It 4am, my hair is in tiny little braids, I'm already filled with excitement and a crazy amount of fear. In 5 hours from now, I will be colder than I have ever imagined. Why was I doing this? Well once upon a time, a friend asked me to run it and I said, Hell Yes. 6 months after this agreement I came to realize I'd agreed to jump in and swim across a river in NJ in November. Now, there is only one thing that makes me a miserable unhappy wretch and thats being cold and wet, and I agreed whole heartedly to take part in 3 hours of misery. So, when it came down to it, why was I doing this? 1)I agreed to it and don't let friends down; 2)I'd pd for it and its probably the most expensive race I've ever signed up for. 3) The meaning behind the run, the challenge, meeting yourself on a very real level. and 4) in remembrance of vets who have died, for those that didn't and cope with the memories and experiences, and for their families who lost time with those they love and dealt with it stoically.
So here I am redoing all 30 little braids in the hotel mirror, trying to make my plan, to keep my hair from getting entrenched in mud or stuck on barbed wire, pan out. Finally 5 am is here, breakfast time and Coffee at Denny's....I'd never expect a waitress at 5 am at the end of her overnight shift could look so unhappy, she kinda dampened my mood as my friend and I had to hide our beverage bottles.... I understand that outside things aren't generally allowed in the restaurant but 1- its Denny's<- that counts as a real restaurant?? and 2- its 5am, there no one else there and everyone staying in the adjoining hotel is running a crazy race this morning.... anyway I thought it was amusing and somewhat unnecessary.
Anyway... off to the race!! I found hot hands, and for the first time had the experience of being warm. Little pouches of warmth tucked in both gloves and each shoe, 4 pairs of pants and 3 shirts..... I was READY to WAIT.. seeing as it was about 6:30 and we started at 9...
I finally met my teammates... fun fun! I wish I could say that made it exciting, but I always get nervous around new ppl, and all 4 guys I ran with are much younger than myself... just enough so that I felt a little out of place... but that was fine... my mind was set on creating a blissful bubble of warm excitement as I rambled on and on about how warm the sun was and how Awesome it was going to be to. Then we headed inside... orange hair and face paint- um... YES PLEASE... I also got interviewed by someone with a camera... wow did I feel like a dork... they asked why I'd run something like this... how do you say to a public interface "I'm recovered from my eating disorder and I have transformed my life and I think Anyone who wants to can do it to and for that reason I push myself because I never want to limit myself to any identity again- I am limitless... we ARE ALL DIVINE beings, who are inherently good..... and for this reason, I push myself forward- whatever the cost, whatever the struggle..." (wish I'd said that.. instead I kinda tripped over myself as bringing up my eating disorder THAT publicly filled me with some fear of judgement and embarrassment.
So thank goodness, we made it to the start.... me in a tank top, sprinting out of the start with my team... we all agree we should slow down, but none of us do. In no time we are rolling and climbing through the web of ropes, the first obstacle, quickly upon is a generator powered ice cold jacuzzi with green water... we jump, I had a split second hesitation that I quickly conquered until the shock of the cold hit... you look forward "OUT" is your only instinct, and theres a Giant plank of wood with a red arrow pointing down into the frozen green abyss... my conscious mind searching for any other option and also quickly realizing, there was only one, stop thinking and just GO... under water , up and in one stride throwing myself out of the pool of ice water. WOW, the air feels warm... I'm numb everywhere... this is amazing, kind of awful but mostly amazing! Running, very fast we soon come upon the river passage... 50y.. nothing much I thought as I ran right on in, after all its not as cold as the green jacuzzi. Kicking, and swimming for about 30 yards before I realize Im gasping, my legs are sinking and the weight of my arms has grown tremendously.. I reach for the ground and find nothing, I quickly extend an arm for the rope to pull myself since swimming quickly became sinking... waiting in the water for one of four 15foot rope ladders to open, I can't wait... climbing I can do, I can do this.... half way up, my muscles won't move, well not very fast and not with conscious command, at the top a straight edge if not for the 2 other runners at the top pulling me up, Id have fallen the 15ft back into the water, like I watched my fellow teammate do just a minute later. By now it hurt everywhere, I'm frozen to my core, the wind is gusting... "Let's run!" I yell as we gather up one another and head out on the path.... less than a quarter mile, not nearly enough to conjure any body heat.. we are at the planks... 15ft drop back into the river to make it the 50yrds back across.
I had prepared myself for this for days, I was just going to jump, and then I stood up there looking down like a scared pup at the top of the stairs trying to manage the fear of what feels like death is approaching despite the minimal effect of the jump and swim in reality. My entire team has jumped and I'm still staggering around the edge trying to dream up a way not to get colder.... and finally i just step off.
