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Mud, mountains and muscle

OMAO — The secret at the end of the 10k, they said, was don’t look up.

Because up meant up the side of the rugged, steep Kahili Mountain range in Omao Saturday and the incline, the racers said, never wanted to end.

“Death,” Justin Kanoho, a CrossFit instructor in Lihue, described it.

“Grueling,” Brad Turner said.

“Gruesome,” Colby Ayonon deadpanned. “It’s bear crawling.”

Which means it was so steep, one needed to balance and move on all fours, like a bear, hence the namesake.

“Misreable,” Ayonon’s wife, Maja, put it.

But what’s a good CrossFit course if it doesn’t test mental strength while exhausting the physical? For the second straight year, CrossFit Poipu did just that by hosting the Ultimate Hawaiian Trail Run on the scenic, wild land provided by Knudsen Trust, where competitors crossed streams, slipped and sank in mud holes, grabbed trees for balance, carried sandbags and otherwise scaled the mountainside in a race that seemed more survival than outright run.

Beautiful, fun, but, oh, so challenging.

“Just when you felt like you could relax it was like, ‘Oh, here’s another uphill, time to turn it back on,” a tired Fletcher Parker, of Lawai, said after finishing the 10k.

But while the race was billed as a monster, it was an event for everyone. Besides the 10k, it offered 5k individual and team races for athletes and weekend warriors — all of whom were covered in mud by morning’s end.

“I felt like I was sliding the whole way,” said Hallie Stiles, 16, who takes part in the CrossFit Poipu teen program and joined the race for the first time, thinking it would be more running than trudging. “I sunk all the way to my waist.”

Actually, she said, when they crossed streams, it was a way to wash off the wares of the trail. She did the race with her sister Bronte Stiles and friend Mina Thain, all of Kauai High School, who said they’d be back next year.

“It was awesome,” Hallie said.

The race was created by Aaron Hoff, founder of CrossFit Poipu, who partnered with sponsors like CrossFit, Knudsen Trust, Progenex, Reebok, Rougue Fitness and The Garden Island Motorcycle Club, who cut the trails to make it happen.

His goal is to raise money to funds for scholarships so kids can CrossFit for free as a way to give them a healthy, constructive activity that preaches personal accountability as opposed to drinking or doing drugs. The latter of which Hoff has personal experience, a recovering meth addict who shared his story of hurting friends and family before he turned his life around, which he attributes to God.

And with the turnout — 400 or so competitors compared to around 300 the year before — the kids program is funded to run for at least two more years.

“As soon as I started CrossFit, I got to see what it does to the kids, not only the kids, but the community, and I said, ‘This is what I’ve been looking for, to build a bridge,” Hoff told the racers as they prepared to head out to the starting line under slightly overcast skies that hung over the mountain tops. “Even if they do get tangled, there is help.”

His vision is growing. Besides sheer turnout numbers, a slate of big name CrossFit competitors flew to the island for the race, including CrossFit game champions Rich Froning and Ben Smith.

“I mean the scenery was absolutely beautiful and I couldn’t ask for a better place to do such a trail run. It was really, really good. And a perfect day for it,” professional CrossFitter Samantha Briggs said, caked in sweat and mud, after finishing first in the 10k.

“I just wanted to come out here and help the kids and just have fun with people,” said pro Garret Fisher, with team Progenex. “And have a good time.”

CrossFit is a high endurance workout regime that’s been growing in popularity the last several years. It practices high intensity, fast-paced aerobic and strength workouts and includes Olympic barbell lifts, gymnastic skills, and old fashioned pushups and running. Almost all of the workouts are timed sprints. It has an international championship competition every year and part of the charm — or bane — is that it often doesn’t let competitors know what’s in store for them until right before the starting gun.

Which was the case Saturday.

“You might hate it,” Bertram Almeida, who helped organize the race, told the group before the start.

All competitors had to carry a sandbag the last half mile — 30 pounds for girls 40 pounds for guys. For teams of four, they had to carry one 30-pound block of wood through the course before they dropped that and picked up five sandbags between them to haul to the finishing line.

Not too tall an order for team Bad A$$ets, a group of Kauai Community Federal Credit Union, Kapaa employees who said they were excited to get away from their desk job for some rugged, muddy fun.

Their mode of attack? Slow and steady and just don’t let the block of wood get so dirty it’s slippery.

“I just loved jumping in the mud,” Amy Eldreth said.

“We took it as it came,” Kaleo Perez added. “We just wanted to get outdoors.”

•••

Reporters Brittany Lyte and Michelle Iracheta contributed to this report.

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