Last Updated on October 17, 2016 by Heather Hart, ACSM EP, CSCS
I could write an entire post about my personal rise and fall from the world of obstacle course racing.
However, this is not that post. So to sum it up as briefly as possible: there was a time in my life where I desperately needed to experience physical pain to cope with emotional heartache, while simultaneously proving my strength and self worth to myself. I found all of that, plus an incredible, supportive community and life long friendships, in the sport of obstacle course racing (OCR). To say that this sport came to me at the perfect time in my life would be an understatement. I do not feel as if it is a dramatic exaggeration to say that it saved my life when I truly needed it the most.
But as the years passed and the medal rack began to overflow with finishers medallions, my incessant need for OCR and racing practically every weekend started to diminish. I had begun to face, capture, and crush the demons that I was chasing. I was becoming mentally and emotionally stronger. And at the same time, the OCR community was beginning to shift in a direction that didn’t fit into my life anymore. I realized that I didn’t really enjoy staring hypothermia in the face on a regular basis, being covered in cuts, scrapes, and bruises all of the time, and that the fear I had jumping over flaming logs was completely rational. And the things I DID passionately continue to love about OCR, namely running through the mountains on the trails, could be found elsewhere.
It wasn’t a conscious decision, but after a brutal race that just didn’t “feel” right in my heart anymore, combined with some other goings-on in the OCR world that left not only a bitter taste in my mouth, but left me without the comped race registrations for a specific race series I had worked to earn every year, I suppose I quit. Again, it wasn’t purposeful, it just…happened.
(I guess that wasn’t a very brief explanation at all.)
Fast forward to today, two years later. I honestly haven’t given much thought to racing OCR anymore, as I’m quite content and happy in my little trail running world. Geoff on the other hand, has been incessantly hounding me to get back into the muddy circuit…mostly because HE misses it.
So after a few conversations with a local Myrtle Beach friend, Geoff had me registered for a local race at a fixed course about 40 minutes North of here, in Tabor City, NC. But that’s not the best part. No, the best part is that Geoff sprained his ankle the Monday before the race, and so I would be making my return to obstacle course racing all alone. This is not to say that I am not capable of racing alone (we aren’t THAT attached at the hip), but keep in mind, this was all his idea to begin with…I was quite content in my happy little world of trail running.
TrueMudd was offering a 5K or a 10K race option, and I figured “what the hell, go big or go home”. No that’s a lie: Daniel, aforementioned friend and avid obstacle course racer, mentioned the top 5 men and top 5 women in each distance get a special finishers coin. Normally, I’m not one to obsess over the “bling” but I won’t lie, it briefly brought out my competitive side. I asked him which distance had less people registered, and he said the 10K. So the 10K it would be.
We arrived bright and early at Low Country Preserve, an outdoor adventure and shooting range, which was also the home of the True Mudd course. Registration was quick and painless, we signed waivers, were given wrist bands, and race t shirts. I say “we” because Geoff offered to take the kids out on the course and let them play around in the mud (more on that soon.)
For some reason I had my times mixed up, I had thought the race started at 8:20, but at 7:55 we were told to line up. This was fine, because not only was I ready and near the start line at 7:55, but it prevented me from standing around for the next 25 minutes, wondering if I still new how to climb a wall, or swim for that matter.
The starting line pictures are priceless, as you can see my “what in the world am I in for?” face.
On your mark, get set, go. We head down a dirt road, across a bridge, and down another dirt road. I truly appreciate when obstacle course races start of with a run, as it allows the crowd to thin out instead of immediately bottlenecking at an obstacle.
Maybe a quarter mile into the course, we encounter the first obstacle: monkey bars. Though slippery from the dew, these were pretty much standard issue OCR monkey bars: spaced evenly enough apart to make them difficult, but nothing was spinning, swinging, or off center.
Down the road a little further we encounter a set of logs and walls to climb over. I run at, and climb over, the first log…and suddenly it all comes rushing back to me. The balance, the coordination, the triceps, and the tiny feeling of victory as I easily make it over each one. I hit the walls soon, passing a ton of people on my way. First wall: no problem. Second wall: a little more effort. Third wall: this could prove difficult. While climbing an 8 foot wall is usually no issue for me when I can get a running start, there is no room for a running start here. I offer my hand to boost another girl struggling to climb the wall, and after I get her over the top, another friendly competitor lends his hand to do the same for me.
