Much like trail running events, the popularity of mud runs and obstacle course races has exploded over recent years to become not just a fitness trend but a craze. St. Louis-area athletes have a chance to test their strength, endurance and fortitude at a half dozen of these “down and dirty” races in 2014, with many more available within a few hours’ drive.

One such race coming next month is the Battlegrounds, the Midwest’s largest permanent mud run obstacle course, which means bigger, better and messier challenges. “Fitness fanatics get bored easily. They want to test their strength and overcome their fears,” said Carl Bolm, owner of the Battlegrounds. “Mud runs are the perfect combination of muscle and mental fortitude.”

Bolm created the Battlegrounds after training for similar runs. He knew he had the land and the resources to make a unique course, so he began by putting up different obstacles when he ran on his own trails. After that, he couldn’t stop. There are now more than 30 obstacles on the course, and he makes sure to keep things fresh by building new challenges for each run.

“We encourage runners to push themselves while simultaneously enjoying their experience,” said Bolm. “If you aren’t mentally prepared to attempt our Frozen Tundra—think lots and lots of ice and water—then avoid that obstacle. Maybe the next time you’ll be willing to face the chill. In the meantime, concentrate on having fun and doing your personal best.”

“The mud run concept also appeals more to groups. Instead of just running beside your friend, mud runs make you interact and rely on your buddy. Too tired to make it over a wall? Ask a fellow runner for help. Lose your shoe in the muck? Friends are there to help you find it,” Bolm continued. “Adding mud [and obstacles] takes your body to a whole other level. If you think you’re fit, you might believe otherwise afterward.”

Here’s a snapshot of six mud runs and obstacle course races scheduled to hit the St. Louis area this year—and what participants can expect to grapple with at each venue.

The Fugitive Run
Distance: 3.4 miles
Obstacles: 100+
Date: April 26, June 28, July 26, August 30, September 27, October 25
Location: Rolla, MO
Cost: $50-$70

Fugitive mud run

Imagine busting out of prison with a bunch of Spandex-clad crazies and having to crawl, climb, swim, jump and run your way to freedom. That’s the concept behind this 3.4-mile run with more than 100 obstacles designed by military and law enforcement personnel.

What’s unique about the Fugitive Run, other than theme, is that the course is built in and around an old rock quarry, so many of the challenges take advantage of the natural terrain: rock climbs, water pools, cliff jumps. It’s a short route but dense with obstacles (rather than a long route with few obstacles).

Located about 90 minutes from St. Louis in Rolla, this is a permanent course, which means races are offered monthly from April through October. Dedicated mud runners can purchase a season pass for $120. After each event, participants and their friends and families are invited to hang out at the quarry’s beach and enjoy music, swimming, food and beverages, and the 60-foot waterslide.

The Fugitive Run course will be home to the Centurion Mud Challenge in June and is also open for training, camping, special events and party rentals.

The Battlegrounds
Distance: 5 miles
Obstacles: 30+
Date: May 3, October 4
Location: Wright City, MO
Cost: $60-$140

The Battlegrounds mud run

It’s ironic that a gritty, muscle-aching mud run like the Battlegrounds takes place on the property of Wright City’s Cedar Lake Cellars, a bucolic winery and event venue that’s more often the setting of weddings and family reunions.

But don’t think this course is just cow pastures and mud holes. The 5-mile route covers different terrain including woods, creeks, and natural hills and valleys. It might be beautiful if you weren’t trying to negotiate some 30 state-of-the-art obstacles with names like Battle of Knotty Root Hill, Torpedo Launcher and Knee High Hell.

Despite the images of chaos its name conjures, the Battlegrounds is a well organized, well maintained operation, with two course options (5 mile or 5k) and “something for everyone, no matter what their fitness or skill levels are.”

Being a permanent course, the Battlegrounds has a festival-like atmosphere, with spectator areas, music, activities, vendors and fun challenges throughout the grounds—even a kids zone. There’s access to Cedar Lake Cellars for post-run refreshments, as well as special room rates at partner hotels. It also offers year-round private rental for corporate team-building events.

