NEWRY – The newest and nastiest obstacle along Sunday River’s backcountry endurance course — dubbed by the ski area’s staff as WTF Hill — stopped the racers cold in the Tough Mountain Challenge on Saturday.

“I don’t remember the hills in Afghanistan being this tough,” said Kelvin Mote of Ellsworth, who served in the rugged mountains overseas in the Army.

Variations of this sentiment would echo through the third annual mud-and-obstacle run Saturday, which was longer and tougher and muddier than the first two years, and crawling with tired, filthy, slow-moving people — though most of them held on to game smiles.

This year’s field was capped at 2,500 competitors — 1,500 more than last year. And for five hours across 3.1 miles and two mountains, they ran, walked, hopped, slid, ducked, swam, climbed and crawled through mud, over walls, through tunnels, across man-made muck ponds, and, in the case of WTF Hill, straight up a serious pitch.

“If you were out hiking, that hill wouldn’t seem that bad. But to come around a corner when you’re running and have to run up it, that’s tough,” said Sunday River spokesman Nick Lambert.

The hill got its name from the Sunday River staff because of the general impression the incline inspired — as in, “what the (expletive)?”

And it came after nine other obstacles, and at the top of a quarter-mile hill that the vast majority of racers ended up walking.

Mary Raleigh of Saco liked the attitude WTF Hill denoted.

“Treat it like it’s childbirth!” Raleigh, 37, yelled, and she signed her chant on a poster board where the challengers could comment on their impressions.

Hillary Johnston of Houlton was expecting hardship at the toughest hill on the course, but she wasn’t ready for its intimidating path straight up.

“I’m going to need to mentally prepare for this,” Johnston said as she looked at the hill.

WTF Hill came after a mud crawl that sent racers under barbed wire; a dirt wall scaled only by climbing a rope; and a pond crossing in which racers had to go over or under snow-gun pipes, a slippery prospect that sent even the toughest competitors into the slime.

“I went under the pipes, and doggie-paddled to the other end,” said Portland firefighter Justin Bragdon of Windham.

During the five hours Saturday, heats of 100 were sent out in waves. But even those who trained and finished in the top tier of racers were jogging more than running at the finish, like Bragdon and Ryan Garrity of Ellsworth.

The two 30-something fitness enthusiasts met and teamed up at the start to push one another through the race, finishing 45th and 43rd, respectively.

“We saw a lot of people who had stopped and were talking. At the top of WTF, a lot of people were posing for photos. We passed a lot of people, a lot of people,” Bragdon said.

Bragdon trained for the Tough Mountain Challenge on the hills around the Portland peninsula in the weeks leading up to the race. He said the mud crawl was tough, as was the culvert tunnel where he banged his head several times.

But he said the steep climbs around Munjoy Hill and Portland’s West End did not prepare him for the Tough Mountain’s WTF Hill.

“That probably was the worst. Nothing prepares you for that,” Bragdon said.

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

[email protected]


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