Sunday River’s Tough Mountain Challenge mud run keeps growing in size, interest and best of all, toughness.

The last is what participants want, including the team of four Maine game wardens who will compete again this year, this time for a film crew from “North Woods Law,” the cable show featuring the Maine service.

“When you start your day as a game warden, you’re already carrying an extra 15 to 20 pounds with your ballistic vest and duty belt. Add that to hiking into a remote pond or up a mountain or maneuvering a canoe. It’s a physically demanding job,” Captain Shon Theriault said.

After the Sunday River race sold out with 200 the first year, then 1,000 the next and finally with 2,500 last year, it was capped at 3,000 this year. And by April it sold out earlier than it ever had.

The folks at Sunday River take pride in this fact, that the race is not wall-to-wall runners, that with heats of 125 runners taking off every 15 minutes there is room to spread out over the wooden walls, muddy moats and pond crossings.

“There is definitely room to grow. But we want the course in good shape for all 3,000 people competing. We want to keep the flow as steady as possible. We made some obstacles a little longer or a little harder or added a little more water or mud. The course is similar to last year but we added a little more,” said Darcy Morse, Sunday River spokeswoman.

Sunday River upped the ante this year with a more grueling course because, quite frankly, it’s what the people want.

“Last season the one obstacle we felt people would like the least, ‘WTF hill,’ which kept going up and up and up, ended up being the favorite among competitors in our survey after. I think people who sign up for a challenge like this want a challenge,” Morse said.

The Maine wardens are a good example.

Accustomed as they are to staying up all night hiking through the woods on search-and-rescue missions; or carrying injured hikers down steep mountains; or pulling snowmobiles through soft snow, wardens face grueling work almost daily. A race like the Tough Mountain Challenge simulates that, Theriault said.

“One of the things about this job, you never know from day to day what will happen. You may start your day one way and end it another. It can range from a speaking engagement to a search and rescue, or a fatal boating accident. And an obstacle course like this challenges you in a physical but also a mental way, that’s what attracted the guys on our team to it. It’s a challenge to try to figure out where your limits are,” Theriault said.

The warden service team that includes Col. Joel Wilkinson, and wardens Aaron Cross and Kris MacCabe finished second in the four-man division last year but they’re training harder.

They have won the Mount Desert Island law enforcement relay run five consecutive years, and New Hampshire’s law enforcement relay three years in a row.

The Tough Mountain Challenge, which they must run together, presents a unique challenge, Theriault said.

“The colonel is trying to promote fitness to help combat stress. And a healthy employee is a happier employee,” Theriault said. “Joel and I are the old dogs on the team. But just like on the job, you can’t pick your partner. Lots of times you have to work with someone who may not be as good in some things as you, and you need to use both your capabilities for the best possible outcome.”

Deirdre Fleming can be contacted at 791-6452 or at:

dfleming@pressherald.com

Twitter: Flemingpph