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Getting Muddy
September 16, 2012 11:10 AM   Subscribe

American Gladiators: "The masochistic sport of obstacle racing has exploded in popularity. Nick Heil tries to understand why so many are signing up for the misery."

Mud runs and obstacle races are popping up all over. The biggest series (though there are many, smaller one-off and local races) are the Tough Mudder (distances ~10 to 13 miles), the Spartan Race (distances: 5k, 15k and up), the Warrior Dash (5k) (video), the Muddy Buddy (two-person run and bike relay), and the Down-and-Dirty Mud Run (5k). Many more (mostly US based) can be found here, here, and here. Outside Magazine has a guide to the Spartan Race, but the tips apply to most any of them.

Granddaddy of them all is the ToughGuy, in the UK. (previously)

The Tough Mudder's WC is a 24-hour-long race, World's Toughest Mudder(Youtube).

Spartan Race's WC is the 48 hour+ Death Race, covered in Bury My Pride At Wounded Knees

Not interested in getting muddy, but don't want the regualr road-race? 21 Best Themed Running Races, including the Happiest 5k on the Planet(Youtube).

Previously on MeFi: Two Gays Run The Tough Mudder Gauntlet
Previously on MeFi: Tough Mudder
posted by the man of twists and turns (49 comments total) 10 users marked this as a favorite

 
The appeal seems patently obvious to me. We are all six-year-olds at heart, and revel at the sight of a mud puddle.

(I've done the Warrior Dash a couple of times - never competitively - and it's good fun. Plus there's free beer at the end.)
posted by restless_nomad at 11:19 AM on September 16, 2012 [2 favorites]


I like the idea of obstacle courses cause it gives me a deal goal and defined obstacles, exercise can be painfully abstract at times, anything that makes it more game like is welcome.
posted by The Whelk at 11:21 AM on September 16, 2012 [5 favorites]


Under the 21 Best Themed Running Races link, they mention the Krispy Kreme Challenge- a 5K in which you have to eat a dozen donuts in the middle. What they fail to mention is just how many people vomit horribly during the second half of the race. Spoiler: a lot. It's awesome.
posted by showbiz_liz at 11:24 AM on September 16, 2012 [9 favorites]


The Whelk: right up your alley.
posted by the man of twists and turns at 11:25 AM on September 16, 2012


i backed that kickstarter
posted by The Whelk at 11:26 AM on September 16, 2012 [4 favorites]


Why aren't other high-impact sports considered "masochistic"?
posted by LogicalDash at 11:37 AM on September 16, 2012 [3 favorites]


Misery? You're doing it wrong. Ask Takeshi Kitano.
posted by merocet at 11:41 AM on September 16, 2012 [2 favorites]


I don't know if this is what inspired the OP, but this week's episode of The 40 Year Old Boy podcast is about the host, Mike Schmidt, completing the Warrior Dash, mainly out of pure stubbornness after his body has all but quit on him (he thought it would be a better story to do the race without training in any way, and he weighs over 300 pounds). I'm not going to lie to you, it's a four-hour show, but if it helps, I think the first hour and the last half hour are about other things that you could skip. It's an amazing story.
posted by Horace Rumpole at 11:52 AM on September 16, 2012


LAST AUGUST, nearly 5,000 people gathered in Killington, Vermont, to compete in the Spartan Beast race, a 12-mile cross-country run up, down, and across the ski hill’s muddy slopes. A guy in a red cloak and Spartan war helmet announced the rules—“no whining, no complaining”—prompting a loud “Ah-roo!” from the crowd. The course featured more than a dozen obstacles, including a mud bog strung over with barbed wire, a greased climbing wall, a hurdle of smoldering hay bales, and a final gauntlet of brawny, shirtless “warriors” waiting to thrash racers with padded cudgels.

