PART TWO: LAP 7
Alright, lap 7. I guess this brings me to my second biggest mistake of the race. Thinking I only had one lap to go, I got into some kind of a “final burn” mode…which, to me, meant “Don’t worry about hydrating or fueling that much, let’s just get this thing done.” Well folks, this is just about as stupid as it gets because with over 23 hours of racing under my belt I needed hydration and fuel more than ever before. Not to mention that a lap for me at this point is lasting somewhere between 3 and 4 hours long. So when I skimped on fuel and hydration before this final lap I set the ball in motion for a hellish 4+ hour grind. My seventh lap started off the same way most of my laps normally did. I took it relatively easy at first. I climbed over the barrier along on the right side of the drag strip, passed over the first patch of frosty mud, the Cliffhanger, Berlin Walls 1, and the Kiss of Mud 1. By the time I arrived at “Rock Out With Your Block Out” it was time for pit stop #1. And from now on, when I say “pit stop” I mean it literally. As in, it was time for me to use the pit. You know, the pit of the portable variety. Clearly I was either dehydrated or reacting to some nasty water I had ingested, or both. Not comfortable at all.
At this point, let me just say something about the medical staff at WTM. They were absolutely incredible. When I or anyone else needed help with anything they were there and eager to help. When my right gluteus medius locked up in lap 5, this one medic actually drove his elbow into it for a good four minutes to release it. I witnessed first hand the care they were providing to those who were in serious trouble and to those who just needed a boost. Many racers were in bad shape and I can’t imagine how quickly things would have gone south without having those awesome folks there as a safety net. So thank you guys. Truly.
Getting back to my situation, I needed peeling out of my two wetsuits in order to use the can and this was not easy when you’re cold, weak, and sore. The sequence went something like this: Take gloves off, take shell off, unzip suit #2, get medic to yank down suit below the shoulders, pull right arm out, pull left arm out, unzip suit #1, get medic to pull down below shoulders, right arm out, left arm out, run from the tent to the pit, [I’ll spare you the details here], run back from the pit to the tent, left arm in, pull up sleeve, right arm in, pull up sleeve, get medic to pull up suit #1, zip up, left arm in, pull up sleeve, right arm in, pull up sleeve, get medic to pull up suit #2, zip up, put shell back on, put gloves on. Hydrate, hydrate, fuel, fuel….GO….
With the help of the medics at various tents, I had to go through this sequence three times on that last lap, each time the same procedure. The hydration situation got better as the lap when on. I managed to get a handle on things before it became a major problem, but this whole ordeal cost me a mountain of valuable lap time. And it was very, very uncomfortable for most of the 10 miles. Thank you mindfulness training.
As it turned out, my lap 7 completion time really became a non-factor in terms of my overall standing. Most competitors around me had either completed six laps or fewer or had cranked out seven laps and already quit. So it occurred to me that the lap sixers were all behind me and they wouldn’t catch me, and the lap seveners were all ahead of me and I wouldn’t catch them. In my mind, all I had to do was finish my 7th lap before 2pm and my standing wouldn’t change much more than a place or two. As it turned out, this ended up being precisely the case. Don’t ask me how I figured that out on the course because I really couldn’t tell you. Now that I think about it, I don’t really know how I figured out much of anything on that last lap. Me smart. Me run far.
As the lap dragged on, I passed Devil’s Beard, Log Jammin’, Boa Constrictor, Twinkle Toes, Walk the Plank, Kiss of Mud 2 (AKA, the “barbed wire, log-rolling barf express”), Peg Legs, and the Smoke Chute. I reminded myself that this was now the final pass and that I wouldn’t have to do any of these obstacles again. It was comforting.
Starting sometime after sunrise, there were also a growing number of racers out on the course. Most of them were now buzzing past me, each looking refreshed and energized from a night of sleeping in their tents. Not that they had gotten off easy, of course; it is only profound desperation and misery that banishes an otherwise-motivated competitor to his or her tent for the night. I imagine their nights had not been much more enjoyable than mine. Actually their night was probably much worse than mine. While I was shuttling through the course keeping warm and sucking back chicken urine soup, they were in their icy tents fending off that quasi death-state I had flirted with nine hours earlier. I vividly remember that space. The cold air injecting concrete into my quads and calves. My sleeping bag clamping down on me like a tourniquet, wringing out those last few drops of my will to race. Ugh…*shiver*…no thanks.
This new morning light unveiled a much different scene than that of the day before. The course was not the lively and fun place it had been the previous afternoon. It was now a bitter, brutal grind. The course was frozen, cut up, dug out. There were no smiles. There was no “whoop whoop-ing”. There was only the business of ending this damn thing. I’m sure there was a sense of accomplishment for me somewhere but it certainly wasn’t accessible at that point in time. Lap 7 still required solution.
