I knew it was up ahead at some point because friends told me about it something like 1.5 hours before I was there. But there I was now, standing in front of a pond of freezing cold black water with a big sign that someone had scrawled in over sized childlike writing "MUST SWIM."
This is the story of my weekend; me, the girl who not only cannot swim, but has water terror.
Last year, some of my friends from boot camp went to a mud run somewhere in the cold parts of Florida. These friends are people who essentially make physical fitness a party in a good way, not to mention that running is a big part of their lives. Included in that small group is "S," retired navy officer and jet pilot. Best of the best. Whenever I am in a boot camp class with S I know I try harder. He sets the bar very high for himself, so I know that even if I cannot do what he does, I need to always do my best. He's a quiet reminder that anytime I think there's something I cannot do, I can do more than I think I can. Not to mention he is always very positive for the rest of us, cheering what seems like meager accomplishments compared to his own physical abilities. He is exactly what you would expect from someone with his experiences... tall, proud, exceedingly polite and gracious. I'd say "still waters run deep" is a good phrase to use because he doesn't talk too much about specific experiences, but I know enough at this point in my life that people like S are absolutely more than a cut above the rest of us, that he is a completely different breed. When he is in boot camp class he is like a machine. I admire and look up to him, although I usually am so in awe of him, I don't just go around saying things like "you're amazing," but of course that is what we all think, myself included.
So, those friends went on that mud run, S included. Somehow at some point, I agreed to go with the group this year. When I agreed, it was about 9 or 10 months ago. I thought the day would never come where I'd REALLY be camping with this group of people, running an obstacle course in a cold part of Florida, far away from home. Imagine my surprise when that day actually came.
There was a lot of planning involved, but the core group is very experienced at traveling for things like mud runs, tris, half marathons, marathons and so forth. They do this quite often. For me this was getting completely out of my comfort zone. I registered for the event, paid, and began my own preparations, which essentially was me asking constantly "what should I bring, what do you need, what can I do to carry my weight."At some point I began to pay better attention to my own physical training, tracking my running times, working out harder, and paying close attention to the fuel that went into my body (bye bye sugar).
At one point a few weeks ago, for kicks I logged onto the event website to see the obstacles. They don't publish them when you register, its a surprise and different every year. So, when I registered, there was nothing specific for this year, but I think it said there were 13 of them spread over a little 5k. I knew what they did last year, it was tough, but nothing to convince me not to join them. When I logged on, I saw a wall. It looked big. I would have to climb up it, over it, and then down the back. I got pretty scared. I don't have good upper body strength, and the picture of the wall showed ropes, but no knots to help. I shut the site off, and never went back on.
I packed gear, food, camping comforts such as they would be, and woke way before dawn the day of departure. Arrangements were made long ago for my absence here; I had my friend K come and handle the kitchen while I would be gone. All that I had to worry about was camping, and doing the event. My goals were pretty simple. Keep up with the group. Don't be a weak link. Finish. Reasonable goal setting I thought.
The group arrived in central Florida early afternoon and we began setting up camp. My friend M, also from boot camp, has a camper. A REALLY nice camper. I didn't ask many questions about logistics before we left. I was happy I called shotgun on her camper last year which meant no tent camping for me. Beyond that I didn't need to know anything, I already was happy enough. As we got about 1 hour away from the destination, on the way to pick up her camper from an RV park in central Florida, somehow it came out that it was an Airstream. Oh my goodness I thought, I have just won the lottery.
Before I knew it, we were setting up camp, and I was actually putting my blanket and pillow lugged from home onto a bunk.... with sheets. There was a fridge and freezer. Running water, and more. Are you understanding why I was declaring myself at that moment the happiest person in camp. Yes, indeed I was.
The night progressed, food, beverages, a campfire. S on patrol, overseeing everything, making sure we were safe and protected. It was so much fun, that night was great. The race was the next day, our wave was scheduled for 12:30.
