By Colleen Snyder

As an avowed trail runner, incidental mud is part of the game. But this past year brought  my first encounters with intentional mud.

It started in August 2010 with the Run Amuck. A non-running friend convinced me that she was going to get in shape and run it as her first race. I was hesitant, more for the price ($35 for a 3.5 miler—WHAT??!!!) than for the mud, but wanting to support a fledging runner, I signed up as long as she guaranteed that she would do the driving to Quantico Marine Corps Base. So much for guarantees—she bailed. To her credit, she at least found me someone to ride with, so off to Quantico for a mud adventure.

As promised mud abounded—not just mud, but dirty mud, man-made mud, mud you wondered what was in it mud. The race starts off with military precision as expected from a U.S. Marine Corps sponsored race with waves of runners (mudders?) taking off every few minutes from Butler Stadium. The first mile and a half was pretty much like any other race but about two miles in the obstacles start. Hay bales to jump, tires to run through, and sit ups and pushups with a Marine calling out numbers of reps (and probably wondering who in the world pays 35 bucks to do this voluntarily).  Next the mud. A downhill into a mud pit with a cargo net to pull on to get out, a mud slog on hands and knees and random muddy areas to slip and slide through. The race ended up back on the road with a cold shower under the Quantico Fire Department’s fire hose about two stories up on the fire ladder–ahhh, bracing—and finished back in the stadium.

After a quick stop at the snack tent, most of the runners returned to the fire hose area to wash out muddy shoes in the water streaming down the gutters in the road—very much a third world experience and a :50 finish.

Jump ahead to 2011 and an email from Kathy Smart in January. Anyone up for the 9.3 mile Mt. Penn Mudfest in Reading, Pennsylvania in April? Hey, why not? I’ve got mud cred! But this time we are talking mud, real mud, flowing down rocks and into stream beds mud—yeah man, my kind of mud!  I’d had my eye on that race for a few years—very slow runner-friendly and put on by Pretzel City Sports and Pagoda Pacers. I’ve been getting Ron Horn’s Pretzel City Sports e-newsletter for quite some time and I have to admit that I also wanted to meet the man himself. This is a man with something to say and a website and newsletter  to say it. Check out his website and read any of his information on trail races  or trail race applications  to get a feel for why I love trail running.  It’s not just the pleasure of being in great places in the woods;  it’s the vibe of the races, captured exquisitely by Pretzel City Sports.

So….Kathy recruited eight of us to go, four bailed the week before the race, four diehards (Kathy, me, Carol O’Leary and Anne McIntosh) loaded into Kathy’s Subaru and headed up I-81, through Harrisburg, and on to Wyomissing (suburban Reading)–rain pouring down most of the way after a week of intermittent rain. Comfortable digs at the Hampton Inn, a rainstorm to greet us in the morning, a leisurely 10 am start that commenced with a stuffed pig shot into the air, and we were off!

I did great for six miles on the steep descents down to the rushing creek with three very cold, feet numbing stream crossings some parts knee deep, fine on the extremely steep uphill with slippery rocks and tons of mud, survived the cup of “alternative beverage” served at the Brew Pub at mile 6 at the top of the toughest, steepest hill. (At least I didn’t try the candy peeps dipped in a margarita that was offered to me and went with the Yuengling.) But… mile seven on the rocky flat,  I looked up to see what was going on at the finish line just barely visible through the trees (hey, any more beer over there?) and down I went.  Luckily, no paparazzi jumped out of the bushes to grab my face plant, so I bent my glasses back into shape, assessed by rapidly swelling elbow and knee, and took off….walking.  I hobbled the last two miles over the relatively flat but narrow and slippery way to the finish for my beer glass finisher prize (alas, not filled with beer).

A band, dubbed Old Spice and the Roll-ons, greeted me singing “Sweet Caroline” and I headed to the car to wash off at least enough mud to get into dry clothes (helpful hint: take a gallon of water and washcloths to a trail race). Back to the finish with my $3.50 worth of meal tickets where the local Little League was serving up hot homemade chicken noodle soup and coffee.  I finished in 2:44, Carol streaked in at 2:15, Kathy came in 2:26 taking third in the 60-69 age group, and first time trail runner Anne finished in 2:28.

Random prizes filled a picnic table and included many pig-related items and bags of Godiva chocolate. We all walked away with a prize—my choice a large pink ceramic pig.  Besides random prizes, Godiva chocolate was awarded to finishers who successfully carried a raw egg from the race’s start to finish. I wasn’t the last to finish but I certainly wasn’t anywhere near the first—first male finished in an unbelievable 1:00, female in 1:14.