The Rugged Maniac is a 5K (3.1 mi) run with 20+ obstacles. It’s not the only one of its kind, (there are probably a couple dozen brands of obstacle runs), but it was the first spring-time one close to my home, so it’s the one I choose to take on. I wanted to wait till spring so the weather would be warm because getting wet and muddy is a basic part of these kinds of runs. I don’t enjoy cold weather, and I totally hate cold water. So the irony that the weather for this day turned cold was a serious frustration. The outdoor temp was 20 degrees colder (52 degrees) on the day of the race than the day before (72 degrees).
We arrived at the event’s remote parking lot a little over an hour before my race start time, (as the event instructions suggested), and we stood in a long line, in the biting cold wind, to wait for the buses to take us to the event location. We weren’t the only ones complaining about the cold weather. Most everyone in line was dressed in warm-weather running clothes, (shorts or tights). I was wearing shorts with a windbreaker jacket over a long-sleeve t-shirt over a sleeveless t-shirt. People were constantly moving about to try and keep warm. Wifegrit and Calfgrit8 were wrapped up together in a blanket she keeps in the back of the van.
Eventually we arrived at the event grounds. There were tons of people there, waiting in lines, walking to and fro, standing around to the sides, etc. We waited in another line to check in and get our arm bands and my race number. The first race heats had started about an hour before, and we saw some of those runners coming out of the race grounds. They were all covered in orange/brown mud.
My heat was scheduled for 11:15, and I was one of the first to enter the starting corral. I took off my windbreaker, but left on my long-sleeve t-shirt over my sleeveless t-shirt. Waiting for the full heat crowd to gather up, I made my way up to the very front, right on the tape. I didn’t want to get caught behind a bunch of people in a bottleneck when we reached the obstacles. I wanted to keep moving, going as fast as I could. I was there to move. The folks up at the front of the group looked ready to go, and the folks at the back looked ready to party and fool around with friends. That’s all well and fine, but I wasn’t there with friends — I was there to prove to myself that I was a total badass, and to show off to my boys :-)
Yeah, I can admit that I was pretty cocky, especially for a guy who had never run any kind of obstacle course in his life. (And double especially for a guy coming up on 46 years old, and who was only 3 years into real fitness.)
The announcer got the crowd revved up with some cheering, and then gave the count down. When the airhorn sounded, we on the front lines bolted onto the course. I ran at about 90% of my top speed for the first 200 yards, keeping up with the lead dozen runners. The path was not a cleared or flat trail — it was cordoned off with yellow tape, pitted and rutted by the previous runners, with trees and fallen logs as natural obstacles. It was like running through the woods behind the house in my childhood years.
After that first 200 yards, I realized there was no way I’d be able to keep that pace for the entire 3 miles. Not just because the speed itself was hard to maintain, but because the ground was so rough, (and sometimes slippery), that I was afraid I’d fall and injure myself. (I had already stumbled a couple of times.) So I geared down to about 50% of my top speed, to about a jogging pace. That’s when the first woman passed me on the course. The lead dozen were all guys in their 20s, and they quickly disappeared in the trail ahead of me. I looked back and saw the rear three-quarters of the heat were spreading out in a long line behind me. Soon though, the trail twisted and turned so much that I couldn’t see more than several yards ahead of or behind me. Another woman passed me, and I determined I wouldn’t fall any further behind. I tried to match her pace, hanging just a few strides behind her. (Yeah, call me sexist for not wanting to be beat by a girl.)
For the first maybe half mile, it was just running through rough terrain, around trees, jumping ditches. But then I came to the first real obstacle: a natural stream. I hopped down the bank and then into the water. Whoah! It was almost chest deep, and frigging cold! Coming up on the other side required clawing and crawling up the bank, dragging pounds of water, mud, and leaves with me. Then there were wide trenches to leap across, more running, then four-feet high walls to get over, more running, then tires in the trail and hanging from ropes, more running, then tunnels to crawl through on hands and knees.
The roof of the tunnels were only a couple inches above my back, so there was no possibility of going through just crouched over. And this was the first time I encountered what I considered the real torture of the course: the mud in the tunnels was not soft and squishy. (Well parts of it were.) Most of it was hard, and all of it was full of rocks and sticks, such that it felt like crawling through broken glass and nails. Really, this surprised me, and hurt like hell. But I made it through with some gratuitous cursing.
Up and out of the tunnel, and I was running again. Up and down hills, around twists and turns, dodging vertical trees and horizontal limbs, stumbling and slipping through the trampled ground, it was all really hard work. The woman I had been trying to keep pace with had slowly out-distanced me, but I was passing many other runners, presumably the tail end of the previous heat. A few people were stopped on the side of the trail, resting, but most were walking, apparently having reached the end of their running stamina. Really, damn, this thing was not an easy jog.
