By Pete Williams
If it seems like no Florida running event is complete without mud, fire pits, and crazy obstacles, that’s because the genre has mushroomed in the Sunshine State for 2011.
Organizers of the Tough Mudder, Spartan Race, and Warrior Dash runs have expanded to Florida. The Florida Dirty Duo has branched out from its Sarasota roots, hosting an event near Tampa last weekend and adding a Miami date (May 8 ) to go with its annual Sarasota event (May 22).
Muddy Buddy expanded to Miami in November with its first-ever race at Zoo Miami to go with the annual spring event at ESPN’s Wide World of Sports near Orlando, which moves this year from Mother’s Day weekend to April 9. The second-annual Miami Muddy Buddy will be Nov. 20 and Competitor Group, owner of the series, reportedly is scouting for a third Florida location.
The proliferation of down-and-dirty adventure runs is a reflection of the overall running boom but also the desire on the part of many athletes to run off-road in less-competitive events that bring back the joy and silliness of childhood.
Such races typically combine 5K trail runs with Survivor-style obstacles, including at least one where getting muddy is inevitable. Such events are perfect for newcomers to running as well as hard-core endurance athletes looking for a diversion from heavy training.
“When you’re a kid your parents always told you to stay out of the mud,” says Thierry Rouillard, whose TNT Sports Marketing puts on the Florida Dirty Duo. “With these events it’s encouraged.”
Indeed, silliness is mandatory. At the Warrior Dash, which makes its debut this weekend in Lake Wales, participants receive a fuzzy warrior helmet for finishing a 5K course that includes a dozen obstacles, including navigating under barbed wire and leaping over fire. The series, which began in the Midwest in 2009, attracts more than 10,000 per event, some no doubt inspired by the one free post-race beer per person.
“The camaraderie and spirit is unlike anything I’ve ever seen at a race,” says Alex Yount, race director for the Warrior Dash. “At the same time, there are some obstacles that are extremely demanding.”
Tough Mudder, billed as “Burning Man meets Ironman” is the longest mud event at 7 miles and 18 obstacles, including several involving fire. Tough Mudder had not announced a specific Florida date, but organizers have committed to the Sunshine State for late 2011 or early 2012.
The Spartan Race is a scaled-down version of the legendary Death Race, the annual Vermont event considered the toughest endurance sport in the industry outside of the Tour de France.
If you’re inspired by the tale of King Leonidas and the brave 300, the 5K Spartan Race is for you. Designed to “test your resilience, strength, stamina and ability to laugh in the face of adversity,” it will debut in Florida in Miami on April 23.
“We knew people would talk about the Death Race but few would participate,” says Joe DeSena, who created both events. “The Spartan Race was meant to pull the rest of the world off the couch and get them dirty and living life.”
DeSena, a successful Wall Street trader who now operates several successful businesses in Vermont, launched the event in part to help fight the obesity epidemic.
“Look at the history of the Spartans,” he says. “They weren’t enamored with money, possessions, and lavish displays of food. They were very fit and we’d like to wake people up and return to that.”