What a Long Strange Trip it’s Been

The day I had been training for over the last year was finally here.  I woke up excited and ready to go.  I immediately checked the weather report.  No trace of rain in sight and not many clouds in the sky either.  However, the one weather issue that I had feared came true.  I woke up to find high winds of 20+ miles per hour were expected all day.  My fear was trying to stay warm with this much wind and constantly being wet.  Fortunately, although the weather was cool and crisp at 54 degrees it was also warmer than anticipated and I was prepared anyway.

 Weather Report

I’ll get back to challenge day in a minute but I wanted to give a mention to those members of Keep Movin’ that showed up to take on the challenge.  As most of you may remember, Team Keep Movin’ lost several members leading up to the event and we were down to 3 as of the event, Joey, Chris, and me.  I was a little shocked to see that Joey had still decided to take on the challenge seeing as though he had done very little training over the last few months.  I was equally shocked that Tim had backed out of the event only 2 weeks before.  This was all forgotten however, once we arrived at our destination, Brackenridge State Park in Edna, TX.

Our campsite was located next to a couple of fellow Goruck Tough members and their team of 5.  The night before the challenge we all decided to have a few beers and go walk the course.  We were only able to walk the end of the course and a couple of us decided to try out the Funky Monkey obstacle ahead of time.  Two guys tried but only one succeeded which meant a nice pre-challenge dunk in the cold water.  We didn’t stay up too late though as our challenge started at 9am the next morning.  That night did allow us to meet some cool people who would eventually help out our team tremendously.

The morning of the challenge we decided to walk over to registration pretty early so we wouldn’t have to wait in any lines and so we could check things out while it was still pretty quiet.  On the nearly 1 mile walk to the registration area we were greeted with the windy conditions we would face throughout the day.  For any of you who have never been to Texas, the land is very flat and very open.  This means the wind is whipping through with nothing to break it up.  It wasn’t unbearable but it was certainly cold.

Upon returning to our campsite after registration, we decided to break camp so we wouldn’t have to do it after the challenge.  This proved to be a smart move since we had to leave early Saturday afternoon to head home. Waiting to break down camp after the event would have been a nightmare.  We picked up our new friends and we all drove back to the starting line in anticipation of our 9am start.  Things were getting a little hectic and I didn’t really have a chance to think about the course or the challenge I was about to undertake.  Thankfully I was prepared and it all became second nature pretty quickly.

The starting pit (line) of the race was blockaded around all sides and only accessible by climbing over a 12 foot wall.  Once inside the pit, there was a guy shouting out instructions followed by the Tough Mudder pledge.  He also talked a bit about the Wounded Warrior Project which was followed by a raucous applause and cheering when he mentioned how much money had been raised for this great organization.  All the while in the starting pit we were kneeling on one knee while listening to the instructions.  We were told to stand up for the National Anthem and told to look at the person to the left and right and remember this challenge is all about camaraderie and teamwork.  Even if the person next to you was a stranger you were all teammates now.

When the challenge began, we all ran out of the pit into a field led by a cowboy on his horse and orange smoke all around.  At this point everything was still surreal as it typically is for me at the beginning of any race/challenge.  We approached the first obstacle which was a belly crawl through some very slick and thick Texas mud with barbed wire about a foot off the ground.  I had decided to wear my GoRuck GR1 rucksack for this event and it was filled with food, water, and most importantly, beer.  I was immediately stuck on the barbed wire and was snapped back into reality.  I was able to unhook myself pretty quickly but was covered head to toe in this slick mud which would prove to be a big hazard on the next obstacle.

The Start

The second obstacle was a set of “Berlin” walls which are 12 foot high walls with nothing to use to climb up.  This is where the teamwork and camaraderie came into play.  As we approached the walls immediately people were moving into position to help boost others up and over the wall.  I had decided to wear gloves for this event as well which proved to be worthless after the slick mud.  On the first wall I grabbed the top and was attempting to pull myself up as my hands slipped and I went crashing into the top of the wall.  I decided quickly to remove my gloves for the second wall which helped but was still pretty tough due to the slick mud at the top of the walls.

After the walls we ran over to an obstacle called, Walk the Plank.  This obstacle is a 15 foot platform that you jump off of into a lake.  Once in the lake you had to swim across the lake which was probably about 75 to 100 yards long.  This was the first time I had ever attempted to swim fully clothed with a rucksack.  I was a little nervous at first but once I jumped in I quickly realized my GR1 floated!  This made the swim to the other shore much easier.  However, there were a lot of people in the water and some weaker swimmers.  Chris and Joey assisted a couple of people who were panicking and almost drowning.  By the time I made it to the other side I realized just how long a swim it had been and how dangerous it was to those people who were not the best swimmers.  It was around this time I realized just how tough the rest of the course was going to be but I was up for the challenge.

