Running Into the Ground: The Pink O Course
I was signed up for the O Course, which is a training course run by an ex-Marine drill sergeant. Today's course was a fund-raiser for young women diagnosed with breast cancer. Many of the participants were taking part as a symbolic gesture of solidarity for people going through breast cancer treatment, or in memory of those who had succumbed to it. I was participating to prove to myself I could. My own cancer surgery was just last year. I got off lucky. I wasn't sure what to expect today other than a rough go. I got that right.
My CrossFit training buddy Ahmed picked me up and we drove off to Burlington where the event was being held. The weather didn't improve. It got worse. There were times on the 401 when it felt like we should've been in a boat instead of a car. We arrived at the venue, confirmed our registration, and then sat in the car until it was time to do our warm-up. It was freezing out, and I was shivering.
Sgt. Tony mustered us up, and we took a knee while he explained what we'd be doing. The cold distracted me from what he was saying, but then we all grabbed a long block of wood and ran to the beach. The shore was a morass. Young people surrounded me. I think I was the oldest participant. I saw a lot of university students, including a team of cheerleaders decked out in matching pink hair ribbons. I overheard one say she didn't bother putting on makeup or doing her hair today.
The warm-up was a blur. The drill sergeant and his helpers barked orders, and we struggled to comply as quickly as possible. Get down into pushup position! Get up! Too slow. Get down. TOO SLOW! Get up! TOO SLOW!!! We moved faster and faster until all 60 or so of us were moving fast enough to meet his expectations, and then we did another speed drill. We carried the blocks of wood overhead and ran through the quagmire back and forth to the tree line. We backed out into the lake, wood held high overhead. Shoulders screamed from the effort of holding the stick overhead so long. Feet got stuck in the mud. People fell. People helped one another up. Shoes disappeared and were recovered with much effort. The blocks of wood never touched the water. They mustn't touch the water. KEEP IT OVERHEAD!
We rolled in the mud, belly crawled through slick brown stinking dirt with bits of grit jamming into forearms and elbows and bellies and knees. We through fistfuls of mud at one another. I never realized how many tiny plants grow in the mud until I was pressed into it for the better part of an hour.
And then the call, "Does anyone here have asthma?" I put my hand up.
"Where is your puffer?"
"In the car, sir."
"Go get it!"
I looked around for Ahmed, forgetting in the confusion that he'd put the keys in my bag.
"Hey, Asthma. What are you waiting for? GO."
Great. Now my name was Asthma. "I'm looking for my driver, sir. I don't have the keys."
I finally remembered where the keys were and ran to find my backpack, mud spraying off me with every step, soaked shoes squelching and splashing through sodden grass. I got my puffer from the car and ran back. I held it, looking around in confusion. I wasn't sure what to do with it. I had no pockets, and if it gets wet, it's ruined.
"Put it in your hat. Go!"
I stuck it under my hat and tore off at a run along the beach after the rest of the group. Ahmed was waiting for me. We ran until we met a bottleneck. Ahead of us was a slow-moving single file of people eking their way across a narrow, treacherous rock pile underneath a hawthorn tree with 2 1/2" thorns jutting out everywhere. I clutched my block of wood under one arm and made it through. And then the path became more clear. We ran along a washed-out pathway. Crumbling dirt and knee-deep puddles lined by wildflowers and apple trees. The rain sheeted down on us, and somehow, it was glorious.
About three km later, we arrived at our first checkpoint under an overpass. We did 50 pushups. They were harder than they should've been. The mud warm-up had taken a lot out of me. We finished our push-ups and continued on. I switched my block of wood from arm to arm, and finally balanced it on my head. Another filthy participant saw me putting the wood on my head and laughed. "Ha! I'd like to see you run with that on your head." I shrugged and start running. His jaw dropped, and then he laughed again and continued onward, shaking his head.
I ended up running about 7 km with the wood on my head. I noted that running while balancing kept my posture upright, and my head didn't loll around as I grew more tired. Other participants, trainers, and the drill sergeant were amazed at my feat. Honestly, I found it easier to carry the block of wood this way. It kept my arms free for an easier running gait. Sgt. Tony cycled by me, amused and impressed by my carrying technique, saying he wanted to get a photo of me at the end doing this.
We kept plugging along, sometimes running, sometimes jogging, often walking at a brisk pace. Though it hadn't warmed up any, I was no longer cold. At the next checkpoint, we did 50 situps. Normally, situps are easy-peasy for me, but I had chosen my pants poorly. They have a zipper right on the spine, so every time I leaned back, the zipper would gouge me. After a bunch of manoeuvring, I managed to dig a hole in the mud so the zipper would go there rather than into my back. It was still slow going, and then we were up and off to the turn-around point up a long hill.
A quick sip of water, and we were back down the hill. For whatever reason, running was easier now (and no, not because of the downhill. I find uphill running easier, especially with a block of wood on my head). My pace picked up. My aches vanished. I was feeling pretty good.
