View Full Version : Marines, Mud, and an Old Sailor

10-20-05, 06:03 AM
Marines, Mud, and an Old Sailor
Voice Guest Columnist
Wednesday, Oct. 19, 2005

Lionel Van Deerlin just told me his granddaughter, Caitlin, who nearly won the Rock 'n' Roll Marathon by coming in a mere four or five hours behind the winner, is going to take part in yet another character test. She and her husband are entered in a special obstacle course race this coming Saturday.

I hate to tell the kids this but they're in for a surprise. This race isn't for sissies even though it's a mere 10k (6.2 miles), as opposed to a 26-mile marathon. Wait until they finally get to the top of Suicide Hill (a mountain if ever I saw one) only to learn they're barely halfway done.

Appropriately enough, the race is sponsored by the Marines at Camp Pendleton. A few times each year those guys and gals host something called a mud run.

Mud run, eh? Yup. And it's fun if you are a little demented or a masochist or love getting dirty. It's popular, too. So many folks are anxious to run it they hold three of them a year and all 3,000 slots are sold-out weeks in advance, at $45 a pop, too.

You have to wonder why, when there are so many other opportunities to just plain run. We San Diegans can test ourselves against the best in the world at almost any distance. We are even host to one of the world's premier marathons.

I've run five of them (not all in San Diego) plus hundreds of shorter races. Only the mud run featured sloshing through a rain storm, gasping your way a good mile uphill to the top of a mountain, crawling over five-foot high barriers with mud on either side, running through tires filled with even more mud, slithering up another mountain in the stuff so slick you have to crawl in some of the spots, and getting on your belly and slithering under wires through a 30-foot long pit of, guess what? MUD!

Naturally all that wet stuff isn't naturally occurring, not here in sunny California. The rain storm comes from the hoses of the Pendleton fire department, as does the moisture in the various mud venues. Nice guys those firefighters!

That mud pit is the star attraction. Friends and relatives gather round to cheer on whichever family member is demented enough to try such a stunt. Wires are strung a few inches above the gloop. A person has to get his face in the stuff. There's no way around and it's cheating to go over the wires.

My run took place a few years back. Of course, I was much younger, having not even reached my 70th birthday. It was a tune-up for the famous Marine Corps Marathon in Washington a week later. It might have been more appropriate to run the marathon to tune up for the mud run.

I checked to see if I was the oldest guy in the race. Not by a long shot. That was Ben McDonnell who was just a birthday or so away from becoming an octogenarian. He'd be one guy I'd beat!

I wasn't so sure of that when I was halfway up Suicide Hill and ol' Ben went tearing by with his hat on backwards like a teenager. Later I learned that he'd not only run the three previous Pendleton races, but he'd also run and finished the 11 previous L.A. Marathons. I have no idea why he wore his hat backwards unless it was to reduce wind resistance, or maybe just because he was Irish.

The Marines gave us some water at the top of the mountain to keep us alive for more torture. But it wasn't all torture. In one place we had to crawl, just like horny salmon, up a fast moving stream. Then some nitwit suggested it would be neat if we rolled in the water. Oh what the hell, this was something only a kid, or Ben McDonnell, or 3,000 others might do. I rolled over in the cool water. A preteen lad was alongside. I asked him "Where's your grandpa today?"

"Uh, he's home watching the ballgame I think." The kid then sloshed away from what was obviously a delirious old dude.

But the highlight was that last 30-foot mud pit, not because it was any better than anything else, but because you could see the finish line from there. At least you could see it until you got mud in your eyes.

I was slithering along when I heard those wonderful cries of encouragement. "Go, Papa, Go!"

There was the one person I really wanted to impress, my 14-year-old granddaughter.

She took my picture, the only souvenir of the race except for some wonderful memories.

Keith Taylor is a retired Navy officer. He can be reached at KRTaylorxyz@aol.com.