Mud Puddles, Pride, and Spandex

When you’re deep in the first one, you can only hold on to one of the other two.

I’m one of those people who have a hard time asking for help. I’m not sure if it’s because of pride, stubbornness, or stupidity, but it’s a character flaw that has cost me considerable pain and suffering through the years, not to mention time and money. There are times, however, when you’ve got to suck it up and accept a hand to get yourself up and out of the mire.

I didn’t actually ask for help on the day I found myself hip-deep in a shoe-sucking mud pit. However, when strong hands shoved from below, and steely arms reached from above to propel me up the slippery bank, I’d like to think I was gracious in my acceptance, despite hearing my rescuers yell, “Get her out of the way!” Since the self-respect ship had long since sailed, I rolled onto my mud-coated back and burst out laughing as dozens of sneakered feet sailed over and around me.

It had been pride that brought me to the starting line of MudFest 2019 on that steaming summer morning and found me desperately trying to hold in my stomach as hundreds of spandex-clad, hard bodies meandered around me. The year before, I’d watched from the sidelines as my brother, Arthur, made his 3rd finish-line slide in our hometown’s annual mud run and race. Not to be outdone, I’d sworn then and there that I’d either do it or die trying. It was big talk—and I’d said it out loud in front of a lot of people. Pride said it was time to put up or shut up.

When my brother talked me through the course the night before, he’d given me advice on the best way to tackle the various obstacles, and tips on how to keep the mud out of my ears. He also recommended periodically tightening my drawstring to prevent my pants from sliding off. Wait…what? Of all the things I feared, including falling down and/or throwing up, losing my pants had never once crossed my mind.

Just before the starting horn blasted, I glanced down, hoping that the laws of physics assured that the spandex wrapped around me wasn’t going anywhere. As the horn sounded, I looked over at Lewis. Caught up in the previous night’s discussion of the event, my husband had temporarily forgotten the pin in his ankle and his iffy knee. Signing up at the last minute had seemed a bit crazy, even for him, but fear of missing out can be as contagious as measles, and he’d caught it. Outfitted in the best running shoes that $9 could buy at the 24-hour Walmart, and a pair of my baggy running shorts, finishing with his pants on might be the best he could hope for.

We weren’t fifty yards into the course when mud became the word of the day. It went against everything in me to sit down in the muck at the edge of a steep, slippery slope. I watched the feet of my predecessors fly out from under them, and decided that if I were going to land on my rear, I’d pick the arrival time. Plopping down, I pushed off, promptly lost control, spun wildly, and wiped out a family of three. “Sorry!” I yelled, flailing my arms. When I tried to stand, an 8-year-old demonstrated that all is fair in mud and war by unapologetically taking me out at the knees.

I was gasping for breath and the sun was broiling hot by the time we came to the floating bridge. I watched runners bob up and down on the rippling surface like drunks on a tilt-a-whirl. Arthur took the lead but was soon catapulted off the side by a rogue wave. A dozen steps behind him, I shot into the air like a champagne cork, my feet peddling wildly in flight. I hit the water and sank like a rock.

“Are you okay?” my brother yelled from upstream. “You were down a really long time!”

Sneezing lake water, I sent a weak thumbs-up, coughed, and thrashed my way to the bank, arriving just in time to see my husband skittering across the foam bridge like a spider on a lily pad. If I’d had enough oxygen, I’d have congratulated him on his technique, but the second I dragged myself to the grass, we were running again.

I’m not sure at what point we lost Lewis. He says that after he boosted me up and over a massive pipe in a deep ditch, all he saw was the soles of my shoes in the distance. Arthur ran alongside me until I set him free at the turn off for the 5-mile course option. He was already a speck in the distance when I turned down the 3-mile path.

Proving the old adage that ‘pride goeth before a fall,’ I later paused in a mud wallow to recuperate from a spectacularly executed face-plant, and watched the steady stream of runners sweeping past. Though some blew by with serious faces and determined strides, most bellowed with good-natured laughter as they wind-milled over slippery logs, yelped at the freezing spray from fire hoses, and belly-crawled under low-hanging nets.

Just when I could go no farther, a steep, plastic-covered slope marked the end of the race. Liberally lubricated by a stream of Dawn dish detergent that provided a wild, slip-and-slide finish, the finale provided comic relief for the appreciative audience at the bottom. I arose with soapy arms proudly raised in victory, and in retrospect, I’m almost certain that the same 8-year-old once again took me out at the knees.

Though we didn’t finish together, each of us slid triumphantly over the finish line, with heads held high and pants firmly in place. The faces of the bruised, scraped, and mud-spattered trio that peer out from the photo commemorating the event are as proud as any Olympians, and the medals held aloft represent our 3rd, 4th and 5th place finishes in our respective categories.

Next year I’ll know to check my pride when I step into my spandex, to never underestimate the velocity of a sliding 8-year-old, and that when you’re hot enough, a muddy puddle offers welcome relief. I’ll realize that $95 Nikes get just as wet as $9 Walmart sneakers, lake water tastes awful, and that when you’re up to your rear in mud, there is no shame at all in accepting a hand up.

By Susan Frampton