Yeah, I did one of these races in Sweden called Tjurruset. I've been running cross-country races all my life, but this was nothing I would want to to twice. You went over terrain that wasn't suitable at all for running - moss and lichen covered small boulders and exposed granite - people falling left and right and getting hurt. Me in the middle of this mass of idoits just trying to keep my footing and not break my neck because there was nothing else to do. To think I was destroying a few hundred years of undergrowth at the same time didn't make it any more satisfying. The whole thing was silly and stupid and ridiculously pretentious.

You want a painful challenge? You want to test your limits? Just run any normal race at a harder pace. Try to run ten kilometers at the same pace as as fast as you can run one. You want more misery? Run even faster. There is no limit to this for anyone.

posted by three blind mice at 12:05 PM on September 16, 2012 [3 favorites]


I just did the (~10mi) "Super Spartan" a few weekends ago. I did it mostly as a team-building thing with a bunch of friends. We signed up several months in advance, and then tried to motivate each other to train for it. It's pretty good motivation to get in shape, if you're the sort of person (as I am) who needs the threat of a (potentially literal) ass-kicking to get off the couch.

As to what motivates people to do obviously-unpleasant things like mud races, I think it depends on the person. My goal wasn't really a self-directed challenge as much as it was just doing something intentionally unpleasant and getting through it successfully with a group of friends. It wouldn't have been much fun (and I wouldn't have signed up to do it in the first place) just by myself.

Why aren't other high-impact sports considered "masochistic"?

Well, I think they are, but most people don't realize exactly how hard something like endurance running really is. The obstacle races make the unpleasantness obvious. Running a marathon is without question harder than running the Super Spartan, but at the end of the marathon, you're tired and sweaty. At the end of the Spartan, you look like you've just finished storming Omaha Beach. People are a whole lot less likely to second-guess how hardcore you are when it's on your Facebook wall afterwards.
posted by Kadin2048 at 12:05 PM on September 16, 2012 [1 favorite]


It's probably worth noting that there is a wide range in the masochism inherent in these races. The Warrior Dash is really a playground outing - mud for the fun of it, obstacles not unlike you'd find at your elementary school, no particular pace requirement or pressure to kill yourself. I walked the entire first one I did (it wasn't masochistic - I sort of was. Obstacle courses in the middle of an RA flare = pain,) and I walked a good chunk of the second one at a leisurely, just-seeing-the-sights pace, and the only suffering I felt was when I slid down a fireman's pole in shorts. (Do Not Recommend.)
posted by restless_nomad at 12:10 PM on September 16, 2012


Why aren't other high-impact sports considered "masochistic"?

Normal people might jog, ergo this is masochistic.

If normal people got together with 2000 of their closest friends to beat on one another with sticks, someone might notice that the injury rate in the fights with choke points and large permanent obstacles was significantly higher (e.g. a giant rugby scrum is more dangerous than being beaten with a club) but since they don't, no one notices.
posted by Kid Charlemagne at 12:13 PM on September 16, 2012


Obstacle courses in the middle of an RA flare = pain

Oh god oh god I want a Ren Fair Pentathlon, escape a dungeon, saber fight, steal bulky outfit and horse, run to river, swim across while dodging arrows, scale a few ruins, grab a bow and sniper some shit before an all out all-terrian escape through the woods.
posted by The Whelk at 12:16 PM on September 16, 2012 [13 favorites]


That is the best possible misreading of my comment.
posted by restless_nomad at 12:18 PM on September 16, 2012 [7 favorites]


(all out run while in full plate armor)
posted by The Whelk at 12:19 PM on September 16, 2012 [1 favorite]


Metafilter: Nick Heil tries to understand why so many are signing up for the misery.
posted by Algebra at 12:38 PM on September 16, 2012


Why aren't other high-impact sports considered "masochistic"?

They are.
posted by Etrigan at 12:44 PM on September 16, 2012


I got talked into Muddy Buddy without knowing what I was getting into. It was a lot of fun, but if I had known just how crazy dangerous the biking portions would be (slick, steep trails the morning after a heavy rain), I never would have done it.

