How do you recap something that you finished one lap at? How do you recap an event where you were swept off course at the cut-off time? How do you recap something that took you a little under 2 hours to finish the first lap and over 22 and a half hours before you were swept off on your second lap, just a few feet after the third-mile marker?
How do you recap what will likely be the single most physically exhausting, emotionally draining, and mentally taxing 25 and a half hours of your year?
I’m going to do it by first explaining what happened in the year leading up to the event.
At World’s in 2018, I got 20 miles. After finishing my first 3 laps, I was in my tent for several hours in the middle of the night attempting to warm up like so many others. I did not go to medical. At 5:00 a.m. on Sunday I got up and dressed. I put on a still wet and cold wetsuit and went out for a final lap. I crossed the finish line at 8:04 a.m. and was considered a 24-hour finisher.
I had decided that in 2019 I would do more. I would stay active the full time; even if it was a slow meander. I would hopefully get a mileage patch. WTM 2019 was going to be different than WTM 2018.
And I was right. It was completely different.
At Toughest Central in Twin Cities, I rolled my ankle during the first lap. I had done this several times this year and would continue to do it several more times in the races that came. When I got to Everest it wasn’t open yet and it was a must complete. So I decided to use the strength that I’m well known for to help other people have a race that would have undoubtedly been better than the one that I was going to have with my ankle not working right.
And, wow, did I love it. Several hours on Everest helping people up and over and getting hugs and Mudder love. It was amazing.
And a seed was planted.
The rest of the season saw me rolling my ankle at almost every event. It was never quite as bad as what I experienced in Twin Cities, but it was enough to be a concern to myself and my chiropractor.
This on-going issue lead to the seed that was planted after Twin Cities and hours on Everest starting to grow. It grew into an idea. An idea that I could do 24 hours on Everest.
With guidance from my chiropractor, a trainer, and tons of research, I came up with a plan. And I started training. There were rows. Lots and lots and lots of rows. Over the next few months, I rowed probably thousands of pounds.
And I reached out to the original Everest Angel, Francis Lackner, on October 8th and told him my plan.
Before the morning of WTM, less than 10 people in the community knew my plan. And then I went on Facebook live and told anyone who watched.
And before I knew it, the start of the race was here.
I took my time that first lap. I had fallen in step with Ryan Cray, Michelle Mazza, Tom Maming, and Diana C. It was an enjoyable lap and I had a good time with them. But once that lap was over, I decided that I had to get to Everest. It was time to start putting my training to work.
After crossing the finish line, I hurried into the pit area and started prepping my food. I’m so thankful for the volunteers at the hospitality tent, especially Bobby Hamilton, who helped me cook and bag my mac & cheese and rice.
After shoving the warm food in my pack, I was ready to start on another lap.
I don’t know EXACTLY how much my pack weighed, but it was easily over 50 pounds. Between the water I carried out (a gallon jug and two single liter bottles), the gear I had packed (which included a full wetsuit, gloves, a few hats, a windbreaker layer, headlamps/strobe lights), and the food (the stuff I and easy to eat snacks like Goldfish crackers, Reese’s cups, fruit squeezes, and peanut butter), I was hauling a pretty big load.
Other participants commented as I trudged along. And I explained what I was doing and what the pack contained. And then people often said this: I don’t think I could do that.
And after hearing it a few times, it made me pause and question what I was doing. COULD I do this when so many others thought they couldn’t?
I ended up spending most of that trek to Everest with Matt Follo. And y’all, he’s a damn hoot. And a really great guy. He stayed with me even as I slowed and even when I was annoyed and taking FAR too long at Spread Eagle. And I’m really glad I got to spend that time with him because I knew I wouldn’t be able to have those connections with people on course this year because staying at one obstacle isn’t conducive to that.
At Everest, Matt and I split ways. He took on the big guy, while I went to face Mini Mudder. Because I wanted that headband.
And yes, I did fail Mini Everest. Not once but twice. IT’S THE LOGISTICS OF THE OBSTACLE BEING MADE FOR CHILDREN AND ME BEING A FULLY GROWN ADULT AND IT MAKES NO SENSE!
No, I don’t feel some kind of way about Mini Everest. Not at all.
I climbed up the back of Everest, wearing that bright blue Mini Mudder headband with pride and after tossing down my pack, I settled in with Francis Lackner, Jason Harley, and Abhi Singh for the long haul.
The four of us paired up, switching partners and arms as needed. The key, I learned, was to make sure to use both arms and switch fairly often to keep from injuring one and making sure that the workload was shared.
The remainder of the daylight hours were pretty busy but the night was mostly busy spurts with a lot of downtime.
While it wasn’t as cold as last year, it was definitely cold and at the top of Everest, the wind was able to catch us.
I think one of the hardest parts about staying at Everest was when there were no participants to be pulled up. That’s when I started to get cold and would have to pace to stay warm.
During one of these lulls, Ryan Cray called out to me about Michelle Mazza and how she wasn’t doing do well. And it broke my heart to see such a strong woman feel so defeated and in pain.
My heart ached as I watched while she was taken off in the Medical cart.
The next few hours were dark and hard. Participants started moving slower and started to doubt themselves. Fatigue also started to settle in. I remember two instances, in particular, both included people who had already failed to make it to our hands at least once.
The first one I remember was stopping the person from running and asking them point-blank, “Do you think you can do this?” And they responded with a yes and I told them, “Then prove it.”. And they did.
