A couple of years ago, my sister challenged me to try running a 5k. She even sent me a pair of running shoes after I committed. I was in shock, how was I ever going to run a 5k? I didn’t know where to begin so I used a lifeline and phoned a friend. Not only did my friend encourage me, she was also willing to run it with me. We started training with a C25K program and before you knew it, we had formed a small running group that included my friend’s daughter and a couple of other friends. We gave ourselves a name and started doing monthly 5k races. A lot of our races involved copious amounts of walking, however, as we were all new to running.
One of the things we tried to do was to find fun races that were entertaining as well as healthy. We did a glow run, a color run, a tutu run, and we even did a butterfly run through the mountains on Earth Day. After several successful runs, we decided as a group, to try our luck with a Marine Mud Run, which is a little more challenging due to the obstacles, a couple of short swims, and of course, the mud it is named after. We were not a fast group; we ran for fun and supported each other along the way. We didn’t plan to set any course records; we just had a plan to not leave any team member behind.
The afternoon before the race, it rained and I don’t just mean a little rain. The skies split open that afternoon and it rained straight through for 16 hours. The morning of the race, it was still a heavy drizzle but the race was not cancelled. We were not scheduled to run until the afternoon but we met early for breakfast and headed out to the course. By the time we got there, the rain had stopped but the mud was horrendous. The first several waves of runners were competitive and had used cleats to gain a competitive edge. The course was trashed. The water pits were overflowing and every obstacle was well coated with mud. We laughed it off and decided that once you got a little muddy, any extra mud wouldn’t hurt. We lined up with our wave and waited for the signal to run.
When the signal came, we started slipping and sliding down the course. The first hill we came to was nothing but a giant slide of infamous Tennessee red clay. We made our way to the top of the hill with a group of volunteer firemen from a nearby location. On the downhill side, we slid straight into a mud pit and one of the firemen took a pretty hard hit. He decided the mud was too much by the second pit and stepped off the course. We were surprised that we were going to soldier on but we had decided to finish the race no matter what. We cleared several more pits and headed up another hill. The sun was just breaking through and we were feeling pretty good as we ran through a grassy field. We were pretty jovial and then, we ran around a curve and could see a wall ahead. As we got closer, it was easier to see that it was a solid wood wall that was about 42” tall.
I knew at that moment I was finished. I only stand 62” tall and could just see over the top of that smooth wooden wall. There were no handholds and no booster step. I knew, beyond a shadow of a doubt that I could not climb that wall. As I stood there, several taller runners we didn’t know came up behind me and, with a leap, leveraged themselves over the wall. My arms were weak and, when I tried to replicate their moves, I couldn’t manage to lever my legs up to the top. Their method simply did not work for me. I was defeated. The wall was insurmountable.
While I stood there feeling sorry for myself, I heard the sloshing of muddy steps behind me and the next thing I knew, my friend was beside me leaning over with her fingers laced together. “Give me your foot,” she said. I looked at her blankly; she was not much taller than me and in no better shape. “Come on,” she added when she saw my hesitation.
I picked up my foot, placed it on her hands, and the next thing I knew, I was on the other side of the wall. I stood there, stunned, for what seemed like a long time thinking “Wow!” I was literally up against a wall that I couldn’t handle by myself and a simple boost from a friend put me on the other side. It was an epiphany and put so many things in my life into perspective. That wall summed up several years of frustration and represented how I viewed most of my personal issues. All of those burdens I had been struggling with would be less difficult with a little help from a friend. After all, a burden, by definition, is too heavy to carry on your own. I also realized that I was not the only one facing insurmountable obstacles. I thought about my friend on the other side of the wall, the one who had selflessly tossed me to the other side. I knew she wouldn’t be able to climb the wall any easier than I could have. I also knew that she would be aware of that fact.
I ran back around the wall, and there she was, tossing our last team member up and over. Then, she straightened up and started my way to go around the wall that stood in her path. She would be disqualified for bypassing the obstacle and she knew that, yet she was willing to take that penalty to ensure the success of her team members. I smiled and ran over too her. She looked me in the eye and smiled back. I leaned down, laced my fingers together, and said, “Give me YOUR foot!” Her muddy shoe landed in my hand and I shoved her up and over with all my might. She cleared the wall and I ran back to the other side with no bypass penalty as I had already cleared the obstacle once. We high fived and started on down the course with a renewed purpose.
For the rest of the run, we worked harder as a team knowing that teamwork would get us over, under, and through any obstacle that would be thrown into our path. We paused before the final short swim of the run and had a course helper snap a photo of our team standing together coated in mud. We then jumped into the lake and swam across the cove. Climbing up the bank on the other side together as a team, we made our way to the finish line. Our time was much slower than any previous 5k we had run but our pride at finishing that course was immense.
Looking back, I now understand that I learned a lot about life in general during that race. I now know that here are many times when I feel like I have come up against an obstacle that I cannot hope to clear. When the situations I find myself in induce desperation, stress, anxiety, and depression I think back to that mud covered wall and even though I feel like giving up and quitting I pick up the phone and call a friend. I remember well the lesson I learned at that wall and I know that all I need is a little help from my friends.