The Fit Life, LLC

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Updated: Mud, Sweat, Obstacles and Beer: A review of "Mud" Runs

Updated for the 2014 season! I will continue to update this blog as we continue to do the races. Updates are in red

Obstacle races full of mud (with a free beer at the finish) are all the rage these days. And I have to admit, the spouse and I are addicts. We love the muddy obstacle races. It takes the boredom out of plain ol' pavement runs and adds the extra elements of navigating hilly trails--and of course, there's the mud. Who doesn't like to get a little dirty?? (Okay, a lot of people...but we do)!

Below is a review of the mud/obstacle races we've done. I've included the venue for each one (knowing that the same race in a different venue could be an entirely different adventure). I invite you to add reviews of any other races you've done in the comments. I will continue to add reviews as I run more races.

My hope is that people considering a mud race (or a new mud race) will check out this blog to help make their decision. (If you disagree with my review, feel free to add your two cents.)

I will list the races in no particular order, other than the longer ones are at the end. At the end, I have posted what I consider to be good mud race etiquette and training tips. Feel free to add your own in the comments.

Muddy Buddy (Chicago, IL and Richmond, VA)
(I haven't done a Muddy Buddy in several years, so it may have changed a bit. If you've done one recently, please feel free to comment.)
The Muddy Buddy was my first exposure to the mud race. It was love at first sight! I've done the event twice in Richmond and twice in Chicago. I've competed in both the women's wave and the coed wave. The Muddy Buddy combines mountain biking, trail running and obstacles. The courses tend to be about 7 miles long. One teammate starts on foot, the other on bike. Both go about a mile (until you come to the first obstacle). The bike person leaves the bike, does the obstacle, and then starts out on foot for the next mile. The runner does the obstacle, picks up the bike and rides the next mile. You continue in this fashion until you both arrive at the final mud pit. You "swim" through the pit together and finish the race as a team.

Pros: Both the Richmond and Chicago venues are great--plenty of hilly trails, mud and water. The obstacles are fun. While it helps if you and your partner have similar fitness levels, you don't have to be the same pace--and it still works out. Both places had camping. One was held at a park with a campground. The other they allowed camping in a big field.

Cons: Cons were few...Some of the trails are single track which is fun for running/riding; however, you end up with bottlenecks because some folks are walking up the hills while bikes are trying to get through.The course can get really congested. Second (and honestly, I'm not sure how they could do this any differently), they break the race off into different waves: female/female, male/male, and coed. And within those waves, they separate you by age. So if you go with a group of friends, you could all be running at different times.

Warrior Dash (Logan, OH/Carrollton, OH/Butler, OH)
You can count on the Warrior Dash for a fun, dependable mud race. The courses are all 5k ish. If you want to run it by yourself, the obstacles are doable without teammates. Warrior Dashes typically provide plenty of hills, trails and mud (although the course for the recent Grand Rapids, MI Warrior Dash was fairly flat and mostly pavement). They are well-organized with an after race band, food and beverage.

Pros:Warrior Dashes are a great intro to the world of mud races. They are fun, well-organized, reasonably priced, and you can do it on your own. The obstacles are not hard enough that you need a teammate.

Cons: This is a popular race--so there tends to be bottlenecks on the course. If you are a strong runner (especially on hills) get to the front of your wave, so you don't get trapped behind people walking on the first hill (and if you plan to walk the first hill, please don't shove to the front of the wave). The "shower-off" areas tend to be gross. For example, they will have a fire hose spraying you in a muddy field. Or cold hoses to wash yourself down with--in a muddy area. So it's hard to get even somewhat clean.If they had changing tents at the last one--we couldn't find them. So we had to do the sly change using towels, out by the car.Watch for poison ivy on the course. Twice after Warrior Dashes I have ended up with poison ivy on my tushy!

