Six Days of Boston: Next Time I’m Bringing a Defibrillator and a Spare Liver

My visits home to Massachusetts always seem to unfold the same way: Spend the first few nights partying in Boston, reluctantly drag myself to the sprawling metropolis known as Central Mass (not reluctant because I don’t want to see my family, but because it’s just not Boston), continue the partying at family gatherings for a couple more nights (where “night” = “start boozing by 3PM every day”), walk around like a zombie for the final day or two in Fitchburg, realize how F-ing boring it is once I’m stuck there by myself on a weekday where everyone I know is working, hightail it back to Boston.

Basically if you’re in Massachusetts and want to hang out with the fun version of me, you’ll want to find me in Boston or during the first two days of my return to Fitchburg. For the people who had to see me in my final two days of this most recent trip, I’m sorry.

This was a Memorial Day trip, but I’m just now getting around to posting because there’s always a one-week adjustment period when I get back to the real world. The alcohol and junk food withdrawals tend to mess with my sleeping patterns and therefore my productivity level.

If you’re thinking, “Ross, why the hell would I wanna hear about your trip back to Massachusetts? Do you really think you’re that interesting?” …I hear ya, but all I can do is promise that you’ll laugh at least once during the next several hundred words. As a matter of fact, to laugh immediately just scroll down to the bottom where I unveil the ridiculousness that was my diet for six days.

I have no way to organize the following thoughts because they are all jumbled together in my head. Let’s just go with whatever pops into my memory first:

  • With some time to spare on the afternoon I landed in Boston before meeting up with a college friend, I decided walking through the Copley/Boylston Street area where the Marathon bombs went off was the best course of action. I honestly had no idea if there was a memorial of any kind out there on the streets to all the victims of Marathon Monday, but I figured it couldn’t hurt to check it out. After a quick Jr. Bacon Cheeseburger at the Boylston St. Wendy’s, I was off to pay my respects. Below are a few of the pictures I took when I made my way over to the makeshift memorial across the street from the Boston Public Library. But as for the atmosphere, I can only describe it as hushed, calm, respectful, and of course a little eery. Not something you’d expect from one of the busier streets in the city.

