Up until a couple days ago I had scrapes, bumps and bruises all over my legs from the Merrell Down & Dirty Obstacle Race on September 29. (Let me rewind: Earlier this year, I checked into a Biggest Loser Resort for a weeklong fitness immersion and loved it, which is what gave me the idea I could take this on too. To read that story, click here.)
The Merrell course offers 5K and 10K circuits with obstacles throughout—walls to scale, a 24-foot inflatable slide with a rope ladder, a multi-level climbing apparatus called The Monster—and several mud lagoons to low-crawl through. Similar adventure-type events include Tough Mudder, Spartan Beast and Warrior Dash, if any of those ring a bell. When an ad for the Merrell event popped up on my Facebook feed, I thought about it off and on for days, wondering if it should be my next "thing." I emailed the link to one of my closest friends, an up-for-anything type with a strong competitive bent, with the note, “Considering this. Thoughts?” She wrote right away: “This looks insane and fun and of course we should do it.” Typical me, I got a little freaked out as the event approached and tried every which way to weasel out (yes, even though it had been my idea).
She was having none of it. Every texted potential excuse (there were many) was met with a quick, kind, “You’ll be fine. See you in the morning.” Day of, once we were moving and grooving on the course, I had a blast. Our agreed-upon motto, “slow and steady,” served us fine, and we crossed the finish line—filthy, unhurt and very happy—a little over an hour after we began.
Whipping on my Finisher’s Medal was a trip, and I felt a genuine sense of accomplishment for days. I could easily see why people are drawn to these events in rapidly growing numbers. (When Tough Mudder was founded in 2010, 20,000 entrants took part in 3 events. Just three years later, in 2012, over 460,000 participants joined 35 events.) Then last Tuesday night I happened across this New York Times article, A Growing Race with Big Risks, and learned that a 28-year-old man had died during a Tough Mudder event this past April. I was floored and so sad for his family—and, frankly, I also started wondering if I’d been really naive in trying the Merrell. I read (or at least skim) much of the Times daily, but somehow I’d missed this altogether.
Suddenly, my bragging rights were replaced with the uncomfortable feeling that I’d taken a totally unnecessary risk. As a mom of two kids, 9 and 5, that makes me feel reckless. I’m sure even baseline number-crunching would prove that doing a mud run is far less risky than, say, crossing a street or driving to work. But I have to cross streets and go to work. I didn’t have to do this. A Google search turned up some more recent press, including a piece in the New York Daily News that delves more into the psychology of the rise of these events and specifies who should probably steer clear. In the end, I’m glad I took part. It was fun to share with a great friend, and I think it gave my kids a glimpse of a different side of me. One of my most important takeaways from the Biggest Loser was that transformation can happen when you're willing to step outside your comfort zone.
Still, I’m wondering: If you’re just a regular person—meaning, not a so-called extreme athlete—is doing one of these obstacle courses a bad idea? Tell me in the comments.