Warrior Dash 2014 (Millfield, OH)
You know how they say television shows "Jump the Shark"? Well, I think the Warrior Dash has "Jumped the Shark." I believe it has become more about making money, and less about having a quality event. I was already a bit soured on Red Frog events because I was so disappointed in their very much touted Iron Warrior last year (see review below). But, I've always enjoyed their shorter Warrior Dash, so the hubby and I thought we would give it another go.

About three days before the event, we found out it wasn't being timed this year. I'm not saying they didn't mention that during sign-up. They may have. But if they did, we missed it. We would not have signed up if we had known it wasn't timed. I'm all for people going to one of these races just to have fun; however, we go to these races to see where we place in our age group. That's what makes it fun for us.

Apparently, not being time had folks so unmotivated, they didn't even run out of the starting gate--they walked! So if you actually wanted to get a good run in, it was near impossible because of all the walkers. And since it wasn't timed, the walkers did not bother to start at the back of the starting gate. 

I believe they were trying to modernize packet pick-up with modern technology like I-Pads; however, it made a colossal mess of pick-up--with lines at a standstill for a good hour. We missed our wave time--not that it mattered since nobody had timing chips. 

Even their competitive wave wasn't timed. They just took the top 25 finishers of each sex and offered them a free entry into the Warrior World Championship race. (Of course, they did not offer them airfare or lodging). And if their World Championship is anything like the Iron Warrior, I want no part of it. 

So as not to leave this review on a totally bad note: The course was still well-done with nice obstacles. And they did offer free, high quality photos.

So, after four or five years of doing a Warrior Dash, we will say goodbye to this race. 

Pretty Muddy (Mad River Mountain, Zanesfield, OH)
The Pretty Muddy is a fairly new, women-only mud race. It's a nice thought for women who may be intimidated when thinking about a mud race. The terrain was tough--it was on a small ski hill. So you had plenty of hills. The event is not timed--the idea being that it's just for women to have fun and bond. The obstacles were, in my opinion, kind of lame. Like they dumbed down typical mud race obstacles because it was just women (i.e. running through a plastic tunnel filled with beach balls and bubbles, a small tarp slide that they kept spraying soap on so you would actually slide on it).

The Pretty Muddy is a nice idea. And for some ladies, it's probably a great race. It wasn't for me. I want to be timed so I can see my improvement each year and judge how well I did. And I want obstacles that really challenge me. It's not one I will repeat. On the plus side, they had nice little private changing rooms set up! That's a first for the mud races I've done.

Pros: Bonding with other women. Private changing rooms, decent wash-off area. Tough Terrain. Well-organized. No lines at the obstacles.

Cons: Obstacles not challenging enough. Not timed. You have to be careful running on the slopes. There are often large holes. You could easily sprain an ankle (or worse) if you're not careful. You can't compete against the men!

Mudathlon (Cincinnati)

The Mudathlon is comparable to the Warrior Dash--with the Cinci location being a little less hilly. You can easily do this one without a team--the obstacles are doable on their own. It's pricey for a 5k mud race, but well-organized with a nice setting for before and after the race. The wash-off area was a moving stream--which was kind of nice. You could actually get fairly clean. It's a good starter mud race if you just want to see what it's all about. This is also one many people do just for fun (meaning they just walk it with a bunch of friends).

Pros: Fun. Nice obstacles. Great slide! For us, it's not far from home. Good for beginners or to do with a group of friends.

Cons: Expensive for a 5k mud race. Congested. If you are going for time, there are so many people doing it "just for fun" that it's just about impossible to get a good time. In fact, people actually think you are odd for running it. I heard comments like, "Geez...she's actually running it." Or, "Why are they running?" For this reason, we skipped this one this season. We even tried to solve this by signing up for the very first wave; however, they then added earlier waves, so our plan went down the drain.

