True grit: BMTN staffer jumps into mud-race craze

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I got mud on my teeth.

That's how muddy and competitive the Rugged Maniac was, but I have no regrets about plunging into obstacle course racing, one of the nation's fastest-growing fitness crazes. Saturday's obstacle-filled 5K, held at the Wild Mountain ski area in Taylors Falls, was the third Rugged Maniac to be staged in Minnesota.

There were about 4,000 runners and another 750 spectators at the event – making it the biggest Rugged Maniac ever in the state, Rugged Maniac Chief Operating Officer Rob Dickens told BringMeTheNews via email. Last year's event had about 3,000 runners.

Based on social media, participants seemed to agree with my friends and me (pictured at left, I'm in the middle) – the scrapes and bruises, mud-soiled clothes and days of sore muscles were worth it, even though it took us twice as long as it took the fastest runners to complete the race. They finished in about 34 minutes.

The course, which takes about a week to construct and a few days to clean up, is filled with 25 muddy obstacles that participants have to run up, jump over, balance on, climb up, crawl under, slide down and muscle through. (See the video above by a participant wearing a GoPro camera in this year's race. Other videos can be found here and here. Photos can be found here.)

It was tough. To start, we had to run up the ski hill (my calves are still burning), climb over walls and then jump over fire (I tripped on the last set of flaming logs, but luckily, I didn't get burned).

I also climbed shipping containers, army-crawled under barbed wire and through the mud (this is how we got the dirtiest), and made our way over a pool of water by grabbing hanging rings (think monkey bars, but harder). I couldn't successfully complete all of the obstacles – I fell a lot – but it was a blast.

What was great about the race was that it demands teamwork, even between strangers. People would stop and help others get over walls, climb out of the mud, yell words of encouragement, and laugh along as you trip over your own mud-soaked feet (yes, this did happen to me – several times).

In a post on Rugged Maniac's Facebook page, race organizers congratulated participants and had runners post their photos from the race. Before and after photos showed just how muddy people got.

On the Facebook thread, a few people questioned things missing from the course and the festival that coincided with the event that had been advertised, including the lack of water slide (rumors are it broke), mechanical bull and foam pit. Dickens told BringMeTheNews he's not sure why these weren't included at the festival. But overall, participant reviews were positive.

Dickens says Rugged Maniac will be returning to Wild Mountain next year. The tentative date for the event is Aug. 29, 2015, and the race "will definitely feature a water slide and we'll also be giving a finisher medal to each runner," Dickens said.

Mud run craze

Participation in mud runs and obstacle course races have skyrocketed in recent years. It's estimated that approximately 2 million runners participated in these adventure-type races in 2012 and there were roughly 4 million participants in 2013, according to an annual report by Running USA.

Here's how the obstacle races (or non-traditional races) compare to other events:

Running USA notes that "MOB-sters" (mud, obstacle, beer) – the people who dress in costume, crawl through mud, climb obstacles, etc. – are motivated to participate in the runs because of "fun, uniqueness and being with friends."

Race organizers have also said these mud runs give people the chance to be a kid again by getting dirty and scraping their knees, according to a FOX Business story published last year.

Doctors with ThedaCare Orthopedic Plus in Wisconsin said others enjoy these races because it's a far cry from the "monotony of a pure running race" which some find boring – the unique challenges keep things interesting and make a regular 30- or 60-minute run less daunting.

Others have said people like to participate to brag about it on social media. Running USA also notes that many of these non-traditional races have a business strategy driven by social media, which attracts hundreds of millions of revenue dollars for start-up companies in just the first few years of operation.

Dangers of mud runs

As fun as the races are, they come with the risk of injury, illness and sometimes death.

There have been at least four deaths involving participants in obstacle course races around the country since 2011, according to a 2013 Baltimore Sun article. Lawsuits have also been filed against various races after participants have become paralyzed after diving into muddy pools, the newspaper notes.

Men's Health and Women's Health, among other publications, have written about the dangers of mud races, citing injuries and accidentally ingesting the muddy water, which has caused some race participants to get sick – this forced the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to investigate earlier this year.

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