Three years ago, if you had told me I’d be running through a creek while it was snowing, I would have been certain that my future held a serial killer in a hockey mask. Or a bear with rabies. And then if you had told me no, I’d be doing it willingly while dressed like a leprechaun, I would have recommended a good rehab center so you could get help for your apparent crack problem.
And yet, there I was yesterday, splashing through thigh-deep water for no other reason than someone pointed an arrow and said, “run that way to the finish line.”
This is what happens when you get in shape. Because you are stronger, both mentally and physically, you gain confidence, and when your friend says, “I’m putting together a team for the Extreme Rampage. Are you in?” You say, “Sure. That sounds like fun.” And I’m not gonna lie. Until I had to step into that frigid water for the third time, I was having fun.
The morning started with a group text. Angie, our team leader, texted us to make sure we were still in. At 7:00 am, it was a balmy 28 degrees, and her husband had just wimped out. The rest of us, however, were hardcore…and even if we weren’t, none of us was willing to risk the derision of our teammates.
I sent this to the group. “You know it’s going to be a great day when you start by putting on your son’s football cold gear!”
The only guy on our team sent this in return. “You know it’s going to be a great day when you’re doing bourbon shots at 7:15.”
A distressed text from Angie. “My son plays an indoor sport, and I don’t have any bourbon!”
Not to worry, though. She is our high school’s cheerleading coach, and she had enough innate enthusiasm to keep her warm. She actually did cartwheels after we low-crawled under the cargo net.
We arrived at the course and took a group photo. In addition to my son’s Under Armor leggings and undershirt, jazzercise leggings and thermal running jacket, two pairs of socks, gloves, and a sock cap, I wore the team leprechaun shirt and Lucky Charms face tattoo. Why? Because Angie told me to?? Our bright green did make us easy to see in the mud on a gray, dreary day.
Anyway….we were a cute group.
As we made our way from the parking lot to the starting area, someone asked us who we were supposed to be. Angie replied that we were the special ed department at our school.
I added, "I'm the reg ed teacher that makes this whole ARC legal!"
The lady gave us an uncertain smile and jogged on by, but we were giddy and laughed uproariously at my education humor.
We had to sign a waiver promising not to sue anyone if we died. Then, we had to attach a chip to our shoes, presumably so they could find and identify our bodies if we never crossed the finish line. My fingers were already so cold, I could barely sign the waiver, and I couldn’t quit laughing. Somehow it seemed hilarious that we were agreeing to participate in something in which death was a possibility. Even more hilarious was the idea that I might spend my last moments on earth in that obnoxious green shirt.
Our hilarity almost made us miss the start of the race. We danced to the music blaring across the field, posed for the official race photographer, and vowed to leave no man or woman behind. Then, holy crap! The guy yelled go! We charged across the start line and our one guy promptly left us all in his dust. I would call him by his name, but after he left us and we didn’t have his help or encouragement on ANY of the obstacles, we gave him a different name. This is a family friendly blog, so I’ll simply refer to him as “that Y-chromosome.”
The first few obstacles were not particularly difficult…a mud pit, some tires, the low crawl, and a sandbag carry. They seemed more designed to get you muddy than to slow you down. The worst things on the front side of the course were the dang fences. We had to climb over three of those classic Central Kentucky three-rail white fences…no problem for my teammates with longer legs. For short legs like mine it was more of a challenge. I bruised some of my more tender bits pushing myself over the top of those things.
The real fun started when we hit the first wall. You had two choices: use a rope to climb a sheer wooden face or use a rope to climb a wooden face with two 2x4’s placed at intervals too far apart for short-legged people. I chose option 2 in spite of my short legs. Angie pulled herself over first, and her success gave me some measure of hope. I grabbed the rope, pulled myself up to the first 2x4, held for a fraction of a second, and then went cursing and flailing because of the snow built up on the edge of the boards. The guys monitoring the obstacle laughed at me.
I put one foot up on the 2x4 before I pulled myself up the second time, and this time I stuck. The problem was that the second 2x4 was too far up to move my foot first. I had to use my upper body to pull myself up enough to gain the second board. Honestly, that was the scariest moment of the course. Upper body strength has always been a problem for me, and in that moment when I pulled up and took my foot off the lower board, I thought I might fall. Even worse, I thought those guys might laugh at me again. I HATE to fail at anything, so I didn’t.
