"I've decided that perhaps I'm bulimic and just keep forgetting to purge."

-- Paula Poundstone

Sunday, July 31, 2011

My God, I'm a Warrior


I had given up on it about a month ago. Well, I had given up on myself about a month ago.

That's when I decided I wasn't going to do the Warrior Dash.

I had signed up for this "mud-crawling, fire-leaping, extreme run from hell" back in January. At the time, I was a few weeks into a renewed commitment to weight loss and exercise. I was in a groove. I was winning. An adventure in which "warriors conquer extreme obstacles, push their limits and celebrate with kick-ass music, beer and warrior helmets" sounded right up my alley.

And then March hit.

I made the St. Patrick's Day 5K Walk in Bay City (my second 5K in the past year, in addition to the 5-mile Mackinac Bridge walk) the grand finale to a weight loss challenge between a co-worker and me. In the first three months of the year, I lost nearly 30 pounds (a total of around 50 since last year).

And then I stopped. Screechingly, if such a word exists.

I didn't start gaining weight, which is remarkably different from all other times in my life, including last year, but I did stop all weight loss efforts after three months, which seems to be my M.O. for some reason.

For three months, I have the dietary discipline of a devout nun and the training regimen of an NFL pre-seasoner. And then … nothing.

So, it was during this March-through-July period of, uh, maintenance (sure, we'll go with that) that I decided I must've been high when I registered for the Warrior Dash. There was no way I could scale walls, belly crawl under barbed wire and slosh through mud throughout a 5K in FREAKING JULY. I still can't run much without getting dangerously winded in any type of weather.

I decided I wasn't going to kill myself. Or even worse, embarrass myself.

And then Friday hit. Facebook friends started talking about their excitement, their nervousness, their giddiness about the next day's race. "The Craziest Frickin' Day of Your Life," organizers claim.

All around, there was Warrior Dash camaraderie. Pep talks. Smack talk.

And I felt like a loser.

I said as much in a status update, and my friends came to the rescue. They reassured me that they were nervous. They were out of shape. But they were going to try.

So would I.

I hit the Warrior Dash trail at 10:30 a.m. Saturday. I had heard one report of a broken leg near the fire jump. These things happen, I reasoned. Then about a mile into it, I moved to the side of the trail to let an emergency cart pass as it carried a woman on a stretcher, her leg and ankle in a makeshift brace.

A skinny woman. A woman in much better shape than I am. I trudged along, saying a little prayer now.

God answered my prayers right afterward when friends Tim and Ilona came up behind me, asking if I wanted company. A few minutes later, my pal Kristy yelled my name. She had decided to hold back and wait for me.

Any of the three of them could have finished a lot faster, left me in the mud. But they stayed beside me.

The four of us cheered each other through each of the 12 grueling obstacles. Together, we rolled over junked cars, climbed walls, jumped fire and trudged through mud that sucked at our shoes with amazing force. (I saw four abandoned shoes near my waist at one point. There had to be many more sunk deep near my feet.)

Of the dozen obstacles, I abandoned only one: The Great Warrior Wall. It was here that an ambulance was parked, lights on, as emergency personnel worked to hoist a Warrior on a gurney, her neck in a brace. I grabbed the rope and made it a good third of the way up, having promised myself that I would attempt every challenge.

Then I looked at the woman on the gurney, who obviously had fallen off the wall on the way up. My arms shook. I couldn't get sure-footed. I heard my heart pounding in my ears. And I looked back down at the woman on the gurney.

I accepted my limitations and went around.

I went on to finish the race in about an hour and a half. That is damn near the worst time I saw. I did nothing with grace. My friend Matt said my entry into the last obstacle, the "Muddy Mayhem," was the ugliest and most awkward he saw all day.

But I finished.

As I sat in the sun afterward, listening to music and celebrating with friends, I sipped a beer and looked around. Every single person there was smiling, most especially me.

For on this day that I was sure would kill me, I realized that for the first time in a long time, I felt alive.