Muddy obstacle races such as Gladiator Assault Challenge proving popular
LAKE GENEVA Forget the standard 5k or half marathon on a flat, paved surface.
Try running through flames 4 feet high, crawling on your hands and knees under barbed and electricified wire, scaling a few 12-foot walls, and then jumping from a 12-foot platform into a pond.
Those are just a few of the challenges participants face in increasingly popular—and muddy—obstacle races such as Tough Mudder and Warrior Dash.
"It challenges you more than just an endurance run," said 19-year-old Patrick Knutson, who completed a Tough Mudder race earlier this month with his Janesville friends. "It's about conquering things you couldn't do, and it's just more of a mental and physical challenge."
At least 1,700 athletes will test their endurance and fears this weekend as they complete the Gladiator Assault Challenge on the ski slopes and wooded trails at Grand Geneva Resort in Lake Geneva.
The mud-filled obstacle course races have caught on because they are so much fun, said Joe Vittengl, founder of the Gladiator Assault Challenge.
"It's like playing in the mud again," he said. "You're not supposed to play in mud when you're an adult. Now, for some reason, these are all muddy events."
In the first quarter-mile, participants might be drenched from head to toe—but they still have to run six to seven miles, Vittengl said.
"It's so different than running," he said.
This weekend marks the third Gladiator event. Previous races were held at Grand Geneva in spring and another in Boone, Iowa. Vittengl, who previously worked with the international Tough Mudder, wanted to create a race with a distance where people could run between all obstacles.
The Warrior Dash is a 5k race while Tough Mudder's 10- to 12-mile courses leave many people walking between challenges, Vittengl said. His course this weekend is 7 miles with 33 obstacles that go up and down ski slopes and back into the mountain bike trails, cross country paths and through ponds, he said.
Among Vittengl's favorite obstacles are the "Leap of Faith," where participants jump off a 12-foot platform into a pond, swim out to a raft and then back to shore. Another is the "Muddy Bunker," where participants climb monkey bars, and then go through a 32-foot tunnel that is curved—making it pitch black—and filled with "muck from the pond."
Kathy Sukus started her running obstacle course races with the Warrior Dash in Johnson Creek in August. She took part in the race with co-workers from the Rock County Communications Center and from the Janesville Police Department, where her husband works.
The group followed up the Warrior Dash with the Tough Mudder this month.
Sukus trained all year by running and doing P90X workouts to improve her upper-body strength and endurance. The more she learned about the races, the more she realized team building was more important than a fast time, she said.
"That made me feel less anxious," she said. "Strangers help you over obstacles."
One of her teammates, John Olsen, said the race touched on all possible fears—height, water, fire and electricity.
"It was challenging, but nothing's impossible," he said.
Olsen's not a big runner, he said, so the courses make it more interesting.
"There's that added dynamics of the obstacles and the unknown," he said.
Knutson, Sukus and Olsen said they also like that many of the races also help raise money for causes such as the Wounded Warrior Project.
Sukus plans to run with her teenage daughter and son in the Color Me Rad 5K next month in Madison. Runners start out clean and are bombed with corn starch color bombs of blue, green, pink, purple and yellow "until your face, shirt and body come out silk-screened like a tie-dyed hippy on the other side," according to the race website.
Sukus noted another obstacle race with an added twist: zombies. "Run For Your Lives" events dub themselves as the world's first interactive zombie-infested obstacle race, where participants run "from brain-hungry, virus-spreading zombies."
But don't get too scared. That race doesn't yet include a Wisconsin site.