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  • For those of us that were born and/or raised in Massachusetts and had been lucky enough to never experience any major tragedies that hit close to home, this Marathon terrorist attack ended that streak almost certainly. It feels like everyone knows someone who was injured, or knows someone who knows someone who was injured. It’s one thing to hear the crazy stories from secondary sources, but it’s something entirely different when a person who was hurt during the bombings is recapping the experience as you look on from three feet away. Hearing a dad say he was pretty certain his son, who had just crossed the finish line before the first bomb went off, was dead, and then hearing him say that his son thought he was dead when the second bomb went off…just a different level of a major tragedy sticking with you.
  • The details still need to be figured out, but I’m confident that we’re getting a group of people from Fitchburg together to run next year’s Boston Marathon, with the goal being to raise money for all those affected this past year, and to specifically honor the family we all grew up with who was hurt on that Monday in April (though none of them critically injured, thank god).
  • OK, enough with the grimness, right? Right. Well, if you happen to be in your thirties and feel like you’re lacking a bit in maturity, just know that there are people in your age range who still need their mother to write their names in marker on their toothbrushes or else they’ll forget whose is whose and accidentally share the same one. I know because I live with these people whenever I go home.
  • And in possibly the greatest example of someone simply not giving a fuck about his appearance in public, I went to the movie theater with a guy in Fitchburg who strolled in wearing a fancy dress shirt on top and sweatpants on the bottom. So if you’re 35 years old and can dress yourself and remember what color your toothbrush is, you’re doing better than at least one person your age.
  • Speaking of acting their age, good to see my grandparents finally acting more like the 80-year-olds that they are. My grandfather has a history of saying borderline inappropriate things to women that dates back to the FDR administration. But it’s always been contained to good-natured joking, and only when the woman he’s talking about is present. But on his way out of my Dad’s house over Memorial Day weekend, he looked me in the eyes, made sure I was paying attention, and said, “Tell Julie I said hi and that I’ve been thinking about her.” Julie, of course, is my girlfriend who was 3,000 miles away at the time, and was presumably NOT thinking about my grandfather. Though I’m kind of afraid to ask…maybe they have some strange connection that I didn’t pick up on the last time they were in the same room together.
  • And this trip home marked the moment my grandmother gave up even trying to half-remember things I told her during my last visit. First she asked me how my book was coming along. I told her I was never writing a book, and she basically got mad at me for lying. I told her I’ve been working on TV and film the entire time. But I’m sure she’s telling people right now that my book-writing is going OK. Then she asked me if I’m still finishing up school in September, which I’ve never told her because I’ve been randomly signing up for classes whenever something looks good. So why would I tell people I had a target end date to my school work? Then she asked me if I ever write about my dog with my comedy stories. I told her the dog doesn’t play into my writing very often. So about five minutes later in front of a group of eight other people, she announced that my sex life was suffering because my dog is always in the bed with me and my girlfriend. I had no conversations with her in between the things I just told you above, but she somehow created this sexless narrative based on the few things I told her about writing, comedy and my dog. At least now we can all re-calibrate our opinion of her. Because after my grandparents left the house on Saturday night, at least two people said, “Oh, your grandmother is so sharp for her age.” Really? Did we switch the meaning of sharp recently and no one told me?
  • Not to be outdone, my other grandmother asked me one day later if I remember playing with my Mom’s dog, Bruno, who died when my Mom was like 12 or something. I need to learn to just say “yes” to any question or assumption my grandparents make at this point. It will save me hours of miscommunications.
  • But the socially-inept people that I hang out with apparently aren’t limited to my grandparents. At one BBQ I attended, I felt like I had to make small talk with a guy that was sitting next to me on the couch, so I said, “Oh, congrats. I heard you guys have a little one on the way soon.” His response was a 15-minute rant about his wife’s period, or lack thereof. I promise there are plenty of acceptable ways to discuss your wife’s pregnancy, but going into elaborate details about the tardiness of her period is not one of them. Whatever, the party had good hotdogs at least.
  • So the real reason I was home for this particular weekend was to attend a benefit event for a high school buddy who passed away last November. His family organized a great event with a ton of raffle prizes and a live auction (where I proceeded to field remote bids from my brother on items such as a signed Tom Brady jersey, a chainsaw and a cord of wood. We were outbid on every one of those items).

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  • But I don’t know if that’s the right setting for grown adults to be running around giving each other ball taps and hitting on the grieving friends of the guy who died. I haven’t been to a lot of benefit dinners though, so maybe I’m the one who doesn’t fully understand the etiquette?
  • Everyone that I saw over my six days home complimented my afro (aka “gray bush”). People just going out of their way to say they like when I have long hair, which I’m growing for good luck for the Bruins by the way. It’s like my version of the lucky playoff beard since I still can’t grow dark facial hair. Anyway, I can’t figure out for the life of me if these people really do like my hair in its afro state, or if they all got together before my visit and came up with this big practical joke to pay me back for everything bad I’ve ever done to them. If that’s the case, I’d just have to say well played, everybody. Well played.
  • Serious question: If a person talks throughout an entire movie at the theater—I’m talking repeats every line of the movie out loud to his significant other—is it OK to hit him? I bet you said yes. What if instead of a man it was a woman? Would you still say yes? I still say yes. Lucky for me she only ruined the worst comedy movie ever made.
  • Here’s why true Red Sox fans shouldn’t be upset at all with the drop in attendance at Fenway Park this year: Tickets were so hard to come by when I was in college that I was one of those people who slept on the sidewalk overnight while waiting in line for Red Sox-Yankees tickets. For the game I went to on Memorial Day against Philly, a group of four of us strolled up to the day-of-game ticket window one hour before the game and bought four seats at face value. And in theory, we could have picked any section of the ballpark to sit in. If that’s what the end of the sellout streak means, then I officially hope the teams I root for can never fill their stadiums again.
  • But here’s the moment where I almost decided not to be a Red Sox fan anymore. The ticket window that’s specifically for day-of-game sales has moved, and now it’s kind of inside one of the entrances. And there’s a Red Sox employee that tells people who enter that area that they’ll have to go directly into the ballpark once they purchase their tickets, even if it’s 5:15PM and the game doesn’t begin until 7:10PM. But then you ask the person at the ticket window about leaving that area with your tickets, and he says it’s perfectly fine. So you buy the tickets and then that first person who said you’d be stuck inside the park really tries to make it happen. But then you realize he has absolutely no authority, maybe even less authority than you have at that very moment, and you simply move a barrier and exit the park. After discussing this whole  scenario that played out when we bought the tickets with my group, we realized the Red Sox wanted to make it seem to people as if they had to enter the park right away so that most people would do so and obviously spend a bunch of extra money during the time leading up to the game, but they have absolutely no lawful way to enforce this. It just feels so unnecessarily sketchy to me. I know these owners want to squeeze every penny out of their fans, but come on. I can’t think of any other reason they would have this soft enforcer trying to persuade people to go immediately to their seats two hours before the game.
  • Final sports note: If there’s one thing I miss about Boston, it’s the palpable buzz that energizes all parts of the city when one of our teams has a big game on the horizon. We got a large group together for the Bruins-Rangers game 4, and walking around the city all day leading up to that game, you could feel the excitement. It’s unlike anything I’ve seen in the other two major cities I’ve lived in. I need to return for more big playoff moments.