HOWEVER. Wearing my Muddy Buddy cap does make me feel like a total badass.
posted by roger ackroyd at 1:00 PM on September 16, 2012


Japan has some pretty impressive obstacle course shows. Sasuke/Ninja Warrior being one of the more well known.
posted by 2manyusernames at 1:19 PM on September 16, 2012 [1 favorite]


About 5 years ago, I worked with TBS and G4 to translate about 9 years of Sasuke and related programming from Japanese into English, and my gloss was the basis for tv content broadcast in 130 countries (and I guess you could say helped pave the way for the Gladiators format). Beside getting married and having kids, it's probably the only memorable thing I have done in my life.
posted by KokuRyu at 1:22 PM on September 16, 2012 [6 favorites]


I did the color run in Austin, TX this year and it was the worst race ever. It rained heavily the night before and although it was held on trails they still decided to hold it. The entire 5k was cold, pebbly mud that sucked off your shoes and necessitated walking barefoot.

Oh, and by the time the first three heats (out of twenty) they had run out of the colored powder.

Then they deleted any complaints or poor reviews from their Facebook page.

On the other hand, I'm really excited because I might get a chance to do the 10k at the marathon du medoc! Yay, wine!
posted by raccoon409 at 1:32 PM on September 16, 2012


I don't know about "masochistic". I do em because they're fun.
posted by LordSludge at 1:37 PM on September 16, 2012


I saw a post on the Barkley Marathons a while back. While nominally "just" a trail run, the gruelling terrain puts it several orders of pain magnitude above the already horrifyingly difficult Western States ultra. The Badwater ultra is incredibly difficult due to the elevation gain and the extreme temperatures, but even that doesn't come close to the ridiculously low numbers of finishers the Barkley has - less than 15 in total at the moment.
posted by Jon Mitchell at 1:46 PM on September 16, 2012 [1 favorite]


They're not as much fun without zombies chasing you.
posted by aturoff at 2:06 PM on September 16, 2012 [1 favorite]


This sounds like Sasuke.
posted by Chocolate Pickle at 2:13 PM on September 16, 2012


A good example of Sasuke.
posted by idiopath at 2:16 PM on September 16, 2012 [1 favorite]


That Takeshi Kitano's show looks an awful lot like MXC. =)
posted by andreaazure at 2:43 PM on September 16, 2012


Welk: They have that. It is called "combat LARPing." Find a NERO near you.
posted by andreaazure at 2:44 PM on September 16, 2012


Ennui leads to us to seek out powerful life-experiences. Freed from the toil of our subsistence, we create artificial conduits for our existential longing. Sometimes, we want something brutal and raw; something to shock us from the numbing reality of life in an affluent culture.
posted by Three Books at 4:09 PM on September 16, 2012 [12 favorites]


The Sasukething is amazing to watch. I've never seen the American rebroadcasting of it, but I'm pretty sure it's a once a year thing, and people come from all over the world. They do a lot of background on the different competitors, including some people who've tried it for years. The thing is, it's rarer for someone to actually finish all three stages than for anyone to actually win. I think I've seen only one or two people actually finish the final rope climb, and one guy who did it failed the time challenge by less than three seconds.
posted by Ghidorah at 4:15 PM on September 16, 2012


"The masochistic sport of obstacle racing has exploded in popularity. Nick Heil tries to understand why so many are signing up for the misery."

Because modern existence in the developed world means your are forced to engage the bullshit hoisted upon you by governments, corporations, religion, society and mommy & daddy. And it's actually somewhat refreshing to have a clear goal with a clear obstacle to conquer with an outcome that unambiguously results in success or failure determined solely by your own will and physical limits. I'd take a masochistic sport over waiting in line at the DMV any day of the week.
posted by quadog at 4:33 PM on September 16, 2012 [2 favorites]


andreaazure - The worldwide phenomenon that is Takeshi's Castle
posted by merocet at 4:41 PM on September 16, 2012


A friend of mine did Run For Your Lives (the zombie themed one) earlier this year and she said that her favourite memory was jogging through this one desolate bit of forest and the only sounds that she could hear were the echoing screams of other participants elsewhere on the course.

