Let the cute folks in their jerseys and running shoes enjoy their twenty-six mile jogs around Boston or New York City. They’re quaint and deserve a sucker for being the bravest little runner of all time. You want something a little more. You prefer to get your kicks ducking under electrical wires, diving into ice water, and slogging through miles of mud. Obstacle Course Races (OCRs), called mud runs, have gained in popularity along with exercises like Yoga and crossfit because they work your whole body, test you at every turn, and are a lot more fun than just knocking out a few miles of roadwork.
Wrapping yourself in a running jacket and maybe some waterproof socks are just the beginning of what you’re going to need if you plan on tackling a mud run. They test your mind as much as your body, which is why selecting the right one can make or break you. We sought out the courses that were the most fun, the most challenging, the most entertaining, and offered that undefinable je ne sais quoi. That special X factor that makes the 7 best mud runs stand out from the crowd.
New Meat: At a paltry 3 miles, the Warrior Dash is one of the shorter OCRs available. Sporting 12 obstacles along the path, it isn’t overloaded with challenges either. Rather, this is where new and intermediate runners can go to cut their teeth. Ubiquitous both at home and abroad, odds are good there is a Warrior Dash near you. The obstacles run the standard gamut from cargo nets to marine crawling through the muck. Thanks largely to the people who populate the events and the revelrous atmosphere, it’s a party where you just happen to do some running with your friends before you settle in to drink beer, eat a whole turkey leg, and wear a viking helmet.
Apocalypse Now: Part cosplay action, part workout, part survival test for when the dead do rise up, Zombie-themed mud runs allow you to come as you are or sign up to be a zombified obstacle meant to harass the other contenders. Here, rather than a traditional OCR, it’s the zombies who are the real obstacles. They snag flags off your belt, which you need to complete the race, adding an element to the mazes, pits, and walls that a standard course can’t match. Various companies and groups host these, and a comprehensive list of upcoming races can be had from the Mud Run Guide. Our personal favorite is the fine people at The Zombie Mud Run. They take their obstacle courses and their undead very seriously.
Growth Industry: Smaller OCR mud runs are a questionable proposition. It’s easy to hear about a new course only to register and find yourself in an empty field with a few other suckers who were swindled. The Rock’N Run might be on the wee side, and new to the game, but it is making waves and well worth going out of your way to find. Run by Dan ‘Nitro’ Clark of American Gladiators fame (he was the one with the teased hair…wait, that was all of them) these are 5k or 6k runs that terminate in a huge party with beer, food, and live music from local bands. Nitro himself is a hoot and the obstacles they use are weird and unique. Cinderblock burpees, group log carry, and dumpster diving are just a few examples. Wacky times with plenty of challenge, the perfect balance of mud, and a massive hootenanny at the end.
Go OG: There’s a reason that Tough Mudder is the gold standard of obstacle course racing. They’re still among the best and the most trustworthy, meaning they won’t ever disappoint. 25 obstacles are spread out over a 10-12 mile course with lots of stand-bys like rope climbs and ice water dives broken up with a few unique items that require teamwork to accomplish. The huge size and feeling of camaraderie alone are worth the price of admission. You arrive with a few hundred strangers and end partying with a few hundred friends. These aren’t a race in that your time is far less important than getting out and playing in the mud with a team. They also have events for younger participants, newbies, and those for veterans looking to push their endurance to the breaking point.
Military Grade: BattleFrog is another new name in the mud running and OCR circuit, but they come with a truly impressive pedigree. Their events use variations on actual training obstacles employed by Navy SEALs to get in shape for taking out the most dangerous terrorist threats the world has ever known. They use massive 8k to 15k courses, some of the longest on record, making stamina key to success. They’re littered with obstacles that the cruelest drill instructors could come up with, so expect no mercy once you head out. The sheer variety of the impediments will keep you guessing. From the fun to the grueling, you’ll be as worried about what’s over the next rise as the pounding in your chest becoming a full coronary.
Trial By Fire: Here you are actually working against the clock and not looking quite so much for the good vibrations you get from helping your teammates. Spartan races are mud runs meant to hit you hard and leave you breathless. They never reveal their obstacles in advance, but be assured that the course is going to require a fit body, a strong spirit, and a stalwart soul. One of the more physically demanding of the OCR circuits, you’ll need to be prepared for the worst when you sign up. Mud abounds, barbed wire is common, fire is likely, and whatever else they throw at you, you’ll leave some skin and sweat on the course. Everything from a concentrated sprint packed with obstacles to a full marathon with beastly impediments to overcome are included in the Spartan calendar.
Up and Over: With the most obstacles of any mud run currently in existence, the Savage Race is for people who prefer the challenges rather than the actual running portion of the program. You’ll tackle a nearly vertical slide, plenty of barbed wire, and a testicle-traumatizing balance beam that may leave your voice a mite higher should you stumble. 25 obstacles stuffed into just 6 miles, you need to be a P90X disciple to have the strength to keep going over hill and dale. True competitors will enjoy the heats that allow them to win cash and prizes while proving their physical supremacy. The more laid back type can enjoy a leisurely climb, drop, and probable head trauma. You know, for kicks.