It was finally our turn. The four of us – my wife, twin sons and myself – were herded into make-shift pools filled with water and mud. It was cold. Deceivingly cold. Son #2 shrieked and, despite knowing what awaited, there was no shortage of similar reactions and comments from the others. All of us stood there for what seemed an eternity but in reality was only about 10-minutes. Then came the BOOM; a cannon shot signaling it was time. A hundred people sloshed out of the water as the 10:15 wave at the 2016 Terrain Racing Flagstaff had begun.
H-to-the-E-to-the-DOUBLE L yeah! What else can I say? This past weekend the family and I ran an obstacle course race (OCR) and I’m not so sure that saying it was an “amazing experience” is justified.
I have to admit, I almost cried.
In the past, the now 8-year old twins had ran smaller races: namely the Spartan Kids Race and the Little Monkey Mud Run. Each of those were about three-quarters of a mile in length, had a few obstacles and of course, some mud. Certainly a good introduction into the world of obstacle course racing.
This time, however, they stepped up their game and ran with the big boys (and girls). The Terrain Racing Flagstaff race was a 3.1 mile course with about 20 obstacles and a whole heck of a lot of mud.
We approached a vertical wall. Hanging from the top were five thin ropes with multiple knots spaced apart for grip. The ropes were wet and slippery; the wall, flat. Scaling the 12′ foot wooden wall would be a challenge for most people, but not Matt. Using his deceptive strength, he grabbed the rope and began pulling himself upward. A few feet from the top, I realized that he just might make it so I scrambled up to help – just in case. As I reached the peak myself, Matt stepped over the edge and started his descent down the back-side. The kid has no fear.
I remember years ago after doing my first Warrior Dash, my sister made the comment that when the twins got older – they were babies at the time – that I would have a hell of a time keeping them off those courses. No doubt she was spot-on with that one.
We entered as a team. Calling ourselves “The Muddy Millers”. We helped each other out throughout the entire course and ran/walked with the mantra of “No Miller left behind”. Quitting was not allowed, every obstacle was to be attempted and we would finish as a team.
Much of the early course consisted of running (and walking) through the woods with many natural obstacles such as a piled trees and logs and a creek in our way. The man-made rigs were mostly stacked near the finish line, close to the festival area. Ask Son #2 what his favorite obstacle was and his immediate answer was the “army crawl” (a 30-foot mud crawl staying low enough to go beneath wires strung across he pit.)
The cargo climb is not for the weak. You could actually strain your neck looking up the 16-foot cargo net and seeing the step over the top; and knowing that what goes up, must come down. It was truly the one obstacle that, as a father, caused me to worry. Son #2 was scared. After making it half-way up, he declared the obstacle too tough and climbed back down. Yet his courage soon returned as he proudly proclaimed “I can do this!” and once again set his sights skyward. He easily made it to the top though fear once again gripped him. Myself and four other racers were there, with encouragement and a promise he would be safe, but this was a challenge he wasn’t quite ready for and again retreated back down. He would redeem himself soon enough.
Our Strongest Teammate
Yet I have to say, the strongest member of our team was my wife. (Doesn’t it always seem that way in most families??)
She’s not eight years old with endless energy like the twins. She hasn’t trained, ran, worked-out or attempted to prepare for these types of races as I have. For her, she works hard at her job and raises twin boys. She cooks, cleans and does a lot of work around the house. Although maybe that’s enough!?!?
However, she also has psoriatic arthritis and experiences soreness and outright pain that the rest of us can only imagine. Adding to that, the potential of sustaining an additional injury loomed large in her mind.
Yet there she was, at the starting line, standing in a big-ass bin of cold water. She went through the same course, climbed the same walls, crawled through the same mud and easily hoisted herself over the same cargo climb.
In a nut-shell: she stepped out of her comfort zone. She chose to do something extraordinary. She had an experience she won’t soon forget. And despite her complaints and a few skipped obstacles, I think deep down she wants to do another one, to do better, achieve more and to continue to have experiences that are outside the norm of everyday routine.
One of the final obstacles was another cargo climb; this time horizontal. Before the 15′ foot climb across, there was to be a 10′ climb up. Up a rig with three steel bars and big pull to the top. Son #2 declared he couldn’t do it and assumed he could skip the obstacle. This time, that wasn’t an option. With help from my wife and I – along with additional encouragement from other racers and a site volunteer – Martin pushed and pulled and grunted his way to the top of that rig and slowly crawled his way across. And after stepping up and over the edge, he laddered his way back down to the ground. A once seemingly impossible obstacle had been defeated.
The entire race – from the cold water at the starting line to the log jumps to the monkey bars to the tire flips and muddy slide – the Millers’ stayed side-by-side, helped each other out and ran as a team. Obstacle Course Racing is much more than playing in the mud. It’s always been about coming together as a community, providing encouragement and sharing accomplishment.
Everyone crossing that finish line earned their medals and in some ways, more than that. I think the memories are something that will be a part of our children for the rest of their lives. I know they’ll be for my wife and I. That race taught my sons that difficulty in life is to be expected; that obstacles are meant to be overcome.
It was such a wonderful experience and one, sadly, most families will never do. For us, I hope it’s just the first of many.
As all of us crossed the last cargo net and slid down the fireman’s pole – it was the final obstacle of the day and mere feet from the finish line – we all looked at each other with muddy faces and big smiles. We then joined hands, walked across the finish line and ended the race as we had begun: together and as a team. Any doubts that might have lingered in anyone’s mind were immediately erased. We conquered the course. We were Mud Monkeys. We were The Muddy Millers.