Friday, June 28, 2013

Toughin' It Out : Tough Mudder Whistler 2013

Photograph by Stephanie Martin, Seven Photography © 2013

“Obstacles are placed in our way to see if what you want is really worth fighting for.”
And the Tough Mudder orange head band was definitely one worth the fight.

Having trekked 18 kilometres through mountainous terrain and overcoming 20 mentally & physically enduring obstacles that included tanks of ice, trenches of mud, pools of water, walls of fire, or tall objects to climb…you now know that the coveted Tough Mudder orange head band means more than just showing up and crossing the electrically charged finish line. It represents mental grit, determination, and/or physical stamina. To me, it meant that and just a little bit more.

After four months of training 2-4 days a week with fitness coaches, I felt physically ready. My colleague, Dan, also decided to join me which helped eased any fears I had of running it alone.

Photograph by Stephanie Martin, Seven Photography © 2013

On event day so many emotions and thoughts raced through my head; I was nervous, excited, and a little scared but quitting wasn't an option. I was at the point of no return and the best I could do was put one foot in front of the other and deal with whatever I was going to deal with when I got to them.

That’s exactly what happened when I got to the second obstacle, the Arctic Enema. Dan and I jumped into waist deep ice water but I couldn't get up the nerve to dunk my head under water, under a wood plank, to pass to the other side – despite Dan’s encouragement. I couldn't stay in any longer so I got out and broke down wondering how I would ever get through the rest of the course. My fellow Mudders, including Dan, expressed their support and not to worry about it. But of course, I was disappointed in the fact I wasn't able to follow through.

Photograph by Stephanie Martin, Seven Photography © 2013

On our jog to the next obstacle, Dan gave me some great advice, “Forget that obstacle. Let’s get ready for the next one. You should never live life looking back because you’ll never see what’s in front of you at that moment.” Then I realized it wasn't just that obstacle I was looking back at, I had been looking back at many past mistakes wondering what I could have done different.  It was as if at that moment, I turned around and started looking ahead of me and I was going to give the next obstacles my all.

The next 8 obstacles were challenging but luckily not as mentally taxing as the Arctic Enema. I finally felt like I was in a groove and had hit my stride…until I came to the Electric Eel. I had seen this one before near the start line and it didn’t look fun. A 20-foot long shallow pool of water with a multitude of live wires, just inches above that you had to crawl through. There was no way to avoid them. I was terrified. My head went to the scariest scenario I could imagine and stayed there.  I could not mentally overcome the thought of being electrocuted in water and I broke down - again. At that point, I considered skipping it but I knew I would have regretted not pushing my limits. After all, that’s what we were there to do. I was then reminded of what my Grade 12 art teacher once told me when I went to him for advice about dropping out of art school; He said, “Look at all the work you did, and have done, to get to this point. Don’t throw it all away. At least get your diploma, then decide if that’s the direction you want to take.” Based on his advice, I stuck it out and became the graphic designer I am today.

While the Electric Eel may not have been as life-changing as that ‘art school’ moment, I knew that if I didn't do it I would have regretted not trying. So after 15 minutes and some coaching from Dan and a few of the Tough Mudder staff, I dove into the shallow pool of water and moved as fast as I could thinking that with each inch forward, I was that much closer to the end. On the other side, Dan was there to high five me and I felt I had just finished climbing the highest mountain. But then it hit me…that was just the half-way point.

With new-found confidence I pressed on, knowing I wouldn't have to tackle that one again. It could only get better from here. By that point, my mental grit was getting stronger but my physical body was taking a toll. Up steep inclines, hurdling over large tree roots, navigating miles of thigh-deep mud, I wondered how my body would hold up. Having gone from no physical challenge (aside from my training) to Tough Mudder, it was no surprise my body screamed at me to stop. Slowly but surely, I kept going. If Dan had to drag me across that finish line, I was going to get there.

A kilometer away from the finish, we could hear the music and crowds, I could smell the beer, I could feel the warmth of that orange head band across my forehead, but we still had one obstacle to pass before all that good stuff – Electroshock Therapy. Yes…more electrocution. Dan and I stood a few feet away arm-in-arm, looked at the end point, and ran like hell through the muddy pathway being stung by electric shocks. I even got elbowed in the face from the girl beside me being electrocuted but I didn't care. We finished!!

Photograph by Stephanie Martin, Seven Photography © 2013

After exchanging a heartfelt hug and congratulations, we walked up to get our orange head band and throw back a refreshing free beer. We were also able to connect back up with our supporter, photographer, and friend Stephanie for some celebrations. We could finally relax and reflect on what we had to go through to get here; Demons were tackled, bruises were earned, new bonds of friendship were formed. In addition to that, Tough Mudder not only represented that achievement, it meant a shift in perspective, better physical health, and overcoming the notion this was something I could never do. It made me wonder how else I could surprise myself.

That, in itself, is always worth fighting for.

Photograph by Stephanie Martin, Seven Photography © 2013

The black and blue aftermath...