As more of us are exploring our capabilities as runners, there is a growing trend to get even closer to our roots. Maybe we aren’t running down big game animals for dinner, but for a lot of runners simply running over a paved course for a specific distance isn’t enough. Feats of strength and agility, dealing with extreme discomfort, overcoming fear and going for a run are the thrills we seek.
As more of us are exploring our capabilities as runners, there is a growing trend to get even closer to our roots.
Maybe we aren’t running down big game animals for dinner, but for a lot of runners simply running over a paved course for a specific distance isn’t enough. Feats of strength and agility, dealing with extreme discomfort, overcoming fear and going for a run are the thrills we seek.
By the thousands, athletes gather to take the challenge of a new breed of races that range from novelty fun runs to hardcore Navy Seal worthy events.
From The Color Run to the Spartan Death Race, there is something for everyone. Want to try it? Here’s a primer based upon my experience starting with the easier to the, well, craziest.
The Color Run
Though certainly not your average road race, this fun run isn’t going to test your outer limits. The first hint is that everyone is asked to wear white. This 5K jog attracts thousands of participants wearing brilliant white outfits at the start. Along the way, runners and walkers pass color stations, where volunteers throw colored powder at the participants.
Each station dyes the white outfits with a different non-toxic, edible powder. At the finish line, the crowd is sporting a tie-dye look that you might expect at a Grateful Dead concert. A big party is held at the finish line where the newly dyed celebrate, well, being different. I’ll be running my first Color Run in a few weeks, and I think it’s going to be good, clean fun.
Preparing for the Color Run? Get sunglasses or swim goggles to keep the dye out of your eyes. Now let’s talk about getting dirty.
Obstacle racing features running, tests of strength, tests of courage and lots of mud. The shorter sprint varieties are typically 5Ks, and the obstacles range from easy to moderately challenging, and the good news is that you can always elect to decline any obstacle that appears to be over your capabilities. Longer events increase the endurance and strength requirements with obstacles that are moderate to hard core.
The Warrior Dash, Rugged Maniac
Among the entry level events are The Warrior Dash and Rugged Maniac. Both events are 5K in length and have a dozen or more obstacles that require navigating through lots of muddy sections.
Expect to scale walls varying in height from 4- to 10-feet or more, and your competitive counterparts may help you over a wall when necessary. Always included is the more dramatic and fun barbed wire crawl through mud. You are likely to encounter an obstacle that requires climbing a cargo net, not terribly challenging physically, but it can make those who fear heights shake in their mud-filled shoes. Each event adds its own unique twist. You may find yourself sliding down a fire pole or slogging through a swamp.
Sometimes discretion is the better part of valor. My daughter and I ran a Rugged Maniac event that we thoroughly enjoyed and found most of the obstacles pretty easy. Near the finish line, we were informed of an optional obstacle called the Superman Leap. The volunteer warned us that it was dangerous, and there had been a few leg fractures. It was highly recommended to skip it. Of course, we chose to take the leap.
The Superman Leap was running down a slope to a launching ramp about 15-feet above a water hazard. The landing pad was 20-feet across the water, and it looked like a mighty small target as we ran down the slope.
While flying through the air, there was plenty of time to realize how crazy our decision was. We hit the landing mat, and though we survived we agreed that would be the last leap of faith at Rugged Maniac.
A short time later, we made the jump officials close that obstacle due to numerous injuries. And, yes, my wife did get a video of us flying through the air.
Preparing for Warrior Dash or Rugged Maniac
Upper body strength training should be added to your regular routine. Getting over walls and crawling through mud requires a different set of muscles than running. The right gear is also important. Costumes are encouraged, so go wild if you wish, but think about a pair of gloves like those used for gym workouts, and trail shoes to help with mud running. For those who have tried them, the Vibram Five Fingers work remarkably well.
Be sure to bring a change of clothes and shoes, plenty of towels (not your finest linens) and plenty of money because you’ll want to buy lots of gear commemorating your accomplishment.
The next step up is the Spartan Sprint. Though only a bit longer, about 4.5 to 5 miles, the obstacles are much more demanding. Spartan events are less about running and more about brute strength. Expect obstacles that require carrying 25 to 50 pound sand bags up a steep hill, climbing a rope, scaling a rock climbing wall, long mud crawls under barbed wire and a leap through fire that will make for a great Facebook profile picture.
The final obstacle is getting past the Gladiators, who use padded battle sticks to try to knock you off your feet before crossing the finish line. Though the obstacles are demanding, there is a very strong team spirit that asks Spartans to help Spartans.
Additional training for a Spartan Sprint
Get to the gym. Upper body strength is needed, and it helps to be tall. Unfortunately, I haven’t figured out how to get taller.
For many who have experienced the sprint variety of obstacle races, the fire is lit and the hunt is on for bigger challenges.
The Super Spartan doubles the distance and number of obstacles found in the Spartan Sprint, and it is the gateway to the big boys, Tough Mudder and Spartan Beast.
Tough Mudder is over 10 miles of endurance running, while being made as uncomfortable as possible. The classic New England event is held at Mt. Snow in Vermont in May where the average temperature is 50 and the ice is just out of the ponds. This is a non-timed event that strongly recommends teamwork. This event brings tribal running to a higher level, and the prize is getting your team to the finish line.
The race begins with a climb over a 10-foot wall just to get to the start corral. At the gun start, the race runs directly up Mt. Snow where at the top the first mud crawl under the barbed wire is encountered. The good news is that the run up and down the mountain shakes off the early morning chill. The bad news is that upon reaching the base you jump into a dumpster that has been filled with water and ice, and requires a full submersion to get out the other end.
The race continues up and down the mountain numerous times with obstacles that are designed to test your nerve and ability to withstand discomfort. One of the more memorable obstacles requires climbing a 15-foot platform and jumping into the 43-degree pond below. A second barbed wire crawl adds dangling electric wires that are a shocking reminder to hurry through. A test of balance requires a walk across a 20-yard pool of ice-cold water while balancing on the edge of a two by eight board that wobbles as you attempt the Wallenda tight rope feat. There is a crawl through a totally dark underground tunnel that tests the claustrophobic fears of the bravest, and 12-foot walls to scale that require a full team effort.
Not bad enough for you? Then maybe the Spartan Beast is the choice.
The New England Spartan Beast is held at Killington Ski Area, so you can probably guess that mountain running is part of the challenge. The Beast is in excess of 12 miles, though the real challenge is less the running and more the obstacles. This event is a pure test of strength. In September, I’ll have my first opportunity to experience the Beast, and I have to confess a bit of apprehension.
Additional training for the Tough Mudder or Spartan Beast
You may want to consider a strength-training program at the local YMCA or your favorite gym.
Alternatives are the CrossFit program, Boot Camp programs or P90X. You might also want to purchase one of those shock and waterproof cameras. You’ll definitely want to capture the memories.
Spartan Death Race
Just in case that’s not enough, there is the Spartan Death Race. It is a 24-hour ordeal and only 10 percent of the entrants complete the race. The name was enough for me to say, “Nope!”
So, there you have it. Whether you are looking for some casual fun with an event like the Color Run, or you are up for a greater challenge there are plenty of options off the road and into the mud. We may not have to chase down big game for dinner, but you can certainly run the big game challenges. Gather a group of like-minded friends and go tribal. If you’re in a running rut, fill it with mud.
Tom Licciardello is a founding member of the Merrimack Valley Striders. Licciardello has participated in 35 Boston’s and 88 marathons. He has also completed the Hawaii Ironman triathlon. Professionally, he is a Certified Financial Planner and resides in North Andover with his wife, Lyn. He may be reached at email@example.com.