Grace Thieme nears the finish line during the Atlas Race Saturday in Gold Hill.

They reached the finish line

A bloody, burned, scratched and grinning Helen Thieme tromped across the finish line of the Atlas Extreme Obstacle Course outside of Gold Hill on Saturday.

Thieme's purple prom dress hung heavy with mud and grime as she downed a cup of water following her run that included wall climbs, crawling under barbed wire, and a 12-foot dive into frigid, brown water.

"I feel a little beat up," she said, streaks of muddy water zipping down her face. "I'm still a little traumatized from the barbed wire."

Thieme nursed a blister on one heel, a rope burn and some scratches gifted to her by some blackberry bushes. But the smile never left her face as she recounted scurrying under lines of angry barbed wire.

The St. Mary's High School student ran in solidarity with a group of teachers and students who joined her through the ordeal.

While other runners clad themselves in gym shorts and Under Armour gear, the St. Mary's crew donned fancy dresses purchased at a local Goodwill.

The dresses might have added a little weight to the run and probably made crawling under the barbed wire more a chore than it otherwise would have been, but the group had no regrets of their style choice.

"We went for a good time, not a fast time," said St. Mary's teacher Lesley Klecan.

Hundreds of people from several states flocked to the Estremado Arena on Galls Creek Road to brutalize themselves across the four-mile obstacle that wound its way through the hills above Gold Hill.

The race featured several heats run throughout the day, with the fastest runners awarded thousands in prize money.

The course was dotted with muddy pits, rope swings, a straw-bale carrying station (though most runners chose to flip the bale end over end as opposed to lugging it across the finish line) and the dreaded dive into a chilly water hole.

St. Mary's teacher Betsy Moore stalled at the top of the dive and had to gird up all her courage to take the plunge. Onlookers cheered her descent as she hit the water feet first and swam to the edge of the mud pit.

"I was so, so cold," Moore said.

"I couldn't breathe when I hit the water," added Grace Thieme, a St. Mary's student. "And the barbed wire sucked."

Event organizer Tara Landers likened the grueling, unforgiving obstacle course to life itself.

"Just like life, you have to overcome obstacles of all kinds," Landers said. "You have to love the looks of accomplishment on their faces when they reach the finish."

Meanwhile, Hobie Call buzzed the grounds on a golf cart to cheer on the runners. Call is a famous obstacle course racer from Utah. He travels the country to try his hand at any course event coordinators can throw at him. He intended to run Saturday's course, but a run last week in Vermont left his body needing some healing time.

"This is a good course," Call said. "They did it right here. It's kicking their butts without killing them."

There's no specific time that obstacle course runners shoot for, as each run is different.

"No course is the same," he said. "So you don't have a universal time to beat. A good time is one second faster than everybody else."

The obstacles were staffed by volunteers who belted out words of encouragement one minute, but enforced penalties the next.

If you opted to skip an obstacle, you had to give the monitor 20 burpies before proceeding.

The run slowed to a literal crawl at the barbed-wire station. Competitors had to shimmy under several feet of the wire before continuing toward the last leg of the course.

One shirtless runner made pains to stay well below the wire as he inched forward on his elbows.

"Good job," the monitor said. "You haven't gotten cut yet."

Reach reporter Chris Conrad at 541-776-4471 or email

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