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Mud Ninja 2013: Double the Mud, Double the Challenge!

Photo by Traci Auerbach
(Note: I had written this for another purpose closer to the race date, but after it wasn't used I decided to add it here.  Hope you enjoy! -- Jamie)

Last year's inaugural Mud Ninja was, by all accounts, a success. And amazingly enough, the 2013 iteration was an even greater one!

To start, the size of the Train 4 Autism: Columbus Chapter team went from four to eleven. Joining the 2012 team of Jamie and Jenn Fellrath, Joe Auerbach, and Joy Beer were (Train 4 Autism: Columbus sponsor) MovNat Ohio owner Lori Crock, Chris Muczyk, Stacey Mustard, Ryan Jewell, Jaye Puckett, Amy Dorris, and Eli Brickey. Monthly technique and training sessions with MovNat Ohio leading up to the event were definitely a great help as the day began. And for several, the Mud Ninja was their inaugural attempt at a mud obstacle race!

It should be noted that starting one's obstacle racing experience with the Mud Ninja is akin to beginning one's musical pursuits with a concert at Carnegie Hall. The obstacles are all hard, but the Mud Ninja lives up to its name by including mud on nearly every obstacle in some way (unlike most races, where there are usually 2-3 mud obstacles). This year's offering from the Mud Ninja was no exception, especially with the additions to the race added by Mother Nature.

The weather was rainy, which added to the challenge of the day by turning even the most regular terrain into a muddy slog. Note: the concept of "regular terrain" at the Mud Ninja downplays the terrain you're given: deep ravines, rocky descents and climbs, and thorny bushes creating a spiky verdant tunnel through which racers must negotiate their way between the actual obstacles.

Photo by Traci Auerbach
The course went as follows: the distance was approximately a 5K. It started at the top of a ravine, went down into one ravine, then back up, and then down into another ravine on the other side of the starting area, and to the finish - back near the original start. And it was apparent from the beginning that the rain was only going to add to the already formidable challenge, as the race took the first turn down into the ravine known as the Grand Canyon. Slipping and sliding down the slopes that were a prominent feature of the course, racers began to encounter the obstacles. These treacherous challenges included crawling through muddy trenches in nearly pitch-blackness; the task of carrying a heavy sandbag up and down part of the ravines; slogs through mucky ponds with clinging mud; and simply getting back up to the starting line level.

Back near the starting line lay the featured obstacle of this year's Mud Ninja: the American Ninja Warrior (named after the famous obstacle course race on television). This massive edifice, located near the starting line but no where near either the start or finish as regards distance traveled, was a tower that was to be ascended by leaping from a small springboard over a mud-filled trench, where contestants were to grasp a rope and a cargo net that started eight feet above the ground. This was rapidly followed by the ten-foot wall, which forced contestants to work with each other to get to the top.

Again, keep in mind that it's been raining the entire time. All these obstacles were treacherously slippery. But all the racers made it to the top and on to the second half of the race, which started with the ravine known as Death Valley. Slippery hand-over hand obstacles and balance-walks across slippery logs (each featuring a muddy pool for those who failed to cross them) were followed by a descent into Death Valley, And Death Valley was steep and slippery, and led up to an impromptu rest at the obstacle called the Widow Maker.

The Widow Maker is simple (not easy, simple) - a climb over a large log (no going under!) and then a climb up the steepest ravine on the course. There were ropes at the top to aid in getting over the hump there. And, it should be noted, the log itself is about two feet in diameter and up at around head-height for most competitors. So this was a teamwork obstacle, to be sure. The impromptu rest was due to the need to wait for other competitors on the climb up the ravine on Widow Maker, as it was not an easy one on a dry day. But teamwork was the rule of the day as racers made footholds for each other in the mud and pushed/pulled each other up the hill.

At the last summit, more log-crossings and hand-over-hand obstacles awaited, as well as many deep muddy pits that required teamwork to get out of. Some had ropes, most did not. A deceptively hard obstacle was a line of six mud-filled trenches that needed to be jumped - but with unsteady footing on both the take-off and landing, a lot of racers ended up in the muddy drink and had to climb out.

Finally, the finish line was in sight... but so were the four muddy trenches before the finale. One had ropes to climb out with, one had a slack-line with a single rope hanging down about half way across, and all of them required plenty of teamwork to complete. Finally, after a last crawl through the mud under a series of tangled bungee cords, the race was complete - and all the competitors from team Train 4 Autism: Columbus Chapter crossed the finish line!

The experience was very much a success for everyone, as the most common comment after the race and a drink of water was "so, when's the next race?" We'll see...once we shake off some of the minor injuries that accompany a race like Mud Ninja. And the second-most noted comment was that the display of teamwork by the whole team was awesome - and not just the team, but from everyone in the race. From start to finish, this race was about overcome the challenge together and having a great time doing it!

It should also be noted that the training with MovNat Ohio certainly paid off in a big way, as our racers had a sound footing in the most efficient ways to do many of the obstacles, and were able to preserve energy throughout the race. And the confidence factor in having tried lots of this stuff already was also a huge help.

The Mud Ninja is the brainchild of Marty Parker, a local gentleman who created the race to raise funds for Autism Speaks, and he's been extraordinarily supportive of the efforts of Train 4 Autism as we've been getting ourselves going here in Columbus.

So the next race? We'll see... there are a few left this summer, and we'll be back in South Salem again next summer to see what sort of challenge the Mud Ninja throws at us next year!
Photo by Traci Auerbach


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