COLUMBIA — Patches of bright colors broke through gray November woods on Saturday as dragons, zombies, brides, firefighters and other characters raced along off-road trails and through obstacle courses.
Under the mud and costumes were couples, best friends, athletes, children and at least two energetic dogs — all participants in XCX, or Cross Country Xtreme. The first wave started the 4-mile race at 9 a.m. at the Midway Travel Plaza sandbar.
The website for the eighth annual run described the morning’s activities as “deranged cross country run, demented obstacle course, unhinged costume contest, complete insanity.”
The event was organized by Off Track Events, which often puts on unconventional athletic events in the area. Off Track Events founder and director Mike Denehy said that there were about 400 participants this year.
Sheila Kauffman competed this year with her daughter Gabriela, 9. The pair wore T-shirts, hula skirts and tennis shoes.
“We were supposed to be hula girls,” Sheila Kauffman said. “But it was a little chilly this morning for the bikini top.”
Participants started the race by running though a line of smoke bombs that billowed blue and green smoke, and then they traversed hazards such as net crawls, balance beams, tightropes and a maze. The last obstacle was a surprise mud pit near the waiting audience, where an astronaut beat a gong to announce each finishing contestant.
The weather was nearly ideal on Saturday, a fact the XCX website called “unfortunate." The mild temperatures came as a relief to some participants, though others had dressed for colder weather. Beyond the finish line, a pile of discarded long underwear and tennis shoes grew as the contestants streamed in.
“It’s kind of hot with all this,” said Nick Rotts, who had dressed as “someone warm” in flannel. When he reached the final mud pit, he said he jumped in willingly.
“It’s deeper than it looks,” said Tyler Woodcock, who was dressed as “a wild man of the woods” in a skin-tight, flesh-toned suit and an overgrown wig.
Troy Leewright, Brian Adams, Mark Koziol and Jaime Wright formed a team and ran the length of the race carrying a huge Chinese dragon suspended on poles. They said the idea for the dragon was something they had been thinking about for a few years, and this year they decided to go for it.
“It took us three weeks to make the dragon,” said Mary Leewright, who helped put it together out of wire, papier-mâché, balloons and a sheet. She couldn’t run this year because of pregnancy, but she came to watch her husband and the others compete.
Koziol said the hardest part of the course for the dragon team was “the climbing net, because we could only use one hand.”
Adams, a third-time runner, said the obstacles were more difficult than in previous years but not as muddy. When his team reached the end, he said, “We’re too dry, we’ve got to go through the mud.”
Adams, whose name tag read “Master of the Universe,” was pleased with how the dragon costume worked out. “We were probably the most photographed Chinese dragon at the race,” he said.