The MudRunManiac website has enabled me to share my passion for mud running with thousands of folks looking for an excuse to have fun and get filthy. In ways, I’ve positioned myself as a spokesperson for this niche that has rapidly navigated itself to the edge of mainstream. As an advocate of filthy fun, I believe I have a responsibility to share not only the awesome aspects of mud running, but also the parts that really need improvement.
If you haven’t heard the news, this past weekend we were saddened to learn that we lost one of our own. Tony Weathers died while he was participating in the Original Mud Run held in Fort Worth, Texas. His body was recovered in the Trinity River crossing early Sunday morning. Known to his friends as “Weatherman,” Weathers was an elite athlete who could run a mile in under 5 minutes and was a regular in a twice-a-week “boot camp” class. An exact cause of death has yet to be determined
Now in its 14th year, the Original Mud Run is held annually in Dallas/Fort Worth and Houston. The race features a competitive and non-competitive division. Participants of the competitive division are required to wear “boots and utes”: a military-style boot with “some combination of leather and mesh” and “camouflage utility trousers or long pants.”The format of the Original Mud Run is similar to that of Tough Mudder, as participants must run through mud and conquer a series of obstacles to complete the race. Obstacles include, “Gorilla Ropes,” a 25-foot span of monkey bars set over a mud pit; “Leap of Faith,” an “8-ft platform positioned over a mysterious depth;” and “The English Channel,” described on the run’s site as “a very long stretch of water.” Details about the race are scare on the Original Mud Run’s website; however, the site claims to reveal all in its Dirty Laundry Newsletter for subscribers.
These types of tongue-in-cheek scare tactics and lack of details are commonplace in the mud running niche, as there is currently little in the way of regulation when it comes to providing mud run participants with accurate and detailed descriptions of obstacles and course layouts. Most events proclaim at least one “mystery obstacle” that is kept secret until race day, which helps create a last-minute buzz on an event’s social media networks like Facebook and Twitter. Personally, the lack of details about a mud run and the excitement and anticipation leading up to a race helps keep me engaged and talking about the event. However, while I enjoy the lighter side of mud running, I also understand that there is a very serious risk involved, which is most often represented by a death waiver that all event participants must sign. While I realize the hazards of mud running, I also put some confidence into the event organizers who are responsible for ensuring that risk factors are minimized.
Many mud run sites will list the finer, more grave, details of their event in an FAQ section. Here’s a look at the Original Mud Run’s FAQ section:
Q: How far apart are the obstacles, will I be running long distances before I get to an obstacle?
A: Each course is different; we try to design the course so the furthest you will run is about 1.17 miles during the first part of the race just to spread people out so they won’t get backed-up on the first obstacle. Other than that there will not be more than about a half a mile between obstacles.Q: Do I have to know how to swim in order to participate?
A: No although it is recommended. There might be areas on the course that require you to swim but there will be guide ropes and lifeguards in those areas. There will also be alternate routes for those who do not want to swim.
Some finishers of the Original Mud Run are frenetically pointing fingers at the event for Weathers death, suggesting that this year’s race was disorganized and inadequately prepared for a large turnout of participants. Here’s what a few runners had to say on the mud run’s Facebook page after learning of the Weather’s tragedy:
(M.W.) I had the same experience and I was in the competitive division. It had NOTHING TO DO with [not] being able to swim 75 yards. It [had] to do with the NUMBER OF PEOPLE ALLOWED IN THE WATER AT ONCE. Panic-stricken drowning people were crying and terrified pulling people under the water, INCLUDING MYSELF. I was dragged under and thank God my boyfriend was able to see that and save me. This was horrible. I’ve talked to the news and will continue to do so.
(C.C) I had fun but the entire thing was completely chaotic. 2 1/2 hour wait at packet pick up with about 6-8 volunteers registering hundreds of people is insane. As many runners as they have and only two days for packet pick up of course it will be jam packed, under 10 people signing all these people up is ridiculous. There was no direction on the course and only a handful of volunteers.
(M.G.B.) My first time I wore camp pants & boots…..the boots were like 100lb weights on my feet & was impossible to actually swim & I’m a swimmer. This past Saturday I wore shorts & tennis shoes & the swimming was a cinch…no issues at all for me! It does make me very sad that do many people had such problems & issues with the run. I can say if I didn’t know how or was a poor swimmer I would not do the river. It is a good stretch across.
(J.C.) When I got to the portion of the race where we had to enter the water, we couldn’t get in immediately because there were too many people entering at once. Upon entering and starting swimming to the other side, there was a guy struggling. He was a tall guy in a red shirt and there were a group of guys pulling him back to the side that we just got in. That was a difficult task though because there was a large group funneling into a small entrance to cross.
The comments are unsettling and whether or not Weathers’ death can be attributed to these conditions may never be determined. The mud running niche is growing at a record pace and we will continue to see growth of the smaller mud runs as they attempt to carve out their piece of the pie. Unfortunately, for some events the sport is simply multiplying too fast for their own good, while others are cutting-back on adequate safety and staffing in order to stay in the game. Whatever the case may be, the safety of participants is currently not the primary concern, but maybe it should be. For it’s the mudder that will keep the sport going, not the over-zealous water obstacles, the rickety rope climbs, or the shallow mud pits. A roller coaster with a safety harness can still be the most thrilling experience of a lifetime. A few extra checks and balances on the mud run course won’t slow things down, but might just be the difference in preventing a tragedy like this from happening again. To keep this sport going, it might just be time for a change.