Clinging mud, stinging brambles, sweltering heat, dripping sweat – Heath and Angel Bickerstaff don’t mess around with their couple’s therapy.
The Tyler pair’s been together 14 years, and they found Saturday’s Stars & Scars Mud Run to be a refreshing challenging 10 years into marriage.
“I think that it builds teamwork,” Angel said. “It brings you together. When you come to a hard obstacle, instead of doing it yourself, you have somebody to help you out.”
There were plenty of obstacles available May 19 during the third annual competition hosted by Kilgore Chamber of Commerce and a team of volunteers: craggy paths, sprawling puddles and steep hills, not to mention a set of unforgiving, mud-soaked monkey bars that sent many a runner splashing into a pit of orange ooze.
“The mud puddles are just like quicksand – your foot gets sucked right into it,” said Alex Owens, first place finisher in Saturday’s 10K race. It was the young Marine’s first time attempting a mud run: “Definitely a challenge.”
About a dozen people registered for the 10K; nine showed up. The remainder of Saturday’s 114 competitors hoofed it through five kilometers of mud, dirt, rocks and rigorous obstacles.
“I’m out of shape,” Robin Loomis joked, catching her breath at the Finish Line Saturday morning. “It kicked my butt, but it was fine. The hills got me the worst.”
She’s definitely planning a comeback alongside friends and fellow runners Kacey Maines and Seslie Swaty.
Benita Branham knows the feeling: she competed in Stars & Scars for the first time in 2017, giving it her all in the volunteer-crafted course at Rabbit Creek Offroad Park. It quickly earned a reputation as one of the muddiest routes around.
She was still feeling the burn Saturday, and Branham says 2018’s event was more difficult than last year. For one, the weather was clearer – and, consequently, warmer.
“It was hard,” she said. “I think the rain was fun last year. This one was harder,” even with support from other members of the ‘Muddy Buddies’ team including Montana Garcia, Martina Stanley and Juliana Stanley.
The dry skies definitely made a different, chamber tourism manager Ryan Polk said.
“Last year, it was just wet. Last year, it felt rushed. This year, we actually slowed down a bit, and I think that really helped,” he added. “I think people took their time and enjoyed themselves more.”
This year’s event saw a slight drop in the average age of the competitors, he added, but there was still a diverse range of people willing to take on the mud run challenge.
“There was a wider array of age groups. It wasn’t just your seasoned groups of runners that you saw,” Polk said. “They didn’t just come to prove that they could do it. They didn’t just come to win. They actually enjoyed it.
“While others come to prove their stamina and athletic prowess, they came to enjoy themselves.”
Competitors gathered from across East Texas, into Louisiana and Oklahoma, according to chamber administrative assistant Lisa Morgan. Two even hailed from Montana.
“Each year we’re learning more and more. We’re taking the comments from the runners, and we’re trying to use them for a better event.
“They said it was the hardest and the best in East Texas, and they gave us some ideas. All in all, it’s a great event.”
Definitely fun, Heath Bickerstaff said, especially when attempting the obstacles with his wife by his side.
Granted, he joked with a tired sigh, “I feel like we did the 10K and nobody’s telling us. It’s like a cruel joke.”