I pulled myself out of the freezing cold lake that I'd voluntarily just jumped 20 or 30 feet into and all I could think was I had to get warm somehow - I had to run. I couldn't form a complete thought other than I needed to run and get my body warm again.
I noticed some people were running toward the next section of the race and like a mindless, freezing automaton I followed.
This year's Georgia Tough Mudder would have been easier in some ways and tougher in others than last year's course - but the wind and the cold made it hardcore. Last year in Polk County the hills themselves were the toughest obstacle. Most of the course was either up or down - you would have been hard pressed to find a dry flat spot on the course.
This year's nemesis was the cold. We kept running through cramps and rough terrain in the hope that the next hill would block a gale that cut right through your clothes and kept some of our group shivering through the entire run.
Big props go out to Chris Gilstrap and Severo Avila for pushing through those aforesaid cramps and finishing the race. It didn't matter that they skipped some of the obstacles - they kept going when many (saner people) would have called it a day. Note: before the Tough Mudder, Chris had never run more than five miles (not a training technique I'd suggest by the way).
Luckily, Chris is stubborn and Severo is pretty fit. Me and Daniel Bell have been training off and on since last year's Tough Mudder one and did two marathons this year (Twisted Ankle and Rock n' Roll Savannah). I could tell a difference this year because it wasn't the running that tired me out - in the end it was the cold.
The cold didn't really get to me until we hit the "Mystery obstacle" a series of gymnastics rings you had to swing on to get over a water filled pit (nice job, Severo by the way) at mile 10 or so.
We were waiting in a line to make that obstacle for 45 minutes at least in a crowd of frozen people right out in the wind as it was blasting across the field. Only four people could navigate the obstacle at a time and it was causing a serious chokepoint in the course. As we waited my muscles got cold, knees started hurting and I could feel the energy leaving as my body decided it would be an appropriate time to shut down and take a rest in a nice warm place.
This was what almost did me in. It wasn't the ice dunk where you have to swim through (and go under the water) an ice water filled long dumpster. It wasn't crawling through the mud and water while getting shocked in the process. It wasn't attempting to navigate greased monkey bars. It wasn't even the fire (which was kind of nice) or crawling through muddy tunnels that were so tight I had to pull my whole 240 pounds through with just my hands.
It was this unanticipated obstacle (the wind) that almost did me in this year.
That's not to say I didn't have some fun.
The genius of this race is they encourage camaraderie and make it tough enough a lot of people can't do the entire course. Some of the obstacles are difficult and they've made others so most of us just couldn't do by ourselves. But with a group of people who are just dumb enough to love the challenge like you - you can do it together. It's not a race - they don't time it and don't post results. You finish it or you don't. There's no check list to see if you've done all the obstacles - you cross the finish line or you don't. No questions asked.
There was a guy - I don't know him and I don't know how he lost both the arm and leg on the same side of his body - but I do know I saw a group of people form a human pyramid so he could climb them all the way up a 20 plus foot slippery half pipe. I got there too late to help and only watched my fellow companions in pain help him climb this obstacle - but I felt a surge of pride along with each and every other person there as he made it over the top.
It wasn't just him that made it - we all did - we all pushed ourselves and likely found out something new.
I found out that it's better to finish with your team - even when you feel like you could pull ahead.
We walked up to the "hold your wood" obstacle where you carry a heavy log for a good distance and then through a field of tires. There's a pile of logs sitting there that people have carried around the course and left for those behind them. A guy approached Daniel and said "This log hasn't touched the ground all day. I'm giving it to you - don't let it touch the ground today."
The thing is it's just a log - but this camaraderie has now imbued it (and its current possessor) with a sense of pride. This log WON'T touch the ground today.
So yeah, I was hit by a jolt of electricity that dropped me on the ground before I knew it and have knees that look like pepperoni pizza from crawling through rocks and mud - but there's that sense of pride not only that I finished the course, we all did and we could do it again.