Back on the road, we run a short distance and up a small hill before I find myself at the edge of a platform overlooking a pond, I’d say about 10 to 15 feet below. Everyone paused at the top before taking turns jumping off of the platform. I truly appreciated how each participant seemed to really look after one another, not jumping until they were certain the previous jumper had surfaced and swam safely out of the way.
I asked the volunteer standing on the platform if there were any gators in the pond. Hey, this is the Carolinas after all. He replied “we haven’t seen one…yet” and so I jumped. The water was cool and refreshing, but not freezing cold. I discovered quickly that I still don’t excel at swimming, and somehow slowly made my way to the opposite side of the pond. Imagine my joy when I finally exited the pond, ran a few yards, and discovered I had to swim back across the pond in the opposite direction. Ha!
I reluctantly did it, then pleasantly found myself running some more. Running I can do!
The middle of the race is a bit of a blur to me, I’ve gotten horrible at remembering the details without the help of a GoPro (which I didn’t wear). I do recall that I was behind the lead runners, but well ahead of everyone behind me, so I ran most of the first loop all alone. There was:
– a swim to a cargo net
– a 12 foot wall (with foot holds, so it was easy to climb over by myself)
– a balance log over a mud pit
– a barbed wire crawl
– a 20 foot wall
– a rope swing
– a bucket carry followed by a sandbag carry
And a ton of swimming in between.
Seriously. SO. MUCH. SWIMMING.
I found out after the race that most of the trenches were excessively full due to recent rain and storms. So while the trenches were always a part of the course, the need to actually swim through them (because the water was over my head) was not always the case.
Funny side story: two days before this race, Daniel had informed me about an unknown (to me) species of scary South Carolina critter: the alligator snapping turtle. Do yourself a favor and DON’T look it up if you do any swimming in fresh water in the south. If you live anywhere else, and want to laugh while picturing me tiptoeing through this neck deep water, terrified that I’m going to lose my foot by stepping into one of those things mouths, google a picture. Now, for those truly concerned, there is NOT an alligator snapping turtle on the True Mudd course. I repeat, he’s not (well..no longer) there.
After a long stretch of multiple trenches, I finally came out of the water, summited a big hill, and saw my family waiting for me. There was more mud, more water, and a nearly impossible tube to climb up and out of, as it was covered in mud and had nothing to grab on to inside. Thanks to the help of fellow competitors, I did make it through.
You know what’s hilarious? Trudging through deep, thick mud during a race, while having your 7 year old walking on the grass next to you saying things like “mom, there’s a lot of bugs out here, can we go home now?”
Uhhhmmm… MOMMY IS KIND OF BUSY HERE, incase you didn’t notice.
Anyway, there were some more mud, more running, more hills to go up and over, the standard OCR business, and eventually we came out to a long stretch of open field and road that I recognized as the parking lot. Lap one was nearly over. But first…the waterslide.
There were two options for ascending the waterslide: a small vertical wall that you run up (think a skateboarding quarter pipe) or a ladder. I gave the vertical wall one pathetic attempt then hit the ladder and climbed to the top instead.
Now, waterslides in OCR can be hit or miss. I’ve had incredibly fun experiences, and I’ve had incredibly dangerous “I have no skin left of my butt” experiences (see: Super Hero Scramble, 2013). Alas, the longer you sit and contemplate such things, the longer you delay your inevitable fate…so down the slide I went.
So. Much. Fun.
I came out of the water laughing hysterically at the ridiculousness of it all. I mean, is there a competitive technique to riding a waterslide? I’m sure there is, and I’m sure I don’t have that technique.
I finished the first loop just shy of 55 minutes. I rolled right through and headed out for loop two. Repeat all of the above. At the logs and walls, I caught up with the girl and the guy I had been chasing for the entire first half of the race (see cargo net picture above). As I hurdled over the logs, we started to make small talk, and the other woman called me by my name. I didn’t think anything of it at the time (oxygen depletion and stuff) until she said “I bet you don’t know how I know you”. Internal panic. Ever since I had my kids (yeah, a decade ago, nothing has improved) my memory has been horrific. But before I could guess, she let me know that she used to read my blog waaaaaaay back in the day of Run Faster, Mommy! No way, an old school reader, so kickass. I never know what to say when I meet readers, I’m always really humbled. Which probably leaves me coming across as arrogant, but I swear it’s the exact opposite. You guys rock.
