The tone of disgust was unmistakable. On all fours, scrambling up the side of an extremely muddy hill, climbing over fallen tree logs, the voice came from behind me.
“Is this a joke?”
On the inside, I smiled.
I would have smiled on the outside, but I was too busy trying to catch my breath after another woman, negotiating the same area, let go of a tree branch at an inopportune time that whacked me square in the back of my shoulders.
A brief respite and I was back, following the orange trail markings. Straight up the side of a hill. Through mud. Deep mud. Over branches and trees.
This. Was. Awesome.
Welcome to the Jensen Stables Ultimate XC Challenge.
The 12K event is part trail race, part obstacle course and part, well, just absurdity. There are points which felt like I was in basic training for Monty Python’s Flying Circus. Which, actually, is part of the point of the entire race. That and to get muddy. So muddy my feet (pictured with this post) were caked in mud underneath my socks and trail running shoes.
It’s like being a little kid again and getting to romp around outside.
But let’s go back in time before I was enjoying myself and having fun.
When I had to make the decision to step outside my comfort zone and decide to register, and start, the race.
Because lest I give my blog readers the impression that taking challenges and pushing boundaries is easy, the actual stepping outside the comfort zone is something which I struggle with, too.
Sure, I might be an “Ironwoman.” But this race here? Scared me. Really. Ask Mark. I was crying on Thursday night just thinking about this race. Yes. Literal tears. Throwing up was not out of the question.
I was worried about the obstacles. I was never good at obstacle courses. I was concerned about having enough physical strength, agility and athletic ability to get up, over, around and under impediments in my path. I mean, for the love of all things holy, I have trouble staying upright when I’m trail running without any man-made hurdles.
Adding to my anxiety was the unfounded fear I would embarrass Mark. He has run this race before and is a really good trail runner. His friends, who are also good runners, were going to be there. If I did poorly, well, what would people think?
For the record, dealing with this complex notion of being “good enough” is part of the emotional work that comes up during my training. In the past, I’ve let it keep me on the sidelines.
But moving past my comfort zone is something I’ve come to embrace along my athletic journey. It’s the space where the really good things in life happen.
With this knowledge, I still whined and cried and dragged my feet all the way to Perinton, N.Y. on Sunday morning. But my complaining was surface clutter, something I’ve learned to identify. It’s voices from my past who mean well, who want to keep me safe, but whom I’ve outgrown.
To further reinforce my purpose at this race — to get a good workout, enjoy something new and just have fun — I left my watch in the car. This was not a “race” for me anymore. It was an event.
Mark decided to run with me. Actually with me. In part, I was his excuse for running a slow, easy race just two weeks out from his performance at the Wineglass Marathon. In turn, I was worried that he was going to be bored running my pace. He insisted he wasn’t. Halfway through, I started to believe him. Or maybe I was just so focused on the moment I forgot to worry about him.
The race course started with a hill near one of the horse barns. For no reason. The path didn’t go anywhere. We ran up the steep hill, turned around and then ran through a thigh-high trough of water.
If you didn’t have a sense of humor you weren’t going to survive.
The only time I had an issue was when we went through a tunnel of bales of hay and then had to jump over one to get out. I struggled to get over and so I let others behind me go first. I urged Mark to go ahead of me and told him not to help me. I wanted to get this myself. With a bit of a running start I flung myself onto the top of the bale and was ready to pull myself up, when Mark grabbed my leg and hoisted me up
This irked me for a bit. I felt like I didn’t do the element because I had outside assistance and I wanted to prove that for all my fear I could do the course. At the time it stung for a bit.
But the words of one of the volunteers stayed with me as I sulked through the next few minutes on the trail, “It’s OK to get help,” he said as I complained to Mark. “We all can use a little help sometimes.”
It took some time and some nice hard hills, but I let go of that perceived failure of mine and found myself back in the moment. Which is good. Because the course demanded it.
What else did we encounter? Several ponds, including one which was 10 feet deep. It was so cold it took my breath away without even putting my face in the water. Luckily, there were ropes to pull yourself across because the breaststroke wasn’t working for me as my body was pretty much frozen in cold water shock.
There were other ponds, which weren’t as deep but still had the assistance of ropes, in large part because of the muddy hill at the other side.
There were more obstacles to climb, a bridge to crawl under (literally) and a stream we had to follow through the middle, including a part uphill that created a slight waterfall.
I fell only once during the run — as we came out of the woods into the field and my ankle caught a rut. Hence, the final element”of the horse jumps were not something I actually “jumped” over even though the crowd (including my friends) repeatedly, and forcefully, chanted JUMP. (I aggressively stepped over them, however.)
Finally, we ran through a barn which had horses in the stables (And yes, I paused to say hello to the horses) then on to the finish line.
After two hours I was wet and muddy and sweaty and extraordinarily happy.
Granted, Mark had promised me a pony ride and we failed to see them offered at the post-race part but still, it was an amazing day.
I was grateful for Mark pushing me to run the race and even more grateful he ran the race with me. It wasn’t just that he kept me entertained, he wanted to see me enjoy breaking through the challenge. And I don’t think I thanked him enough for that support, encouragement and plain old good time.
I was grateful for the beautiful day, for the challenging trails and for the insane obstacles. Happy in the knowledge that I had no data on my Garmin, that I ran for fun and enjoyment and on how I felt. That I got dirty and tried hard and did things I thought I wouldn’t be able to.
Grateful that I took that step outside my comfort zone, despite my whining and fear.