Obstacle course lures 300 to play in the mud

By Dave Kern, Columbian assistant metro editor

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The whole Alfson family slogged through the Muddy March Madness course in Felida Sunday, and guess who won?

“She smoked the pants off of us,” Marnee Alfson of Orchards said of her 12-year-old daughter, Makenna.

In fact, Makenna was the fastest woman in the obstacle-laden course, finishing the 3-mile test in 32:48.

“It’s’ a great family activity … and it’s a great excuse to get dirty,” Marnee said. Husband Chad and son Wade, 16, also competed.

This was the third year for the event run by Sherri McMillan and her business, Northwest Personal Training based in downtown Vancouver. More than 300 people -- from ages 3 to 60-plus -- took on the course with its 12 obstacles, including rope climbs, walls to catapult over, hay bales to hurdle, and mud pits to crawl through. You can see Salmon Creek from the course.

And the conditions?

“Oh, very, very, very muddy, the muddiest year we’ve ever had, by far,” McMillan said. “Look at my shoes right now, you can’t see the shoes, it’s just big piles of mud.”

What’s this all about, Sherri?

“We try to do an event every month to get our clients outside of their comfort zone,” the professional trainer said. “It keeps you young and vibrant and excited about life, energized.”

Speedy Makenna is a soccer midfielder on a premier league team and a student at Tukes Valley Middle School. As for her strategy, she said, “I tried to keep a steady pace. … The hardest thing was trying to keep steady footing on a slanted hill of mud.”

“It is a hard activity. It’s more of having fun and getting with family and friends,” Makenna explained.

Course directors strive to introduce bits of absurdity.

So, they had the winner of the last two years -- Garth Ullakko of Silver Lake -- wear a doll’s head on a string around his neck. Participants were challenged to get the doll’s head off Garth and win.

Sure enough, Ryan Beil, 39, of Portland, made off with the doll’s head and won with a time of 28:20. Ullakko came in second, 50 seconds later. Participants, who paid $30 to compete, were treated after the race to hot chocolate, soup, fruit, PowerBars and bagels.

McMillan had praise for personal trainer Ted Schatz of Salmon Creek. Each year, he designs the course.

“He’s all about outdoors and challenging yourself … experiencing the beauty we have all around us.”

And, yes, McMillan said, the muddy fun will return next March.

“It’s a very good workout,” she said.