As the sun rose last Saturday (Oct. 20), more than 1,800 people gathered in a field on Battle Mountain Road, awaiting the starting gun that would signal the first-ever Rogue Runner, a six-mile obstacle course snaking through the scenic Rappahannock woods.
Rogue Runner is the brainchild of former U.S. national team and college athletes – with help from some Hollywood set designers to ensure a variety of challenging and safe obstacles. To the uninitiated eye, however, the field full of people – many of whom came dressed up in costumes ranging from pirates to superheroes – must have looked like a giant mess.
In fact, the sheer scale of Rogue Runner had many in the county worried. One of the major concerns was logistical: with almost 2,000 people gathered in one spot, the potential impact on the community was great. According to the Rappahannock County Sheriff’s Office, however, there were no complaints filed and everything – including the parking – went exactly as it was supposed to.
“The impact on the environment was very minimal,” said Chief Deputy John Arstino. “They did a good job explaining what people were supposed to do, and most people followed that. We didn’t hear any complaints.”
My team, dubbed Team Shafran Siege, consisted of eight members: Hunter Kapp, a soon-to-be Marine; Joe Lewis, an accountant from Pennsylvania; Kathy Lutman, a comptroller at Better Homes Realty; Chris Millamena, a senior at the University of Richmond who’s heading to med school next year; Alex Shafran, an iOS app developer for the Charlottesville-based WillowTree Apps; his younger brother Brian Shafran, a freshman at the University of Virginia; their father, Tom Shafran, president of Better Homes Realty, Inc., the team’s namesake and the man who first brought Rogue Runner to my attention; and me.
We may not have been dressed up like a banana or a pig, but we were definitely a motley crew. By the end of the day everyone looked the same anyway – we were all covered head-to-toe in mud.
Because what separates Rogue Runner and events like it – including Warrior Dash and Tough Mudder – from other 10-K races? The mud. Lots and lots of it. They’re called “mud runs” for a reason, and many of the 25 obstacles involved mud in some way.
After the starting shotgun, our 200-person wave sprinted uphill and came to the first obstacles, dubbed Bale Me Out, which required us to sprint along the tops of hay bales . . . and avoid the gaps where bales were missing, naturally. After that, it was a half-mile climb up the side of Battle Mountain, where we had to scale a cargo net, cross wire bridges, traverse swinging monkey bars (which swung side-to-side and up and down), scale a peg wall and more.
It wasn’t long before we got to the appropriately named Mud March, where one event coordinator informed everyone it was “guaranteed to be the most fun you have all day.” What he neglected to mention was that the muddy water went from ankle to waist-deep with no warning.
Rogue Runner’s co-founder Andrew Liverman, son of county resident Thierry Liverman, on whose property the race took place, has said before that what separates Rogue Runner from its competitors is the focus on teamwork. “We’re going to force people to work as teams,” he said.
That teamwork was apparent on nearly all the obstacles, as the first racers over the cargo net stayed behind to brace the bottom for those to follow – minimizing the net’s swinging and making it easier to scale. There were no signs telling people to do that, and no officials to regulate how long people braced the net; runners simply did it to be kind, and tagged each other out accordingly.
That teamwork was again on display in the Redneck Bowling obstacle, which required teams to roll a tire up a hill before turning it loose and attempting to knock over a stack of empty beer kegs. Our team, intent on doing things “the right way,” selected the heaviest tire – a massive, 700-pound monster truck tire – and began the arduous task of rolling it uphill.
With six members pushing and two pulling and “steering” the tire, cheers from many of the other teams rang in our ears. People who had just finished bowling stayed behind to offer encouragement.
“I want to wait and see these guys with the giant tire,” said one racer.
After what seemed like 20 minutes, we finally crested the hill, to the applause of those in attendance. We then spent what seemed like another 20 lining the tire up just right to insure a strike. And after our Sisyphean effort, we turned the massive tire loose and watched . . .
. . . as it rolled wide right and missed every single pin.
Somehow, though, it didn’t matter. We had honored the “spirit” of the event by pushing ourselves physically, even though there was nothing stopping us, or anyone else, from picking a smaller tire. The goal was simply to finish and have fun along the way.
After the rope swing, zip line, stretcher carry and barbed wire crawl – uphill and through the mud, naturally, and distinguished by its many exclamations of “I can’t believe this isn’t over yet!” – we finally circled back around to the starting line and were faced with just three more obstacles: a balance beam (over waist-deep muddy water), a 75-foot water slide (which ended in a pit of muddy water) and two scaleable walls, one eight feet high, the other 10.
Onlookers and those who had already finished cheered on the remaining teams as racers dove head-first down the slide, somehow still excited to ruin their clothes and be dunked in cold, muddy water. As the tired teams helped each other – and strangers – over the walls and down the final cargo net, we made sure to wait for all of Team Shafran Siege to make it down before crossing the finish line.
Technically, teams were competing against each other for the best time, and while we didn’t finish anywhere near first (our time was just under the 4.5-hour mark), as we collected our medals and T-shirts and cheered on those behind us, it didn’t feel like we had lost anything.
We finished the race as we started, and exactly as Rogue Runner’s founders intended: as a team.