I really thought this crazy thing would be about going over / under / through / up / down obstacles, but it turned out to be a much bigger thing than I expected.
The 5K Foam Fest is a fun obstacle course race that takes place in different areas of the country. We first heard about it around Christmas, when a group of us were doing the 5K Santa Shuffle fun run for the Salvation Army. This wasn’t one group who have known each other for a long time, it was a bunch of women bringing in their friends to do a Christmas fundraiser. Through the miracle of Facebook, we started seeing ads for this obstacle race and some of us decided to sign up. Then we brought friends in to make the team bigger. A lot of us started as strangers but finished as friends. We started a message thread on Facebook and added people as others heard of what we were going to do. We chose a team name… OOYL (Only Once You Live… ala Yoda) and even managed to organize team shirts (thanks Krista!).
The race was at Silverstar Ski Resort near Vernon and even though it was June and sunny, it was bloody cold – it even snowed the night before.
The idea of the event is you run through foam that’s deeper than you are, and then head out on a trail course where there will be approximately 20 obstacles you’ll have to tackle. Many of these obstacles involve water… actually, probably at least half.
Why was this crazy?
This was crazy for a number of reasons. First, there are the obstacles. I’m not really built for climbing, I didn’t even crawl when I was a baby (extremely sensitive knees!) and I was never really a monkey bar type of kid.
Second, I am an obsessively prepared person. I like to know exactly what I’m getting myself in for well before I show up for anything. For this event, I wasn’t even sure what all the obstacles would be although the promotional videos showed a number of them. I intentionally didn’t think about it. I didn’t look for ropes somewhere to try climbing those net things in secret when nobody was looking. I didn’t set up a mock obstacle course in some remote area so I could master the obstacles in secret. I just parked the obsessive part of my brain that needs to not look foolish and showed up on the day of the event.
Third, and this I didn’t think about ahead of time, I was on a team with a bunch of women – some of whom I didn’t know. This isn’t always a big deal but I work with almost all women, and have for most of my adult life, and sometimes things can get … bitchy or competitive. Hanging with groups of women is not something I normally pursue but I have done it more in the past few years. This turned out to be one of the coolest parts of my experience.
So my running buddy Jody and I showed up at the site, we tracked down our team members, which wasn’t easy given there were roughly 5,000 people competing through the day, and we lined up at the start line. There were 14 of us. It was awesome.
Let the obstacles begin!
When we started four of us wanted to run more so they went off ahead. The rest of us stayed together for most of the course. We went through foam, straight up a mountain, down inflatable slides into pools of freezing foamy mud, and then we got to a fence. I’m thinking it was about 10 feet tall and the horizontal slats were at odd distances from each other. Some of us hopped right over, but others, such as myself, had trouble with the physics of it. I could get up on the bottom rung but I couldn’t get my arm around to pull myself over. A boost from behind from my teammates and I was nearly launched over it. Obstacle complete, and I had my first sense of how amazing this day would be.
We continued, more inflatable slides, back down the mountain, to a rope we climbed to pull ourselves up a hill that looked like straw but turned out be ice and snow covered by straw. Then we reached the lily pads. These are the type of mats we used in gym when I was in school. They were lashed together with rope into a long chain that ran almost the length of a really large pond. The idea is you have to run across these to the other side without falling in. Well, plenty of people fell in. Nobody survived with dry feet. I managed to stumble a bit but I made it across and it was a huge amount of fun. I was last in our group and the rest of them were on the other side cheering me on. Hmmm, this team concept might not be so bad. Then we had to crawl across inner tubes that were lashed together over more water – nothing was dry from this point on!
Next we ran up the mountain (other side of the valley) and encountered more obstacles – tires (like football players run through), more sliding, a maze of bungy cord that made me think I was training to rob an elite financial institution, and then crawling through mud below a web of bungy cord so you had to really crawl to make it underneath. There was shale in the mud so my knees, though numb from cold, were screaming! We slid down more slides into wet pools, ran through deep mud pools, and then reached a vertical web of rope that we had to make our way across laterally. Again, I was at the end of the group and I noticed that for a moment, the entire obstacle was covered in women in blue tank tops – my team. It made me feel proud – some weren’t confident on this at all. We heard it was best to grab the vertical parts of the net instead of the horizontal, which was more instinctive. It worked and we all made it through. There was another net that followed, but it was a huge, maybe 30ft, tent-shaped structure that we had to climb over. One of my team was on the other side ahead of me. She stayed in one place, keeping the ropes taut for me, so it was easier to climb over… teamwork!
For all of these obstacles a core group of nine of us stayed together the whole time. The group didn’t move until every one of us completed the obstacle. That made me feel so good. And I’m super proud that despite a diverse collection of fears, none of us skipped an obstacle – we all supported each other and made it through every obstacle!
Two hours after we started (there were bottlenecks at some of the obstacles with long lines) we reached our last obstacle, an enormous inflatable slide that we went down two at a time. I’m not wild about falling / jumping from heights or moving fast. Jody and I did it together. I screamed. I loved it!
Here is the bonus I wasn’t expecting. We were a group that stayed together. Instead of egos there was problem solving. This person has short legs and a fear of heights, how do we get her over this obstacle? And then we made it happen. One of us turned her ankle. We all stopped until she was OK to go on. One for all, all for one!
I have never been so cold, wet and happy all at the same time! Next year we’re opening the team up to our families / partners. Current working team name is… Revenge of the Mud Monsters!
Huge thanks to my teammates – I am so grateful for every single one of them: Jody, Krista, Monica, Tracey, Trisha, Pam, Heidi, Stacy, Christine, Jillian, Diane, Dina, and Terri – while most of us stayed together, those that didn’t were still a huge part of my experience because the experience wasn’t just the weekend, it was the fun months of planning leading up to it!
Also huge thanks to Nathan Froese, who got way better pictures of us than the Foam Fest people did! Many of these pictures came from Nathan, and others came from three disposable waterproof cameras we had on the course with us. We are definitely doing that again next year!