It's been a fucked up week.
My mother died last Sunday, October 16th, 2011. I am saddened beyond words and the feelings are too intimate at this time to share on the internet. Her funeral was on Wednesday.
On Thursday I paid my first visit to the Tough Mudder Headquarters in Brooklyn, NY. I will give out all the details of my visit and my reason for being there when the time is right. All I will say is that everyone I met at TMHQ was exactly how I hoped they would be. They are kind, generous, quick to smile and are the type of people you wish all the success in life upon. I'm proud to be connected to them in a small way.
The following weekend my friend Ramon and I were planning on running in the Mid-Atlantic Tough Mudder at the Wintergreen Resort in Virginia. Given the recent tragedy in my family the possibility of me dropping out was there, but not seriously considered. Like a true Mudder, perseverance has to be a dominant trait. I sent a text message after my mother's funeral to Ramon letting him know that we were going to Tough Mudder no matter what.
The plan was to drive down to Virginia from eastern Pennsylvania, a five hour drive. Since money is tight we would sleep in Ramon's car on Saturday night and run in the first wave on Sunday morning. The gear we brought was pretty minimal. Kind of like when I pack for vacation, I usually just throw a few things in a couple plastic grocery bags. This drives my wife nuts. During the long ride down Ramon showed me the Facebook photos on his phone of that day's Mudder that were just posted. We grew excited and then we noticed that we didn't see anyone running shirtless. Ramon and I had planned to run bare-chested without really knowing what the weather and temperature would be like. Like I said, we hardly had any gear with us so we were slightly concerned. Not much, just slightly. While I was looking down at the phone a deer ran onto the highway a few car lengths in front of us and had his life ended rather violently. We slowed down and drove past the carnage hoping that it wasn't a sign of things to come.
The sun was setting when we arrived at Wintergreen Resort and tons of cars packed with newly christened Mudders drove passed us in the opposite direction. We laughed as we saw orange headband after orange headband zoom on by. At the base of the mountain was a brewery/restaurant called Devil's Backbone so we decided to stop on in for a few beers and a bite to eat. It was probably around 7pm and we had a bunch of time to kill before we would hit the hay so the long wait for a table was no problem at all. The place was packed with Mudders who were licking their wounds, sharing some drinks and spinning stories about the day's events. Ramon and I joined a few conversations before we were seated at our table.
I was working on my second stout when Ramon and I started talking to an orange headbanded Mudder who was standing by our table. He was a nice guy named Nick who was from the area and had the welcoming accent to prove it. We grilled him about the course he gave up as many details he could remember. Then mid sentence and with that southern twang he says, "Aren't you that guy from the video?" I smiled sheepishly and said yeah. Ramon always gets a kick out of that and yells, "The Mustache Man!". In fact, he will yell that at random times when we run a Mudder just to see other people react and turn their heads and look at me. Sometimes he'll stand next to me and just yell "MUSTACHE!" which always cracks me up and makes me look like an attention grabbing whore. What makes that funny is, if you knew me, you'd know I was the exact opposite. Anyway, we talked with Nick a little longer and he offered us a spare bedroom at a lodge he had rented right at the resort. The lodge was so close to the event site that we could actually walk to the starting line if we chose. He told us his friends who had rented the room had already left and it was ours if we wanted. The offer was generous and very tempting but I knew Ramon felt the same as me and we didn't want to impose. He told us the address and said to stop by anytime the lights were on. Nick excused himself when our food came. I had a veggie burger with sweet potato fries and Ramon had a smoked turkey sandwich. Not sure why you needed to know that.
We left the restaurant at around 9:30 and while crossing the parking lot Ramon noticed a shooting start soaring across the sky. He commented that this was now the good omen that erased the bad omen of the mangled deer on the highway. Soon after we found a nice, dark parking spot and settled in for the night. I simply kicked back in the front passenger seat and covered up with two Mexican blankets. Ramon stretched out in the back of his SUV. We were sleeping soundly within minutes. Unfortunately after about an hour I think we were both awake and drifted in and out of consciousness for the rest of the night. I remember a strange dream of foiling a carjacking and stomping the criminal into an egg yolk (?!).
We were awakened around 5:30am by Mudders pulling into spaces around us hooting and hollering. One car pulled right along side of us totally blasting a song by the Rollins Band, "Low Self Opinion", which happens to be one of my favorite songs by them. All I could do is smile and mouth the words quietly as I rose from a cold night of very little sleep to kick the coming day straight in the ass.
We rolled out of the car and went to the registration area just as the sun was starting to peak over the mountains. We got our wristbands and our foreheads markered up with our bib numbers and returned to the car to get changed for the event. One guy from the group parked next to us that was playing Rollins started talking to us. "Hey, you're that guy from the video, right?" he said. His name was Chris, nice guy. We took a picture together and then his group took off for the start. For this event I decided to wear some cargo shorts with tight, old school Vale Tudo type fight shorts underneath. I figured they were more sturdy than your typical spandex style compression shorts. No shirt up top and down below I wore my trusty pair of Vibram KSOs that have survived many Tough Mudders, and they look it. For the walk to the starting line Ramon and I wore plastic garbage bags to keep us warm until we started running. If you've ever been to any type of marathon in cooler weather I'm sure you've seen that technique.
We stepped up to join the 8:00 wave at the starting gate. The DJ was getting everyone pumped up and going through the usual announcements. Then a recording of the National Anthem was played as we all turned to face the flag. Now look, I'm no Bible pounding Republican. For the most part I'm pretty liberal. I strongly fight for individual rights in this country but when the National Anthem is played you remove your fucking hat. I don't care how long it took you to put on your bunny ears or your funny wig and Viking helmet. I'm no blind patriot but I have the utmost respect for the men and women in the armed forces both past and present. If they can put their lives on the line then I can sacrifice wearing something on my damn head for 79 seconds.
The Tough Mudder pledge was recited and the countdown began. Survivor's "Eye of the Tiger" was blasted out of the speakers. If there is one bond that Ramon and I share it's the love of all of the Rocky movies. We constantly quote lines to each other and needless to say, this song had us frothing at the mouth.
The countdown reached zero and the first wave was unleashed on the mountain with a thunderous roar.
Continued in PART TWO...