Tip #1: Wear clothes you don't mind getting caked in mud. Tip #2: Dig out an old pair of running shoes. Tip #3: Strap them on tight with a few turns of duct tape.
Now you're ready to tackle one of the many mud runs or obstacle races coming to the greater Madison area.
Obstacle racing shares a lineage with military-style fitness training courses. The races test athletes' endurance, speed and strength with grueling courses and beastly obstacles that can include fire, electricity and barbed wire.
While still challenging, mud runs bring obstacles to the masses. Madison hosted its first mud event in 2010 with about 470 participants. And the sport is growing. This adventurous blend of obstacle racing, cross-country running and traditional 5K road races appeals to a broad audience.
Mud-run courses typically range from three to four miles. The biggest obstacles during a road race or even a cross-country course might be puddles or an arduous hill climb. For mud runs, obstacles are the point: cargo nets, hay-bale walls, tunnel crawls, slip-and-slides, creek crossings and, of course, mud. Everywhere. Racers are guaranteed complete coverage in wet sticky goo by the end of the race.
On the inaugural Madison Mud Run in 2010, Sar Schnucker of Madison experienced the final muddy obstacle 200 feet from the finish line, a belly-crawl under banners suspended eight inches over a pit of soupy earth. "Cold mud splashed into my eyes, hair, ears and every piece of loose clothing," Schnucker remembers.
Every competitive level finds a niche at a mud event. Runners begin the course as part of a "wave" or group, starting at a specific time. This keeps competitors moving through the course without too much congestion at obstacles. Teams are encouraged, and costumes add to a carnival-like atmosphere, topped off with an after-race party. Not to worry about looking like a creature from a B-grade horror flick: Post-race showers or fire-hose splash-offs are available. Most events accommodate adult runners of all ages and abilities, while some are women-only. These female-centric events often emphasize camaraderie and personal challenge over leaving one's competitors in the mud; no need for timers here.
At last year's Dirty Girl women-only event in Hartland, Wis., newbie mud runner Erica King of Brookfield sensed the support. "I would never have felt the level of motivation, comfort and camaraderie that day if it wasn't for those women. Besides, you knew no one was judging you for having mascara, mud and sweat streaming down your face."
It was just this camaraderie that led four former UW Badgers triathletes, Luisa Bryce, Francis Donovan and Lauren and Brodie Birkel, to found LoziLu, which stages noncompetitive, women-only mud events. LoziLu encourages women at all fitness levels to start moving and have fun while doing it. "There are barriers to getting into triathlons for most people," says Donovan. "The bottom line is you have to start somewhere. We see a lot of first-timers who haven't done a 5K before."
There are a number of local mud runs and obstacle races over the next few months, for every level of ability and interest. So check out the sidebar on an upcoming event, do some wardrobe planning - and buy some duct tape.
Mud, Sweat and Beers
Aug. 25, Angell Park Speedway, Sun Prairie
New this year, Mud, Sweat and Beers completes a trifecta of Madison-area mud runs, all organized by Race Day Events. This coed timed event provides a challenging, hilly six-mile run over grass and dirt tracks with water crossings, tire obstacles, five-foot wall climbs, tunnel crawls, inflatable obstacles and, of course, the "mud pit." It costs $50 until Aug. 22 and $55 on race day. Capital Brewery will provide post-race beverages.