Mud Ninja (South Salem, OH) The Mud Ninja is only offered in the one location, one weekend a year. But it's my FAVORITE of the 5k length mud races. If you've done the other 5k races, and you want to kick it up a notch, sign up for the Mud Ninja. The terrain is very tough--as are the obstacles. It's good to have a team for this one. There are some walls that are tough to get over without teammates. However, if you are doing it solo, people will help you with the obstacles. The obstacles and terrain are on par with the longer races like Tough Mudder and Spartan, but with a 5k length.

Pros: Many. Tough obstacles. Tough terrain. Helpful people on the course. Very few bottlenecks on the course (this past year there was one obstacle they were having trouble with. Apparently, it was closed down shortly after we went through. There was one bottleneck up a steep climb, but people were letting those who paid for a timed wave I didn't have to wait). That's another nice offering with this race--you can pay for a timing chip if you want to be timed or do it without being timed--your choice. The Pretty Muddy might want to consider this option.

Cons: There's just the one--and it's only one weekend a year. But I believe it's only in its second year, so it could grow. You may not want to start with this as your first mud race. Start with a Warrior Dash or Mudathlon.

Mudstash 5k & Mudstash 10k (Perfect North Slopes, Lawrenceburg, IN)

 This is another mud race that just has the one location; however, they do offer it a few times over the summer. One awesome thing they offer that the others do not is a night time Mudstash. You navigate the course wearing a headlamp--which adds a nice challenge. Both the 5k and 10k are great races. You are on a ski slope much of the time (especially for the 10k) so it's definitely hilly. When you are not on the slopes, you are in a fabulous woodsy area...navigating streams, natural stone tunnels. Nice obstacles. My favorites are the slide and the Tarzan rope across a stream.

Pros: They offer a night race. Great terrain--very challenging. Good obstacles. The best wash-off area of all the races I've done. They even have a heated indoor shower trailer. We didn't even use them because they outside hose area was so nice. The water was actually a comfortable temperature. Since it's at a ski area, you can utilize the lodge (and even its snack bar) before and after the race. Instead of offering you the standard t-shirt and free beer, they include a Perfect North gift card with the entry fee (you can upgrade for a higher amount). You can use it to buy a t-shirt if you want (or a beer). Since we ski there, we save left-over money for ski season. They actually offer very reasonably priced photos! Good photos. The downloads are around $4. Oh, and they use the snow makers to shoot out water during the race, which is fabulous if the run is on a hot day.

Cons: The only con I can think of is that attendance seemed to be down this year, so I hope this one doesn't disappear. As long as it continues, we will repeat this one each year. This year we did both the night time race and the 10K daytime race.

Savage Race:
I was signed up for the Savage Race, but unfortunately, suffered a concussion a few days
before it. So I went as an observer, but wasn't able to run it. So, my husband (who did run it) provided the following review:

The Savage race is a 5+ mile obstacle race with 25 obstacles. Many of the obstacles are fairly simple that most people can do with little to no training. The Savage race does have a few difficult obstacles that are a bit different from other obstacle races, which makes this race unique and fun. The Savage race is a good mix of easy and not so easy obstacles, making it a good choice for all types of athletes. I ran this particular race in Ohio at Mad River Mountain ski slopes. This wasn't the best venue for this type of race. The elevation change was excellent, but the ski hills were covered with high grasses, thorny bushes and had many hidden large rocks and holes, making running quite treacherous. If you like getting shocked, you'll love the tazed obstacle. Tazed delivered the most powerful shocks I've received at an obstacle race. 

 Pros: Fun obstacles (with the exception of tazed - that was just annoying) 

 Cons: $10 spectator fee, rough terrain at Mad River Mountain, seriously charged live wires

Last year I didn't get to do this race because I got a bonk on the head a few days before and ended up with a concussion. This year, I sprained my ankle (I may be a tad accident prone) two weeks before, but I was able to run it! Great race. They changed the course up this year with a whole new section across from the ski hill. Quality, challenging race. Well organized. I will admit I skipped the Tazed obstacle (and I'm not one to skip obstacles). I just worry with the past concussion that I'll do something bad to my brain. And I remember my husband telling me that the wires at this race were far more powerful than those at the Tough Mudder--and I thought those were bad enough. So I get a few wimp points for skipping the wires. Maybe next year when the concussion is a far away memory. 