And now, the moment you’ve probably all been waiting for. I mentioned just before my trip back East how bad my eating habits are when I’m traveling or away from home for an extended period of time. I just want to show you all how bad this sickness gets for me. And there’s really no reason for me to embellish this list, so I promise I won’t:

Wednesday

  • Bacon, egg and cheese breakfast sandwich at airport in LA
  • Jr. Bacon Cheeseburger, fries, Diet Coke at Wendy’s on Boylston St.
  • A home-cooked meal of oven-roasted chicken and sweet potatoes, made by my Wednesday night hosts (and easily the only thing I ate all weekend that could be described as “reasonably healthy”)

Thursday

  • Carnitas Super Burrito, Diet Coke from Anna’s Taqueria
  • Turkey club sandwich, several rounds of fries from the bar where we watched the Bruins

Friday

  • Two eggs, two sausage links, two strips of bacon, two pancakes, two pieces of toast at breakfast in Boston
  • Peanut butter cup ice cream for lunch in Fitchburg
  • 8-10 slices of pizza at the benefit event
  • Peanut butter cup ice cream on top of a brownie as a late-night snack

Saturday

  • Omelet for breakfast in Fitchburg
  • Popcorn, Peanut M&M’s at movie theater
  • Cheeseburger, hot dog at a BBQ
  • Peanut butter cup ice cream on top of a brownie as a late-night snack

Sunday

  • Brownie, pasta salad for breakfast
  • 2 hot dogs, two peanut butter cookies, slice of strawberry cheesecake at BBQ
  • Steak & Cheese grinder from D’Angelo’s

Monday

  • Bacon, egg and cheese breakfast sandwich from Dunkin’ Donuts
  • Cheeseburger, hot dog, Diet Coke for lunch
  • Nachos and boneless buffalo wings at Game On before the Red Sox game

Tuesday

  • 2 breakfast burritos, hash brown, Diet Coke from McDonald’s at Logan Airport
  • Pulled BBQ pork, mashed potatoes, mac & cheese, texas toast, Dr. Pepper (no Diet Coke available) from restaurant at airport in Dallas

No presence of vegetables or fruit in that entire six-day run. And keep in mind that my liquids for six days were a revolving door of soda, beer and Jack Daniel’s.

How much salad do you think I need to eat over the next month to offset the damage that was done in Massachusetts?

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Fine, I’ll Be The First To Say It: The Boston Tragedy Couldn’t Have Worked Out Better For The Red Sox

Leave it to me to think about who makes out best from the Marathon Monday Bombing. But I wouldn’t be doing my job if I didn’t think beyond the immediate tragedy and the people who got injured. I can’t help thinking about who benefits most from all of this.

The way this thing broke for the Red Sox was perfect. They got to leave the city for a three-game road trip in Cleveland before they return to Boston for a 10-game homestand. What if they had been in the middle of a long homestand when this happened? There’s no way they would have played at Fenway during the week following the explosions. Not only would the city of Boston be missing the welcome distraction of watching baseball, but the players’ routines would have gotten majorly screwed up. And we all know how much baseball players are creatures of habit.

