Using the cards you've been dealt

On Saturday, May 31, my wife, client, and I all tackled the latest mud run called the Rugged Maniac. It was an absolute blast, despite a few personal limitations I may have had at the time.

In order to best describe the Rugged Maniac, I will use the Warrior Dash mud run as a point of reference.  In Oregon, the Warrior Dash is typically held at Horning's Hideaway, an epic disc golf course in the middle of nowhere, out in North Plains. The course is ridiculous, especially if you run later in the day. Mud, slop, slippery trails, fun obstacles, and pools of water you wouldn't want to get in your mouth await. It all felt very organic, save for the obstacles that needed to be brought in. The trails themselves, though, were the star. Lots of elevation changes and narrow switchbacks were part of the natural terrain. 

The Rugged Maniac, however, did not feel organic. On the contrary, in fact! Portland International Raceway played host this year. For anyone who has been there to watch a race, the circuit itself, and the surrounding areas, are very flat. The event organizers did a terrific job with the cards they were dealt, however, and they created a fun, safe feeling environment, despite the fact almost everything had to be built or brought in in order to create any of the 25 obstacles. If I had the ability to choose only one of the two races, I'd go with the Warrior Dash purely because of the course location, but the Rugged Maniac won my vote for best, and most numerous obstacles. However, I ultimately had more fun with the Rugged Maniac.

The point I'm trying to drive home is that despite the fact the Rugged Maniac had a comparatively boring location to deal with when creating the course, they did a terrific job with the cards they were dealt. In a similar fashion, my wife, my client Brian, and I all had issues of our own we were working through. Running has never been my wife's strong point, and even though the course was mostly flat, there were long stretches of straight that she had to deal with. Brian, poor guy, had to deal with the fact that my wife wasn't a super strong runner, and that I had tweaked my back the week before, AND was running in a thumb brace to protect my annoying-as-hell Mother's Thumb aka De Quervain's Syndrome. 

When I woke up the morning of the race, I wasn't terribly excited. My back hurt (I've had a long history of lumbar derangements between L4/L5 and L5/S1, where the joint actually was pushed forward enough where it hurt to extend and I couldn't bend forward with my fingers past my knees. It's been fine for 2 years, but I'd pushed a little too deep in a squat the week before and felt it shift out a bit) and I was nervous I might do something stupid and tweak that thumb of mine climbing over an obstacle. Once we got there, though, I sucked it up because I wasn't just there for me. My wife reminded me of it every day for months she was so excited. And Brian is just a great competitor--he didn't want to run slowly. What choice did I have?

In an effort to please both parties, I ran with Brian for the first 2/3rds of the race, and we went at a decent clip, but not too fast that we couldn't chat on the straight stretches. Megan kept getting further and further out of view, but when we neared the 2/3rds point, I told Brian I'd meet him at the finish line and I doubled back to catch Megan. She was just finishing up an obstacle that I wasn't fond of myself: a pitch-black crawl space just wide enough for one's shoulders. It was about 50 feet long, and zig-zagged a bit, so it was impossible to see the exit until you were almost out! We are both slightly claustrophobic, but her much more than me. Let's just say it was a good thing I doubled back, because she wasn't happy after that obstacle.

At that point, I'd completely forgotten about my back and my hand. My motivation was to help Meg finish strongly. After a few easy obstacles, we reached a series of three tall walls, each about 10 feet high-just high enough for most folks to need some help reaching them. This was the first challenge we both struggled with, but for different reasons. Megan just couldn't reach the top of the wall, and needed a boost to get up and over. I could reach it just fine, but part of the problem with my Mother's Thumb is I can't extend my wrist/thumb in any way without it hurting like hell. Planting my hand on top of the wall to climb over was out of the question--creativity was necessary. Gripping the top of the wall with my finger tips was no problem, so I reached over with my braced hand and gripped the wall with the underside of my arm, packing my shoulder tightly while I reached my leg over. Walls two and three allowed us to refine our respective techniques, and by the third wall we were just brimming with confidence at the fact I could get over these monstrosities despite being braced up.

That confidence carried in to the remaining obstacles, where Megan and I cruised through them, only to reach the final obstacle, a suspended horizontal to vertical rope wall ascent to the big slide through the finish. This proved tricky for me, as I could only grip with one hand planted. I adopted a (what surely looked ridiculous) type of slither/crawl on the horizontal section of the rope wall. I reached with my hands to the highest point in front of me and pulled myself forward on my belly. When the wall started to transition vertically, I finally could use my braced hand to grip and help pull some, and at that point I was able to start climbing normally. By that point, though, Megan had scrambled to the top and was laughing at my climbing antics. Such a good wife, she is. We slid down the final chute hand in hand, laughing the whole way.

As soon as I crossed the finish line, I was so glad I showed up. The hand I'd been dealt for the day wasn't a great one. A stiff back and bad thumb would normally make me second guess my desire to train on any given day, but not that one. It all served as good reminder that even though you may not feel like you're firing on all cylinders YES YOU CAN.