We tried it: Merrell Down & Dirty Obstacle Race

Are you a runner looking to shake things up? For a fun (and dirty) change of pace, a mud run might be the answer.

If you’re unfamiliar with the latest fitness fad, mud runs combine running with a combination of military style obstacles along the course. The goal is to challenge yourself and push you to your limits.

Last Sunday, Philly.com’s own product manager Nichole DuBan ventured over to Warminster Park for Philadelphia’s Merrell Down & Dirty, a 3 or 6-mile course littered with different obstacles to complete throughout the race.

DuBan, alongside her brother Joe, crawled through mud pits, hoisted 40-pound weights, maneuvered balance beams and climbed cargo nets. And if that doesn’t sound like enough of a workout for you, there were 16 other obstacles that challenged them throughout the 6-mile race. (Although, you do have the option to forgo some of the obstacles, if you choose.)

You’re probably wondering, how can I possibly train for a run full of mud?

“I think you could train at any local playground and feel comfortable with the obstacles,” said DuBan, who recalled the Monkey Cross (assisted monkey bars) and Jim’s Jungle Gym as being among her favorite obstacles.

DuBan didn’t do much training for the event. With two years of road running under her belt, she knew the 6-mile course wouldn’t be a problem. She had, however, been working with personal trainer prior to the race to increase her upper body strength. Yet, DuBan admits she still wasn’t prepared for Slippery Mountain — a super-slick, inclined tarp that has knotted ropes to help you climb over.

The Marine Hurdles also proved to be one of DuBan’s least favorite obstacles, but luckily, that’s where the volunteers came into play.

“Military volunteers were out on the course to physically help you up and over some of the obstacles, which they did for me after I fell off my second Marine Hurdle,” DuBan recalled. 

Thinking about diving into the mud headfirst? Aside from the obvious change of clothes and massive amounts of baby wipes that you’ll need to pack —DuBan shares the nitty-gritty on what you need to know before you mud run:

1. Don’t wear things you like — and definitely expect to not bring your shoes home. “After a couple of failed wash attempts, I eventually just donated my shoes. Merrell also collects shoe donations right there at the race.”
2. Do wear something on your head. “Merrell gives you what they call a tubular, which is an interchangeable garment. I wore it as a headscarf and it made clean out after the race a whole lot easier. Plus, if you have longer hair, you don’t have to worry about it getting snagged going under the cargo nets.”
3. Be aware of chafing. "After going through all of those pits, your feet are going to get wet and they’re going to slide around in your shoes. To protect them from chafe and blisters, rub Vaseline or Body Glide from your ankles to the tips of your toes.”
4. Keep your mouth and nose closed while you’re going through the mud. “You have sweat and dirt and all of these people traipsing through the pits so you never know what could be in there. I got some mud in my eye so I’ve been washing it out with a saline solution to be careful.”
5. Do it with a buddy. “The more people you get involved, the better. You'll have more fun, and you'll have an advantage to getting through some of the obstacles. Plus, it was a great bonding experience for my brother and I.”

“[The Down & Dirty] is physically and mentally demanding but not to an extreme degree,” said DuBan. “So it’s a great springboard for someone looking to try out their first mud run.”

This race, however, was DuBan’s second foray into the dirty world of mud running. Last year, she attended the Merrell Down & Dirty in Fairmount Park, which she found to be a more enjoyable venue. (So listen up, race directors.)

In Fairmount Park, DuBan found that the course itself was more entertaining. “You were running through Belmont Plateau and a couple of different trails, so there was a lot of scenery to keep you engaged.”

This year, DuBan likened the course in Warminster to a grade school gym class. Since the course was flat, you could see all of the racers ahead of you and always knew what was coming next. Yet, she did enjoy the extra obstacles added in Warminster Park. (After all, that’s why you’re there.)

“Overall, I think they had a better turn out in Fairmount and there were definitely more military personnel who volunteered there.”

If Merrell brings the Down & Dirty back to Fairmount Park, you can count on seeing DuBan at the starting line.

Editor's Note: A spokesperson for Merrell reached out to us to explain why they had to change the venue this year. Unfortunately, the city of Philadelphia recently added a restriction to all themed events at their parks:

Themed events that include, but are not limited to, artificial coloring, obstacles, costumes and character representation, lighting, water features, landscape or property alterations, or any other feature of the event deemed to be unsafe, inappropriate, or an inconvenience to other park users, stakeholders, or the surrounding community cannot be considered.

Watch: Down & Dirty Obstacle Race shot with a GoPro HERO3