Instead they get three road games in mid-April that suddenly have a ton of meaning for them and their fans. Then when Boston’s had a few days to absorb what happened and begins to move on, the Sox ride in and save the day. How crazy is Fenway going to be on Friday night? What if I told you their dramatic return to Boston might coincide with David Ortiz’s dramatic return to the Sox lineup? I’d be spending $30 for a ticket to that game if I was in Boston.

With Kansas City, Oakland and Houston visiting during the homestand, couldn’t this team realistically emerge from their next 12 games with a record of 18-7 and a little extra motivation for the rest of the season? Knowing the Red Sox organization, I’d be stunned if they weren’t marching people out for ceremonial first pitches who somehow represent the marathon, the victims or the heroics that were on display Monday. The players are going to get daily reminders of what they’re playing for.

And if we want to go even further on how this might benefit the Red Sox, there’s this:

I was 12 days into my freshman year of college when the hijacked planes took down the towers in New York. I know firsthand what it’s like to live through a national tragedy with a group of strangers you’re forced to be around every hour of every day. The friendships I made during those dark days of September 2001 are some of the strongest and weirdest friendships I still have to this day. That group of people I bonded with back then is the only group I know who gets together for a yearly reunion. And it doesn’t even matter that all of our significant others have protested the sketchiness of a mixed-gender, supposedly-platonic group of 30 year olds meeting up for a weekend getaway every year. We do it anyway.

The point I’m trying to make here is that all the players and coaches on the Red Sox just had to spend the last 48 hours processing the Marathon explosions together, stuck on a bus, a plane, in a hotel or in the locker room…together. Helping each other get through it. Talking about why someone might have done this. Brainstorming on what they can do to help the community. As of Monday morning, I’m willing to bet some of the players were still getting to know each other. After all there are a bunch of new guys on the team this year. But as of today, I’m willing to bet there’s no locker room in baseball that feels like a family quite as much as the Red Sox do.

If the Sox needed something to rally around and carry them through the intolerably boring summer days, they just got it.

Here’s hoping they save a couple of the feel-good ceremonial first pitch candidates for the World Series in October.

If This Blog Distracts Even One Person From The Horrible Boston Marathon Explosions, Then I’ve Done My Job

Here are three universally understood events: a marathon, a baseball game, a holiday. But non-New Englanders could probably use some educating on the annual phenomenon known as Marathon Monday.

I wrote those two sentences on Sunday night when I was preparing a Boston Marathon blog. Sadly that last sentence could now read “But non-New Englanders just got educated on the annual phenomenon known as Marathon Monday…”

Imagine an entire city throwing a gigantic block party that doubles as your own secret little holiday that no one else in the world gets to enjoy. The weather’s almost always great, bars open by 7am, the Red Sox game starts at 11am, and we all show our blind love of camaraderie and sporting events by rooting for thousands of strangers to run faster. Call it a cosmic peace offering for Bostonians having to deal with the yearly misery known as Winter. It’s a day that promotes so much optimism: “The weather’s turning…finally Spring is here!” “The Red Sox are 8-4…this is their year!” “If these 23,000 people can run a marathon, why can’t I?…screw it, I’m getting in shape and running it next year!”

As with most people who grew up in Massachusetts, I have plenty of Marathon Monday memories. Here’s the simplest way I can describe my personal Boston Marathon history:

  • Childhood: Went to a family friend’s BBQ ever year in the suburbs to watch the runners go by. Back then us kids probably just viewed it as another day to run around and play outside with our friends, with the bonus of getting to hand cups of water to these seemingly-important athletes (something that the public’s not allowed to do anymore, probably partially because of me and my brilliant idea as a kid to put pebbles in the cups of water for the runners).
  • Advanced Childhood (aka College Years): Typically cracked my first beer at about 7:30am at my apartment, walked down to Kenmore Square while discreetly drinking beer out of a 7/11 Big Gulp cup, went to a house party (the years before I turned 21) or a bar (once I was of legal age), and then stood on the sidewalk screaming for people I’ve never met before to keep running.
  • Adulthood Part 1: Spent my second Marathon Monday in California trying to replicate the festivities as best as possible. Got to my brother’s apartment at 7am, cracked a beer immediately, started watching the Red Sox game at 8am, and then went out on his front porch and cheered for runners going by his apartment…extremely confused runners who were out for a San Francisco morning jog. It wasn’t as good as the really thing, but probably the best Marathon Monday celebration in all of California.
  • Adulthood Part 2: Ran the marathon in 2011, finished in 4 hours and 46 minutes, had an incredibly supportive group of family members and friends cheering me on from those same sidewalks I frequented during my college years.

