By Joyce Bowman
The water was so cold that I swore out loud before I could stop myself. I had just jumped into a huge tub of bitter-cold water laced with tons of ice cubes and a dye that stained any exposed skin a sickly looking green. This obstacle was affectionately called the “Chernobyl Ice Bath.”
Jumping into the arctic water was only half the battle. I had to set aside any rational thought left in my frozen brain and dunk my head completely into the frozen slush so I could go swim under the large plank of wood in the middle of the water. I had to move fast or the race would be over for me. I held the little puff of air left inside my body and dropped down beneath the wood and over to the other side.
This was the third obstacle of the day. The first two required crawling through mud beneath barbed wire and then climbing over a 10-foot wall, and the panicky effect the freezing water created changed my outlook on the competition. The “Tough Mudder” was seriously going to be difficult.
When I first heard about the Tough Mudder, it was late September in 2011, right around my 42nd birthday. I was out celebrating in Tremont when my brother told me about a new race he was planning on entering, which was a half-marathon-length course filled with military-style obstacles, including one where you get zapped with electric shocks. I don’t know if it was the combination of wine with dinner and vodka sodas for dessert that cast such an alluring glow around such an event, but I enthusiastically proclaimed that I, too, was going to do this race.
Over the next few weeks, the desire to sign up remained, and I did a little research to see exactly what I would be getting myself into. The Tough Mudder involves running, walking or moving forward as best you can through 10-13 miles of terrain populated with obstacles designed by British Special Forces that are meant to test your “all around strength, stamina, mental grit, and camaraderie.” Proceeds support the Wounded Warrior Project, a nonprofit organization that provides assistance to wounded veterans.
I have several family members who have served or are currently serving in the armed forces, and this increased my desire to participate. I asked some friends if they would join me – and so team Ray Charles in Charge (a little blind-leading-the-blind humor) was created.
Once I had signed up, I started thinking about the competition in a more practical light. I had completed a handful of races in my life, including two triathlons, but I cringed a little when I realized these were over 15 years ago. I would need to make a serious commitment to getting in shape. Later that fall, I attended the BAY arts festival, and while looking at the auction items, I noticed a two-month membership to a gym called Pace Fitness on Wolf Road. I decided that this was a sign, and although the race was not for five months, the time to get in shape was now. I bid on the membership and won.
When I walked into Pace on a wet and cold Monday morning, the man at the desk, Jim Shearer, introduced himself and asked me about my fitness goals. I told him I was preparing for a race at the end of April that would require me to climb over walls and under barbed wire with lots of running.
“What kind of race is that?” he asked, eyeing me over his glasses with curiosity.
“It’s called the Tough Mudder, and it’s a race to benefit wounded veterans, so the race is styled like a boot camp course.”
He continued to stare at me for a moment, and I decided he thought I was nuts.
I returned to the gym that Wednesday, and Jim motioned for me to come over and talk with him for a second. He had some paperwork in his hand, and I wondered if maybe my auction prize membership was being revoked or something. I looked down and saw that he had printed out all the recommended exercises from the Tough Mudder website, as well as the overview description of the obstacle course, and a huge smile spread over my face. This guy was great! He had taken his own time to investigate this race and was ready to help me get ready.
He held out the papers in front of me and said with no question in his voice, “Are you out of your mind?” I replied that the last time I checked I was not out of my mind.
“You would have to be crazy to do this race. You couldn’t pay me to run in something like this, barbed wire, freezing-cold water, electric shocks and mud everywhere.”
“I know,” I laughed, “it’s going to be fun.” And I meant it. He looked at me as if I might need some professional help.
“No,” he said, “it’s not going to be fun. It’s gonna be hard.” I grinned and told him that’s why I was doing it. He knew about sports training and conditioning, but he didn’t know me. I may scream in a girly fashion at the site of certain bugs, but I am not a wimp.
The truth was that in the past two years I had been in a rut in my life, both personally and professionally. I had been through a lot of difficult financial and emotional losses that I needed to move beyond. I was certain that by committing to a positive and challenging course of action that focused on strength, mental determination and camaraderie, while supporting a worthy cause, even in a small way, would help me move in the right direction.
“OK,” I said to Jim, “I know it will be hard, but we have to start somewhere, so let’s get going.”
So began five months of rigorous training that prepared my body for this race. An unforeseen and wonderful benefit was the friendships I developed during this time. Jim Schearer became not only a personal trainer whose years of experience in physical training I relied upon, but a friend. He is knowledgeable, confident, genuinely interested in inspiring each client to their personal best and funny as hell. People I had just met, the regulars at Pace, would consistently ask me about my progress, and were truly supportive during some really long workout sessions.
I completed the Tough Mudder in April and am looking toward new races and physical challenges to keep myself involved in local and national community-oriented events. You will no doubt see me executing my famous “slow jog” during the Bay Days five-mile run. Preparing for and completing the Tough Mudder has provided me with a new outlook on life that I try to remember at all times.
Life, like the Mudder, is not a race, but a challenge. If you work hard and prepare yourself, you can make some new friends, feel confident about your accomplishments and become an inspiration to yourself and others. Not a bad investment.