It was mile three. I think. I never did press start on my watch, and I definitely wasn't wearing my Garmin. What I was wearing was a plastic Viking helmet fitted with homemade yarn braids. And while I was running, it was nothing close to race pace. Instead, my feet skipped along the path as I spotted my teammate, Sylvia—also known as co- Viking "Helga"—passing me on a mountain bike: "Pedal hard, my friend!" I shouted in my best Nordic accent. My mind and body felt so light, I could have run a marathon, helmet and all.
But this was no 26.2. I was actually preparing for my third marathon, and this time around, I was taking things a little less seriously. The last training plan I followed wore my hip flexors to threads, and my disappointing goal race left me teary for hours.
Racing a Muddy Buddy was the perfect event to set the tone for my latest attempt—focused, but fun. The Muddy Buddy events are a nationwide series of 18 races sponsored by Columbia, the sporting good manufacturer. They require teams of two to alternate riding a mountain bike and running over a 10K course that includes an average of five obstacles (think rope walls, plastic slides, and mud pits). The one I did last year in Boulder, Colorado, was an opportunity to enjoy sports I love while busting a sweat, having a ball, and hanging with Sylvia.
Like me, she's a six-foot-tall native Minnesotan. As such, we made the perfect team: Twelve Feet of Minnesota Nice.
At the start, Sylvia sped off with a herd of costumed riders, including a Lucha Libre wrestler and Ponch from ChiPs. I followed 30 seconds later, so focused on the legion of granny panties around me I didn't even notice the race started with an uphill. When I reached the first obstacle, High Wall, it momentarily freaked out my weak upper body, but the ascent was little more than a playground maneuver. I picked up the bike Sylvia had left for me and rode to the next obstacle.
We continued to leapfrog as we negotiated barriers that had us crawling on our knees for 20 feet on dry grass under a low net (no place for a Viking helmet), wobbling across balance beams (harder to balance six feet of nice than I thought), and careening down a 30-foot inflatable slide (behind a Jane Fonda look-alike in a Day-Glo pink leotard).
Compared to typical road events where runners are either rigged with iPods or laser focused, the costumed camaraderie made the Muddy Buddy feel like a party. "Love your fishnets!" and "Awesome thong!" don't usually come out of my mouth on race days. There were also unique opportunities to interact with and help out fellow racers. Late in the races, people on a cycling leg had to carry their bikes across an ankle-deep, shoe-sucking, 50-yard-long bog and then scale a slippery, nearly vertical, eight-foot slope.