Each of those versions of me deserved a carefree, relaxing and happy day. The eight-year-old Ross should be allowed to fill cups with rocks until his heart’s content; the 20-year-old Ross should have only one concern on his mind: not getting arrested; and the 28-year-old Ross should be smiling as he approaches the home stretch of a huge accomplishment, regardless of the size of the blisters on his feet.

I feel terribly for all the people who were trying to do these same mostly-innocent things in Boston today and now have a horror show to remember instead of the good times that Patriots Day promises. The little kid who was just getting the hang of yelling out the correct cheers for the runners only to be pulled away from the course by parents who feared more explosions were coming. The college student who went from the euphoric haze of partying hard on a Monday afternoon to the sobering reality of a day gone terribly wrong just a couple miles away. The first-time marathoner who didn’t get to run down Boylston Street, the proverbial exclamation point to the world’s most famous marathon. (Needless to say I feel the worst for the people who were either directly injured or had loved ones injured in the explosions.)

Everywhere you look around the web or on TV, there are people better than me at putting this stuff into words. So I’ll let them do their jobs. I’ll just leave you with a couple pictures. If these pictures distract even one person from the events of today and put a smile on his or her face, then I’ve done my job:

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After all, if a dog wearing human clothes and a baby wearing sunglasses can’t cheer you up, what can?

Stay Strong, Boston.

Tough Mudder Conquered! What’s My Next Challenge?

I’m very rarely at a loss for words. You’d think after writing more than 75,000 words about football and probably another 25,000 about my dog’s antics in the past six months, it wouldn’t be possible for me to come up empty when trying to describe an event. But maybe that’s the most challenging aspect of competing in Tough Mudder—accurately trying to describe the event to people who didn’t experience it themselves.

Maybe rather than try to sum up one of the craziest things I’ve ever been a part of in one neat little sentence, walking you through the entire day (as best as I can remember it at least) will better describe the insanity that took place in Temecula, California:

Team Ross Is Born

The story actually begins not in Temecula, but in Los Angeles, where a world-renowned blogger decided he needed a real challenge in his life (side note: This is where I transition from talking in the third person to talking in the first person the rest of the blog). After cruising through countless half marathons and crushing the Boston Marathon, it seemed like there was no physical challenge on this planet that could get the better of me. I felt like what Forrest Gump must have felt like after he ran to the edge of all the world’s oceans. What else was there for me to do? I know what you’re thinking. “Climb Mt. Everest,” right? Well world-renowned blogger or not, it’ll be years before I can afford to plant the Flag of Ross in the world’s highest peak. And I know your next thought: “You should try an Ironman race. If you think you’re such hot shit, try to do the triathlon that features 2.5 miles of swimming, 112 miles of bicycling and 26.2 miles of running that some of the world’s best athletes compete in every year.”

Again, I had that same thought after I conquered everything else. The only problem, once again, is that this blog-writing job doesn’t pay enough for me to buy a bike. Can’t do an Ironman without a bike. Hand to god if I could afford a bike, I’d sign up for an Ironman race.

So back in July, just when all hope seemed lost, the organizers of Tough Mudder contacted me out of the blue and said they’d like to have me compete in one of their races so I could bring some popularity to the fledgling competition (Fine, here’s the truth: I was sitting in front of the TV with some friends enjoying my 11th beer of the afternoon and watching the Red Sox lose their 57th consecutive game when someone said we should try to do a Tough Mudder. A moment later, I grunted at something that was happening on the TV, and this friend interpreted that noise as me agreeing to do the race. He started spreading the word that I was in for the Mudder, and suddenly it was too late to back out.)

