A commonly held truth states that only 20 percent of restaurants survive five years of business, and thus, those who make it past that milestone are destined to survive, having already made it through the toughest obstacles.
North Carolina State Trooper Brian Leventhal, who has served as co-director with fellow Trooper David Darnell for all five years of the Trooper Challenge Mud Run 5K, hopes that wisdom holds true for the Saxapahaw-based race as well.
“I guess in the restaurant business, if you make it five years, doesn’t that mean you’re going to be successful?” Leventhal asked, hopefully.
After all, the directions in the Mud Run’s cookbook are fairly simple.
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“The recipe here is ‘just add water,’” Leventhal noted, laughing, “and Mother Nature even helped out with that a little bit this week.”
Of course, a few more ingredients only added to the flavor and fun, as competitors contended with steep hills, a 50-foot slip-and-slide into a watery bog, berms, corrugated drainage pipes, a creek, shipping containers filled with water and hay, and numerous other challenges.
Leventhal said he and other volunteers began working on the course four days in advance.
“We got in Tuesday because, if it rained and got muddy, we wouldn’t have been able to get in here with our equipment to set up,” Leventhal said. “We were fortunate that we got to use the farmland again this year like we did last year, and that helps us out a lot. There were small changes here and there, but there were no major changes.”
Still, perhaps the toughest element was gravity.
“The first hill was tough,” said John Quinn, who ran with friends, Saxapahaw residents Joey and Tiffany England.
Women’s overall winner Sophia Rowlands, 20, agreed: “It was pretty hilly, especially in that first mile.”
Men’s second-place finisher Matthew Davis also thought the natural elements were the most challenging.
“I didn’t really know what to expect, and the course was very well marked,” Davis said, “but the toughest part was definitely the creek. (The cool water) did feel really good, and I tried to swim it briefly.”
Men’s overall winner Paul Neubauer contended that the slip-and-slide constituted the hardest test: “The slide (was tough), with all that soap getting into your eyes.”
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 logjams at obstacles.
The event was created by the N.C. State Highway Patrol Troop D Troopers to promote wellness and positive interaction with citizens. Saturday’s Mud Run was staged amid the rolling hills of the Jordan Properties Farm in Saxapahaw.
Though the turnout was slightly less than that of previous years, organizers were pleased with the event.
“It went very smoothly,” Darnell said Saturday. “The turnout wasn’t what we’d had in the past ... but it’s just (a busy) time of year. The Mebane on the Move (5K and 10K) was today ... plus there are college football games today.”
Leventhal was also pleased, especially considering the fact that the race enjoys very little promotion.
“Last year was around 225, and this year, we’re more like 125,” he said. We don’t advertise, so it’s all word-of-mouth, Facebook, Twitter, race calendars – and Fleet Feet Sports is great about pushing information out for us.”
“Last year, we donated three- or four-thousand dollars (to local organizations),” Leventhal added. “Our second year was our biggest: we delivered almost eight-thousand dollars. But it was almost too big that year: we had 600 people, and it was hard to manage.”
Along with designated recipients of donations, other winners on the day included overall victor Paul Neubauer (28:42.58), with Davis (29:54.84) and Jacob Knox (32:11.59) rounding out the top three places.
Neubauer said he hadn’t trained specifically for the Mud Run.
“I’ve run this one a couple times,” he said. “I’d been running lately, and this just sort of happened.”
Neubauer had started in the second wave from the starting line and nearly caught first-wave runner Davis by the finish That was good enough to top Davis’s time.
“He started closing the gap,” Davis said, “and I was definitely running out of steam toward the end.”
Rockingham County High School senior Samuel Moore, 17, who had won the event the past three years, ran with friends this year and finished in seventh place overall, still capturing the men’s 13-19 division.
“This year I brought my friends with me,” Moore said. “I wanted to bring them last year, but they couldn’t come, so this year I ran with them. We just went out to have some fun, and mission accomplished.”
For women’s overall winner Rowland (34:03.11), age 20, her move up in age brackets was a personal call to action, and she easily bested second and third-place finishers Carolina Camaro (38:11.09) and Sara Juarez (41:20.86).
“This is my third year here,” Rowlands said. “Last year, I placed second among 13-19-year old females, and this year I moved up an age group. I had lots of fun though. It was exciting.”
In the competition among co-ed teams, it was “Iron-to-Iron” taking the gold medal with an average racing time of 38:29. Rounding out the field of four teams, each of which included at least one female runner, the “Pack” team narrowly beat out “Team 267” and “The Tar Heel Blue Line.”
Leventhal said one of the key factors in the event’s five-year run of success was partnerships with Fleet Feet Sports and other sponsors, as well as Saxapahaw itself.
“This community is great,” he said. “They enjoy having us, and we enjoy being here. We’ve got some great partnerships with a lot of people here.”
Next up for Davis were a couple of cool-weather races in December and January.
“I’ll probably do the Run at the Rock in Burlington and the Little River Trail Run,” Davis said.
Neubauer’s plans were a bit closer-at-hand: “Today, it’s a shower and then lunch at the pub.”
Seems almost every recipe for success this past Saturday began with water and ended deliciously.