DALLAS — For most runners, getting dirty is an especially undesirable side effect of racing. Yet for a select and growing number, mud makes the race.
With names like Muddy Buddy, Run for Your Lives and the Hardcore Mudd Run, to name but a sampling, these events stress their own definition of fun — fire to leap over, fences to crawl under, walls to scale, beams to crawl across, zombies to outrun.
In April, though, one such event took a tragic turn. Tony Weathers, 30, died while crossing the Trinity River during the Original Mud Run in Fort Worth, Texas.
This was the first fatality in the 14 years the Mud Run organizers have been producing mud-style adventures, said Eric Lindberg. His own company, DFW Runs, manages marketing and promotions for such events as the Original Mud Run and the upcoming Wild West Adventure Race.
“In any extreme event, whether an adventure race or a marathon, there’s the potential for loss,” Lindberg said. “Any race director worth his salt will do anything he can to mitigate that, not only with strict safety guidelines but with instructions to participants and supplying appropriate emergency personnel on site.”
For the most part, these ever-growing number of events stay true to their spirit of fun, adventure and getting dirty.
“The mud runner-adventure category has exploded,” Lindberg said. “If it’s not the fastest-growing category in active lifestyle, I don’t know what is.”
The Original Mud Run, a 5K as well as a 30-obstacle six-miler, had been expected to draw 4,000 participants. The race, Lindberg said, has grown steadily over 14 years.
Such races present a different challenge than a regular road race, Lindberg said.
“People may work out in a gym and run four to six miles a week, lift weights. They’re fit, just not interested in getting on the road and running three or six miles or a half-marathon,” he said.
Garland, Texas, resident Mark Olateju, 50, competes in at least six races of all kinds every month.
“You can’t compare these to regular races,” he said. “If I go through mud, I go slowly. I’ve seen people run and dive right through the mud. It’s a party atmosphere.”
When you’re finished, he said, “You have mud in areas you didn’t even know existed.”
The death in Fort Worth hasn’t stopped him from planning to run in future events.
“I’m more likely to die in a car wreck than in an endurance event,” he said.
Though Lindberg said such events have been taking place for about 20 years, in the past five or so their popularity has exploded.
Fitness goes through trends, said David Chambers of Southern Methodist University; these races echo the away-from-machines-and-back-to-basics movement.
“People are looking for a challenge,” said Chambers, associate director of programming for the Dedman Center for Lifetime Sports.
Plus, he said, the races reflect popular culture.
“Look what’s going on — ‘Survivor,’ documentaries about Green Beret and Navy SEAL training. It’s the challenge of being as tough as you can be,” Chambers said.
Not everyone wants to shimmy themselves under that bar or sees the point in doing so. Chris Stratton, 35, founder and organizer of the White Rock Running Co-Op, calls himself a traditionalist when it comes to races.
“I can safely say I have never done or recommended one of these obstacle-type races,” he said. “I do think trail and relay races are worth doing, but those are real races.”
The Hardcore Mudd Runn will be held Sept. 8-9 at Tussey Mountain, off Bear Meadows Road, Boalsburg. Registration starts at 8 a.m. both days. Visit www.tusseymountain.com or www.hardcoremuddrun.com for more information.
Tips for running a mud/obstacle raceIf you’re thinking about running a mud/obstacle race, here are some tips for success — and safety:
• Be careful on the obstacles. Though such occurrences are rare, veteran Mark Olateju remembers someone breaking a leg while sliding down a hill. “You will have minor cuts and bruises,” he said.
• Be picky. If you don’t feel comfortable scaling a wall, walk around it. Rather not jump over fire? Don’t. Obstacles are optional.
• Know your race. You can’t find out the exact obstacles, but you can get an idea by doing a little research.
• Wear old clothes and shoes you don’t want. That may have a well-duh component, but runners used to wearing a cute new outfit to a race might need to be reminded. At the end of most races, shoes are left in piles to be cleaned and donated to a charity.
• Be prepared. It’s fun, sure, but you need to be in at least decent shape to participate, said Eric Lindberg of DFW Runs. “If you’re trying to compete, cross-training is very important because of the amount of upper-body strength needed to complete the obstacles and do them fast.”
• Bring a change of clothes. Also pack a towel and trash bag to put your dirty, wet clothes in. You’ll probably be sprayed with a fire hose to get rid of some of the mud, but that still leaves plenty to filthy up your car.
• Don’t be afraid. “They really do make it for people to be successful,” race enthusiast Kristin Moore said. “It’s not a walk in the park, but they make it for people to succeed.”
By Leslie Barker Garcia, The Dallas Morning News