I’ve never raced in a novelty race. No paint. No glowing. And no obstacles.
Somewhere recently, I’d heard about this race. An old mine with temperate conditions in the dead of winter. I looked at some of the race coverage out there, and found the CNN had called it one of the ten ultimate US adventures, right up there with the Iditarod, climbing El Capitan, riding the “vomit comet” or accomplishing the Triple Crown of Hiking. That certainly had some appeal.
But… the obstacles!
I exchanged Facebook messages with someone close to race, trying to understand if it was friendly to walkers (it was), and what the time to complete the course would be for a walker (two hours or less). I was sold, and signed up.
But… the obstacles!
I’d been both excited and apprehensive as the race approached. We had awful weather the night before the race, and I thought that might keep me away from the site (about an hour away). But, the weather held out, and I made the trek to Crystal City MO, and Crystal City Underground.
After a really icy approach to the mine, I walked into the maw of this enormous abandoned sand mine, and was struck by the size of the place. The ceilings were dozens of feet tall, with a great room that is used for parties and events… when there’s not a race going on.
With the weather, I’d left the site really early, but with the decent roads, I arrived about two hours ahead of my starting wave. So I waited. And waited. And waited. And soon enough, it was time to swallow my fear, turn on my headlamp, and head into the mine.
I’m glad I had the headlamp (which was highly recommended by the organizers). Almost as soon as we left the start line, the lighting was gone, and the only illumination was what I was carrying with me.
And after the darkness, came the water.
I hit the water, taking big, careful steps, and little by little, the water was deeper and deeper, eventually gaining about three feet of depth. And even with my headlamp, I couldn’t see the end of it. I waded and waded, and eventually started climbing up and out of the underground lake. Little did I know that I’d just begun to climb.
The next obstacle was a dark hill of solid sand. This hill was almost six feet tall, nearly vertical, and with no steps or hand holds. You had to run … fast … and let your momentum carry you up the hill. My first attempt had me landing right on my knees. My second attempt had me almost get up the hill. After that, I heard someone behind me tell me that they’d cup my feet in their hands to help me up.
And that was really the way the race went. At every obstacle, and all throughout the course, the course stewards and participants were encouraging everyone, cheering them on. And occasionally, someone would lend a hand to help you through something.
Two more significant water crossings, an ascent and descent on an A-frame about ten feet tall built from 2×4’s, balance beams, a tire course, another six foot leap atop a stage platform and a floor made entirely of loose sand… that’s what this race entailed. If I’d heard about all that, I likely wouldn’t have signed up.
But I did, and I finished.
In fact, I finished with a time right in line with a “regular” 5K. Given the delays on the obstacles, and the challenging landscape, I fully expected to finish somewhere between ninety minutes and two hours. To finish under an hour was truly stunning.
So I’ve added another race completion, another medal, and the first of six back-to-back races taking me to the end of March, with travels to both Chattanooga TN and Columbus OH to come. It’s a good start to this year’s races, and a real boost to my running confidence.