Mud on competitors and on spectators; mud on tattooed arms and legs; and mud smudged like paint on faces that twisted in agony one moment and glowed with smiles the next.
Tough Mudder, an extreme challenge for the weekend athlete, made its local debut Saturday, Sept. 29, and Sunday, Sept. 30, in the hillsides of the developing community southwest of Patterson, attracting more than 10,000 entrants from across the country.
Participants swam through a vat of ice water, ran up a greasy half pipe and plowed through a field of electrified wires, among other challenges.
The extreme obstacle course is one of several in a growing field that challenges people with everyday jobs to step outside their comfort zone.
“At a certain point, regular running is boring and triathlons get too nerdy, expensive and linear,” said Alex Patterson, chief marketing officer at Tough Mudder. “Modern life is too easy. Once or twice a year, you need to be an animal — get dirty, sweaty, use your whole body.”
The slopes southwest of Patterson and Diablo Grande’s Legends golf course were transformed into a challenge complete with 20 military-style obstacles based on British Special Forces exercises.
The 11-mile course put teammates to the test and forged instant bonds among strangers.
The event, advertised as “probably the toughest event on the planet,” aims to test the strength, stamina, mental fortitude and camaraderie of runners, who must sign a “death waiver” before they participate.
Thomas LaFell, 22, of San Diego, was among them.
“My whole team flaked out around the third obstacle in, and I met up with another guy who I’ve never met before whose team also flaked out, so I ended up running it with him,” LaFell said. “That was one of the toughest things I’ve ever done, but we finished. The entire course is a challenge, and by the time you get to the end, you’re incredibly worn out — but it was awesome.”
Competing in his seventh Tough Mudder this year, Aaron Flynn, 33, flew from Seattle to team up with old friends from his days in the military.
“It lives up to the hype,” Flynn said. “I don’t know of any other event that brings together people from all walks of life to challenge them physically and mentally like this. (Event organizers) find ways to mess with you and make sure that it’s tough on you.”
Even Steve Soffe of Tempe, Ariz., an athlete who has completed an Ironman triathlon — a feat of endurance that includes a 2.4-mile swim, a 102-mile bike course and a 26.2-mile run — found the competition worthwhile.
“I’ve not run anything like this. I did an Ironman last November, and (this is) pretty freaking difficult,” Soffe said. “I almost got dropped by the electric cords.”
Soffe was referring to the last obstacle on the Diablo Grande course — a series of wires organizers say carry up to 10,000 volts dangling from a wooden frame, dubbed “electroshock therapy.” It knocked many participants off their feet.
That obstacle was less than a mile after a similar challenge — a military-style belly crawl in the mud through curtains of electrified wires.
As tough as the endurance race was, competitors said they enjoyed the challenge and the camaraderie.
There was no prize money involved, and contestants were not timed. The idea, organizers say, is not to win, but to make it through, often with help from fellow contestants.
Elite athletes finished in about two hours. Others needed three or more hours to get through the course.
Attire also varied.
Jordan Gilliam, 20, of Santa Ana, put a lot of thought into his running outfit — a loincloth and camouflage paint. He neglected one thing, though: The camouflage paint wasn’t waterproof.
“What can I say? It washed off,” said Gilliam, displaying an ample amount of skin.
Other participants throughout the weekend were seen in similarly unusual costumes, including pink tutus and leprechaun outfits.
Diablo Grande’s Tough Mudder is one of 35 taking place in the United States this year and among even more worldwide.
By the end of this year, an estimated 400,000 people will have participated in Tough Mudder events across the country. Each costs between $95 and $200, depending upon when participants register.
The event raises money for the Wounded Warrior Project, a nonprofit that helps severely injured members of the armed services. To date, Tough Mudder has raised more than $3 million for the cause, according to the company’s website.
Everyone who completes the course receives a T-shirt, an orange headband and — if of legal drinking age — a cold Dos Equis beer.
Participants must be at least 18 years old on the day of the event to participate.
Carmen Millan, chief financial officer of World International, which oversees Diablo Grande, said she was pleased with the local event and glad to see the community involvement that made it all possible.
Local firefighters and emergency medical crews staffed the event; local businesses helped with the Mudder’s preparation; and residents and business people were among the volunteers, she said.
“It was great to see all the participants enjoying themselves and coming together as one team, encouraging one another to get through the course with encouraging words and helping those who had fallen,” Millan said. “This is an experience that is to be remembered here in Diablo Grande.”
• Sports Editor Marc Aceves can be reached at 892-6187, ext. 28 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Irrigator Editor Jonathan Partridge contributed to this report.