How World’s Toughest Mudder Ruined My Life

The second ever World’s Toughest Mudder is rapidly approaching on November 17th. It’s not technically a perfect one-year anniversary, since TMHQ moved the race up a month this year, but on that day, it will be 11 months since the beginning.

The beginning, you say? Ah yes, the beginning of the descent into the world of obstacle racing, adventure racing, endurance racing, and all kinds of idiocy.

And while the jury is still out on whether or not I’m going to be able to make an appearance at WTM (to perhaps once again continue my second-place winning/losing streak), I look back and realize how dramatically different my life has become over the past year. As an ode to WTM, let’s take a step back to remember exactly the ways in which it has ruined my life:

(1) Running on the road bores me to death. I’m not sure I’m ever going to be able to do another road race. You mean, you just…run? In a straight line? On pavement? That’s cool, but where are the walls and bars and mud pits?

(2) It introduced me to the Death Race. The DR is a race that really has no point. No start, no finish. No real…point. But it’s the hardest, most fun, and most mentally/physically/emotionally tasking (and rewarding!) thing I’ve ever done. And now my life revolves around making it out to Pittsfield Vermont twice or three times a year to spend 48+ hours out in the woods. For no money. For no glory. For a plastic skull. And unless you’ve done one, you won’t get it. And you shouldn’t do one. ‘Cause like I said, it has no point.

(3) My co-workers treat me with caution. Though, that could be because I have a Death Race finishers skull and a WTM sign sitting on my desk.

(4) I’ve had to buy all new shoes. My feet have grown from an already large size 10 to a 10.5 or sometimes 11 in the past year. And at WTM last year, I gouged massive holes in my heels (making it impossible to wear any type of shoe for 3 weeks), that are now knobs of scar tissue. And they’ve widened out. My cute narrow feet are now ugly and sausage-like.

(5) My definition of a “long” race is completely skewed. Case in point: when describing the UltraBeast to my mom a few months ago, I told her “don’t worry, it will start when it’s light out and end when it’s light out.” Before WTM, I thought 24 hours was ridiculous. Now anything less seems…pedestrian. (In related news, I’ve become an endurance snob)

(6) It introduced me to Crossfit. It’s way too expensive, my hands are always ripped or covered in blood blisters, my collarbone is always covered in clean bruises, and I talk in strange acronyms and code that annoys the shit out of everyone.

(7) It made me think that running around a city a night with a backpack full of bricks was totally normal. At WTM, I meet my first GRT’s (they were EXCELLENT at shaking handwarmers for me), and immediately signed up for my first GoRuck Challenge. I’ve never met a more batshit-crazy cult in my life.

(8) I can’t wear dresses to work. Well, I can (and I do, everyday), but it’s not pretty. Obstacle racing has permanently mottled my legs, and as soon as one set of scabs/scrapes/bruises heals, the next race is up. I attended several weddings this summer where people gasped in horror. And thanks to the scars, I suppose I’ll never be able to live out my childhood dream of becoming a Nair model.

(9) My balcony will never be clean again. Currently, it’s covered in bricks, rucks, sand pills, muddy shoes, Camelbaks, an axe, and stuff from the UltraBeast that I still haven’t washed out. I need a hose. Those don’t work very well in a high-rise condo.

(10) Facebook has owned my life. I think I doubled my number of friends (and I stopped taking requests from people I’ve never met). All obstacle racing discussions, planning and strategy take place in Facebook groups, which grow by the day. I get probably close to 100 notifications a day. But if I tune out, I miss important stuff–I couldn’t quit if I tried. Damn you, Facebook.

(11) I started blogging. And we all know that blogging is a completely narcissistic exercise. It’s “me me me” and “look how awesome I am at something that no one cares about” and “listen to my deep thoughts and validate my emotional worth.” So yes, I suck. And I contribute nothing useful…why are you reading? Word.

(12) It introduced me to Joel Gat. He bites nipples. Enough said.

(13) Mint.com sends me angry reminders that I’ve constantly “exceeded my budget for travel.” Living in Chicago, very few of these races are within driving distance. I’ve flown more than I ever have in my entire life, and my savings account hates me for it. Along those lines, my gearwhore-ness has no bounds. Rucks are expensive, winter clothes and wetsuits are expensive. So instead, I’ve just increased my budget–take that, mint.com.

(14) I’ve met enough weirdos to fill a psych ward. Seriously, I love you fellow racers, but most of you are just plain nuts. Some of you are annoying, going around talking about how “badass” you are all the time. That’s cool. I just roll my eyes. Most of you are the good crazy. But still, crazy–I don’t think I’d take you home to meet my mom or anything.

