Monday, October 24, 2011

Facing Fears

Tough Mudder

I'm going to let you folks in on a little secret. I'm a lot more chicken than I let on. In fact, one of the biggest obstacles I've had to overcome in jiu jitsu is my fear of falling (I'm not all the way there yet, but I'm a lot better than I used to be. When I get taken down, I now have the wits about me to land semi-correctly, the majority of the time). I've been learning some Judo off and on (they still make fun of the way I fall) and I've been learning some wrestling takedowns at MMA (they still make fun of the way I do just about everything). But, I know I have a ways to go before I am completely comfortable taking falls.

I had a unique chance to face this fear yesterday, along with some bonus fears I didn't know I had - fire, hypothermia, and electric shock. I say "faced" instead of "overcame," because I am still, quite reasonably, afraid of all these things. And I will continue to avoid them whenever possible.

Yes, the Tough Mudder is a special event. By its own description it is "not your average lame-ass mud run or spirit-crushing ‘endurance’ road race. Our 10-12 mile obstacle courses are designed by British Special Forces to test all around strength, stamina, mental grit, and camaraderie."

 The "before" picture

This isn't really something that I would normally do. But when my friend Karen moved to Minnesota, she promised that she would come back a lot, since she "can be talked into just about any athletic event." I was skeptical. I thought back to an article I had read about the Tough Mudder, an event that sounded absolutely dreadful.  "How about this?" I challenged.  Of course, I wasn't actually serious.

Karen agreed, much to my dismay. Our friends Rob and Mike joined in as well, and we formed a team, the Phi Dama Slamma, roughly named after our masters swim team. 

As an endurance runner, I wasn't worried much about the run itself. I thought I could cover the distance without much effort. (As it turned out, sure the distance itself wasn't a problem...but the course went up and down a ski slope, with an elevation change of  1,250 feet both ways). Much of the course was too steep to make running even possible. But the real challenge were the 27 oh my god I can't believe I paid to do this obstacles included on the course. Here were some of my least favorites:

1) Jumping in and out of a tank of 32 degree ice water (in our clothes, which remained on until the end of the event).
2) Running through a smokey maze of burning,  sometimes collapsing, hay
3) Taking a "leap of faith" jump. We climbed up about 15 feet, onto a dark shelf. We then had to jump a very tricky angle, in order to hit the slide below.
4) Running through a field of live wires, getting shocked by 10,000 volts in the process

One of the gentler obstacles

I was glad that my team decided to stay together. Before the start, the organizers emphasized that this was "a participation event, not a race" and that helping fellow mudders should take priority over finishing time. I was impressed with how the event seemed to bring out the very best in people. With the competition element eliminated, there were impressive displays of selflessness and cooperation, with mudders constantly helping each other get through the obstacles. Even without my bothersome elbow, there were obstacles that I know I would not have been able to navigate without assistance. I certainly would not have had the mental grit to run through a field of live wires without seeing others do it and survive (albeit yelping, screaming, and bleeding).

The "after" picture
The course took us over 4 hours to finish, but all in all, it fell within my twisted definition of fun.

My feelings now on getting hip tossed? - definitely not so bad in comparison. 

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