There’s dirt caked on the hairs of my upper thighs. I guess I expected it, this being a “mud run,” a race with obstacles, and the titular element being in inevitably high volume. But this mud, this pitch-dark, clay-mixed, shoe-sucking mud, pervaded further. In multiple colors, quantities and viscosities it stormed the shores of my Under Armour Normandy and began its settling of my short-and-curlies. I mean, I was wearing compression shorts, for christ’s sake. A garment that, sized right, keeps intruders out and all your precious belongings cling-wrapped to your body to avoid shakes, swaps and general unappreciated swinging. Hindsight 20/20, I should’ve just shaved, avoided the mess, instead of being weighed down with what now felt like a gallon of sorbet in my shorts.
I’m writing this piece a couple weeks after writing about The Quitters conquering Tough Mudder. And having to spectate in the sun for five hours (their final time was around four hours, 30 minutes, to their credit), I developed this need to start, I don’t know, competing, and hopefully beating people, in things. So on a Saturday afternoon that need took me deep into the tumbling, cracked-earth back hills of Lake Las Vegas, where I ran the Warrior Dash, Tough Mudder’s shorter and wussier younger brother. It’s roughly 3.3 miles, about a third of the length of Tough Mudder, with a handful of obstacles ranging in sensation from reasonably uncomfortable to, near literally, wading through almost-dry concrete. It’s just another in a recently sprouted trend of “adventure runs” — marathons for people who get bored easily — that’s made its way to the valley. For what is, on a literal level, just a substantially tougher run that often supports some good cause (in this case, St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital), adventure runs have become a sort of proving ground for, in mostly equal parts, the “because it’s there” Everest-minded fit freaks and the out-of-shape, the plateaued of ambition and the misplaced of limb, all with remarkably similar but no less motivational backstories of survived car crashes, survived tours of duty and survived strains of cancer. The carrot on the stick for everyone else is a free beer, an “I Survived” medal and a furry horned helmet.
At 2 p.m., my group, my “heat,” crossed the starting line. Immediately, we were climbing the dehydrated hillside, crumbling beneath our feet, creating premature landslides to those in tow, straining ourselves to get to the top, summiting, then sprinting down the other side into a thigh-high lake. Up another hill. Crawl under barbed wire. Up another. Climb a wall. Down the next one. Into a mud pit, shoes in hand. It went on this way for what felt like an hour, the dusty air clamping onto and burning the backs of throats like the sun burns dry lake beds, leaving what felt like a patch of sandpaper in place of a uvula.
The 12 obstacles weren’t really the tough part. Crawling on gravel beneath barbed wire, walking across narrow beams, climbing a rope up a wall — all Nerfy versions of things warriors, ones that stormed castles, burned villages, pillaged stuff, probably did — gave accurate symbolism to receiving a fuzzy helmet at the finish line. But the hills, almost constant through the entire run, with me battling a sinus infection, mostly dissipated, but present enough to leave what felt like an espresso mug’s worth of phlegm steadfast and impregnable high in my airways, were just north of my readiness.
Facing down the last obstacle, I’m beat. Not necessarily my legs, and only a little my pride. But the throaty sickness of swallowing my own dirt-laced spit and phlegm were indistinguishable from a pool of glue coating my guts. The end was right there, 20-odd yards of knee-height mud, beneath barbed wire. The mud was just thick enough to not be able to swim, just deep enough that feet and hands didn’t always touch bottom, causing you to sink down. In that moment, I knew what Augustus Gloop felt like. Crossing the finish line, exhausted, cringing, I looked like a dilly bar.
As I write this, 25 hours after I drank my celebratory Miller Lite, I’m picking dirt out of my ears, reading the results of the race. I placed 279 out of 3,202, crossing the line after 44 minutes and 29 seconds. My calf muscles feel like they’ve been torn from my shins. There’s dirt caking the grout of my bathroom floor tiles. There’s dirt in the lint trap of my dryer. The dirt caked on my upper thighs is only gone in texture, but a light tint remains. Hindsight 20/20, I should’ve just shaved.