I (nearly futilely) wiped the mud from my face and grabbed the rope. Making sure to keep as close to a ninety-degree angle as possible between my body and the wall of the mud pit, I pulled myself up out of the pit and onto the slippery side of the dirt mound in front of me. The clinging mud made it a challenge to pull myself out, but not impossible. And the angle between my body and the mound kept me from skidding out.
This was the third time I’d performed this maneuver in this particular portion of the Mud Ninja race I was participating in as I closed in upon the finish. The last obstacle was a muddy low crawl, to get you nice and gross, and ready for the pictures to be taken at the end of the race by friends and family. I pushed down into that mud, wriggled underneath the cords that defined the course I should take, and made my way toward the end of the obstacle and the finish line. I cleared the last mud pit, stood up, and at as fast a jog I could muster at that point in the race, crossed the finish line of my latest Mud Ninja race. The volunteers hung a ninja star-shaped medal around my neck and I looked for my family.
My kids ran up to me to congratulate me and tease me about how muddy I was – and I rather appropriately tried to give them hugs with my mud-covered hands. They squealed and ran off to a safe distance from me. I kissed my wife and we made our way over to where I could rest a moment and get some water.
I’ve been doing obstacle course races, or mud runs, since I first heard about them back in 2011. I don’t even recall right now where I heard about them, but I’m fairly certain it was on one of the Paleo diet/lifestyle websites I frequent. I’ve been doing a Paleo diet since 2008, and it’s led to a new found interest in fitness and health that has served me well to the present day. To date, I’ve done sixteen – several iterations of our local favorite, the aforementioned Mud Ninja race, a Warrior Dash, a Ruckus Run (a series that has since gone under, regrettably), a Spartan Race, a couple of Tough Mudders, two times at the local Indian Mud Run, and a Savage Race. They’re all fun, they all have different challenges, but they all create something that I find to be an amazingly recharging and motivating feeling in my life.
There’s something about the primal satisfaction of using your body and your wits to overcome the obstacles in front of you that I sometimes have trouble explaining. Perhaps it’s overcoming the lack of something that was such an integral part of our lives for hundreds of thousands of years as humans that we expect to have just as part of living on earth. We evolved to our current form with such challenges being built into our daily existence. Obstacle races are like a return to an instinctual need that is inside all of us.
There’s also a connection with nature that we miss in our cities, houses, cars, and more. The primordial expectation of getting dirty has been shown to have a connection to our well-being in many ways, from training our bodies to fight infections to more psychological instincts of, once again, expecting to be dirty and engaging our senses.
And there’s the very basic feeling of setting a goal and conquering it. Of making a plan, carrying it out, and succeeding. Or not succeeding, and using that to fuel the next challenge.
There are all sorts of reasons that I love obstacle course races, the above three reasons are just a few of them.
I want to throw out an idea to you:
There’s a stereotype of the 40-to-50-something adult that tells us we go through something called the “midlife crisis.” It sort of makes sense in our modern society – with a culture that is so focused on the young, we begin to feel our age, and want to do things to recapture our youth. We’re not all that far removed from our twenties, in reality, and many times we don’t feel to be in our fifth decade.
But our “stuff”-driven society usually pictures this as leisure suit-wearing guys with bad toupees driving sports cars and trying to pick up young ladies, or sex-craved ravenous “cougars” preying on hunky college-aged men, Or, alternatively, there are those who give up on life at this point – assuming they’re too old to go out and have fun, that their bodies won’t support the sorts of activities that they used to love, and more.
I’m here to tell you that both of those ideas are a load of junk.
I’m 50. I’m married to a wonderful woman. I have two kids, currently 14 and 11, and my son is autistic. I have a full time job as a computer programmer and while I’m not rich, by any means, I have a fairly comfortable and secure existence in the world, and could coast through life with a stable job and put in my time, “like everyone else does.” And I could accept that, after my thirties, the fun was over and I needed to start playing golf or something else.
But I decided not to.
Perhaps I’ve always had a slightly irreverent or nonconformist streak, but I wasn’t willing to accept that my 40s were the end for me. I wanted to challenge myself.
Sure, I went through a period, like most people, where the comforts and stresses of life started to encroach. The beliefs (that’s all they are, beliefs) that your best years are behind you as you get past 35 or so began to make me more sedentary. I didn’t have time to work out, I should take advantage of the culture of comfort that was so prevalent and seductive.
And then I had what I thought was a heart attack, but it turned out to be a stress attack of some kind. That was a big turning point for me. I made some changes in my life that have led to my being much happier and healthier. I started eating better. I joined a rec-league soccer team. And I even took some more serious steps as things went on, like getting rid of my car and becoming a bike/public transit commuter.
And finally, as I discovered obstacle course racing, I took that on as my challenge. And I haven’t ever looked back.
And my life is better for it.
Playing with my kids is more fun when I can actually play with them and not just watch them play. I taught my daughter how to do a cartwheel by showing her earlier this summer. I run down streams with my kids (not next to them, down them). We climb trees – and I hide from my kids in trees when we play hide and seek!
And my kids are learning from my example about being fit and taking care of themselves…which is the best part of all this. I’m creating a legacy for them that they will draw on for the rest of their lives! And teaching them to challenge themselves, and not take the easy way out of life is a mindset that can only benefit them. I’m teaching them to take things on, not see failure as an end but a learning experience.
Yeah, obstacle course races are awesome things for lots of reasons. So take advantage of this awesome fitness phenomenon to better your life and the lives of your loved ones, and CHALLENGE YOURSELF!