NEWRY — More than 3,600 runners competed in the Tough Mountain Challenge obstacle course at Sunday River Ski Resort in Newry on Saturday.

The event also drew thousands of spectators of all ages, many of whom walked up the mountain to watch and cheer on athletes struggling through 17 obstacles on the 4-mile course while either wet or covered in mud.

“The crowd today was massive but expected,” resort spokeswoman Darcy Morse said. “Today’s event exceeded our expectations. We knew that there would be a good-sized crowd, but you never know about the weather. Today’s weather was perfect, which gave way to a perfect course, which gave way to some happy racers. Win-win for everyone.”

The only injuries reported were two sprained ankles, one of which took place at the Slip, Slide and Die water-slide obstacle on the last descent toward the finish line at South Ridge Lodge, she said.

Heats were run every 15 minutes from 8 a.m. to 3 p.m., averaging 125 runners in each heat. All runners wore numbered bibs and timing devices around their ankles.

“The bib got them entry into the race; the anklet recorded their time,” Morse said.

Additionally, because bibs were coming off in The Shredder Mud Pit obstacle, a 100-foot-long mud pit topped with barbed wire, course volunteers had to write bib numbers with black markers on the arms or legs of runners.

Runners streamed through the parking lot at South Ridge to pick up bib numbers and timing anklets. Outside the lodge in the morning, eight women from Turner who identified their team as the “Dirty Girls,” spread out in a circle and began stretching exercises.

“How did we prep (for the race)?” Carolyn Perkins asked the group. “We got up, drank some coffee and we were ready to go.”

“I drank beer last night,” one teammate clarified, as all broke out laughing.

Saturday’s race was the debut event for everyone but Perkins. She said it was her third Challenge.

The race was also runner Kyle Tilsley’s third Challenge. Asked how he did in the first two, he said, “I survived.”

Also waiting for her heat to start was runner Melissa Hunt of Augusta. It was her third year, too, she said, holding her year-old daughter, Addison Hunt.

She said she finished the first two races in just over an hour. Hunt said she prepped for the race by working out with an “awesome” group in Augusta. “We do things like lift kegs and hit tires with sledgehammers and all kinds of fun, crazy stuff, so I’m ready.”

Runners gathered in a fenced-in area behind the starting line. A minute before they were to take off for the first mud-pit obstacle, resort Mountain Manager Jake Treadwell started them jumping up and down in place and yelling exuberantly.

“We want you to be muddy and wet and have the best time ever,” Treadwell said.

Using a microphone, he had them count down from 10 to 0 as bright orange smoke erupted from two canisters on the other side of the mud pit. And then they were off at a steady jog uphill, until getting blasted with cool water from the first two of 12 snow-making guns in the gantlet obstacle appropriately titled “Hurricane Valley.”

Many runners simply walked through the valley while getting drenched. Once through the valley, they had to run downhill and back up to the mud and barbed-wire pit.

At The Barker Pond Leap Frog obstacle, runners emerged from a huge culvert, climbed up out of it and viewed the completely unstable “lily pads” they had to run across without falling off the small docks that bobbed in the pond.

“Fast feet, down the middle, go, go, go!” the obstacle tender yelled as runners gingerly launched themselves onto the slick platforms.

After that came the water slide into another muddy pool, and a dash down a steep slope to the finish.

Four women at the bottom wearing muddy pink jerseys said the course lived up to its name. Asked what the worst obstacle was, Sue LaJoie, Sheila Morrison, Lisa Smith and Cherri Crockett simultaneously yelled, “WTF!”

That obstacle had runners crawling up a very steep pitch.

Overall first-place finisher for the men and boys was Greg Goodhue, 48, of Sidney, whose time was 42 minutes and 9.5 seconds. For the women and girls, Debbie Moreau, 42, of Greene took first overall with a time of 49 minutes and 1.1 seconds.

“I’m not sure you could drive the course as fast as some ran it,” Morse said.

The Tough Mountain Challenge also included a children’s Mini-Mountain Challenge that was capped at 300 participants and sold out, Morse said.

“Judging by the crowd of kiddos, I would say that they all showed up to compete,” she said.

Race results can be found here:  www.allsportsevents.com/Results/running_results/ToughMountainChallenge2014.html#/results::14064069725060.

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