Participating in her first Mud Run at War Memorial Park in Little Rock on Saturday, Kristen Holeyfield knew she had an opportunity to win.
It was one of the other contestants who gave her the advantage.
"Toward the beginning there was this hillbilly, and he made a bet to jump in the lake," Holeyfield said. "I was like, 'Go for it.' And everyone just stopped running and jumped in."
After a brief hiatus, the Mud Run was revived last year by the Little Rock Marathon, which hosted it for the second year in a row.
Weeks before the event was set, construction crews perfected a mix of sand, dirt and water to help build a steep hill of mud and a sludge pit in front of the finish line.
Sights and scenes from Little Rock’s second annual Mud Run located at War Memorial Park.— Jason Batacao (@J_batacao) June 3, 2023
Trust me, there was a lot of dirt. pic.twitter.com/kZx6hpeV5c
The course is mapped out to be a cross-country 5K, according to the Little Rock Marathon website. Geneva Lamm, Mike Garrity and Brandy Dixon helped organize the race this year.
The goal is to bring the community together and provide a fun alternative to the other races taking place throughout the year. Garrity, the Mud Run's race coordinator, helped map out the 3.1-mile track.
"Bringing it back, we wanted to try to expand opportunities that we provide for people to get out and run or just be active," Garrity said. "It's an event that was successful for us. We've kind of changed course there for a couple of years, but this is one we thought would be popular [to bring back]."
Alongside the construction crew, volunteers from Little Rock's Parks and Recreation Commission, the U.S. Army, the Little Rock Fire Department, a group known as Gay For Good and other volunteers helped put together the Mud Run.
"People know our different races, and there's certain people that like to volunteer for specific types of races," Garrity said. "It's actually not difficult to find groups that want to help, especially with something like this where it's fun and different. It's not something you see every day. It's not your typical 5K."
On top of the nearly 5-foot-tall hill, volunteers from Gay For Good, a local LGBTQ+ project geared to help with community service, wore hula skirts, tiki masks and other costumes while helping runners climb through the pit and encouraging them to cross the finish line.
They were among volunteers tasked with being the mud lifeguards, making sure runners were able to endure the slimy pit mixed with sand, water and dirt.
"It's our responsibility to help people into the mud and, if they're not muddy enough, to suggest that they get back in," said one lifeguard, Eric Zenor, who wore a large tiki mask and hula skirt he bought from Party City.
He has served in multiple events with Gay For Good in Little Rock, he said, but none has been as fun as the Mud Run.
"Our events tend to be kind of serious. We're either helping the food bank, packing snacks or we're making greeting cards for senior citizens. We do all kinds of stuff. We never get a chance to dress up."
Alongside Gay For Good, members of the Army helped cheer runners up the hill and through the finish line.
Capt. Aaron Black, the recruiting coordinator for Little Rock's U.S. Army Recruiting Company, brought numerous members from his team to volunteer.
"I think it's important that we are here showing our support," Black said. "That's what we're here to do. We're here to support our communities and inform them of what's going on.
"I mean, it's in the name of Mud Run, right? We're always willing to get down and get dirty and help out in our communities, for sure."
During the race, the "hillbilly" who gave Holeyfield her opening was Jason LaGory, who dressed as the "everyday American."
He wore his daughter's jean shorts, a sleeveless midriff shirt with a picture of an Bald Eagle and held a beer can full of Gatorade to complete his look.
"I started off this costume as something I'd wear to the beach," LaGory said. "I normally wear a speedo with it, but I thought that'd be too risque, so I borrowed my daughter's shorts.
Sights and scenes from today’s Mud Run at War Memorial Park. pic.twitter.com/ARJJAcjTR8— Jason Batacao (@J_batacao) June 3, 2023
"I did have a plan to do this outfit. I went back and forth about what I was going to carry, if anything. I thought I was going to carry a hot dog with me the entire way. Then I decided it would get too mushy, so I just went with my Duff beer can."
Early in the race, he challenged everyone to jump in a pond to wash off the mud from puddles they had splashed across.
Later, with no one behind her, Holeyfield raced up the muddy hill as the mud lifeguards sprayed her with water and helped her up onto the mound.
As she prepared to jump into the final puddle, the announcer on the speakers screamed, "That was too easy for her!"
Holeyfield then jumped back into the first pit -- accepting the announcer's challenge -- and re-covered herself in mud before crossing the finish line.
Here’s the video of the official Mud Run winner from earlier today: pic.twitter.com/2JSKynBHc1— Jason Batacao (@J_batacao) June 3, 2023
She said she participated in cross country at Ouachita Baptist University and ran in the official Little Rock Marathon earlier this year, but she had never been in a race like this.
"I wanted to do a mud run really bad," Holeyfield said.
"I had heard of mud runs, and I knew that they were fun," she said. "In my undergrad we would raise money for student scholarships. We had a muddy volleyball game. I just like getting muddy, and I looked it up on Google and found this."