As you age, periodically, you have to give the old body a jolt just to make sure all systems are functioning properly.
Use it or lose it more or less.
Against my better judgment, I decided to give my body the shock of a lifetime recently. And oh was it worth it.
Back in June I caught a few pictures uploaded to my cousin's Facebook page from something I later learned was called Warrior Dash. Being a marathon runner, she's constantly competing in races and a picture from one 5k or 20k looks the same as another. But these were different. She was covered in mud. And as a male with a genetic disposition to enjoy getting dirty, it peaked my interest.
This particular race she ran took place in Logan, Ohio and after asking her about it, I discovered another race was taking place in September in nearby Carrollton.
Now despite playing sports all the way through high school, running and I have never been on speaking terms. We just don't get along. Lifting? Sure. Plyometrics? Bring it on. I can even get done with aerobics. But running? I viewed running as an exclusive club that I was all too happy not to receive and invite for.
But Warrior Dash isn't just running. There are obstacles ... lots of them. And water. And fire. And mud. Dirty, mucky glorious mud. Sign me up.
And I did. I asked her about ways to train to get ready. I even asked for some pointers from the the true marathon man in the Ohio Valley, Neff's own Allan Olexa. Seriously, that guys runs everywhere.
Both of them told me to intermix running and walking. Start slow and build-up my endurance was their answer. Most importantly? Log miles.
I took their advice, for the most part. I built myself where I could run around 1.5-2 miles comfortably without wanting to keel over. Given this 5K race was lined with obstacles, I figured I could catch my breath waiting to climb over walls.
I thought I was prepared. Oh how wrong I was.
Race day arrived and I traveled to Carrollton with my cousin, a few of her friends and my aunt. They were all in shape and well prepared for the undertaking. I was not.
I decided to wear my Vibram Five Fingers KSO shoes for the race. It's just like running in your bare feet, a decision I later came to regret.
We ran in the 1:30 p.m. wave. Waves of 500 or so runners set off every half hour throughout the day, so by the time we took off down the initial descent that started the course, the terrain was, shall we say, well worn.
The start wasn't bad. As a fat guy, I can get down with running down hill. We made the turn, ran straight for a couple hundred yards then scrambled up a relatively minor incline. I knew the first obstacle on the course map was dubbed Hell's Hill, and as much as I wished this tiny climb was it, I knew it wasn't.
After running along a flat path that bordered the lake, we came to the main water obstacle, the deadweight drifter. It was about a mile in and I was starting to feel slightly fatigued. So I more than welcomed jumping into the somewhat chilly water and diving over the barrels to get to the other side.
And then I saw it. Standing in front of me was Hell's Hill. It was a fitting name. Straight ahead was a steep incline that looked like nothing but mud from bottom to top. And that's what it was. The week's worth of rain that proceeded the race was bad enough. Factor in the thousands of participants who had already trudged up this hillside, dripping wet from the adjacent water obstacle mind you, and you can imagine the fun I was about to experience.
And my shoes, as comfortable as they are to run in, had zero, and I mean zero traction in the mud. I tried to run at the beginning and kept slipping backwards. I tried power walking, still no traction. I had to resort to stepping in the middle of the muck, with mud reaching midway up my calf, just to get enough traction to move forward.
My calves and thighs were burning and by the top I reached the top of the hill, I was tapped. And there was two more miles to go.
By the time I reached the bottom of the hill, where the actual good obstacles started, I had scarcely enough energy to enjoy them.
I knew I wasn't in shape, but this proved just how out of shape I actually was. It really set in when the first group of athletes from the 2 p.m. wave started passing me. At that point, it became about finishing.
Two miles in the cramping started, a problem I never experienced during my younger years.
By the time I could see the end, a ship's worth of sailors would have been proud of the colorful language running through my head at the site of one last hill before the end.
Finally, atop that last hill, I mustered just enough energy to leap through the fire and jump into the mud pit to slog my way to the finish line.
Race workers had cups of water and bananas in bunches at the finish line and I drank and ate my share. I was cramping from my calves all the way up to my stomach. And then, in a move of utter stupidity, I decided that the best medicine to alleviate my fatigue and cramping was to purchase a souvenir stein and down 32 ounces of liquid, alcoholic refreshment. No, the free cup of beer with my timing chip wasn't enough. I chugged the equivalent of three beers.
Midway through the race, I questioned as to why I would pay money to do this to myself. Like everyone else, after the finish, I was glad I did. My time, which I will not impart here because of shame issues, was not impressive in the slightest. That's why, I've continued running and building my endurance. A race in Logan has been announced for next June and I'm hoping, Ohio II comes back to Carrollton.
If nothing else, I have to improve on my showing and get another shot at those hills.
My name is Mike Hughes and I hate running. But man, was that one heck of a time.
Hughes may be reached online at firstname.lastname@example.org