On a normal day, kids are asked dozens of times to act and look a certain way. To tuck in their shirt, fix their hair, clean the chocolate milk mustaches off their face and use a towel – not their shorts — to wipe their hands.
They’re instructed to avoid tempting puddles, find a detour around mud and to “be careful.” Mud runs throw all of that out the window. Obstacle course races, like those hosted by Spartan and Terrain, are more than just races for kids. They’re an absolute liberation.
And, that’s not an exaggeration. We’ve made a habit of registering our crew for the kid versions of any obstacle course race, known as OCR, that we participate in ourselves. And they love every gritty, muddy, grimy minute of them.
Because, they get to break the rules, they say, and get dirty. They get to jump over walls, when normally they’re told not to. They get to test their physical abilities on obstacles, and most of all, they learn in an era of participation trophies that they only get to take home a medal if they actually cross the finish line. They also like that every course is different, that they have no idea what is waiting for them.
Sometimes it’s a slide, a mud-lined drainage tunnel, a Tarzan-style rope swing or a million stairs, like those featured in the challenging Spartan Stadium race.
While the adult versions of these OCR competitions do require some training to prepare for the challenges (think: carrying a five-gallon bucket of rocks or army-crawling through mud under barbed wire), the kid versions are totally accessible. Our kids range in age from 5 to 12 and have been running them for the last year and a half without issue. They’re sporty, but they never train for the races.
They just find some clothes that they’d be okay parting with, in case the mud stains, grab their mud sneakers from the garage and wait for their start time.
Why do we love it? Because we can hear them self-talk their way through tough spots, we can see their pride when they finish first in their heat and advance to a winner’s round, and we can watch them as they realize what their bodies and minds are capable of accomplishing.
And it doesn’t hurt that when our start time comes, we have a mighty cheering section that is eager to see what challenges await them once they’re old enough to brave the full course.
The good news is, if your kids want to give it a go, there are tons of options. These are our faves.
Spartan Race: The Spartan Race is usually held throughout the year across the country. The kids’ course is offered in half-mile, one-mile and two-mile options and obstacles include sandbag carries, jumping over walls and crawling through tunnels. Kids receive headbands as race bibs, T-shirts for finishing and a medal at the finish line.
Mud rating: Moderate.
For information, visit https://www.spartan.com/en/race/detail/4145/overview?filter=kids.
Rugged Maniac: Rugged Maniac, also held throughout the year across the country, sounds scarier than it is, but it does not include a designated kids race, which is something we learned the hard way. Participants must be at least 12 years old, which is older than other OCR races that include a specific kids race, open to kids as young as 5 or so. That said, Rugged Maniac is entirely doable. The atmosphere is fun, the course is incredibly muddy and it includes obstacles such as a massive teeter totter that participants have to run up and down, and a warped wall that leads to a double-wide water slide.
Mud rating: Heavy.
For information, visit https://ruggedmaniac.com/events/phoenix/.
Monster Mudda: Held in Payson in June, the Monster Mudda is hands-down one of our favorites. Although it means an early alarm clock on a summer Saturday to accommodate the two-hour drive, the day is so worth the road trip. The kids course includes a mud pit, a water slide, and log fences they have to clear. And the adult course, open to kids ages 12 and older, includes a quicksand-like mud pit accessed by a 10-foot jump from a drainage pipe, and ends with a gladiator-style gauntlet where spectators cheer from the surrounding bleachers. We’ve all done it twice, and we can’t get enough of it.
Mud rating: Insane.
For information, visit https://www.paysonrimcountry.com/mountain-high-games.
Terrain Race: If mud runs could be cute, Terrain would earn that title, if only for its monkey medal. Terrain Race, held at different times during the year, used to start its competitors, for both the kids and adult races, in a group-sized tub of chilly water so everyone gets wet before running through the starting gate. But, it’s become more of a run than a muddy one. Kids obstacles include walls and desert crawls.
Mud rating: Light.
For more information, visit http://terrainrace.com/locations/phoenix-2019/.