Moments of bliss in our post hunter-gatherer world.
posted by bl1nk at 4:42 PM on September 16, 2012 [1 favorite]


I'm surprised no one has mentioned the legendary Camp Pendleton Mud Run. From what I recall, it's a 10K that the Marines coordinate for us civvies with plenty of obstacles. It's certainly not an endurance race compared to the 10mile or 24 hour races, but it's been going for 20+ years and always sells out (2013 is sold out already).
posted by sleeping bear at 4:45 PM on September 16, 2012


I was hoping this was a post about American Gladiators... I always wanted to do the event that involved shooting nerf weapons at a target while being assaulted by tennis balls.
posted by matimer at 5:28 PM on September 16, 2012


Ennui leads to us to seek out powerful life-experiences. Freed from the toil of our subsistence, we create artificial conduits for our existential longing. Sometimes, we want something brutal and raw; something to shock us from the numbing reality of life in an affluent culture.

I think this is spot-on. In the exercise world there are a lot of "New Survivalists", people who get into eating "like cavemen", hunting, working out in the most "hardcore" way possible (see: Crossfit), fetishizing meat-eating, beards, zombie apocalypses and apocalypses in general. They refer to their workouts as "battles", themselves as "warriors", couch their activities in life-and-death verbiage. These are white-collar guys and gals who have not really ever struggled in their lives. I think it hits at the same part of the brain Fight Club did. The part that is all-too-painfully aware of the relatively complacent life you live and wants desperately to prove you're different than all of the other junk-food-eating couch potatoes out there. It can get pretty weird.
posted by schroedinger at 6:03 PM on September 16, 2012 [5 favorites]


Nick Heil tries to understand why so many are signing up for the misery.

Eh, I think it's because you get all, "dirty", which makes you look like you accomplish a lot, but it's really not all that difficult or long of a race.

It's very accessible, so anyone in any sort of fitness can probably do it and they're held near large populations usually, so it's not even hard to get to. They're probably popular, because they make money for the event organizers who have found the right type of marketing to attract not-so-serious people to attend them.

It's all sort of weirdly contrived (which, all sport is, if you get down to it), but it doesn't make one a Spartan, or an Animal, or Machine, or a Green Beret or whatever adjective they decide to place on these participants.

It's not that we're all kids at heart, or whatever, or no one would pay money to do it - we'd just go out and do it. It's a little ego trip, for a small investment. Perhaps it's a way to let a little steam off of a usual workout routine that really has no specific goal in mind (no team sport, no race, just lifting weights, cardio, indoors) If that's your boat, go float.

To use something for comparison, there's many different other types of races where you essentially are given a map of the course that could span most of a state, or the entire country, so rules to go by - mostly self supported and told, "good luck!" without any sort of entry fee or winning prize. The shortest ones are done in mere days and are known as, "sprints", the longest ones take weeks and all international.

That's another type of boat, entirely. Perhaps I should do my own Mefi post on it. Good idea?
posted by alex_skazat at 6:19 PM on September 16, 2012 [3 favorites]


Oh God, this reminds me;

One of the most awkward feeling moments I've had this year was staring at the back of a guy's "warrior dash survivor" shirt at a 5k benifiting the families of fallen soldiers.
posted by raccoon409 at 8:13 PM on September 16, 2012 [1 favorite]


Perhaps I should do my own Mefi post on it. Good idea?

Great idea. Sounds fascinating.
posted by Nonsteroidal Anti-Inflammatory Drug at 11:17 PM on September 16, 2012


Whenever I start to think I'm a good person I watch an episode of Wipeout and try to keep myself from laughing.
posted by vicx at 12:55 AM on September 17, 2012


I did my first Spartan run last month. Good fun: who wouldn't want to climb ropes and get covered in mud?

