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MALDON, UK (CBS) -- It's one of Britain's finest sights, to see a motley bunch of people stampede across the Blackwater River waist deep in thick black mud.

The idea is simple; 273 competitors line up on the bed of the River Crouch at low tide and race 400 meters towards Maldon town, crossing the water as they go. It's smelly, cold and wet, but for some athletes, it's the only place to be.

The challenge has arrived - it's man against mud. This year conditions were near perfect, a bright spring afternoon with temperatures hitting 20° Celsius. As ever, huge crowds gathered to watch the spectacle, estimated at approximately 10-12,000 thousand spectators.

The Maldon Mud race has established itself as a tough but fun event but has always had the serious aim of raising important funds for local charities. As well as the competitors raising funds for their own specific charity cause.

Speaking before the event, the race commentator Ray Clark explained the history behind this novelty race: "This goes back to the eighties, there's a pub just across the way the 'Queens Head' an they were having a drink just after Christmas and somebody as I understand it said 'tell you what, I'll stand the beers if you run over to the other side, turn around and come back again' and the customers in the pub said 'yes I take you up on that' and that's exactly what they did." he said. "And I think in the early days people dressed up in dinner suits and really went to town to start the mud race, but those are the origins and then somebody cottoned on to the fact that money could be made for charity."

At the start of the race, the mob raced towards the thick gluey mud. Some sported comical costumes, but the most important thing was to make sure that their training shoes were tightly attached to their feet; most people used heavy duct tape for this purpose. Those in the lead got off lightly and found themselves only up to their ankles in the soft black mud, but soon as the mud became thicker as it was churned up, some found the best tactic was to crawl along on all fours.

The winner was John Edgington aged 39 who romped home in a new race record of 3 minutes and 15 seconds. But for others it took a great deal longer (20 - 25 minutes) as they struggled to move their bodies forward in the sticky mud.

For those who emerge triumphant, despite the scars of battle, there's a sense of elation. There are no luxuries at the end, just a cold shower of river water and a thermal wrap. But this race is all about the fun of competing and the pride of being able to beat the mud. Competitors quickly scuttle off home for a hot bath and some warm clothing.