Saturday, bright and early, I climbed into a 4-wheel drive and headed to Pulaski, Tennessee for my noon start time. I got there in plenty of time for my race, only to hit a long, loooooong line of cars trying to get into the park where the race was being held. One lane in, and one lane of wet, muddy people trying to get out. This one-lane-in took over an hour, I kid you not.
By the time I reached the loosely defined 'parking area' it was already noon. I parked on the side of a hill behind a Toyota pickup truck and started the looong walk to the race area. As I was walking with a zillion other runners who were also late for their race, a particularly stupid, agitated little fat woman literally backed into me with her Honda. By this I mean she HIT me with her car as I was walking by. She turned and started screaming at me, as if it were my fault that she just backed straight into a group of runners that included me, hitting only me with the back of her car, and then yelled at ME. I won't type here what I said to her in response because I've worked too hard to keep this blog relatively clean, but I will say that the words I used still can't be said on broadcast television or radio despite the extreme loosening of decency rules in recent years.
I got to the race area as fast as I could and got in line to pick up my race packet. You have to have a number in order to run. When I got to the front of the line and gave them my name and birth date and they couldn't find my packet. "Are you sure you registered," the woman asked.
"Are you kidding me? Yes, I'm SURE I registered. They already billed my credit card so that's about as registered as it gets," I responded slightly impatiently, like a man who had just sat through a line of cars for over an hour and then got hit by a stupid woman in a Honda who tried to cuss at me for her stupidity.
"Sorry, you'll have to go to the information booth," she replied, pointing to her right as if that meant much. I looked in the direction she was pointing and saw a million different booths. I started walking in that direction. Eventually I found a tent marked 'Information' and went up to the girl sitting there. "Hey, I registered and they can't find my race packet. They sent me here." She said basically the same crap to me that the first woman said about was I sure I registered and blah blah. Finally she reached in a box, pulled out a generic race packet, asked my t-shirt size and handed it all to me. As I started walking across the field to the starting line I became aware that I felt weak and shaky. I hadn't eaten since breakfast. I hadn't slept much the night before. I had to drive for 3 1/2 hours to get here. And now my body felt totally out-of-gas. And also, a woman in a Honda hit me before the race. Awesome.
I lined up with a group of runners at 12:45 pm. There were 2 lines of runners. A guy with a megaphone was talking to everyone, pumping the runners up. Finally he said "runners for 12 and 12:30 on the left. One o'clock runners on the right."
So, apparently things were more than a tiny bit chaotic this year with the Warrior Dash. Everyone set to run at noon had missed their race. 12:30 too. Or so it seemed. We were all starting at 1 pm. As I stood in line for 15 minutes hopping up and down like an African tribesman minus the spear, trying to warm up my problematic calves, I had a chance to look off in the distance and see a part of the race course. A stream of racers were making their way up a steep mountainside. And by 'steep' I mean HOLY CRAP.
The race started with a burst of gas-powered flames atop the starting line and a guy yelling into a megaphone while a live band behind us blasted Ozzie Osbourne's Crazy Train.
I crossed the starting line, made a hard left turn and then basically fell down the side of a mountain. The ground dropped off and most of us were sprinting down the mountain in a panicked run that consisted of trying not to fall down and face-slide for a half mile. There was no control. It was just free-fall with flailing feet, rocks, tall weeds, and a bunch of people already walking right from the start.
That always baffles me. Why enter a race like this if you have absolutely no intention of running at all? And why, if they know they aren't going to run, don't they get in the back of the starting group and walk without blocking everyone else? Something tells me those particular "warriors" drive the same way that they 'run,' selfishly blocking everyone else when they could easily avoid it. But enough about that. I was falling down a mountain while dodging walkers and trying not to trip.
Eventually I reached the bottom. My knees buckled and nearly hit me in the face and I suddenly wasn't falling anymore. Right turn and the course went uphill. As far down as we had just fallen we now had to run back up again over another hill that was so tall I couldn't even see the top.
I'm the guy who loves hills. I'm the guy who long ago set my personal record and has since decided that I'm never going to duplicate that, so I challenge myself by taking on steep hills just to see if I can beat them. I go looking for hills to run in an area almost totally devoid of hills. I run towards hills other runners go away from.