Some random observations:

* It can be fairly macho, or rather some participants treat it as such. Some guys get really into the "manly men" part of it, complete with loud grunting and war-cries.

* In an odd way, I think it's best done as a team race: you can urge each other on, give advice and some obstacles seem difficult if you aren't assisted. (There's a wall climb that nearly defeated me.)

* At one point, I wondered if I was the only person there without a tattoo. And you guys without shirts - one might actually protect you against the nettles and barbed wire.

* There were a lot of people of very modest fitness doing the race and they all completed.

* So. Much. Mud.

* Most people have a few cuts and bruises at the end.

* Some of the obstacles seemed a little misjudged to me. There was one point late in the race where you had to run up a narrow plank into a hut and I was keenly aware that one slip would result in a nasty fall. And crawling through an ice bath while receiving electric shocks? Not sure that was a good idea ...
posted by outlier at 1:33 AM on September 17, 2012


Whenever I start to think I'm a good person I watch an episode of Wipeout and try to keep myself from laughing.

Wipeout is a different sort of thing to me, because it really seems incredibly unfair. I can look at Sasuke/Ninja Warrior and see something achievable -- something that people who really want to get into it, train hard, and try repeatedly can actually get far in. Wipeout, on the other hand, seems like an excuse to gawk at people getting smacked in the face repeatedly while attempting obstacles that no amount of training could prepare you for.
posted by tocts at 8:08 AM on September 17, 2012


Some of the obstacles seemed a little misjudged to me.

There were one or two places on the racecourse I ran that seemed to edge into Actually Dangerous territory, up from the Fake Dangerous level that most of them were.

One of the obstacles in the race that I ran was a sandbag carry; you were given a 50 lb (or so) sandbag and had to carry it through a short obstacle course that involved fallen logs, going up and down rocks, steep hillsides, etc. One of these was a 5' drop. Apparently, earlier in the day, a number of people decided to jump down the 5 feet with the sandbag on their shoulders, and broke legs / ankles as a result. (When I went through, they had someone standing there instructing everyone to toss the sandbag down first, then jump after it and pick it up.)

I thought that was interesting, because it's not an obvious hazard, like barbed wire or flaming bales of hay or a cargo net that goes up 20' in the air. It's a relatively short drop and I can see how someone might decide to go for it without thinking. And that's where people seemed to be getting hurt, not on the actual obstacles (which at least cause you to think "hey, this is supposed to be a challenge, let me think about how to get through it...") but on fallen trees, holes in the ground, sharp rocks, and other more innocuous stuff. The idea of a race with defined "obstacles" seemed to lull some people into complacency about anything that wasn't obviously supposed to be a challenge.

These are white-collar guys and gals who have not really ever struggled in their lives. I think it hits at the same part of the brain Fight Club did. The part that is all-too-painfully aware of the relatively complacent life you live and wants desperately to prove you're different than all of the other junk-food-eating couch potatoes out there.

This is probably pretty true. Although part of the reason why the races tend to be white-collar is that they're stupidly expensive compared to most other athletic activities. The Super Spartan was something like $150 to enter, plus another fee for insurance, plus parking, plus bag check fees, plus expensive food at the end if you didn't BYO. All told, they probably had gotten about $200 a head out of most people, for a race that takes 2-3 hours to run depending on your fitness level. And there's a not-insubstantial risk of injury (at least perceived, if not actual), which is a big disincentive if you don't have health insurance, or if your job requires that you show up un-injured and ready to perform physical labor on Monday morning.
posted by Kadin2048 at 8:57 AM on September 17, 2012 [2 favorites]


I've done the MudRun at Camp Pendleton three times. It really isn't as hard as it sounds. If you run at the middle of the crowd (or at the end, like your humble scribe), there is *always* a bottleneck for each obstacle. So that means that you get a 5-10 minute break after every mile, no matter how rough.

