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There comes a time in life when one just has to dive into the mud.

For me, that time came last month, just short of the finish line for the Warrior Dash 2013 obstacle race. Strands of barbed wire hung a foot above the mud pit in front of me, and at first I tried to wade across the thigh deep muck and duck the wires. But the first barbed line snagged the back of my shirt as I bent underneath, and I decided “what the heck, this is what it’s all about.” I belly flopped into the mud and started crawling.

The splash caught the left lens on my glasses as I settled into the brackish slime, and somewhere in the crowd a voice cheered on my decision.

I had expected the mud earlier. I spent the prior 50 minutes running, walking, panting, jumping, sweating, running, walking again and climbing cross three miles of hilly backwoods west of Des Moines. Never having run a race outside of gym class, I signed up for the obstacles, but it was the hills the did me in.

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The first challenge was a series of walls. Up one side, down the other, with footholds. After that came tires, kind of like the football drill, but more. Instead of stepping in the middle of the wheel, I chose to walk on the sidewalls for a quicker pace. At the end of the tire field was a mountain of tires to climb and then a semi trailer to crawl under, I rolled under because it was faster and took less effort.

After more running, it was more walls. Climb over one and then crawl, or roll, under a waist-high fences.

Then more running, into the woods, down a hill and along a dry creek bed. I think the plan was to have a flowing creek. A teaser on the Warrior Dash Twitter feed boasted a babbling brook ready for runners. But it has been a hot, dry few weeks leading up to the race, and the parched atmosphere had sucked up any trace of moisture. Too bad. The creek would have been refreshing. The trees offered shade, but the rugged path threatened to twist ankles into shattered stumps.

At the top of the next hill was a challenge using ropes to climb a ramped wall. You’d walk on the wall and pull yourself along. As I watched to figure out a strategy, a woman on the obstacle lost her footing and went splat into the wall. She slowly slid down. I grabbed another rope and headed up and over. The other side, also an incline, had another rope. My rope was snipped about half way, so I went to the end and slid the rest of the way.

Down the field was a low chain cargo net to climb across. More running and then a line of trenches topped by barbed wire and pointy branches. They were too narrow to roll, so crawling on hands and knees was in order.

More running, down and up a ravine, then crawl about 15 to 20 feet under a low-hanging net. This is where I remembered that rolling for extended distance causes disorientation. At the end of the net were tank traps to crawl under.

From there, it was back into the woods. Emerging from the trees, I found an animal bone embedded in the dirt and kicked it loose. At least I’m pretty sure it came from an animal. Across the field were cargo nets hung vertically to transverse. Then came the tough obstacle — a series of chest-deep pits separated by dirt mounds. Climb down one pit, climb out the other side climb up the mound, climb down the mound and into the next pit and so on for four or five pits. Climbing into the first pit, I was disappointed when I didn’t find mud. They had promised mud. Another runner passed me, shaving off a few seconds by jumping over the pits. I decided against the maneuver, not wanting to risk a bad landing.

As I passed the next water station, I overheard some racers tell a staff member about a twisted ankle at the last challenge.

From there, it was down a hill, up what seemed to be the longest hill. I stopped at the top and leaned against the fence to catch my breath before moving on. At the bottom of the path was a set of balance beams high over a man-made pond. Part of me wanted to drop into the drink just to cool off, but instead I scooted across in a careful fencing stance, advancing with the right foot and following with the left.

Around the corner was the race’s signature Warrior Roast, two lines of fire to jump. The fires were deceptive. They looked small, but the heat radiated up, making the jumps more intense. Adding to the danger is the fact that most runners were clad shirts and shorts made of synthetic material, which has a low flash point. Sure, it’s good for running and wicks moisture, but it also fuels fire. One misstep and the flames will torch the fabric, searing the molten mess to flesh.

In case anyone ignited while jumping the roast, the mud crawl under the barbed wire came next. Once I embraced the mud, the rest was easy. Some ahead tried to stay upright, wading through and struggling to keep their footing. The mud was runny, mostly water, so crawling meant floating on top, reaching down to the bottom and pulling across with hands.

Crossing the finish line earned a medal (actually a bottle opener on a ribbon, which I promptly lost when I placed it on top of my car while changing into clean clothes). The shoe tracking chip was traded for a free beer, and after three miles, domestic light brew never tasted better.

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