(15) I’ll never look at a wetsuit the same way again. Wearing 2.5 of them for the better part of 24 hours and still nearly getting hypothermia will skew your perception of any innocuous object.

(16) My hair may never grow again. (and no, it’s not from the hair dye, assholes) Keeping it pulled back in tight ponytails for hours on end and then getting that wet, muddy, in knots, and ripped my barb wire will cause some very attractive breakage.

(17) My competitive side came back to life. I avoid races/competition for several years before WTM because I knew how innately competitive I am, and how that can become ugly. And now it seems like everything I do is a competition. Hell, even my daily workouts are competitions. Or walking faster than everyone else on my morning commute.

(18) Certain foods have weird associations. Sharkies. Peanut M&Ms. Mint Oreos. Ice Cream Sundae Poptarts. Hot Jello. Bananas. YoGo. Nutella. Cashews.

(19) I can’t wear sandals. Well, once again, I SHOULDN’T wear sandals. But I do. But I’m down to 6 toenails, and the ones that are there fall off post-race at a regular interval. Yes, it’s ugly. But I’ve gotten really good at painting the skin. So deal with it, people.

(20) Though it’s faint, my apartment will always slightly smell of Jersey. At times, I’ll get a whiff. And then I’ll either smile or want to cry.

Let’s be honest. I smile. I love this shit.

It’s ruined my life, but I wouldn’t have it any other way.

The Trouble with R&R

It’s “Active Recovery Week” here at my Crossfit box, and I am irrationally angry about it.

All I want to do is throw heavy shit around. I wake up cranky. I go to bed cranky. I’m pissy-pants at every turn. Just give me a barbell and a hero WOD and no one gets hurt.

Perhaps it’s this mental/emotional breakdown relating to a bit of rest and recovery is showing me that, of anyone, I need it the most.

But beyond Crossfit, it’s a growing phenomenon that I’ve witnessed over the past year in the world of obstacle racing/adventure racing: the utter inability of anyone to take time off, even ONE day. To rest. To recover. To treat our body well and nourish it. And I’ll admit that I’m one of the biggest offenders.

We take pride in our pain, in our sore shoulders and tight hammies. In our inability to walk after races and our gashes and infected wounds. We race for 24, 48, and occasionally 60+ hours, and are back in the gym within the next day or two.

We post with pride on Facebook and other sites about racing while injured, about one’s body being crippled by pain and DOMS. We wear our wounds like a badge of honor, with a sense of self-righteousness that defies all logic.

We refuse to taper, and bitch like little schoolgirls when we are forced to before a race. We laugh at workouts that don’t span multiple hours or involve massive amounts of weight.

We don’t feel like we’ve worked hard enough unless we are laying in a pool of our own sweat, utterly exhausted and dizzy. We take pride in others calling our workouts “crazy,” and we try to one-up each other on the “ridiculousness” of our workouts. We don’t “right” if we aren’t sore, or our hands aren’t torn up, or if are legs aren’t like jello.

Listen up folks: it makes no sense. And while I hate to admit it, in the long run, it’s going to catch up.

When I started endurance racing, my parents obviously worried about me (beyond just getting lost in the woods or chopping my foot off with an axe). As my mom once asked me: “Do you want to be able to walk when you’re 60?” And I laugh it off, because I feel so strong right now. But day after day, and week after week of just brutalizing my body (and taking pride in it), has me wondering if it’s a legitimate question.

Last week, for once in my life, I made a smart decision: I DNS’ed the Chicago Marathon. It’d be the second year in a row: last year with a tibial stress fracture and in a boot, this year with the flare up of pain in the same spot and some anterior sheath tendonitis as a result of the Vermont Ultrabeast. And I was angry, so angry. I COULD have run. Other people that ran the Ultrabeast were able to run, so I was angry that I wasn’t as “tough” as them, or that I was more prone to injury. But, given my history, I knew that if I did run through the pain, the likelihood of lasting injury was very high, and not worth the risk.

And one week later, I ran this morning for the first time since Vermont, pain free. So, perhaps, rest was the right decision.

It doesn’t mean that I don’t hate it. It’s only been in the past few months where I’ve scheduled in a complete rest day once a week (like, “laying on the couch, watching football and not moving all day” rest day), and I still struggle with that. But right now it’s a mental battle, it’s the task of reframing how I think about exercise, racing, and the relationship with my body.

In the words of the well-used AA mantra: “Fake it ’til you make it.”

The barbell will still be there next week.