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Toronto Mud Hero 2014

After volunteering at the 2013 Toronto Mud Hero at Albion Hills Conservation Area in Ontario, I was regretting not having entered the event.  I was under the impression that these Mud Runs and Obstacle Races were for military personnel or at least military “wanna be’s” and perhaps body builders and gym rats.  I was none of these and certainly didn’t feel I was capable of this sort of event.  After watching participants in the 2013 Mud Hero, I began to think differently.  I saw groups of people having great fun, laughing, smiling, encouraging each other and finishing the day with “see you next year” and “I can’t wait to do that again”.  When sign up time came this year, I missed out on joining in the fun with my Orangeville Running Free team as the Saturday race filled quickly.  Feeling a little let down and annoyed with myself for delaying my commitment to enter, I was excited to learn that the event organizers were adding Sunday races.  I turned to my BFF (whom you met in my Met Con Blue report) as an allie and we, along with my 17 yr. old daughter, were signed up in no time.  I was proud of my training efforts and as the event drew nearer, became more determined than ever to make a good showing.  After our Met Con Blue experience, I felt more prepared and with a flatter course felt more capable of finishing well.

Preparations for the event included some purchases which have taken on the shape of tradition now.  These include butter tarts, contact lenses, baby wipes, Q-tips, extra towels and face clothes, garbage bags, bandanas and flip-flops (I’ll come back to these later).  The event is conveniently located about 40 minutes north of Toronto, half way between my home and that of my BFF.  It was very convenient to meet at the Public School in Palgrave and leave one vehicle there.  I knew from 2013 that parking was a little chaotic and finding each other may prove difficult if we arrived separately.  Upon reorganizing our belongings into one vehicle, I realized I had forgotten my post-race flip-flops.  I tried every open establishment in Palgrave, including the gas station to see if I could find a pair for purchase but no such luck!  This would prove to be a painful oversight when I finished the run.

The pre-race registration process was seamless and easily completed.  We had left ourselves ample time and found with the extra minutes we were able to socialize with others preparing for the run. Unfortunately, once of my contact lenses was not in a cooperative frame of mind and insisted I run with a form of mono-vision I was sure would make me ill in no time.  I put up with the sightly queasy feeling as I figured some visual depth was better than none. We didn’t check our bags until minutes before our wave time as there was a “no re-check” policy in effect.  I understand the need for this security but found it a little difficult anyway.  Next time I would wear an old jacket that I could remove at the start line without concern for its final resting spot.  The distance from the baggage check to the start line was a little longer than I’d like, especially in slightly cool and damp conditions (there had been rain the night before).  Once at the start, the excitement was palpable as the group cheered, chanted, jumped and jiggled to the music and commentary of the announcer.

The start was a series of switch backs on a narrow running path marked by stakes and caution tape.  Although this did help to thin the crowd before the first obstacle, I found the turns and slowed pace annoying and the funnel narrowing too quickly.  An off-camber uphill was difficult to navigate while still jockeying for position and not long after this was the first obstacle.  I must say this was a real put-off for me.  The course threw you into a large, deep mud pit that easily soaked runners to their arm pits it thick, gooey mud.  The bottom of the pit was extremely slippery and I found myself next to submerged in my first few steps.  I recovered from this reasonable well, shook off and kept going.  The running trail itself, I thoroughly enjoyed.  It was partly shaded, ran through bush and open terrain, included some rolling hills, a few areas where technical trail skills were a benefit and some areas of calm and serenity in the chaos.  The obstacles included series of small hurdle style walls, balancing beams, water slides, webs of bungees, walls, cars, and fire poles.  Each obstacle was well supervised and many had levels of challenge to choose from.  A fire hose over a wooden bridge was a good challenge and a refreshing opportunity to get some mud off your hands and face.  Interspersed with these obstacles were the ever reappearing mud pits.  All the same.  Deep, slippery and difficult to exit with any form of speed or grace.  At times, it was down right treacherous.  I did begin to develop the technique of seeking outer edges of trail when exiting these pits in an attempt to find some form of secure footing, but it wasn’t a great deal of help.  The final stretch of the race was a beautiful trail bound by a forest on one side and a pond on the other.  This lead to the final obstacle, a cargo net with about 20ft of verticle height which dropped into yet another large mud pool.  The exit from this pit was easier if you happened to come across a helpful participant willing to help pull you up the incredibly slippery bank.  Once out of the pit, one needed to run through 40 ft of mud about 1 ft deep to cross a finish line.  Unfortunately, I wasn’t aware of the location of the actual finish line and thought I was all done once I exited the pit.  Perhaps a few marshals to get you safely across the finish mats would be a helpful addition to the 2015 event.

Post-race saw us enjoy a photo podium and some well designed outdoor shower facilities.  The community harmony as we washed mud from places mud didn’t belong was especially wonderful.  After putting our shoes in the donation bins and our clothes in the provided Glad Garbage bags, we were ready to head back to the truck.  Our previous Mud Run experience had taught us much and we were more than appreciative of the butter tarts, bevies and clean dry SWAG t-shirts (I hope they aren’t grey next year!) at our tail gate.  I was greatly missing my flip-flops as I tread lightly in bare feet through the gravel bedded parking lot! We had the wonderful pleasure of sharing our buffet with a group of “20 something” boys from Quebec.  They provided a few more laughs and some great memories of a day well spent proving that at 49, I’ve still got something!

I loved the landscape of this run.  The hills presented a manageable challenge that allowed you to maintain a decent trail pace.  The terrain was varied and allowed the participant to become confident in their abilities.  The “dry” obstacles were fantastic.  I particularly appreciated the options for different levels of challenge that several of these presented.  I felt the mud pits were over done and took away from my enjoyment of the event.  This may have been partially owing to the rain the night before and the hundreds of competitors who tore up the trail the day before.  If I were to do this event again, I would attempt to register on day one of the event in an early wave to try and avoid the conditions I was faced with.  I would love to see an obstacle run that combined the trails and terrain of the Mud Hero with the obstacles of the Met Con Blue.  I would find this combination a challenge to my fitness level in a very doable capacity.  A finish time of 48:04 saw me place 9/59 in the Female 45-49 category.  I was ever caught between running for myself and wanting to ensure my daughter enjoyed her first Mud Run ever.  I will always be very glad I let go of a higher place finish to encourage her and keep her safe!

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