By Jamie Munks
The Saratogian

SARATOGA SPRINGS — Nikki Byrne had mud caked in her hair, splattered on her face and stuck to her hula skirt, but she was still smiling. Byrne, of Saratoga Springs, participated Saturday morning in the Tuff eNuff Challenge, a 5K obstacle course through mud to benefit the Prevention Council.

“It was awesome,” she said after finishing the course. “I’ve done a (Warrior Dash) before, and this was shorter but actually more fun.”

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Byrne competed with a group of friends — eight adults and five children — wearing tie-dye shirts and green hula skirts. She cheered on her friends who finished after her, also caked in mud.Around 200 competitors crawled, climbed and ran through the muddy obstacle course, built in a field next to the Washington-Saratoga-Warren-Hamilton-Essex BOCES field off Henning Road and across the street on New York Racing Association grounds.

The event, the first of its kind to benefit the Prevention Council, was held in place of the organization’s annual gala.

“That didn’t really fit in with our mission and what we do,” Executive Director Heather Kisselback said of the gala. “We wanted an event that’s something families can do together and have fun. We think of our mission as helping youth overcome obstacles.”

So the council, with the help of BOCES students in the heavy equipment operation program, designed and built the 5K obstacle course.The obstacles, which included wet mud pits, large tubes to crawl through and giant mounds of dirt to climb, were all named after various types of obstacles young people might encounter as they navigate childhood and adolescence, including “Perilous Precipice,” “Balancing Act” and “Slippery Situation.”

There were two different waves of competitors sent onto the course, with the first departing at 9 a.m. and the second starting their tour about 30 minutes later. The first racers to finish the first wave completed the course in just over 20 minutes. The best time in the second wave was 17 minutes, 18 seconds, and belonged to Shaun Donegan.

Justin Klotz, 13, of Saratoga Springs placed third in the first wave, seventh overall, finishing in around 22 minutes. While he was tired and needed some time to catch his breath after he finished, he said he would do it all over again.

“I’ve done normal 5Ks, but nothing with obstacles,” he said. “It was very tiring. You had to go in a lot of water, there was climbing and crawling under ropes on your belly.”

In some areas of the course, participants were encouraged by volunteers with shouts and clapping, while in other places they were encouraged by drill sergeants telling them to crawl through the mud on their bellies.

Participants ranged in age from 3 to 65 years old, with a shortened course for children.

Kisselback and some other people from the Prevention Council ran the course earlier in the week, and it wasn’t as difficult as it looked, she said.

“It looks harder than it is,” Kisselback said. “Mostly, it’s just muddy.”