BUCKHANNON - More than 150 runners crossed the finish line bruised, breathless and covered in mud this weekend at the Buckhannon Fire Department's second annual Five Alarm Mud Run.
As beaten and battered as the runners were, they all had smiles on their dirt-caked faces.
The Buckhannon Fire Department's Lt. Joey Baxa said the 3.1-mile race is comprised of 20 obstacles scattered across some of the roughest terrain the Mountain State has to offer. All proceeds from the event will help the fire department purchase rescue equipment, he said.
Buckhannon resident Chrystal Cottrill is queen of the mud mound Saturday as she conquers the final obstacle in the Five Alarm Mud Run.
The Five Alarm Mud Run was the first 5K obstacle course for Matt Osborne of Elkins. Despite being lean, wiry and in-shape, the Mud Run pretty much kicked his tail, he said.
"My legs are shaking. I'm dirty from head to toe. I can't catch my breath. But it was exhilarating," he said.
Jason Poak was first to cross the finish line. An avid runner, he said running on the weekends is a great way to stay fit and relieve stress after working five days a week. After the Mud Run, he summed up how he was feeling in one word: "Sore."
"After all the hills and the obstacles, it about wore me out," he said.
The obstacles grew increasingly difficult as the race wore on, Poak said.
"The first one wasn't too bad, but after that they just kept getting bigger and tougher," he said.
From crawling through muddy culverts to shimmying through claustrophobia-inducing ravines, the runners were subjected to all manner of malicious torture, Osborne said.
"There were wall-climbs, nets suspended over ravines and creeks. But I think the best obstacle by far was the water pipe you had to climb that dumped you out into a big ice bath," he said.
And after surviving what could only be called the ultimate ice-bucket challenge, there was still plenty in store.
"There were lots of hills, big climbs so your legs are burning and you can't catch your breath," Osborne said. "The Buckhannon Fire Department did a great job. It was a lot of fun out there."
Buckhannon resident Lisa Manley survived the race with a bloodied knee that she wore like a badge of honor.
"It was really fun. It was hard but you have your friends with you to make you keep going," she said.
Manley said she was impressed by the turnout and believes the event was good for the community, as well as the fire department.
"I think, with a little bit more advertisement, it will continue to grow and be as big as many of the other mud runs around. The community really got together to put something on here," she said.
Taylor Foster of Buckhannon was one of the friends who helped keep Manley going through the race. They were part of a team running for Rob's Fitness Factory. Foster said the event is a great way for gym employees to spend time together outside of work.
"As a gym, we always support the fire department. They're really good to us. We've had a good community member relationship with them," Foster said. "It's good bonding for us. It's good to see everybody out. And it's a good way to see the real West Virginia, too. You get to see some of the hills that remind you where we live."
Emalea Miller of Buckhannon also was running on the Rob's Fitness Factory team. Employees of the gym participated in the fire department's first Mud Run last year. She said this year's event was even better. She appreciated the fire department's hard work organizing the race.
"It's just so much fun. And it's good to support the community. It's a big plus for health awareness, too," she said. "I think this one was a lot harder. They did the course backwards. Last year we started where we finished this year. There were a lot more hill climbs. It was rough. And it takes a lot of work to put this on. They planned pretty much all year to do this."
Supporting the fire department was high on everyone's list of reasons for wanting to run the race.
"I wanted to come out and support them. There are a lot of obstacle courses now, and they've kind of become big business. I'd say they probably do as good a job as any of the professionals out there that try to do this, if not better," Osborne said.
Charity is one of Poak's main motivators for running in community events.
"That's one reason I always run. Most of the time, I run in the Relay For Life because it's a good charity," he said.
This year's race was an overwhelming success, Baxa said. The 150 participants was a significant increase over last year's 80. And everyone who participated said this year's race was new and improved.
It was worth all of the effort firefighters put into planning and setting up the course, Baxa said.
"Today's course took over 1,000 man hours just to get to today. We've still got a bunch of man hours left in clean up. The process for next year will start immediately after this one is over," he said.
The Mud Run is a different kind of fundraiser for the fire department, Baxa said. Before the first event last year, the department had been looking for something new and exciting.
"We'd been doing elimination dinners, prize bashes, golf tournaments. We wanted to bring something new to the area. There are very few of these in the state. There are none in a five or six county area around us. But they're extremely popular," he said.
The funding is important to the department. It helps to purchase important equipment the yearly budget can't always cover, Baxa said. But fundraisers go beyond raising money.
"We get funding from the state and the county. But sometimes those things are restricted. This gives us some additional funding to go along with our other fundraiser, our prize bash we had this Spring," he said. "On top of raising money, fundraisers get people out in the community to interact with us. This is a totally different group of people than what we have at our other fundraisers. We're interacting with new and younger people. It creates those relationships."
The Upshur County Citizens' Emergency Response Team and the Ellamore Fire Department helped with this weekend's Mud Run. Ellamore held a pig roast to provide runners with some much-needed sustenance after the race, Baxa said.
"They helped us out last year. So when we decided we wanted to add food this year, we gave them the first option and they took us up on that," he said.
Baxa said the department was also pleased to have representatives from Rukundo International at the event. The group is hoping to build a school in Kabale, Uganda. They were collecting shoes at the Mud Run to be cleaned and donated to people in need in third-world countries.
Rukundo spokeswoman Krysten Widner said for every pair of shoes collected, another charitable organization would pay Rukundo cash that will be used to help start the school in Kabale.
Rukundo is based out of Charleston and Washington, D.C., and was founded by Andrea Sedlock, Widner said.
"We just started this year. But we had gone to Uganda in the past and found that the reason they can't get out of poverty is because of a lack of education. We're hoping to start with one grade initially and add a grade every year," she said.
The Mud Run was a great way to make connections in the Buckhannon area, Widner said. For more information on the nonprofit organization visit www.rukundointernational.org
Baxa said the Buckhannon Fire Department was pleased to help Rukundo in their efforts. He said the group's participation further illustrates the relationships built by community events like the Mud Run.