Challenging races a boon for nonprofit groups

A man trudges through the mug in May during The Gauntlet at Grand Junction Motor Speedway.

Minor cuts and scrapes, mud in places you didn’t know existed and full-body fatigue. Yes, please!

At least, that is what a growing number of people participating in obstacle course races in and around Grand Junction are saying. These sort of races, which may vary anywhere in length from roughly two to 12 miles, likely spotlight mud and may include tractor tires, ropes, tunnels, fire or even electricity.

In running events, it is the latest trend nationally, and local organizations are picking up on it as an opportunity to raise money for nonprofit groups.

“The big one that everyone loves is mud,” said Linda Smith, executive director of the Western Colorado Contractors Association, which put on The Gauntlet in the spring. “They love to jump in the mud, get filthy in the mud, wallow in the mud.”

The idea to create the event came from a photo Smith saw of one of the board members jumping over fire while wearing a nun’s costume during Warrior Dash at Copper Mountain. The Gauntlet took off from there, and in the first year the WCCA had 400 participants and raised $12,000 for Special Olympics, Smith said.

Throughout September, locals also ducked, slid, jumped, crawled, climbed and ran in the Filthy 5K, Mucked Up Desert Challenge and Color Sunday 3K Team Adventure Run.

Emily Wright, recreation supervisor for Grand Junction Parks and Recreation Department, which put on the Filthy 5K, said the event had about 300 participants. It was also the first year of what will be an annual muddy-good time.

The Parks and Recreation Advisory Board heard about this growing trend and “we dove right in,” Wright said about the event that turned over 30 percent of all registration fees to United Way of Mesa County.

In addition to the 5-kilometer event, there was a 1.5-kilometer obstacle race for children that included a slip and slide of goo. Wright said she was impressed with the camaraderie she saw and said some of the appeal of these events may be the personal challenge and that they are for any age.

It also is a chance for people to wear silly costumes or for businesses to participate in a team-building activity, Smith and Wright said. Those behind The Gauntlet and Filthy 5K are already plotting the their next go-around with better obstacles.

On a national and international level, Spartan Race, which started in 2005, may be one of the oldest obstacle races. Some of the other well-known events locals have participated in include Warrior Dash, Tough Mudder and Dirty Girl.

The Tough Mudder, one of the longer and most trendy events, is staged at Beaver Creek in August. It has grown from 20,000 participants in three events around the country in 2010 to 460,000 participants in 35 events this year, according to the event website.

The Dirty Girl benefits the National Breast Cancer Foundation and is for women only, encouraging them by advertising that it is not a race in the traditional sense. Local Gold’s Gym fitness instructor Betsy Bair joined five of her sisters and a friend to participate in Colorado Springs.

Bair has run more than 10 half-marathons and one full one, and what she liked about the obstacle race was the mud, camaraderie, lack of pressure, its uniqueness and the fact that there was something for everyone.

In fact, these muddy, decked-out courses may be drawing a more diverse crowd than traditional running races, participants say.

“You get dirty and it’s physical, but it’s not so hard that everyone couldn’t participate,” Bair said.

Another popular one for locals is Warrior Dash, which caught the attention of Annette Bierman, Kids Club manager at Gold’s Gym in Clifton.

After losing weight during the gym’s 12-week challenge competition, she was attracted to races and triathlons. When she saw the obstacle option, it was another way to keep motivated. It was also something she and her teenage son could do together.

“It was something different. It’s not your usual 5K,” she said. “You jump over cars and go through the mud. It’s like, ‘OK, let’s do this.’ ”


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