepare for bed by putting on my pink cheetah pjs.

And end my day the way I began it -

Like a lady.

*They ended up cancelling the next day of Tough Mudder altogether for what they called the "Perfect Storm" of weather and poor logistics planning. But you and I both know it was probably just because I was a participant and somehow cursed the whole thing. I'm just glad my team got to finish...

Saturday, September 15, 2012

Tough Mudder Part Three: What Did I Just Do?!

So we left off with the "Electric Eel."

Having known beforehand that there were more than one obstacles that involved electrical wires (yes, yes, we did pay to do this), meant it wasn't tough for us to guess what might be coming.

We were low crawling (again!) through mud and water and electric. wires.

Who thinks this is safe?

Thankfully, none of us feel much except the team member who has metal staples in her body (no "shock" there.....<----see what I did there?) so I chalk it up to an obstacle that simply added psychological stress to us more than anything.

You know what else will do that? When they close an obstacle because they are looking for a body.  Which is what we were told at one of the other water obstacles. And it wasn't a joke, there were paramedics and guys in scuba gear heading into the water. Thank goodness I believe it must've been a misunderstanding because I've looked through the news and haven't seen anything, and I'm sure that would become a story. But I say all that to say - that will add to the fear you might already have felt starting this race.

Also adding to the psychology of it all were the Tough Mudder signage taunting you every so often. Signs like "if you are tired now, you are in trouble" or something like that. In fact, I can't remember exactly what it said because I was already tired by that point. Here's another example:

They ended up having to close other obstacles with water later because a giant thunderstorm rolled in (as if the course wasn't difficult enough). And apparently electricuting us is only ok if the Tough Mudder people do it, but it becomes "unsafe" if by natural causes. People actually started protesting to the race staff -"but we signed a death waiver!" These are the types of people who do this race.....

But there were plenty of other things to keep us busy even without those obstacles. And everything kept getting bigger. First it was a couple hay bales we had to climb over. Then it was THIS:

Then we have to scale one set of what we thought were 12 foot walls, only to find another set in an hour or so that were even higher.

And then, the highest of all:

Walk the Plank

 It may not look so scary from that angle, but this is what it looked like from the top:
and this is what it felt like from the top:

I was trying to find a stat on the height of this thing but all the tough mudder site said was "15+ feet."


15 plus 10 more feet? 15 plus death?

All I know is it was high. So high some people were having second thoughts. And the weird thing is, I'm afraid of heights but for whatever reason, I didn't hesitate to head up to the plank. I did make the lifeguard promise me she wouldn't let anyone land on top of me once I jumped, however. But as soon as I felt sure there wasn't any poor soul in the water directly below where I stood, I stepped off.

And immediately realized what a long pause it was.

Just, there. In air. Falling. ...still...falling......

"What did I just do?"

That's the thought I distinctly remember having. Right before I finally let out a strangled scream halfway down.

Which, in retrospect, that's the thought we all should've had right after agreeing to do this race in the first place, had we any sense. But, eh. You live and learn. Or...hope you live, anyway....

But back to the jump. I finally hit the water - and I was fine! And no one landed on me! And I swam safely to the edge and felt exhilerated.

We went through some more obstacles and came upon one that ended up being my one of my favorites. For the most part. Until it went on forever and got old (which most of the obstacles did. I'm still crawling?? I'm still jumping over ditches? I'm still falling off that dang plank?....)

But let me try to explain this one. I think they called it the mud mile and it was a series of giant mounds of mud, with more mud in between (you see a trend here, yes?) but unlike the ditch jumping obstacle, you couldn't leap from mound to mound, you had to run straight up them then slide down the other side into mud:

And you typically couldn't even run up them because they got so slippery, so you basically were at the mercy of strangers to pull you up enough to hurl yourself down the other side. (But relying on strangers was really one of the best parts about this race. Everyone helps each other. I absolutely planted both hands on both butt cheeks of a perfect stranger on this obstacle and hoisted them up one of those mounds. Cuz that's what "Mudders" do, by golly.)

I usually went in feet first if possible like so:

But my teammate started cresting the tops like a seal and sliding down face first at one point like so:

And some folks ended up like here and here:

I couldn't stop laughing through the whole thing. But we finally get to the obstacle I think I feared the most.


(stay tuned, we're almost to the end. It was a really long day.)

Sunday, September 9, 2012

Tough Mudder Part Two: You want me to crawl through/under/inside WHAT?

I forgot to mention, one member of our team was awesome enough to bring spare gloves so I got to replace the ones I forgot. And it really didn't matter that they weren't pink considering everything we had on was poop brown by the end anyway.

Including the tissue I stuffed my bra with.

No, I was not trying to enhance my appearance. I couldn't carry anything so my sports bra was the only place I could store tissues for my runny nose and Gu Chomps to give me extra energy through the race. I also stubbornly put cheap sunglasses on, against teammates' warnings, because I figured they'd protect my contacts for at least part of the race and if they fell off after that, no big deal.