MuckFest MS
Distance: 5k
Obstacles: 15+
Date: July 12
Location: Pevely, MO
Cost: $55-105

MuckFest mud run

MuckFest MS rallies dirt-lovers to romp through mud and obstacles in support of the fight against multiple sclerosis. The event will make 10 stops this year, one of which will be in Pevely, just south of St. Louis. Fundraising is optional but encouraged, with 100% of the donations participants raise benefiting the National Multiple Sclerosis Society.

Because this is a traveling event, the layout of each course, including which obstacles are used and their placement, is different. The typical route consists of a 5k run and features 15+ obstacles that will “spin, swing and fling you up, down and sideways.”

Afterward, there’s beer (or soda), a tasty treat and music in the MuckFestival area. There’s even a specially designed play area for kids called Lil’ Muckers. MuckFest MS embraces a fun, family friendly vibe, focusing more on the adburdness of the event instead of hardcore competition.

But don’t expect that to make obstacles like the Triple Pits or Walk on Water any easier.

Distance: 5k
Obstacles: 12+
Date: August 16
Location: Eureka, MO
Cost: $44-$79


At LoziLu, women rule the day, so picture challenges matching names like The Exfoliator (mud pit), Mani-Pedi (over-under hurdles), Tan Lines (ladder wall) and Bad Hair Day (rope web contortionism). Each of the traveling event courses is unique, featuring 12 to 14 obstacles of varying difficulty. Three party oases spread around the route provide support and refreshment.

The female-only mud run is making 15 stops around the country in 2014, including Six Flags in Eureka. This, too, is a charitable event, with 5% of each registration fee donated to the Leukemia Ironman Fundraiser for Eric (L.I.F.E.) in order to support research and young patients with the disease. Additional donations or funds raised go 100% to L.I.F.E.

Once you’ve earned your finisher’s medal and posed for your picture on the red carpet, the after party promises music, dancing, showers and a fitness farmer’s market where you can browse, shop and grab a snack from one of the many local vendors.

Warrior Dash
Distance: 5k
Obstacles: 13
Date: August 9
Location: Old Monroe, MO
Cost: $50-$90

Warrior Dash mud run

Unleashed on the world in 2009, Warrior Dash has the distinction of being one of the oldest and largest traveling mud runs. More than 150 of the races have taken place across six countries and four continents, and it so far has raised $7.5 million for St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital through participant fund-raising efforts.

This military-spec experience encourages you to be all you can be with 13 obstacles spread over 5k of wooded terrain. Most of the trials are identical to what you might find at an army boot camp, from muddy trenches to cargo net climbs, to tall walls and rope tunnels.

The Warrior Dash team has these events down to a science—there will be 29 races in the U.S. this summer alone—which offers the advantage of allowing a season pass where purchasers can run in unlimited race locations during the 2014 season for a flat rate of $125.

Tough Mudder
Distance: 10-12 miles
Obstacles: 20+
Date: October 11 & 12
Location: Montgomery City, MO
Cost: $59-$220

Tough Mudder mud run

Tough Mudder is just that. Tough. While most mud runs top out at three to five miles, this one goes up to 11 (or more). It’s obstacles were designed by British Special Forces to test mental as well as physical strength, and often play on common human fears such as fire, water, electricity and heights. In other words, this race is not for the beginner.

The course runners will take in Montgomery City (about 90 minutes from St. Louis) will cross barren Western American terrain beset with mud and other barriers like ravines, tire walks, wall climbs, monkey bars, carrying logs, crawling beneath electrified wires and more. Thankfully, you get a cold beer at the end. Any what’s better than a cold beer at the end of a tough run? A FREE cold beer at the end of a tough run.

Tough Mudder will host 55 races worldwide in 2014. Not to be lost in the noise, the event has raised $6.5 million and counting for the Wounded Warrior Project through athlete fund-raising.

Author: Brad Kovach is the editor of Terrain magazine
Images: Courtesy of featured races