Walk the Plank Jump

The next several miles and obstacles started to just come and go and at some point I just began living in the moment without thought of how much further to go.  Somewhere between mile 3 and 4, Chris and I lost Joey.  We knew he was going to fall back eventually and really didn’t think he was going to complete the challenge.  We had discussed this the day before as we knew Joey had not been training as much as we had.  He told us he would finish no matter what and to just leave him behind if he couldn’t keep up.  I was torn about this though.  The challenge is all about camaraderie and the Goruck challenge certainly taught me the value of strong teamwork.  I finally came to peace when I realized that I was not letting Joey down by leaving him during the challenge.  He had let the team down by not taking his training seriously and had made his choice to be left behind.

Team Keep Movin'

As Chris and I carried on we met every obstacle with a smile on our face and no hesitation.  We ran in and out of water and mud along a lake.  We scaled cargo nets, logs, and mud hills.  We crawled through tubes, trenches, and tunnels.  We got wet, muddy, and dry, and did it all over again and again.  The strong winds helped us dry rather quickly after each water obstacle.  Unfortunately, it also dried the thick mud onto our arms and legs before we could reach another water obstacle to wash off.  At one point we had enough mud caked on our elbows and knees that it became hard to bend our legs and arms as we trudged on.  The mud became like concrete.  Our bodies would continuously go from warm to cold as we would dry out just in time to reach another water obstacle that may or may not have ice in the water.  I was beginning to understand just how tough a challenge this thing really was.

Mud Hill

Joey Cold

We eventually came upon the “Hold your Wood” obstacle which consists of picking up a log and carrying it a ways before returning the log to the log pile.  At this point I told Chris it might be a good idea to rehydrate.  He agreed and grabbed a couple of beers from my GR1.  The look you receive when you pass someone holding a log while drinking a beer is priceless.  We were even asked by a rather shocked volunteer where we had found a beer out there.  Chris smiled and pointed to me.  I expressed my disappointment to the volunteer for only providing water on the course and not beer.  I told him no matter though, I brought my own.

Gap Jumps

Cargo Net

It was also at this obstacle where we ran into our friend Travis and his girlfriend Lauren who had come down from Houston to take pictures for us.  We received some great words of encouragement from the both of them as they watched us take on another set of “Berlin” walls.  This set was a little different as they were dry, as were we, and much easier to get over.  However, by this time there was also a lack of other competitors around and Chris and I had to take on the walls with no other help.  Since I was carrying the ruck and the beer, we decided I should go up first with Chris pushing me up when I needed it.  Chris would then run toward the wall and jump to catch the top and pull himself over.  I’m a little surprised at how quick and easy we were able to do this.  I guess training pays off.

Berlin Wall Approach

Chris on Wall

Me on Wall

Around this time I started to get a few leg cramps that would move around from my hamstring down to my calf and back again.  Chris was also having issues with his knee.  We did a little bit of walking at this point to make sure we were alright.  We were around mile 8.  We eventually learned just how fast we could run without causing any additional issues with my cramps and his knee issue.  Remarkably, we were still passing people as we lumbered along.  I suppose it was around mile 10 or 11 when we finally came around a bend and could see the finish line.  Our spirits were lifted and our pace quickened.  Little did we know the worst was just ahead.

Me and Chris muddy

Me and Chris Running

As we waded across a small knee deep creek, we were greeted by a fair amount of spectators.  From here on out the course was lined with spectators cheering everyone on.  It was great to see so many people out there cheering on complete strangers and offering words of encouragement to keep going.  We knew there were a few big obstacles coming up as we had seen them the night before.  These obstacles included the Funky Monkey, Everest, Electroshock Therapy, and another lake swim which also made us swim under a set of floating barrels.

The floating barrel obstacle was relatively easy as there were only a couple of other people in the water with us.  I was able to roll onto my back (and my floating ruck) after passing all the barrels and let my legs rest as I backstroked to the shore.  It was almost a relaxing swim across the lake which contrasted the earlier swim in the same lake where people were nearly drowning.  We eventually made it to the Funky Monkey which is a monkey bar obstacle where the bars start on an incline and then decline back to the other side.  I had no expectations going into this obstacle of completing it as I had no real way to train for this.  Chris made it across with no problem and the crowd was cheering pretty loud.  I figured I would do whatever I could to make it without falling.  As I started along I was moving pretty quickly and thought I would make it with no issues.  However, about 4 bars from the end, one of the bars I grabbed onto spun backwards and I eventually lost my grip plummeting into the ice water below.  I was freezing but also pleased with how I did.

Me on the Funky Monkey

Chris on Funky Monkey

The next obstacle caused me to hesitate ever so slightly.  The obstacle was called “Shocks on the Rocks”.  I don’t know what sadistic bastard thought this one up but I’d like to buy him or her a drink….then punch them in the face.  The obstacle consisted of a frame of 2×4’s about a foot from the ground.  Inside the frame were electric wires which hung down toward the ground.  If that wasn’t enough, the crawl space under the frame was filled with ice.  Chris and I watched as a few guys ran and slid under the frame as far as they could before crawling.  Chris tried this as well and probably made it about half way through.  I decided to just start crawling from the beginning while pushing my ruck in front of me.  I was a little worried about running toward the obstacle and sliding under such a low beam.  I figured with my luck I would either smash my head/face into the beam or I would slip and end up on top of the frame with no way to get out.  Crawling through this obstacle was absolute misery.  I felt as though I got shocked by every wire I went under.  Later, Chris had told me he got shocked and blacked out for a second before coming to and realizing he was still in the obstacle.  Sadistic!

