I knew it had been raining in the vicinity of Shamrock, Missouri, last weekend but I had no idea how much rain they’d had. I know they hide information like that in newspapers and online articles and websites and such but I didn’t demonstrate enough initiative to investigate. On the one hand, I figured it didn’t matter; I was just hoping the forecast for rain and mid-fifties during the race Saturday afternoon would turn out to be inaccurate. I was hoping for sunny and sixty, at the least. As we turned off County Road 1042 into the pasture-slash-parking area, I took a different point of view regarding local rainfall.
Two tractors were busy towing minivans and sedans toward their parking spots.
Part of the problem, a big part of the problem, was that a lot of people have no idea how to drive through mud and mush. Some try to creep through, apparently afraid of getting muck on their car. Others floor the accelerator, as if spinning their tires at eighty-miles-an-hour will give them some advantage. It does not.
Another part of the problem was that the volunteers kept directing drivers of cars with six inches of ground clearance toward a terrace that had a dip on the low side and another one on the high side, creating a lip that required at least a foot of clearance. But at least the combination of factors was keeping the tractor guys busy.
Finally, one of the volunteers gave me the okay to try a different route, one with a lot less slope and no craters. I got a short running start, kept my speed up without spinning into a stall and then took a sharp turn to the left after I passed the terrace. Those years of growing up on the farm, driving tractors and pickup trucks on dirt paths and logging trails had paid off yet once more. If you can drive an empty, rear-wheel drive pickup through a muddy bog and up a sloppy hill, doing it with front-wheel drive seems like cheating.
It would turn out to be a day of cheating for me.
No, I didn’t try to sneak in; I paid my parking fee, my entry fee and Randa’s spectator fee. I didn’t try to get a ringer to run in my place or take any short cuts on the eleven-mile jaunt through the mud. I didn’t even skip any of the obstacles. Knowing that I was going to be wet and in the chill and wind for a few hours, I’d stuffed a little help into one of my pockets.
About two hours in, after wading through the creek a couple of times and jumping into the pool from fifteen feet high, I started getting cold. Standing in line for the wall/rope climb, I started shivering. Then I started shaking. After waiting for twenty-to-thirty minutes, it was finally my turn.
I gripped the rope and lifted my leg to step onto the first slat fastened across the bottom of the fifteen-foot high wall. As soon as I lifted my foot, my right calf muscle spasmed. My foot slid off about eight inches away from where I was trying to put it. As soon as I lifted my left foot, the same thing happened to that leg. My feet splayed around and I spun toward the side, just like the guy a couple of places in front of me had done. Somehow, I got my feet to place in the vicinity of where I wanted them and started pulling and stepping up the wall. I grabbed the top ledge, worked around the rope and over. Then I grabbed the rope on the opposite side and made my way down those slats… in a bit less time.
As I started on down the mud trail, I reached into my pocket and pulled out the large black trash bag I’d stuffed in there. My hands were shaking so much I had a hard time getting it opened. Eventually, I got it opened, shook it to get air inside it and pulled it down over me. I even managed to poke my head through the hole I’d cut out just for such an emergency.
Within two minutes, I felt warm again. For the next five miles, I looked like the ace of spades from “Alice in Wonderland.” Big black bag with skinny legs sticking out the bottom and an old gray-bearded face sticking out the top. No arms; I figured I’d stay warmer if I kept them inside. Every time I’d go by a group of people, I’d hear someone snicker. One young guy ran by me as we headed into a woods. “Good thinking, man,” he panted as he went by, “Good idea.”
Every time I approached an obstacle, I’d take the bag off and stuff it into my pocket. On the other side, I’d put it back on. I loved my big black bag. It wasn’t toasty warm but it certainly blocked off the wind and kept me from having to deal with mild hypothermia. After the jump into the ice pit and having to duck below the center barrier and wade over to the other side, my love for my big black garbage bag approached life commitment status.
In the tenth mile, I passed a large group of young, athletic looking participants. As I jogged by, I heard one young woman start laughing out loud, “Did you see that?! That is ridiculous!” It stung a bit but I grinned to myself and thought, “I’m sixty years old; you’re twenty-three. If you want to laugh at me as I run by you ten miles into an eleven-mile race, go ahead.”
Soon after that, the sun broke through the clouds for a while and my bag turned into a real body warmer. Something about black and ultraviolet rays, I think. A half-mile from the finish line, I pulled off my bag and stuck it back into my pocket. I crossed the finish line about five minutes ahead of Laughing Girl.
I knew ahead of time people would laugh but I knew that I needed the help of a thin plastic garbage bag. Admitting that in front of hundreds of strangers wasn’t really something I looked forward to or enjoyed. But I was willing to endure it in order to conserve my body heat and retain enough strength to finish the race. I’d rather be laughed at as I cross the finish line than to be admired as they haul me off on an ATV.
That’s the same way I feel about being cloaked with the blood of Jesus. Sometimes, the fear of ridicule makes us lay down the garment of our beliefs. Let’s keep ourselves focused on the finish line; let’s not worry about who’ll be laughing then.