JOINT BASE SAN ANTONIO-RANDOLPH, Texas -- An Air Force Academy graduate who only began obstacle course racing in 2016, ran right straight into her 75-mile goal, placing second place in one of the toughest obstacle course races.
"I honestly never considered placing, it didn’t seem like something that was within reach for me this year," said Capt. Erin Rost, 319th Recruiting Squadron operations flight commander.
In a “bracket breaking moment,” Rost earned second place out of 231 females and ranked 18 of more than 1,206 participants in her first World’s Toughest Mudder held Nov. 10-11, 2018.
The Air Force Academy graduate entered the obstacle course race at noon, Nov. 10 -- a frigid winter day in Fairburn, Georgia. She would repeat the grueling five-mile lap with more than 20 mud-drenched obstacles until she met her goal of 75 miles.
“On Lap 11, it was still dark,” she said. “My body was literally freezing and for the first time I had tears in my eyes. In that moment, a poem that helped me endure military training and other tough times in my life showed up to help me once again.”
She would repeat "Invictus" by William Erest Henley in her mind throughout the pitch-black and sometimes lonely night.
Her experience and spirits were uplifted when she started hearing from others that she had a chance to place.
“Around 8:30 a.m., after completing Lap 12 (60 miles), I found out I had a chance for third place but the fourth place woman was close behind,” Rost said. “This motivated me to run faster the next two laps.”
Her cheering fans, mother and boyfriend, encouraged her to move faster because no one knew how close the competitor behind her was. They reminded her of her goals, kept her fed and hydrated and pushed her forward.
"When I returned to the pit after completing 65 miles, I was informed that I had improved my lap time by nearly 30 minutes,” Rost said. “There was about three hours remaining and I was two laps away from my goal and based on my lap splits, I knew it was possible."
Next, a reporter from a podcast seeking to interview her said that if she completed this final lap she would earn second place because the current second place female concluded her race earlier that morning with 14 laps.
“I realized at this point, as long as I finished this final lap before 1:30 p.m., I would get second place,” Rost said. "It was very surreal. It brings me back to military training when you are really challenged but overcome. When you push yourself and succeed, there is nothing like the reminder of that to renew your spirit."
At this point in the race, she recalled she had been awake for 36 hours, racing nonstop for 25 of those hours and worried about being alone through the last obstacles. Rost witnessed others lose motivation during the course of the night, when temperatures dropped to 20 degrees. Obstacles started freezing and other competitors began feeling waterlogged.
Some of the obstacles require teamwork. One required competitors to physically step on another person to reach the top of a wall.
“You meet interesting people along the way," Rost said. "It is great to be around such an encouraging and supportive community.”
She completed the race at 1:10 p.m. in second place, with 20 minutes to spare feeling like a true “bracket buster.”
“While I’m super proud of how I placed, I am even more proud of getting my goal mileage because it reminds me why I love OCR so much,” Rost said. “It is not about what place you get, it is about pushing yourself to and beyond your limits. It is about doing your best each race and believing that with hard work, a good attitude and a little bit of grit, anything is possible.”
Rost said resiliency, physical strength, mental stamina, persistence and willpower are characteristics serious runners have in common.
“This is also specifically what my military brethren do,” she said. “We encourage others that they can do it too. If you work hard and have a good attitude, you can do anything."
A coworker said the squadron witnesses this in her performance daily.
“Capt. Rost sets the example for everyone around her,” said Chief Master Sgt. Cory Frommer, 319th RCS superintendent. “You can’t help but to be inspired by her tenacity and winning mindset. She doesn’t know how to quit."
Rost believes her limited experience in the OCR community, along with with her recent winning of the coveted World’s Toughest Mudder silver bib, can motivate people who may wonder if they could take on a "mudder" or similar competition.
“I played competitive soccer growing up and for a period of time in college before getting into bodybuilding,” Rost said. “OCRs combine a little bit of everything, as opposed to being great at just one thing such as running, lifting, grip strength, etc. You have to be good at a little bit of everything.”
Rost said her goal was to compete in at least one race a month while increasing her monthly-mileage goals. The captain’s first Tough Mudder was completed in 2016, then she did four more in 2017. This year, she expanded her OCR experience to include two Spartan races, two half marathons, a full marathon and two ultramarathons.
"I wanted to start seriously competing in OCRs and figured if I can do one of the most difficult OCR formats in the world, than I can do anything,” said Rost.
(Editor's note: Tune in to CBS at 12:30 p.m. on Dec. 15 to watch the full coverage of the World’s Toughest Mudder Rost participated in.)