We went around a corner and saw a group of guys standing around in a puddle. I recognized these guys. They'd arrived late and had been made to do push-ups in the lake. We stopped. "Is everything ok?"
"I rolled my ankle," said one.
Another guy said, "Can you send one of the trainers back with a radio?"
I looked again at the large group of guys. It shouldn't be hard for them to help their buddy out, here. They could carry him out, easily enough, if it came to that. "Uh, sure."
And then I saw one of the trainers (the guy who worked the sit-up checkpoint) peddling up on a mountain bike. As we ran off, I heard one of the guys say, "Yeah, so we're running late, so send a car to pick us all up."
... A car? The trail was washed out. Maybe a tank could make it out here. I shook my head and kept running. We made it back to the sit-up checkpoint and got back down to do our sit-ups along with the cheerleader group. A couple of the guys (who I'd named Team Pretty Boy in my head) looked at us doing sit-ups and kept going. "We don't need to do that. Our friend hurt his foot."
While we were finishing up our sit-ups, the trainer biked back. He thanked us for our honesty. "Not everyone would do the sit-ups without being told to." No kidding. Heh.
We kept on going. I was starting to notice abandoned clothing. A pink hair ribbon here (one of the cheerleaders must've been annoyed with it), a t-shirt, a pair of pants, a bra. Was there someone running naked? At least we didn't find any shoes. The terrain was too rough to run unshod.
The push-ups at the checkpoint were the hardest ones yet. My form went to hell. I was sagging embarrassingly. They were positively lamentable, but I kept at them. My triceps screamed at me, but I kept going, and then it was time to run back to the beach. The run was almost over. A trainer came over toward Ahmed and I as we jogged back to our start point. "Are you having fun?" he shouted. I responded with a cheer. Yes, I actually was having fun, in a weird sort of way.
"Do you think this is a joke?"
I looked at him in confusion. "No, sir."
"You're not taking this seriously."
I stopped, utterly perplexed. If I thought this whole thing was a joke, I wouldn't be doing it now, would I?
"You think you're funny, wearing your rifle as a hat? It's not a hat. Get down and do 100 push-ups. Both of you!"
I got down and did my push-ups. I didn't mind doing the push-ups. I really didn't. I did mind being told I wasn't taking this seriously. I most certainly was taking it seriously. And honestly, I probably would've carried a rifle that way, too. Heck, I carry pretty much everything on my head at some point, including groceries, bags of top soil, staves, and swords. I used to do martial arts drills with stuff on my head to work my balance and to practice not telegraphing my moves.
We finished up our push-ups (not nearly 100), and tore off to the beach where hell awaited. The first part was the easy part. Ahmed and I carried a heavy ammo box from the lake through the mud to the grass and back again. I lost a shoe at one point, and getting that shoe out of the mud was HARD. I laced both shoes back on so tight I could feel the laces cutting into me, and finished the task. Then I farmer carried two big heavy buckets full of rocks and water up from the water, through the mud, and back again. The wire handles cut into my fingers something fierce, but I managed without dropping or setting them down. And then came the hardest one. I had to grab onto a heavy chain and drag a big hunk of concrete the same distance. I simply could not get traction for much of it. My feet kept skidding out so that I was skittering in place. I'd get the block moving, and then it would catch on something and my feet would skid out again. I somehow managed, and then it was off to the obstacle course.
Running was easy, now. We tore off through marshy grass toward the obstacles. My first one was to belly crawl through a small muddy pond, then up a steep mud hill. I did so. At the top of the hill, I looked down the steep drop dubiously. "Crawl down, headfirst," said the trainer.
"I suspect there will be no crawling, but I'll do my best otter impression," I said, then slid down on my belly at high speed, coming to a splashing stop in gravelly mud.
Then it was off to scale walls, jump over chest high bars, and then to climb a rope up and over a tall wall. I'm glad I'm used to ropes. The rope climb was the easiest obstacle for me, but was very tricky for many of the participants. I think several couldn't manage it at all. The cargo net obstacle was made more difficult because I had to carry a heavy sandbag over with me. I managed, albeit not quickly.
I went over to the monkey bars. I was to hang onto the bars for 15 seconds. I held on for at least 25, because 15 was too easy. And then something went wrong.
I'm not sure if it was from the cold, the sliding in the mud, or what, but suddenly my lower back was in agony. It didn't feel muscular. It went up from my coccyx to my waist along my spine. I tried the next obstacle (hand over hand), but my hands were just too slippery and I couldn't get a good enough grip. I was told to do 25 burpees, instead.
I did one. Poorly. My back screamed at me. I stopped and tried to stretch it out.
Sgt. Tony saw me and came over. He asked what was wrong, and I told him I thought I'd put my back out or something, and he told me I was done. So yeah. That was my ending. Oh, and Sgt. Tony got his picture of me with the wood on my head, and had me demonstrate a jog to the volunteers who hadn't seen.
My back is feeling better today, thankfully, although it's still sore.
I get to do it all over again on Saturday with Goruck Light.