As soon as my foot hit the second board, I pulled again and grabbed the top of the wall. I held on for dear life and slung my leg over. Twelve feet off the ground on a snow-slick wooden board, the waiver didn’t seem funny anymore, but both the laughing guys and my teammates applauded, so Yay Me! Bolstered by my success, Susan and Mandy followed, and Tina unapologetically walked around.
The high I got from climbing that stupid wall was euphoric. A hard-won victory is the sweetest. A big shout-out here to every Jazzercise instructor who has made me do push-ups and that infernal Calvin Harris arm routine. It paid off!
We ran some more, clamored around in a dry creek bed, and laughed about the fact that we were obviously last in our wave. (A new wave left the start line every half hour.) But we were a team! No soldier left behind! Girl power! Stupid Y-chromosome! Who needed him anyway?
Turns out we did at the next obstacle. It was another wall, not as tall as the last, but with no ropes or 2x4’s. The goal was to take a running leap, grab the top and pull yourself over. Baaaahahahahaha! Yeah, that wasn’t happening. Angie tried it once and bounced off. After we stopped laughing, we devised a strategy. The nice couple in front of us stayed at the top and we gave Angie a boost. They grabbed her arms and pulled her until she could get over. I went next. It was not pretty, and I’m sure there are pics because the course photographer was snapping away as I struggled, but I made it over. Since there were two of us at the top now, the nice couple left, and it was up to me and Angie to get the rest of the girls over. Mandy and Susan also flailed a bit, but made it without incident. Then it was Tina’s turn.
The photographer put his camera down to boost Tina from below. We pulled from above and I managed to lock arms with her. Mind you…I’m standing on the edge of a slick 2x4 which served as the ladder to get down on the opposite side.
She screamed in my ear, “Don’t you let me go, dammit! Don’t you let me go!”
I was reminded of that scene in Backdraft where the firemen hold each other over the flaming pit and voices straining, say, “You go…we go!” Because if Tina went, there was a strong possibility I was coming back over the top and going with her. I’m typing this now with no major injuries, so yeah, we got her over, and it was awesome. We jumped around and high-fived like we’d just won the Super Bowl.
We were energized. We ran down the course whooping and hollering. Extreme rampage? This wasn’t even hard. So what if we were last? We owned this race! We weren’t even cold anymore!
Oh pride…you do like to go before a fall. See this map?
It’s the Extreme Rampage course. Notice how the first part of the course is on that open brown pasture? That’s the part we had completed. Now, notice how the second half follows that green tree line? Yeah, there’s a creek you can’t see under that tree line, and that tree line wasn’t green BECAUSE IT’S WINTER!
We pulled up short at the edge of the creek. The nice couple who had helped us at the wall was standing there, apparently in denial about the direction of the course. It was 30 degrees and snowing, and the course monitors seemed to think it was hilarious that none of us wanted to wade into the water.
Angie had taken the lead up to this point, but I stepped into the water first. This seemed to spur the couple in front of me, and they took off as well. I said something not repeatable on a family friendly blog, and ran like hell across the creek. The water wasn’t deep, only shin-high, but daaaaaammmmmnnn. That water was cold.
My psychotic sprint motivated my teammates, and they followed. We all got across and congratulated ourselves only to realize that the course continued down the creek for the length of a football field. We tried staying on the bank, but it was steep and muddy. I held on to roots and small trees for as far as I could, but a large tree had fallen across the creek. On the bank, the unearthed roots created an intricate mountain to cross, but further out in the creek, it was fairly simple to slide over the trunk.
Angie and Susan chose to fight with the roots. I decided to suck it up and take the “easier” route…aaaannd found myself in thigh-deep water. Oh holy cow it was cold! Heart-stopping, suck-the-breath-out-of-your-body cold! I climbed up on the tree trunk and crawled back to the bank and the root mountain. We still had 50 yards of creek to traverse, but this time I followed them up the steep, muddy bank and crawled through the brush with them.
