By Pete Williams
It’s hard to pinpoint the reason for the booming popularity of obstacle mud runs. No doubt they tap into the growth of boot camps, running, and CrossFit, all of which have exploded in the last two years.
For some, the allure of such races is simply getting muddy and silly.
But after finishing fourth (out of 113) in my age group at the Savage Race on Saturday, I wonder if these races don’t also appeal to us jack-of-all-trades-master-of-none-types.
Admittedly, these races are not as competitive as triathlons. After all, a good chunk of an obstacle mud run field walks much of the course.
Still, these races require a versatile skill set. You must have a solid running base to navigate the course briskly and the strength and power to blow through the obstacles. Depending on the course, you might also need to know how to swim (like the Savage Race), throw a spear or fire a gun (the Spartan Race).
Having trained with endurance athletes from all walks of life, it’s fair to make some generalizations:
1. Runners and triathletes lack strength. They have tremendous endurance, but they struggle with climbing walls, carrying buckets of sand and gravel, and hurling heavy objects.
2. CrossFitters and other gym rats typically lack cardio endurance. They have awesome anaerobic power and have no problem with the obstacles, but they’re going to take more time traveling between them.
3. Triathletes are prima donnas who whine when they can’t buy their way into faster times with more expensive equipment and know exactly what the course will entail. (Easy now. Just kidding.)
4. Way too few people know how to swim properly. (This isn’t just about racing. It’s about saving your life.)
For those of us who do a little of everything fairly well – but nothing at an elite level – the obstacle mud run is a godsend. If you could design an ideal obstacle mud run male athlete, he’d be a guy with a strong background both in running and core/strength training who perhaps has done some sprint and Olympic-distance triathlons and dabbled in CrossFit and Pilates. He’d have a hybrid physique, lean but not too bulky. Figure 5-foot-10 and 170-175 pounds.
I think I know a guy like that!
Not sure I’m bullish on obstacle mud runs for the longterm. The field already is flooded – not just literally – and part of the attraction is the unexpected. Will people be gung-ho to run a race for the second or third time knowing it can be only so different? Muddy Buddy got away with trotting out the same course annually until mixing it up this year, but now that the field has mushroomed athletes expect more.
For now, it’s an interesting phenomenon to watch — especially when you’ve finally found your calling.