NEWRY — Four Maine game wardens will be shooting for gold Saturday during the 5K Tough Mountain Challenge at Sunday River Ski Resort. Silver just won’t do.

They’re also going to be filmed doing the endurance obstacle course for a segment on Animal Planet’s popular North Woods Law, a reality show that follows Maine game wardens.

The Tough Mountain Challenge is a timed, adventure obstacle race that tackles Alpine terrain and liberally throws in natural and man-made challenges to mix things up, according to the event’s website.

This year, there are 15 returning obstacles, a new surprise obstacle and 3,000 racers preregistered for the event. It slogs from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. at the South Ridge base area. There will be heats of 125 racers leaving every 15 minutes.

Last year’s event drew about 2,500 racers, among whom were the Maine warden team North Woods Law comprised of Col. Joel Wilkinson, Lt. Shon Theriault, Aaron Cross and Kris MacCabe. Theriault was recently promoted to captain.

They finished in second place as a team in 50 minutes and 25.2 seconds, earning silver belt buckles.

“Silver’s not going to cut it this year,” MacCabe, 31, of Wilton said Wednesday afternoon.

“There’s probably a lot of people who want to take the silver buckle from us and they can, because we’re going to step it up a notch and get the gold buckle.”

MacCabe said the Tough Mountain Challenge race features obstacles and terrain that they deal with on a yearly basis while doing backcountry search and rescues and investigating all-terrain vehicle and hunting accidents.

But not so much crawling through mud under barbed wire as featured in the Challenge’s Shredder pit.

“We’ve run in a lot of road races, 5Ks, 10Ks, and the Mount Desert Island Marathon team relay,” he said.

“We’ve been doing that for quite a few years, but Sunday River’s Tough Mountain Challenge is more our cup of tea, where we’re out in the woods a lot. We’re always either on the slopes in the winter looking for skiers or on mountains and the Appalachian Trail in the summer assisting hikers.

“Plus, we’re all in great shape, so this is a natural fit,” MacCabe said.

Last month, three members of the team competed in New Hampshire’s Tough Mudder, a 12-mile-long obstacle course designed by British Special Forces. They finished it in three hours flat, he said.

On Wednesday afternoon, he said the team did a three-mile training run through the woods. They train a lot together, both for their job and physical fitness.

“We take it very seriously, because we like to stay in shape,” MacCabe said. “We’re also supercompetitive.”

Which is why their friends and colleagues from the New Hampshire Fish and Game and the U.S. Customs and Border Patrol will also compete with the Maine wardens.

“Hopefully, we’re up to the challenge of an interstate battle with Maine and New Hampshire,” he said.

In the past, the Maine wardens team has competed in races in New Hampshire with their fish and game friends and won.

“Now, they’re going to come here to Maine and try to take it away from us,” MacCabe said.

He said they don’t have any real strategy other than training together, being prepared and trying not to turn an ankle on the uneven terrain, something that is easily done.

“It’s all tough,” he said of the Sunday River course. “When you come out of the mud, you’re waterlogged and there’s mud in your clothing, and then you’re going on an uphill climb and your legs and thighs are burning. The way I look at it is the faster I get to the top, the faster I get down.”

He said a lot of the race is mental.

“It’s different running than a marathon,” MacCabe said. “It’s just mind over matter. It’s not like a regular 5K race where you just sprint and go as fast as you can go.

“It is very good for us as wardens, because we deal with water, mud and all the elements,” he said. “Our strategy is to be the first one to finish, but we have to cross the finish line as a team, so we’ll be trying to help each other.”

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NEWRY —  Sunday River Ski Resort crews have already set up Satuday’s 5K Tough Mountain Challenge course.

They’re just tweaking obstacles this week, spokeswoman Darcy Morse said Tuesday afternoon.

“This event, by far, is our largest summer event and a favorite among Mainers, who make up for 60 percent of our registrants,” Morse said.

The Tough Mountain Challenge is a five-kilometer Alpine trail run with 15 obstacles sprinkled throughout, including past favorites such as Hurricane Alley, The Shredder, Sink or Swim, and Slip, Slide & Die, Morse said.

In Hurricane Alley, runners taking off from the start are sprayed with a field of high-powered snow guns. Shredder is a muddy crawl under real barbed wire, Sink or Swim is a slippery-when-wet lily pad-like crossing over the resort’s Barker Pond, and Slip, Slide & Die is an adult take on the classic childhood pastime.

Other than some minor reroutes of the course, the only new thing is what Morse called a surprise obstacle.

“It will be exciting,” she said. “Anyone who went through last year’s large culvert into the pond is in for a surprise.”

Free for spectators to watch, the event’s start and finish areas are in the South Ridge base area. Morse said spectators are encouraged to watch anywhere along the sides of the course.

“We have a lot of the same obstacles, but we did add more snow guns and we did add more mud so, overall, it will be a little tougher of a course.”

Following the adult’s Tough Mountain Challenge, the resort will host its annual Mini Mountain Challenge for children ages 6 through 12.

For more information, contact Darcy Morse at 332-1107 or [email protected]

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