SAN JOSE -- On a splendid Indian summer day near Mount Hamilton, some 2,800 runners and cyclists of all ages could think of nothing better to do than huff and puff through dusty trails, jump over a bunch of silly obstacles and end the good-natured farce with a frolic in a thick, dark mud hole.
"This is more fun than anything else I do," said Peter Pellerin, with his face, hair, arms, entire body caked in gleaming muck. "Just look at how dirty I got!"
The 64-year-old special education teacher was splattered from head to toe with muck after crawling through a 50-foot ditch filled with water. He had driven from Southern California with a colleague, Jennifer Zhou, for the annual Columbia Muddy Buddy Bike and Run at Joseph D. Grant County Park.
Offering zany fun and shorter courses in place of the pain and loneliness of long-distance events, the mud run attracted some 2,800 men, women and children who negotiated one of five different races. The longest was a 6.3-miler through a gauntlet of 11 obstacles, including a waterslide and a climb over a "spider web."
'All about spontaneity'
The main rule defined the event: Based on the buddy system, nobody could go faster than his or her partner. Everybody was part of a two-some, which encouraged participants to wear costumes of all sorts -- from tame to creative.
Drew and Kat Long dressed as newlyweds because, well, they got hitched only last month.
"They told us no jewelry," Kat said. "It comes off in the mud."
Like other regular runners and cyclists, the Longs said mud runs offer intense, sometimes grueling courses, but there's no pressure to finish first in their age group or even post personal-best times. Mud runners never know what to expect, such how slick and full of ick the rope will be when they get to climb them.
"This is all about spontaneity and surprise," Kat Long said.
Well, a few runners ran with purpose, even if they didn't mean to.
Zach Martinez and Jason Gomez, two 12-year-old gazelles who were born to run, bolted from the starting line in matching neon-orange shirts and easily outran everybody in their heat. Actually, the boys are competitive cross-country runners. But Zach wasn't gloating at the end.
"The mud, it was fun," he beamed.
The boys were so fast, most of the adults in the heat never saw them. They would not have felt outclassed, anyway.
Running for fun
"This race takes all the tension out of running," said Bob Rider, 47, a member of the Palo Alto Running Club. The casual running group claims all of three more 40-something members -- John Kelly, James Dawes and David Simoni -- who celebrated their finish in the beer garden after hosing off the mud.
"This is all heart and gut," Kelly said. He meant the run, not the beer.
Jackie Miller, a doctor from Ohio, and Johnie Lee, a computer programmer from Mountain View, participated in the traditional bike and run event that requires them to alternate running and cycling several times. The dynamic duo wore capes, but the colors were hard to see after both decided to finish in proper mud-hole style.
"Let's dive in!" Miller said.
They did, and then posed for photos.
Contact Joe Rodriguez at 408-920-5767.