Rayann Silva’s Valentine’s Day present stands in her backyard, perpetually in her way.
Silva, 32, is an obstacle course racer continually mastering the art of clearing challenging hurdles. The one creating the most trouble these days is the wall.
Most mud runs and obstacle course races have one someplace along the course. Sometimes they’re 7 feet high or taller. Getting up and over these, especially when the wall and runner are coated in mud, is the toughest obstacle for many racers.
So when Silva was asked what she wanted for Valentine’s Day, she said a wall. Now a black, adjustable wall stands in the backyard of her Tacoma home so she can train.
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“What do I like about mud runs?” she said. “They embody growth. Overcoming obstacles.”
Silva runs 25 or more obstacle course races per year and plans to slop her way through Metro Parks Tacoma’s Swan Creek Mud Run on Saturday.
What do I like about mud runs? They embody growth. Overcoming obstacles.
Rayann Silva, Tacoma
These challenging races, she says, have helped her take control of a life she once feared was careening toward an early death.
In 2011, her father died at the age of 50. At the time Silva was 27 and weighed 220 pounds.
“I knew I needed to change my life,” Silva said. “I was scared I was going to die.”
She had a daughter she wanted to see grow up and to whom she wanted to pass along healthy habits. Silva changed her diet and started looking for exercise she enjoyed.
The breakthrough with her diet came with a new perspective. “It’s the simplest thing,” Silva said. “I didn’t do any fad diets, I just started thinking of food as fuel.”
She discovered her sport at the 2011 Sound to Narrows 5-kilometer race. It was her first time in a starting corral and she was certain that when the gun sounded she would be trampled.
I think regular running is boring. I like the strength component. I like the problem solving. I like the camaraderie. What we are capable of together is much more than I can do on my own.
Rayann Silva, Tacoma
She planned to walk the hilly 3.1 miles, but figured she better jog for a bit just to avoid the masses. Then she decided to run a little farther. Then a little more.
She ended up running the entire race.
“I’ve never been athletic,” Silva said. “That was a huge accomplishment for me.”
An athlete was born. Excited, she started looking for her next race. When she saw a flier for an obstacle course race in Washougal that showed a runner leaping over fire, Silva signed up.
“It was absolutely the hardest thing I’ve ever done,” Silva said of the Spartan Race. “But I finished. I felt like a peacock who’d just got her feathers.”
She signed up for more races. By the end of 2011, she’d lost 60 pounds. By the end of 2012, she’d lost another 40.
It was absolutely the hardest thing I’ve ever done, but I finished. I felt like a peacock who’d just got her feathers.
Rayann Silva on her first obstacle course race
Today, the University of Washington Tacoma employee is a sponsored athlete. GH Unders, a Hoquiam base-layer company, endorses Silva.
She’s a member of the Beasts Obstacle Course Runners team, which has about 650 members across the Northwest. The team was the largest at last year’s Spartan Race in Seattle, and plans to have members at the Swan Creek race.
Silva travels around the country to compete and says each race is different. Some are untimed social affairs and others are serious competitions. Some are short, such as the 2-mile Swan Creek race. Others are 10 kilometers or longer.
Some are geared toward individuals while others are team-based.
As she trains on her new backyard wall, Silva aspires to take on two epic obstacle races. She wants to do a 12-hour obstacle course race in Seattle and a marathon-length race in the Lake Tahoe area.
It might seem like a long way, crawling through mud, climbing ropes and hurdling walls for 26.2 miles, but it’s not nearly as far as the journey from 100 pounds overweight to sponsored athlete.
“I think regular running is boring,” Silva said. “I like the strength component. I like the problem solving. I like the camaraderie. What we are capable of together is much more than I can do on my own.”
South Sound Mud Runs
SWAN CREEK MUD RUN
When: March 19 with waves at 10 and 11:30 a.m. Where: Swan Creek Park, Tacoma. The course: 2 miles with numerous obstacles. A team of 20-30 Metro Parks Tacoma employees and volunteers plan to haul in 2,000 gallons of water and 30 yards of dirt to make mud for the race. Cost: $25 through Tuesday. $35 on race day. More info: metroparkstacoma.org/mud-run.
SOUTH SOUND DIRTY DASH
When: June 25. Where: Straddleline ORV Park. The course: A 5k romp through mud and obstacles. Cost: $39 through March then prices increase periodically. $70 day of race. More info: thedirtydash.com.
WASHINGTON WARRIOR DASH
When: July 19. Where: Kelley Farm, Bonney Lake. The Course: A swampy 5k obstacle course. Cost: $60 through April 12, then price increase periodically. $100 day of race. More info: warriordash.com.