SEVEN SPRINGS, Pa. - On a sunny Saturday in the Laurel Highlands of western Pennsylvania, more than 2,000 runners braved seven miles of running, an assortment of challenging obstacles and 1,000 feet in elevation change at the inaugural Mud on the Mountain at Seven Springs Mountain Resort.
Participants from 21 states and Canada endured 20 obstacles where they were challenged to climb over walls, crawl through mud, balance on a tight rope over a pond, dive into a water-filled dumpster and crawl up a steep mountain "black diamond" slope.
The grand finale featured runners scaling a snow pile that towered 60 feet into the bright blue sky. The snow was the last of the resort's 22-foot Olympic-size halfpipe, which was used for freestyle skiing and snowboarding during the winter ski season.
Competitors make their way through the Belly Flop obstacle and the mud associated with it at Mud on the Mountain at Seven Springs Mountain Resort on Saturday. (Photo by Art Smith)
"It was a lot of fun. There is nothing better than being outside and playing in the mud," said Erin Trease, of Pittsburgh, Pa.
For many, including Ryan Hildebrand, of Mineral Point, Pa., the hills were the toughest challenge.
"My calves were burning," Hildebrand said of his hand and feet crawl up the steepest of the slopes. "I made it, that's what matters."
Completion time was not the goal of Saturday's endurance event. The goal of Mud on the Mountain was conquering the mountain. Endurance events are designed to test not only the running ability of athletes, but also their ability to overcome mentally and physically challenging obstacles.
Mud, and other obstacle-based events, have grown in popularity in recent years as athletes look for more challenging events to take part in. Mud on the Mountain used both natural and man-made obstacles to provide a unique challenge to participants.
Participants took off in waves of 200 every 20 minutes for five hours with an average completion time of two-and-a-half hours. While some crossed the finish line covered in mud with an assortment of scrapes and bruises, most runners reached it with a smile and a sense of pride, accomplishment and camaraderie.
Many competed as a team. Team Cyborg, a group of nine men from Irwin, Pa., began training last fall and have done several adventure races together.
"It was awesome; can't wait until next year." said Bill Gaughan, of Venetia, Pa., who was a part of a group of eight firefighters from Pennsylvania's Washington and Allegheny counties who competed. "We started together and we ended together."
Ryan Reese, a police officer from Connellsville, Pa., did the event with fellow officer Chris Kozlowski of Fort Hill, Pa. Reese repeatedly cheered, "Come on Chris," to his friend who recently lost 100 pounds, but was struggling early in the event.
"Mud on the Mountain was designed to attract participants who enjoy a physical challenge and have an adventurous spirit," said Eric Mauck, chief executive officer at Seven Springs. "To take on the mountain, our runners came prepared to push themselves to the limit and to work as a team with complete strangers. Seven Springs is proud to provide this amazing experience for these guests. We hope that this becomes a yearly tradition and lasting memory for everyone. This event fits right in with our mission to provide a mountain adventure with activities like our new canopy tours, sporting clays, golf, and zipline tours."
"After such a tremendous response, we are already finalizing dates for next year's event" said Seven Springs Communications Manager Anna Weltz. "We are already planning a bigger, better and dirtier Mud on the Mountain."