First-Time Runner


by Jennifer Fischer



I have an ambitious friend named Margaret, who for more than a year invited me to join her in cleverly marketed running events. Time and time again, I found one convenient excuse after another to not participate in the dash, the stomp, or one of the many five-kilometer “fun” runs.


Eventually, dear Margaret struck again – this time, it was a Halloween mud run in Lake Country, Wisconsin. Knowing my soft spot for animals, she quickly added that the proceeds benefited a local animal shelter. She had me, and she knew it.


Late October in Wisconsin historically brings low temperatures mingled with rain or snow. I shuddered at the thought of swimming in cold, wet mud. Did I mention that I am not a runner? Hot yoga is my sport of choice. Double trouble.


Days before the event, I went online to see what I was in for. “Mud, tires, dirt, water, ropes, hay, climbing, crawling, rolling, slipping, sliding, and music,” the site promised, “… and beer.”


Beer? Holy mudballs! This was no ordinary run.


Suddenly two tiny characters jumped off the page and into my line of vision. It’s funny how a little “8” next to a “K” can plant instant dread. The course and all its muddy obstacles amounted to an 8K. Special K, Mary Kay, “Every kiss begins with Kay,” even Big K are all acceptable K's in my book. But 8K? Eight kilometers equates to just a little less than five miles. I can barely run three miles before collapsing.


Race Day


The morning could not have been more beautiful, with sunshine and an unseasonably warm temperature. Being a Halloween Day race, costumes were encouraged, and my butterfly wings bobbed in the gentle breeze.


My first sighting as I approached the registration tent was a pair of fully inflated sumo wrestlers covered in mud. Running gracefully in tandem, they were oblivious to the swarm of tutu-wearing bees closing in behind.


These were the competitive racers who were scheduled in the earlier time slots. I pinned on my number and accepted a bag of goodies including a race T-shirt, samples, and coupons from sponsors.


Ready, Set, GO!


At 10:00 a.m., Margaret and I waited at the start line. Music blared, and an announcer revved up the crowd. The air horn sounded, and we were off! After all the anticipation, it was nice to finally be on our way. My friend and I found our pace – not too fast, not too slow – and before we knew it, we reached our first mud pit.


While some runners delicately picked their way along the edge of the muddy mess, most of us plunged into the slippery, 18-inch-deep pool that stretched about 10 yards. My comfy lawn-mowing sneakers were officially destined for the trash can, and it was on!


Splashing through the muddy water was fun, and we looked forward to the next sloppy opportunity in the distance. (In a mud run, the obstacles aren’t lined up one on top of the next. There’s ground to cover in between.) It was motivating, to say the least. I felt tired, but strong and committed to earning my bragging rights.


The next few obstacles were simple enough – ropes to crawl under, giant dirt mounds to climb – but just under two miles, we encountered The Big One. After huffing and puffing our way up an arduous elevation, we paused to catch our breath just in time to watch a runner ahead of us disappear abruptly over the top. A prolonged scream followed.


The other side of the hill was covered in a series of tarps. A grinning event official sadistically poured buckets of water down the slope as each participant slid down at breakneck speed. Some shot straight down like a luge; others descended in a crazy spiral. All ended up laughing in the mud pool at the bottom.


I am terrified of heights. Sensing my apprehension, Bucket Man suggested I slide down the edge that was less steep. I stuck my chin out, pulled up my big-girl pants, and pointed to the middle. “Pour it,” I commanded.


My slippery descent started out luge-style, but spiraled into a backward, headfirst plunge. It was horrifying and exhilarating, and ended in a big, muddy splash.


I was now soaked in water and mud. If I was cold, I was having too much fun to notice.


I felt unstoppable, like Demi Moore as G.I. Jane, diving over the next barrier ahead. It was the first of several four-foot walls we would encounter on the course.


Thankfully, there were no blazing fires to leap across and no live high-voltage wires to run through. Yet I dove. I belly flopped. I swung on a rope over (and into) a long, muddy pool.


At the final mud pit, a crew pummeled runners with beach balls as they sloshed through the muck. One powerful pitch nearly knocked me off my feet. I glanced at the monster assailant. He was 6 years old.


Celebratory food and the beer waited at the finish line. More significant, though, was the immense feeling of accomplishment. I did it. I survived a mud run – an 8K mud run – with no injuries, had a fantastic time, and helped raise money for a great cause.


It’s on my calendar again for this year.


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