MODESTO -- Mud clung to Jeremiah McIntire's shoes, and to his shorts and his shirt, as he relaxed near a riverbank Saturday morning.
He had just completed the Mud Blast, a 3.1-mile run featuring mud pits and other obstacles about 10 miles southwest of Modesto.
"I was hoping to get this muddy," said McIntire, who lives in Tracy. "I just jumped right in."
Several hundred people from around Northern California turned out for the event at Dos Rios Ranch, raising money to restore natural habitat on this land where the Tuolumne and San Joaquin rivers meet.
River Partners, which is based in Chico and has a Modesto office, organized the event. The group helped arrange this year's $21.8 million purchase of the 1,603-acre property from the Lyons family, funded by several government and private sources.
River Partners will start planting native trees next month. Saturday was about another kind of contact with Mother Earth.
"It's fun to get dirty," said runner Rachel Heiss of Modesto. "You don't have that in your normal runs."
She and boyfriend Jacob Gonzales of Ventura heeded the organizers' suggestion to come in costume. They dressed as ancient Spartan warriors, with helmets made of cloth and wooden spears. Gonzales ran with an 8-pound wooden shield for good measure.
Tutus were the attire of choice for many of the other costumed entrants, male and female alike.
Several waves of runners traversed the course along dirt paths next to an alfalfa field. They climbed over hay bales, stutter-stepped through tires and sloshed through the gray-brown muck.
The mud pits were dug in places that were already disturbed, rather than sensitive habitat, said Julie Pokrandt, development director for River Partners.
Caleb Casey of Chico placed first overall at 24 minutes, 26.1 seconds. Emily Rutherford of Chico led female runners at 30 minutes, 31.5 seconds.
Finishers got free lunches from a pair of Tacos El Maguey trucks from Modesto, washed down if they pleased with beer from Sierra Nevada Brewing Co. of Chico. And they could rinse off in the Tuolumne River, just a short walk away.
This year's income from entry fees and sponsorships will help the group turn Dos Rios into floodplain habitat. High river flows will spread across the land at times, providing shelter for young salmon, among other benefits.
The first step will be planting of about 200 acres with cottonwood, willow and other fast-growing trees, said John Carlon, president of River Partners.
The group hopes to make this an annual event, allowing participants to see the progress of the restoration.
"This year, it's just an open field," Carlon said. "Next year, there will be little trees. In three years, they will be 25 feet tall."
Bill Lyons Jr., whose family still owns the adjacent Mape's Ranch, volunteered at the Mud Blast. He has served as food and agriculture secretary for California and received honors for wildlife-friendly farming.
"River Partners put on an excellent event," Lyons said. "It will raise money for their conservation cause and introduce the public to Dos Rios Ranch."
Bee staff writer John Holland can be reached at email@example.com or (209) 578-2385.
Click here to see a video of Mud Blast 2012: