"We do not stop playing because we grow old. We grow old because we stop playing. " **Anon**
I’ve been waiting 2 years to do the ASYMCA Mud Run and finally got my chance. Road races are fun, trail races are better, and obstacle races are the craziest and most fun of all! The location brought back a whirlwind of memories, but most of all it was the most challenging race I have run to date. It was also perfectly suited to my barefoot tangent.
The race was held on the Little Creek Amphibious Base in Norfolk Virginia, right on the edge of Virginia Beach. 20+ years ago I worked in the medical clinic as a Navy Corpsman with the Reserves so driving through the gate and onto the base brought back a flood of memories. I was allowed to work full time for the better part of our year in Virginia, so it was more than just weekends. I knew the base, and saw the SEAL team guys pass through our halls, but never knew what happened to any of them because the day after we left Virginia Saddam Hussein invaded Kuwait and we were off to Italy for forward deployment.
With all that in my head, I lined up with the third wave of the start. There were nearly 2,000 runners in all, most participating in teams, and many wearing their combat boots and camouflage pants. The waves were sent out with 5 minutes between each, and we all headed off for the first mile on the beach. Everyone headed straight for the water to run on the packed damp sand, but three times we were directed back up the beach to clamber over huge piles of soft sand, or through pits full of salty, muddy water. Thankfully, after the first mile, we turned off the beach and were greeted with a water stop. I gulped from one cup while pouring a second over my head, successfully washing salt into my eyes. We crossed a piece of asphalt topped road and turned onto a forest path. This was WONDERFUL!! The ground was packed sand that quickly turned to a blanket of pine needles as it wound through the trees. It obviously was not a wildly used trail and in most places it was impossible to pass people, which slowed progress down quite a bit and forced anyone who wanted to pass into a sprint through the occasional break in the trees. This was also where we crossed our deepest water hazard. It was a surprisingly deep channel, owing to the recent rains, and we all plunged into the chest deep water single file, laughing hysterically.
The tree-lined path gave way to sandy dunes as we emerged and headed back toward the beach. This brought us nearly to the start where the crowds of spectators got a chance to cheer and photograph the runners as we approached the second water stop. Turning inland again, we ran on roads that changed constantly from asphalt, cement, and dirt before heading back into the trees. People were starting to flag at this point, myself included. My quads and glutes were screaming from all the sand dunes and my legs felt like lead. Then there was the wall. I was kind of expecting something more intimidating, but was glad that it was only about 5 ft. high. I had to stand in line for my turn to climb over and managed to get in two running steps so I easily got my leg up and over the first time. I was worried about dropping down onto my ankle that has been giving me fits for weeks, but I landed well and continued my run. The last mile of the run was up and down the sand dunes, snaking around to get the distance in. I kept turning corners and thinking, “Oh no! Not another hill!” Very few people were running at this point and we all trudged along with people shouting the remaining distance. It would have been better if they had been a little consistent, LOL. Everyone seemed to have a different idea of how far it was to the end.
Our last major obstacle was the water crawl. Frankly, collapsing to my hands and knees to crawl seemed like a pretty good idea at that point, plus the water was cool and refreshing, despite being totally opaque with mud. Unfortunately, the bottom was course sand that ground painfully into my knees, making me very grateful when I crawled under the last wire and could stand up to finish the race. The crowd at the finish line was huge and cheering everyone on. Through the chute, I stopped to take off the timing chip that had been digging into my ankle for 8 kilometers and found my family. I had made it back in time to see my daughter run the kids’ one mile fun run. She isn’t a big fan of running, but she gave it her best shot and got a lovely finisher’s medal. I was proud of her for doing it even though she would have preferred to sleep in and watch TV in the air conditioning.
All in all, it was a really fun race. I was good and dirty by the end, but you really had to make an effort to get totally muddy. The serious mud hounds did belly flops into each water hazard just to get muddier. The best part, though, was the teams. There were teams of every configuration from all male, to all female, co-ed, all military, all in boots, you name it. Other teams were there to specifically honor a friend or family member that is a fallen hero; those teams were the most touching of all. The teams were required to cross the finish line together, no one left behind. Listening to them as they encouraged each other and worked together to keep the team moving was very inspirational. At one point I passed a group of military guys and heard combat poetry being shouted out loud and clear. I don’t remember the exact words, but what I heard went something like this:
We fought all day
We fought all night
We fought until our gun barrels glowed red and we were out of ammunition
Then it was time for had to hand combat…
I will never be a combat soldier; I will never know what they go through or what a day is like facing a fierce and determined enemy. I don’t have to live in the sand and muck, day in and day out, to do my job. I can only admire them and do what I can on the home front to support them and their families. It was an honor and a privilege to share the race course with our military and a joy to see everyone having so much fun.
P.S. I’m now on week two of Hal Higdon’s Intermediate Half Marathon training plan. Being back to a regular running routine is improving my RA and my sleep patterns dramatically. I feel so much better! My ankle isn’t totally healed, but since it wasn’t a running injury, it is healing and not being aggravated. As long as I don’t put my foot down and then turn or twist, it is fine.