Scott Mercier: A day in the mud
August 30, 2018
Running is not my thing. Running, crawling through mud, ice-cold muddy water, climbing walls, electric shocks — all combined? Sign me up!
My 15-year-old son, Marius, signed up for the Tough Mudder a few months ago. He kept asking me if I wanted to do it with him and I kept politely deferring. As far as I could tell, Tough Mudders didn't involve bikes.
However, Friday morning, I thought, "What the heck, let's give this a go!" I figured it'd be a fun day with my son. My training for this consisted of exactly 0 miles of running. Marius, however, spent the summer running and training for his sophomore season of cross country at Basalt High School.
Apparently, millions of people think a day in the mud is a good idea. The Tough Mudder website claims that more than 3 million people have participated in one of their events. Nearly 10,000 made the trek to Snowmass this year.
The event goes off in waves of 250 to 300 people every 30 minutes. Our wave was the 11:30 a.m. slot. Naturally, at about 11:15, I had to use the bathroom. My son rolled his eyes as if to say, "Really, dad?" When we lined up we were near the end of our wave. The emcee gave us some encouragement and the rules. One of the rules was, "No whining. Whining is for kids." He emphasized that it was not a race, but rather an event, and that these events adhered to the spirit of cooperation. He encouraged us to help each other get through the course. He finally mentioned something about the "shock therapy," and that if you had a pacemaker or heart condition you could skip this one. He gave the countdown and wished us luck.
Due to my poor planning, we were pretty much dead last out of the corral. To my surprise, most people were walking straight away. Marius and I were having none of that; we were going to run. In short order we passed about 200 people and settled into a nice pace with five or six runners. Marius warned me we would be crawling under barbed wire. I'm a dad, so I naturally dismissed this; no way would we have real barbed wire.
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The first obstacle was called the Kiss of Mud and, sure enough, to ensure that you actually did kiss the mud, you had to crawl under barbed wire — actual barbed wire. The kind with sharp points. And you only had a gap of maybe 12 inches above the mud — so you couldn't crawl — you had to get on your belly and slither like a snake.
When we cleared this first obstacle we looked behind us and there was a huge queue to even enter. We were glad that we'd run, or we would have waited 20 minutes just to get into the mud.
The second obstacle was called Hero Carry — where you had to find someone to carry. Marius and I have a weight differential of around 80 pounds. So, he got on my back and I gave him a piggy back ride like when he was a kid. Half way through you have to switch. At the switch point, we notice a couple with a significant weight disparity; the guy must have weighed 300 pounds. There was no way she was going to be able to give him a piggy back ride. I looked at them and said, "OK, get on my back." I staggered through the next 50 yards; I was covered in mud and my legs were screaming with agony.
The next few obstacles were a blur. By the time we hit the Death March, I was covered in mud and my knees were bleeding. The Death March was straight up the rim of the halfpipe. It doesn't look so steep when it's covered in snow and you have a pair of skis strapped to your feet. But it looked steep from this angle. I walked. Marius, however, ran straight up. For years he's been clapping me on the shoulder and saying, "Hey dad, it won't be long before there's a new alpha in the house." Well, this was that moment. He ran away from me. I watched with a mixture of frustration and pride. This was the first of what is sure to be many.
He graciously waited at the top and we continued our run to the next obstacles; Lumber Jacked, Devil's Beard, Everest 2.0 and Pitfall. The course encompassed some of the mountain bike trails and it was actually quite a bit of fun to run on the banked turns. By now, however, my knees were starting to feel the strain of doing this off the couch. I was thankful that we'd signed up for just the half; 5 miles instead of 10.
The penultimate obstacle was Shock Therapy. I remembered what the emcee said, but I thought that it couldn't really be that bad. Hundreds of long strands of wire hung just above a muddy mess. I barged straight in and immediately realized I'd made a horrible mistake. The shocks were unbelievably painful; so much so that my knees buckled and I'm sure my heart skipped a beat. Marius fared no better. It brought him to his knees.
After the last obstacle we had just a few hundred meters left to run. Marius kicked it up and I was helpless as he accelerated away. He was waiting for me just 10 meters shy of the line so that we could finish together. We finished with our arms linked together and are already talking about doing the full Mudder next year.
Scott Mercier represented Team USA at the 1992 Olympic Games and had a five-year professional career with Saturn Cycling and The U.S. Postal Services teams. He currently works as a financial adviser in Aspen and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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