As an educator I find reflective practice has become an integral part of my everyday life. I am not sure if I have developed this habit as a result of success in life or if in fact it has led me to greater success in life…a real “chicken or egg” question. Either way, I find myself reflecting on different aspects of life on an ongoing basis, often according to the calendar. As my Team Running Free year is coming to a close, I am pondering the course my running career has taken this year. Filled with ups and downs, it is often easier to dwell on the “could have’s and should have’s” rather than the “did’s”. I share with you my reflections on one of my “did’s”: The Met Con Blue Mud Run. This was a definite highlights of not just my 2014 running season but also of my middle age running life.
In June I took the plunge into the Met Con Blue Mud Run with very little notice and not much in the way of expectations for a grand finish. I had been toying with the thought of entering into an obstacle course run for about a year but found myself deterred as I was terrified of the wall style obstacles and anything that involved climbing a rope. This combined with the fact that I couldn’t seem to find anyone interested in joining me meant the idea never developed beyond just that, an idea. In May, a colleague contacted me to ask me if I was interested in joining her Met Con Blue team. Around the same time, I found myself renovating a life long friendship with my highschool BFF. In our youth we had competed together on many teams and as women approaching 50, we had held onto our love for sport and competition. In my 40’s I returned to road running and my BFF had become very involved in cross training. The invite to the Met Con Blue Mud Run seemed like the perfect opportunity for the two of us to join together in a team again and face our inner demons and doubts. With not a great deal of training but a huge amount of determination and tenacity, I entered my first obstacle/mud run.
The organization of the run was fantastic. We entered as a team, however both I and my BFF, being competitive to the core, wanted to be sure our scores would count as individuals as well as in the team category. It was important to both of us to know how we ranked by age and gender in the whole event. It is so very hard to let go of some parts of my youth! Questions posted through the Met Con Blue website were swiftly answered and I was made to feel welcome and encouraged as we handed over our entry fees. Upon arriving at Blue Mountain, Ontario, we found the site set up to be easily navigated and found free parking with easy access to the event. The race kit pick up was a tad frustrating as we had to line up to log into ipads, to sign waivers, and then line up again to receive our race kits. I am hopeful that this process will be streamlined for 2015. Changing facilities were adequate with a conveniently located large restroom and an open concept lobby in the Ski Chalet. There was plenty of space to warm up and an opportunity to watch competitors in heats prior to ours. The pre-race hype was fun and engaging and gave participants an opportunity to chit-chat and become acquainted prior to the start gun. Once off and running I was pleasantly surprised. Footing was tricky but manageable for the most part on the cross hill phase of the run. When ascending the mountain, it did become discouraging as running became jogging, jogging turned to walking, walking turned to crouched over striding, and this for some became crawling. The long ascent was rewarded with another cross hill run which was a fantastic phase of the run. Footing was easy, views were great and the water stations well placed and efficiently operated. I found the descent of the mountain elating! I had been training my down hill running was learning how to put my weight forward, into my lower legs, like one does in down hill skiing. By doing this I was able to greatly reduce the impact of down hill running and maintain my speed. The route was very wet and slippery with many rocks and roots. I managed to nimbly navigate the terrain, with only a slight slip requiring a full stop to avoid a human pile up. The end of the race took us back across the hill on a flat stretch through several remaining obstacles.
As to the obstacles, I have mixed opinions. None of them were impossible. In fact there was no rope to climb and no great wall to throw myself over in military style. All of the obstacles were easily approached and seemed to readily accomodate the number of runners on course. Having no experience with obstacles, my learning curve was a steep uphill line. I found out that trying to stay clean and dry was out of the question but intentionally throwing oneself into mud and water served no purpose either. I found the key to maintaining pace and rhythm included attacking the obstacle immediately upon arrival, rather than hanging back to size it up. Get up, get over, get through, and get running as quickly as possible seemed to be a good mantra for the event. The downhill tarp slide as a memorable moment as I skidded along on my belly over rocks, lumps and bumps all concealed by the giant blue tarp. The speed of my approach saw me overshoot the end of the tarp by a good 30 ft. which meant I slid over wet mud ground without the protection of the tarp. Scrapped and a little raw I recall not being thrilled at that particular point, not to mention the impact on my middle age bladder! Thank goodness for the water being poured down the tarp. It provided excellent concealment for embarrasing mishaps. I was particularly nervous about the overhead ladder obstacle. My upper body strength was more of upper body weakness. I didn’t quite make the full stretch of the ladder but the cheering crowds and good natured fellow runners made me feel good about my efforts. In fact, throughout the run, I enjoyed not only the companionship of my BFF (we ran together but in a friendly, supportive “you can do it” but “so can I” sort of way) and my team mates as we jockeyed for position, but also the casual conversation and occasional gripping with complete strangers as we wrestled with our own physical limitations and subconscious decisions to take this challenge on in the first place. The last obstacle which was essentially the finish line, required participants to run full speed up a concave ramp, fashion after a skateboard half pipe. At the apex of your run, the participant was required to throw their arms upward in a grand gesture of complete faith. “Catcher” at the top of the half-pipe platform caught your arms and hauled you up to safety and the finish line. After watching a participant’s “catchers” miss her, I was determined not to experience the same misfortune and was sure to communicate my intentions to the “buff” volunteers at the top of the half-pipe. Success! After accepting my medal, hugging my BFF and posing for photos in the Met Con Blue winners circle, I felt completely elated, proud, exhausted and DIRTY!
The wrap up to the event included a small vendors area where merchandise was available for purchase (We both bought a great pair of “My Package” briefs for our supportive husbands). I would have appreciated a place to shower off and get cleaned up but instead resorted to a “sink bath” in the women’s restroom of the ski chalet. This is one area I truly hope organizers pay attention to in the future. The Blue Mountain venue provided lost of apres-run atmosphere and lots of opportunity to socialize, eat and have a bevy. I would recommend making an overnight of this event to allow full enjoyment of all Met Con Blue has to offer. Being mindful of the long drive home, I opted for a light snack and responsible enjoyment of one cold beverage.
With a finish time of 49:40 and finishing 6th in the Female 45-49 age group, I was absolutely thrilled with my accomplishment. I had risen to the challenge and knew obstacle course running would become part of my “to do” list every year. I did more trail running in the summer than I ever have before. It took no convincing to have my BFF join me in the Toronto Mud Hero event in August. Although the uphill climb at Met Con Blue is a little disheartening, the overall enjoyment of the event will draw me back in the future.