Cons: I will point out a few cons to the race. You really have to watch your footing. There are many ruts/holes on the course. Train hills! They run you straight up the ski slopes several times. And finally, their pictures are very expensive. I believe a single electronic file was around $25.

Tough Mudder (Maysville, KY): Now we're into the endurance races--where you not only face some
tough obstacles and terrain, but you put in the distance as well. We did the Tough Mudder in Kentucky in October. You just never know what weather you'll have in the Midwest in October. We had temps in the lower 40s. And one of the first obstacles you go through is the ice water (large bins filled with ice and water. You swim under a barrier and then come out the other side). So needless to say, this was a cold race. That being said, it was still awesome. For me (and others will disagree) the two hardest parts of this race were the cold (we were in and out of water obstacles all day), and the live wires. I HATE the live wires. I would do this challenge again in a heart beat if it weren't for the live wires. Others I've talked to tell me they are no big deal.

The Tough Mudder is not timed (unless you are in an elite group). The idea is using teamwork to complete the race. So why is it okay for this race and not the Pretty Muddy? Because just getting through this race is a pretty decent accomplishment--not so much with the Pretty Muddy. The obstacles are tough and require teamwork. You need to be comfortable in water over your head. You need to be able to run 10+ hilly miles on trails. 

The Tough Mudder was tough. I was bruised and worn out the next day, which is what makes it a successful event for me. Even though I swore I would never do this race again (because of the ice water and live wires), we're actually pondering the Mansfield, OH race next year. 

Pros: Great terrain. Great obstacles. Very challenging. Course marshals all over and ready to help. Bathrooms on the course.

Cons: The bag check area was not organized. So as we finished the race cold and tired, we then had to stand in line for over a half an hour waiting to get our bag so we could dry off and change. That was our biggest complaint of the race. Pricey. And they charge for spectators and to park. 

Spartan (Indiana)
The Spartan has several different variations of their race--the Spartan Sprint, the Spartan Super, and the Spartan Beast. We participated in the Spartan Sprint which was 5.7 miles long. The Super and the Beast are longer. You can read about all of their events on the website.   

Terrain and challenge-wise, the Spartan is comparable to the Tough Mudder. You could get by without teammates, but having a team helps. One area where they differ: If you fail an obstacle or choose not to do one, you must do Burpees! I like this because it levels the playing field a bit. I'm always a little sore when somebody who skips obstacles finishes in front of me. If you're claustrophobic or something and need to skip an obstacle, that's fine; however, you should have to do something while others are completing the obstacle. Of course, it's not a perfect system. People still managed to skirt obstacles and Burpees. 

Next year, the hubby and I plan to complete the Spartan Trifecta--the Sprint, Super and Beast! (I'm even considering taking the Spartan Coach training to fulfill my personal training CEU's for next year. 

Pros: Great course. BURPEES! Reasonable cost. Great pictures. Many venues (at least for the Sprint...the others are harder to find one near you).   

Cons: Well, some might say the Burpees. I'm not really coming up with any cons right now. It was out in the middle of nowhere--with no hotels to be found. So we did have to drive in that morning. But the Spartan is a great race. 

We participated in the Spartan Sprint outside of Indianapolis again this year. Just two of us on the team this time--and somehow we managed to get separated. But still a quality, challenging race. In fact, this year I had to do more Burpees than last year! We are doing the Spartan Trifecta this year (Sprint, Super and Beast), so I will update the blog when the Super and Beast are complete. 

The Iron Warrior (Grand Rapids, MI)
I saved this one for last for a reason. And no, it was NOT a case of saving the best for last. It's actually the opposite. This was, by far, the worst adventure race we have done. And the real bummer is that we signed up months in advance, and looked forward to this race all summer. We trained hard! Maybe they nailed it in the other locations, but this one was a big thumbs down!

