CHARLOTTESVILLE — Jolee Smith runs to win. When the starter pistol fires Saturday, she will slog along a muddy path, scale a tire wall, belly-crawl through a swamp and race up and down steep slippery hills hoping for a first-place finish in the Royal Mud Man 5k.
The obstacle course fundraiser, now in its fifth year, starts with the elite wave of runners — of which Smith of Charlottesville is a proud member — at 8:30 a.m., followed by the competitive wave at 8:45 a.m. At 9 a.m., the non-competitive runners interested in little more than muddy fun leave the starting line.
Smith, a 45-year-old mother of two, regularly participates in Spartan races — those with obstacles such as walls, fire pits or mud — and works out weekly with a certified Spartan race trainer in Lawrence. This weekend, she’ll sprint for a good cause; all proceeds benefit the Eastern Hancock school district’s education foundation.
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Smith and the other elites are serious competitors and the first to traverse the 3.1-mile course that starts at Eastern Hancock High School, 10320 E. County Road 250N, and meanders through adjacent properties that include a woods, Six Mile Creek and more than 30 obstacles. The elite wave — limited to 35 people — races to win while the course is fresh and the temperatures are still cool.
In last year’s race, Smith was a contender to finish among the top three women. While sprinting in for third place, she was passed up by a couple from Sweden. The two were in town for the Indianapolis 500, had gotten wind of the Royal Mud Man and headed to the high school to participate. The woman placed third, while Smith was bumped to fourth.
Smith put a positive spin on her loss: “They swept in and took my spot, but it’s cool that we had international recognition, right?”
“The beauty of our run is that any athletic ability is welcome,” said Jill Scott, event chairwoman and former president of the Eastern Hancock Education Foundation.
Anything participants aren’t comfortable with — a steep hill or a tire wall — can be bypassed by just walking around it, Scott added.
Scott and the committee are proud of an excellent safety record. Volunteers and spotters staff the course, and the water obstacle is supervised by a local conservation officer. The route is safe enough that one year, a man with an infant in a backpack ran the course with no trouble, Scott said, adding that anyone under the age of 12 must run with an adult.
“One ankle sprain in five years,” she joked.
Julia Wickard, mother of two Eastern Hancock students, has participated in the race for the past three years with her son, Jacob, who enjoys splashing mud on his mother.
Not that she’s working too hard to get away from her tormentor.
“I’m really more of a walker than a runner,” Wickard admitted.
Wickard said that the race is getting some regional attention. A grant from the Hancock County Tourism and Visitor Center afforded the group a billboard to promote the event on Interstate 70 and a short television spot.
Food is available for purchase on site. The Eastern Hancock Athletic Boosters will be selling pork burgers and other refreshments.
Registration for the event remains open, online at royalmudman.com or on site the day of the race. Registration for the elite wave and the competitive wave is $45; registration for the non-competitive wave is $35.
The proceeds from the event benefit the Eastern Hancock Education Foundation, which provides grants for teachers for classroom projects and educational equipment.
Following the race, the mud-caked participants get clean — or at least clean enough to get in the car to go home. A McGyver-like contraption connects PVC pipe, numerous nozzles and garden hoses to a main water supply so that multiple mud-runners can rinse off at the same time. Organizers recommend, however, that participants bring garbage bags or towels to sit on for the way home.
“If anyone comes away clean,” Scott said, “they didn’t do it right.”
As the event coordinator, it’s hard for Scott to participate in the Royal Mud Man. She runs on a regular basis, trains during the winter months and recently ran the Indianapolis 500 Festival Mini-Marathon. She and husband Phillip have been known to run the Mud Man course after everyone has gone home for the day.
“It’s just a way to prove to ourselves that we’re not going to age gracefully and quietly,” Scott said. “We’re going to give it everything we’ve got.”
The Royal Mud Man 5k obstacle course takes off at 8:30 a.m. Saturday at from Eastern Hancock High School, 10320 E. County Road 250N, Charlottesville.
Race registration for non-competitive runners is $35 and $45 for competitive runners at royalmudman.com.
“If anyone comes away clean, they didn’t do it right.” –Jill Scott, Royal Mud Man event chairman