Large flags advertised the Rebel Race, which said “Escape the WeakDay. In the end, more than 1,500 participants heeded the slogan’s call and did just that June 11-12, coming from as far as California, Georgia, Massachusetts, New Jersey and from right here in the Hudson Valley to put their metal to the test.
This military-styled race has become a popular extreme sport staple throughout the country, but this was the first time it made its way to Ulster County. At Hurd’s Farm, runners sprinted through apple orchards, climbed steep embankments, plunged into a roaring stream where they had to crawl over and under logs, scale a rope fence, a high stack of hay bales, all in the name of fun.
Fun? Well, yes. There were your typical competitive runners, decked out in their under armor, jog bras, Nike shorts and stop watches -- carefully stretching and warming up their well-toned limbs.
But then there were those who were amateurs, looking for a challenge, joining with friends in both solidarity and festivity.
One of these groups was a gang of four childhood friends, Highland High School graduates, age 19, who called themselves the “Wolf Pack,” in reference to the box office smash comedy, The Hangover, and wore sleeveless wolf T-shirts with Hawaiian boxer shorts and had been training for the upcoming event.
Alfred Zimmerman’s mother saw the preview of the race in the New Paltz Times and mentioned it to her son.
“At first I thought, ‘that’s a cool idea,’ and mentioned it to my friends,” said Zimmerman, who will join the Marine Corps this February. “Soon, it was like ‘we have to do this! This is a chance of a lifetime!’”
His friends agreed.
“It’s extreme, it’s a challenge, it’s a great milestone to attempt and complete together,” said fellow wolf, Ethan Pcolar. Along with Zimmerman, Pcolar was joined by the other two in the pack, Anthony Bruno and Josh Duggan.
“We’ve been training for it, doing some running, some lifting, some push-ups, sit-ups,” he said, as they neared their way toward the starting gate. “But we just want to finish it. That’s the goal here.”
While 60-70 Rebel Racers (many of which had black “Rebel” temporary tattoos under their eyes) hit the starting line every half-hour to challenge themselves to a 5K or 15K race, live music blasted, there was a beer tent, a food tent, as well as dozens of cheering friends, fans and family members, who cringed as their loved ones went sliding out of control down a wet, muddy embankment, or fell off the rope into the river with a splash.
It took dozens of volunteers to make these races run smooth, as they went on from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. all day Saturday and Sunday every half hour.
“We’re cheerleaders at Wallkill High School,” said 16-year-old Hannah Lahita, who was working the starting line, checking people in, providing directions, along with some of her squad mates. “We’re here to work and raise money to attend a cheerleading camp this summer at Pine Forest, PA.”
She said some of the costumed highlights included a woman in a white wedding dress -- which did not stay white for long -- men wearing bras, and one that we all witnessed, a man wearing bright red, winter-like Dr. Denton long johns. There were people dressed up in camouflage, some women wearing tankinis and short skirts, as well as your average Joe and Jill, in T-shirts and shorts, just trying to make it over one hurdle and obstacle after the next.
Three “regular” guys included Gregg Abramson, of Harrison, Jon Levis, of Poughkeepsie, and their cousin, a veteran runner, Anthony Wanes.
“I’ve been trying to get my cousin to do a race with me and when I saw this, I thought it was perfect,” said Levis, who had on a long-sleeve, orange tuxedo-styled under-armor shirt. “He and Gregg agreed to do it and here we are.”
He admitted that he was a little nervous. “I run 20 to 30 miles a week, but the obstacles they have here add a lot more than just running … and I have a little performance anxiety -- afraid I might make a fool of myself.”
It was doubtful that anyone participating could poke fun at anyone else, as they all had to scale walls, crawl on all fours through mud, fall down steep trails, drench themselves twice crossing the river by rope on their back and over and under logs, getting hay stuck to their muddy bodies, as they attempted to get over the haystack pyramid.
In the middle of the orchards were vendors, free water and bananas for contestants, music, prizes, barbecue and beer. There were also several military branches represented, including the Marines, an Army recruiting station and various U.S. soldiers helping to run the race and ensure contestants did their ten push-ups, sit-ups and leg-lifts.
“I wanted to come out here and lend my support to these folks who are really challenging themselves in an way that is based off of military exercises,” said Staff Sgt. Payen Williams, who has been with the Marines for more than eleven years and was originally from Haiti. “They support us in so many ways, and I think it’s great that they’re out here doing something healthy, positive and inspiring.”
To that end, Williams and fellow Staff Sgt. Chris Thompson, a New Paltz High School graduate, had set up a pull-up bar where they challenged finishers to see how many pull-ups they could do, or how long they could hold a chin-hang.
“Depending on how they do, we give them medals,” Williams said.
One of these willing to take the Marine pull-up challenge was the first-place finisher of Sunday’s 11 a.m. 5k Rebel Race, Steven Leiser-Mitchell, a personal trainer from New York City. Out of breath, sweaty and somewhat muddy and scraped up, the winner of that particular race said that this was his “first” Rebel Race and well worth it.
“Some of my co-workers had just completed the Spartan race a week or two ago and were so excited about it that we began to look for another extreme race and found this online,” he said. “It’s different than a regular 5K because there are constant obstacles.”
Ironically, it wasn’t the man-made or stream crossing obstacles that he found the most challenging, but having to “basically crawl hands and feet up these steep, muddy trails because your feet couldn’t get a grip on them. It was hard to go from running, to crawling and back to running again. But it was awesome. I had a great time.”
To learn more about Rebel Races just log onto www.rebelrace.com. There is another weekend-long race coming up in Indiana and future ones in every corner of the country.