As I shuffled along, I got sidetracked with thoughts that I’d somehow missed out a good breakfast buffet somewhere on the race grounds. I bet TM had put on a good spread for their staff that morning. It was somewhere in that Raceway admin building I bet. There were probably bacon and eggs, sausages, ham, pancakes, toast…can you imagine if they had eggs benedict? Oh man, these unbridled breakfast fantasies…sausages wrapped in bacon! Mmmmmmm…and then wrapped in a pancake! Yup! And then covered in hollandaise sauce of course. Only for staff though…*grunt*. They were conspiring against us racers. “On second thought,” I reconsidered during a brief return to Earth, “I’m sure a breakfast like that would really work wonders for my quivering digestive tract right now”. Better just keep moving sans bacon. I coughed up some more mud. The forest was just ahead.
The forest trail eventually widened to reveal the Spider’s Web. There was no one there but the course official. “Way to go Mudder! Way to go 1864!” she yelled as I flopped around on the netting like a giant neoprene-covered turd blowing around on a lace curtain in the wind. I made my way up and over the top and took care not to bail off the other side. After slowly lowering myself to the ground, I continued running to the next med tent at the edge of the forest. You know what that means: pit stop #2.
After suiting up once again, I ventured back along the edge of the forest, skirting around the pond, and on to Hangin’ Tough where I made it across to the final ring before plunging into the water and taking yet another 1/8 mile penalty. Damn it. The Dong Dangler was next. Over the previous laps I had mastered the shimmy technique on this obstacle but wasn’t sure I had the fire in the belly to get me all the way across this last time. The first half is always breeze; it’s downhill to the nadir of the cable. It’s that bloody second half – the uphill portion – that puts your arms out of commission for the 15 minutes to follow. For this last attempt, I shimmied across the first half of the cable without much trouble, resting in the middle by going completely limp for about 30 seconds (see photo below). I then went another ¼ of the way across using all upper body strength. I had nothing left. I slumped into the water and swam for the remaining ¼ of the way. Whatever. It wasn’t pretty but it’s done. There are no points for style in this race.
Skidmarked, Ladder to Hell, and Everest were up next. All very manageable obstacles at that point. Skidmarked was more like playground equipment than an obstacle although the fabric ladder to get up was at times tricky when frozen and with cold hands. The top third of the Ladder to Hell was closed due to frost, so I promptly zipped over that. I surprised myself with another successful Everest summit on my first attempt. It was a nice bonus but I didn’t enjoy it for long. Pit stop #3.
Now I was onto the Swamp Stomp and Log Bog Jog. By this time, the swamp was so well dredged that the mud came right up to your neck in the deepest spots. The pungent smell of peat was literally in your face. Wading through that muck was a science. A myriad of hidden objects awaited your every step at the bottom and without proper balance you’d end up stumbling and planting your face into the not-so-chocolate pudding. My left shin throbbed a couple times as a salute to the nearby log that crushed it a few laps prior.
Coated in jet black mud, I poured myself out of the forest and promptly arrived at the Electric Eel for the final time. For this particular obstacle, it felt really good to remind myself that I wouldn’t have to do this dance again; this would be it. I slowly laid myself down in the water, perpendicular to the direction I had to eventually move. Ever so slowly, I straightened my body out below the highest wire in the first string. They were all hanging very, very low, almost touching the surface of the water. It hardly takes any wake at all to close the connection and set these things off. I slowly slid forward with my mouth below the surface of the water and my nostrils just above. Scan left, scan right. Find the highest wire. Snake towards it. Duck head underneath. Slide forward. Scan left, scan right. Keep shoulders down. Slide forward. Keep butt down. Scan left, scan right. Slide forward. Keep legs down. Slide forward. Scan. Feet down. Scan. Keep everything down. Scan. *Inhale*…stay…*exhale*…down…. Eventually I arrived at the other end. Using only my arms, I slid my limp body out of the tank staying just under the last set of wires. Made it…time to roll on….
After another mile of running, I arrived at Hangin’ Brain, which was basically a set of Berlin Walls tilted back toward you. Ironically, this tilt actually made them easier to climb once you figured out the right technique. Jump straight up and grab the top edge of the wall without even using the plank, hang straight down. Then slowly place your foot on the plank and gently push yourself over the top. Piece of cake…or bacon…mmmmm…. One wall done. Two walls done. “Good job 1864!” I hear the course official call out.
