The crying Tough Mudder and the wicked art of Someday

It was just after 10am. I was midway up a California mountain and standing in a group of 200 people so pumped up on testosterone and adrenaline that the simple act of guttural primal screaming wasn’t an effective exorcism. They had to jump up and down, shove their hands in the air, and pound their fists into other fists.

And I was crying to the sound of the National Anthem. A recorded version of the National Anthem.

I feel the need to get that out of the way at the beginning of this. I don’t want to wrap it into some ridiculous revelation at the end–that I was the weeping guy at the beginning of the Tough Mudder, an event that calls itself “Probably the Toughest Event on the Planet.”

And let’s just get this out of the way, too. When I crossed the finish line and grabbed my celebratory beer (the first beer in more than four months), I had tears in my eyes again.

So, there’s that.

Well, it’s more than that, and I can only explain it like this: just before all the wet-eyed silliness began, I thought about my friend Dan’s advice he offers before every race: “Remember how lucky you are to be able to do this.” And then I thought about my dad who had died just ten months earlier. And then I looked to my right and saw my brother there beside me. And I looked back and saw the rest of my team—old friends, new friends, people aching for adventure and achievement unlike any they’d experienced before.

“Remember how lucky you are…”

So, a few hours before my shoulder nearly got ripped from my torso, I was already a teary mess and thankful the dry-dust ski runs turned my face into a muddy map before too many people noticed.

Up until that moment, and frankly maybe not until much later, I wasn’t entirely sure why I was there risking grievous injury.

I know now.

Top of the mountain

Some days later, Colin, an ultra marathoner I met through the poker business who went on to become an inspiration, said via Facebook “There’s a revolution going on right? Of people challenging themselves, conquering their fears, doing amazing things. Or is it just the people I’m lucky to know?”

It was something I’d wondered myself. Was it simply selection bias—that I’d chosen to pay closer attention to people who were pushing themselves to their limits instead of waiting for sure atrophy? Was it that many of the people of my age are facing a form of midlife crisis that results in marathons, ultras, adventure races, and whatnot? I didn’t know. It was probably good deal of both.

Something was, indeed happening, though. To wit: Mastodon Weekend—an irregular party of irregular people here in Greenville, SC—began as a weekend bacchanal bent only on finding new and creative ways to combat age and sobriety at the same time. The only thing we raced back then were street rickshaws—and, yes we both paid off the drivers and gambled on it. It was something to behold and a four-day marathon in itself.

In 2011, we didn’t host Mastodon Weekend. Instead, we went on our annual trip to Las Vegas with a whole new idea in mind. And as we stood around the bar at the Aria in Las Vegas after the half marathon we ran down the Strip, a few of us stood looking at each other—sober, elated, and pumped up on so many endorphins that…well, I won’t lie. There were expressions of love that night.

By and by, the man who goes by the name Badblood suggested some weeks later that we turn Mastodon Weekend—an event so completely anti-fitness that we were drinking in bars that served shots with bugs in them and ordering 20oz steaks because the pound-sized ones were for wimps—into a weekend in which we would run. Far. What’s more, we would try to get as many of our friends as we could to run with us.

And so it will happen in about ten days. For the past several months, people who might never have considered running started getting ready. Before the weekend is over, there will be people celebrating their first 5ks, half marathons, and full marathons. One of them even got so involved that he changed his race registration from 5k to half marathon in mid-training.

Still, it didn’t answer Colin’s question as well as I wanted. I may never really know if it’s a full-on revolution of will and grit, but it forced me at ask myself, “Why am I doing it?”

I thought about it for days, and then this afternoon, my three-year-old kid answered the question for me.


The garage looked as though the producers of “Hoarders” had staged an episode at my house but abandoned the project when it became clear we were more of an “Intervention” family. I was standing in the middle of the mess with that typical hand-on-the-forehead, I can’t believe this has happened again posture. My post-work, 5pm, let’s-make-the-most-of-this-day gusto withered like a too-cold fall blossom.

I know there was a time we cleaned the garage. Spring-cleaning day. It’s such a clear memory. I remember turning to my wife and saying, “Agree with me now: if either of us messes this up, the other can use shame as a weapon.” She agreed. Shame worked as long as shame usually does, which is—by my experience—about a week, unless nudity or arrest is involved.

But forward I trudged into the mess, an adventure race all its own, a place where I find gas cans capped with latex gloves, balls of damp Silly String, and, oh-we’ll-never-speak-of-that detritus. I remembered that shame had failed as a weapon, and I was in a full-on suburban dad sharpening-his-anger-spear froth.


