November 17, 2011:
I celebrated my 40th birthday last year with a return to my favorite city, New York, and a get-together with friends. We toasted with Champagne and indulged in cake. I’m sure I had seconds.
I’ve always wished I could be one of those women satiated by one small, square of dark chocolate daily, but in reality, I’m more of a King-Size, Kit Kat kind of gal. For most of my life I was athletic and thin and my metabolism helped balance my sweet tooth until the decades caught up with me. Facing 40, I was far from fit. I was, as my five-year-old daughter pronounced as she poked my stomach with her finger, “Soft Mommy.”
Three years earlier we had moved from the city to the far suburbs. I drove everywhere, sat all day at a desk and rarely visited the gym. When I did, I’d loll on the elliptical for a half-hour, lazily flipping through a magazine, and call it exercise. Following foot surgery in the spring of 2011, I gave up the gym all together. I’d spend my nights on the couch, working my way through a box of Cheez-Its and an episode of Real Housewives of Somewhere or Other. The scale went up, just a few pounds at first, then a few more. I took advantage of vanity sizing and insisted the dry cleaner was shrinking my sweaters. It wasn’t until my plus-size contractor, who himself looked like he was in his third trimester, inquired when I was due, that reality hit me: I was no longer who I once was and who I wanted to be. I had let myself go.
Around the same time, my marathon-running, triathlon-competing, low-carb eating (therefore somewhat annoying) husband signed up with his like-minded brothers and a few male friends for a Tough Mudder race. We decided to make a weekend out of the spring event at Mount Snow in Vermont. The families would come and cheer the guys along the 10-mile 28-obstacle course. On a mountain. In the mud.
For those unfamiliar with the Tough Mudder, this is no fun-run. Billed as “Probably the Toughest Event on the Planet,” Tough Mudder courses are designed by British military and include dips in freezing water, crawling through confined spaces and dodging live wires. It looked fierce, impossible, and… oddly appealing.
And that’s when my pasta-laden brain did something crazy. It convinced me that I, too, needed to complete. I didn’t want to be Soft Mommy; I wanted to be a Tough Mudder. I told my husband I wouldn’t spectate; I would participate. I plunked down the $135 entry fee and joined their all-male team, insisting I would either keep up with the group or go at it alone. I had five months to prepare, 30 pounds to lose and a pair of trail running shoes to purchase.
But to prepare, I’d need some help. I joined a local CrossFit gym that offered 5:30 am workouts, the only time I figured I could commit before the day got the best of me. I struggled to get out of bed at my 4:45 am alarm and squeezed into old yoga pants and a t-shirt. At CrossFit the workouts are short but intense. I scoffed at the 13:30 AMRAP (“as many reps as possible”) of push-ups, squats and lunges. Mistake. Three minutes in, I was keeled over, jelly-legged, sweat-laden. I wanted to go back to bed. Well, no one said this was going to be easy.
One nutritionist visit later, I learned that to lose weight I should aim for 1,400 calories per day. I was embarrassed to admit I probably took in that many in M&M’s alone each afternoon. She encouraged me to dump my daily glass of wine in favor of once a week. What? No wine-thirty? That same week my fit husband visited his primary care physician for a checkup and learned that his “good” cholesterol was low. “What I want you to do,” the doctor instructed him, “Is have a glass of wine daily.” Well, no one said this was going to be fair.
My new routine could have easily gone by the wayside, to the graveyard of good intentions, except for one thing… I began to see results. I learned how to deadlift and back squat. I discovered I liked the rowing machine, mostly because you got to sit down while using it. I cut cheese from my diet and found I didn’t miss it as much as I thought I would. After one month my pants no longer left angry marks on my stomach. Five pounds gone… then 10. My stomach was flatter and this made my 5 year-old daughter cry because I no longer looked pregnant and she had really wanted a little sister. The workouts never got easier but I began to lift heavier, run faster and dread less the early a.m. alarm. My body began asking me to move it and I obliged. 15-pounds gone. I rewarded myself with $95 Lululemon running capris with just the right amount of stretch to show off the results of all those squats.
But all along the race loomed in the back of my mind. I became obsessed with all things Tough Mudder. I watched YouTube videos of obstacles from water-filled tunnels to the balance beam. I researched the best dry-fit gear. I even Googled, “Has anyone died during the Tough Mudder?” and made sure my life insurance was up to date. Some things scared me. Heights. Hills. Hypothermia. Even down 20 pounds from where I started, I don’t think I truly believed I could get through the course. But I knew I had to.
To be continued. Does our self-proclaimed “Soft Mommy” pull it out? Does she develop a 6-pack and the ability to use her most superpower (The Death Stare) to get her through the Tough Mudder? Tune in tomorrow.
Have any of you ever run an extreme race like this? How did you fare?
More from GEM:
Valerie Gordon has been navigating the wilds of central Connecticut since relocating to suburbia from New York City four years ago. The 40-year-old mother of two is also a Coordinating Producer at ESPN where she oversees feature production. This means she often has to choose what to watch on evening TV: the big game or anything on Bravo?