The good, the bad, and the ugly of wet dirt
During the week, Pam Picheco extols the health benefits of mud. The sticky mixture of earth and water detoxifies, purifies, and tones skin, says Picheco, spa manager at Joe’s Salon in New Milford. A full body mud wrap, she says, is akin to “being enveloped in a soft, warm cocoon.” But during the weekend, mud is Picheco’s worst enemy. Training for a race, she clambers up slippery hillsides, her running shoes sucking up muck along the way.
Last year on a whim, Picheco, 54, participated in her first Tough Mudder at Vermont’s Mount Snow ski resort. The grueling ten-miler zigzagged over double-black diamond courses and featured obstacles like the Arctic Enema, a dumpster filled with ice water. Competitors dive in, swim under a divider, and drag themselves out on the other side. Then, it’s back into the mud. “We’re were squirming under wires with our bellies sucking up mud,” says Picheco. “It was pretty disgusting,”
Four hours after the start of the race, she and her friends wobbled over the finish line looking like gingerbread men. But the feeling of accomplishment was enough to convince Picheco to do it again. “What appealed to me was it forced me to get out of my comfort zone,” she says.
Muddy runs have increased dramatically in the last year. Mud-running HQ, a blog, lists more than 350 events in 50 states this year. More than one million mud-splattered people competed in these races last year. As the market for mud runs increases, some organizers have upped their game. Warrior Dash now offers the Iron Warrior Dash, a 15-miler with more obstacles. New theme races invite non-runners to get down and dirty. In the “Run for Your Lives” race (July 27 in Willington) competitors evade zombies along a course of man-made and natural obstacles, including a dark smokehouse rigged with electric shocks.
“The Escape from New Hartford” (August 3 at Ski Sundown) is a three-mile obstacle course in which competitors run to escape from participants pretending to be angry prison guards. The post beer parties and related merchandise (everything from the standard T-shirt to Viking horns) are a departure from low-key footraces and triathlons where the emphasis is on individual achievement and fun. In 5k mud runs, most contestants are lucky to finish in under 45 minutes, compared to 20 to 30 minutes for a road race. “Maybe these folks didn’t play in the mud as kids, but I did—and you eventually realize that it smells awful and is pretty disgusting actually,” says Tom Wilkas. For 14 years, Wilkas has organized area road races and triathlons like the Hopkins Vineyard Sprint (July 20 in New Preston). Mud runs don’t appeal to hard-core runners or triathletes, he says.
Anthony Cha, a surgery resident at Danbury Hospital, disagrees. Cha, who runs half-marathons, says last year surgery residents competed together in a Warrior Dash, and it went over so well they’re doing it again. “The races aren’t all about cardio-vascular; the obstacles require a lot of upper-body strength.”
Mud runs also draw a broad range of competitors because they appeal to all levels of fitness and ages. The only equipment required is a pair of old running shoes. Entry fees can be as low as $20 for local races and up to $100 for the Tough Mudder. “It’s something we can do as a team, especially on an obstacle course where you need your teammate’s help on certain sections,” says Valerie Walsh, at Phys-Ed Health and Performance in New Milford.
Slogging through all that muck can increase the risk of injury as well. Dr. Evan Rashkoff, a surgeon with New Milford Orthopedic Associates, cautions people to take these events slowly, and to wear protective gear. As for wallowing in the dirt, he concedes: “Who doesn’t like to get muddy?”
Clean freaks, meanwhile, can embrace the latest running trend—“foam” races. Competitors start off in the mud and end in a gauntlet dash through a foam-cleansing human car wash. How’s that for a deep-skin cleansing?