Jeff Larson of Huntington Beach after completing his first ever Merrell Down &… (David Crane)

CASTAIC — For the thousands who converged on Castaic Lake early Sunday, one thing beat rolling over for an extra hour of sleep.

Slogging head to toe in mud at a first-annual Los Angeles mud run.

“We are ready for a roll in the mud,” said Ellie Woods, 33, of Sherman Oaks, among some late-night delivery nurses from Valley Presbyterian Hospital queuing up at the 8 a.m. starting gate.

“Dirty is Perty,” proclaimed their camouflage tank tops.

The sold-out Merrell Down & Dirty Mud Run drew 3,000 scramblers from across the Southland to the Castaic Lake State Recreation Area for 5K and 10K runs and shorter dashes for the kids.

But the real reward at the lakeside obstacle course was mud.

Participants paid $50 and up to dash through slimy tunnels. Wade through a muddy lake. Scramble over head-high hurdles.

And crawl face down through a giant mud pit while National Guardsmen yelled, “Push, push, push!”

“Been mud wrestlin’,” said Elizabeth Diaz, 45, a teacher from Covina, drenched in caramel-colored slime. “Slinging mud. Scrambling though mud. I might as well be an alligator.

“And I get a beauty spot treatment – dip your body in mud. That’s right, baby! I just took off five years.”

The paramilitary style event, to be followed by others in Philadelphia, New York and Sacramento, included live music, a barbecue and a shot at hosing off the muck.

It also raised an estimated $30,000

for Operation Gratitude, which sends care packages and letters to front-line troops overseas.
“People go through an obstacle course and get muddy as heck for a great cause,” said run announcer Tim Bomba, as wave upon wave of runners headed off to do the worm. “It’s great.”

Those from Operation Gratitude were overwhelmed by the muddy field maneuvers.

“I’m actually speechless, I had no idea,” said Carolyn Blashek, founder of the Van Nuys charity that ships 100,000 care packages a year. “This is an operation gratitude – and an operation of so much love.”

Runners from across Los Angeles drove past Six Flags Magic Mountain after learning of the event from online message boards.

“I’m a kid at heart,” said Ken Lukaszonas, 34, of Lancaster, his eyelashes sticking with goo and whose two children joined in the fun.

“I still like playing in the mud.”

Some wore purple tutus. Others dressed as Santa Claus or the Cat in the Hat. One bounder came dressed as Beetlejuice, while another donned sport coat, oxford shirt and tie.

“We are nuts,” said Karla Helsley, 37, of Valencia, who raced an Old Orchard neighborhood group of “mud princesses” in purple-and-pink tutus and tiaras.

Manuel Ruiz, a “fairy godfather” with a hot pink boa and tiara, clenched an unlit cigar after winning a $500 prize for best costume.

“It’s about supporting the troops,” said Ruiz, 30, of Los Angeles, before running his first 10K. “I thought it would be funny, to come completely insane.”

But the real winner could have been Laura DeSantiago, if she ever had found her muddy mate.

For DeSantiago, in a white wedding dress and veil, had run the course hoping for muddy nuptials.

“I don’t have a groom,” said DeSantiago, 44, of Pasadena, wielding a bride’s bouquet before the starting gun. “I want a muddy husband.

“I want to kiss and hug somebody after I finish.”