Sunday morning. The alarm goes off at 5:15am and I proceed to pound the snooze button until 6:00am. My legs are a little sore and I am sleep-deprived from having rucked 16-18 miles Friday night into Saturday morning. Less than 24 hours later my clock is urgently telling me that I must get up, leave the warmth & comfort of my bed and hit the road. I am signed up for the Merrell Down & Dirty Mud Run and my alarm is reminding me of the dollars I threw down to register for this race. Economics is a great motivator. I jump out of bed in a flash and within a few minutes I am in my car driving north to Castaic Lake for the inaugural race of the 2012 Merrell Mud Run Series season.
The Merrell Down & Dirty Mud Run is a gateway race to harder and more addictive obstacle mud races. This is not a criticism by any means. The course at Castaic Lake has good lengths of challenging terrain, leg crunching uphill segments and an awesome mud pit. The obstacles themselves are few (only 12 obstacles for the 10K course…less for the 5K circuit) and not very inspired.
They are standard fare low walls, cargo nets and playground variety tunnels. However, what the race lacks in obstacle creativity it more than makes up with a solid 10K trail, amazing views of the lake and, best of all, great event area organization. Out of the many obstacle mud races I have now done Merrell takes the prize for event area layout and execution. Vendor tents are all really close to each other, check-in area, bag check, showers, start/finish lines and changing tents. Showers and changing areas are within a few hundred feet of…the finish line! How about that? Tough Mudder, Spartan Race, Muddy Buddy and others can learn something here (of course, I can only speak for the southern california versions of these races….it could be better in other cities/states).
The event area is also kept pretty small so it has a nice busy atmosphere. Nothing is too far away from anything else (except cars for people arriving later in the morning). I also dug the selection of the band that plays in the event area. Solid music. Nothing too crazy that just annoys the ears. There is a place for that type of music (which I dig) but it was nice not to have to listen to thumping music or bad rocker/punker music all morning long. I still LOVE Tough Mudder and Spartan Races – their courses are way more challenging and the obstacles much more interesting. However, for sheer event area planning, layout and execution Merrell Down & Dirty takes first place. I take notice of these sorts of things. What can I say. Presentation is as important as content.
Oh, yeah, I actually ran the race! Like I said…a solid course with beautiful views of the lake and hills. My plan was to go for time and run fast and hard from the get-go but, taking into account the state of my legs, I decided to begin moderately and then adjust as necessary. I ran well in the opening mile although I wasn’t able to charge up the inclines as hard as I wanted. After about 2.5 miles I slowly began to pass up runners that had bolted early. I gained strength and although I wasn’t mustering as much speed as I would have liked I did manage to keep a consistent pace. From the crest of the course I flew down the trail as I made my way to the best obstacles of the race and the finish line! The crowd cheers, the music and the festive atmosphere combined for a great ending to a fine race. And I got muddy. Very muddy! Best of all, I ran my race smartly AND finished in a respectable 54:50…6th in my age division, 64th overall (out of over 800 10K racers) and 11 minutes faster than last year!
Ruck On. Stay Muddy.