Jen McDowell envisioned everything she could do with the $1,000 prize for winning the Seventh Annual Mogollon Monster Mudda Elite Women’s title Saturday night.
As the parents of 10-year-old triplets, she and her husband, Ben, have no shortage of projects on the to-do list.
But, as competitive as the 36-year-old Payson resident is, she’s also a great friend. And that was evident to the approximately 200 spectators in the stands at Payson Event Center as she carried her rival for the crown, Trista White, across the finish line.
They train together at Rim Country Crossfit in Star Valley, which White owns with her husband, Rolley, and business partner Danny Rodriguez.
“Trista is just awesome, very motivational, very encouraging, always optimistic,” McDowell said. “We’re good at pushing each other.”
McDowell didn’t like the idea of beating a friend who was hurting. It was the fourth heat both ran during the Gladiator Challenge. And that’s on top of running the 5-kilometer Mudda 13 hours earlier.
“I was leading and she’s in pain because she hurt her knee earlier,” she said. “By that point, you’re mentally shutting down and you’re gonna let someone win and that’s no fun because I know she has it in her. So I was like, ‘You’ve worked just as hard as me; let’s make it fun for the spectators.’”
She said the money would have been nice, but she doesn’t regret the decision to put smiles on the faces of everyone watching.
“I can do a lot of stuff with $1,000,” she said. “But we’ll split it.”
It was a grueling day for both women and several other standout athletes qualifying for the night portion of one of the biggest Payson events of the year. The top 10 women and top 10 men from the morning’s 5K Mogollon Monster Mudda qualified to come back and compete for the $1,000 prize money in the Gladiator Challenge.
A total of 1,192 people participated in the Mudda, which began at 7 a.m. and ended with McDowell and White running the final race at approximately 8:15 p.m., two hours after the Gladiator Challenge started with competitors maneuvering over and through 18 obstacles inside the arena.
White, 34, the mother of seven, said she loves training with and competing against McDowell.
“She’s a beast and she’s a lot of fun,” White said. “She has a good heart, a lot of sportsmanship about her and she’s a lot of joy to be around.”
Phoenix Police Officer Robert Grabeck, 34, of Chandler, won his third consecutive Men’s Elite title. Grabeck, who did two tours of duty in Iraq while in the U.S. Marines, beat Payson’s Lance Chabot in the final heat.
Grabeck really enjoys the Mudda, which is why he’s participated in five of them.
“It’s actually the last real mud run out there,” he said. “A lot of them say they’re mud runs but there’s no real mud involved and this one’s way different, so I love it.”
The format changed. In past years, runners went head-to-head to advance to the next round with the top eight from the 5K advancing to the Gladiator Challenge. So the champions only ran three heats. This year, the top 10 advanced and every run was timed, which meant competitors had to try to complete the course as quickly as possible over and over again in order to assure they’d move on to the next round. And the two finalists ran four heats.
“They changed it up a little bit, so it was a little more challenging,” Grabeck said. “Last year we only did it three times and the fourth time was a little bit rough.”
In addition to the top 10 women and top 10 men, the top four first responders and top four finishers in a media race were supposed to compete for championships in those divisions. However, no media members showed up and the only firefighter or police officer there for the Hero heat was Gilbert Fire Department firefighter Brent Skousen. Many firefighters were called to work on one of the many fires burning in the state.
Skousen is Jen McDowell’s brother. He wound up racing against his brother-in-law, Ben McDowell, who is married to Jen. Ben McDowell finished 11th in the Elite Men’s 5K to just miss qualifying for the Gladiator Event.
Jen McDowell, White, Grabeck and Chabot all ran four races inside the arena on Saturday night, in addition to the 5K in the morning. It was one more race than the finalists ran a year ago.
“We’re definitely thinking about chopping it down to three rounds next year,” said Payson Parks, Recreation and Tourism Director Courtney Spawn.
Editor’s note: See additional Mudda photos on Page 13.