It was Dos, my three-year-old kid behind me in a Missouri Tiger shirt, Pittsburgh Steelers pants, striped socks, and camouflage sandals.

“Daddy? Can you shoot hoops with me?”

I looked at the bigger new mess I’d created out of the old mess and started to speak. He cut me off.

“Can you shoot hoops with me Sunday?”

It was something he’d been asking a lot. Can we go to the zoo Sunday? Can we go to the pumpkin patch Sunday? It was seeming like Sunday was going to be a really busy day.

“We might, buddy, someday…”

I stopped talking, because I realized he wasn’t asking to go Sunday. He was asking to go Someday. And he was asking to go Someday, because too many times, my response to what he wanted was, “We might someday.”

There, in the middle of the disaster in the garage, I felt like crying again. The kid was so conditioned to hearing “someday” that it had become a verbal crutch for him, a bit of hope that they thing he wants to do will happen someday. And I was responsible for it.

It’s probably very common for a kid to hear it. Someday you’ll be older. Someday you’ll understand. Someday you could be President.

And then they start to think it themselves. Someday I’ll be a baseball player. Someday I’ll ask that girl on a date. Someday I’ll be a rock star.

And then, by the time they are adults, the great lie of Someday has manifested itself into a false-faith-reality. They aren’t going to be a baseball player. They aren’t going to be President. They aren’t going to be a rock star.

Here in middle adulthood, a place that feels more like adolescence and puberty than adolescence and puberty did, we find ourselves discovering that we’ve fallen into the cult of Someday so badly that we forgot that someday almost never comes on its own, and the longer we sit and wait for that elusive day, the harder it will ever be to find it.

I’ve learned some late lessons in the past year about the uselessness of waiting. It’s folly at almost every turn. Although there is pride in patience, the act of waiting is one of weakness, fear, and laziness. I know this because I’m guiltier than anybody I know.

I looked at that little boy and wondered how I would convince him that there is no Someday, or if I should. I didn’t have an answer. I walked in circles looking at trash and broken lawn equipment, and I tried to promise myself that I would never say it again. But I couldn’t do that, because I try not to lie to myself. The only thing I could do, it seemed clear, was live as an example. Even if I haven’t to this point, I can only hope that if I’m true to myself that it will somehow trickle down to my sons.

I still don’t know exactly why I’ve spent that last couple of years trying to be better than I was before. There are lots of reasons, but few that are easy to articulate. That understood, Badblood said something the other day that rang true:

“There’s a certain pleasure in doing things you never thought you’d be able to do. Pain goes away eventually,” he said.

I’ve spent several days trying to define what that pleasure is, and tonight I think it has a lot to do with the realization that someday doesn’t have to be some ethereal, no-calendar day in the future. It can be now. The path to it doesn’t have to be a road race, or a mountain, or some muddy obstacle course. It only has to be the thing you want, the thing you are afraid to admit to yourself that you can do.

I cried a little bit on that California mountain because I realized I’d let too many Somedays pass. I cried a little bit because I was doing my best to make good on the time I’d wasted. It wasn’t about that race. It was about the people beside me, my brother and friends good enough that they might as well be my blood.

I’m never, ever going to be a pro runner. I don’t care to be. That’s not why I’m doing this. I’m doing this because I’ve wasted a lot of my life on Someday. I’ve wasted a lot of other people’s time in the same way.

And so for each step I take along the road, or for each new seemingly impossible thing I try (and I feel confident there are more to come), it’s about more than the miles, the endorphins, or even the feeling of accomplishment. It’s about convincing myself that I can do the things that I’ve always doubted I could do.

I may have some real regrets in my life, but they’re almost all based around how long it took me to realize the lie Someday tells. The peace I’ve found, however, is that I can’t count on anyone to fix that for me. There’s no waiting around for someone to take charge and fix the problem.

It’s up to me alone to run Someday down and turn it into today.

Brad Willis

Brad Willis is a writer based in Greenville, South Carolina. Willis spent a decade as an award-winning broadcast journalist. He has worked as a freelance writer, columnist, and professional blogger since 2005. He has also served as a commentator and guest on a wide variety of television, radio, and internet shows.

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21 Responses

  1. Drizztdj says:

    Many times on my runs I just imagine the finish with my kids/friends/family there. You nailed exactly why that fifty bucks to switch might be the best money I ever spent. I didn’t know what I was getting into at the time, I just knew that I needed to break the work-school-sleep routine and make someday, today.

  2. KenP says:

    I think getting good exercise is a plus that rewards. I think carrying that to area that are prone to injury aren’t well thought out. When people make them bucket listable, rational drops from the equation.

