Sherry Sroka is typically a clean and fastidious person. Yet as she crawled on her belly through a pool of mud, she didn't think to close her mouth until a bystander reminded her. She was quite appreciative. So goes one's first mud run — a series of challenges in the military-style race for civilians that is gaining popularity across the country.
"BoldrDash at Yawgoo Valley in September 2013 was my very first race ever," said Sroka, of West Kingston, R.I. "And I was surprised … getting filthy really didn't bother me at all."
Sroka was in for another surprise at the end of the 5K event — she made it across the finish line. "I distinctly remember thinking about five minutes in, as I was running up a hill with a rock, 'Whatever made me think this was a good idea?' I was behind my group, already tired. But I kept going … I pushed myself. The natural high of adrenaline when I finished is still fresh in my mind," Sroka said.
Obstacle Course Races (OCRs), or mud runs as many call them, were started by a band of Marines raising money for charity. The inaugural race, held in 1989 in Tustin, California, had 99 participants. Mud runs today are as packed as rock concerts, attracting as many as 25,000 registrants in a weekend. Their meteoric rise is hard to exaggerate; Warrior Dash, which began in 2009 with one race and 2,000 people, is predicted to field more than 800,000 runners this year. Spartan Race also began in 2009 and will host around 750,000 this year, according to Men's Health Magazine.
Locally, event promoters have seen a similar rising trend. "Our growth has been incredible," said Lynn Hall, President of Rhode Island's BoldrDash. "In 2011, our first year, we had 600 participants at one event. We doubled that in year two, and in 2013 we added our beach event and over 4,000 participants and spectators."
The motivation of participants to enter a mud run event is as varied as the race's terrain.
"For many it's about conquering a fear, surpassing a goal, or simply the thrill of doing something different," said Hall. "The road to an OCR is paved with a completely different type of training. Often that is what participants are looking for." Hall recalls a bride who came to a BoldrDash event the day after her wedding to "trash the dress," — perhaps in an attempt at post-nuptial stress relief.
Fifty-eight-year old Deb Patrick of Groton was "looking for something new and fun to attempt," and got involved with mud runs as a way to raise money for a good cause — and test her physical limits.
"I had recently lost 30 pounds and was feeling healthier than I had in a few years. I've always been active and had started running again at the gym after several years off due to a neck injury," said Patrick. "When Cynthia Morrison, Executive Director of the Boys & Girls Club of Southeastern Connecticut, posted a mud run on Facebook last year I decided I was ready to push myself."
Patrick says she had a blast at the Mystic event — Getting Muddy for Kids — although it was more strenuous than she expected. "The obstacles were a challenge, I needed a boost over a wall ... I'm barely 5'3," she said.
Patrick persevered, through swamp and mud, and crawled with her head up. "Until my body tells me I can't do it, I'll continue to do it," she said. She is currently in training, along with her first-timer daughter, for the Boys & Girls Club April 12th mud run.
"What I enjoy most about the mud runs is you push each other as a team and work together. It's all about completing the run," Patrick said, "not so much about the time it took."
Self-proclaimed mud run addict Serena Rutherford of Killingly will also be racing on a team at Getting Muddy for Kids this year.
"I like the mud runs, they are a great way to get a group of your friends together, support a good cause and have a blast while running through obstacles, fire and mud," Rutherford said. "You can either treat it like a race to beat your time or just have fun and go at your own pace."
An avid athlete, Rutherford has a strong personal motivation to stay active and fit. "Both of my parents have had cancer," she said, "and I feel if we can keep ourselves healthy and watch what we ingest in our bodies … I am doing my part."
"That's why I like to do events that have meaning behind them, like fundraising for good causes," she added. "I think it is great to be able to give back."
For Jenn O'Hearn of Wakefield, a divorce, two young children, and a full-time job provided all the incentive she needed to find an outlet. She started attending classes at a southern Rhode Island fitness center "and it changed my life in a way I didn't even know I needed," said O'Hearn.
A lifelong athlete, O'Hearn credits her workouts as essential to reclaiming her well-being. It was here she connected with like-minded people and got involved with her first mud run, the BoldrDash at Yawgoo in 2013.
"The mud run was unlike other races that I have done. It was about cheering each other on, helping others over the walls and through the mud. It was about laughing as we flew down the giant slip-n-slide. As we all competed we did it with muddy smiles the entire time," said O'Hearn. "I was lucky to have my first experience with my team from the gym. We could see our bright orange shirts throughout the course and know that we were in it together. Most of all, we were given permission to play in the mud – and nothing is better than that!"
For details about upcoming events - including the next Getting Muddy for Kids fundraiser on Saturday, April 12 - visit www.bgcse.org. The race kicks off at 9 a.m. at Fields of Fire Paintball Park in Mystic.
For details on BoldrDash race locations near you, visit www.boldrdashrace.com.