JOINT BASE SAN ANTONIO-RANDOLPH, Texas -- An Air Force officer 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 2nd 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 (OCR) noon on Nov. 10, 2018, 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, 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,” said Rost. “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,” said Rost. “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,” she 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. She 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.
Wingmen were essential in the final stretch more than ever. Some of the obstacles are designed to require teamwork. One of them required competitors to physically step on another person to reach the top of a wall, without another person there it was nearly impossible to get up the wall.
“You meet interesting people along the way," Rost said. "It is great to be around such an encouraging and supportive community.”
Along the path she met an Army green beret and a financial analyst who takes time away from Hollywood-like celebrity engagements to run. These interactions kept the race interesting and passed the time.
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.”
Resiliency, physical strength, mental stamina, persistence and willpower are things serious runners all have in common, according to Rost.
“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."
Her 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. When other members of the squadron or base community work with her, they are left no choice but to push their own boundaries just to try to keep up with her. As for the recruiting mission, her incredible performance demonstrates what the Air Force is all about, and when people see Airmen like her, they are inspired to be a part of that world.”
She believes her limited experience in the OCR community coupled with her recent winning of the coveted World’s Toughest Mudder silver bib, are a good role model for those who may wonder if they could do a run like that.
“I played competitive soccer growing up and for a period of time in college before getting into bodybuilding,” said Rost. “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.”
What she reminds her audience is that her simple daily personal goals brought her to this point.
“I knew improving my running endurance would need to be a focus area,” said Rost. “I set mileage goals every week and started finding local half, full and ultramarathons. I also started rock climbing to improve my grip strength, participated in crossfit to improve muscular endurance and boxed as a crosstraining workout. As the race got closer, I worked up to three workouts a day."
Her goal was to do at least one race a month while slowly increasing her monthly mileage goals. The captain’s first Tough Mudder was completed in 2016, then she did four more in 2017. This past 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 Capt. Rost participated in.)