|Time to get dirty|
Mud Runs: dig into the obstacle course craze that's taking over the West
By Jeff MacKinnon
Wanna be a kid again? Of course you do.
The rise in participation since it came to North America less than a decade ago shows that obstacle course racing is not just a fad, but a cultish craze that is here to stay.
“I have to say, it will probably be the maddest thing I’ve ever done. I can’t wait to have a go at it,” says Hazel Clark of Calgary, who is signed up for Mud Hero, which will take place July 22 at Rafter Six Ranch in Kananaskis Country.
Spartan Races will hold 5K obstacle course races May 12 in North Vancouver and Aug. 18 in Calgary, along with a 12K in Squamish, B.C., on Sept. 22. The epic Warrior Dash is Aug. 4 on Mount Seymour in North Vancouver.
And there’s the Tough Mudder, which makes its Canadian debut in Whistler June 23-24 and is really not for the faint of heart. Tough Mudder bills itself as “probably the toughest event on earth.”
Organizers say these events are popular because folks want a change from regular running events. Newcomers to obstacle course racing have at the finish line breathlessly told media observers of how much more fun it was than a traditional 5K or 10K.
The man behind the phenomenon in North America is Joe Desena, a former Wall Street trader from Vermont, who held his first Spartan Race in 2004 with eight participants. Desena built the movement to 29 events in 2011, attracting more than 100,000 participants in the United States and Canada. Spartan Races came to Calgary with little fanfare last summer but still attracted 1,250 racers to Canada Olympic Park. Race director Dean Stanton had already secured 1,500 registrants for the 2012 event as of late March and was fully expecting to reach 3,500 to 4,000 by the race day.
“I had a lot of race directors who were a bit jealous last year,” Stanton says. “They were asking, ‘Where did this guy come from and where did he get all these racers?’”
Desena’s Spartan Races offer five levels from 5K to the most rigorous — the ominous-sounding Death Race — which lasts 48 hours and has an extremely low completion rate in the area of 10 per cent. Desena has also introduced a marathon distance event this year. The fastest competitors finish the 5K in about 30 minutes; most everyone is done in less than an hour. For Vancouver fitness trainer Craig Boyd, who regularly enters 10Ks and half-marathons, the prospect of running a race that adds a few twists is too good to pass up. Several teams from Boyd’s Precision Athletics Fitness Consultants will take part in the Spartan Race in North Vancouver.
“The longer stuff can sometimes get tedious,” he says.
“Also, with obstacle course races people don’t have to change their lives in terms of training in order to participate.”
These races all share one thing — a party-like atmosphere involving music, a beer garden and, likely, Stanton says, people who choose to turn the day into a costume party.
Mud Hero will be a 6K sprint through the Kananaskis ranch. If there is a shortage of mud, organizers will make it, says event director Ted McLeod of Crazy Canucks Events, which also runs a Toronto mudder.
“It’s a fun thing,” he says. “The ‘serious’ people tend to help other people out getting through the course if it’s needed. It’s a congenial atmosphere.
“The goal for people is to finish. It’s not to set personal bests.”
Not everyone finishes the Tough Mudder. It boasts a 78 per cent completion rate and some serious military-inspired obstacles on a 20K course: oiled up monkey bars, a run through four-foot-high flames and a 10,000-volt-charged gauntlet among them.