Runners take time seriously. They know their PRs, their average pace and their age-group rankings. They work countless hours to shave seconds off their race times and buy GPS units to ensure that their long runs are completed at the proper pace.
And yet, the most popular running events of the last several years often don't keep track of time or finishing place. Or if they do, it's a secondary concern, mostly to placate the traditional runners who can't imagine finishing a race without some kind of valuation of their performance.
Instead, these highly successful off-road events aim to be more than races. They're about pushing boundaries, overcoming challenges and putting your body in outrageous situations.
In other words, they strive to be epic.
And they want to get people muddy. Very, very muddy.
These obstacle-based mud runs would probably best be described as adventure races - if that term hadn't already been taken by the multi-day endurance contests that popped up in the late 1990s. While those events emphasized survival skills in the wilderness, this new breed of race focuses more on man-made obstacles - some of which would be quite at home on a Japanese game show - and a sense of communal fun that harkens back to childhood games.
"We want everyone to say 'That was an absolute blast,'" said Nathan Barnhart, the CEO of Cerulean Sports Group, which organizes the eight Hell Runs taking place in 2012. "There's a very fine line between extremely difficult and extremely fun. You want to challenge people, but the goal of the race is be safe and have fun."
Just where people draw the line between "challenging" and "insane" largely defines these events. Pushing the needle on the insane scale is the Tough Mudder, a 10- to 12-mile event that includes more than 20 obstacles, many of which would challenge Navy SEALS. Hanging wires delivering electric shocks, barbed wire, freezing cold water and underwater tunnels are all part of these contests that require serious strength and endurance training.
The full story - including a listing of 13 mud runs taking place in the upper Midwest in the latter half of 2012 - appears in the July print edition of Silent Sports. Don't miss an issue! Subscribe online, here.