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Mud Runs: Down, Dirty and … Dangerous?

mud run

Running is no longer enough: Themed fun runs and mud runs have exploded in popularity, requiring racers to not only race for miles but also to navigate obstacles through mud, while covered in foam, while being splattered with paint — or even while being chased by zombies. The original, and most popular fun run still remains the mud run, but no matter the theme, these races are a fun way to spice up your workouts and bond with your friends over some laughs. But with mud runs popping up all over the U.S., the volume, and severity, of injuries sustained during these races have many worried this new trend could do more harm to your health than good.

As with anything that gains popularity in the fitness world, people of all walks of life, experienced racers and not, sign up in droves for these mud runs, often clad in crazy costumes. These unique runs are usually 3 to 5K in length, and have participants run a race, encountering obstacle after obstacle, like rope courses or nets over mud pits. It sounds like a blast, but the dangers aren’t limited just to inexperienced runners pushing themselves past their limits. Among the injuries you will find at any race, these mud runs, which include mud puddles to crawl through, have reported drowning deaths and a broken neck from an unregistered athlete who dove into a mud pit.

A Dallas man drowned during The Original Mud Run on April 14, 2012. Tony Weathers, 30, was found in the Trinity River the next day. He was reported missing when he didn’t materialize at the end of the race, which involved swimming across the river as one of its obstacles.

A man who ran the Filthy 5K Mud Run in 2010 is suing race organizers for $30 million for becoming partially paralyzed after landing in a man-made mud pit. The suit filed by Robert A. Fecteau II in Richmond, Va., said the 30-foot-long mud pit racers were required to crawl through was created with “negligence, reckless disregard and/or gross negligence” and was a direct cause of his injuries. Fecteau, who finished the 26.2-mile Marine Corps Marathon in the months before the Filthy 5K, was in a “fatigued, weakened, exhausted” state approaching the obstacle, and he jammed his hands and arms as he went to crawl through the pit, “thereby causing damage to his spinal cord, paralysis and permanent injuries to his C4, C5 and C6 vertebrae.”

Other participants have complained about rocks, tree stumps and roots hidden from view in the mud, making the risk of twisted and broken ankles or slipping in the mud and hitting your head that much greater. If you are a Real Housewives of OC fan, you recently saw Gretchen twist her ankle and Eddie break a finger while competing in the mud race together. You might also remember FBG Tish’s post, “I Almost Died Trying to Become a Spartan.” (She didn’t really, but it was a darn crazy experience.)

Anything physical has its risks, and there will be injuries. People die in marathons. Sports in and of themselves are fraught with broken bones, torn muscles, cuts, bruises and risk of cardiac events. Risk is what makes an athlete competitive; if there was no risk, there would be no reward. Some people actually find risk part of the fun.

Are the risks enough to keep you away from trying a mud run? Or are you like, game on? —Kelly Turner

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  1. Ivori says:

    Forget about the obvious broken bones ladies; I think about bacteria.

    When I first heard of the Mud Run, I thought; so many people must end up becoming sick after crawling in bacteria infested mud.

    I imagine some guy sneezing into his hand, then crawling through the Mud Pit, leaving snot on the mud. Then, all of the people that are behind him, putting their hands and face in that same mud. Or, someone vomiting and that vomit is then hidden in the mud by several people running through it; now that vomit is on your shoes and legs.

  2. Kelly says:

    Ivori – I did a mud run last summer and that was my biggest concern, too! Obviously it didn’t stop me from doing it. But at my mud run, the mud STUNK so bad I couldn’t believe it. I kept wondering what was *in* that mud and where they got it because it didn’t smell like regular old mud. The next few days afterward I kept waiting to get some terrible illness. Especially (ahem) “down there.” The mud soaks through ALL your clothes and then just sits on your skin until you can get to a shower.

    That said…I’d definitely do it again. It was a blast! I liked the other obstacles much more than the mud but the whole thing was fun. The only thing stopping me since has been the huge entry fees – most I’ve seen, even just 5Ks, are about $75.

  3. I love mud runs! They are an entirely different experience and challenge. Yes, they do carry some risk, but so do most things that are worthwhile! Here’s why I became a Tough Mudder: http://wp.me/p28Cn3-pj.

  4. Ivori says:

    This post really had me thinking about why, why do we do things like 5Ks , Triathlons and Mud Runs.
    For fun ? Those actives are not my kind of fun. For a sense of accomplishment? I wouldn’t feel anything other than tired and maybe mad, because I could have been something better with my time.
    I never have had a urge or desire to compete in any thing; beauty pageants (that means both; either showing off your muscles or your breasts) Mud Runs, Marathons, Ninja Warrior, ETC. I understand why people do, but for me, I have better things to do 🙂

  5. courtney says:

    I did the KC Warrior Dash last year and it was so hot that people DIED. It was nuts. The race organizers were pretty negligent, IMHO, because it was SO FLIPPIN hot. That race should have been postponed for sure! Especially Day 2, when it was considerably hotter than Day 1.

