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Muddy Merrell Madness

The weather was perfect. There was a cool crispness to the fall morning. The sun was shining down on us, and it had rained the day before. Not only would there be man-made mud but Mother Nature decided she wanted to add to the fun. The races on tap for the Merrell Down and Dirty National Mud Run and Obstacle Series presented by Subaru in NYC were two 5ks, a 10k, a mile run, and a 100 yard dash. The latter two were made up especially for kids. All the while the races were going on there were other activities to entertain the masses. And by masses I mean the almost 5,000 athletes participating and the countless spectators and volunteers. I had braved the streets of SoHo to pick up my packet the day before at the Eastern Mountain Sports store there so I was able to skip that step. Getting to the event and parking were so easy I almost felt like I was in the wrong place. Lucky for me there were signs set up so I knew I was in fact at the correct location.

My first stop once in amongst the vendor village was to the Operation Gratitude tent. I had a large envelope in my hands that contained 100 or so letters and pictures from my students and other students at the school I teach at. The idea was for these letters and pictures to be included in the care packages that Operation Gratitude send to our deployed soldiers and wounded warriors back home. Carolyn Blashek, the founder of Operation Gratitude, was very grateful for my students support and pointed out that they had brought supplies for cards and letters to be made at the event. They had stickers, pens, crayons, and so many different types of paper I couldn’t count them all. One of the greatest things was hearing that the Merrell Down and Dirty Mud Runs have raised $51,000 for Operation Gratitude thus far. That didn’t include the people that were stopping by to donate money throughout the day. With each care package costing about $15 to assemble and ship the Mud Runs have helped to send out over 3,400 packages and counting. Carolyn was especially excited to tell me that their 750,000th package would be shipped out before the end of the year.

From there I made my way to the Merrell tent. I could not contain my excitement at the sight of a human sized hamster wheel.

The folks at Merrell had brought a whole size run of their Trail Gloves for men and Pace Gloves for women to try out. What better way to try out a shoe then to get on a hamster wheel that is nice, clean, and carpeted. I was eager to feel how my Sonic Gloves felt to run in since I had just gotten them on Friday and was going to be running in them for the first time. Let me tell you, I give hamsters and gerbils a lot of credit. It was hard to get a good pace on the wheel. In fact there was a hand rail on one side so you could hold on to if you had to. The kids were disappointed that you had to be at least 16 years old to try it out but by the end of the event there had to have been at least 100 adults giving it a try. Many people were getting their first exposure to a barefoot running shoe and were very eager to listen to their benefits from the Merrell staff. All the different colors of shoes also turned out to be a hit. I particularly liked how there were kids barefoot shoes, casual barefoot shoes, and shoes from Merrell’s new Origin collection hanging down from the top of the tent.

Somehow I managed to get all of this in before my 9:30 start time. I met up with Christine, who also works at the EMS Waterford store, so we could run together. To help control the start we were to get into a corral based on our projected mile pace time. From there each corral was let out in a stagger.

There is nothing worse than trying to get yourself right in a good rhythm only to be stuck behind slow pokes. I have heard of this technique being used in marathons but it totally made sense for this race. If we weren’t staggered we would all be standing around at each obstacle waiting our turn to get through it. The first part of our race was a lovely stretch along the cement stone walkway along the beach. Running with the barefoot shoes I was able to feel all the spaces between each block. This is not a bad feeling but more of an unusual sensation that you may have never noticed before. I also really enjoyed running through Mother Nature’s puddles and not getting wet feet. I know I was at a mud run and would eventually be soaked but I really wanted to test out how well the softshell upper was on the Sonic Gloves. Sure enough in Mother Nature’s puddles my feet stayed warm and dry. With colder weather approaching I was very pleased with how my shoes were handling the abuse. Over the course of 5k they would go on cement blocks, mud, asphalt, mud, grass, sand, mud, Pelham Bay, and did a mention mud? The only downfall of wearing the Sonic Gloves opposed to my Trail Gloves was that Pelham Bay stayed in my shoes when I got out. If the shoe can keep Pelham Bay in the shoe then it must be good at keeping puddles out.

Many runners chose to wear their race shirt during the event. This was a great idea. I too was rocking some Merrell Opti-Wick for the run. No matter what, you were going to get very dirty and wet but it certainly feels a lot better wearing wicking, polyester then cotton. My once gray shirt became very brown but it is spending sometime soaking in a bucket with my other clothes. Based on the soaking I am extremely confident that when it gets washed it will be gray again with no hints of brown. I was somewhat hesitant about my Opti-Wick shorts at first though. They seemed kind of stiff and I was concerned about how they would feel while running. Soon enough they became a non-issue. Actually they were better than a non-issue. The shorts outer shell seemed to bead water and mud away. This in turn helped me because my shorts didn’t get weighed down with water. They went from being a concern to being a big “Ah ha!” moment for me.

The obstacles were great. They provided a little challenge along the way. It was enough to feel that much more accomplished but at the same time they enabled whole families to get out there. At one point I was running along side of a girl that had to have only been 13 or 14 years old. For those younger than 13 there was the Adventure Kids races.

This truly was a family friendly event and I would love to see more kids out there doing it next time. One of Merrell’s objectives is to get more people outside and moving around and this most certainly did just that. So what do you say kids; how often do Mom and Dad tell you to go run and crawl through a giant mud pit? Even better how often do you see your mom or dad covered from head to toe in mud? Let’s get outside and have some fun!

For me the event would not have been complete without a haircut. I had hosed off and changed but managed to get mud covered again while taking pictures and here I am asking if I can get my hair cut. Paul Mitchell is one of the sponsors of the Adventure Kids run and they were giving out free haircuts in exchange for donations to Challenged Athletes Foundation. This organization provides sports opportunities and support to veterans and first responders who have served honorably and have suffered permanent physical injuries. Stylists volunteer their time to come and cut dirty, muddy hair. I give major props to them since they did not have sinks to clean hair in. They average about $500 in donations but on this day the 7 stylists really stepped it up and by noon they had already raised over a $1000 and had a waiting list to try to get a haircut. I was muddy and dirty but man did my hair look good when I left.

Looking ahead there are plans in the works for expanding the Merrell Down and Dirty Run to come to more cities next year so be on the lookout. Also, be on the lookout for some Merrell barefoot shoes that are road running specific to hit store shelves for the Spring ’12 season. On the race packet the last instruction was to have fun and give at least 3 volunteers high fives. Done and done. To all of those volunteers that I didn’t get to high five and to the behind the scenes people at MESP for making the day something to remember here is an air high five. I will try to give more high fives next time.








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