Before we hit the first mile marker - those sunglasses had disappeared.

After that, I went to pull out the tissues, only to find a sad mass of brown muddy kleenex. Sacrificed item #2 to the Mudder gods.

But I'm getting ahead of myself. Back to the start.

So after we get our "pep" talk ("Someone's already bit through their lip from the electric shocks....."), and after we enjoy reading people's shirts like the Jamaican team's:

"We Run Tings"

-we take off. And we get to the first obstacle, aptly called -

Arctic. Enema.

Sounds pleasant, right? So I jump into the icy pool and start gasping uncontrollably and pawing the now water-splotched glasses off my face. And it's not enough for Big Mudder that you immerse your organs in icy water, but you have to completely submerge and swim under something (don't ask me what that something was because I was fairly blacked out by that point and couldn't tell you) and come up, half-panicked from the inability to inhale, on the other side and continue until you could pull yourself out.

Everyone felt like this guy:


That'll get your race started right there, lemme tell you.

So our team stops to take a happy photo after we Finish Our First Obstacle, Yay!

...too bad we have about twenty-five more to go.

So we proceed through various other obstacles, including one that was a series of ditches you were supposed to jump over.

Sounds easy, right?

Except the ground was mud. And the ditches were filled with more mud. So no matter what you did, you were pretty much going to slip in mud.

Our team starts to leap and immediately slide around, stand up, and try to "catch" the next person leaping. I panic and just picture the pulled muscles I'm going to get right off the bat by landing in a tangle of my own splayed out giraffe-limbs. I don't give it enough gas when I take my flight -

and I end up planting myself against the bank I was suppose to land on top of, legs half in the ditch of mud, arms being pulled by my laughing teammates, while they ask if I'm ok. I got better at it and eventually made the leap unassisted (and then promptly slid to my knees) but not before our team captain had an even more unfortunate landing-

His right leg made it onto the top of the bank. The left leg didn't. Leaving him basically castrated on the side of the bank before sliding woefully into the muddy ditch while people commented that they hoped he'd already had kids.....

We had other bangs and bruises before finally getting through the series and heading for more obstacles.

Here's someone who likely actually made it -- while holding a cardboard cutout. Not the only one I saw on the course, surprisingly. These people are crazy!
So we go through other things - climbing over hay bales, low crawling in mud (aka slithering through like lizards -- this race is where vanity goes to die) under barbed wire, and getting hoisted over high walls. We carry logs for at least a quarter mile, we enter caves and start crawling without knowing what's on the other side. We hoist ourselves over suspended logs, walk through more slippery mud (at which point the guy next to me and I both start to fall on the uneven surface below the muddy water and he laughlingly realizes aloud "oh- so that's what this one's about!") and our t-shirts get progressively stretched downward as they get weighed down by mud and I begin to fear exposing what was under my sports bra - and we aren't talking Gu Chomps here.

And then it gets real interesting.

We come up to the end of a giant tube in an obstacle called "boa constrictor." And you decide how best to get yourself through it, land in water with barbed wire above you, then crawl up another tube on the other side.

You start like so:

Following a stranger in front of you inch themselves through the slight decline and thinking "man, this would be a really crappy time to find out if you're clausterphobic," and the whole time you are hearing a race staff member yelling at people at the end to "WATCH YOUR HEAD, DON'T STAND UP." You finally push your way out to find out why that warning was given -- because there is barbed wire that will snag your face if you don't stay low and swim between the tubes as this participant realized:

So you swim through muddy water and start up another tube, this one up a slight incline.

And that's where one teammate got stuck and had to be pulled out by his girlfriend. Did I mention our team was made up of mostly girls? Did I mention this makes me feel smug?

I kid, I kid, in all fairness, it was not his fault. Thankfully us girls were able to crawl on hands and knees inside the little tubes - boys' bodies, not so much. He literally got wedged in but eventually we all made it and all popped out like so:

Oh hai!

And we headed to more obstacles. Including one called Electric Eel, which we'll discuss next....

Tough Mudder: Why Do We Pay To Do These Things?

I'm going to attempt to post about my experience in Tough Mudder yesterday, but it'll probably take a couple posts because: A. A lot happened; and B. It's difficult to type given no comfortable position exists for my body any longer.

I'm trying to rest my elbows on the table, but they are both scratched. I prop my feet up and rub the cut on the back of my ankle from where pebbles got stuck in my sock the whole race. I try to cross my legs, but I have bruises on the side and backs of them and scratches down the front. And every now and then, I accidentally graze the bruise on my hip and fondly remember torso-planting on the side of a muddy bank.

In other words - the race was Awesome.