The Iron Warrior is put on by Red Frog--the same company that puts on the Warrior Dash. In fact, they had a Warrior Dash running at the same time. If you look on their website, the obstacles look really cool. And a few of them were. Many others on the website were non-existent at the race. 

The Iron Warrior was billed as the ultimate adventure race. 15.6 miles of pavement, sand, trails and obstacles. I would guess about 14 miles of the race was on flat pavement. And obstacles were sparse. When you did finally hit an obstacle, they would put two or three in a it would be obstacle, obstacle, obstacle, then three to four miles of running. It was honestly more like a half marathon with an obstacle thrown in here and there. 

Here's my souvenir from the race: 
A lovely stress fracture, toe joint sprain and a neuroma from running most of the race on pavement in old shoes (everybody knows you wear your old shoes to mud races). Plus, we trained all hilly trails. I actually ran on the side of the road (in the grass) anywhere I could to get some relief. I kept seeing the woods and the river throughout the course and kept thinking, "Why? Why? Why aren't you taking us through there instead of on this road??"

Pros: Hmmmmm....pretty scenery. It was fun to stay in Grand Rapids for the night, and see the dunes the next day.

Cons: See above.

Iron Warrior - Grand Rapids, MI - A. Big. Thumbs. Down.

Mud Race Tips and Etiquette
  • Wear old shoes and clothes. (Of course, this tip came back to haunt me in that last race). But during most adventure races you will be sloshing through streams and mud. 
  • Bring a comfy change of clothes, a clean towel...and maybe a big beach towel to change behind if there are no changing rooms. 
  • I think it's great that people do these races just to have a good time with friends; however, if that's your goal, please do not walk three + people across the trail--blocking the path for those who are trying to get a good time. Both goals are fine--just be courteous to everyone.
  • On the same token, if you plan to do the race "just for fun" or if you're with a huge group of people of varying paces, do not line up at the very front of the corral. Let the people going for time get to the front. Many of the races start on a big hill--which many folks tend to walk. The ones who want to run get caught behind the crowd.
  • If you get to an obstacle and fear strikes--that's okay! You are awesome for trying to conquer your fears. However, please step aside until you build up your courage. Do not let a huge line form behind you while you deal with your inner demons. 
  • Even if you are doing the race for time, if you see someone who genuinely needs help (especially if they are hurt), help them.
  • If you need to skip some obstacles for whatever reason (i.e. claustrophobia, back issues, etc.) that's fine. But don't brag about your time or compare it to those who did every single obstacle. And if you happen to place, but you skipped half the obstacles, fess up--and give the place to the next person.
  • If you make a mess on the porta-potty seat, wipe it off!
  •  Training tip: train hills and trails. The majority of these races are exactly that--hills and trails. The more you train on this terrain, the better you'll get. 
  • Training tip: Work on your upper body strength. Monkey bars, walls, rope climbs...all utilize upper body strength. One thing I love about obstacle races is that they involve the whole body. Train more than just your run.
  •  If bruising upsets you, these races probably aren't for you. You are going to have bruises (battle scars) and a few scrapes and cuts. Wear them as a badge of courage.
  • If you are running as a team, discuss your strategy ahead of time. Are we all staying together no matter what? Are we agreeing if some of you poop out, the rest of us can go ahead? Are we trying for a good time or just having fun? This will save hard feelings during and after the race.

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I am the owner of The Fit Life, LLC. The Fit Life, LLC offers fitness instruction and nutrition counseling in a holistic way. I focus on personal training using mainly your own body strength--very little equipment. I also hold a certification in holistic nutrition. Because nutrition counseling regulations are very strict in Ohio, I'm still working on what nutrition services I can provide to my clients; however, I'm happy to provide general nutrition information. I enjoy teaching TRX, Indoor Cycling, and Boot Camps.