Somewhere around half or two-thirds the way along, I came out of the woods and into an open area where the trail loops and twists a lot more, and where most of the constructed obstacles and mud were located. This area, being in an outdoor arena, (actually an outdoor motocross course), you could see many of the obstacles long before you reached them. You could see many of the other runners along the various stages of this last leg, and also the spectators could see all the runners taking on the course. I got glimpses of all this only occasionally, when I dared to look up from the trail directly before my feet. The trail was so pitted, rutted, wet, muddy, and slippery that it took all of my tired concentration to keep moving without stumbling. But I did spot my family on the sidelines at one point, and I flashed them the “I love you” sign as I ran by.
In the area area, the obstacles were specifically designed to get the runners wet and muddy. There were small plastic tunnels to slide down, (face first), into muddy water, then small plastic tunnels to climb up through, (using thin ropes inside). Sliding down into that first water pit, I got a mouth full of brown water. Yargh! There are a few pools of muddy water you have to jump or fall into along this course, and I think I failed to completely keep my mouth tight every time.
There were mud crawls covered by barbed wire to keep you low on your hands and knees. (Some of the barbed wire was so low you had to keep your stomach to the ground to get under it.) My shirt and pants each got snagged once. Again, all of these mud crawls were full of rocks and sticks that hurt like hell for the entire crawl. At one point I noticed my left knee was bleeding down my shin. I thought it kind of cool, (a “battle wound”), at first, but then I had to force myself not to think about what germs I might be grinding into that cut every time I crawled through more mud.
There were balance beams over a water pit. Vertical log poles that you had to jump from one to the next. Slippery muddy hills to climb with the help of thin ropes, then slide down the other side. (Although sliding down a muddy hill sounds fun, when the rocks and sticks tear up your legs and butt, it ain’t fun. Seriously, those rocks and sticks in the mud were the parts of the obstacles I hated the most, even more than the cold wind blowing across our wet bodies.)
And there were several 12-feet high walls to scale up and down. These were fun, although not at all easy, especially when you’re already so tired and worn out from the running. These were the strength and endurance challenges I wanted and loved.
Some of the obstacles were bottlenecks in the course, where I had to wait for a minute or two to take my turn. (Again, I presume the crowd was from the tail end of the previous heat, because I know I was in the lead 25%, or better, of my heat.) Also, at the first bottleneck, I found myself right behind the woman whom I had tried to keep up with earlier. So although she got away from me in the woods, I caught up with her in the arena. Although I had started out not wanting to get caught in a crowd, I came to appreciate the standing still to catch my breath. The course is not easy. It’s damn hard. A worthy challenge.
The last obstacle had the longest back up. To scale a 12-foot wall by rope, to a ledge, then another wall like a ladder, then over a suspended net, then down two more walls on the other side.
Yeah, I was exhausted, but not spent so much as to give up.
Immediately ahead of me at this wall was a group of women in a team. As each one tried to pull themselves up the smooth wall with the rope, those behind her would push her up. But when the last was watching the penultimate reach the ledge, she shouted up, “I don’t know if I’ll be able to get up there!”
I offered, “I can help you, but . . .” I held up my hands in front of me.
She laughed and said, “I don’t mind if you touch me, so long as I get up there.”
So when she started pulling on the rope, I put my hands to her backside, (as she had done to her friends ahead of her), and pushed her up to her friends’ hands reaching down for her.
Then it was my turn. When the ledge above was cleared of climbers, I grabbed the rope and pulled myself up. I’m most proud of my performance on this obstacle because I managed to get up, across, and back down with no help. Not that I had help on any of the previous obstacles, but there were many people who couldn’t do this without help from below or above, (or both). You can see in the picture how many people were helping each other get up this last wall. We had all run for over three miles, overcome almost two dozen obstacles, endured the cold, and suffered the cuts and scratches, and this wall was steep and slick.
After coming down from the last wall, it was a short sprint to the finish line where my wife and boys were waiting for me with cheers. But no one would give me a hug.
For comparison, here is before and after:
My total race time had been just under 1 hour and 5 minutes. (I can usually run 5K in around 30 minutes.) We went off to a corner of the event field, where several other finishers had gathered, and I rinsed off and changed clothes for the trip home.
My thoughts on the race as a whole:
It was considerably harder, tougher than I expected, (and that’s a good thing). It’s not enough to practice running 5K like I’ve been doing. Most of the obstacles, I really enjoyed as challenges. But the rocks and sticks in the mud crawls were painful, aggravating, and left my knees and legs and hands scratched up quite a bit. (They’re healing well.) And the cold temperature of the day, especially with the cutting wind, was terrible, and killed much of the thrill for me. (But the temperature isn’t something the event organizers can control.)
I’m glad I did it, as a challenge I’ve overcome, but I probably won’t do it again. *IF* I do, I’d do it more into the summer months, (to ensure a warmer temp), and I’d wear gloves and maybe long pants for protection in the mud crawls. But then, I think if I have to do all that, meh, I can just skip it and play at a park with my sons.