When I arrived at Island Hopping I noticed that they still had the string of “islands” blocked off where I apparently sunk one of the islands two laps earlier. I had actually broken the obstacle. I recall jumping onto one of the platforms and it sinking right to the bottom like I was on an air mattress with a massive stab wound. I looked back at the course official. “Is it supposed to do that?” I yelled. Her reply: “Uhhhhhhhhhhhh…I don’t think so”. These platforms were still pretty slick. For most of the night and early morning, they were blanketed in solid ice, but they had thawed now so footing and grip was much better. I quickly made my way across without busting any more islands and continued on to Pirate’s Booty. *Sigh*…this one would take some serious willpower.
I sloped into the water and made my way across at a snail’s pace, holding my hands over my head to keep them warm. Sure, it made for slow going but ensured that my hands wouldn’t be numb for the cargo net climb on the other side. I finally arrived at the wall of loose netting. Okay, maybe my hands weren’t numb now but my grip strength was still all shot to hell. For most of the way up, I ended up looping my forearm through each loop to pull myself up. Once again, I was Captain Turd-on-a-Curtain, flopping left and right. I slowly made progress, getting higher and higher, getting closer to the top while simultaneously getting closer to letting go or losing my grip. Not a fun place to be up there, dangling off a net with nothing to catch you but a blind back flop 30 feet down. After crossing the top railing and gingerly making my way down the frozen ladder on the backside, I jogged over to Underwater Tunnels.
Jumping into that final pool of frigid water I knew I was fast approaching the homestretch. I ducked underneath the first set of barrels. One down. Breathe. I plunged myself beneath the second set. Two down. Breathe. Using my arms, I plunged myself underneath the third set of barrels and out the other side for the brief swim to shore. After a quick stop at the med tent to pour some chicken pee in my gloves and shoes, I bypassed Balls to the Wall, which they had closed during the night due to treacherous conditions. I can’t explain how happy I was about that. It was an awful, terrifying obstacle in those last hours before it closed.
As the poultry piss soup steamed off my hands and feet, I landed at Drag King. For the first lap or two, people (including me) seemed to be grabbing any old pair of tires to drag. In subsequent laps, however, people quickly learned to be much more selective. It was clear that there were sets of tires that were smaller than others and that they would be much easier to pull. 10-15 seconds wasted picking a good set would ultimately save you several minutes on the course. So on this second day of Drag King, you’d typically see racers shopping around for a smaller set of tires, and even if that meant hauling that set from the back of the tire pile to the front where all the dragging begins. This is precisely what I did. Am I lazy? Maybe. But maybe it’s just smart.
After my seventh time dragging tires for a half a mile, I plowed my way through the Mud Mile and Berlin Walls 2 (once again, electing to take the Arctic Enema penalty instead). There was now only one obstacle standing between me and the finish line: Electroshock Therapy. I quickly dipped and dove underneath the wires and over the hay bales passing through without punishment. It certainly wasn’t the prettiest technique but it left me unscathed and that was all I cared about at the time. As a side note, I can tell the spectators are always pissed when I run through ET and don’t get zapped and do a faceplant. They pay good money for faceplants, I know, and I’ve kind of screwed them so far. I feel bad. I’m sure one of these days I’ll give them what they want.
The bittersweet Electroshock Therapy: Sure it hurts, but it’s the only thing standing between you and the finish line.
I was now a mile away from my finish line with nothing but pavement between us. My quads ached. My left shin was throbbing. My right ankle was swollen and sore. My gut was in knots from dehydration and bog water. My fingers and toes were tingling from the repeated cold exposures. The backs of my knees were blistered and burning from the wetsuit chaffing for the last 100 kilometers or so. The best I could do was trot that last mile.
As I began to approach the drag strip I could hear the megaphone at the finish line. I also noticed Brian, the cameraman that APA had sent to interview me after the race, positioning himself for the finish line shot. I rounded the final corner all alone and passed below archway entering the Raceway Park drag strip. The crowd cheered at the sad sight of me lumbering along. “Here’s 1864!” the megaphone blasted. My legs began to shake. I felt a massive pit in my stomach which morphed into a lump in my throat. My lips trembled as my left ankle passed over the final timing mat…“ping”.
“Congratulations Mudder!” the megaphone continued “How many laps did you do?”. “Seven” I replied. “SEVEN?! Are you kidding me?! Folks, that’s over 70 miles, over 200 obstacles in over 26 hours…What do you have to say?” he asked as he put the megaphone up to my mouth. “Does anybody have a Tylenol?” I said. The crowd laughed. “Tylenol?! You could get sponsorship from Tylenol bud. You could be their spokesperson. Seven laps!” The WTM staff then tied a Lap 8 bandana around my arm and the medical staff scurried in. “How are you feeling right now?…You okay?” as they stared into my eyes. “Good…I think….Is there a McDonald’s drive-thru around here somewhere?”