Tough Mudder: Good, Clean Fun by Merlisa Lawrence Corbett

Tough Mudder: Good, Clean Fun
By Merlisa Lawrence Corbett

Shortly before 9 a.m. on a muggy summer Saturday morning, Tonya Allred and Lisa Laws make their way deep into the swampy woods of rural Polk City.

Laws, 44, and Allred, 39, are excited about the challenge ahead. They know there will be obstacles to overcome, hills to climb — and much mud.

Yes, mud. It’s all about the mud at the Backwoods Challenge, a paramilitary fun run the two entered.

Trending like cute cupcakes, mud races are all the rage from London to Lake Wales.  Polk County, with its vast offerings of out-the-way places and swampy spaces, is home to a few of these downright dirty events.

Every weekend in Central Florida and around the country, you can find adults running, crawling, wading and playing in the mud.

Some events, like the internationally known Tough Mudder, are huge with thousands of entrants. Others, like the Xtreme Obstacle Challenge in Lakeland or the Firetower Run A Muck race in Haines City, are grassroots gatherings arranged and marketed through social media.

These races range from 5k to half marathons. Although the scale and scope vary from race to race, they usually have these three things in common: an obstacle course, a post-race party and mud.

It’s like field day for grownups.

Laws and Allred chose the Backwoods Challenge for their first mud run. The Auburndale residents decided to use it as a benchmark for their fitness progress.

So, last December the women agreed to help each other get in shape. They started slowly, just walking. They’ve added strength and cross training. And now they’ve graduated to adventure.

Located near the National Green Swamp Wilderness Preserve, the Backwoods Challenge is a 3.1-mile course that features monkey bars, barbwire, climbing walls, tunnels and hills. It ends with a giant tube slide into water.

Beau Combee operates the race. He says Polk County provides the perfect setting for mud runs.  “I wanted Polk County to have a good event,” says Combee. “All the big races are usually in Tampa.”

Tough Mudder is one of those big races.  The event takes place in major cities like Miami, Seattle, Toronto, London and Berlin. This November, Tough Mudder makes a tour stop in Westgate River Reserve near Lake Wales on November 2 & 3.

Considered the ultimate mud race, Tough Mudder is a 10- to 12-mile course designed by British Special Forces.  The obstacles range from fascinating to frightening. They include a swim through ice cubes, jumping fire and the ridiculous cage crawl.

In the cage crawl, you are immersed in mud, face up, under fencing. You then crawl yourself from under the cage.

Why would someone pay to endure this?

Carol Gottshall, a spokesperson for Tough Mudder, says different things motivate people. “Everyone has their own reasons to take on a Tough Mudder challenge, but for many, the elements of teamwork and camaraderie are especially appealing.”

More than appealing, these mud races are developing cult-like followings. Tough Mudder hit a million participants in May.  “We have seen a huge amount of growth, going from three events in the United States in 2010 to 53 events in five countries this year. In 2014, we will host more than 70 events in at least 13 countries,” Gottshall says.

Damien Trombley, of Palm Bay, said he’s seen a surge in interest in the last five years. Trombley created the online community, Mud Run Fun.  It includes an online magazine, Facebook page and YouTube channel.

Trombley participates in races throughout Florida. “You get adventure without having to put your life on the line like you might in extreme sports,” he says.

However, these events do pose real dangers. According to the Baltimore Sun, in the past four years, at least four people have died during Tough Mudder events. This past May, 20 people were treated at a local hospital in West Virginia after a Tough Mudder event. One man drowned.

Like with any strenuous activity, it’s best to consult a physician before trying a mud race.  Most of the races allow you to go at your own pace. They encourage teamwork. People help each other over walls and pull others through obstacles.

Everyone from marathoners to couch potatoes can enter. But playing in the mud can become addictive.

Hardly a world-class athlete, Trombley was a “regular Joe,” whose wife entered him in a 5k race. He liked it and began entering more races. Soon he upped the ante. And then… he found the mud.

Soon he was seeking out mud races every weekend.

“It’s something to get off the bucket list,” says Laws. “We saw this and thought let’s see how far we’ve come.”

That’s typically how people find themselves playing in mud. They seek something beyond the monotony of racing the clock among a crowd of runners.

Perhaps it’s because in a world of tweeting, texting and Skype-ing, raw elements must seem otherworldly. With an array of mobile devices, multimedia images travel with us from automobile to coffee shops. Technology that used to wow us has become intrusive and annoying.

There once was a time when people dressed up to go out to the movies. They called a large screen in a dark room “a show.”

Now people dress down to go play in the mud. Now that’s entertainment.