I posted THIS BLOG on July 25th to recruit teammates, and suddenly Team Ross exploded from two to four people.

Over the next few months, the four of us would train daily for the February 9th race. To some of us, training meant either running or hitting the gym every day. To others, training meant sitting at their work desk nine hours a day, going home and drinking a bottle of wine, and then passing out facedown on the living room floor after attempting to do one pushup. Everyone has their own training regimens that work for their own body.

When the entire team was back on the East Coast for Christmas, we recruited one final member. She wasn’t the perfect teammate because she was in particularly good shape or had any relevant experience for this race. She was the perfect teammate because she was a woman and we felt we needed her to be “race buddies” with the other woman in our group. That way when one of them had to slow down and walk during the race (which was inevitable) the other one would feel bad and walk with her. That type of sympathy didn’t exist with me and the other two men on the team.

So the second woman, broke as she was, signed up and booked a flight out to LA with only five weeks to go before the race. Some might say this wasn’t nearly enough time to train. Others would say she was the leading candidate to suffer serious injury.

Oh, and we also had some people who were gung-ho about joining the team back in July who eventually dropped out when they realized watching college basketball 16 hours a day was not an appropriate training strategy. In hindsight, I’m extremely jealous of those people.

The final team consisted of:

  • Me: A self-proclaimed elite athlete who has won “finisher” medals at more than six half marathons. Best example of my toughness: I can wrestle a 90lb dog to the ground and pin her, despite the onslaught of lick-fighting that I have to deal with while tangled up with her.
  • Julie: A woman who’s idea of a hardcore athletic challenge is joining an adult recreational bowling league. Best example of toughness: She once ran a full marathon without any training and completed it. She learned how to effectively roll herself around in a wheelchair during the three days following the marathon, but still, she finished.
  • Neil: A former triathlete who spends as much time choosing his outfit for a race as he does training for it. Best example of toughness: I know this sounds like an exaggeration, but I once saw him jump from a stand-still position onto a chair that was two feet high when he spotted a mouse scampering towards him.
  • Aaron: A jet-setting mountain trekker whose body defies science by being able to turn alcohol into useful energy. Best example of toughness: He once purposely scalped his head on a rusty shipwreck in the Caribbean just because he enjoys the pain of a fresh tetanus shot.
  • Caroline: A typical New York “tough girl” who’s been taking a physical and mental beating all her life from her five older “siblings.” Best example of toughness: Just for the hell of it, she once had a piece of her vertebrae removed. Rumor has it that she wouldn’t even let the doctors give her anesthesia during the procedure.

The Pre-Race Routine

Rather than booking hotel rooms to ensure a good, comfortable night’s sleep before the race, the five of us decided to cram into my 800 square-foot apartment in LA. This meant one person was sleeping on a couch, and two people were sleeping on the air mattresses I had. Of course when one of those air mattresses ended up having a hole and completely deflating within an hour of going to sleep, those two people were forced to share one mattress between them. But we planned for the possibility of uncomfortable sleeping conditions by hitting up a local happy hour and drinking as many 32-ounce beers as possible prior to a giant pasta dinner. Passing out the night before the race wasn’t a problem.

The next morning all five of us piled into my modestly-sized car to make the two-hour drive to Temecula. Again, why would we go for comfort when we could assure ourselves a muscle-cramping and joint-stiffening car ride?

To kill time in the car, we pulled up the list of Tough Mudder obstacles and reviewed them as a team. Here’s the easiest way to explain it: a 12-mile run with roughly 20 obstacles throughout the course. Some of the obstacles were as simple as crawling through mud while avoiding barbed wire above you, climbing a series of 10-to-12-foot walls (with the help of teammates, of course), and carrying objects of different weights. Other obstacles were less about  the physical challenges of crawling, climbing and carrying, and more about breaking you mentally. Some of these obstacles included jumping into 34-degree water and running through a field of live wires carrying upwards of 10,000 volts of electricity.

After we reviewed all the challenges, two people made comments that they’d live to regret. After a couple people expressed concern over the difficulty of the race, Julie felt pretty confident that “we’re gonna be going through these obstacles and laughing at how harmless they are.”

