By Del Duduit
If you try to find me on April 29, I’ll be tucked away in a cave in Minford, Ohio.
I’ll be in my normal spot taking pictures when runners come out of the “chilly” waters during the 7th Annual White Gravel Mines Extreme Trail 5K Adventure Run. Minford is about two hours south of Columbus.
On that particular Saturday, weekend warriors and outdoor enthusiasts can put their athletic abilities and endurance to the ultimate test. At the same time, everyone will see the Gospel of Christ presented to them in unique ways throughout the trail.
A few years ago, Tom and Mindy Martin, of Wheelersburg, Ohio saw a vision to use the 70-plus acres of unique land for something positive and encouraging. For years, Tom said the White Gravel Mines were used by “nefarious people,” and all sorts of questionable activity happened there.
The Martins purchased the land and have turned it into a place where lives can be positively changed.
I go to church with the Martins, and Tom and told me the land “just screamed ‘adventure runs’ to me when we first got it.”
The Extreme Trail run first debuted seven years ago with just under 100 racers.
This year, Tom hopes to see about 250 competitors cross, walk or crawl past the finish line. The theme this race is the Roman’s Road.
“There are several series of passages and narratives from the Book of Romans that many preachers have used to lead sinners to the Lord,” Tom said. “Runners will see a lot of the same scriptures throughout the race.”
Nate Banks, a local runner from Minford has won best male overall time in three of the past six events. He has run in several 5K events and calls this one by far the most interesting. “The obstacles can be really challenging – especially the water – you come out of there numb sometimes,” he said.
Like all of the productions at White Gravel Mines, the story of Jesus Christ is seen by nearly everyone via messages and signs as they venture along the unusual course through the hills and caves.
“There are obstacles in life, and the only way to get over them is with the Lord.”
“They understand what this is about,” Tom said of the runners and the Christian messages they will see. “Not everyone agrees, but at least they are exposed to the Gospel at nearly every obstacle.”
So what are some of the obstacles?
The biggest is the change in elevation. “I’d say by the time they are done, runners will experience an overall change of about 10,000 feet in elevation, and that can take some to their breaking point – physically,” Tom said.
Then there are the mines.
The caves stay 55 degrees all year long and are now partially lit by a few lights strung up along the route. Competitors will weave their way through the dark maze while encountering a rude awakening when they hit “Chilly Jordan.”
“Oh my, this is a tough one,” Tom said of the water obstacle. “They hit the water and soon figure out that it’s mighty cold.”
One memory I have was a couple of years ago when a man sloshed out of the cold water and started to run up on the sand to continue the race. The only problem was his legs were numb, and the man face planted himself right into the sand. Of course, I helped – after I took a picture and stopped laughing.
The temperature of the water stays below 50 degrees all the time. In past years, runners have had to struggle through about 150 feet of waist-high water. Now, the obstacle extends to about 700-800 feet long.
“When they come out of that water, parts of them – mainly their legs – are numb from the cold,” Tom said. “And they have to keep going through the rest of the caves even though they can’t feel their legs,” he added with a chuckle.
Two years ago, a “Tame the Flame” obstacle was added where runners must jump over a fire to demonstrate their “leap of faith.” “We’ve also added a “Rope Rider” where participants brace themselves for a balancing act on a rope bridge crossover,” Tom said.
Runners also face challenges in the “Sweat Net” – which is a cargo net climb. Once they master the net, runners will have to overcome another one which is about nine feet high. Soon, all encounter the “Pondered” obstacle where a decision is made whether to swim through or go around a large natural pond.
“I really enjoy the course,” said Jacob Perry, 20, of Minford. He has participated in several of the runs. “It’s not a dull course at all. It’s different and challenging and fun to run through the hills.”
Then there is the “Highway to Heaven” rope-assisted uphill pull on a 55-degree angle on the side of a hill, followed by the “Devil’s Descent” which obviously goes downhill. The “Belly Bog” is a muddy crawl under a covering of rope, and the “Decision Valley” is a rough passage of low hanging trees.
“People are going to get muddy and dirty and wet,” Tom said. “We’ve amped up the mud, so people will have all the mud they can handle.”
If that’s not enough, there is a “Squeeze Breeze” which is a small tube crawl, and the “Cross Carry” – where each person must place a log on his or her back and carry it several feet.
“There have been some spiritual moments out there in the hills,” Tom said. “One runner got to the Cross Carry and was just worn out – and just broke down in tears when she saw the message that was written out on a billboard, and she realized what Christ went through when he had to carry His cross up a big hill. She got inspired and carried the log and finished the race – that’s what this is all about.”
The story of Jesus and how He can change lives is seen throughout the race in subtle ways.
“We are not in their faces, but they get the point – sinner and saint alike will see the messages,” Tom said. “Some have had real spiritual experiences through this ministry up in the hills and in the caves. There are obstacles in life, and the only way to get over them is with the Lord.”
In addition to the 200 or more racers, there will be about 50 volunteers making sure the event runs smoothly, and medical personnel will also be on location. There are awards given out in different age groups. Each fall, White Gravel Mines Productions also puts on the Cavern of Choices, and in December, the organization will feature the second showing of the Christmas Cave which saw more than 20,000 visitors in only ten showings in 2016.
Come on out to Minford, Ohio on April 29. You will never experience anything like this anywhere else.
But when you pass through the “chilly Jordan” water obstacle – I’ll be the one with the camera snapping pictures of you in the dark. Hopefully, your legs won’t give out on you. I’ll also be the dry one. Smile for the camera if your teeth aren’t chattering. But always remember the message you see throughout the race. Jesus died for you! So live for Him!
For more information on the run, go to https://www.facebook.com/whitegravelmines/
What would you go through for Christ? Would you do this race? Tell me about it please.