I guess you could say in 2017, the Chicago Spartan Super became the iconic race for my race team. We trained hard and reached our goal and crossed that finish. The following year we attacked the same course only this time it was totally different. We had not anticipated what was a dry hunting ground the year before, would now see rain for all the days leading into the race. It was nine grueling miles in ankle deep thick mud. Oh we exited that race masters of the mud pit, or so we thought. In fact, "remember all the mud in Chicago?" became a thing among us. We'd laugh about losing shoes, or the spectacle we made of ourselves walking into the Marriott afterwards. Oh yeah I knew all about mud.....only now I know I didn't.
Last week, I finally did what I thought was impossible. I raced in 2020. Spartan may have cancelled their season, but Savage did not. I always considered myself a Spartan racer by trade, the iconic obstacle race after all. I have done 14 of them with three trifectas under my belt, but with COVID I was now to a place where any race is better than no race. So, I took off for Maryland for a new race with new obstacles, knowing I wasn't as prepared as I could have been. The race was essentially late notice as we were not entirely sure it would go off as planned. I had been training but even my own gym has not been open all that long. The summer had been very hot, and I had broken my finger with a bulky splint which just made running rough. Nonetheless, we were doing it. As we arrived at the race, the sun was high, the air was cool, the racers socially distant and the music on point. Ah yes.... race vibe. Oh, how I have missed you.
The front part of the race went as expected, I panicked at the top of the cargo net, which is what I always do, but still managed to make it down. I struggled with the hanging obstacles, because lets face it, grip strength training sucks and with no races to look forward to, it just may have fallen to the bottom of the training list this summer. However, it was in the last mile and a half it happened. The mud pit. At the bottom of the embankment I saw it. Racers stuck in the mud. No, this was not the ankle deep mud in Chicago that was annoying and shoe sucking, this was hands and knees to the chest crawling because walking appeared to be impossible. The racers in the pit needed bystanders with long tree branches to be helped out. The scene was so difficult to see that I feared we would not be able to get out of it. We chalked it up to being late in the day and maybe this mud had evolved and become more difficult with time. We made the decision to veer to the left where it was much shallower and honestly, a bit out of bounds. It seemed to be the safer choice.
As we entered the final mile, down another embankment there it was. A sign that said,"Swamp Ass." This mud pit was a clearly marked obstacle, with no way around, and the only way to finish was to go through. This was not a late in the day change in mud, this was like this by design. I would fearfully wade in and end up chest deep. The mud pulled at my shoes, walking was next to impossible. I was slugging away with my legs that didn't want to move, I was starting to panic that I would drown in mud. I got to the place I was essentially paralyzed. I couldn't move. I don't recall all of my mutterings at the time but I'm pretty sure,"I can't get out!" was screamed irrationally over and over plus a tangled web of profanity that probably still hangs over that very mud pit in Maryland. In the end, my race partner pushed me along on my left, a fellow racer helped on my right and a guy with a cool Australian accent pulled me mostly out by my arms from the other side. I would crawl out physically taxed, coated in an inch of mud, emotionally drained and face to face with a race photographer who captured it all on film. Nonetheless, we had to keep moving, as well you know, there's a medal at the end and I sure as hell was getting a medal for this.
Less than a mile later, I would find myself at the top of the 24 foot obstacle named Collosus. As always, the height got to me but the mud cleansing plunge down the backside, which was a water slide, was the most glorious rush I have had in a long time. A short time later, we would cross the finish, medals in hand, tired from a hard fought race and happy to finally have some straight up non COVID normalcy this year.
This whole experience has taught me something. Sometimes you are faced with hard challenges to where it's easier to rationalize a short walk out of bounds, rather than get stuck, but those challenges will always be ahead, sometimes unavoidable and much more difficult than you thought. The trick is to stay in bounds, jump into the proverbial mud, start slugging, and if you get stuck look for the people willing to push you along when you are not so sure you can do it by yourself. As it's really only on the other side will you earn the glory of truly conquering the hard things.
I'd love to tell you I can retreat to my Spartan career for next year and get back into my wheelhouse, but I cannot. I had a terrifying experience with Savage in the mud I thought I knew oh so well, but really had no clue. Nonetheless, the motto of my race team has always been, if it excites you and scares the crap out of you, it probably means you should do it. So, yep another Savage is in the books and a whole new training is underway. Only this time it includes grip strength, because apparently the Grip Strength Fairy skipped me on her deliveries this year. Otherwise, I am still working on my fear of heights, but I have committed to no more out of bounds so that I can jump in feet first for a fear busting soul sucking slug through the mud better known as Swamp Ass. I am quite certain that in truly conquering that course to the best of my ability, I will be able to see the best is yet to come.