Trend: Extreme racing is hip

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Friends stand close with arms around each other and smile for a group picture. It doesn’t matter that they smell or have gritty teeth and slimy hair. They actually seem happy to look as if they’ve crawled through the ooze and muck of mud pits.

They look it, because they have done it.

Running or jumping through mud isn’t the only way to get beat up for a picture with friends at a finish line. A selection of adventure-type races, from The Dirty Dash to the Spartan Death Race, will dishevel many a determined competitor on his or her way through obstacles ranging from push-ups as punishment and army crawling through under barbed wire.

Because living on the edge has become a more popular lifestyle, races with obstacles, mud and danger are popping up to fulfill that daredevil outlet. Although these races provide a way for hardcore athletes to take risks and push their limits, they also provide ways to work out with friends and make exercise fun for those less interested in just bettering a race time. Social media has played its part in pushing the races’ popularity, and their reputation is helping reach out to those in need.

Hardcore obstacles and punishment for failing to complete them can push a runner to his or her limits and may be the way most of the adventure races are headed. However, the feats some races hold can be surprises to newcomers.

“I had no idea what I was getting myself into,” said Jordan Staheli, 29, who competed in his first obstacle race last summer. “But it sounded like fun.”

Staheli, from Provo, did the Super Spartan in July, a race perhaps for the less feeble-hearted. The 8-mile course took him more than two hours as he army-crawled through mud, threw spears and climbed walls — a total of 18 obstacles. They also included walking across a balance beam and jumping from one stump to another. When Staheli failed three of the obstacles, he had to do three sets of 30 burpees, a push-up requiring the chest to touch the ground and return to a standing position between each one.

“Those killed,” he said. “They were not fun.”

Although Staheli was completely sore after the physical challenge, he said he is preparing for another one.

“I would love to do it again,” he said. “I want to do it this upcoming summer.”

But this time he wants more with The Spartan Beast; a 10-12 mile race that allows runners a dignified exit at mile three if they cannot go on. For the serious adventure racers, they can continue on with The Spartan Death Race, a race claiming a 10 percent finishing rate and 48-hour plus finishing time.

Many races, such as a triathlon or a running 5k, aren’t as intense and are already popular in Utah. In July, there were 60 races listed on runningintheusa.com, which was only about half of the 116 races in Colorado but more than the 19 in Nebraska. But the non-traditional races are making a name for themselves — of the 60 in Utah, nine were listed as obstacle, adventure or trail races.

John Malfatto, creator of The Dirty Dash, said last year’s race was the only one of its kind in Utah. Even though they only had one day of the race, it was a hit.

“Because there wasn’t anything like this in Utah before last year, it blew up right away,” he said.

Malfatto said this year, in addition to the extra Dirty Dashes he and his team implemented to meet demand, there are 10 different races that have come into the market.

“It’s really surprising to see and it’s a little frustrating when you’re like, ‘Oh man, now we’ve got all this competition,'” he said. “But I figure if we put on the best race I think that’s all that really matters.”

The races have been growing and social media may be playing its part to spread the word. The Dirty Dash community alone is more than 20,000 people on Facebook.

“The way I look at social media is people post stuff on Facebook because everyone wants to say, ‘This is what I did this weekend and it was better than what you did this weekend, so check it out,'” Malfatto said.

Sara Cushing, a UVU student and Facebook user, competed in The Dirty Dash with her boyfriend at the time.

“He and his friends were way excited about it and he was like, ‘Dude, we’re doing it, I don’t care what you say,” Cushing said.

Before the race, the group she was going to compete with used Facebook as a way to prepare to for it. They shared a video clip from YouTube to help get word out and get excited for the race. After the race, the muddy pictures were put up on Facebook for all to see.

“That’s the only picture I have of myself covered in mud, which is awesome,” Cushing said.

Cushing said she ultimately enjoyed the race because it was a good workout, but also just fun and unique. However, she is willing to try different races to see if they could be even better.

And some of the different races are trying to make the world even better.

Andy Weinberg, director of the Spartan Death Race, said in an email that from the 100,000 athletes competing in the different Spartan Races across the country this year, thousands of dollars will be donated to various charities. The Spartan Race website lists a goal of raising $400,000 for the charity Homes for our Troops and encourages the “Spartan” athletes to live a charitable life.

Besides donating money, the racers can give up their dirtied shoes.

“I know at the Chicago race they donated 80 percent of the sneakers worn on race day to a charitable organization that gives shoes to students who can’t afford them,” Weinberg said.

The Dirty Dash has done the same by partnering with a group that collects the muddy shoes people wanted to donate at the end of the race. Then they clean them and ship them to places such as Ghana and Mexico. Involved charities and non-profit organizations are benefiting from the impact the races are having.

Some may want to swim through mud with friends to put a picture on Facebook. Others desire to push their bodies to the limit and experience pain to venture into the extreme. Anyone can donate muddy shoes or monetary means to help a good cause. Whatever the motivation, racers and non-racers alike have many chances to prove they are intense or just ready to have a good time.

“The obstacle racing scene is huge right now,” Weinberg said. “It’s grown tremendously and I think it will continue to grow.”

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