If my mommy could have added her own commandment to the list of 10 passed down through Moses, it probably would read: “Thou shall not get dirty.”
When I was a kid, my house was not a democracy. It was a mama-ocracy. She said what she meant. She meant what she said, and you’d be wise to follow directions the first time they were given.
So when mama said, “Don’t get dirty,” you didn’t.
“You are a reflection of me,” she’d say. “When people see you, they see me.”
My sisters and I would dutifully high-step through tall grass and avoid puddles. Before trips to the park, we’d make a beeline for the kitchen for paper towels to tuck in our pockets, which would later be placed on swings before we sat down.
I’m hundreds of miles away from my hometown and years past childhood, but I still regularly hear mama’s voice admonishing me to stay clean. Usually I stick to her rules, but sometimes, my rebellious nature overrides her teachings.
Like when I found out about the Dirty Girl Mud Run in Atlanta.
Upon checking out the website, I was simultaneously intrigued and slightly mortified by the pits, crawls and hills that promised to be filled, caked and slick with mud.
“Mommy would have a fit,” I thought.
So naturally, I signed up.
I knew I’d need a support system to get me through the race course. OK, really I was looking for an accomplice to share the blame, so I solicited support from friends via Facebook. Only one brave soul took up the challenge, my friend, Tammy Barthlett, whom I haven’t seen in years.
“I totally want to do it,” she wrote on my wall. “Are you really going to do it?”
“I’m in,” Tammy wrote back after she registered, too. “Oh Lord girl, what did we just get ourselves into?”
Yet another good question.
In the weeks leading up to the race — which is more of a “fun” run since it isn’t timed — we’d exchange emails, plan outfits and offer words of encouragement to remind the other that we hadn’t lost our minds, this was going to be fun.
On the morning of the dirty deed, I was a ball of nervous energy. Waiting in my inbox was an email from the race coordinators telling everyone what to expect. There were instructions about parking and checking in. There was also a blurb about bringing a trash bag for our muddy clothes after the ladies-only race.
With nearly 7,000 participants, everyone couldn’t run at once, so they staggered the start times. Tammy and I were in the 11 a.m. group.
Although we’d ordered T-shirts just for the race, upon pulling up to the race venue I realized that our outfits weren’t among the most creative get-ups. There were teams in everything from bathing suits to bedazzled bandanas.
“I see tutus and sparkles,” read my text message to Tammy. “I’m jealous.”
While observing the crowd, I also noticed a few of the ladies who’d completed the run. Most of them had mud splattered from head to toe.
For a few minutes, my excitement was overshadowed by panic as I tried to figure out a way to get dirty, but not filthy.
“I’m tall, so the mud shouldn’t get that high,” I rationalized. “Just my shoes and maybe my legs. That’s it. I will not get mud higher than my knees.”
As we were lining up at the starting line, it was hard to not get swept away with the tide of good feelings. One team started a line dance to the bumping music. Other ladies stretched. Tammy and I found our groove somewhere in the middle.
At 11 on the dot, our wave took off for the first obstacle — a haystack.
The second obstacle was “Just Get Over It,” a wall climb. In an effort to accommodate a variety of fitness levels, the wall had several heights. Although you had the option to walk around any obstacle that seemed too tough, I had vowed to try them all.
Knowing my slight fear of heights, I opted for the medium-high wall. Climbing up was no issue, but I got stuck at the top. As I sat straddling the wall, a complete stranger noticed the worry on my face and literally talked me down.
Then I came face to face with the bane of my childhood — a nasty stretch of mud. It was covered with a cargo net, making it impossible to high-step across it. I had no choice but to get down on my hands and knees and crawl through it.
My palms, shins and the tops of my shoes now sported a thick layer of gray mud.
We pushed through more of the 5-kilometer course and it was virtually smooth sailing until we got to the murky water pit. Though some people fully submerged themselves in the dark pool, Tammy and I decided to walk through it.
Things went south halfway across. Somehow, I ended up on my butt in the icky water. Tammy says I slipped. I say I had some help.
You know those commercials where a supersized version of the Sour Patch Kids gummy candies does something naughty, then feels bad and becomes sweet? That was me once I regained my footing and noticed Tammy’s still pristine T-shirt.
Yep. I pushed her.
I couldn’t help myself.
Besides, her fiance — who graciously volunteered to capture our exploits on camera — told me to get her dirty by any means necessary. As I ran by him after the water pit debacle, he high-fived me, but don’t tell Tammy.
The race was literally uphill from there, and by the end I was officially the dirtiest I’ve ever been in life. That will go down as one of the best days of my life.
On the drive home — on a seat covered by a trash bag and towel — I couldn’t stop grinning.
I was covered in mud and smelled to high heaven, but surprisingly I loved it. There’s something refreshing about challenging yourself to try something different and rising to the occasion.
Even better than my own sense of accomplishment was my mama’s reaction when I told her what I’d done.
“Bebe, you did what,” she exclaimed.
She may be 350 miles away, but I still had to brace myself because I was sure I was about to be fussed at.
“That sounds like so much fun,” she continued. “I would’ve tried it, too.”
Mamas never stop surprising you, do they?
In that moment, mine proved a lesson she tried to teach me so long ago.
You may choose to venture off the path they outline, but somehow you’re always a reflection of your mama.
Even when you’re a little muddy.