So anyway, I’m cruising through lap two, and happy to come across a bunch of other people who are out for their first lap of the 5K course. I don’t mind racing alone, and I don’t mind being out on a course completely alone, but other people certainly add to the excitement of the experience. All of the obstacles went off without a hitch, I have no exciting stories to tell you here.
After we got out of the trenches, there was a steep hill to climb that had become significantly more muddy and slippery than it was the first time around. I managed to sneak around some people but at the top of the hill still got caught behind a group. I politely (I think) pointed to the girl ahead of me, which I now pretty much assumed was the first place 10K female runner (there weren’t a ton of us out there) and said “I’m racing the 10K and trying to catch her…may I sneak ahead of you?” The group was incredibly awesome and let me slide by.
Mud, mud, mud, mud…that’s how these things are supposed to go, right?
So at some point here, that inner competitive voice that RARELY makes her presence known anymore came out. I knew that after a few more mud pits and small walls/hills, there was nothing but running and the waterslide left. And first place female was well within my striking range.
Did it make any sense to go hard on a course where a) there were hardly any other 10K competitors, and b) where the girl ahead of me clearly wasn’t pushing too hard either? I had a moment of internal guilt thinking about how they had stayed at the crazy drainage pipe to help me through, so it would be a jerk move to try and pass her now.
But then I thought, what the hell…it’s a race.
I caught up to my competition, and moseyed through the ridiculous, spa quality mud with them. The kind of mud that is so thick, you think you are going to lose a shoe with each step. It’s easier to just army crawl through it, to be honest. We exit the mud, run some more, and as we ascend the very last hill climbs, the race is on. We’re side by side, and I’m not sure if she knows that I’m trying to pass her or not, but with each step I take trying to pick up the pace, she does the same. We’re full out running now, and I somehow caught the inner path on a sharp right hand turn towards the slide. I hit the ladder before she does, and climb fast. As soon as my butt hits the slide, I’m going down it.
In the brief flash of a few seconds that it takes me to go down the slide before hitting the water, I contemplate how much swimming is going to suck, considering I’m already gasping for air. Answer: it sucked a lot. I barely hit the water before the girl I had just passed hit the water right next to me.
And then I lost the race in the swim. Once a failed triathlete, always a failed triathlete. (I kid, I kid.)
I was beat by my lack of swimming skills by about 15 seconds, but I was more than happy to bring in second place. Again, there wasn’t a ton of competition (if there was, I’m sure I would have been passed), but I did find myself crossing the finish line a good 30+ minutes ahead of third place, which temporarily inflated my “I’m not as out of OCR shape as I thought I was” ego.
I was given a finishers patch and a top finishers coin at the finish line. Both said “5K” on them, but they were still really cool finishers items for a small, local race.
A photo posted by Heather Gannoe (@relentlessforwardcommotion) on
All in all, the True Mudd course has significant potential to be both a great local race series, as well as a destination race for those coming out of town, with Myrtle Beach being between a 30-40 minute drive away. All of the obstacles were very well built and maintained. The course leaves plenty of room for additional obstacles, as well as a significantly larger number of participants.
There was a “kids course” …which was essentially a big pen, for lack of better terms (a round field surrounded by a fence) with some tiny obstacles in it for the kids. Mine preferred hanging out on the adult course, though they were only able to do some of it (they aren’t quite ready for the big swims yet).
Soooo in closing, if you live in or are visiting the Grand Strand area, put True Mudd on your radar. I have a feeling this course is only going to get bigger with time. But, as with any local race, it only survives if the racers show up! Check out their Facebook page to follow along for details on their next race.
Maybe, just maybe, you’ll see me there…
Heather Hart is an ACSM certified Exercise Physiologist, NSCA Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist (CSCS), UESCA certified Ultrarunning Coach, RRCA certified Running Coach, co-founder of Hart Strength and Endurance Coaching, and creator of this site, Relentless Forward Commotion. She is a mom of two teen boys, and has been running and racing distances of 5K to 100+ miles for over a decade. Heather has been writing and encouraging others to find a love for fitness and movement since 2009.
Totally agree. Sometimes we should put our lives in a really hard challenge, to experience physical pain to deal with emotion, while simultaneously proving our strength and self worth to ourselves. On our long journey, we found supportive and long-lasting friendships