BEND, Ore. (AP) - Last fall, my oldest daughter and I headed down to her elementary school so she could show me her latest moves on the monkey bars.
The only problem was that a group of bearded, middle-aged men had beaten Sammi and me to the punch. The playground area at Bend's Bear Creek Elementary had been overtaken by what I later learned were bankers, police officers and baristas, who were in the middle of what looked like a mix between a CrossFit class and third-grade recess.
As it turned out, they were preparing for their first obstacle course run, a Tough Mudder event that was held this past June in the remote Wheeler County town of Fossil.
"We've seen a ton of these deals on our event calendar," says Teague Hatfield, owner of FootZone running store in Bend. "It's this melding of the fitness element with the popularity of CrossFit. And it has more of the functional fitness aspect of working out."
Obstacle course and mud events _ referred to as MOB (mud, obstacle and beer) runs in some circles _ have taken off nationally and locally in the past several years. So far this summer, the Central Oregon area has hosted the Tough Mudder in Fossil in June and the Redneck Obstacle Course 5K earlier this month in Culver.
On Sept. 7, the Jere Breese Memorial Stampede, a cross-country scramble with multiple water crossings, will take place in Prineville.
"It's very appealing from the sense of adventure standpoint," says Casey Nolan, 34, a part-time Bend resident who participated in the Oregon Tough Mudder earlier this summer. "You're hustling the whole time and in it all together. There's certain obstacles you can't physically do by yourself and that's the fun part of it _ the whole misery together."
In 2012 alone, the three largest obstacle course race organizations in the country _ Tough Mudder, Spartan Race and Warrior Dash _ combined to take in more than $150 million in revenue while holding events that totaled more than 1.5 million participants. Although this year's numbers are not yet in, Tough Mudder came to Central Oregon in June, Spartan Race held a two-day event in Washougal in southwest Washington, and Warrior Dash has a 5K event scheduled for Sept. 7 in North Plains, northwest of Portland.
"There's a different crowd doing this, and that's awesome," Hatfield says. "It's really reaching out to someone who has no interest in doing a half marathon, but hey, they're up to go get muddy and climb some ropes."
Typically ranging from 3 to 12 miles, obstacle course runs can include everything from army crawling under barbed wire to running through dangling electric wires designed to shock competitors. While endurance experience is valuable, so is multifunctional training.
"We're used to doing random things," says Travis Dickey, a coach at Westside Bend CrossFit, explaining the popularity of obstacle course events among the CrossFit crowd. "Olympic weights, gymnastics, metabolic conditioning, we do it all. (Obstacle course runs) aren't just another 5K run. ... We're never going to be better than runners in runs, we don't work on that. But throw in a bunch of obstacles and we have a chance to be successful."
The obstacle-mud-beer combination seems to be popular in the Pacific Northwest. Tough Mudder reports it had more than 6,000 participants for its two-day event in Fossil, and Spartan Race claims more than 5,200 competitors for its weekend event in Washougal.
"All my co-workers thought I was crazy," says Nolan, a videographer in Portland when he is not in Bend. "But it's a lot of fun, running with your buddies and helping everyone out."
Whether these MOB events are here to stay is up for debate. Are obstacle course runs the first stride in the next great American running revolution? Or are they a short-term fitness fad, similar to minimalist footwear, Tae Bo and Bowflex home gyms?
"My guess is these events are part of the landscape now," Hatfield says. "Some people will latch on to one event and go back year after year. Others will try to do as many as they can in a year, and some will do one and never do it again, just like any other event.
"But my gosh," he adds. "Anytime you get people out and active, more power to them."
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