Getting Dirty

12 May 2014

"Bloody hell."

It's one of the best compliments I've had for a while.

I've just unstylishly mantled a head-high platform, after declining a boost from the big guy behind me - provoking his comment. But although there were plenty of intimidating obstacles at the Dirty Weekend, for me this wasn't one of them.

As you get stronger, your idea of 'normal' continues to adjust to 'just slightly stronger than I am right now'. I bet the guys who swarmed up the rope-climb and did chinups on the top, just because they could, didn't think there was anything weird about that. (And maybe there wasn't, but I flailed uselessly at the bottom of the rope and then ran on).

The monkey bars are a much more serious obstacle. I start strongly, but halfway across, there's a problem. They've made the bars by bolting together two segments of scaffold, and at the join, there's only a thin edge to hold on to. I shift a hand to it experimentally; it's definitely too sharp to carry my weight. I dangle, and hesitate.

Then I swing up and hook my feet on the bars. It's bizarre and risks dumping me into the mud upside-down, but it shifts my centre of gravity far enough forward that I can skip a rung, getting my hands back on the scaffold on the far side of the join. From there it's easy.

As I clear the next obstacle, I look over to see how everyone else is handling that one. People are clearing the bars by swinging forward much faster, taking only every second rung, so the join isn't an issue for them at all. A tiny runner, with less reach than me, has selected the 'hard' path that's several times as long. I feel slightly less proud of myself.

But my way worked too, and it was instinctive, not calculated. "Listen to your body", it turns out, doesn't just mean "pay attention when it complains". It also means "listen to its suggestions; it knows what it can do, and it knows how to solve problems with the tools it has".

Later on I apply this again, at a steeply overhanging wall. People are scrambling up the slippery support struts, awkwardly levering themselves across. Someone offers me a hand up, but I decline with "I think I can just do this". And I'm right; I jump vertically, grab the lip of the wall with my fingertips, and haul myself over.

The route winds back around to the river. This time, they've spaced a dozen canoes across it, with thin planks connecting them to make a bridge of sorts. The canoes drift in the current, and some of the planks are missing.

There's a big gap with a tricky one-legged landing on a slippery, moving beam. Under normal circumstances I'd never have attempted this. I know I can't jump that far. But I don't have any choice; the consequences of failure are only slightly worse than the consequences of not trying. So I jump it, stick the landing, and scramble across the rest of the structure, dry. Next time, I won't even hesitate.

This kind of instant recalibration was a revelation to me. It seems that in a lot of cases, you fail because you think you're going to. (Sure, sometimes you fail because you're just not tough enough and no amount of mind games will make a difference). Continuing to build up examples of success gives you the mental ammunition to push harder. And I bet this doesn't just apply to physical challenges.

I found this race much less frightening than I'd expected. But there's always more to do. As with every Rat Race event, at the end I came up against the Wall of Fame. Once again, I ran at it, jumped, and didn't manage to get my fingers on the top.

But I think I might be getting closer.