Week Fifteen and Sixteen – Art Jamz Studio and a Solo Tough Mudder

Week Fifteen – Art Jamz Studio:

Initially, I intended New Thing #14 (Take an Art Class) to involve some guided art instruction. However, I found myself near the end of Week Fifteen without a viable option. So, I decided to find my inner artist and enjoy some free, undirected studio time at Art Jamz in Dupont Circle.

Clad for the first time this year in shorts and flip-flops, I savored the sundrenched walk from my apartment to the studio. In search of inspiration, I snapped a photo of an interesting flower along the way. After arriving at ArtJamz, I sipped a glass of white wine as one of the instructors handed me a bespeckled smock and showed me the range of painting supplies.

I loaded my palette with bright colors and got to work. It was gratifying to create something from scratch without any instruction or recipe to follow. When playing the amateur artist, there is no such thing as a “mistake” – if I didn’t like a particular color or paint stroke, I simply turned it into something else. As he brought me another glass of wine, the instructor exclaimed “This is interesting! You’re definitely artistic.” (I tipped the man well for his questionable but seemingly sincere praise).

At the conclusion of my allotted two hours, I was satisfied with the result. I liked the contrast between the organic shapes and the sharp lines. I also felt that my painting captured the spirit of the odd flower. Admittedly, however, a friend responded to my Facebook post showing off my masterpiece with – “I see you painted a chicken thing! Nice!” Regardless, I had a good time. Next time, I fully intend to bring along some girlfriends for an afternoon of Blush and brushstrokes!


Week Sixteen – A Solo Tough Mudder:

New Thing #2 – Complete a Tough Mudder in Vibram FiveFingers shoes – has been on the books for months. Tough Mudder is an intense 10-12 mile race that incorporates about 20 challenging obstacles. My best friend Danielle and I completed our first TM in Maryland last September. After going through multiple water-based obstacles, our tennis shoes became waterlogged and caked in mud. By mile nine, it became difficult to keep my balance on the muddy path – turning an ankle became a real danger. Afterwards, I decided that the next Tough Mudder I ran would be in shoes better suited to the course. And so, I bought a pair of Vibrams – what my big sister jokingly calls my “caveman feet.”

If you aren’t aware, Vibrams are a type of minimalist shoe that are meant to replicate being barefoot. Learning to run properly in Vibrams requires months of training because you essentially have to teach yourself an entirely new strike – landing on the front of your foot instead of your heel. Barefoot running with a forefoot strike pattern has been shown to have many benefits – including increased balance and speed as well as reduced impact to/wear on your ankles, knees, hips and back. In preparation for the race, I’ve been wearing Vibrams as much as possible – walking to work, hiking, and running in them.

As it turned out, the most novel aspect of New Thing #2 had nothing to do with my footwear. Although I’d signed up for the race with a friend from college, leading up to the event I was unable to get a hold of him. Two days before the event, I resigned myself to the fact that I would be completing the Tough Mudder on my own. I had a few dark moments that afternoon. Many of the obstacles are very physically and mentally challenging – it was difficult to imaging facing them alone. True to her best-friend duties, Danielle quickly calmed me down. She said, “You know you can handle it physically. Think about how empowering it will be to do it alone. That is awesome!” It is funny how much a simple shift in viewpoint can change everything. In the span of five minutes, the prospect of running a solo race went from being terrifying to thrilling.

As it turned out, I only spent a third of the race alone. In the first four miles, I had to push myself. One of the early obstacles required me to jump off a 20 foot-high platform into muddy water of an unknown depth. It took some mental grit to throw my body into the open air without a buddy to chant “Together! 1–2–3, GO!”

Fortunately, while making my way down a steep slope, I tripped over a tree root and a fellow “Mudder” asked – “Are you alone? Join us!” Thankful for the offer, I kept stride with the group (7 guys and 1 girl) for the rest of the course. Befriending someone in this scenario was an interesting experience. The typical “Where are you from? What do you do?” small talk was interrupted by an icy plunge into the Arctic Enema, or climbing a Berlin Wall. During one obstacle – the “Wounded Warrior” – we even had to carry one another.

I’m extremely grateful for my newfound friends. The April day was unusually cool, and the water-based obstacles were frigid. As the race wore on, we took a few moments after each obstacle to huddle together for warmth. Many of our fellow Mudders ran with hypothermic blankets wrapped around their shoulders. We crossed the (electrified!) finished line in two waves with our arms linked. Afterwards, we each celebrated with a beer – half of which was lost due to our shaking hands.

The days following the Tough Mudder were rough. My body was incredibly stiff and sore, even the most basic task took tremendous effort. I awoke on Monday, bruised, battered and (seemingly) beaten. However, the mental challenge of facing a Tough Mudder alone left me feeling stronger than ever. I now know that I can accomplish anything I set my mind to do. With that mindset, I have registered for a triathlon this fall.  (I suppose that I should put purchasing a bike on the to-do list!) So, be on the lookout for that New Thing in a few months!



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