5 Things Doing a Mud Run Taught Me About Life

This is a post I originally published in my other blog on July 19, 2014. And it is just as relevant today as it was then.

You hear about people’s bucket lists all the time. Especially since that one movie came out a couple years ago. People checking off items that they have to do at least once in their lives. Well, at my age, I don’t think I have to subscribe so much to the idea of having a bucket list, but I did check an item off of it if I had it: running in my first obstacle 5K (more commonly referred to as a mud run).

Right before Rugged Maniac in Florida, June 2014

On June 14, 2014, I ran in the Rugged Maniac at Little Everglades Ranch out in Dade City, Florida. I drove an hour and a half the morning of the race to get there, paid 80 bucks (because I was too foolish to not pay for registration earlier…when it would’ve been cheaper), and jumped in the first wave of runners I could get into. It took me between 45 and 50 minutes to complete it. For those who have done 5K’s before, you might think that I’ve got a lot of work to do. And if it was just straight running, you’d be right. But considering the obstacles in place, that’s a pretty darn good time. But honestly, I’m not talking about this race to tell you how I finished. I actually learned a lot about myself in the process of this race, and that’s what this is all about.

  1. Waiting is for losers, and sometimes you just have to go for it. This one may not be as profound as any other ideas here, but it matters a lot to me.  When I checked in at about 10:15am, I was informed of the wave system (for those unaware, they have waves go every 15 minutes through most of the morning, then every half hour the rest of the day).  Then I was told something interesting: I could jump into any wave as soon as I was registered. I thought I’d have to wait at least an hour before hopping in, so this was good news to me. I checked my bag, started stretching, and as soon as the announcement came that the next wave could start lining up, I jumped in.For those who don’t know me, I have a tendency to think too much. Sure, that’s not always bad, but for me, it can sometimes be debilitating. I focus and think and over-think and over-think some more, and suddenly, I’m a hamster on a wheel (awesome old cliche). I had two choices at that race: think about what wave I wanted to enter (and possibly think about it some more), or just get in a wave. I chose the latter, completely out of character for me, and it was the best move I could’ve made.
  2. When things get harder, there’s nothing wrong with slowing down; just don’t stop. The general idea of a mud run is you come across various obstacles as you run. And these obstacles vary in difficulty and, at times, dirtiness. With each one I approached, the first thought in my head was to figure out how to get through it. Sometimes, I went through an obstacle at a slower pace than I would’ve preferred, and oftentimes I went between each obstacle at a slower pace than I would’ve preferred. But, I didn’t stop.Call it adrenaline, call it hard-headed determination, call it stupidity if you want. But I knew there was one thing I could not do in that race: I COULD NOT STOP. I didn’t mind walking between obstacles, especially after the water obstacles since my soaked clothes and shoes weighed me down, but I had no intention of stopping at any point. Yes, there were obstacles that were hard to do, and obstacles that were way harder to do than others. But stopping was pretty much not an option.
  3. The fear of the unknown is not worth fearing. There’s a constant fear of the unknown in this race, and no obstacle better displayed that than the first major water obstacle. For those unfamiliar with Little Everglades Ranch, it’s basically located right next to a swamp. Or is on a swamp. There’s a swamp involved is what I’m saying. So going through the race, we hit the first three obstacles, and the fourth was a leisurely wade into a portion of the swamp. Four obstacles and still under a mile into the race, and I found myself waist- to chest-deep in a swamp, pushing myself over floating pylons.For me, I’m not really a fan of swimming, and I’m even less a fan of swimming anywhere in nature. (That includes springs, lakes, and beaches…yes, this Florida boy doesn’t like the beach.) So you know that the idea of wading through a swamp is a pretty awful idea. Plus, I don’t know, but can guess, what I might encounter in the swamp: alligators, snapping turtles, leeches, other assorted animals whose bite could render me ill. No idea. Really, of all the natural pools where one could swim, I wanted NOTHING to do with this swamp simply because I just didn’t KNOW what was out there. You want to know what was there? There was nothing. Seriously. I didn’t get bitten, maimed, attacked, or even death-stared by anything. Now, to be clear, this is NOT an endorsement to go swimming in your local swamp. But on that particular day, and in that particular swamp, nothing, except for jumping over pylons, happened. Yeah, we all get scared by the unknown sometimes, but really, life is unknown. I don’t know what tomorrow holds for me any more than I did that day wading in the swamp. Getting scared by the unknown is pretty useless, and I’m going to do better now about approaching things I’m unsure about.
  4. Nothing is impossible, and you should smack yourself if you think it. Aside from the fear of the unknown, there are a couple other fears I tend to have. One of them is heights. I hate heights. My fear of heights kept me from going to the 22nd floor of the Florida State Capitol Building when I was in 5th grade. It keeps me from looking out the window on airplanes (of which I’ve only been on a few), and made my first couple weeks at my job a small struggle to adjust to (point of clarification: my job is on the 10th floor of an office building and my desk is next to the window; not crazy high, but for a guy like me, it was an adjustment). Granted, I’m used to the window spot now, but I’m still not great with heights. And the less protection I have from the heights, the worse it is.Case in point: one of the obstacles in the Rugged Maniac was a set of barricades made of plywood. They stood probably 10 feet tall, and had one little ledge about halfway up for which one could push oneself over it. 10 feet is not very high, certainly compared to my daily life where I spend my workday on the 10th floor of an office building. But in the office building, there are tons and tons of steel and concrete designed by engineers and architects and built by trained contractors that is created to support the weight of me, every other person in the building, and every desk, computer, chair, door, elevator, and paper clip in it. Climbing over a 10-foot barricade that was a whole three to five inches thick while other 150-200-pound people were leaping over it at the same time…yeah, I was not excited about it.

