My mother and I are two miles into a 10k mud run obstacle course in Riverside State Park on Saturday when the athletes bottlenecked behind us in the tire pit start complaining. Loudly. Apparently we’re hop-scotching through the tires too slowly. A woman in pink lingerie says as much, and Mom wheels around.
“You talkin’ to me, bitch?” And pause right there. Before I go much further, I should say that my mother is a good Catholic grandmother of two. She gardens, she says the rosary, and when her 24-year-old daughter begs her to run the 10k Dirty Dash through the muck she does it.
I’ve always known my mother was a do-it-all kind of person. But I learned a few things on the course.
I didn’t know, for example, that the longer the sun beats down on her back and the more tired she gets of jumping over hay bales (she’s allergic to hay), the more she starts to swear like a sailor.
I also didn’t expect that, for 400 yards, she would try to keep up with a group of ROTC college men in tight camouflage pants. (“Those butts are inspiration enough to keep me running,” she says.)
But somewhere in the mire of this hellacious race, I realized the relationship between my mother and me is changing. The older I get, the younger my mom seems to be. Slowly, before my eyes, she’s transformed from the ultimate mother figure, whose sole purpose in life is to nag me about student loans and health insurance, into a “real woman,” who’s capable of making spanking jokes with a 20-something-year-old man running in booty shorts.
The Dirty Dash is like a military obstacle course run by a college fraternity. Thrashing around the starting line are shirtless men in Viking helmets and whitey-tighties, men in Daisy Duke cut-off shorts, women in sports bras and tutus, and men in drag wearing Vibram FiveFinger shoes. My mom looks like Eminem, in a white-do rag and a white tank top.
At 11:20 am, we’re off. We run past men whose sweat smells like Bud Light. We jump over old men who have fallen, only to hear the screams of “Dad, are you all right?” We wade and crawl through thigh-high pits of mud, duck-walk through rock-filled tunnels, wiggle under PVC pipes, and walk across balance beams.
I almost break my mother’s nose. While jumping over a bale of hay, my shoulder pummels her face, knocks out her nose ring, and leaves her starry-eyed.
“Mother f---er, do I look like Owen Wilson?” she screams, horrified, holding her face. I assure her that the nose looks fine, but I can’t tell if her eyes are starting to blacken or if it’s just mud smeared across her face.
She runs along anyway, across the rocky ravines.
We see men in blue capes and Superman underwear carrying injured women. We pass somber crowds of runners who have gathered to complain about yet another station that’s run out of beer.
My mother says she could use a drink. By the fifth mile, we’ve taken off our shoes. My mom talks with a group of women dressed like bunnies who have mud in their ears, eyelashes, and nose about mud being lodged in all the wrong feminine places. Her toes poke holes through the once-white nylons she’s wearing, and we walk the last mile of the race.
Back to that woman in the pink lingerie. Luckily, she never heard my mom’s war cry. She just passed right by. Inside the beer garden at the finish line, Mom is feeling victorious. She mentions the “skinny bitch” who was yelling at us and puts her fist in the air like Popeye. She explains what “she should have done” or “should have said” in that situation.
I think to myself, “Why bother?” Besides, she’s too mature for that.
I order a beer and my mother gets a rum and Diet Coke. We take in the view of thousands of filthy men and women bathing in what look like water troughs. We watch children with braces eat barbecue ribs and talk about life.
Eventually we walk back barefoot through the fields and brush. She keeps complaining (“Are we there yet?”) about the mile-or-so trek back to the car. The liquor makes her sleepy, and I can’t help but smile at the fact that she’s dangling her pink plastic drink like a sippy cup behind her.