Fun 5Ks and Adventure Racing

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It’s 8 a.m. on a Saturday morning. You’re wearing your team shirt, old running shoes and a pinned race number on your back. You’ve participated in some charity runs and train 4 to 5 times a week at the gym – so why do you feel scared? The anxiety of the unknown is daunting as you envision biking uphill, climbing over walls and crawling in a 50-foot-long mud pit before finally crossing the finish line. You’re nervous but you’ve already committed. And your friend is honking her horn outside. There’s no looking back now! Ready now? Let’s go!

Rolling in the Mud
Mud races were the first ‘fun’ races of its kind. Running in mud took people back to their roots as children when playing in the mud was enjoyable, entertaining and exciting. Ten years ago, most weekend warriors were accustomed to the standard 5K/10K charity runs, half/full marathons and triathlon races. Now, there are a variety of races that encourage fitness, adventure, teamwork and fun.

Active.com lists more than 1,500 adventure races throughout the United States taking place in the next six months alone. There are fun and entertaining runs like the Color runs, where you get painted in color at the end, Zombie runs where zombies are literally running after you, Foam runs, where you run through a ‘bath-like’ foam pit or Electric runs where you wear glow in the dark clothing while running at night. Then there are more physically demanding runs, like Muddy Buddy, Tough Mudder, Warrior Dash and Spartan race, that include obstacles, more mileage and teamwork. If you are feeling extra confident and seek a more challenging experience, you can enter into multi-day adventure races like Ragnar Relay or AXS races.

“Anyone can do it,” said Bob Babbitt, co-founder of the Muddy Buddy race series. “This isn’t a hobby or a sport, it’s a lifestyle. Don’t get intimidated by the word ‘race.’ This is a bonding experience and you aren’t competing with anyone but the course.”

Babbitt founded the Muddy Buddy Adventure Series in 1999. They created the popular industry of mud runs and now have nine events across the country, including Mini-Muddy events for children ages 4-11. “The greatest accomplishment is seeing the impact with people who have never done a mud race and are scared,” Babbitt said. “Some [have] fear of heights, running or competing and when you see them with tears in their eyes at the finish line, it makes it all worthwhile.”

If you want to really challenge your strength, endurance and fears, you can always join more demanding races like the “Tough Mudder,” which is 10-12 miles long and includes several obstacles, such as swimming through ice water, sprinting through a field of live wire, bobbing underneath rows of floating barrels and running through a trench of blazing, kerosene-soaked straw. “This was a long, tiring experience,” said David Ramos, 35, a CrossFit athlete from Sacramento, CA. “I train 4 to 5 times a week, but nothing prepares you for some of the mental challenges in this race.”

Taking It To the Next Level
Lindsay Branscombe, 30, from New Haven, CT competes in four to five races throughout the year, a couple of which last 24 to 48 hours. When she joined her first Ragnar Relay Series race, where a team of 6 or 12 run a total of 200 miles with 36 exchange points, she had no idea what she signed up for. “It’s kind of a funny story,” she said. “I was not a runner, I hadn’t worked out let alone run in about 5 years, but my friend who was in the Coast Guard was doing a Ragnar Relay and she desperately wanted me to do it with her.”

Branscombe told her friend “no,” but the friend signed her up anyway and told her to be ready at 4 a.m. on Friday. She didn’t train for the event and simply showed up with her running shoes and overnight bag. From that point forward she became obsessed with racing. “I knew I wanted to experience that race again but being someone competitive by nature, I wanted to run it better, stronger and faster.”

Tanner Bell, co-founder of the Ragnar Relay Race series, was also not a runner. He enjoyed a healthy and active lifestyle but was not an endurance athlete. When he and his partners created Ragnar, they wanted to bring the concept of team, relay and adventure together. “Most running is a personal endeavor,” Bell said. “When you’re running in the middle of the night and you’re on your 3rd leg, you can’t quit because you can’t let your team down. You can’t duplicate that will and determination.”

Every year, new races are surmounting past races in excitement, thrill and challenge. Directors are constantly seeking ways to improve the race, enhance the experience and outdo the competition. Ragnar is launching trail relays this year where there are 4- to 8-person teams and they endure three trail loops, which they cycle three times. “Our goal in putting on these races is to connect, conquer and celebrate in unique ways,” Bell said. “We love what we do. It’s all about making life a little more awesome.”

Training To Overcome
Some people train for these races to win, while most people train to complete it in one piece. These races require a higher level of endurance, strength, agility, flexibility and balance. “If you have been training at the gym and have built your cardiac endurance to perform a group exercise class for an hour, then you can definitely complete a 5K,” said Hilary Herndon, personal trainer, track athlete and fitness instructor at Bryan College in Sacramento.

The best way to prepare for races that involve more than running is to have a balanced program complete with endurance, strength and functional training. If you’re going to do a race where you will have to traverse rugged terrain with a log on your back, then you want to train accordingly. “Try avoiding machine exercises that provide a controlled environment and start using your body weight for training,” suggested Herndon. It’s important to engage your central nervous system as you carry out various training exercises that require a “real life” aspect. For example, stand on a Bosu while performing barbell curls, incorporate some walking lunges and get off your stationary bike. Adventure races require you to compete outside your comfort zone, so mimic that unpleasant environment and try unconventional exercises that force you to train harder.

Keep reading for 5 ways to avoid race-day injuries and more!

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