Part Three: Post-race
After being handed the coveted black World’s Toughest Mudder headband, I slowly migrated to the outer edge of the buzz emanating from around the finish line. The pangs of reality slowly crept in. The race was, in fact, over. This fact didn’t completely sink in but I did sense it on some level, as it simmered in the background. Actually, nothing was really clear to me in at that moment. I was deep in a thick fog, dazed by the experience. Bashed up, badly bruised, dehydrated, drained, atrophic, and somehow on top of the world.
Similar to how you can feel ocean waves surging through your body after you’ve been bobbing around in the open ocean for awhile, when I stood still, I could still feel the tapping of the pavement on the bottom of my feet, as well as the rhythmic pulling motion in my arms from dragging those tires. As it turns out, 26+ hours of obstacle racing does funny things to your nerves, sensitizing them in certain ways and dumbing them down in others. For instance, I could still feel those repetitive, rhythmic sensations in my limbs, but I couldn’t feel most of my fingertips (although I wouldn’t explicitly notice that until a few hours later; most of the feeling would return after about a month). My face felt like it was buried in the bowels of a bonfire.
I stood there in a daze for a few minutes, unsure of where to go or what to do with myself. Had it not been for Brian, the cameraman sent by the American Psychological Association, stepping in to set up the interview, I likely would have wandered off into the forest never to be seen again. After a brief discussion, we decided to do the interview right away, so he hurried back to his car to grab some extra audio equipment. His trip to his car turned out to take much longer than I thought, so after 10 minutes of waiting in the cold by the finish line I hobbled off to the shower trailer to warm up and rinse off. Ahhhhhhhh yes, the shower trailer….
I reluctantly exited the trailer about 10 minutes later and noticed Brian had returned and set up the tripod by the finish line. To be perfectly honest, I don’t remember most of the questions he asked me. Something about the obstacles maybe…were they difficult? Did anything surprise me about…something rather? I’m not sure…but there was a series of questions that I’ll never forget. He asked me about what the whole race campaign experience meant to me in terms of the support I had received from others, how important it is to have support, and how important it is to seek support when you need it. So in addition to sharing my brief post-race story with you, I also want to share with you my answers to those questions.
In that exact moment, right after finishing that race, I thought about all the various types of support (e.g., physical, psychological, emotional, financial) I’d received from others during my race campaign. I immediately thought of my family, of the members of my training team, my mentors at MPS, and all those generous people who had donated to my campaign and who had bought “The Time Is Now” race wristbands (many of whom I don’t even know). I thought of the (then) strangers who had written me touching emails about how I had inspired them to make meaningful changes in their own lives. And there were those who shared with me personal stories of their struggles with mental health. I thought of those caring members of the media who worked hard to share my story with the surrounding community and with the rest of the country. And, I thought of those who visited this website and shared my story with others in their own lives. I know each of you are out there in the world, battling in the trenches, fighting your own fights, and you still made an effort to support me in some way. This whole experience has reminded me not only that if one wants to do great things, one needs support, but also that if one wants to see others do great things, one needs to support them as well.
The importance of having support was further hammered home in the hours following the race after I had to pack up my gear and get back to the hotel with no one there to help me. I was drained in every way. Now we’re not talking about running on fumes; the fumes were long gone. We’re talking about the fuel tank being a perfect vacuum…as in e-m-p-t-y. I was now operating on some primitive survival level. As a result, the hours following the race made up one of the darkest, most desperate experiences I’ve had in a long, long time. Ironically, it was much worse than anything I’d experienced during WTM.
Now I’m not going to recount every detail of what happened, but for the sake of entertainment I will provide a basic summary. After making a trip back to my tent to grab some warm, dry clothes, I returned to a warm corner of the medical tent and painstakingly peeled off my gear. Peeling off a wetsuit can sometimes be tricky under the best circumstances, but when you have zero grip strength this is a Herculean task to say the least. After stripping down I could see that the backs of my legs were badly chaffed from the wetsuit (they looked like third degree burns; not enough lube!) and my ankles swollen from the trauma of my injuries. I then returned to my tent and somehow fumbled through a process of selecting what of my gear was salvageable and what had to be tossed. Then, with dead eyes, I carried all my muddy gear back to my rental car 250 yards away, over three different trips. I then drove back to the hotel, taking a series of unfamiliar detours due to multiple MVAs (not involving me surprisingly) along the way…or was that all a dream? Anyway, I arrived back at the hotel and checked in, bringing nothing in with me other than a bottle of shampoo and my iPhone. I left all my stuff in the trunk of the car. I couldn’t even entertain the thought of lifting anything else. I showered for about half an hour. I laid face down on the floor for another half an hour.
On that nasty hotel room floor in New Jersey, there wasn’t much on my mind other than just stay alive, but in the days following the race, as I slowly recovered, I thought more deeply about the importance of having support and why the act of seeking help for mental health difficulties is so difficult in Canadian culture (not to mention other cultures as well). Why are we so reluctant to reach out to others for assistance? What is it about our Western individualistic society/culture that makes asking for help for mental health issues some kind of personal weakness? Now, I don’t mean to slam our Canadian culture, but I certainly do when it comes to the stigma surrounding mental mental issues. We clearly have some issues to address here.
Mental health and physical health are two sides of the same coin. They are inseparable. Just like we all have physical health issues from time to time, we all have mental health issues from time to time. In some cases, the issue is brief, acute, or fleeting; in other cases, it can be more chronic and/or stubborn. Sometimes they resolve on their own, sometimes they require treatment by a professional who understands how humans work in that respect. But there should be no difference in whether or not we actually seek treatment for these issues, or how we view them as a culture. Moreover, there should be no difference in accessing effective services for these different problems. It’s painfully simple: If you are experiencing a mental health difficulty, you should seek help, just like you would for a physical health issue. This is your responsibility. On the flip side, when you do seek help, effective help should be available to you. This is the government’s responsibility (go here to tell your government you want greater access to psychological services).
Of course, I didn’t always see it that way. When I was younger and less experienced, I tried to do everything on my own. I never asked for help even if it was clear that I needed it. I chose instead to suffer alone, to waste time, and to wander around lost often right to the cliff’s edge, before asking for help (unfortunately, I don’t think my story is that unique). From my years of experience traveling the world, managing my own health, being in sport performance situations, and working in academics and the private sector, I know now that this is a foolish, weak, and inefficient approach to living one’s life. I now know that asking for help from others is a strength, not a weakness. Doing so doesn’t make you dependent; it makes you intelligent. It’s smart to use available resources so you can free yourself up to focus on more meaningful and rewarding challenges in your life. So how important is it to seek help when you need it? I think my answer to that is pretty predictable.
Those first few days after the race were hell. My legs were busted up and my creatine kinase levels were through the roof (initially over 20,000 IU/L; the normal range for an adult male is between 38 IU/L and 174 IU/L). I estimate that I lost about 8-10 lbs during the race and probably half of that was pure muscle. Because one’s kidneys are fragile after an ultra-endurance race like that, another bonus was that I couldn’t take any NSAIDs. So pain management was all about Tylenol, ice, elevation, and mindfulness. And there was lots of support seeking :)
After the race, I never did get to see the Jersey shore…or, should I say, what was left of it after Hurricane Sandy razed it to the ground. I remember watching in horror on Facebook a few weeks before the race as several fellow WTM racers living in the NJ area witnessed their property destroyed. What an awful thing to have to go through, and really put things in perspective. Another point for having supports available.
Due to my Stay-Puff Gumby legs, I skipped out on my two days in Manhattan, though I did drive around it a bit before I flew back to Toronto. Let me be the first to just point out the painfully obvious that driving through Manhattan on a weekday afternoon just for the heck of it is a SERIOUS MISTAKE. It’s downright dumb…but I do like how they drive there. If there’s a car-width-plus-one-inch available they’ll squeeze through. Now that’s more like it! I also capped off the trip with an 8-hour flight from Toronto to Winnipeg (normally 2.5 hours) with swollen legs!
Anyway, after returning home and a month of recovery, I was back to light training. And now, three months later, I’m back to heavy training again. Check out my blog from time to time to see my other races this summer including the Canadian Death Race, Manitoba Marathon, Tough Mudder Minnesota, and the Dirty Donkey Run. It’s go time baby!