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Which Adult Obstacle Course is for You

April 01, 2021 at 4:00 PM EST.

Have you heard of a Gritty Goddess? How about a Rugged Maniac? No, they aren’t crazy mixed alcoholic drinks. They’re part of a growing list of obstacle races held around the country.

Unless you’ve been living under a rock, you’re probably familiar with Tough Mudder, or even a Spartan Race or Warrior Dash. You may have even heard about a Zombie Mud Run on Facebook. If you’re into CLIMBING over rocks, you may already be a Mud Run junkie. But if you’re new to mud runs and looking for some guidance on which one would fit your fitness capabilities, goals and lifestyle, we’ve got a quick look at some of the most popular and most obscure mud runs here.

First, a quick background- Obstacle course racing (OCR) is an organized race where the competitor runs through an area littered with a variety of obstacle challenges. Often muddy, the races are built to challenge competitors to the brink of his/her mental and physical limits. Popular obstacles include wall climbing, crawling through mud under barbed wire, navigating across small bodies of water, and other challenges.

Often based in common military training exercises- or at least, the layman’s idea of military training- the races are intended to test racers’ endurance, strength, speed, balance and dexterity, as well as a competitor’s overall “toughness”.

Tough Guy is considered the oldest obstacle course race, first held in 1987. Since then, the muddy race events have ballooned in popularity, with more than 6 million people registering to participate in obstacle racing events in 2016. Most of that growth has been obtained over the past 6 years; only about 1 million people registered for a race in 2011.

The courses are not without their danger, which is often their appeal, instead of a deterrent. There is, of course, the inevitable bumps and bruises that come with scaling walls, crawling under barbed wire, and getting zapped by live electrical wire (Not kidding! It’s a common obstacle during a Tough Mudder). Race participants say the most common injury is probably sprained ankles.

But there are plenty of incidences of dangerous injuries or even death. Brittany Williams of Texas went blind in one eye after she caught a flesh-eating bacterium during a Tough Mudder. A Dallas woman suffered 3rd degree burns and severe scarring after falling while running through a “fire pit” obstacle- literally, a pit filled with fire. Two men died from injuries obtained at a Warrior Dash in Kansas City in 2011, while in 2013, a 28-year-old Avishek Sengupta drowned in a water obstacle during a West Virginian race.

So why would a person voluntarily jump into a pool of ice water, lug around a tree trunk, or otherwise deliberately put themselves in danger? Justin Anderson, a lawyer based in Washington, D.C., says the races appeal to his primal side: “It’s a test of yourself on so many levels. It tests not only your physical fitness and endurance, but also your mental grit and determination. The races are very primal and instinctive. It lets me forget that for 40 hours a week I set at a desk; its lets me feel more human and free.”

Mud Run aficionados say the potential for injury is heightened for people who are unprepared. Many repeat runners train for the events for weeks or even months ahead of time, depending on the severity of the run. Some runs are known for their participants’ wacky outfits, while others are considered serious events, focused towards elite athletes. Here’s a short rundown of three of the most popular obstacle course races:

Tough Mudder: Arguably one of the most popular, Tough Mudder has several variations. The most common one features 10-12 miles of diverse terrain, free beer for finishers, costumed runners, and 20-25 obstacles with amusing names like “The Birth Canal”, “Funky Monkey” and “Electroshock Therapy”. (Mentioned previously, this obstacle consists of live electric wires hanging from a structure. Participants run through the wires, getting shocked the whole way. Placed close together, there’s no way to avoid the shock.) Tough Mudder events support local charities, typically military-affiliated, and are focused on team work, with groups of participants signing up and completing the run together.

Spartan Race: Unlike it’s competing brands, Spartan Races are timed, with prize money for top finishers. The Spartan Race was actually spawned from “The Death Race”, a now-defunct, obscure race known for its secrecy and challenge, held in the mountainous terrain of Vermont. The Spartan Race was created to be a more commercial and mainstream race. However, that doesn’t mean it’s easy; Spartan Races often considered one of the most challenging of obstacle races. Example- Failing to complete an obstacle, or skipping one, results in a 30 Burpee penalty before advancing to the next leg of the race.

Warrior Dash: A 5k obstacle course with 12 obstacles, the Warrior Dash considers itself less hardcore, and is often considered a beginner-friendly obstacle course race. (One of their obstacles is a 30-foot-high slide called Goliath with a pool of water at the bottom.) A “party” atmosphere is pretty common, with fuzzy warrior hats in abundance and greasy turkey legs at the finish line. Besides the fastest finisher awards, there’s also awards for best beard and craziest costume.

Whether you’re just someone looking for an extra excuse to get in shape, or an elite athlete interested in testing yourself, you can find a Mud Run that fits your needs and abilities. It just depends on whether you’d rather be a Mudder, Spartan, Warrior, Zombie, Dirty Girl, Diva Dasher, or some other kind of crazy person who crawls through mud and runs through fire!