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Summer Sticks in the Mud

Adventure races thrill, challenge weekend warriors

By Stephen Carter-Novotni · June 14th, 2012 · Special

For many folks, first-person video games offer all the thrills they need. But others crave the tactile realness of an actual obstacle course with knotted ropes to climb, mud pits to crawl through and walls to be surmounted. The typical ingredients of adventure races include a military-style course, a river of mud and whatever torture tests a perverse mind can conjure. Throw in a small legion of weekend warriors and you’ve got yourself a fresh baked adventure — or a hot mess, depending on your point of view.

Jeff Graves, who is as much a big kid as he is a professional entrepreneur, is putting on one of these crazy parties in August. Graves is the president of Vision Event Management, and his Mudathlon is an example of some of their best (dirty) work. The Mudathlon is three miles of mud, obstacles and beer — 40 obstacles and one beer, to be exact, plus a meal and parking included in the entrance fee. You can buy more beer if you want. You can pass up an obstacle if you can’t lick it, though this makes you ineligible for a prize. You can tackle everything and make a play at winning or just slop through and have fun. Graves says 3,600 people competed last year and he expects 5,000 this year. Many are competitive runners seeking a new challenge.

“They’re looking for something different,” Graves says. “We give people the opportunity to be a kid again.”

Some competitors will come dressed simply in shorts and T-shirts, and others get together to form teams and dress up as superheroes for the day. They’re sent through the course in waves of 100 to 150 at a time, cheered on by friends and family. 

Craig Thompson is producing the Gauntlet in Columbus this month, a 10-mile endurance race that includes trail running and swimming and may be run solo or as a two- or three-person relay race.

He describes it as more of an adventure race than a mud run. It’s sustainably organized too, he says, using natural geography instead of any man-made structures as obstacles.

“We’re really relying upon what nature and the terrain and God have put out there to create different challenges,” Thompson says. 

Personal trainer and owner of 513Fit, Charlie Levine says these sorts of races are exciting because they fully engage you as a person. The downside is most workout regimens don’t really prepare you for the variety of challenges in an adventure race.

“It is addressing something that is missing from the standard ‘run-your-mile,’ which is fun,” Levine says. “Running is not high on the fun list. By doing this you’re adding an element of play. As someone who trains and as a fitness professional, if you don’t add some element of play it’s basically just a matter of time before you quit.”

Levine says it’s a good idea to work in variety by exploring city parks on a run or shaking up your workout in other ways. “Instead of being obsessive about how many miles you cover, maybe there’s a playground on your route.” He says you can stop at the playground and work in push-ups, pull-ups and lunges. Then you’re training multiple systems. 

Thirty-seven-year-old Columbus resident Shawn Williamson says he’s looking forward to competing in the Gauntlet. He competes in marathons every summer and wanted something new.

“The Gauntlet drew my attention because it’s a longer distance than some of the other obstacle races that have been put on,” he says. “I’m assuming it will be more competitive and more challenging because of the distance.”

He says the biggest challenge will be maintaining a solid pace over the long distance.

“My expectation is that I’ll be in decent enough shape to handle anything I come across,” Williamson says. “Whether I’m in decent enough shape, we’ll have to see.”


June 17:
The Gauntlet,
Columbus (This even registration has closed.)

June 23:
Urban Dare,

June 30:
Troy, Ohio

Aug. 11:
West Chester

Oct. 20-21:
Tough Mudder,
Maysville, Ky.



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