NEWRY — For the past few weeks, Caroline Ochetra and Jake Treadwell have been planning — or more accurately, plotting — the route and the 16 obstacles for the Tough Mountain Challenge at Sunday River set for Saturday, July 21.
In its third year, the event, which started with just under 200 racers, has grown to nearly 2,400. The course itself, best described as an uphill obstacle course, has also grown and changed, and those participating and watching should expect it to be even more challenging.
"In the first three-tenths of a mile, you are going to be soaking wet and you're going to be covered in mud and now you've only got 2.9 miles to go," Treadwell said as he showed off one of several mud pits that contestants will have to negotiate.
The race, originally the brainchild of Ochetra, takes some of its cues from the popular Tough Mudder series of races that feature much longer courses with more obstacles.
But the Tough Mountain Challenge at Sunday River will be no walk in the park, she said. One portion of the race, dubbed the Suicide Sprint, features a steady uphill climb on a gravel and rock resort work road.
The section is one that fetched the most complaints from past racers, so rather than remove it, Ochetra and Treadwell decided to make it even more difficult by placing 3-foot hurdles across sections of it.
"We are saying it's back by unpopular demand," Sunday River spokeswoman Darcy Morse said. But that's only the first real uphill challenge on the course.
Ochetra said the course has been evolving over the past three years and much of it is built on feedback organizers have received from past race surveys.
Showing off the course last week, she pointed to another steep section that rises straight up the Northern Exposure ski trail for a two-tenths of a mile climb through the "pucker brush." She said event officials had a hard time naming the section without using expletives.
"I walked the course with a girlfriend of mine and asked her to tell me the first two words that came to her mind when she came around this corner and saw that hill," Ochetra said. "She looked up and said, '(Expletive) that!'"
Organizers eventually settled on a more acceptable name for the section of race and dubbed it after the popular text-message phrase, "WTF."
Using the ski hill's steep slopes, deep gullies, streams, drainage culverts and a retention pond as obstacles, the race will put contestants through their paces.
Several sections that feature deep, man-made mud pits — one of which is 100 feet long — will be topped with thigh-high barbed wire.
"You are going to have to crawl," Treadwell said.
At the start of the course, racers will have to thread their way through a gauntlet of 12 snow-making guns that will each be blowing 320 gallons of water per minute into the racers' faces. Another features eight more snow-making guns all pointed at the same location, and runners will have to run uphill into the spray.
The majority of those who have participated in past races are from Maine, and this year's registrations reflect that, as well, Ochetra said. About 56 percent of the entrants are women, she said.
One of the most popular obstacles, a deep gully that can only be climbed out of with the use of rope, is back again this year. Dubbed the "Trench of Terror" the obstacle requires hand-foot coordination and little fear of heights to complete.
Once out of the trench, runners get a little break — a short uphill trail run — before they hit the next wall, literally, a wall of logs.
"They are going to get around this corner and then are going to be like, 'Oh, crap, now I have to go over this log wall that's cabled to these trees," Treadwell said, showing off the obstacle.
Other sections route runners through large drainage culverts with running water and over walls and other obstacles used for alpine terrain parks in the winter.
The race has been designed with spectators in mind, with a cluster of the most spectacular obstacles within walking distance of the South Ridge Base Lodge. Organizers have built a shorter version of the course for children under 12, which also features mud pits and a race uphill.
The same weekend as Bethel's annual Mollyockett Festival — one obstacle dubbed Molly Ockett's Revenge is named for the festival's namesake, an American Indian woman.
The obstacle is a deep mud pit covered with steel snow-making pipes that will be impossible to negotiate without dipping your head in the muddy brown water, Treadwell said.
Ochetra said that according to the legend of Molly Ockett, she placed a curse of "flood, fire and failure" on a local inn that refused her shelter, and the obstacle is aptly named.
While there are 16 obstacles on the course map, Ochetra and Treadwell said racers should prepare for a few "unexpected surprises" as well.
The course ends with a giant dual water slide, fashioned out of a long PVC culvert that's been cut in half. Racers will slide two by two into a water pit about 4 feet deep and either swim or climb out of the water before sprinting to the finish where they will have to jump through a 16-foot ring of fire.