    Dings like Peaker glories in come back to haunt with age. I am 72. Don’t argue with me sonny. I am the one that has a back that rules my life.

    In the back of your mind you realize this when you equate it to the M-weekend. OK, fun escape but not the way to live.

    If you can do a 5K, you are in shape and it is doubtful you done permanent damage in the process. Between that and marathons/challenge-runs lie dragons.

    You have a background that should know better. How many old farmers did you see in their twilight? You push beyond the norm –and most farmers back then had to. — and it was a sad looking main street on Saturday nites.

    There is a someday to think about, lad. (Feel good being the snot nose?)

  3. BadBlood says:


    Congratulations on being 72! By all means, extrapolate your physical fitness experiences to everyone else. Thanks for the comment, you have saved me from myself. I was going to do this marathon-thingie, but I don’t want to end up like an old farmer in their twilight.

    What was I thinking?

    PS: You are so utterly and completely wrong. I mean staggeringly wrong. It’s as if someone challenged you to be really, really, really wrong and you kicked that challenge’s ass all the way back to 1958.

  4. CJ says:

    Well… perhaps Ken is exaggerating somewhat… but…

    There is some evidence that marathon running can have health risks. Many of those health risks are attributed to poor training, poor conditioning or poor planning during the race (either not enough water or too much, with too much water being the leading cause of death in marathons, although the instances are still rare).

    There are also long-term risks to the heart for heavy marathon runners. There’s been studies that have shown regular marathon runners could develop enlarged hearts or scarring of the heart. It makes sense since a physical activity like that puts stress on the heart. Here is one such study:

    My wife, who was a certified trainer for many years, doesn’t think I should get into distance running because of my particular circumstances. I’d be starting it later than I should probably start it… I already have some foot, knee and back issues given to my freakish height… etc.

    That doesn’t mean I shouldn’t find ways to stay in shape, which I’m not doing. And some running could obviously be a part of that.

  5. Astin says:

    Inspiring. Not that I’m about to run farther than the distance from the top of the stairs to the subway as I hear it pulling in, but inspiring nonetheless.

    And there are worse songs for you to have stuck in my head than CCR’s “Someday Never Comes”.

  6. CJ says:

    Oh… and I don’t think all of you crazy bastards have crossed into the realm of too much distance running that you’re putting your heart at risk.

    And the health risks attributed to the mudder (and similar events) are probably just pulled muscles, twisted ankes, shoulder injuries and the like, hardly the kind of things to be overly worried about!

  7. BadBlood says:

    CJ – the health risks you state are completely avoidable with proper use of intellect. Education about health is just as important as actually performing the exercise itself. Nobody’s suggesting doing things haphazardly; a measured, careful approach to training is the name of the game. That’s why we all share advice, experiences, etc, to help each other avoid the pitfalls and dangers of pushing your body beyond the couch to fridge trail.

  8. HeavyCritters says:

    The beauty of this post (and the words that truly hit home for me) comes after the “***”.

    Well done again, Otis.


  9. You’re all still crazy.

    I love every damn one of you.

    But you’re still nuts. 🙂

    Live it, bro. Live it.

  10. CJ says:

    BadBlood: Absolutely agree! For all of my friends who are doing it, the biggest risk I see if some kind of broken bone from those crazy mudder things.

    For the casual distance runner, the health benefits of the regular exercise far outweigh the almost non-existent risk.

    If someone became a heavy endurance runner (super marathons, marathons once a month, etc) that’s when I’d be a little worried.

  11. Julius_Goat says:

    Beautiful stuff. The lie of someday is something I’ve come to grips with. Not the easiest of lessons.

    Regarding running: The farmer and the cowboy should be friends.

  12. Candace says:

    While I have personally been more inspired to get into better shape recently, the real food for thought here is about “someday,” and whatever that means for you.
    I, too, have been guilty of spending the last couple of years thinking about all the things I want to do or need to do and continuously take “someday” for granted.
    The real danger in “somday” is that someday it will be too late.
    Thanks, Brad. Great post.

  13. Aerin Brownlee says:

    I just want to know if you shot hoops with your poor kid. Cause he is only getting older.

  14. Dr. Chako says:

    Quite timely. My youngest requested I play this for him on guitar last night.


  15. PokerLawyer says:

    Beautiful post, Brad. Wish I could join you all for M-weekend. Hope you’ll raise one for me. A foot, that is. =)

  1. October 31, 2012

    […] from that CrAAker’s guy.   I have read about Peaker’s bouts with Ben-Gay and tape.  Otis has picked running for his mid-life crisis.  Even former motor mouth, Dr. Chako — who should knows better, is […]