mud run

USMC Mud Run North Carolina 2010

All types of runners are going wild for mud runs. A mud run is a  hybrid of Marines training and adventure racing, the multi-mile events mix running and military-style obstacles such as wooden walls, water crossings, and mud pits to challenge competitors. These grimy races have exploded in popularity—hundreds of competitions are scheduled in 2011, and there’s still time to sign up for one near you. Here’s a guide to popular mud runs across the country.


The first mud races took place in Europe, with Britain’s Grim Challenge and Germany’s Strongman Run before they trickled across the pond to the United States. The Columbia Muddy Buddy Ride and Run Series, created in 1999, was one of the first of its kind to be held stateside. Now in its 12th year, the race has seen more than 130,000 participants slither through its course. Other start-ups followed, and today hundreds of runs are held year-round from California to Vermont.

According to Mud Run Central (, nearly 300 mud runs will take place during 2011. By year’s end, the state of Florida alone will have hosted 32 events. These mucky runs became popular because they tap into the action sports realm by combining a slew of endurance disciplines, making them appealing to everyone from 5-K runners to college fraternity boys to stay-at-home moms. (Don’t think you’re a mud run kind of mom?

Ready to get down and dirty? Prominent races like the Warrior Dash include nearly 7,000 competitors, so you’ll be in good company slogging through mud, swimming in icy water, and dashing through fire(!). Mud runs offer various competition categories—open, boots and utilities, individual, and team. There are no footwear and attire restrictions in the open section, but you’ll have to lace up your combat boots and buckle your utility trousers for some divisions. The difficulty level, length, and number of obstacles varies from race to race, so you should do some research before signing up; pre-race training isn’t required, but it’s generally recommended. Like traditional road races, there are age and gender breakdowns when you compete individually. Other races let you form multi-person teams.

Some mud runs limit the number of participants, so preregistration is a good idea. But most events welcome those who sign up the day of the event. Even if you’re not racing, fans and supporters are encouraged to attend. (Some races charge admission for non-competitors.) The minimum age to participate hovers around 12 to 14, depending on the race; some events sponsor kid-friendly mini-races. And in most cases, mud runs raise money for different charities.

Think you have what it takes to survive a mud run? Here are a few of our favorite options across the country.

Columbia Muddy Buddy Ride and Run (
This all-levels race features a course that spans 6 to 7 miles and contains five obstacles, including cargo nets and a 25-foot inflatable wall. The race features a staggered start; one team member begins biking, and the other starts running one minute later. At the first obstacle, the rider drops the bike, completes the obstacle, and then runs to the next one. The team member who was running then completes the first obstacle before biking, eventually passing his or her teammate, to the second challenge. Teams continue in this leapfrog style, but they crawl through the mud pit and cross the finish line together as official “muddy buddies.”

Fitness level: All
Dates: Remaining 2011 races include Portland, OR (Sept. 18), San Jose (Oct. 9), Dallas (Oct. 16), and Los Angeles (Nov. 6).
Competitors per team: 2
Price: $15 for Mini Muddy Buddy (children ages 4-13), $150 for 2-person team
Equipment required: One bike per team, biking helmets, and running shoes
Average race time: One hour
Charity: Challenged Athletes Foundation

Tough Mudder (
Known as one of the most grueling mud races in the nation, Tough Mudder punishes participants with a gauntlet of 20 to 25 obstacles spread across a 10- to 12-mile route designed by British Special Forces. In addition to quintessential obstacles like cargo-net climbs and stream crossings, Tough Mudder entrants face flaming straw bales, greased monkey bars, and a mystery obstacle that’s unique to each race site. Finishing times aren’t clocked; the goal is simply to survive. There’s a 16-exercise cardio and strength-training program on the race’s website that will help you develop the strength and stamina necessary to cross the finish line.

Fitness level: Only 78% of participants finish, so excellent physical condition is recommended
Dates: The final stops of the 2011 tour include Squaw Valley, CA (Sept. 17 and 18), Paige, TX (Oct. 8 and Oct. 9), Wintergreen, VA (Oct. 22 and Oct. 23), Raceway Park, NJ (Nov. 12 and Nov. 13), Chicago/Indiana (Nov. 19 and Nov. 20), and Tampa, FL (Dec. 3 and Dec. 4)
Competitors per team: Both individual and team (any size) options
Price: $60-$180, depending on location and date
Equipment required: Running shoes, leather gloves (for ropes events), and a swim cap
Average race time: 2 hours and 30 minutes
Charity: Wounded Warrior Project

Spartan Race (
If you’re looking for variety, the Spartan Race should be your pick. Its wide range of events—including the Spartan Sprint (5-K with 10 obstacles), Super Spartan (8-plus miles with at least 15 obstacles), Spartan Beast (10 to 12 miles), and Spartan Death Race (lasts 24 hours and accepts only 200 participants)—all include elements of fire, mud, water, and an obstacle containing barbed wire. In addition to these staples, each race features venue-specific and terrain-inspired challenges. You’ll run through desert conditions in Arizona, ascend hills in New York, and wade through water crossings in Florida.

Fitness level: Above-average fitness recommended
Dates: The 2011 tour will hit Palmerton, PA (Sept. 10), Staten Island, NY (Sept. 24), Marseilles, IL (Oct. 15), Malibu, CA (Nov. 19), and Glen Rose TX (Dec. 3)
Competitors per team: Individual, 4-person, and 10-person (or more) team options
Price: $60-$70 for individual; $240-$270 for 4-person team; $50-$60 per person for team of 10 or more
Equipment required: Running shoes
Average race time: Forty-five minutes to one hour for the Spartan Sprint; 70 minutes to 2 hours and 30 minutes for the Super Spartan; at least 180 minutes for the Spartan Beast
Charity: Home for Our Troops and Help for Our Heroes

Warrior Dash (
One of the most popular mud runs nationwide—races held on Saturdays and Sundays usually draw an average of 20,000 participants—the Warrior Dash repertoire usually includes hustling up and over huge straw bales, stampeding through a junkyard of dilapidated cars, traversing wooden planks, and trudging through waist-deep water. The website includes three training programs—for the “Virgin Warrior,” “Casual Warrior,” and “Ultimate Warrior”—to prep you for the 3-plus-mile race.

Fitness level: All
Dates: Before wrapping up its 2011 season, the Warrior Dash will host races in Carrollton, OH (Sept. 10), North Plains, OR (Sept. 10 and 11), Manchester, TN (Sept. 17), Twin Lakes, WI (Sept. 17 and 18), Tulsa (Sept. 24), Charles City, VA (Oct. 1), Old Monroe, MO (Oct. 15), Hollister, CA (Oct. 29 and 30), Cedar Creek, TX (Nov. 19 and Nov. 20), and Deerfield Beach, FL (Dec. 3)
Competitors per team: Individual
Price: $40-$60, depending on date and location
Equipment required: Running shoes
Average race time: Between 30 minutes and one hour

Photo credit: Sam Knapp