one ugly mudder.

By Monday morning it was evident that Piper Bea had something far worse than the common cold.  Infants can be cranky and sport runny noses with enough frequency to often have it seem the norm.  Piper had crankiness and snot in spades but was listless in a completely unrecognizable way.

All week long we monitored a whip-sawing fever that would leap to 102.9 before vanishing entirely only to reemerge at a heart-stopping 104.  We visited the doctor on three different occasions and had taken the prescribed chest x-rays that thankfully revealed no major respiratory concerns.

Basically, our week looked (and sounded) a lot like this:

At bedtime on Saturday evening and with the prospect of another restless night looming, I was still uncertain of whether I'd make it to the start line of Pretzel City Sports's Ugly Mudder.  Another Ron Horn creation, the Mudder travels the rocky, rooty and, you guessed it, muddy trails of Mt. Penn above Reading, Pennsylvania in all their post-snow glory.

Jefferson had made up his mind to test his knee at the event several weeks earlier and I'd caught the bug myself.  At just a hair over 7 miles, the Ugly Mudder was shorter than the events that I was training toward tackling later in the year, but would be a great chance to see if I had any fleetness whatsoever and an opportunity to "race" early in the season.

Besides, there was a killer hoodie to be had.

We arrived with a good half hour to spare before the 11:00 start time and the place was packed.  Really packed.  I believe that there were nearly 600 signed up beforehand and there were enough walk-ups to push the start time out by a good 40 minutes as the good folks at Pretzel City kept registration open.

That is a whole lot of bodies leaving a start line headed for the beginning section of single-track on a course that consists mostly of the same.  In other words, this was not an event at which to get buried in the pack at the start.  But, true to form, Jefferson and I managed to do just that.

As Ron went over final instructions, I searched desperately and unsuccessfully for cracks in the crowd that might allow passage to somewhere closer to the front of the line.  When the gun went off, I was feeling frustrated and wasted adrenaline because of it.  By mile 2, I was feeling plenty gassed and wondered what the next 5 miles would bring.

Thankfully, I settled into a rhythm and my spirits started to pick up along with my pace.  The course overlapped periodically with the Ghouls n' Fools track and it was interesting to see in full daylight what had been cloaked in darkness back in October.  We passed beneath the storied Pagoda and Reading spread out in all directions below us.  A right turn dumped us back into the woods and off we went, up and down, sometimes on all fours.

Apparently some vandals removed a stretch of trail markers that led to some confusion in the middle of the course.  I'm pretty sure  I covered a small section of trail twice, but that didn't bother me nearly as much as it seemed to those individuals who'd had some hope of placing near the top of the standings.  I suppose there are some benefits to being short on talent.

Late in the course there were some wild downhills that included treacherous footing, loose rocks and tons and tons of thorns.  I had blood pouring from my knees and legs but dodged a real bullet when my shirt bore the brunt of what could've been a wicked goring from a downed tree limb.  I knew I'd totalled the shirt, but it wasn't until I got home later in the day that I realized a huge chunk of the shirt had actually been removed entirely. 

A final unpleasant uphill clamber that mirrored the end of Ghouls n' Fools deposited me at the finish line a couple minutes over an hour from when I started.  Especially considering that I'd boxed myself in at the start and felt fairly miserable a short while into the race, I was rather pleased.  I believe I ended up just outside of the top 30 which is about as close to the top as I can realistically hope to be.  More importantly, I'd had a wondrously enjoyable day on the trail (and before and afterwards) with an extended family of trail runners, including Jesse and Derek whom I hadn't seen together since they began their shared march to tackling a 100-miler.

Erin, Noah, Finn and Jefferson's mum-in-law were waiting at the finish and it was a joy to see the boys light up at the sight of their dad approaching.  As soon as Jeff appeared at the bottom of the last climb, their encouraging shouts drowned out the voices of all the other supporters on the course.

That was awesome and made my thoughts return to Piper.  Though she was asleep when I got home, she woke from her nap with bright-again-at-last eyes and a glorious grin that hinted her illness might finally be on the wane.

I couldn't have asked for a better end to an Ugly Mudder of a week.

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