For a long time, I couldn't understand what drives people to run marathons. Running for miles upon miles upon miles just sounds ridiculous. Actually, running at all just sounds ridiculous. Feet pounding the pavement, lungs and quads burning like two slabs of steak flaming up in a grease fire, and jello legs flopping around in classic Ministry of Silly Walks style. (Please YouTube this reference if you don't know what I'm talking about. Now.) When I heard of the Tough Mudder, though, a 10-mile course chocked full of crazy challenges like running through mud pits, jumping off platforms into a lake, crawling under barbed wire, and being shocked by live wires, I immediately thought, "I was born to do this. I have to do this." Granted, I wasn't crazy about the running aspect of it, but plowing through mud and scaling walls and pushing myself to the absolute limit? That sounded awesome. And manly. And with every No-Shave November that comes and goes and mocks me for my inability to grow a full, manly beard and my (not so much anymore) secret Taylor Swift playlists, I am in desperate need of any extra man points I can grab hold of.
After I signed up for the April 10th Tough Mudder event at the Bear Creek Ski Resort near Allentown with my friend Levi, I began my Mudder training. This consisted mostly of regular P90-X workouts mixed with cardio and the most consistent, regular, protein-laden diet I have ever been able to master. While my coworkers probably thought I was bringing coffee to work every day in my nice Starbucks mug, I was actually smuggling chocolate milk for the easy (and delightfully tasty) protein boost. (Something about a grown man bringing his own chocolate milk to work every day seemed to be an additional threat to my ever-shrinking man-point account.)
Let me skip straight to the Day of Reckoning: Tough Mudder PA, April 10th. Levi and I rolled into Bear Creek on a cool, iron-gray Sunday morning. My face was painted in a Braveheart-esque warrior-blue style, so as to strike fear into…the course. Shut up. It made me feel tougher. As we finally stood at the starting line with the other 500 Mudders scheduled to run at our start time, Levi and I bounced around, brimming with excitement. He punched me. That's how he expresses himself when he's getting amped. I prefer mutual high-fives or shrill yelling, but what the heck? It's the Tough Mudder!
We took off down the slopes, beginning our drive for conquest and manhood pummeling through the thick cloud of smoke provided by the smoke grenades near the starting point. What followed was three grueling hours of running down muddy, icy slopes, up muddy slopes, down muddy slopes, and repeating a few more times. We found ourselves crawling on hands and knees or our stomachs through muddy slop, rocks, and ice-cold water. We climbed 12-foot walls and gates; we plunged into mind-numbing muddy water so many times our senses began to betray us; we trekked through rocky trails and carried logs. My knees hurt, my feet hurt, my ankles were rubbed raw by sand and rocks, my muscles were cold and locked up and had even gone into total and complete cramping, and at one point my mouth was on fire because of a jabenero pepper I had to eat.
As I crossed the finish line and accepted my orange Tough Mudder head band and almost cried at the sight of free bananas and beer, I suddenly could relate to all the marathon freaks I know.
The generations rising up in America sometimes scare me, with our love of convenience and comfort and our sense of precious entitlement. With our love of the couch and DVR and air conditioning and playing Black Ops for hours and hours on end.
And in the midst of that, there are movements and pockets of people who are putting down their remotes, taking off their Snuggies, and stepping out into the world to push themselves to their limits. There are people running marathons, triathlons, Tough Mudders; there are people hiking through dangerous wilderness and climbing to the tops of sky-scraping mountain peaks; there are people writing songs and books and filming documentaries and moving and dedicating their lives to people and places that nobody else wants to touch or go to. And though I probably will never be convinced to run 42 kilometers, I can relate with pushing myself to the very limits of my being to see just how far we can go. To essentially pinch ourselves in the middle of all the apathy and laissez-faire coolness surrounding us.
To make sure that we are really living and living to the full.