Some come for the mud. Others come for the beer. And a select competitive few journey to Sunday River every July looking for the fastest time possible.
The Tough Mountain Challenge, which celebrated its fourth birthday on a beautiful but occasionally muggy Saturday, had competitors that fit all three of those descriptions.
Some – like me – ran as individuals looking for the fastest time possible. Others ran as duos with their significant others, while there were plenty of teams out there as well. There were numerous husband-wife teams. There was even a bachelorette party, complete with a muddy maid of honor holding a bouquet and a bride-to-be adorning a veil. But we can’t forget about the border war between Maine and New Hampshire game wardens, which was won by the “North Woods Law” quartet.
Of course, you have plenty of silly outfits to go around. There was one group of ladies dressed as Mario, Luigi and Princess Peach – complete with “karts,” of course – and a quartet of men masquerading as the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. These types of competitors may have different goals and ideas of fun in mind when they come to the Western mountains to tackle 3.1 miles of mud and obstacles.
But the common theme here is having a good time, finishing a challenging event and enjoying a day in the sun that includes beer, mud, catching up with friends new and old and perhaps trying something new.
I’ve done hundreds of 5K’s in my life, most of them very, very fast at that. But this is a different type of 5K. You can’t just rely on your distance running prowess to post a fast time here. You have to rely on patience, toughness and a willingness to get wet and mucky.
Every year, the crazy race organizers mix things up a bit with new, surprise obstacles. This year, some old favorites, such as the mud crawl under barbed wire, a lily-pad crossing navigating Barker Pond, and sprinting up a hill with snow guns blasting you from every corner, returned with a bang.
But the obstacle that always takes the cake for competitors is “WTF,” a long, uphill climb under a ski lift that does not appear to end. “We actually paid money for this?” one competitor asked me as we ground our way toward the top. I looked back and said, “just think of the free beer waiting for us at the bottom of this mountain.” That was enough incentive for both of us.
But, Sunday River likes to tease competitors. As the hill levels off, a sign reading “You’re almost to the top” greeted us. But shortly after, another read “Just kidding,” and another 200 meters of climb awaited us. As difficult as it is, any Tough Mountain Challenger – there were 2,289 of us that finished – will tell you that the steep climb under the ski lift is their favorite obstacle.
Perhaps the least favorite was the newest, which found us diving under a dark tunnel and walking along a rocky stream that resembled a nightclub. Yes, there was house music playing to keep us going, but the fact we were going over slippery rocks in the pitch dark made me a little uneasy. But it was short and sweet. And it made that final slide and downhill sprint to the finish line that much better.
Overall, its a fun, classy event that Sunday River does a fantastic job with. It tests even the fittest of athletes, while being short enough to accommodate anyone who is willing to give the event a try. Will there be new obstacles next year? Well, you’ll just have to wait