Slopping through mud on hands and knees, hurdling piles of hay, and pulling themselves from rung to rung — monkey bar-style — on a ladder suspended from trees, athletes of various ages participated in Newtown’s first Mad Dash Adventure Race at Fairfield Hills on Saturday morning.
Among the many 120 runners/fitness enthusiasts in this 4.3-mile run, with nine obstacles interspersed throughout, was yours truly. The course was broken into Advanced Adult and Advanced Child categories, and there were shorter beginner and family runs. More than 300 participants, all told, competed in the Mad Dash events, put on by the Newtown Youth Academy (NYA) and Parks & Recreation Department. I participated for fun and as a new way to cover athletic competitions in town — first hand.
Not surprisingly, former Newtown High School cross country standouts Zach Schwartz (2007 graduate) and Kevin Hoyt (2008) — who ran the course together — led the pack with one-two finishes, respectively. Erin Nemeth of Sandy Hook was third overall and the fastest female participant.
My girlfriend and I ran the course together to provide each other with some motivation. With a pickup soccer game and hockey league doubleheader scheduled for the day after the challenge, I opted to conserve energy rather than push it at times, but admittedly I had to catch my breath after the fitness challenge, too. I may take a more competitive approach next year and see how much I can improve.
To say that seeing 62-year-old Bruce Goulart of Newtown finish fourth overall was impressive and a motivating factor would be an understatement. His finish gives 36-year-old me the drive to go all-out next time around after finishing near the middle of the pack, although I suspect I won’t catch the top cluster of finishers.
The fifth-place participant was Newtown’s Nicole Karnas. Connor Quinn won the Advanced Child heat, Boyd Feltman claimed the Adult Beginner title, and Shay DeMarche won the Beginner Child heat. The Family Adult winner was Charles Dubois, and the Family Child first-place finisher was Connor Marlin. All of the category winners are Newtown/Sandy Hook representatives.
After a lap around the course we started to test ourselves in far-from-run-of-the-mill fitness activities. They were fun, all the while challenging to lesser or greater extents depending on personal strengths and natural abilities. The mud crawl, NYA Assistant Fitness Manager and SPEED Director Cody Foss — event founder and director — explained, was the first station for a reason.
“The idea of the mud was to make it fun as quickly as possible and remove some of the competitiveness,” Foss said.
The way people were enjoying this portion of the event made me begin to wonder if perhaps we evolved from pigs. Some were very enthusiastic about diving in to get messy — probably the best way to approach getting down and dirty. A few rocks scratched up our legs; other than that it was as smooth as … well, mud. “It’s an excuse to say that I’m muddy. I like to get messy a lot,” Foss’s son, 9-year-old Aiden Foss, said.
Don’t be fooled and think that only the children took great pride in getting muddy. Everyone I interviewed said the mud crawl was their favorite portion of the Mad Dash. And yes, I enjoyed it, too.
After carrying small logs (think fireplace wood) up a hill and placing them in a pile, participants continued to run to the next station: The Tunnel Crawl. Being that I am 6-foot-1 and the diameter of the plastic tunnel was small, crawling was not an option so I had to lay flat and pull myself with my forearms, sliding through.
Next came the Hay Obstacle Course, set up basically like hurdles. I liked this test and definitely benefited from my height as the barriers got taller and taller. Then came the Balance Beam. Firefighters sprayed cold water on us in an effort to send us off the beam.
The second run around the course featured a Tire Obstacle Course, barrier climb, and fitness challenge. The tire portion required participants to stutter-step in and out of a lineup of tires.
After feeling a sense of accomplishment for getting over a wooden barrier, everyone faced the daunting task of a variety of strength-building and aerobic exercises.
I struggled the most on the final lap’s Ladder Excursion (that suspended ladder portion) and upon stopping to snap photos of 10-year-olds who made it look effortless — like monkeys really — began to wonder. Other adults, even the extremely strong, had a hard time on this one, in part because the ladder swung as they went across it. Foss said he had the same observation and used the term “relative body strength” to explain why this occurred. He added that children, because they are lighter, can better manipulate their weight.
Foss also said that this is a cue for adults to work on “functional training” and become better at controlling their bodies.
One thing that seemed consistent was the level of enjoyment children and adults, alike, got out participating in the event.
“It was a lot of fun. I didn’t really know what to expect, but I enjoyed all of the obstacles. My personal favorite was the mud,” said Schwartz, who finished in 29:44, just a second ahead of Hoyt.
“It was a lot of fun,” added Hoyt, who is training for this summer’s Tough Mudder competition in Mount Snow, Vt.
Foss said the idea behind the event was to promote fitness and health, and to generate pride in town. Foss and Newtown Parks & Recreation Director Amy Mangold both noted that the event was a nice cooperative effort between the NYA and Recreation Department and they were pleased with the turnout.
“I have a feeling this was a first annual race and we will be here again next year,” Mangold added. “Every participant being a beginner or an advanced entrant had a great challenge and a lot of fun. I was thrilled to hear their excitement, satisfaction, and enjoyment after they crossed the finish line.”
“It was just as much fun as I was expecting — if not more,” Nemeth said.
Results are available at www.plattsys.com.