I then told the group that after watching a 15-minute video earlier in the week of someone doing the Tough Mudder “I’m concerned it’s gonna be boring because there seemed to be a lot of standing around and waiting in line to do the obstacles. I’ll be pissed if this turns into us walking from obstacle-to-obstacle and waiting in 20-minute lines.”

Since I was so sure this would be more of a “hike with cute little obstacles,” when we stopped for a bathroom break 10 miles from the race, I decided to eat a Burger King Sausage Croissan’wich and hash browns while washing it down with a fountain Diet Coke. This surprised some of my teammates, but not nearly as much as when Caroline emerged from Burger King with a Whopper Jr. in hand. I honestly didn’t know they were allowed to serve Whopper Jr’s at 9:15 in the morning.

When we got to the parking lot about a mile from the start line, two aspects of Tough Mudder we hadn’t counted on loomed over us: the weather and the terrain.

As we made the drive southeast from LA, my car’s temperature gauge for the outside weather went as low as 41 degrees and as high as…48 degrees. When we got out of the car and realized the temperature probably wasn’t going to hit the 75-degree mark that we were hoping for, we all got more than a little nervous about running 10 miles after the first “jump into a 34-degree ice bath” obstacle. It was out of our control; we couldn’t train for it; but it sucked.

The terrain, on the other hand, wasn’t out of our control, we could have trained for it, but it still sucked. For some reason, none of us ever considered the possibility that this race would be primarily run on a mountain. Which is interesting considering someone left a comment on my July 25th blog that said, “We did one in May…the obstacles and miles turn out to be the least of your concerns. It’s the constant climbing up and down the black diamond hills that sucked.”

From a pure running standpoint, I was probably the best-prepared in our group because I had just run a half marathon the previous Sunday. But never in my months of training for the half did I consider running any hills. While walking a mile to the start line, we looked up and saw thousands of people who were in an earlier heat running up and down some serious mountain ridges. If someone had asked me after the race to sum up the difficulties I had with five words and one body movement it would have been “the temperature and the hills” with an accompanying head shake.

One final note about the pre-race stuff. When it was time for our heat to begin, they had all the participants jog to the start line and then climb a 7-foot wall to get to the starting area. This served as a way to pump everyone up and get that adrenaline going. And it worked too. You came off that wall ready to crawl through mud, dive into ice cold water, rip out trees with your bare hands and fight someone to the death. Unfortunately before they’d actually let us loose on the course, we had to sit through a 20-minute sermon by a guy named “Startline Sean.” Now this guy’s role is to be the official hype man for Tough Mudder. He gets you pumped up by talking about how tough Tough Mudders are. He goes on and on about how big of an accomplishment this race is for anyone who completes it. He makes you yell “HOO RAA” a lot. He has you stare at the American Flag while the National Anthem plays over the PA system. Then he has you take a knee for a never-ending 10 minutes while he continues his speech. And then when people can’t take the pain from being on one knee on the hard ground for that long and start to stand up, he makes the whole crowd kneel back down because “he didn’t say to stand up yet.” And finally, FINALLY after all of that nonsense, he lets us get on our way. For some people, he’s probably an inspiration and his Jesus-like spiel gets them where they need to be mentally. For me and my teammates, we were already there after climbing that first wall. All he did was sap us of that adrenaline and get our knees and backs hurting from kneeling for so long. I honestly believe Startline Sean caused me as much pain as sliding down a 50-foot rocky hill did that day.

Oh, You Wanted Details of The Actual Race?

