I always thought flowers were best for vases and carefully arranged pots around my deck. The thought of sticking my hands into fresh earth was terrifying. I might get dirt under my nails, or worse, touch a worm. It never bothered me when my kids would play in the mud, just as long as they didn’t get it near me. I spent many years spot cleaning white tennis shoes each day to keep them bright and thoroughly rinsing flip-flops of any trace of sandy beaches. I even carried baby wipes long after the kids were out of diapers, then graduated to laundry stain wipes like Shout.
I don’t do dirt.
I also don’t sweat.
It’s not that I’m high maintenance.
Okay, maybe a little high maintenance. But mostly, I’m just not that adventurous and getting dirty takes a bit of an adventurous spirit. Getting dirty usually means stepping out of my comfort zone in a big way. So when my polar opposite friends asked if I would like to participate in a muddy 5k obstacle course called Mud Factor my answer was pretty clear.
I signed up on the spot.
Either I was overly medicated or intoxicated when I said yes, because this was completely out of my comfort zone and definitely out of character. My friends were just as stunned as I was, I think. For several months we just avoided the topic all together so as not to freak me out too soon. But of course, days before the event I started to get terrible stomach aches realizing what I had really gotten myself into this time.
As the group of us stood at the starting line, I wondered if anyone would notice if I silently slipped out of line. I could see a few of the obstacles in the distance. There were very tall walls to scale and ropes to climb. I’m afraid of heights. There was a giant water slide into a mud pit. I’m afraid of water slides, they go too fast. There were several logs to run across swampy water. I have no balance. Things looked pretty bleak.
And then, the race started.
The first steps across the starting line were precarious as I tried to lightly tread through the muddy path. Once I made it to the first giant sand dune, I felt pretty confident that the running part was not going to be an issue. It also became pretty clear that most every obstacle had an “out”. You could find an easier path and I started reciting the children’s story about “Going on a Bear Hunt” in my head.
Can’t go over it. Can’t go under it. Can’t go through it. Gotta go around it.
However, at each obstacle I gained more and more confidence and plowed through rather than go around. Yet, there was minimal evidence that I was indeed participating in a mud run. Until we got to our first real watery mess. One of my team mates decided to christen the backs of my legs, arms and body with a huge splash of brown mud. His exuberant stomping resulted in a thick layer of earth on my backside.
Then the next obstacle staring at me was a sludgy water hole that required crawling through it and under a fallen log to get to the other side. As I gingerly stepped into the pool of water, my shoes filled up with slime.
“This is so disgusting!” I shrieked, feeling paralyzed.
In response, one of my dearest friends proceeded to splash me, covering my face with the murkiness. Mud slid down my cheeks, falling into my sports bra. I immediately dropped to all fours and practically rolled under the log, chasing after my crew, catching a mouthful of grit and sand. Once on the other side, I couldn’t help but laugh. My white socks were now black and falling into my shoes. My clothes stuck to my body, a layer of clay was quickly drying to my skin in the 90 degree heat. From that moment on, I embraced the dirt, even as it crept into unspeakable parts at each obstacle. I scaled walls, climbed ropes, trudged through swamps and even belly crawled under wires through a mud pit all with a smile on my face. It took us about an hour to get through the whole obstacle course, but no one was left behind. We all stuck together, helped each other over, and encouraged anyone who fell down or fell behind. I found my adventurous side, and let go of many of my fears. I found a new love and respect for my body and certainly have a greater sense of trust in my friends. The right people bring out the best in us. The right people help us believe in ourselves and be the person we might not even have realized we wanted to be. It turned out to be one of the most unexpected fun experiences and I would totally do it again.
Just not too soon.
I’m still getting dirt out of my ears.