    Fun race, but I nearly got sick from heat exhaustion myself, and it’s only because I know what it feels like that I was able to slow down and avoid it.

  6. Jacki says:

    I find it interesting how many people blame the race coordinators when something goes wrong. Yes, they are partially responsible for runner safety but if you participate in a race then you are assuming some of the responsibility as well – especially when the race involves obstacles, mud or other non-traditional elements. There’s also something called “contributory negligence” that courts use in these cases that basically says “You knew the risks going in, no one held a gun to your head and forced you to participate, therefore you contributed to your own demise”. Also, coordinators aren’t psychic and have zero control over the weather, so if it’s hot or raining then the runners need to adjust their game plan accordingly. It costs a lot of money and a lot of time to organize these runs and they can’t constantly postpone them because conditions aren’t ideal.

  7. Stefanie says:

    I’m in! I drank the kool aide just over a year ago and I can’t stop. I went from being slow with my time to running elite heats this season.

    BRING IT ON! I love, love, love it. I recommend trying it just once in your life. Don’t take it too seriously, just have fun, don’t give up and most importantly GET DIRTY!

  8. Alyssa says:

    I agree with what’s already been said: participants have a responsibility of their own in addition to those in charge of the the race. People die in regular road races as well because they push themselves too hard, especially when it’s hot. You know your body better than anyone else, so if you’re pushing yourself too hard in high temperatures or attempting obstacles that you are worried about, that falls on you.

    I’ve ran multiple mud races, including two Tough Mudders. Those who organize the Tough Mudder actively encourage people to go around obstacles that they are uncomfortable with. If you can’t swim, don’t do the water obstacles. Afraid of heights? Walk around the climbing ones. No one is holding a gun to your head and forcing you to do every obstacle. Only you know you and take some responsibility for that.

    As long as you’re mindful of what is happening and not just running head long into something because everyone else is, mud races can be a fun and challenging way to push your self and get a good workout in as well!

  9. Jennifer says:

    Obstacle races are so much fun and I had a blast completing a Tough Mudder last June! With that being said, I will NEVER, EVER do another mud run! There are foreseeable risks that you can evaluate as you go, such as twisted ankles, broken fingers, cuts and bruises, or paralyzing yourself by diving into water you don’t know the depth of. What I didn’t see coming was the severe illness that hit me and others in my group 30 hours after completing the run. The mud was contaminated with what they think was Norovirus. I have never been so sick in my entire life! Projectile vomiting for 24 hours, severe fatigue and dehydration for another 5 days, followed by a respiratory illness for the next month was such a traumatizing experience I refuse to do that to my body ever again. Hundreds of the other participants also became ill and some were even admitted to the hospital. I should have been treated in a hospital myself but I couldn’t stay awake long enough or have the energy to tell my family to take me. Next time I will stick to an easier obstacle race, like the Warrior Dash, that doesn’t involve full-body submersion in contaminated mud.

  10. Kim J says:

    I have done four mud runs. During the first, a friend fell off a wall, that was slippery with mud. It was much like the one pictured. She is a nurse, and self-diagnosed a minor concussion, and she had some cuts and bruises. During the second mud run, the mud was a very thin consistency, and there were lots of loose pebbles. Our knees were torn up crawling through pits, and we were all splashed in the eyes. Mine were the worst, and I ended up in the ER with a corneal abrasion and double eye infection. I also had to have a tetanus shot. On the third mud run, one of the younger women in our group sprained an ankle. We were relatively injury free on the last mud run. You never walk away from one of these without scrapes and bruises. I take reasonable precautions. I now wear swim goggles to protect my eyes as I crawl through or splash into mud pits. I am not above walking around an obstacle that seems too dangerous . For instance, there was a very high net located at the top of a ski hill obstacle course. I noted there were no race personnel attending this particular obstacle. I got about a quarter of the way up the net, and backed down, apologizing to those below. Everyone was very nice about it. I am 51 years old and cognizant of the fact that my bones are not what they used to be! I run for the fellowship with my group, the challenges, and a few obstacles that are too fun to pass up! My favorite so far has been a tarzan style swing on a rope across a wide mud pit. These events are both fun and dangerous. Every person should decide how much risk they want to assume before signing up for one of these!

  11. Almost everything you do in life carries some sort of risk or another. If we were worried about being injured all the time, we’d never leave the house! I think I’d like to give one of these a try (even knowing the dangers) as they sound like lot’s of fun!

  12. I also had to have a tetanus shot. On the third mud run, one of the younger women in our group sprained an ankle. mud races can be a fun and challenging way to push your self and get a good workout in as well!. We were relatively injury free on the last mud run.

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