WTM 2015 Recap Part 2: Darkness

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The WTM 2015 course was said to be much tougher than last year's course. I didn't care, having nothing to compare it to. All I knew was that it had to be completed. Multiple times. For the majority of the obstacles, there was no way out. They were must complete. 


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The worst for me was the King of Swingers. A tall climb up to a platform (20 feet or so) over water, we had to jump out to grab a handle that would swing us down and back up (if grip strength allowed) where the swinger would fling up to ring a bell. At least, that was the task that would earn a golden carabiner clip (a get-out-of-obstacle-free pass). I was terrified each time. No amount of "Ok, I did this before and didn't die" or "I have to do this, so I might as well just jump and get it over with" seemed to help. Every time, except the last, saw me standing there, heart palpitating, breathing too hard, calling out to God and standing through not one, but two "3-2-1-jump" countdowns. On that last jump, I was so happy that I jumped on the first countdown. 

And then there was the Cliff. 35 feet high, it towered above the other obstacles intimidating newbies and experienced mudders alike. Everyone told me I had to do it. If not, there was a half mile penalty lap with 2 obstacles, including electric shock. The cliff didn't open until midnight, so on our second lap there was no decision to be made. 

The sun set sometime in the middle of our second lap and that meant temperatures sank with it. The water was ice bath cold. The air, cruel. I began shivering, then shaking with chattering teeth. I remembered doing the all women's GORUCK Challenge a year ago and having chattering teeth. I thought back to the cadre's seemingly heartless command to "stop chattering the teeth!" It helped then, and it helped out there on the desert mountain. The body's response to cold is somewhat a mindset. Focus on the cold and it's unbearable. Focus on the job at hand, and it seems nearly inconsequential. 

And there were mind games. Just when we would start to warm up, another water obstacle would come. By the time we hit the last, my hands were stiff claws that somehow functioned enough to hook onto cargo nets and help me drag myself out of the water penalties. My feet were blocks that managed to get me to the finish line and the medical staff. As I approached, I prayed that they would DQ me. Cowardly? Yes. But I passed and stumbled toward the pit. Two sweet ladies offered me chicken broth, but I didn't want to take what was some other racer's supplies. Then one of the kind ladies said, "You know us. Take some broth." Only then did I realize this was our pit crew. 

Back at our pit, all I could do was stand and shake while drinking the hot broth, allowing a crew member to put clothe me in a Mylar blanket and a down jacket. I didn't even know how to answer, "What do you need?" My thoughts were crazy creatures that refused to be tamed. A man from a team across the aisle wrapped me in a fleece lined Tough Mudder trench coat, and said, "Here, love, put this on." Those might have been the kindest words ever spoken to me in my life. 

Slowly my full brain function returned and I took the advice to get a hot shower and put on my wetsuit. This proved not to be as easy as it sounds, as my fingers felt like they belonged to someone else and were refusing to obey orders. Simply untying my shoes took the allotted 5 minutes in the shower. I returned to our camp, feeling much better than before, but knowing we had a big decision to make. It was clear to me: go out for another lap and probably end our race with a DQ for hypothermia, or rest until sunrise and stay moving until the finish. 

Gary had not done well with the cold. He couldn't return to the course in the dark. And so we opted to stay together as a team, warm up and rest. And by rest, I mean, drifting off to sleep until my body shivered itself awake again, adding another layer and repeating multiple times. All the while listening to the sounds of other racers retuning to pit between laps, hearing their mile totals accumulate, with the backdrop of everything from AC/DC to the Backstreet Boys screaming out motivation from the WTM playlist.

To say I was disappointed is an understatement. I had set rules for myself to keep moving during the night-- no sitting down except as needed to change shoes and definitely NO SLEEPING. There I was, horizontal and not even caring if I went back out on the course. At that point, I felt that I had failed in my mission. And I was most upset that I didn't even care if I quit. I had no will to continue the race. And that was harder to deal with than the desert temperatures. 

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