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I said yes.

Yesterday, I participated in the Tri-State Tough Mudder. For those of you unfamiliar with the Tough Muddder obstacle challenge, it is basically a 10-12 mile run merged with a very muddy, cold, dangerous incarnation of Sesame Place for physically-fit adults.  The obstacles are inspired by those implemented in military training, so they are designed to test phobias and mental endurance surrounding frigid temperatures, small spaces, fire, electrocution, and heights, among other things. So why did I do this? I did this because someone asked me to, and I said yes.

Sure, I was asked to participate in the Tough Mudder team through a Facebook invite along with about 25 other people. I could have ignored the request, thinking, “Well, I wasn’t PERSONALLY asked so my response doesn’t matter.  They’ll get enough people.” I also could have used anyone of my ongoing injuries as excuses. However, I decided that 2013 is the year I say yes to all opportunities presented to me. I have never done a race, not even a 5K. I had never run more than maybe four miles.  I was intimidated by the nature of the obstacles. But if I said “no”, I would be saying “no” to a new experience. I don’t like to turn down experiences. I feel like I’m cheating myself if I do that. So I replied “yes” to the invite and paid my registration fee so I wouldn’t chicken out.

With less than two months until the event, I took inventory of the things I was afraid of so I could plan my fear-facing strategies:

Fear #1: Running.

I am not a runner. I am slow. My left knee hurts sometimes. My hips hurt sometimes. Other times, I just get bored. I used to run about 2.25 miles as fast as I could a few times a week to build my cardio for judo and jiu jitsu, but I gave that up in favor of kettle bells. I hadn’t run since March, and it was impossible for me to imagine myself running, or even lightly jogging, 10-12 miles mixed in with physically challenging obstacles.

My strategy was just to run at least three times a week to get back into the meditative mindset needed for running. My goal was to work up to five miles. To keep myself motivated and accountable, I used an app on my phone to track my time and miles, as well as to get encouragement from others. I recruited a buddy to join my for one run a week. My plan worked. I logged my first run on September 3, 20013. I ran 2.12 miles.  On October 2, 2013, I ran 5.28 miles. Then on October 5, 2013, I ran 6.11 miles. I never, ever thought in my life that I could run five miles, let alone six, given my track record. I felt good about running. I started like it. Actually, I might keep two runs in a week as a part of my conditioning, just for fun.

Fear #2: Jumping.

Like running, I am not a natural jumper. When we do box jumps, jump squats, or any other plyometric exercise during training warm-ups, I feel like an elephant plus a turtle. I can’t seem to get my knees up very high, nor can I pull off more than a few reps with a single bounce instead of a double. I do them, but not with competence or confidence. I knew I was going to have to jump over things during the Tough Mudder. And since I am stubborn and proud, I did not want to go around obstacles I’d have to jump over.

Coincidentally, leading up to the Tough Mudder, we did more jumping warm-ups in class than we usually do. This gave me some chances to push myself and think about what muscles I really have to engage. It also made me more comfortable with how uncomfortable I am with jumping. My main strategy, however, was to remind myself over and over again that it does not matter if I make some messy, awkward jump attempts, since this was supposed to be fun. There’s no prize in the Tough Mudder except for a sweatband. I just have to try.

Fear #3 Electrocution.

I am not afraid of heights. I don’t care about being cold. I am not claustrophobic, and I’m a good swimmer. But I am really freaked out by electrocution. My mother had serious mental health problems throughout her life. As an adult, she was in and out of treatment and was hospitalized a few times. I know that at least during one hospitalization of hers when I was in my twenties, my mom underwent electro-shock treatment. I have always been disturbed by electro-shock treatment for mental health and it upsets me still to think of my mom going through that, I’ve fast-forwarded images of it in TV shows and walked out of my mental health diagnostics class in grad school during a lecture which covered electro-shock therapy (or the friendly term for it: electroconvulsive therapy). The thought of physically experiencing that to any degree, even out of context, terrified me. I was worried that when I faced those obstacles, I’d have some huge crying and hyperventilating fit, or just freeze and become catatonic. What then?

I had no strategy to face this fear. My strategy was to stay in denial and remain avoidant. Yesterday, I think the second obstacle was the “Electric Eel”, where you have to army crawl through mud under a low ceiling of electric wires. If you touch a wire, you get shocked. I saw the obstacle and just though, “So what? This doesn’t mean anything if I don’t let it mean anything.” I slid in and shimmied through. I got shocked three times. That was all.

Fear #4: Strangers!

I was invited to join a Tough Mudder team by a woman I met from another jiu jitsu school in the area. She and I hung out maybe twice and had become friends on Facebook. I think she’s awesome and I feel comfortable around her. However, the other team members were students at her gym and I didn’t know any of them. I was worried about being an outsider. People who train together get pretty close. You get to know when someone is hitting their wall and what’s the best way to encourage them. You know each others’ strengths and challenges. You see one another at your absolute best and absolute worst. It’s a very unique bond. How would I fit in with them? What if they are all stronger, faster, smarter, and braver than I am? What if I’m the weak link?

When I was thinking about my fear of being on a team with strangers, I reminded myself that most martial artists are pretty awesome people. Yes, there are a lot of arrogant, self-centered jerks in the martial arts world, but the majority of people I’ve met have been open, fun, and encouraging. My Tough Mudder teammates were exactly that way. I trusted them immediately and felt 100% safe with them. Our captain told me that the team’s motto were, “Slow and Steady!” and “No Man Left Behind!” Our captain, who volunteered the day before, recruited another volunteer to join our team. The recruit was a Navy vet and cancer survivor in her late 40s. In the last year, she committed to regaining control of her health and well-being. The day was definitely challenging for her, but we were in it together. We pushed her when she needed a push, and let her go at her own pace when she needed a rest. Our captain made sure she was always in sight.

I had an amazing day yesterday. I was weighed down with mud. I was so cold I could barely move my fingers to untie my shoes at the end. My tendonitis in my left knee was bothering me. But I was ecstatic. I love teamwork and camaraderie. At the starting line, the MC emphasized that the Tough Mudder is about teamwork. If you see someone struggling, even if they are not on your team, you help them. Carry them if you must. I got offered hands from strangers countless times. I offered a boost to a guy who was struggling to get over a mud trench near the end. He looked at me and my 5′ frame quizzically and asked, “Really?” “Sure,” I replied. I give him a leg up and he hoisted himself over. Then one of my teammates gave me a boost. At one point, our Navy vet got a pretty bad leg cramp. She sat down so she could stretch it out when a man trotted over to us to see what was going on. When our teammate said she had a cramp, the man whipped out two salt packets from his Camelback, ripped them open, and poured them in her mouth. He gave her a drink of water. He advised her to eat a banana at the next food stop, explaining that her muscles need potassium and salt. Then he trotted away as quickly as he appeared. Near the last four miles, our captain re-hurt an old knee injury and she was forced to limp. So we walked the rest of the race together. Even though she was in pain, our captain rallied so we could run through the finish line together. It was incredible.

I’m so glad I said yes.

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Me, at 5:00 AM putting on my Mudder face.1402168_10151925954655926_1771079214_o(1)

Our nice, clean team before the start

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And after.

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