I stand corrected. In the words of Tough Mudder, it is not a race, but a "challenge." And it's a good thing it's not a race, considering it took my team just shy of four hours to go a little over 10 miles. Granted, we took our time, stopped for photos, lost each other at one point, etc. but it adds to the "challenge" because that's four hours of being wet and caked with mud, four hours of squinting in the dust and sun running around farmland, and four hours of waiting in nervous anticipation of this:

That's Everest. And for whatever reason, that was one of the obstacles I feared most and it's the second to last thing you are asked to do by Big Mudder. Please don't focus like the camera on the nice spectators sitting under their proper umbrellas. But look under the arrow - yes, at all those silly humans running up a wet half pipe, then launching their bodies towards the hands of strangers, hoping they are caught and held.

And believe me, soooo many were not. But more on that later.

So that was on my tired, mud-filled mind the whole four hours. You know what else was on my mind? Congestion. Because not only will I pay to endure torture, but I'll do it when I'm sicker than I've been all year. And let me tell you, besides not being able to breathe normally, it's not easy going through a race where everything is muddy and you need to blow your nose.

I used a banana peel at one point, people. Not cute.

But let's back up to the beginning. Per usual, I start psyching myself out by reading reviews and looking through photos online of the race beforehand. Reviews like "The worst that those wires will do is shut down your body and make you poop yourself. Otherwise, you're all good." And photos like this:
So I was good and terrified excited by the time yesterday rolled around. I layed out my clothes the night before and think "remember, the gloves you bought are in your car - don't forget them in the morning." (mechanix -- pink of course.)

5:00 am: I wake up and take my 4th dose of Airborne in 24 hours and get ready to meet my team.

6:30 am: Riding down the interstate in my teammate's car, I realize -- I forgot my gloves. Awesome.

8:30 am-ish: we finally get through heinous traffic, get parked, and head to registration before our 9:20 start time.

9:00 am: One teammate is still stuck in a registration snafoo.

9:20 am: We watch our heat start the race. Without us.

It's fine. We'll just go with the next heat. Some of the girls on our team start people watching and see racers like this:

That bonnet is sooo not staying on through the race
Then we watch as people do warm up exercise, make comments to each other that we'll be doing that next, then the rest of our team joins us and - we all start running.

Like, right then. Towards the start line. Wha?? We look at each other like "that's it? No warm up? No gun going off? Guess we're starting!"

It was like de ja vu from when I tucked and rolled out of a car to sprint to my marathon start two years ago. We make comments about how anti-climatic it was when we realize we were running to the start line, where a large group of other runners already were receiving final words (that means more when you've literally just signed a death waiver) from our race MC. Good thing someone on our team was paying attention!

9:40am: We get the best pep talk I've ever had before a race that included compliments about our braveness, and praised the Wounded Warrior Project for which the race raises money for. We have several rounds of yelling "Hoorah" at various statements and at one point we are waving our hands collectively, Hip Hop Hooray style, and chanting things. The MC calls out different folks as examples of what Tough Mudder is all about, like this guy who was behind us:

Those horns are sooo not staying on through the race
And at one point, we're told to "take a knee" and the motivational speech continues. But intermixed with all the pump-you-up accolades from our MC are his buzz-kill warnings:

"be careful out there - we've already had people hurt."

"Already seen sprained ankles, dislocated knees..."

"If you can't swim - SKIP THE WATER OBSTACLES. you all laugh but there'll be someone who does it anyway- and you will need to pull that person out."

"We write your number on your forehead and arm so that people can identify your body later"

"enjoy this time now- cuz pain's coming!"

Um, I think I've had enough motivation now, sir. Can we just start now, please? Before we change our minds?

And with a flume of orange smoke rushing at us -- that's exactly what we did.

More in the next post.

Friday, September 7, 2012

They Don't Call It "Mildly Uncomfortable Mudder ...."

I've done it again. Something broke in my head and I decided it'd be a great idea to pay good money to get tortured in another endurance race. My longest one yet - 12 miles. 25 obstacles. Some include fire and electric shocks.

Now, granted I've completed a marathon - but there were no obstacles. And I've done other obstacle courses - but they weren't 12 miles long. This one is intense. I've been making my palms sweat all week looking through past participant photos. And to top it all off, I now have the worst head cold I've had all year. And the forecast for tomorrow is in the 80's, with 85% humidity, and



I'll let you know how it goes, but our heat is one of the first so while all of you are snug in your beds tomorrow morning, I'll be getting up around 5am to get ready to do THIS:

You know I'll have to have some good stories afterwards ;)

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Insight into why I never remember getting scrapes and bruises

Camping this weekend

My dad: "Do you have a bandaid?"
My mom and I, not even even bothering to ask why anymore: "Here you go"
Dad: "I got cut on that trailor hitch"
Me: "Good grief, you and trailor hitches!"
Dad: "huh?"
Me: "....um, you tore the end of your finger off on one...."
Dad: "oh yeah! I forgot about that! It's numb now, so I don't even think about it..."