There are many cool things about it, but the one that stands out is that all along the way, there are plenty of Marines and Navy corpsmen. If someone falls or gets hurt, or whatever, there is someone available. And while I am paying to be there, they are standing there, waiting for me to fall while doing something stupid. On their weekend.

The Badwater run sounds insane. I looked at the website several years ago. There was an advice section. The phrase that I recall most clearly was "If you have rust colored urine, that might be an indication of renal failure." None for me, thank you.
posted by dfm500 at 10:46 AM on September 17, 2012


Although part of the reason why the races tend to be white-collar is that they're stupidly expensive compared to most other athletic activities.

But I think part of the reason they can be this expensive is because it appeals the most to the demographic that will pay for it. I know a few real blue-collar guys, hunting since they were kids, building their own bows and bait cannons, working construction or welding or in a machine shop. And to them a lot of this stuff is nonsense, like kids playing soldier. It's a bit like Urban Outfitters co-opting half-assed "Native American" themed clothing or the popularity of faux-farming villages among French aristocrats pre-Revolution. For the people who actually live the physical, survivalist lifestyle these movements glorify, all of the play-acting is seen as ranging from amusing to offensive.

This isn't to say people don't do these things just to get muddy and have fun, but the whole militant I'm-so-damn-tough-and-crazy message is a fundamental aspect of these marketing campaigns.
posted by schroedinger at 7:33 PM on September 17, 2012


to dovetail off some of the later comments about this being some kind of white collar projection of "Fight Club" like complacency ... my personal physical adventure over the last few years has been long distance endurance cycling. Like the earlier comment about marathon running, it's a tough sport, where cycling for 24+ hours leaves you physically and mentally shattered at the end, but isn't necessarily FB Photogenic in the way mud runs are. Our typical registration fees for the events are, like, $15 and that's just to cover processing fees to get our results sent to a club in France. Many times some of us will just 'do' the rides unofficially without paying anyone anything.

I remember talking with friends who've done Tough Mudder and just being amazed by the amount of fees that these events charge. Really? $100 for a t-shirt and beer? Can't you guys find someone's back yard and, dig a few trenches and fill it with water and light some logs on fire on your own? I keep thinking that there's a market opportunity out there for off-season ski resorts to set up a persistent obstacle run in the same way that old warehouses have been converted into climbing gyms.
posted by bl1nk at 9:11 AM on September 18, 2012


there's a market opportunity out there for off-season ski resorts to set up a persistent obstacle run in the same way that old warehouses have been converted into climbing gyms.

At least in New England, a lot of the "mud runs" are done on ski resorts during the summer. Killington hosts the Spartan; Sunday River hosts the Tough Mountain; Mt. Snow does the Tough Mudder... I'm sure there are others, those are just the big-name ones that I was able to find. Many of the races originate in New England, and I think that easy access to venues (in the form of off-season ski resorts) where you can construct an obstacle course and not have anybody mind, is a big part of it.

The idea of having a permanent course set up is pretty interesting though, and I'm not sure of any place that does that commercially. Certainly there are places that have static obstacle courses -- the military "O-courses" that the Spartan et al basically simulate -- set up, but they're typically shorter and don't have the mud/fire/etc. But there's certainly a market, if only for people who are training or contemplating doing one of the big-name mud runs and want to try a few of the obstacles without as much pressure.
posted by Kadin2048 at 11:30 AM on September 18, 2012


Like the earlier comment about marathon running, it's a tough sport, where cycling for 24+ hours leaves you physically and mentally shattered at the end, but isn't necessarily FB Photogenic in the way mud runs are.

Dang dude, props to you, that shit is intense. From what I've read about them the truly brutal races like the 24-hour rides, ultramarathons, etc tend to involve occasional psychosis, loss of bodily functions, and/or consciousness, and nearly always the end of race pictures look like zombies coming in. Because when you go through truly physically and mentally challenging tests of endurance you do not come out looking like you had fun and are ready to pose for completion shots.
posted by schroedinger at 8:53 PM on September 18, 2012




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