You know, you'd think I would be smarter. When I signed up for the SEAL challenge, my thinking was, "they can't bring a bunch of civilians out there and expect them to do SEAL stuff." That, my friends, was a big mistake in judgement. What I should have been thinking was, "The SEALS aren't going to put their good name on an event and then host a little run through the park with a few push-ups and some logs to jump over." Today, I find out that we will be covering their personal 5-mile physical training course. Oh, there will be some push-ups. And lots and lots of logs of all sizes, too. But I soon discover those will be the easy part. Although I thought I knew what to expect, I had no clue. Photo links that follow are from last years race, for illustration purposes. I must say last year looks cold, and they don't look muddy and wet like we got, so I am thinking they didn't get the dousing we got.
I felt good this morning. I was up near the front, and had a clear, fast, easy start. Running strongly but comfortably, I was probably one the first 25 of the 900 entrants to reach the water hole at about the 3/4 mile mark.
It was maybe 10 feet across and 4 feet deep, filled with brown, muddy water. It looked like chocolate milk. The SEAL on the other side had a bullhorn, and was shouting "DISAPPEAR IN THAT WATER OR YOU DON'T COME OUT!" We plunged in fearlessly, one after the other without breaking stride, making sure to get our heads under the water on the way across. I emerged on the other side muddy, but still feeling pretty good about myself. That was fun!
Then I tried to lift my now soggy shoes, which felt like lead weights. "Uh oh," I thought. Now if we had hit a road or firm ground at that point, things would have been better for me. I might have recovered and regained my rhythm. But we didn't; instead, we headed for the soft sand. And things quickly got worse. Much worse.
Across the sand we zigzagged, my feet getting heavier and heavier all the way. I looked ahead and saw our destination: a 25 foot high sand dune, and a very steep dune at that. Scrambling up that thing required digging your way along with your hands and really took the starch out of me. Going down the other side,
I stepped in a hole and tumbled down about 10 feet, head over heels. Somebody, I don't know if it was the SEAL on top of the dune or another runner, started yelling, "MAN DOWN! MAN DOWN!" With over 800 people coming along behind, I didn't want to be lying at the bottom of that hill. So I popped up and continued on my way, and somebody yelled "HE'S OKAY!"
Now I find myself on the beach facing the Chesapeake Bay. A SEAL stands out in the bay, in about waist-deep water. We head across the beach, out into the Bay, and around the SEAL. As we pass, he helpfully points out to us that, "Second place is the number one loser!" Second place? At this point we are still only a mile into this thing and I realize I will happy to simply finish in one piece.
Then it's back across the beach, looking ahead to see that we are headed back up that same damn dune. I struggle to the top,
with a SEAL opining somewhat forcefully, "IT'S JUST A LITTLE HILL!" On top and exhausted, we encounter our first crawl challenge. Into the sand I drop and under the camo-netting, which is too low to allow you to use your knees. So along I go, probably for 50 feet or so, clawing through the soft sand and trying to push off with my feet. I eat sand pushed into my face by the guy in front of me the whole way. Surely, the guy behind me does the same. I struggle back to my feet, and continue on down the backside, but in the space of 5 minutes and maybe 1/2 mile, I have gone from "feeling good" to "a world of hurt."
We come out of the sand and onto a wooded trail. Now, finally, a few logs. At this point, I am so wiped out, all I want to do is jog easily and try to get my wind back. But it is not to be. We have to jump over some logs, and climb over others. And some of the logs (you can't tell which ones by looking at them) are mounted on axles, so they are unstable under foot.
Now, not only am I exhausted, but I can't go on auto-pilot to recover. I have to concentrate.
After maybe a mile of this (it seemed like more), we emerge from the woods onto a large field. Here stand two SEALS, maybe 100 feet apart. The first is yelling "BEAR CRAWL! BEAR CRAWL! HANDS AND FEET!" the second is yelling "DON'T YOU DARE STAND UP UNTIL YOU GET TO ME!" I am now down all fours, hands and feet on the ground, butt and knees in the air, trying not to face-plant into the grass as I struggle forward. I make it to the end. Barely. Then back out onto the roads for another mile. I try to recover some, but my shoes are just too heavy. I look down and notice both knees are bleeding some, although not too badly. At this point I am reduced to laughing at my folly.
Back into the woods we go. I am so fatigued, I am having difficulty maintaining a straight line. As I brush past the growth on either side of the trail, it occurs to me that the possibility of catching poison ivy has now been added to this travesty. This trail features more unstable logs, climb-over rails, some muddy ground, and, as we emerge, a plastic temporary highway divider to cross. As I pull myself over it, I am so muddy, wet, and sweaty, that I almost slip off the top and go down on the pavement. Almost. Finally, I have caught a break in this thing; I have encountered an obstacle that didn't bite me. Whoopee.
Now I find myself back in a field where another "under the netting" type crawl
is set up. I go through this so slowly, I surprise even myself, and I know how bad I feel. Then, some more woods and logs, another field, and another bear crawl, followed by a choice of either 2 pushups or 2 chin ups. I elect for pushups, and have to do three, because one of the first two wasn't good enough. Another fairly long trail run (I have to stop twice to catch my breathe at this point. But both times, I manage to get it restarted).
Finally, we emerge and the finish line is in sight. But we don't head right for it, as I fervently hope we will. No, instead we run past it,
around another building, and stop for more pushups.
Then it's across a 4'-6" high wood platform (which I barely am able to haul myself up on), through a ditch (did I mention the ditches? I forgot the freaking ditches!
This is probably ditch number four, they are all pretty deep, with steep sides and muddy bottoms). I barely emerge, and run on towards the finish line.
As I shuffle toward the line, a SEAL shouts through his bullhorn, "C'MON, RUN, THIS IS A RACE NOT A TEAM BUILDING EXERCISE. SIR, ARE YOU BLEEDING FROM YOUR NIPPLES!?" Oh, no. Please God, not that. I look down, and sure enough, my shirt has chafed both nipples raw, and there are two red circles showing through the mud. The final indignity has been visited upon me. What will that finish line photo look like, I wonder. But after 42 long minutes, 38 of them in near-total misery, it is finally over.
I don't know if I will try the SEAL Challenge run next year, but if I do I will certainly approach it differently. And I won't wear that shirt again, either.Update:
At the start of the race, they announced that there were 900 entries. I don't know if that number is accurate, but tonight, I received the following official results. It seems only 360 of us made it to the finish:
Congratulations Kurt Flechtner on finishing the Rudy's SEAL Challenge Euro Cross Country on May 20, 2006. For your records, the weather that day was Sunny, 70 degrees F, 52% humidity, West wind 16 mph.
There were 25 finishers in the Male 45 to 49 age group and 360 finishers in the 8K division.
Your overall finish place was 112, your age group finish place was 7 and your gender finish place was 105. Your time 42:33.70 gave you a 8:33 pace per mile.
So I finished in 7th of 25 for my age group, 112 of 360 overall. Most of the runners were young Navy men, so I am now feeling a lot better about my performance. Maybe I will
run it next year.Update II:
Here's where my time would have placed me in younger men's age groups:
40-44: 12th of 31
35-39: 15th of 41
30-34: 14th of 31
25-29: 23rd of 55
20-24: 24th of 46
Not bad, old man! Here's an interesting note: Brandon Secrest won the overall event in 31:48, but the next two finishers were women, Aurora Scott (16 years old) and Rachel Beckmann (22). So two women, one of them only 16, beat every man out there except one. Way to go, girls!