What’s All the Hype?
Obstacle course races (OCR) and mud runs are undeniably special. There’s often a choice of either a challenge or a race mentality – grow in athletic confidence and personal mental development or claim your victory.
Frequently, you’ll find an emphasis on teamwork and camaraderie, with opportunities to meet new people. Experience something new close to home or travel – around the country or the globe. There’s something satisfying about getting dirty – literally.
For those that aren’t yet the athletes at the level they want to be, the training for these events is motivation to push yourself further. Regardless of your athletic level, these events build confidence and ability. It’s similar to adding training weights or a training mask. Road competitors often comment how much easier their next race is after an OCR or mud run.
Here are a few of the most popular events, but keep in mind this is just the tip of the mud-berg – there’s a race/event out there for everyone.
Athletic level: “couch potato – extreme athletes”
Focus: challenge yourself, be active, and get muddy. Afterward, celebrate with beer, food, and live music.
This is designed to be a 5k obstacle race and fund-raiser that anyone can start – everyone can finish. Partnered with St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital, it has raised almost $15 million at the time of publishing. Each event strives to increasingly unique and challenging than the previous one with innovative themes and twists. Finish the day with a festival.
Distance: Varies (standard is 10-12 miles)
Obstacles: 20 (for original Tough Mudder)
Athletic level: “Test your fitness – train beforehand”
Focus: Team-oriented camaraderie fitness challenge
Challenge series is 10 miles, 20 obstacles. Also available, a 5k (10 obstacles), a half (5 miles, 13 obstacles), and a Mini Mudder (1 mile, ages 7-12).
While Tough Mudder exists as a challenge event with no winner, and no clock to race against they also offer a competitive race series that starts with the standard 10-mile timed. The race series also has an 8-hour challenge that goes through the night, and a 24-hour event too. Finally, the race series offers the Tough Mudder X – one mile billed as “the toughest mile on the planet.”
Distance: 9-12 miles
Obstacles: 36+ military-style (about every ¼ mile)
Athletic level: “functionally fit”
Focus: Challenge yourself, experience camaraderie, finish exhausted but successful
Created and operated by the Navy Seals, this event is guaranteed to foster camaraderie. You can bring a team, or form one at the event, but you’ll not succeed by yourself. You will, however, grow personally. You’ll become a better athlete that’s more confident about accomplishing what you set your mind to – and dig in for.
There’s a special emphasis on family too. Navy Seals spend significant time away from their families. Like many obstacle events, there’s a kids area where they can play in the mud and on scaled down obstacles.
Distance: Varies (3-14 miles)
Obstacles: 20-60+ (based on race type)
Athletic level: Complete fitness level (cardiovascular + strength + mobility)
Focus: Many different levels to challenge everyone
3-5 miles / 20-23 obstacles
8-10 miles / 24-29 obstacles
12-14 miles / 30-35 obstacles
30 miles / 60+ obstacles
First-timers and health-focused to runners and triathletes
Athletes “ready to test themselves”
“Only for the brave few”
Spartan also offers endurance events – Ultra, Hurricane Heat (HH), HH 12 Hour, and Agoge. These events are not for the faint of heart and are designed to push you past your limits.
A Stadium Sprint event is designed for 3.1 miles with no mud, water, or barbed wire. Billed as appropriate for “first-timers” to “CrossFit and parkour athletes.”
The youth offering includes Jr Spartan for ages 4-9, Varsity Spartan for ages 10-13.
How to Avoid Injuries
Obstacle course races and mud runs aren’t necessarily more dangerous, but they do lend themselves to some common types of injuries, especially rotator cuff, knee, and ankle injuries.
Start by educating yourself. Attend a particular organizer’s events first as a spectator. You’ll get a feel for how physically demanding it is and what types of obstacles you need to navigate. Most organizers offer training guidance on their website because they want you to avoid injuries too.
Train. Take what you’ve learned as a spectator and an Internet student and put it to use. Spend plenty of time training, especially if you’re not as fit as you need to be. If you’re challenging your athletic level make sure you’re signed up for a race that gives you the time you need. You’re less likely to be injured on obstacles you’ve successfully learned to navigate.