I heard a distant curse, and when I looked back down the creek, Tina was on her hands and knees in the mud with her nose an inch from the water. Mandy was trying to help her up. Angie didn’t stop. I had to scream at Angie to make her wait for me to catch up. She had crawled through the mud on that bank like a rabid bear really was behind her, and Susan was right on her heels.
“Shouldn’t we wait for them?”
“They’ll catch up!”
Somehow, the cold water had dampened our leave no soldier behind vow, and I said as much. Angie said, “No. We’re wet. We have to keep moving. If a wild animal is chasing you, and you wait for your friends, after a few minutes, you have to assume the wild animal ate them.”
I sincerely hope I never have to rely on Angie when a wild animal is chasing me, because I’d be lunch. I gave her grief over it as we worked our way through a wooded area and a maze of bungee cords. She kept trying to justify it as hypothermia protection, and I couldn’t argue too much with that. My legs were stinging like they were covered in fire ants and my feet felt like bricks on the ends of my legs. And truthfully, I didn’t stop either.
We came out of the woods to find a mud trench with barbed wire over the top. I was glad my hair was safely tucked under my cap, and for once, I was glad I had short legs. I was able to squat walk across the trench without getting stuck in the wire. After the creek, the man-made obstacles didn’t seem like a big deal. Mother Nature is more extreme than anything the course designers could invent.
And of course, we crawled out of the trench and had to climb back down the creek bank. This happened two more times with a pile of logs, another wall, and a 20 foot net in between. Even rolling across that cargo net twenty feet above the ground seemed insignificant compared to my cold, wet feet. Susan and Angie did everything possible to avoid running through the water, but climbing through the brush on the bank was harder and took longer. My feet were already wet, so I followed the guys from the 9:00 wave who had lapped us right through the creek.
One guy smiled as he passed me and said, “I thought this was the Color Run.”
“My language has been colorful.”
He laughed. “So is your shirt.”
That moment of rampage camaraderie made me forget about my feet long enough to get through that last stretch of creek. Angie, Susan, and I crossed the finish line arm in arm, with a blazing 5k time of one hour and 18 minutes. By comparison, the fastest finish time was 29 minutes, so we were only a tad off the leaders’ pace.
Tina and Mandy crossed the finish line 10 minutes later, and we celebrated the fact they hadn't drowned or been eaten by a wild animal. We collected our medals and t-shirts and Y-chromosome who had been warming himself by the fire for 45 minutes. He couldn’t leave because his car keys were locked in Angie’s car. Ha! He did acknowledge that he totally sucked as a teammate, so we forgave him. We’re generous like that.
Some creepy dude took a picture of Angie’s ruined Nikes and offered to buy them from her. Because Angie is certifiable, she took them off and gave them to him right there in the middle of the field. Susan and I felt it a bad idea to encourage creepy dudes, but whatever, Angie is kind. Well, mostly kind. If a wild animal is chasing you or her feet are wet, you’re on your own.
We barely paused for an “after” pic on the way out because we were wet and it was still 30 freaking degrees out, but here it is…sans Y-chromosome who had grabbed his keys and hightailed it out of there.
I had my heater on full-blast for the 10 minutes it took me to drive home, but my feet still felt like bricks. It took me another 10 minutes to peel off layer after layer of wet, muddy clothes to get in the shower, and then my feet burned with the white hot fire of a thousand suns. It took most of the day yesterday for the tips of my toes to stop hurting. I’m reasonably convinced I was in the beginning stages of frostbite. I don’t recommend it.
Another group text last night revealed that we’re all sore and bruised. Susan said she looked like she had been in a car wreck and had hives on her face, and that the waiver hadn’t said anything about GETTING YOUR FACE MESSED UP! I reminded her that I ran through the creek instead of crawling through the bushes, so my face was just fine in spite of my brush with frostbite. Tina was going to a concert at Rupp Arena and was pretty sure she wouldn’t be able to climb the steps. Y-chromosome’s feet still hurt, but felt better with every shot of bourbon.
I’m writing this today with some aches and pains, but I don’t regret my rampage for a minute. I have never laughed so hard in spite of physical pain. Our team was dead last in our wave, but every single one of us finished, and most of us did every single obstacle. I’m proud of that, and I’d do it again!
Next time, though, I’ll rampage in the summer.