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Down and Dirty
Published Tuesday, April 19, 2011 9:27 AM
By Paul Zoeller
Summerville Journal Scene
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"This is the mud you paid for, get in it!" barks a Marine as runners come to a pit of muddy water. Taking a leap of faith off a slippery bank, they land in the mud hole trying to stay on their feet. Many go under and pop up covered in a thick layer of mud.

"Oh, it tastes so good." he laughs as they slosh around in the water towards the other side of the pit.

Getting down and dirty, thick mud greets competitors during the 2011 Mud Run in Columbia.

More than 1,200 teams of four came to Columbia to compete in the USMC Ultimate Challenge Mud Run to benefit Marines and their families from the Columbia area who have been wounded or killed while serving on active duty. The event started in 1993 and has become one of the largest mud runs in North America.

A Summerville team of Mark and Ashley Wimberly, left, and Louis and Abby Caputo do some sit ups under the close watch of Marines.

What kind of person enters a race to roll around in mud all day? Many from Summerville traveled to Columbia to participate in the run. Throughout the day, doctors, lawyers and CEOs passed by as they headed for the next obstacle on the course. Sure, macho guys with big muscles who communicated with each other through a series of grunts were there but so were many others. Husband and wife teams, students and many groups dressed in various costumes could be found on the course.

Teams navigate "The Tarzan" but only a few survived one of the newest obstacles on the course.

The Obstacles

We all face obstacles in life, usually they aren't 15-foot walls. On the course, competitors had to navigate the wall and 30 more obstacles spread out along a 5.2 -mile course. Many involved climbing, balance and coordination. They were built of wood, ropes and of course -- mud.

Many of the obstacles were about team work -- everyone had to work together to climb a 10-foot wall.

Each obstacle offered new challenges that involved a lot of team work. Team members would hoist and heave each other up walls or over logs to complete each point in the course. If one team member did not complete the challenge, the team was penalized in minutes. The only way to complete many of the challenges was to work together.

Fatigue set in as teams covered the course.

Teams had to stick close together and were only as fast as the slowest person. For many, speed was not a concern as they jogged and even walked from one obstacle to the next.

Everyone had a different approach to the different mud holes along the course.

The walking would not last long as Marines stationed at every obstacle yelled at participants like drill sergeants at boot camp.

"Move faster, move faster," they would yell out as if hoping the teams would tire of their abuse and push on.

Abby Caputo, left, and Ashley Wimberly of Summerville race to the next obstacle.

Many of the Marines stationed along the course said they had never competed in the mud run but would have liked to. I can imagine this course is right up their alley considering many of the obstacles were inspired by Marines. Obstacles such as Hell Fire Valley, The Ho Chi Minh Trail and Bunker Hill were inspired by famous Marine battles in history.

As if there wasn't enough mud on the course, Mother Nature opened up the skies during the race.

All 31 points along the course looked difficult no matter their inspiration. After the race, when asked which obstacle was the hardest, the same answer never was given twice. The course was physically exhausting.

Teams of four had to complete each task sometimes giving some a chance to catch their breathe.

The Mud

As if the course wasn't muddy enough, Mother Nature chimed in and dumped rain on the event throughout the day soaking even the driest portions of the course. By the end of the race, people were covered in mud.

Dirty, tired and hurting -- teams pushed on through the course.

Mud was everywhere, soaked into shirts, settled into shoes and in every orifice imaginable. Even after showers, many could be seen cleaning out their ears. It was thick and sticky but worst of all -- it was smelly.

"It smelled like poop," Abby Caputo, of Summerville, said after the race.

Team members climb over 5-foot high logs.

Not only was the mud all over the participants, it was all over the obstacles as well. Everything was slippery and hard to climb towards the end of the day. Obstacles that were hard in the morning became almost impassable by the afternoon.

Teams swim through muddy water as they pass under logs.

The only relief was the brief rain showers that washed some of the mud away.

Marines positioned at every obstacle barked orders like a drill Sergeant pushing troops through bootcamp.

The Finish Line

Some raced to win while others raced to complete. As many completed the last obstacle on the course, the exhaustion left their faces. All the trials and tribulations the course threw at them seemed worth it as they crossed the finish line and flashed a gritty smile.

Sure they were a little worse for wear -- scraped, bruised and sore -- but they had reached their goal.

Carmen Bouknight, of Summerville enjoys a free ride on a stretcher courtesy of the last obstacle on the course.

Many posed for pictures, others talked about their experiences on the course and still others watched as friends crossed the finish line but they all took a shower. Nobody was a stranger in the mass shower stall and no one cared either. People peeled of their mud covered clothing and did their best to wash all the mud off their bodies.

A large dumpster sat next the showers filled with garments and shoes no one was going to attempt to clean.

Muddy clothing piles up in a dumpster next to the showers.

Though tired and sore, many were in high spirits and ready for the next race scheduled for Oct. 15.

Some opted for showers, others chose a fire hose to blast the mud from their bodies.

Soaring in popularity, adventure races are popping up all over South Carolina. Even the mud run has had to expand its schedule to accommodate all of the participants. Are you ready to get down and dirty, watch the video from the mud run.

As a child, we were always scolded for jumping into a puddle of water -- watch out mom, this October I am jumping into a puddle of mud.

Paul Zoeller is a freelance photographer new to the area. Do you have an idea for a new blog or a question about a current blog? If you do contact Zoeller at

Comments (3)

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USMC Ultimate Challenge Mud Run
Wednesday, April 27, 2011 9:18 PM

Just want to say the pictures and video are amazing!
Thank you for capturing some unforgettable moments!

Posted by: Lisa
Mud Run
Wednesday, April 20, 2011 10:10 PM

This was my 2nd time doing the MudRun and I'm hooked! My children also came and did the pollywog. Your photos are amazing, along with the video and truely capture what the event is all about.

Posted by: Summerville mom
Dirty Birdie
Wednesday, April 20, 2011 2:44 PM

I wanna do that next year!

Posted by: Unkle Davie

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