After 2,000 words on forming the team and getting to the race, you certainly don’t want me to take you through each mile and each obstacle. But let’s fly through the highlights:

  • Possibly-major injuries were suffered by everyone except for me. Aaron pulled his calf muscle in the first mile and it seemed like he was in agony on every hill and obstacle the rest of the day. Neil may have broken several toes on the “Cliffhanger,” which was a 40-foot hill at a 45-degree angle covered in mud that we had to climb up. By mile 6, Julie either had a seriously-injured internal organ in her midsection or a bruised hip flexor. And Caroline was on the brink of hypothermia only 45 minutes into the race.
  • Actually I’d love to tell you that Caroline just needed to “suck it up” (like I told her at one point during the race, at which point she tried to push me off a cliff). Because after all, she is my little sister. But her skin was turning gray and she had goosebumps that didn’t go away for the entire 4 hours we were on the course. I think it was serious.
  • So Caroline ran 55% of the race while wearing one of those foil “space blankets” that they give marathon runners at the finish line. And she needed it. But it’s probably a good thing that Neil reminded her not to wear it through the electro-shock obstacles. Is there a scientist reading this post that can tell us what would have happened to her? Would she have caught on fire?
  • Regardless of “Startline Sean” sucking all the life out of us, we definitely were all on a high during the first few miles. It’s impossible not to be in that euphoric state when you’re running next to a thousand people and jumping over walls and shit. I was probably a little too high at mile 3 when I told the group, “If they had a signup desk right here where I could commit to 10 more Tough Mudders for $20, I would definitely sign up right now!”
  • Two hours later my tune changed to, “They couldn’t pay me enough money to run another one of these.”
  • By pointing out that bad things happened to everyone except for me I’m not trying to insinuate that I was in superior shape or anything. I’m just stating the facts. And the fact is that by the end of the race, everyone on the team except for me seemed to have come down with a case of rapid-onset bronchitis.
  • The best way to get non-Tough Mudders to understand our state of mind during the race is to listen in on a conversation Julie and Caroline had around mile 8:
    • Caroline: “I feel so weird right now. My body’s like…”
    • Julie: “Yeah, it’s like my body’s not even there. Or like I’m not inside my own body.”
    • Caroline: “Yeah, exactly. I can’t feel my body.”
  • They literally had an out-of-body experience and I’m pretty sure I did too.
  • Here’s a good example of how sadistic the Tough Mudder organizers must be. One of the obstacles is called “Walk The Plank.” Basically you jump off a platform 15 feet high into freezing cold water and then swim 20 yards before getting to dry land. This was the 18th obstacle we faced, meaning it came after 11 miles of running. But my description of that obstacle apparently wasn’t difficult enough in the eyes of the organizers. Just to get up on the platform, you had to scale a 10-foot wall that was only slightly angled. So as tired as we all were, we had to push each other up the wall before we could actually take on the obstacle. Sick, twisted bastards planning this race, I tell ya.
  • I might have mentioned once or twice on this post that I ran the Boston Marathon a couple years ago. I spent the entire second half of Tough Mudder trying to determine which was tougher, the Mudder or the Marathon. I’m still not sure I have the answer. The marathon was harder on my legs, obviously, and it was more mentally challenging because it was extremely boring to run for nearly 5 hours by myself. But Tough Mudder almost killed me, literally, on a number of occasions. People don’t typically get hypothermia while running marathons. They also don’t pull all the muscles in their neck, shoulders, arms and back. The marathon was a difficult physical challenge. But the Tough Mudder was a grueling fight just to stay alive.
  • Three days later and each of my nipples is still one giant scab.
  • I’ve spoken with several of my teammates today (Tuesday, the race was on Saturday), and new bruises are still showing up on all of our bodies. Knees, elbows, forearms, ass, you name it, there’s a bruise on it.
  • We finished the race in about 4 hours and 20 minutes. They gave us a t-shirt and an ice cold beer at the finish line. They should seriously rethink those handouts and put the money towards having 100 hot tubs onsite for people to climb into.
  • After the long drive home—complete with a stop at McDonald’s for our victory burgers—the only energy we could muster up the rest of the night was to soak in the hot tub in my apartment complex for 30 minutes. After that we were in bed by 9:30.
  • Glad we didn’t commit to Julie’s post-race plan, which was, of course, to go bowling.

The Final Consensus

It’s probably a little too early to make an unemotional, non-rash decision about doing another Tough Mudder. We all need time to heal. But our discussions on Saturday night all revolved around the weather. IF we were to do another one, we’d only consider a Tough Mudder that takes place in guaranteed warm weather. The temperature took this race from “really fucking tough” to “almost impossible to complete without risking severe injury or death.”

I guess that’s why they make you sign a death waiver.

death waiver