Sunday, November 18, 2012

Cross-Country Obstacle Mud Runs: Get Dirty to Win or Just Have a Really Fun Run

Cross country races over rivers, streams and various obstacles have skyrocketed in popularity the last few years. They're often referred to as mud runs, and with good reason. Even the most mild-mannered of these races leaves at least a thin coat of dirt and mud on virtually every participant.

The Living History Farms Off-Road Race in Urbandale, Iowa (a suburb of Des Moines), bills itself as the largest single race of its kind. It caps entries at 7,500 and is run over the hills, dales, streams and trails that wind through Living History Farms, which is exactly what the name suggests. Hundreds of acres that tell the story of farming over the centuries turn into a massive course for thousands of runners.

While the course is awesome, perhaps even better are the participants themselves. Many (though to the naked eye, it seems like most) come dressed in costumes, even the race his held weeks after Halloween on third Saturday in November. 2012 marked the 34th annual race, held on November 17th. The types of costumes are too many to mention, and included everything from nine reindeer pulling Santa (pictured and, yes, they ran as a group), Abraham Lincoln and John Wilkes Booth, nuns, super heroes, gangsters, rock stars (Kiss), Waldo, Titanic survivors and victims and many more. The atmosphere was electric fun.

The race did attract serious runners as well, with speedy cross country racers (not in costume) lined up closest to the start. The winner was Matthew Pohren of Ashland, Nebraska, with a time of 39:09 over a 7 mile course. When you consider he crossed multiple streams and ran through Iowa farm fields, that's a really good time. The first female finisher was Amy Laskowski of Minneapolis, Minnesota, in 44:45.

Cross Country Races -- Lots to Choose From

These kinds of races are growing in popularity ever year. They can be considered destination races and events. If you're running for fun, then you'll need time to make a costume. If you're running to win or just turn in a good time, then you'll want time to acclimate to the weather, check out the course and get comfortable with your surroundings. A long weekend works well, but if the race is in a scenic or tourist area, then why not make a vacation out of the trip? Bring your spouse, kids or friends and have a cheering section to help you navigate the most grueling portions. Vacation rentals are a great lodging option, as they give you the most freedom and flexibility as far as sticking to your nutrition plan and getting enough uninterrupted sleep are concerned. 

Photo courtesy Camp Pendleton Mud Run.
A word to the wise: some these races can be very tough and challenging, so be prepared. The Camp Pendleton Mud Run, near San Diego, includes hills, tire obstacles, river crossings, two 5-foot walls with mud on sides, tunnel crawl, slippery hill climb, and a final 30-foot mud pit over a 10K course. The Tough Mudder is a series of races, each 10 to 12 miles, which were designed by the British Special Forces. Its stated purpose is to test the strength, stamina, mental grit and camaraderie of participants. It also benefits the Wounded Warrior Project for veterans and is held in a variety of cities around the world, including   Tampa, Tahoe, Paris, Zurich and many more. The Warrior Dash bills itself as the largest series. The obstacles can include jumping over fire, walking balance beams or tightropes, crawling through tunnels, swimming, and other surprises. There are races throughout the United States, in Australia, and even in the United Kingdom. It benefits St. Jude's Hospital.

So whether you're running fun, to win or just to challenge yourself in a tough race, consider doing one of these races. Just be sure to train properly, as the obstacles and nature of cross country running make these races different from a regular road run.