The second was a female. She had tried several times and I could SEE the frustration coming off her. I told her to stop and to tell herself that she was going to make it, that she WOULD succeed. She did so and with a yell, much like that of a warrior in a movie, she ran. And she made it.
These two moments go through my mind because I know that sometimes people just need people to remind us to believe in ourselves. We need the community around us to remind us what we are capable of.
At about 2:30 in the morning, TMHQ decided to switch things up and make people go through Everest backward. This sounds confusing at first but really it was just sliding down Everest.
SO many people were confused when we told them to come up the back and talked them through what to do next, but watching people slide down Everest will forever be one of my favorite memories.
In addition to being the least busy, this was also one of the coldest points in the night. Most of us got out emergency blankets and had to work even harder to stay warm. At one point I sat down and closed my eyes and rested for at least an hour or so. I just remember being so cold and thinking to myself that I could walk away from the whole race. I could walk back to my pit and be warm in my dryrobe and dry clothes
But then I thought about the friends who consistently came to me to lift them up and over the obstacle. I thought about Dennis Dolby and Nick Artis and TJ Szymanski who always had a quick hug and a chat for me. I thought about Joe Perry who’s bright orange face paint made him so recognizable. I thought about Erin Rost, who was ALWAYS smiling when she got to the obstacle, even after she hurt her wrist. And Shannon Fitzgerald who I always JUST realized who she was after she had already moved on. I also thought about every other woman on that course. Every woman who has been told that they don’t belong in OCR or that they aren’t strong enough. Or that if they lift heavy, they’ll never be desirable or beautiful or any number of those things.
So I stayed. And I endured.
And eventually, the sun came out.
And the end was in sight.
It needs to be said that I knew that I would likely be swept off course at 1:30 on Sunday afternoon. I read the rules backward and forward and I knew I needed to complete one lap, which I did with the Sprint Lap, And that I needed to either finish a lap after 8:00 a.m. or be in pursuit of that said lap at 1:30 p.m.
Francis, Harley, Abhi, and I discussed the best way to make sure NO ONE was left at Everest without someone to help them up and over. And it made the most sense for Francis and me to stay the latest possible. So we did.
We packed up our stuff, cleaned up our trash, and got ready for the short but undoubtedly time-consuming trek to the finish.
At around noon Francis and I moved from Everest because everyone seemed to be taking the bypass route, to Skidmarked and Berlin Walls. We stayed there and helped Melissa Linden and James Del Verde, who ended up being the last official finishers, up and over.
After those two made it and we were informed that we were the last participants, we slowly moved along a deserted course. Black Widow was next and then to Coach’s Quick Pit and then to Mud Mile. Mudder Press brought some shade and a bit of a rest.
While our packs were much lighter, there was still added weight and we were still moving slowly.
After Mudder Press was Blockness Monster. We were informed by TMHQ we would have to bypass, due to a lack of lifeguards.
And then came another bright and sunny trudge to Funky Monkey. The sun, while it felt amazing, was definitely zapping what little energy we had left. We took a long break here. We finished the Gatorade we had and ate a snack while talking to the volunteers before continuing to move forward.
We made it to the third-mile marker at 1:27 p.m. and we were picked up by the RTV at 1:31 p.m.
We made it to the end of the course 8 minutes later. And while I was prepared to be swept off course, I realized at that moment that I wasn’t prepared to NOT have a finishing moment.
I didn’t have a pit crew this year because I didn’t want someone to essentially twiddle their thumbs for the better part of 24 hours while I never came in.
And I believe that lack of pit crew, that lack of ANYONE, to greet me REALLY messed with me emotionally. The finish area was almost as deserted as the course.
I started crying as I entered the pit area. Joe Van Tassel came up to me and gave me a big hug and I remember saying that I didn’t know why I was crying so much and essentially being told, “Of course you’re crying.”
As my pit area came into view and I caught sight of Victoria Graham and Scott Cole, I had more tears fall. I SWEAR I didn’t expect to cry like this at all.
I stayed a mess through packing up my pit space and starting the trip back to my car. I remember seeing Jolie Rodriguez as I trudged along to the shuttle line and giving her a big hug and probably crying again.
At one point as I moved through the pit area, my table fell from my wagon and I remember looking at it and at the member of TMHQ who walked by at the exact moment and saying to him, “That’s yours now. You can keep it.” But he put in back on my wagon for me.
My group ended up getting to shuttle with Kyle back to the parking area. And I was able to tell him that all I wanted was one of the pom-pom top beanies and we didn’t have any this year.
And I may have cried even more.
I stayed a bit of a mess through dinner. I slept off and on as Victoria drove Scott to his hotel and then us on to my apartment. Once there I took a hot shower and got into bed. As Victoria got into the bed we were sharing, she expressed concern about how hot my body was and back into the shower I went. This was a cold one, as cold as I could handle.
I crawled back into bed, feeling a little better but still very out of sorts and discombobulated.
The next morning I was still feeling the same. It all came to a head when Travis Langness walked up to me at the brunch and handed me something I didn’t expect.
This made me realize what REALLY had me out of sorts since the end of the race.
The lack of finish, essentially the lack of any sort of real ending to the race for me, had me feeling a little like I was still out on that course, waiting for someone else to help. I felt like I hadn’t crossed the finish line.
And as Travis handed me that patch, a patch that I had NO clue even existed and one that made me realize I was done, I reached my finish line. That ‘#assist1000mudders’ patch was my finisher headband.