When I hit the water I sink, about 5 ft deeper than I thought, I never found the ground and started grasping at water kicking my way to air as if it would be more comfortable to find oxygen. If only this were the case, upon inhaling, I rasped and my lungs failed to expand more than half of a liter. Realizing my inability breath or move much I reached for the rope again and decided to just keep pulling, I'd get there one or another... Meanwhile I was gasping for air, and between breaths I'd sink enough as my hands reached over one another that I'd swallow some muddy water and begin to gasp for my next breath. I just kept swallowing the air and the water, my lungs began to burn. The ground came and I was out, my first instinct was to sit down and cry. But my teammates were there, just as cold, grabbing me up from the embankment and cheering me on. We begin to run again, my hands are frozen clenched shut, I can't move, and I still havent managed a full breath between convulsive shivers, but I'm still running, sprinting really, always looking back at my team in hopes that if we sprint the whole thing, it will be over faster. No such luck.
Next we hit mud mile (a quarter mile of uneven ice cold mud water terrain), I ran the side line, I just didn't have it in me, if not for my team and my sick need to prove that I can handle a ridiculous amount, I d have dropped out. All I could think of us was my sweatshirt that a friend was holding. Waiting for my teammates who ALL did not skip the obstacle, I started doing push ups in hopes of making my heart pump just a little more strongly to create just a bit more warmth for my chest and arms. What seemed like 20 min, my teammates made it across, I was still convulsing, but breathing, and my hands were pliable again. We ran... a 12 ft wall- with some team effort we are over it in no time. running on and on, we run through some sprinklers over a dirt bike course terrain and head onto the race track area of Raceway park. I can now not only smell the fire but I can see it, I'm so excited to feel warmth.
About 10 am now, Im running through tires, the generic obstacle, which was less of struggle than I even perceived- guess I am kind of agile, haha. Then we run with a tire... heavy enough to actually create a little body heat. Happiness breaks through my misery in full force... I am so ready, we're already to Mile 5 of 12... as far as I'm concerned, this has already been so awful, so BRING IT ON... next came the fire- I walked through as slow as I can, inhaling the black cancerous but WARM smoke for 20 seconds breaking into a run again and then crossing the balance beam type planks across the river. A teammate falls in... we are all laughing, smiling and having a blast....running once again.
An underground muddy tunnel, no light, a claustrophobic nightmare...an exciting obstacle to me. after this there was a good mile plus of more sprinklers and dirt bike terrain with another mudding tunnel, the sliding under many ft of barbed wire and crawling under that orange plastic netting used to mark off construction.... Still sprinting between obstacles and waiting after each one for my friends, my temperature was still excruciating. Drinking water at each stop was awful, ice cold water.... but it was essential to eat and drink to avoid cramping especially with the way I was burning through calories shivering.
Crawling up some warm hay mountains and running up a huge halfpipe and then through some other hurdles and a 15ft wall to get over we kept moving, together, my mind focused on the sweatshirt just beyond mile 12. The Funky monkey bars, the obstacle I'd heard about the most, the slippery bars over that icey water, I was intent on not going in, I crawled across with my hands and feet hooked around each bar, as soon as I was on the ground, I started to run....and then... Wait.... we're missing one... Where's Dave??
Sadly, here at mile 11 at the funky monkey bars, Dave earned his first DNF along with a fractured tib/fib and was ambu'ed to the nearest trauma center. We kept running, with one mile to go, and knowing Dave was in good hands we agreed to finish for him.
Just then, as we begin to circle around a pond I can see it, we have to get back in the water, Im shaking, cracking jokes about the mud in my mouth and meanwhile trying to decide if I can just skip this one too. By the time we get to the waters edge, Im in a panic, everyone is in gone and I'm on the verge of crying... A whine begins to leave my lips falling upon the ears of a true veteran who looked at me, without knowing what I was starting to say there was some sort of drive in his eyes, and seeing it made me want it just enough to get my A** back in the water... swimming, diving under once, and then twice, once again gasping and sinking, i grab the dirt on the embankment and pull myself up, never having felt so desperate. I got up and started sprinting again. One of my friends yelling, just go... finish, and finally even though it felt a little bit wrong I took off ahead of my team and headed back to the web of ropes and rolled across efficiently and sprinting toward the last obstacle, the live wires... only to see that if you're careful you dont get zapped. DONE... shirt, headband, beer... Wheres my HOODIE.... and i see it... I throw it on and wrap a blanket around, no good, still convulsing... My friend holds the blanket around me as rip everything wet off and trash the outfit and put my warmups back on....
After heading to the 1st aid tent for a camping blanket and some dry heat, me and Dave's family were off the Robertwood Johnson Hospital for the diagnosis and plan of care for Dave. As I mentioned before, it was VERY broken... even in a broken, mildly medicated state we agreed to redo the TM to rid Dave of his DNF.
It was a very long emotional day... stressful and hard in the ways I am most equipped but least prepared to deal with. It was a true growing experience, an ultimate challenge. It was the first jump into a fearless trust in self that I'd experienced in quite a while. I would never do that again, or so I proclaimed for the week following this painful experience. But now, in retrospect, it was amazing, inspiring and I can not wait to do it again, but in all honesty the carolinas or FL sound a LOT better ;p.