Morning broke, they had their breakfast, I had mine. Everything was going well. S was running the race twice. First early in the morning for time, then with us, for fun with his camera/video on a 3 foot pole. We all prepared, and off he went. We went to cheer him. You cannot see most of the course, its winding, through some rolling hills, and like I said, it's 5k. We pressed against the "finish" fence which was close to the fire jumping. We saw him coming around a bend. You just know its him.... he runs with perfect military posture and precision. We yelled and screamed, but among thousands of others he couldn't hear us. He came off the line, was cheered by the group, tons of hugs and pictures were taken. Then he was gone. I'm not sure when or what happened, but at some point he pulled our boot camp instructor aside and said "we have a problem." He told H (our instructor) that one of the obstacles was deep water which required swimming. Everyone knows I cannot swim, and its not just an I can't swim situation, its that I have water terror. At some point back in camp after S's wave, and before our wave, I was told about the water. I panicked. I went away, and breakfast also went away. When I got back to rejoin the camp, I decided that a little liquid courage was in order (haters, just don't hate on this one) and soon enough I was happy girl dancing with my iPod. I was told I could walk around the obstacle if I didn't want to go in. I said I didn't want to walk around, I didn't come that far to fail.
I wasn't sure how I would handle the situation, but I'd figure it out when I came face to face with it. Somehow my worries about climbing a wall were no longer worries.
I ditched my iPod and we all headed over as a group for our start time. I was still pretty much happy dancing girl at that point, just without the iPod. It was a pretty big event, thousands of people, loud music to get us all amped up; crazy was the order of the day. We were all herded together, hundreds, thousands maybe, in our wave. The horn blew, and we were off. Running on a sand trail I wanted to settle into my pace, and I was told immediately "slow down." I was ok, and protested. I was told again "slow down." This by one of the last year's runners from our group. So, I heeded the advice. We ran the trail, which was almost entirely sand, and came upon the first obstacle. A pretty deep mud pit. I didn't think it was bad, I stayed near the edges so it only came up just past my knees. Exiting the pit my legs felt double their weight from the mud caked upon my shoes.
We went on.
I'm not sure when it happened, but it was early, maybe even the next obstacle. I came around a bend, the course opened up straight, and there it was. The pond with freezing cold black water. To the left was a large sign with "MUST SWIM" scrawled upon. Then an arrow pointed at the pond. I ran to the edge and stood. I looked down, it was black as oil, not a single inch of visibility. All around me people were jumping in and screaming because it was so cold. Large splashes of muddy black water began to coat and sting me. I ran to the right where I saw a slim yellow rope no one was near. The lifeguard was right there. I said mostly to myself, a little bit to her "I'll just use that rope, it will get me to the middle, after that where the rope ends, I can just hold the sides of the pit and claw my way holding the wall through the second half" or something like that. I was thinking that was exactly what I would do, when my panicked musings were interrupted by said lifeguard. "Its really deep there, really deep." I looked at her. She was young and fit. I said "I can't swim." She told me I could walk around the obstacle. I told her no, I had to figure how to get through the water. She said there was no other way, I had to go in, and it would be over my head. I went back to where I was before, far away from the really deep side. At some point I realized everyone I was with was either across the pond already, or in the water. I really began to survey the entire situation. There were skinny yellow ropes for the first third. Then there was a set of interlocking floats that created a rectangle in the center separating that middle section of water to swim across. You'd have to scramble up the floating dock, plunge back in, swim, scramble up more floats, plunge back in and swim the final leg to get to the far end. The water got progressively deeper, so I was told. Or, you could swim the entire length by avoiding the floats in the middle, but that was the deepest part, thus my plan of clawing my way across the sides wouldn't work. Besides, even though it was mud, it felt more like ice. Slick. Slippery.
Since my plan wouldn't work, I had to figure a different solution. I looked down into the water, and saw my boot camp instructor in the black water calling to me. She said go around, or if I come in, they would help me. I said "how deep, can I touch" she said no, I couldn't touch, but hold the rope, get to the floats, and she stood showing me how deep. She's taller than me, so her head was a bit above the water. She then told me the last bit of info I needed which was "its a straight drop right in."
There I was standing on the edge of the black water pond, surrounded yet completely alone. I looked one last time at the sign. "MUST SWIM." It had not changed by some miracle. I dropped to my ass, swung my legs in, reached out, grabbed that very skinny yellow slick mud covered line, and dropped straight down. The rope of course completely bowed once my weight was upon it and I was under.