Halfway up this ungodly steep mountainside I realized I wasn't going to be able to keep going. I couldn't even see the top of this incline after running for what seemed like an eternity straight up. My lungs were stretching to their limit. I had no energy and absolutely no strength in my legs. But never before in my life had I stopped to walk up a hill in a race. Until this one.
Looking around me as I shamefully walked within the first half mile of the race I noticed that no one was passing me. Not a single person ran by when I stopped. In fact, no one was running at all.
No one except for The Incredible Hulk. A big guy dressed as The Hulk had already run past, reached the top, and then turned around to find his wife. She wasn't in sight, so he ran all the way back down again to find her. That is a seriously dedicated husband!
After that hill, and having no gas in my tank to start with, I never really felt good again. I reached the top and started jogging again, but it wasn't easy. Shortly after the top of the mountainside I reached the first obstacle. This was unusual. In the past we ran a full mile before the first obstacle. But this time it was right away.
I don't remember the order of the obstacles. Mostly I remember that every step of this race was either up the steepest hills I had ever seen or down them. There were obstacles in between. I'll try to post photos of them.
I walked more during this Warrior Dash than any of the previous ones I've done. And then I fell on one of the walls I was leaping over, nearly landing on a part of my body that won't recover. That convinced me that with all the mud and water covering me I was going to have to slow down and be more careful if I was going to finish the race at all.
During the last mile of the race I came to an obstacle they stole from American Ninja competition which they called "Hangtime." It's like the old "monkey bars" from school, except the bars you hang onto are spaced too far apart to reach and there are 2 rows, one lower and one higher. If you can reach up and grab the higher ones and use them to help you get between the lower ones then you do fine. Or if you can swing like a monkey and never slow down between lower bars, keeping a steady momentum going, you'll make it. By this point in the race I had no energy at all for reaching up and grabbing the higher bars. But when I tried to keep my momentum going between lower bars I found that I didn't have quite enough energy for that, either. So I ended up stopping on each bar, hanging for a minute, and then swinging forward to grab the next one. Things were going fine until suddenly I found myself flat on my back under about 4 feet of water at the bottom of the obstacle. Apparently I fell in pretty spectacular fashion.
This worked out well because earlier on an obstacle involving lots and lots of mud I had taken a face-dive into the mud and covered myself from head-to-toe in it. Now I was semi-clean again. Bonus!
After the hangtime obstacle they had a photographer perched in a chair taking everyone's photos to sell to us later. I wasn't looking or feeling very photogenic, but nevertheless I tried to run in as photogenic a manner as I could and look excited. I felt like a wet beanbag chair and I most likely looked like it, too. I haven't seen the photo yet. Since they lost my registration info and gave me a random race number I'm betting I won't ever see any of the race photos involving me. What do you think?
At the end I lept over 2 rows of flaming logs. It was damned hot, too. Then came the mud pit. I had just fallen into water and cleaned mud off me. This seemed somehow wrong to have to get back into the mud again. But there was no way to finish the race without it, so I jumped in and crawled through the mud, underneath the barbed wires, until I reached the end. I climbed out and ran as fast as I could across the finish line. I don't know why I sprint for the finish line every single year. I have yet to see a time clock telling me what my time was, or a posting on the Warrior Dash website listing my name and race time. I have no record of any of my times that I can recall. I guess its just habit from all the other, more sedate, races that I have run.
When it was over I felt like I had really done something. What a freakin' monster of a race! Those giant mountainsides! The water obstacles! Holy cow, this was hard!
Then I read Alana's blog post about the Tough Mudder up in Colorado where she lives and competes. After that, I didn't feel like I had accomplished much at all. 12 miles of obstacles! Mountainsides that make Tennessee look flat by comparison. Ice water! Snow! Electric shocks!
I gotta get in better shape somehow.
Two days after the race my feet are shredded and my legs feel broken, as if I'd done massive sets of power squats or something. I'm limping around like a cripple. And the way I ran, or rather mostly walked, I practically am a cripple. Bah!