No Hungy: My Tough Mudder Experience
Yes, WatchPlayRead.com competed in the 12 mile, 21 Obstacle course “Tough Mudder” designed by the British Special Forces. Yes, we probably were the next to last team to finish, as you can tell by the sense of nobody being around us in any photo but we FINISHED that counts for something, right? 3 Geeks in various stages of fitness and body shape all banded together and completed the whole obstacle course. Man, was it an obstacle course.
Let me start off by saying that I took my training for this pretty seriously. I’ve managed to shed some 40 lbs since the start of 2012 to a more comfortable weigh in the low 190’s. My training regime for last 4 months was three sets of ten pull ups on a assisted pull up machine, three sets of sixty Crunches, and three sets of twenty pushups as my “core workout”, Abs/chest/arms) followed up by 3.2 miles (5k) on a treadmill, Monday through Friday, on my lunch break at work. Granted, at the beginning I didn’t complete each set to the fullest, especially on the pull-ups and pushups. I had a lot of ground to cover on those two, and even though I couldn’t do a full set, I’d go until failure. It wasn’t until the last month of my training for Tough Mudder that I stepped off the treadmill and decided to run outside because running a 5k in under 30 minutes was getting to be too easy. I’ll say that running outside has changed my outlook on workouts, the changes in elevation and just you know, being outside changed running for me, I don’t ever want to go on a treadmill again unless there is a natural disaster going on outside.
Another reason I took this training seriously is that I wanted to make sure that I could finish even though I have a disease that is making it harder for me to see and hear. I’ve talked about it before, but I have Ushers Syndrome Type 2, it’s a degenerative sight and hearing disease that can end in well, deaf and blindness when I’m somewhere in my late 40’s and into 50’s. There is no definite time-clock on when both of that can/will happen, but it’s the best estimate I get from medical professionals. I have about 70-75% hearing loss and my vision is pretty bad, I don’t drive a car anymore, I can’t see in the dark, I have terrible depth perception, I’m developing Tunnel Vision (I can only see directly in front of me) and I have island vision (I get spots in my vision where I can’t see anything in that spot). So yeah, this was an excellent decision for me to compete in. It was worth all the pain though.
Competing in Tough Mudder was a whole experience that I thought that maybe all the High School Varsity Football grueling practices might have given me an insight into the fact that I had the mental and physical toughness to get through it all. You know, that sport I played 12 years ago when I was 18 and my body was a precision machine of fitness. Not this creaking and sore 30 year old body I currently inherit. Tough Mudder requires that for a three to five hour block of time, one day a year you have a mental tick in your head to be a little bit crazy, don’t mind rolling in the dirt (ok, mud, lots of mud), and facing your fears. Tough Mudder requires that you remove that mental block when you come up to an obstacle and just rush into it. Push your body through it, push everything in your head that is telling you to stop, and get to the other side. You will never feel such a thrill of accomplishment as you tackle every little obstacle that is thrown your way on the course.
I felt bad that I was mostly silent as we trekked between the obstacles on our 12 mile journey, but for one, I could barely hear my teammates when they were talking since wearing hearing aids and diving into mud pits is generally a bad use of three thousand dollars of gadgetry. Then, two, because of my vision problems, I had to really make sure I was paying attention to where I was stepping, even if we weren’t going on the fastest of paces. My shot depth perception was really one of the things I was most worried about as we were on the course, I have a hard enough time walking up/down stairs sometimes, even if I’m holding the railing. Walking around outside on heavily uneven ground was a whole other beast for me to worry about. Thankfully, I didn’t fall once on the course. Ok, I fell once when I wasn’t on an obstacle, but it was a giant mud pool right in front of the water station, I’ll give myself a pass on that one. There were really few obstacles that made me scared, well, outwardly scared. When my two team mates decided to skip over the Electric Eel, I found myself doing it alone. It was probably one of the most painful, adrenaline fueled things I’d done in a very, very long time. Nor do I want to repeat it. What was it? Bellying down in mud and water with a barb wire structure over your head to prevent you from standing up and running away, from the structure dangled hundreds of wires that if touched would zap you with 10,000 volts. You could not only hear the volts as they coursed through your body but the zap was enough to send your brain into two modes of thinking as it contorted from the volt (Stop or GET OUT OF HERE) after the 3rd time I got zapped during Electric Eel, I wanted to quit. Oh how I wanted to quit, looking up from the water, grunting and wincing in pain from my latest zap, I realized I was barely halfway done. Everything in my body wanted me to just stop and lay there in my puddle and just…not get electrocuted again. I was past the point of no return though, and found myself soldiering on, then I got zapped in the middle of my back, and in pain, I raised my left leg just enough that it hit a wire and sent a shock wave from my calf to my head. Grunt/screaming in pain and a primal urge to just get the hell away from this damn thing, I found myself at the end, pulled as hard as I could on a wooden board and flopped into a big pool of water, exhausted, in pain, by my brain’s alarms were calming down. I stood up to my teammates clapping for me, as I roared from my accomplishment, I had many miles left to go, and more obstacles to accomplish, but those two minutes will forever live with me.
I had an interesting conversation with Xopher as we talked on the car drive up to the Tough Mudder competition. We were talking about how we as former Gaming Geeks we spent so much time indoors, by ourselves, playing games and wondering what our sense of accomplishment was beyond having a great time in that medium at that stage of our lives. Things that involved interaction with the outside world were mostly in the form of messages to friends, MMO’s and various internet websites and forums. Now, as dedicated men to our family’s all of that has been pushed to the side. We love games, we yearn to play the latest comings and goings, but their importance to us never overrides our wives and children. Our personal escape time or “Dad Time” is strapping on some shoes and running outside, or going into the gym to work on strength training. There are certain aspects of pushing your body to new limits that trigger the same kind of sense of accomplishment as getting a higher gamerscore on various platforms. There is something about climbing a crappy wooden ladder, you caked in mud, some of it dried over your face, most of it just clinging to your clothes. Reaching a platform and looking down from your climb and seeing a giant pool a water 20 feet below you, it’s jump in, or stay stranded at the top. There’s moments like crawling through mud with barbwire over your head, glancing over and seeing your friends struggling with you, pushing each-other to the end. Then, seeing someone you’ve never met before struggling, encouraging them, pushing them, lending them a hand and pulling them up. Making eye contact, getting that muddy face smeared smile where white teeth flash in contrast of their dirty face and a “Thanks” in return as you turn and move along. Moments when your brain is telling you that you can’t do it, your body is telling you it can’t go on, but you tell them all to piss off, and you finish. You might be sore, you might hurt for the next week, but I can guarantee you that the sense of accomplishment will never go away. The bragging rights will forever be more highly positioned than any video game accomplishment.
Sacrificing lunch breaks for training every weekday, for the last 4 months leading up to one day of competition, has changed me. I’ll still forever be a Geek, but now this is just something new for me to Geekout about, a way to push myself that I’ve never done before. A way to interact with the world that is beyond sitting in a chair playing video games. A way to tell myself that even though I am going Deaf and Blind, that the rest of my body works just fine, and I can push it to new extremes, see things I’d never had done before. Having something like Ushers Syndrome isn’t the end of the world, it can be the start of a whole new one as someone in my condition finds themselves in a position where they simply can’t wait for the right time to experience something, the window of opportunity can close fast. This new world for me just involves a lot of sweat, mud, blood, and pain, but damn, is it ever worth it at the end. I am now a officially a Tough Mudder, and now I can’t wait to find the next race to tackle. Spartan Anyone?