On September 29, 2013, I ran an obstacle-course-marathon-event called Tough Mudder, with a wonderful group of humans. We called ourselves the, "Mudder Funkers," and wore matching shirts that said, "Here for the Beer." It was an incredible experience, and I learned about the values of teamwork, friendship, persistence, tenacity, and especially how to overcome mental blocks.
A few days before, I looked up videos online on the known obstacles, trying to prepare myself and make an action plan. Unfortunately they intimidated the crap out of me, especially when it came to the obstacle called Mount Everest. The premise is simple: you run up half of a half-pipe, and pull yourself over. It's the second last challenge before the finish line, so you've already been through the gauntlet (literally --there's one called, "Zappy Gauntlet" which is exactly what it sounds like). By the time you hit Everest, you're running on adrenaline and fumes. The half-pipe is also covered in mud, so it's pretty slippery. Watching brave souls in other cities face-plant again and again with 3 days until the event, I'd already resigned myself into accepting that I wouldn't be able to complete it, but that I would at least, "try."
On the day of, when we got to Mount Everest, my teammates and I were tired, but happy with how well we'd been doing. We each tried our first go at Everest, but no one made it. My own attempt was admittedly pretty pathetic.
The hype guy gave us tips. "It's counter-intuitive, but lean back and keep running, even when you're reaching." I tried again, though I'm sure that attempt was also lame. Then one of the most triumphant moments of the day (second only to crossing the finish line) happened: Mari, another Mudder Funker, made it up the wall. "Wait, what? This is possible?" I thought in amazement. "Holy shit, this is totally possible. No, not just possible, this is happening."
Two more teammates made it over before I tried again. On this attempt, I was a good foot away from Dawn's hands, but I wasn't leaning back, so I slid the rest of the way down. Try again. Next attempt I was inches away, but I didn't keep running while I reached, so I slipped back down. Try again. On this attempt, I nearly made it, we touched hands, but my grip strength was lacking, and what felt like the saddest moment of my life was when my fingers slipped through Dawn's and I fell, again, sliding all the way down.
I didn't move. I just sat there for a minute, on the bottom of the half-pipe, wallowing in defeat.
No, bump that noise, I said to myself. You can do it. Get up. Try again.
This time, I dug deeper than ever and charged up that halfpipe with everything I had inside. Boom --a connection! I locked onto Dawn's hands, Alex grabbed my left, and they started pulling me up. I managed to reach a leg up onto the edge, and next thing I knew, I was standing up there with the others, probably the happiest I had ever been, cheering on the next teammate.
There is no way I would have been able to tackle Everest --even the whole race-- without that incredible crew. I am so lucky to have been --and always be-- part of the Mudder Funkers. The Mudder Legion, which is all Mudders, is genuinely awe-inspiring. Every Mudder supports each other, mentally, emotionally, and physically. You make a pledge before you even start the race. However, even with every Mudder beside you, you'll never make it through without believing in yourself.
Since that first Tough Mudder, I've let go and tried things (ice climbing, snowboarding, and scuba diving --not to mention packing up my car and driving across Canada, and moving halfway around the world to Japan) that I never would have considered before. "I don't do things," is what I used to say. What I meant was, "I don't do things I'm not sure I can already do." Oftentimes mental blocks are a bigger problem than lack of ability, and self-doubt is the biggest obstacle in our way.
The following year, our team ran another Tough Mudder, and everyone made it over Everest on their first try. We didn't train any harder, weren't any stronger, and were definitely not in any better shape. The only difference, really, was that this time, we already knew it could be done.