Organizers of the Mountain High Games may have finally struck gold — black gold or mud to be precise, with this year’s inaugural Mogollon Monster Mudder 5K race.
The event attracted the largest crowd of participants in the history of town-sponsored races, with nearly 270 entrants, mostly from the Valley.
Runners each paid $60 to hurl themselves into mud pits, crawl under barbed wire, lug sandbags and swim under ATVs — all in the name of fun.
The mud run headlined the Mountain High Games this year, which also included ATV trail rides and horseshoe and archery tournaments.
Tourism director Cameron Davis said 512 people participated in the games overall, an encouraging turnout for an annual competition that has struggled to find its footing.
For decades, the original Payson Sawdust Festival drew fans and onlookers from around the state to the old rodeo grounds in Rumsey Park. But after the the festival moved to the Payson Event Center, excitement seemingly died out and organizers discontinued it in the early 1990s.
After a 16-year hiatus, the town revived the festival in 2009. However, it attracted few spectators and only 43 contestants.
Organizers added new games and races and changed the name from the Sawdust Festival to the Mountain High Games. But few attended and the Dutch oven cooking competition wasn’t as successful as everyone had hoped.
This year, Davis cut the number of events down to four and decided to add something dramatic.
Alternative races have grown in popularity in recent years as the Tough Mudder, Spartan Race, Color Run and Warrior Dash drew large crowds of people eager to test their mettle.
“We needed to do something that would make the games a real, viable thing that could happen each year,” Davis said.
The group that initially agreed to organize the Mogollon Monster Mudder backed out, but Davis resolved to press forward with the help of volunteers and surrounding fire departments. Starting in January, organizers dreamed up challenging obstacles and how to build them.
“It took us six months of concerted effort to get it all planned,” Davis said.
It took another 40 hours to build the course, thanks to 80 volunteers and firefighters.
On Saturday, 269 entrants completed the course with only scrapes and bruises, although one runner reportedly suffered a case of heat exhaustion.
“I think overall it was a huge success,” Davis said, giving credit to many of the same volunteers and sponsors who made the Fiesta Bowl Parade such a success.
“This town is full of people with big hearts,” he said. “And our sponsors, many of them have been with us through thick and thin and they have never wavered. We really do appreciate all of their financial contributions because without them we couldn’t put it on.”
A portion of the entry fees will benefit local fire departments, including Payson, Hellsgate, Tonto Basin, Houston Mesa, Beaver Valley, Pine-Strawberry, Christopher Creek and Whispering Pines.
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1 Clint Hall, 30:12
2 Daniel McGee, 30:57
3 Matthew Schreur, 33:16
1 Kaye Pual, 36:19
2 Melissa Diquattro, 36:47
3 July or Julann Miller, 39:11