A Surprise Lesson I Learned At An Obstacle Race

It turns out it's the lesson we all need more than ever right now.


“Marianne! Marianne! Marianne!”

A wildly enthusiastic chorus of women chanted her name as she slowly made her way to the top of the wooden wall. She had encountered what looked like fear and/or exhaustion at the top, but the almost deafening cheering of the crowd worked to buttress her spirit. Marianne held onto the metal pole at the top while another runner helped her balance. And then, finding the strength and the will to continue, she swung her leg over the wall and finally conquered the obstacle.

I witnessed this along with about 100 other beautiful and strong women (and some men too) at the Rise of the Shero obstacle during the NY/NJ Mudderella, an event every bit as inspirational as those few precious moments. We climbed many muddy and dry hills at Raceway Park in Englishtown, New Jersey. We waded (and unintentionally floated) in multiple mud pits, climbed different heights and types of walls, ran carrying heavy tires on our shoulders, crawled under low-lying wires, ran over and under barriers, and jumped off a ledge onto an enormous pillow signifying the successful end of our course.

Mudderella, owned and operated by Tough Mudder, is an obstacle course based mud-run from 5-7 miles long designed for and by women, even though there are men that participate. According to their website, this particular series of non-competitive muddy obstacle courses was created “as an opportunity for women to experience new challenges alongside other women–whether these women are our friends, family, or someone else running next to us on event day.” Also, as Mudderella has partnered with several organizations whose focus it is to prevent and stop domestic violence both in the US and abroad, there were posters with statistics about domestic and teenage dating violence at the start and finish, quotes from Mudderella participants who were survivors, and calls to report and end the violence. There were also many signs, large and small, with comforting words of belief and encouragement. The message is clear. It is one that inspires women to look out for each other and to lift others up in times of difficulty.

That is exactly what I saw this past weekend. While I didn’t come with a team, I left the event having been hoisted up walls by new friends, and in turn giving a hand or two to many other women. One particularly memorable experience was the “Squad Goals” in which people perform the “partner carry.” The goal is to either carry someone on your back or give in to being carried for a short distance, and then vice-versa. Because I hadn’t come with a team, I was eager to carry someone since this had been one of the most enjoyable parts of my previous Tough Mudder training, and also because being able to carry a fully-grown human on your back is empowering and just plain awesome. One woman didn’t have a partner so I volunteered to carry her. She took one look at me and hesitated, but I came back with “I got you the whole way. Don’t worry about me!” She hopped on my back and as we weaved in and out of the Squad Iron crowd, we introduced ourselves, screaming over the giggles and peals of laughter from other pairs. Then we wished each other well as she hopped off and continued running.

One of the reasons I have fallen in love with these types of events is that not only is there increased physical and mental strength that you gain from training and participating, there is a very strong emphasis on (and even an expectation of) teamwork and helping strangers, even when it’s uncomfortable, unexpected, or seemingly too difficult.

When there is such meanness, anger, and hatred everywhere we turn these days, an event like this gives us hope. Hope that working together really does elicit success. Hope that helping people we don’t know can get them over that hurdle, and in turn help us over our own. Hope that we all begin a practice of paying it forward, even if there’s nothing in it for us. And finally, hope that we can fearlessly link arms in the muck and help each other over that damned slippery and impossible hill that is life.