When I became a runner it was one of the most powerful and inspiring experiences to cross that first finish line. With each new distance added or PR achieved we get that same rush and feeling of accomplishment. Every once in a while though you experience something new altogether that changes your perspective. There’s a joke that running is cheap therapy. If you’ve ever paid for a season of races and shoes to match you’ll realize it isn’t really as cheap as we’d like to think it is. For most of us though it brings clarity and relaxation.
I had the opportunity to run in Chicago’s Mudderella event. While the event isn’t exclusive to women, any men wishing to participate must be on a team with women who invite them to join. The tag line which is echoed throughout the event, own your strong, really resonated with me. I’ve done all women races before but not like this. The creators (all women) designed the course and challenges specifically to uplift and empower women to find their strength (both inner and outer) and let it shine.
As soon as we walked up to the race site you could feel the energy. Excited women who had completed the run already were grinning through mud stained faces and others eagerly waiting to check their bags and get started. We quickly dropped off our spare clothes at gear check and headed over to the starting line. Before you get there you’re greeted by a trainer who despite doing the same warm up for the last few hours still gives you just as much as enthusiasm as if you were her first group. We stretched, strengthened and got hyped up to start the race.
I use the term race loosely, only because no one was being timed and it was really more like going on an adventure with your friends. So now onto the event breakdown by obstacle:
- Down to the wire: this is your typical crawl through the mud under a wire obstacle, no frills just good old fashioned dirty fun
- 50 Shades of Mud: mounds of mud followed by pits of dirty water, I’m not sure how many mounds we had to climb but I saw women at each one helping to pull or push each other up and over them. I had a newbie with me so I went over each mound first to help show her the best foot placements and then pulled her up when I got to the top to make sure she got to the top also. This is one of my favorite obstacles as it poses a challenge but is easy enough for most to get through it without too much trouble.
- Skinny Jeans: if you’re a bit claustrophobic this one might be a problem for you, basically you slide head first through a tube into a splash of dirty muddy water. Thankfully I didn’t slide too fast and was able to keep my head above the water as I reached the end of the tunnel.
- Dirty Downward Dog: I have to admit I wasn’t sure if I would be able to do this one. At first glance it looked to be impossible for a person of short stature like myself. My friend took the lead on this one and assured me that I would be able to reach. There’s a set of parallel walls with water in between and you have to use your best yoga/plank pose to get across. My fear was that the space between the walls was too far for me to be able to reach but thankfully I didn’t have a problem and made it from one end to the other.
- Head Over Heels: think back to your young days of field days and block parties, remember pairing up with a friend to make a human wheelbarrow? That’s exactly what this obstacle was with a partner switch halfway through. My partner and I had about a foot in height differential so we definitely struggled but eventually made it through.
- New Heights: walls. I hate climbing walls. Every OCR I have ever done my arch nemesis are the walls because A. I almost never make it over and B. they give me the most battle wounds. This was a brand new day though because I was able to make it over the walls (with a lot of help from random kind strangers). I still ended up with scratches and bruises but I’ll wear those as a badge of honor to my triumph over the dreaded walls.
- Surprise Party: this one wasn’t on the website and I’m glad we weren’t the first ones to arrive at this particular obstacle. What first appeared to just be a giant mud pit to wade through was actually a sort of submerged version of the 50 Shades of Mud. Teams of women locked arm in arm spanned the pit in lines to help guide each other through the hilly underwater terrain. If you were the first one to get here and tried to just run through it you would most definitely be in for a not so pleasant surprise.
- Groundhog Day: again, if you’re not into small spaces this might not be the one for you. You climb through a muddy tunnel under a mole hill.
- Tough Ta Ta’s: a bit of a twist on the traditional wall climbs, this one was shorter but had a rope on each side to help you pull yourself up as you climbed over the wall.
- I’ve Got Your Back: another partner challenge, you gave a piggy back ride to a fellow runner and switched halfway. My running buddy refused to let me carry her so we decided to find another pair who were more suited to our individual heights and carried them across.
- Car Wash, Yeah: soapy, foamy goodness. You get sprinkled with some suds as you enter this gallery of pool noodles and sprinklers that help to clean you up a bit. I’m not sure I felt any cleaner afterwards but I certainly felt refreshed. I also couldn’t stop singing the car wash song…
- Wheels In Motion: another obstacle where teamwork is key. You swing from tire to tire to make it across, but we made it a bit easier for each other by waiting at each tire for the person behind us to step on to help keep each other balanced. It may have taken a bit longer but we all made it and not a single one of us fell off the tires.
- Hat Trick: last year I ran a race that had a giant slide at the end which I thought was pretty scary. This was worse. First you fling yourself at a cargo net climb assisted by a springboard. Once you ascend the cargo wall you find yourself on a platform staring down a giant slide into a pool of water. Sounds easy enough right? Well as I reached the front of the platform and sat down to slide I realized the platform actually extended past the slide so essentially you had to scoot your butt until your cheeks had nothing left to cling to and in a moment of pure bravery and courage let go to drop onto the slide. This was really a leap of faith for me and I don’t think I’ve ever had such a pure charge of adrenaline as I scooted to the point of no return. You just have to let go of fear and allow yourself to enjoy the rush of freedom as you coast down the slide. Just typing this I can feel my stomach in knots all over again thinking about how I felt at the top of that platform. Seriously, scary, but fun and totally worth it!
I would absolutely without a doubt run Mudderella again. From on course aid stations to the post-race party, the organizers exceeded expectations in every area. The energy bars at the second water station gave me the fuel I needed to charge on and the Strongbow cider at the finish line was a crisp delicious toast to victory well earned. I saw so much teamwork and empowerment that it renewed my faith in women’s ability to help lift each other up instead of tearing each other down. All along the course I saw countless teams make sure all of their members were accounted for and staying strong. Each obstacle strangers helped each other do whatever it took to get EVERYONE up, under or through the challenge. This was the first time I was able to conquer each and every obstacle in a race. I left Mudderella feeling proud, strong and more than anything unstoppable.