obstacle course races

Stumbling into gratitude

I stood at the bottom of the mountain, penned in a box with 150 other participants, thinking of my typical Saturday routine. Sleep in a little, maybe meditate, then sit down with a fresh cup of coffee to write while Rooney sleeps on my feet. 

Today, instead of sipping hot coffee, I was staring disbelievingly at the side of the mountain that I was about run as part of the 2018 Tough Mudder Half. A mountain that in winter, is reserved for skiing.

Down.

Not running up.

So that’s a hill. And those specs are people…

So that’s a hill. And those specs are people…

All around me people were fidgeting. Some were jumping up and down, others were cracking their necks, while a select few others were screaming.

Like just randomly screaming.

Loudly. 

I stood, cemented in place, unable to shut off the steady stream of sarcasm rolling through my mind.

I looked at my teammate Lauren. 

“I’m not doing this next year,” I said.

“Yes I know. You said that last year, so I’ll remind you that you told me that when we’re standing in line for next year’s race.” 

We both laughed. 

I stopped laughing abruptly. 

“Yeah, that’s totally going to happen again isn’t it?” I asked.

“Yup,” she said. “Totally.”

*****

Next thing I know, we’re schlepping our way up the side of the mountain and I’m dishing out a healthy stream of bad one-liners. 

“Why would I want to be at home drinking coffee and watching College Game Day?” I asked to no one in particular. A guy who was doing his 100th race swept past. 

“Because this is so much more fun!” 

“Yes,” I said. “Yes fun. That’s the word I was searching for right there. Thank you.”

I’m not always proud of my sarcasm, because I know it bumps up pretty hard against negativity. I toe that line of negativity and often cross it, and I crossed it a lot more on Saturday than I wish I had.

Humor is how I cope. And Saturday’s course provided a lot of opportunities to work on coping skills. This was by far the most difficult course I’d ever attempted.

Towards the end of the run, once we had sponges for shoes and mud in places you never thought mud could go, we came around a corner to another mountain. But this one was too steep for walking. We had to scale the mountain on all fours. 

I’d like you to take a moment to recall the famous Chevy Chase tirade about a happy family from the movie Christmas vacation. 

Then add another minute of expletives.

That’s roughly what came out of my mouth at the bottom of that mountain - sans the Santa hat.

There was no way around this obstacle. Literally, the only way out was up. So all of us, many of whom shared my thoughts, threw ourselves into the mountain and just started climbing. 

Half-way up the mountain, I lost my footing. Up to that point I’d been methodically choosing my footholds and hand holds, moving quickly, not giving myself enough time to think.

But suddenly, I had nowhere to put my foot or my hands. I looked down. 

If you do this course next year, let me give you some casual advice when you arrive at this stage of the race. 

FOR THE LOVE OF ALL THINGS SACRED DO NOT LOOK DOWN. 

So then I looked up. And I’d like to take a moment here to add a second piece of advice. 

FOR THE LOVE OF ALL THINGS SACRED DO NOT LOOK UP. 

Not gonna lie - I kind of panicked a little. (I don’t think I peed my pants, but it was hard to tell, since I was drenched.)

But here is what’s cool about these kind of races. I said I was stuck, and the woman behind me put her hand up for me to step on it. So I did. And I was able to get my footing again, and after a few minutes, I could see flags in the distance and hear my teammates cheering me on at the top. 

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(When people cheer for me in sports, they can’t help but call me Kimmie, because they need that extra syllable. And for some reason, in that context, I find the name Kimmie oddly comforting).

Once I hit level ground and could stand up, I leaned up against a tree to catch my breath. I looked out at the view. I looked down at the others still climbing. 

And in that moment, I stumbled straight into gratitude. 

Gratitude that I have a body that allows me to scale a mountain. Gratitude that I didn’t have to go it alone. Gratitude for my health. Gratitude for a growing sense of camaraderie with my teammates, many of whom I had the good fortune of getting to know a little better on Saturday.

At the end of the night, a shower never felt so good. Sweatpants never felt so warm. And my bed never felt so soft. And I was grateful for all of those comforts.

But I’m not doing this next year….

One foot in front of the other

One foot in front of the other.

This was my mantra. It’s what popped into my head as I jogged the first two flights of stairs at the Fenway Park Spartan Sprint over the weekend.

By the time I bear crawled the last two flights of stairs at the start of the race, my legs were garbage. 

One foot in front of the other.

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We jogged around the stadium, weaving our way through the seats and up stairs. I didn't feel like I was in my body.

I slowed to a walk as I went down stairs, and heaved my way up the stairs, worrying that if I tried to go faster, my wasted legs would miss a step and I’d face plant into the concrete.

The last few weeks have been a struggle. And my body felt every bit of that struggle on Saturday. 

I’ve talked openly about my journey with depression - and some of you may recall my story from 2005, when it was a failed run that helped open my eyes to my misery. It was as a result of that run that I realized that maybe, just maybe, life could be better than either awful or just ok. 

I slugged my way to the second obstacle  - box jumps - and looked out at the field, at the Green Monster where other runners were racing in front of me. 

For the first time, I considered that this might be the first race in which I participated and never finished. 

I watched women half my age effortlessly jumping up and down onto the concrete box and tried to will myself to do the same. But my legs weren’t having it. I did my step ups and thought, one foot in front of the other. 

Then I went back to my mantra - one that I’ve used in races in the past - I am strong, I am capable. 

But I didn’t believe it. 

I kept going, keeping up with my Spurling teammates as best I could, doing obstacles where I could and burpees where I couldn’t (83 to be exact). And all along, repeating my mantra.

I am strong, I am capable. 

One foot in front of the other.

I didn't believe the first phrase and was struggling mightily with the second. 

I don’t know if I ever believed that I was strong or I was capable last Saturday. But I kept telling myself anyway.

Don't get me wrong - there were plenty of other thoughts going through my mind. The usual negative soundtrack was playing. But I tried to interrupt it as often as possible.  

In talking to many clients over the past few weeks, I know that much of life has felt the same for you. The time change (which is no small thing), being without power for a week, whatever the case may be, many of you have struggled as well.

I'm not sure what you think in times of struggle. Maybe you've also told yourself things that you just couldn't quite believe - trying to interrupt your own negative thoughts. 

I am strong, I am capable.

I can do this.

I will do this.  

It can be really tough to give ourselves a positive message in hard times. It's a practice and one that I'm not great at. But I'm learning, slowly, to deliver the positive messages where I can, even when I don't believe them. Because eventually, we absorb it. We start to live it. And gradually, we feel it. 

By Sunday morning I was feeling a little more myself. And I tried to remind myself that I survived. 

Life can feel really hard. It can feel like a struggle. Those peaks and valleys will always happen. 

But we get through them. And hopefully come out a little stronger on the other side.