Me in Ice

Chris in Ice

Chris after Ice

The next obstacle was Everest.  This obstacle is a halfpipe with a slick surface.  You have to run up and catch on to either someone that is holding their hand down for you or to the top of the structure.  We waited our turn and watched several people almost make it only to come rolling back down into the mud.  I’m not exactly sure why but this obstacle actually seemed really easy to me as I made it up on the first try with no problem.  Chris also made it on the first try.  We decided to stick around up top for a few minutes to help other people complete the obstacle.  I think we pulled about 5 people up before we decided to move on to the final obstacle and the finish line.

Chris on Everest

Me going up Everest

Helping on Everest

The final obstacle was “Electroshock Therapy”.  This is an obstacle that forces you to run through electric wires that are hanging all around.  Some of the wires are electrified while others are not.  The ground is also mud and water so you can’t really move through the obstacle with great speed.  As Chris and I approached the obstacle there were 3 other guys running with us.  It seemed like everyone was hesitating a little so I just yelled, “GORUCK!!!” and hauled ass through.  I’m not sure how but I did not get shocked at all.  I did however lose my footing which caused me to slide across the mud and water.  I didn’t care.  I was a few yards from the finish line and no more obstacles to overcome.  Chris did get shocked coming through at the end but it wasn’t enough to ruin his day either.  We turned and ran toward the finish line knowing we had accomplished our goal.  We had started at 9am and we crossed the finish line at 12:34pm.  We were pleased…and tired.

Electroshock Therapy

Once we crossed the finish line there were people placing orange headbands on those that completed the challenge.  These were our finisher “medals” and have to be earned.  There were others handing out protein bars, shirts, and beer.  I didn’t realize how cold I was until we saw Travis and Lauren again and my hand was shaking so bad I was spilling beer all over.  We decided to take a finisher picture than head to the hoses to wash off.  After this I decided to grab a survival blanket to wrap around me to try and warm up.  At this point we also thought it a good idea to check the first aid tent to see if Joey had been brought in.  We were told he was not there but there were 3 people headed in that they didn’t have names for yet.  We decided to head to the truck and change into dry clothes before we came back to see if Joey was being brought in.

Me and Chris after finishing

Finish Line

As we walked back to the first aid tent which was located next to the finish line, we ran into a couple of our camp friends, Andy and Benson.  We asked if they had seen Joey and they told us they caught up to him and made him stay with them.  Then they dropped the bomb on us…he had finished.  We were shocked….and incredibly proud!  We all gathered around by the hoses and talked about the event.  They told Chris and me stories about how they got Joey up Everest and how he had a smile on his face through the entire challenge.  I want to publicly thank those guys for helping out Joey and for pushing him through so thank you Justin, Andy, Chris, Matt, and Benson.  I’d also like to point out that I believe they all had a few beers throughout the challenge but Justin went above and beyond by finishing 1 beer per mile during the challenge.  12 miles, 12 beers, and he looked like he was still doing pretty good after the challenge.  Justin, you sure make the GRT family proud.

The Guys

Overall, the challenge itself was an incredible test of strength, endurance, and fortitude.  I had a great time over the whole weekend as I was able to catch up with some old friends and meet some new ones.  I offer my congratulations to all of those that finished especially, Chris, Joey, Nick, Lauren, Sherri, Justin, Andy, Chris (the other one), Matt, and Benson.  I also offer a big thank you to Travis and Lauren for coming down and taking pictures of us during the challenge.  Most of the pictures seen throughout this journal entry are courtesy of Travis.

I also want to thank those that supported me throughout the year to reach this goal.  I want to say a special thank you to my wife and kids for dealing with me as I went through soreness, sickness, and injury while you all dealt with my near obsession at times with all things training related.  Thank you to my extended family and friends for all of the support throughout as well.  The emails and text messages with encouragement throughout the year meant the world to me.  Thank you to my training partner Tim who made me wake up at 5am all those mornings to train.  There is no way I could have reached the level I have without a training partner early on. Next time I’ll drag your ass to the challenge regardless of what you say.  If I have forgotten anyone I apologize, it’s been a long and incredible year, thanks again for everything.

Now that my Tough Mudder challenge is complete, I have decided to continue with my journal entries.  I will be focusing on helping out those who don’t know where to start as getting started is definitely the hardest part.  We all have to make a choice eventually and remember; an object at rest stays at rest while an object in motion stays in motion.  It’s time to start asking yourself which object you want to be.  If you’re trying to make your decision one way or the other and not sure what to do, always remember to…

Keep Movin’ friends…it’s the only way to get where you’re going!

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