“Fitness fanatics get bored easily. They want to test their strength and overcome their fears. Mud runs separate the weak from the strong. If you think you’re fit, you might believe otherwise after attempting our race.”
That’s owner Carl Bolm, and he’s referring to The Battlegrounds, a locally based, bi-annual mud run that he founded in June 2012. Unlike similar events, which blow through town like a traveling carnival, here one weekend and gone the next, this is a permanent course on 200 acres in Wright City, Mo. The idea behind it is to test muscle and mental fortitude with 30 military-themed obstacles stationed along a meandering course with wooded trails, rocky streams, and the occasional ice bath.
A Series of Struggles
The Battlegrounds begins with a bullhorn blast, a sharp and unnatural detonation like an alarm clock from hell. The runners, including yours truly, don’t sprint onto the course so much as march forward, looking ahead for the first obstacle on the horizon. But that gets all blown apart when the fire hose comes out and soaks any lollygaggers from head to toe.
After slogging through 200 yards of ankle-deep grass and mud, we reach the first official obstacle: Hamburger Hill, a pile of mud so sheer and slick that some people repeatedly slide backwards while tying to climb up and others are stuck at the top, afraid to come down the other side. I scamper over it using the handholds and footholds from those who came before. So far, so good!
But Hamburger Hill is only the first link in a chain of soldierly tribulations that include worming through narrow underground tunnels; wading in armpit-high ice water with barbed wire overhead; climbing over man-sized hay bales; and dredging through wide trenches of knee-high mud. And that’s just the first few obstacles.
By the time I reach the Torpedo Launcher, about a mile and a half in, the muck I’ve accumulated is starting to dry on my clothes. Then I climb the ladder-like wooden structure and zip down the 100-foot slide, crash-landing in a deep pool of water. Well, at least I’m clean again for the moment. After that, it’s over a wall of slippery tires and into the woods, where the terrain itself begins to play more of a role — hills, gullies, and steep creek walls.
Between runs ranging from a few hundreds yard to a quarter of a mile, I crawl under a cargo net on a mud plain, hop over several logs half-submerged in water (guys, protect the family jewels), and clamber up a triangular wooden slat wall. The Drop Zone obstacle plunges me 12 feet down into a water pit. After a while, you begin to appreciate the semi-regular clashes with the water. It’s shocking yet refreshing. It’s The Battlegrounds!
The race ends at the same rustic shack-slash-operations area where it started five miles later. (There’s also a 5k option.) But first come the final three challenges. Completely suspended over an eight-feet-deep lake, the Gauntlet offers six tracks to choose from, each with different obstacles requiring the participant to climb, balance, swing, shimmy, or swim his or her way to the other side. If you’ve ever wanted to be on “American Ninja Warrior,” this is your chance.
Post Gauntlet, jump into six feet of 40-degree water with Frozen Tundra and then crawl for 60 feet, facedown in the mud under barbed wire, to the finish line. Spectators cheer and shout advice from nearby. The last obstacle is called Muddy Triumph for a reason, and I’m covered like a pig in slop when I emerge from the far end and claim my medal and free beer.
“How was it?” asks a buddy who had waited for me at the finish line.
Without meaning to, I utter the same sentiment that’s in the heart of every racer there, whether veteran or first-timer: “I think I could’ve done better on some of those obstacles. I’ll be back.”
5 Tips for Mud Run Rookies
- Wear clothes that are fitted and won’t soak up water. Otherwise, they’ll get caught on things or weighted down by mud.
- Secure any loose articles. Tie your shoes tight and bring goggles rather than sunglasses. Leave the jewelry at home.
- Don’t jump into the middle of the mud pit. Go slowly and stick to the sides, where it’s shallower.
- When you crawl through tunnels and under obstacles, do a bear crawl. Don’t crawl on your knees or you’ll scrape them on small rocks and debris.
- Bring a change of clothes (including shoes), plastic bags for your muddy kit, and towels — lots of towels.
Author: Brad Kovach is the editor of Terrain magazine.
Images: Courtesy of The Battlegrounds