I love running. That’s why I go for a run 4–5 days a week, be it 5:30AM, in rain, in scorching heat, in bone-chilling cold. For me, it’s never about if but when and how and where.
So when my co-worker let me know that our company was forming a team to run the Rugged Maniac, I told her to sign me up. A 5K with a few obstacles—how bad could it be?
Little did I know.
Climbing walls? Crawling under barbed wire? Submerged in mud? Yikes!
I did what I always do in the face of danger: I pretended that wasn’t really happening and procrastinated the act of mentally preparing myself for event.
That doesn’t mean I didn’t train for it. I continued my fitness schedule throughout the weeks preceding the big race as if I never signed up for the big event. But I did sign up. The race day would be here soon and I had a team race shirt to prove that I was indeed running in it.
Fortunately, I had my team’s support. We texted each other in a group chat about our nerves and carb plan and our relief that the weather was going to hold up on race day.
The big race day arrived. I was up an hour before my alarm was set to chirp me awake because my mind was busy predicting the entangled mess ahead. I went through my usual morning pre-race routine as if this were a normal race before catching a ride with another co-worker to the event.
We were both anxious about the parking situation at the county fairgrounds, but she was able to pull into a spot not too far from the event gathering. We basically walked up to the sign-in table and chained the paper bracelets to our wrists, knowing that we wouldn’t be able to redeem our free beer until we completed all 5K of the course.
I took a poll amongst our team once we all gathered together. A few of us were Team Nerves, a few Team Excited and I was Team Dread.
I’m always nervous before 5K races because I want to run the course at a specific time, and I know how grueling it is to run at that desired pace. I had no time expectation for this race, relieving myself of internal pressure.
Still, I dreaded the race. Not in the I-don’t-want-to-do-this-anymore kind of dread. More like the dread you feel before a boot camp class starts because, while you know you’ll be glad that you did the workout, you know it’s going to be hard and uncomfortable and sweaty.
We trotted to the start line five minutes before our race started and felt like the race already began with the mini-wall we had to haul ourselves over to congregate behind the starting line. We chuckled at all the jokes the MC cracked over the mic and cheered when our team received a shout-out for racing in this heat (our company was a local sponsor).
Then the race began. Our team of seven ran in a cluster, waving at our boss who kindly attended the event to cheer us on and document the chaos. After a quarter mile or so, we arrived at our first obstacles of climbing up ladder walls and climbing back down.
This isn’t so bad, I thought naively.
By this point, I was committed to getting dirty. So we jogged on, our sneakers squeaking with mud and our clothes clinging to us like damp bathing suits, ready to tackle whatever was next.
Did we have obstacles! We crawled through dark tunnels, jumped on trampolines and slid down mudslides. My favorite challenge, besides the steep hill weave, was swinging across a rope before letting myself fall into the dirty pool that consumed me from foot to head.
And, of course, I got to jump over fire! It wasn’t nearly as intimidating as my co-worker imagined it to be, but it was still worthwhile saying that I jumped over those smoky flames.
Whenever our team was struggling to go on, we’d lend a hand and wait until all of us made it through the obstacle. We found ourselves cheering on other contestants that we kept seeing, station after station. Whenever we felt tired, we chanted our mantra that expressed our immediate motivation: “Free beer! Free beer!”
After twenty obstacles or so, we convinced ourselves that we were close to the end. “Wait until you see the next challenge,” my boss said with a laugh that foreshadowed our doom.
Yep, it was even more impossible-looking than I predicted. In order to enjoy the large inflatable water slide, we had to first run up a skateboard ramp. This is where the collective team mentality kicked in across the entire heat. Participants stayed behind at the top of the ramp to help runners up. When a contestant didn’t make it up the first (or fifth) time, we’d cheer them on until they made it up the ramp.
For me, this one was all mental. I imagined over and over that I would make the clasp of awaiting hands at the top before I started my run towards the wall.
As a group, we were disappointed that this wasn’t the last station, being that it was the hardest and we felt at this point that we deserved our free beer. But we had several more stations to tackle with more walls to climb, more ladders to crawl down and more inflatable obstacles to throw ourselves over or under.
But we made it! The finish line finally came into view and we all ran across it as a team, cheering with our hands in the air.
Now came the next challenge: the clean-up.
The shower stations were disappointing. There was no wait to the shower and the water was flowing, but it sputtered out as a chilly trickle. And with so much mud caked on my clothes and skin, nothing was rinsing off. So my co-worker and I went back to our car to change, dirtying every towel we brought as if we were dogs.
With fresh clothes on, we finally redeemed our beer of choice in the common area. We stood by the stage and cheered on the beer hoisting competitors, amazed at how long they held their arms extended. We perused the sponsor tents and snagged a food truck snack at the only non-fried food option before heading home to do absolutely nothing the rest of the day.
Two weeks later, I still have rainbow bruises across my arms and knees. I have the pictures and videos my boss captured now in my personal collection as well as running swag that I’ll make last for several years.
But the biggest takeaway from the even was how our team of seven came together and stuck it out. Even when some of us could have easily gone on to finish the race sooner, we all stuck together until the end. Because a team is only as strong as its dedication to the challenge and to each other.
Who would’ve guessed that the Rugged Maniac would be a metaphor for life?