There’s a reason they installed a ski lift, people! Nick the Interns review of his first 5k experience
It was a grueling, arduous, and will-testing journey three and a half miles up an unforgiving mountain littered with obstacles meant to intensify an already extreme trek… and I did nothing!
My fiancé Jen and her friends Cerissa, Phil, Mandy, and Garret were the brave ones, the ones with the will and fortitude (or downright lunacy) to push their bodies and summon the strength to finish. From the sidelines I observed them sweat, grunt, and muscle their way through everything from “hurricane valley,” 2/10ths of a mile rife with snow guns (yes, snow guns actually exist), to “what the f**k?,” an obstacle so difficult and daunting that it was named after the reaction everyone employed upon seeing their future undertaking.
I became enamored with this group of people. Not only with those whom I traveled the two hours from Portland Maine, to the South Ridge Lodge of the large ski resort Sunday River in Newry, but with all the participants in this preposterously difficult event. Not once did anyone ask for pity for their scrapes, or their bruises, or their absolutely obnoxious sunburns. All they were there for was to run up, and down a mountain to prove to themselves, not anyone else, that they could. I can’t say that I understand their line of thinking, but I do respect the hell out of it.
We arrived at the wrong parking lot, not knowing where the starting line actually was, and asked a couple of girls decked out with fluorescent pink shirts, knee-high black socks, and a paper cutout with a number attached to their clothing where we should be. They told us it would be a long walk if we parked here, so we should drive a mile or so up the road. I thought to myself “because, you know, walking sucks.” We ironically drove the mile and parked; Cerissa and Phil had to bolt up the hill to the lodge because their heat was before Jen, Mandy and Garrets. After they departed I slung a backpack over my shoulder and proceeded to grab the belongings of my counterparts. As we walked towards the lodge I thought, this sucks. That’s where I’m at, saying walking sucks while literally thousands of people are preparing to run four miles up a steep mountain…
When we arrived at the lodge there were hordes of runners. Some donned shirts grouping them with other runners like the “Run like a Mudder Mucker” crew, or the “Run now; Wine later,” and my personal favorite, “Suns Out Guns Out.” I paused a minute to take in the atmosphere, but in that moment I lost my group. Two minutes in and I was already straggling. I needed a beer. I found them at the registration and watched them tack their numbers to their clothing. Jen #7, Mandy is #1915, and Garret #2917. It was hard for me to believe there needed to be this many numbers, but further inspection proved that over 3600 people registered to do this event. After attaching the numbers, and loading the extra stuff (commemorative t-shirts, mugs, and whatnot) into my backpack, we ventured outside to where the action was.
Cerissa and Phil were waiting for their heat to start, and they stood under that START line listening to an announcer trying to amp the crowd up. What amazed me was the people finishing were getting cheered on by those waiting to start. These people weren’t there to win a race, or break records; they were there to push their bodies. They function at a level of badass that I am not ready, willing, or able to embody. The countdown from 10 began and I noticed the slightest wince from Cerissa. Something finally showed me that these people aren’t superhuman.
After Cerissa and Phil set off on their journey Jen, Mandy, Garret and I found a clear spot of grass so they could stretch, and ready themselves for the noon start of their heat. While they were stretching I set off to find some information about this treacherous track. I found that there were 17 obstacles laid out over 4 miles of sometimes extremely muddy terrain. Some obstacles required the participants to crawl through mazes built with hay bales and particle board, some obstacles blew icy cold snow into their faces for two tenths of a mile, some obstacles were floating docks on a pond that runners had to navigate else fall in. Then there was the shotgun a beer obstacle. No joke. These people shotgunned a beer roughly halfway up the mountain and continued running. My go to move after shotgunning a Bud is to bend over and wait for the belch to alleviate the gas cramp that has worked its way from my chest to my stomach. These people ran. RAN! These people saw three paths diverged in the wood, Robert Frost took the path less traveled, they took the psychopath.
Finally it was time for Jen, Mandy, and Garrets heat. They readied themselves at the starting line to “Welcome to the Jungle,’ quite the appropriate tune if you ask me. The countdown from 10 started and the runners began bouncing to ready their legs. The announcer reached one, and the group was off. I hollered “Kick this mountains a** guys,” but was drowned out by the stampeding feet in the damp grass, and the cheers from spectators lined up and down the edge of the path. For the first time since 7 this morning, I was on my own in a sea of people. I purchased a Chondola (Chair lift/Gondola) ticket and sat down for the ride to the top so I could meet my friends there. As I was going up I saw them, and hollered “I’m winning,” like an ass. Why I said that I don’t think I’ll ever know; I guess it was a lame attempt to be witty.
I reached the summit, and spied a picnic table and a bar. I worked up a thirst from all the sitting, so I got a Bud Light lime. I sat and drank the beer relishing the gorgeous view of Western Maine. Roughly twenty minutes from my arrival at the top the trio crested the hill in a run. I couldn’t believe they’re still running. I would have started walking five minutes after the start and only run intermittently. These guys are nuts. I watched them climb over some sort of wall made out of wood, and then crawl through the aforementioned hay, particleboard maze. They didn’t say much to me to conserve energy, and made their way down the hill. I gulped down the last of my beer and headed back to the ski lift. There was quite a wait to go down the lift, so I rued having drunk my beer so fast. At least I didn’t shotgun it.
Finally I boarded the gondola and start heading down. At the base of the mountain I could make out three figures crossing the finish line. There was no doubt in my mind that it was Mandy, Garret, and Jen. Damn, I missed being able to see them cross. The gondola reached the bottom, and I disembarked somewhat awkwardly, forgetting that the ground doesn’t move with the chair.
At the beginning of the race, when everyone registered, they were given a bracelet that amounted to one free beer at the end. That’s how I knew where to find my group. I padded over to the bar area, and peered through the line for my party. I found them at the front, and noticed first the mud caked into Cerissas eyelashes. In her EYELASHES!Jen was drenched in sweat and water, and all five were scraped, muddy, and smiling.
In the end I was envious of the sincere looks of accomplishment painted in mud, sweat, and occasionally blood on these warriors faces. Mostly, though, I felt an overwhelming sense of secondhand pride. I saw in my fiancé and her clan of mountain-goers a strength and humility that reflects the nature of their personalities. They defeated this obstacle course, and as they swallowed the last gulp of their well-deserved ale I swear I could see their eyes smile with a glint that says…. “What’s next?”