    This is a similar obstacle to what I experienced in Rugged Maniac.

    My first attempt, I tried to step up to the ledge. Nothing. I tried that again. And again, nothing. I barely got my other foot off the ground. It was in that instance, after just two attempts, that I almost considered going around it. Yeah, it took just two failed tries. But I stepped back and watched others. No one else was just stepping up; they were taking running starts. So I backed up, took a running start, and BOOM! I’m on the ledge on the first try, and then climbing over was easy. There was a second barricade just like this one a few hundred feet away, so I took the running start. Again, over in a leap. These obstacles weren’t the tallest, but they were the first moments when I thought I wouldn’t complete an obstacle. I thought they were impossible. Turns out I was wrong. And I proved it.
  5. If you’re going to get dirty, you might as well dig in. This is probably the most obvious of all of what I learned, but really, it is also probably the most profound. And I can explain it very simply: life is dirty. Maybe not all the time, but most of the time. Maybe not consistently, but constantly. You may not use the word “dirty” to describe most things in life, but if you think about it, some of the biggest accomplishments one can achieve in life are dirty in either a literal or metaphorical sense. Buying a house? That can get dirty. Raising a family? Absolutely. Getting an education? Yup. Starting a business? For sure. And this could go on. Nothing happens overnight, and you sometimes just have to fight the filth to reach your ultimate goal.In the Rugged Maniac, I climbed nearly 20 feet in the air on cargo nets, waded through water from knee- to chest-deep three times (including in the swamp), crawled through mud and under barbed wire twice, walked over a fulcrum where timing was everything, stepped in countless cow paddies, jumped over fire, leaped across floating containers over more water, walked over balance beams with swinging obstacles going for my head, crawled through an underground tunnel, swung on rings over a pool, ran through foam (the cleanest part of the whole day), and slid down a 20-foot slide with other maniacs into a pool of dirty water. For a race like this, there is literally no way to get out of it without getting dirty. And there is no way to get out of it except finish it. A+B=C. If you want to get through it, you’ve got to get dirty. So when life starts to feel dirty, depressing, sticky, muddy, grimy, or just downright crappy, there’s only one way to get out: get yourself dirty.

After finishing the Rugged Maniac.

There you go: the five things a mud run taught me about life. I have to give major kudos to the staff who put together the Rugged Maniac obstacle 5K. It was an incredible event. The registration staff was incredibly efficient, the volunteers running the bag check did a great job keeping everyone’s belongings safe, and the whole day was just a great way to spend a Saturday. I had such a rush from doing the race that I almost wanted to go again. Good thing I didn’t as I didn’t realize how tired I was until the adrenaline wore off. Also, big props go to the other event sponsors, especially Harpoon Brewery who gave every runner a free beer, and their UFO beer was delicious.

Mud runs like the Rugged Maniac happen all year across the country. Either look each race up individually or check out a cool site like mudrunguide.com/ to find one near you.

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