I am, and always have been, a girly girl. Lipstick, sparkly shoes, wavy hair, pink anything–j’adore it all. As a child, my grandparents nicknamed me “dolly” because I was constantly dressed in bonnets and ruffly dresses and little bows. Athletic? Not a chance. P.E. was my least favorite class and running the mile my own personal version of hell. When it came to hobbies, I preferred acting to soccer, reading to throwing a ball. In my twenties, yoga was my workout of choice, along with the occasional, painful (short) run on the treadmill. So no one was as surprised as I was when I signed up to do Tough Mudder, a male dominated 12 mile, 20 obstacle run that dubs itself “probably the toughest event on the planet.” A run that includes mud and fire, bruises and electric voltage.
 
I’ve spent the last two years working out and getting strong: running, crossfitting, weight lifting, and kettle bell swinging until my arms feel like they might fall off. But even with this new foray into the world of fitness, I just didn’t see myself “that” way. You know, the badass way. The, “I can scale walls and run really far and scrape myself up” kind of way. In my mind, I was still “dolly,” the precious, bow wearing girly girl who would rather play it safe inside with a book.
 
I used to think Tough Mudder people were crazy, that they had taken their love of fitness and challenge to an unhealthy level. Who would want to put themselves through all of the painful crap? What were they trying to prove, exactly?
 
And then I signed up for it. And I trained for it. And, afterwards, mud covered and bruised and tired, I totally got it.
 
Tough Mudder is a race against yourself. It isn’t timed. There’s no one checking in on you. It’s a chance to do all of the things you were pretty sure you weren’t capable of doing. For me, that initially meant proving that I could be tough and messy and strong. But it ended up being more than that.
 
I’m claustrophobic. I can’t go in enclosed water slides or hang out in tight, tiny spaces. The idea of certain activities–like scuba diving and spelunking–makes my skin crawl. So when I saw that there were three claustrophobic obstacles at Tough Mudder, I was convinced I would run right past them. Just visualizing crawling through the water filled tube called “Boa Constrictor” made my heart race and my stomach churn.
 
I told myself I could skip it. Because why torture yourself into doing something that terrifies you, right? Why put yourself through this:
 
Tough Mudder Boa Constrictor
 
When you could be at home enjoying brunch in your pajamas? I would do Tough Mudder, sure, but with a few tiny exceptions.
 
As we started running, I negotiated with myself: “Well, maybe you can do one of the claustrophobic obstacles or even two. That would be good enough. If you do that, you don’t have to do the Boa Constrictor.” I swam through ice water and trekked through a mile of mud and got shocked over and over again while crawling through shallow water. Some of it (electric shocks, hello?) was downright painful. But I was doing it. I was running up a mountain and tackling tough, dirty stuff. So I went through the first (and least scary) claustrophobic obstacle. And I kept running. And jumping. And crawling. And scraping. And eventually we came to the Boa Constrictor.
 
I crouched down and looked into that water-filled tube. My heart stopped. I wanted to do it but I knew I couldn’t. I got up and walked the length of the pipe to see where the people dropped out of the first tube into the water and where the second, slanted pipe began. No way. My teammates had finished. Not wanting to hold them back, I reconciled myself to running again. I’d told myself that I could skip it, so I would.
 
And then it hit me, square in the chest: maybe it’s time for my fears to stop controlling what I can and can’t do. I turned around and raced back to the starting point. I picked an outside tube where the water was a little lower and threw myself in. I crawled and swam and crawled again. And just like that, it was over. I leapt out of that second tube feeling like I might burst with happiness. No amount of mud or mileage could make me feel as powerful as facing one of my oldest fears in the eye and saying, “F you, claustrophobia.”
 
The rest of the race was just icing on the cake. Wet, dirty, delicious icing.
Tough Mudder Walk the Plank
For most of us, it’s not our bodies but our brains that hold us back: I’m too weak, too old, too fat, too girly, I’m scared of heights, claustrophobic, not a runner, that’s not my “thing.” We become so warm and cozy inside of these assumptions that we allow them to define us. Outside of our assumptions lie the scary, unknown things: the tiny tubes and electric volts and the great, big personal risks like moving or starting a company or starting over. What would we do if there was nothing holding us back? Who could we become?
 
I’m still bumping along on that journey, trying to look all of the scary things in the eye until they’re not so scary. But on this leg, I learned something pretty cool: I can be a bow wearing girly girl and a badass. It isn’t either/or. I can do anything I want. I just have to give myself permission to try.
Tough Mudder
What assumptions are holding you back? What would it feel like to challenge them?
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