The day started off with great excitement. I’d spent the night with friend Terri Nolan and her hubby Scott Bozanic in San Clemente. The race grounds had a carnival atmosphere. The event area was strewn with blankets, portable chairs, and people having a grand time. There was music, food, giveaways and merchandise to be purchased. After picking up our event t-shirts, checking our bags (the airlines could learn a lot about orderly baggage handling from the Marines), and visiting the porta-potty for the last time, we made our way to the staging area, then through the chutes to the starting line. There we stood like cattle heading for slaughter for nearly 30 minutes listening to marine spokes people pumping us up for the big event. We also received the most important instruction of the day, barked Marine style over the loud speaker. “DO NOT DIE. YOU START THE RACE ALIVE, YOU FINISH THE RACE ALIVE.”
When the race started, people took off. I was near the front, but kept to my steady, power walking pace as people flew by me, remembering what pal Ashley had advised: to run my own race at my own pace. The other fabulous advice came from Scott. He told me to take water at every water stop, even if I wasn’t thirsty. The water stops were posted at every mile. At each I poured a glass of water over my neck and head and drank Gatorade, even when I didn’t feel I needed it.
The first 2 miles were great. The only “obstacles” a small stream crossing and two patches of sand to cross. Then we hit Suicide Hill. During training, this was the obstacle I’d dreaded the most. I was sure this 2 mi 570 ft climb would be my undoing. Not so, but not because it was easy. It wasn’t. But I had been training on hills for months and it obviously paid off at crunch time. The fun part of Suicide Hill was a detour through Combat Town – a collection of concrete fake buildings used for training. When we entered Combat Town, about a dozen marines were waiting for us armed with Super Soaker water guns. At the top of Suicide Hill, I asked a Marine for the time. I’d been on the course about 90 min. I was actually ahead of where I expected to be at mile 4. I had just over 2 mi left to go with 1 hr 15 min of official time left. Knowing I could easily power walk 2 mi in under 30 min, I flew down the backside of Suicide Hill with my heart full of hope that the worst was behind me and I would fly through the next 2 miles and the remaining obstacles in the time I had left.
There was another stream crossing and some up and down terrain, but nothing I couldn’t handle. In fact, much of the trail was beautiful. There were a lot of folks walk/running by now and a lot of joking and chit chat. The teams started 30 min after the individuals and when they caught up to us slow pokes many cheered on us on with cries of “Good job!” and “Keep it up!” as they flew by. I forgot to mention that there were teams of blind runners participating – yes, blind! There was a sighted runner on each team and it was near the top of Suicide Hill that many of these runners passed me … and inspired me.
Just when I was thinking I had this thing in the bag, I hit the first mud pit and wall. By now I was pretty exhausted, but I took a deep breath, squared my shoulders, and headed into the mud towards the wall. Three steps later, I was on my back in nearly 2 feet of thick, slimy mud. (Well, it’s not like the race is called the Camp Pendleton Clean Run.) It took me several tries to get to my feet again. Once upright, I slogged to a baby-faced smiling Marine who was waiting to help me. Problem was, I was so tired, I couldn’t even get my foot up onto his knee for the boost. Another Maine came over to help, but after several attempts I decided I should go around the wall. Going around the wall doesn’t mean you get to go around the obstacle as a whole, it just means the wall. Once around the wall, I had to slip back down into the mud on the other side and slog my way through it and up the slippery incline on the other side. Once on the other side, I wanted to lay down and die. Then I remembered the command for the day: DO NOT DIE.
Fortunately for me, next came my favorite and easiest obstacle – the river crossing. This wasn’t a stream, this was a wide river with a depth of at least 4.5 feet and a strong current. Once I maneuvered my way down the slippery, muddy bank into the water, I found new life. My toes could barely touch the bottom, so I gave my legs a much deserved rest. Using the ropes and buoys that indicated the trail borders, I crossed the river quickly in a half swimming, half rope crawling method that made up a lot of time.
Soaked and weary, I plugged along another meandering trail until I hit the next obstacle – another $#@&$# wall and mud pit. Again, I made my way into the mud. Again, I slipped backwards and floundered like a turtle on its back. Once back on my feet, I took a few steps and found my feet STUCK in the mud. And I mean STUCK. A Marine gave me his hand and pulled me free. I’m proud to say my shoes stayed on my feet. At the wall, the same Marine took one look at my exhausted, mud covered face and said: “Ma’am, why don’t you go around.” I could have kissed him. On the other side, I trudged through knee-high mud to the tunnels. The tunnels were, thankfully, shorter than I imagined and I did them easily on my hands and knees, although part way through I considered laying down and taking a nap. Had I realized what was still ahead, I just might have.
By now I was mostly alone. I even managed to pick up my pace a bit. Then I came around a bend and saw IT. The obstacle that was to be my real nemesis – Slippery Hill. Slippery Hill was a straight, nearly vertical climb that had been watered down all day. Snaking down it was a narrow but ankle-breaking ravine made by the water. I started up, taking it 10-20 paces at a time, then resting for 20 seconds, crisscrossing the ravine here and there to get a better foothold. It was taking forever. My chest was pounding. About half way up I was barely able to move more than 5-7 steps before resting. My legs were starting to tremble. About 1/3 from the top, a female Marine came down, hooked her arm through mine, and offered words of encouragement as I took each pain-staking final step to the top. With only about a half mi to go, I trudged off without resting. After a short flat period I started down the hill. The descent was as steep as Slippery Hill but without the water. I took it very slow, worried that a fall might result in broken bones. Half way down, I sat on the ground and started sliding down on my butt until I hit a very rocky portion. Two Marines came up. One took my arm, the other offered his shoulder for balance, and they guided me down the last few yards. I asked them if I was the last one on the course (sure felt like it) and was told that there were a lot of folks behind me.
A few yards from the hill, a Marine directed me off the path and down a short muddy slope. There I was met by a Marine welcome wagon. About 10 of them stood on the side of a mud pit, cheering as I entered the final obstacle. Over the final mud pit are strips of colored flags. You have to get on your hands and knees and crawl under them. This pit is less mud, more muddy water. After clearing a few strips of flags, a Marine came into the water and started splashing dirty water at me. I stopped crawling, looked him in the eye, and told him I was gonna tell his momma.
When I was able to stand, I got to my feet and dragged my sorry ass out of the pit and across the finish line where Terri and Scott stood, already showered, waiting for me. And, yes, I cried when I finished.
I had done it! I had conquered the World Famous Camp Pendleton Mud Run!
Photos: With Jen, Stacie, and Hope before race. With Terri and Scott before race. Me at finish line trying to look mean and muscled, only succeeding in looking ridiculous. Do notice the color of the shirt before and after. You can double-click on photo to see how really filthy I was at the end.