A few rolled their ankles Saturday. All the runners slipped and slid, splashed through puddles and emerged from Annadel State Park with wet, squishy shoes, spattered shirts and mud caked on the backs of their well-muscled legs.
But the soggy course and brutal climb at the start of the Third Annual Annadel Half Marathon did nothing to dampen the spirits of 400 participants who joined forces to support the state park, one of four in the area facing possible closure July 1.
First mounted three years ago when Annadel appeared threatened with closure, the race has grown since and, even at 400 slots, sold out this year for the first time.
Organizers hoped to raise $40,000 in proceeds and matching donations to benefit the park - funding, for instance, trail projects like a 36-foot boardwalk built across a seasonally flooded area last fall.
"I love this area. This is where I trained my whole life, growing up," said former Santa Rosa Christian School runner Jeff Jackson, now 24, who came up from his new home in Santa Clarita to run the race and took first place despite what he called "nasty" conditions.
"This is my home base," said newbie runner, Brodie Cumming, who began running last winter but runs every day, "so I want to keep and preserve it."
Rain up until late Friday afternoon ensured the trails were mucky and slick, requiring extra work and, sadly, extra time to avoid slips and falls, runners said.
Petaluma resident Amy O'Connell, a mountaineer and "not a runner," said she felt something like a salmon picking her way up a few hillsides streaming with runoff. "There were some pretty good streams," she said.
Fleet Feet store manager Katie Paulson said she came upon several women trying to pussyfoot around a puddle and bounded right through them, splashing everyone.
"There was no way around it," Paulson said. "You might as well go in the bath."
The 13.1-mile course was designed to be "really challenging and gnarly," whatever the conditions, while also highlighting the various terrains encompassed by the beloved park, said Hank Nason, who developed the route.
The first eight miles were up hill.
"I was dying," Montgomery High class of &‘99 graduate Nathan Koch told three fellow alums from different years, describing his bid to cross the finish line in the top 10.
"It's great, now it's over," said Healdsburg resident Mark Osborne, 44, who's in training for his first full marathon in San Francisco this July. "It's a stunning track. If you ever need beautiful scenery to take your mind off the pain..."
"The second half of South Burma," Paulson said, referring to a trail point toward the end of the initial climb. "That's when I realized it was going to hurt the rest of the way."
The nearly 5,000-acre park - a mecca to runners, hikers, cyclists and horseback riders alike - is one of 70 of California's 278 state parks put on a closure list last year to save $22 million a year and address a massive state funding shortage.
Efforts have been afoot since to negotiate operational plans and funding schemes to keep several parks open though non-profits, local governments and other organizations.
Sonoma County is in negotiations to run Annadel on a temporary basis, and race organizers hope to continue accruing money to supply funding for operation and maintenance.