by Bob Babbitt
When I was a kid, my buddies and I routinely picked the sloppiest route to school when it rained. We got in trouble for leaving muddy handprints on the wall, footprints in the hallway, and a big ol' sloppy mess in the cafeteria. I stil love mud - and I am not alone.
The Mud Run at Camp Pendleton north of San Diego closes registration at 3,500 entrants months before race day. Muddy Buddy Ride & Run Series events sell out at venues across the nation, and similar events are starting to crop up here and there - but you have to look for them. They're not exactly mainstream running events.
For one thing, you won't be wearing your usual race gear. In San Diego, civilians and military competitors wear army fatigues and either running shoes they never want to see again or army boots. Tough characters enter what is called the "utes and boots" (army fatigues or "utilities" and army boots) division, while the rest of us dig through the closet and sacrifice those three-year-old racing flats and workout wear to the Mud Gods.
Swim goggles for going face-first through the slop river called the Rambo Death Ditch are a must. Don't waste time trying to walk through it. Your feet will sink quickly into the quagmire and the MPs will simply point at you, laugh and leave you there for the coyotes to feast on that evening.
The fast characters, a minority that actually cares about the time on the clock, will cut off all the pockets on their utes and, as they say in the military, "secure the perimeter" around the ankles and waist with duct tape to become not just aerodynamic, but slop dynamic as well.
Strategy is important in a mud run. At Camp Pendleton, five-person teams have to finish together, which adds an extra dimension to the fun. Don't just choose people who won't tease you for years about the way you look with your hair all spiky with mud. You are only as fast as your slowest teammate, and there are walls to climb, rivers to cross and a final mud pit placed strategically in front of the cheering crowd at the finish line.
With most events, the memories fade away soon after you cross the finish line. Not here. After a mud run, you'll be finding little reminders of your experience every time you get into and out of the shower for a week or so.
The Camp Pendleton Mud Run has become such a hip happening that people fly in from around the U.S. - and, believe it or not, from Germany and England as well. It's a perfect combination of little-kid-playing-in-the-mud and big-kid-teammates- working-together. Then there's the New-Age-mud-bath/macho-Army-boot-camp-run aspect. Something for everyone!