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Strong Body, Strong Mind: In Praise of Mud Runs

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In Praise of Mud

Raised in pristine white dresses, our fitness editor has learned the value — and joy — of getting dirty.

Spring in Minnesota corresponds to six months’ worth of snow and ice melting into a gritty brown slop. For many people, it’s a disgusting season.

To me, this time of year is truly beautiful.

Days begin with a misty veil that opens up to glorious sunshine or occasional rain showers. I’m routinely awed by the vibrant colors of ever-earlier sunrises and later sunsets, and the glimmer of bright blooms ready to venture forth from the earth.

My favorite way to experience nature’s bounty? Getting as filthy as possible by running right into the muck. There is nothing more satisfying than the sound and feel of the squish beneath my feet as they land in soft, rain-sodden ground.

Mud running is a workout that keeps you on your toes: You want to be careful, but you also want to be quick. Otherwise, you risk sinking in up to your ankles (and possibly losing a shoe) or face-planting in the soggy soil. But the pleasure is well worth the risk.

Grit and grime were not always so appealing to me. I was raised in frilly white dresses, my hair pinned back just-so with an ivory bow. As a child, I steered clear of anything I perceived to be gand — the word for “dirty” in my native Farsi. As I got older, my dislike of external filth extended to my own body: I detested getting sweaty.

This penchant for the pristine made it challenging for me to get fit or connect with nature.

The tide began to turn once I started working out in earnest and realized that, to reach my goals, I had to get sweaty. I mitigated the issue as much as possible, toweling off and showering immediately afterward. I frequented gyms that met my persnickety standards, and steered clear of group fitness classes that involved putting my hands on the floor.

Then, a new gym in Washington, D.C., my then home, changed everything. The space was filled with energy — loud music, clanging barbells, and cheers from enthusiastic members. Black mats, iron lifting implements, and workouts that took us outdoors in good and bad weather made it impossible to avoid the elements.

Much to my surprise, I thrived in this environment. For the first time in my life, I was using all my senses as I worked out. This not only made it fun and effective, but it increased my body awareness — how it felt in motion, how it took up space.

When my best friend suggested a Spartan Race in the spring of 2012, I accepted the challenge without hesitation. We signed up for a three-mile “sprint” on a ski hill in upstate New York. The June event featured mud, trees, and barbed wire. More than 20 obstacles and two-plus hours later, we collected our finisher’s medals. While this might sound like a nightmare, for me it was the pinnacle of achievement. My body and mind pulled through in ways I never imagined.

Afterward, I returned to my parents’ house for dinner with visiting relatives. It was in their shocked faces that I saw how out of character this was: The girl who had once avoided dirt and sweat (and frankly, physical effort) at all costs was now covered in all of the above and loving it.

It’s been five years since my third and last (for now) obstacle-course race. But I still relish the feeling of using my whole body and all my senses to interact with the world.

When I was a kid, I never gave myself the chance to roll in snow, wade streams, climb dusty rocks, crawl under mossy logs, or jump in mud puddles. But today, I’m lucky enough to live in an environment where I can indulge my inner child — a sweet and proper girl who never imagined how much she’d enjoy getting dirty.

is Experience Life’s senior fitness editor.

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