One change to the course this year is a new lily-pad feature that will see contestants hopping across 13 large floating foam blocks. The blocks, 2 feet thick by 4 feet wide and 12 feet long, will be tethered together by ropes. The blocks will be cut into varying shapes to make staying on top of them more difficult, and each block will be placed progressively farther from the next.
"We are also contemplating adding some kind of lubricant or grease to 'em," said Jon Pasternak, another Sunday River employee working on the course. "It should be interesting."
The 16 obstacles on the Tough Mountain Challenge course for 2012
Below are Sunday River's description of the 16 obstacles on the course:
1. HURRICANE ALLEY
Start with a sprint up South Ridge where you'll experience what our famous snow-making guns are capable of. Feel free to bring goggles, and leave your contact lenses at home. This year we’re going to get you every which way because we’re doubling the number of fan guns you’ll have to navigate.
2. SNOW & STEADY
Calm your breathing and balance across snow-making pipes over very cloudy, muddy and mysterious water. The steadier you are, the faster you'll go. Keep in mind you're already soaked and your legs are burning from Hurricane Alley. This would be a challenge for Mary Lou Retton. For you? Torture.
3. MUD CRAWL
We give you a slight break as you run back to the base of South Ridge, where you'll encounter the largest and toughest mud crawl of the course. Get down on your knees, get dirty and crawl under the barbed wire. Don’t look up and leave your CamelBaks at home. Do you need to ask why? Four words: razor-sharp barbed wire.
4. MOLLYOCKETT’S REVENGE
Legend has it, back in the mid 1700s, after an inn refused her, Native American Molly Ockett cursed the area with flood, fire and failure. Be prepared to hold your breath, get wet and hopefully not swallow this cursed muddy water. The fire will come from your burning lungs as you consider failure.
Run uphill over slippery ground while we blast you in the face with snow guns. Good luck. It’s like playing American Gladiator with Hellga, blindfolded, with your hands tied behind your back.
6. SUICIDE SPRINT
After passing through a wall of water, racers will run a quarter-mile uphill over hurdles to the "Trench of Terror.” If the idea of a trench of terror doesn’t send shivers down your spine, sprinting this uphill portion is sure to send pain down your legs.
7. TRENCH OF TERROR
Dive into an incredibly steep ravine which you'll need to navigate with strategy, as a slope leads down to a stream crossing and an even steeper climb out.
8. WOODEN WALL RISE
After hauling yourself out of the Trench of Terror, a quick trail run will bring you to the Wall. This is no manufactured plywood-and-ropes obstacle, but a steep wall of logs and trees you'll have to get over.
9. BLACK HOLE
"A real butt burner" as one of our testers put it. Follow a short trail through the woods that leads into a twisting, rocky stream bed that will feed you right into the Black Hole — a 50-foot-long culvert that crosses under a ski trail. If you slow down, the racers behind you may run right over you.
A couple of course testers earlier this year rounded the corner at the base of this section, looked up, and said, “WTF?!” Scramble your way up the steep slope and rock ledges. We’ll even hang some rope in case you need assistance.
11. MYSTERY OBSTACLE
Is it really a mystery, or do we just not want to tell you? Only the evil course designers know for sure, but don't be surprised if you encounter yet another obstacle that will take some back strength. Oh, and by this point, you'll be exhausted from a huge climb and descent.
12. LOST TANGO
Keep your eyes peeled for trail markers or you'll end up wandering around far away on the mountain. You feel like you're walking in circles. Haven’t we walked by this tree already? What is that sound, anyway? Could it be the Blair Witch?
13. HOLE OF HORROR
If you thought the Black Hole was scary, you're in for a real treat. This time you're crossing under an even wider ski trail, but without the benefit of that warm, inviting light at the end of the tunnel. If you're not afraid of the dark, you might be after this.
14. BARKER POND CROSSING
Last year, competitors simply crossed the pond on a long net. Too easy! This year, get ready for an entirely new challenge that will have you crawling and jumping like a frog from lily pad to lily pad all the way across.
15. DOUBLE VISION
What goes up must come down. After you cross the pond, you'll have to climb up and over a wall before climbing/jumping/falling down the backside into a pit of mud. Then repeat. You’ll be demoralized, muddy and exhausted.
16. SLIP SLIDE & DIE
With your family and friends watching from below and the finish in sight you'll take a "break" and ride down our twin, side-by-side slip 'n' slides. If you think you'll just run down the middle and stay dry, hotshot, think again.