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Monday, June 4, 2012

Have You Ever Swam Through the Trees?

Okay, so here's the thing. I'm not athletic. Not at all. Usually, my attempts at sportiness end in some sort of injury and/or humiliation.

And yet that doesn't stop me from trying. My complete and utter lack of coordination and skill usually doesn't stop me from doing ridiculous things. Case in point? Yesterday I participated in the inaugural Dynamic Dirt Challenge held at Pineland Farms here in Maine.

The Dynamic Dirt Challenge is exactly what it sounds like -- a race/obstacle course that involves getting dirty. Very dirty. (Those of you who follow the Real Housewives of Orange County may recognize this type of event, as Gretchen, Tamara and Heather participated in one earlier this season.) I figured if the Botox crew could do it, so could I.

My friend Betsy talked a few of us into joining and we formed a team -- The Filthy Pink Pumas. We aren't old enough to be Cougars, you know. I started running, and was actually making progress until my already dysfunctional treadmill broke.

Training Tip #1: When training for a 4 mile race ON HILLS, be sure to add some incline to your treadmill. Otherwise, on the first hill, YOU WILL DIE.

As race day approached, I became more apprehensive. Most of the obstacles didn't look all that daunting -- except for the swamp and the culverts. I figured I could talk my way out of the culverts, and the swamp? It's Maine. How bad could it be?

Training Tip #2: Read the obstacle descriptions carefully BEFORE you sign up. The night before the race is not the time to discover that you have to face your most major fears.

Anyway, a few days before the race, the weather report did not look promising. The day of the race, the weather forecast turned to monsoon. In the 24 hour period leading up to the starting time, it rained something like 679 inches. We had buckets set up all over our dining room to catch the water, and roads were closed all over due to washouts. I figured the event would be cancelled.

I figured wrong.

At 9:40 am, our team took off to tackle the obstacle course. First obstacle? A waterslide down a large hill. With freezing water. 

Soaked, and shaken from the pileup at the bottom of the hill, we took off. Obstacle #2? The swamp. What would normally be about 6 inches of icky gunk was a thigh-high pool full of bullfrogs. I was doing fine until someone behind me mentioned leeches, and I took off like a shot. Probably the fastest I've ever run in my life.

The next few obstacles were fairly benign -- hay bales, a muddy trail through the forest, a steep drop to a stream. The organizers helpfully changed that obstacle, allowing us to go  over the bridge instead of through the river, since the rain had turned a normally placid stream into Niagara Falls. I figured I was in the clear. I figured wrong.

Training Tip #3: If doing an obstacle course, bring a life jacket. Or paddles.

Not far from the bridge cross, we encountered a lake. Now, there is not normally a lake in this part of the forest. There is normally a nice, groomed trail with some pine needles and maybe a happy little squirrel scampering about. On this day, though, there was a lake. A lake that, in some parts, was up to my neck. It was over some of my teammate's heads. As I backstroked through the trees in icy cold water, I reflected on the absurdity of it. It was 50 degrees out. I was wearing cat ears and leopard print socks. I was swimming in flood waters, and I still had about 2 miles to go to the finish line and the free beer and pizza that would be the reward for completing the challenge.

After the swimming, the remaining challenges felt as if they were harder. I almost skipped the climb over the stacked hay bales, but forced myself up and over. I did skip the culverts, since I decided that having a psychotic break in the middle of tube was not a good look for me. I managed the spiderwebs, the rope climb, and the random staircase in the middle of the field.

The last mile was the longest mile of my life. With every step I was convinced I couldn't go further. At one point in the forest, I had slipped and when I tried to right myself, I overcorrected and pulled a muscle in my lower back that sent stabbing pains up to my shoulder with every movement. My team pulled away, and I figured that I would just cross the finish line on my own, sometime around Tuesday evening.

But then I rounded the last corner and saw them all standing there. We were going to cross the finish line as a team. Exhausted, winded and in pain, I thought I was going to throw up, but Kimberly, one of my teammates, grabbed my hand and talked me through the last few yards of the course.

And then it was done.

And here's the point in these kind of stories where it gets inspiring, and you get the whole "I learned so much about myself spiel." If you don't want that, then stop reading, because it's coming.

The whole Dirt Challenge was part of my self-prescribed mission to get out of my comfort zone, to try new things and experiences. It was about as far out of my comfort zone as you could get. Did I enjoy the experience? Parts of it, yes. The camaraderie of the team was great. I loved proving to myself that I could do things I never thought possible (swamps? um, no) and going further than I ever had before.

And parts of it I didn't like so much. I hated the feeling of being SO out of shape in spite of all of the work I've done in the past few months. I hated being injured, and being the one to bring up the rear. I'm not exceptionally competitive by nature, but that felt pretty crappy. 

My team is already talking about doing it again next year, and I'm not convinced I'll be on the team roster. Part of me wants to spend time getting into better shape, to go back and prove that I can do it. The other part of me wants to let a sleeping dog lie, to just accept that I did it, treasure the memory and move on to something else. We'll see. Maybe when my back isn't throbbing and I've gotten all of the mud out of my ears, I'll feel differently.

If I do join up next year, though, I'm bringing my life jacket.

Photos courtesy of David Damon, Matt Tardiff and Monique Hebert.

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