Throughout the United States, obstacle course and mud run events attract a diverse crowd of people. Passionate runners preparing for marathons or triathlons compete next to those entirely new to the sport, often looking for an alternative form of exercise. Many, especially Millennials, come to the events seeking new adventures and networking opportunities, and some simply want to push themselves to achieve more than they ever thought possible.
Regardless of their differences, they all have one thing in common: a desire to participate in an “outside of the box” group activity.
“Obstacle course and mud run events have become one of the fastest growing aspects of sports in the country,” Carol Gottshall, communications manager for Tough Mudder, a 10- to 12-mile-long obstacle course event, says. “The industry has struck a chord with people who not only seek adventure, but are also looking for a challenge beyond that of traditional races.”
Aside from providing a broad audience of participants an opportunity to compete in a 5K race with over 20 obstacles, MuckFest MS dedicates itself to finding a cure for Multiple Sclerosis. In fact, 100 percent of its fundraising dollars support the National Multiple Sclerosis Society.
In 2015 alone, over 40,000 participants raised more than $3 million, adding to the nearly $23 million raised since the event began.
“MuckFest MS attracts a diverse array of people from all walks of life, many of whom have never participated in a mud obstacle event before,” Jim Hennessey, director of consumer marketing at Event 360, an event management team that produces MuckFest MS in partnership with the National Multiple Sclerosis Society, says. “Some are motivated to help someone close to them that has been touched by MS, while some just want to get together with their friends and have a blast.”
Eleven cities, including Grayslake, currently host MuckFest MS events. To encourage runners’ friends and family members to attend, each event provides spectators the best possible view of the obstacles, including the Flying Muckers (which features a 35-foot zip lines, Spill Hill (a muddy hill) and Skid Mark (a muddy pit).
“The obstacles are also designed for any athletic level, from first-timers to endurance athletes,” Hennessey says.
As a member of the Tough Mudder, Inc. family, Mudderella provides participants a five- to seven-mile-long obstacle mud run course created for women, by women.
Each of Mudderella’s obstacles tests participants’ agility, balance, strength and teamwork, as women of all athletic abilities come together to finish the race.
“It is a non-timed, noncompetitive event that encourages women to work as a team, celebrate their strengths and overcome obstacles together in a fun, social setting,” Erica Pollack, event director for Mudderella, says. “The obstacles are designed with women in mind, but they’re still challenging because women deserve an awesome workout.”
This year, five Mudderella events take place across the United States, one of which will occur in Grayslake. Women make up about 95 percent of the field, but men are also encouraged to participate in support of their family members or friends.
“Mudderella is an event that’s totally unique from any other type of workout and it may inspire women to try other fitness challenges as well,” Pollack says. “Participants walk away feeling truly accomplished.”
The Spartan Race currently has four distances—Sprint (3+ miles), Super (8+ miles), Beast (12+ miles) and Ultra Beast (26+ miles)—for individuals and three team events—the Hurricane Heat, 12 Hour Hurricane Heat and the Agoge—with a variety of obstacles designed to mentally and physically challenge participants.
“The trifecta, which is when someone completes Sprint, Super and Beast distance races in a calendar year, is a big part of our brand, with thousands vying to join the ‘Trifecta Tribe’ every year,” Joe DiStefano, direct of fitness and training for the Spartan Race, says.
In fact, Spartan Race has attracted so many participants that it now hosts races in over 25 countries, including the United States. On June 11, Chicagoland residents will have an opportunity to participate in two of the races, the Sprint and the Super, in Richmond.
“Over the years, I have found that participants are pretty evenly split between current and former athletes looking to challenge themselves, as well as people who have never participated in an athletic event before,” Brian Alexander, a coach at Niles’s CrossFit Illumine who recently completed a Spartan Race coaching course, says. “It can be a gateway sport for many, as I have seen people inspired to branch out and compete in ultramarathons or run their first 10K races.”
As Tough Mudder continues to attract new and repetitive participants alike, it has recently introduced obstacles like the Block Ness Monster, in which Mudders have to push, pull and roll their way through 60 feet of rotating barriers, as well as an event series known as the Tough Mudder Half, a five-mile course with over a dozen obstacles.
Over 2 million people, from first-timers to fitness gurus, have participated so far. As a result, more than 100 events will take place around the world from March to November.
“Tough Mudder events aren’t races, but challenges, which is one of the main factors that have contributed to their popularity,” Gottshall says. “The events are untimed, so participants can focus on working together to overcome the obstacle challenges.”
Each event consists of 10- to 12-mile-long courses designed to test participants’ strength and stamina. Tough Mudder also values teamwork and camaraderie, as participants from all walks of life collaborate to help each other finish the events.
“The courses were designed for participants of all athletic backgrounds,” Gottshall says. “Participants are involved for a variety of reasons, whether it’s to take on a new fitness challenge, celebrate a personal milestone or have fun with their friends and colleagues.”
Since 2009, over 2.5 million people have participated in the Warrior Dash, the United States’ first nationwide obstacle course race series. Athletes of all abilities can participate in the 5K, since its 12 obstacles break up the distance into small segments.
“The majority of our participants are first-time 5K runners,” Lauren Gardner, public relations manager for the Warrior Dash, says. “By starting with something achievable—like a Warrior Dash—fitness becomes more fun to ease into as a lifestyle. Many of our participants return year after year, and increase their abilities each time.”
Of the 12 obstacle that participants encounter, three especially stand out: Muddy Mayhem (participants crawl under barbed wire through a 100-foot-long mud pit), Mud Mounds (runners climb over a tall mud mound and then slide down into a muddy pit) and Goliath (participants run up two stories, and then slide down a 30-foot high slide).
“Our first Warrior Dash took place in the Chicago area in 2009, and we have had one outside of the city every year since,” Gardner states. “Red Frog Events, the event production company behind Warrior Dash, is actually a Chicago-based company, so our Illinois race location has always had a special place in our hearts.”
Train for the Best Results
Cardio and Strength. Aside from typical cardio and strength exercises, Gardner recommends that participants consider high knees, in which they raise their knees as high as possible with each step and then rapidly switch their feet and use their arms as if they were running, and squats.
“For squats, runners should stand upright with their feet flat, shoulder width apart, and their arms down their sides,” Gardner says. “They can then lower their bodies toward the floor, push their hips back and down and bend their knees, prior to pushing through their heels to return to the top position.”
Core. In addition to stretching their glutes, lower back and hamstrings, participants can also strengthen their core with opposite toe crunch and hip press exercises.
“For opposite toe crunches, runners should lie flat on their backs and slowly raise their right legs and left arms up, while reaching for their right feet with their left arms,” Pollack says. “After they complete reps on one side, they can then switch sides.”
“To complete hip press exercises, runners should again lie flat on their backs, but with their knees bent,” Pollack says. “Their feet should be one foot away from their hips. They should then press their hips up, so that they contract their glutes, and then slowly lower their hips back to the ground to contract their abs.”
Interval Training. To improve their speed as they prepare for obstacle course events, runners should also consider interval training.
“Intervals encompass a variety of workouts that involve low- to high-intensity periods, followed by rest or recovery periods. For example, rather than jogging a few miles, runners can split up a half-hour workout into a few walks or jogs that last a couple minutes, as well as some half-minute sprints,” Gardner says. “These exercises’ various intensity levels are similar to the obstacles runners will face on obstacle courses.”