If you felt the Earth move Saturday, you weren’t imagining things.
It wouldn’t have shown up on a Richter Scale, but if appearances counted for anything, at least several tons of earth departed Saxapahaw on muddy running shoes (legs, arms, faces, hair) of participants in the wake of the fourth annual Trooper Challenge Mud Run this past weekend.
Nearly 250 participants completed the event’s 5K course on the rolling hills of the Jordan Properties Farm in Saxapahaw, navigating obstacles and getting down and dirty en route to the finish line.
“We’ve got hay bales, berms, tires, and we’ve got netting they have to crawl beneath,” N.C. Trooper Brian Leventhal said Saturday, proudly. “We’ve got a dumpster with water in it, there’s a slip-and-slide, and then they’re in the woods, they’re in the creek for a little while, and there’s a grand finale mud pit and on to the finish.”
Wide smiles appeared from beneath the mud-caked faces of the overall women’s winners, led by Cassady Clayton (33:09.96), followed by Burlington’s Becca Wells (34:56.72) and Emily Mossow (36:48.73).
“I was just going – no looking back,” Clayton said. “This is my third time here. Last time I didn’t place. I guess I’m getting better, because the course isn’t getting easier; this one felt harder. It was a little bit ‘yuckier’ too, but I felt great.”
Matching her second-place finish from 2013, Wells agreed.
“It was good, but it was definitely harder this year than last year,” Wells said. “I’ve done it all four years. They didn’t have the ice pits they had last year, which were great, but they sprayed you with hoses a lot on the course this year.”
Finishing the course in first overall was a repeat winner from 2013, 16-year old Samuel Moore (28:55.98), a Rockingham County High School junior. Moore was about a half-minute ahead of Elon Shaun Sherwood (29:29.25), who was followed by third-place finisher Chris Edwards (29:43) of Mebane.
Like Clayton, Moore said he was never really conscious of those giving chase and kept his focus on the next obstacle.
“I never looked back. I just sort of kept going,” he said. “I was just going to have fun this year. If I wasn’t first, I didn’t care. Up on the hill the mud in one area was all the way up to my chest; that was awesome.”
The morning began with a Jr. Trooper Challenge, a small-scale mud run with a smaller mud pit and scaled obstacles created just for kids under 13. The full 5K (3.1-mile) TCMR began immediately thereafter, with groups starting in waves to reduce waits at obstacles that were challenging but achievable.
Competitors were sent cascading down a 50-foot slip-and-slide into a deep, watery bog. They crawled on all fours up steep berms and through corrugated drainage pipes, trudged through a pit of chest high mud, and even navigated a few unannounced (“classified”) impediments.
Cardinal Timing Services’ Dick Forbis said the chip timing – necessary with the staggered start – could have been problematic.
“The challenge is more for the chip to survive the event,” Forbis said. “We put the chip on the back of everyone, because things may get scraped off on the front in the mud or on an obstacle.”
The event was created by the N.C. State Highway Patrol Troop D Troopers to promote wellness and positive interaction with citizens.
Leventhal coordinated the event alongside fellow planning team member and fellow N.C. Trooper David Darnell, with Fleet Feet Carrboro co-owner Brian White consulting.
“The troopers did all the heavy work,” White said, “and we just kind of come in to help from the periphery.”
Groups competing in the team competition had to have a minimum of four participants, including at least one female.
Achieving the best team total of four individual times was the “BPD FIT” squad of Chris Edwards, Blake Johnson, Jacqui Wilson and Erin Rumley, with an average time of 37:21. In second place was the Iron to Iron squad, followed by the Durham Police Department team.
Leventhal said there were only a few changes to the course this year, one of which was the elimination of large storage bins of ice water.
“Yeah, we could’ve used that ice when we were getting ready this week, because it was hot and nasty,” he said. “This year, we weren’t running anyone out on the roads. In the past, the farmland was always occupied, but they’ve moved, so we talked to the landowners, and we added about a mile inside the farmland fence.”
Leventhal said it gets a bit easier – and a bit harder – each year.
“It’s easier because we’ve done it before,” he said, “but that just allows you to focus on some other opportunity for improvement. There’s been some change in the course every year. Nobody wants to come back and run the same course year after year.”
“Our numbers were pretty comparable with last year,” Leventhal added. “I think last year’s pre-registration numbers were a little higher, but I think we caught up. We were around 250 or so.”
And the race was no less enjoyable for the 249 who didn’t finish first.
“It was so fun,” said Deb Young, who finished first among women age 50 and above. “My friends Tara (House) and Greg (Roberts) were singing and dancing the whole time.”
“We sang a song by Muddy Waters and some ‘dirty’ songs,” House said, laughing. “It was actually fun. It really helped us get through it.” Running alongside House were Meredith Keen and House’s daughter Myles.
At a towering 6-2, Karinna Long said her height was both an advantage and disadvantage over obstacles.
“I think I’m one of the tallest but with the shakiest balance,” said Long, who is from Latvia and now lives in Saxapahaw. “I think I had an advantage jumping over the hay bales, but the slide took my breath away completely.”
Next up for Leventhal (after a long Saturday afternoon nap following the event), was a meeting with Darnell to look at next year’s course and factoring in the continued use of adjacent farms.
“I’m still trying to process this year, but next year I’m hoping we’ll still have the pasture land inside the fence to work with,” he said.
Of course, Leventhal could likely build the TCMR’s next course just about anywhere merely using half the dirt toted away Saturday – on shoes or even in hair, or mouths, ears and noses.