First, I must admit, I don’t know much about these M.O.B. events (aka, mud, obstacle and beer) and I have never even competed in one, but I am certainly totally fascinated by and envious of their incredible growth and the amount of interest they have generated.  My mother use to tell me when I was a little boy, that I use to eat sand…don’t ask why…so, I’m not sure why crawling around in mud doesn’t appeal to me these days.

First there was Muddy Buddy and then along came Warrior Dash, and the Spartan Races, Ruckus, The Walking Dead, Dirty Dog Mud Run, Tough Mudder, Color Run, Glow Run, Foam Runs, Electric Run, Color Me Rad, Hot Chocolate, and the list goes on and on….and on.  What’s next?

I find it quite amazing how fast these new events have caught on and must admit quite surprised by the incredible growth and interest in them.  So, why all the interest?  Among a number of reasons, I believe these are the top three:

FUN -- first, according to most who participate, it is all about the FUN factor.   It is not a lifestyle.  It is not as much about health and fitness.  There is an intentional non-emphasis on competition and timing or scoring the event and perhaps this is also the reason this “new audience” currently does not participate in many traditional running events.  It is just about having FUN.  I suppose there is nothing wrong with that objective.  We all want to add fun in our lives even if you have to get a little “dirty” in the process.

GROUPS -- next, it is group focused, that is, not many sign up for one of these events without first discussing it with 4-5 or more of their friends or family members and deciding that they ALL are going to go to event and participate TOGETHER.   That certainly is becoming more commonplace in traditional road races but you still will find runners simply signing up on their own.

SOCIAL – it is all about social networking.  This stuff is all over the social network.  Photos are actually being taken and immediately posted while participants are still crawling through the mud.  It continues to feed on itself.

Another major factor in the growth of these events has to do with the somewhat “ease” and “simplicity” of event producers being able to produce, stage and manage these type of events.  Today, the most challenging part of producing a new road race is just getting permission to do it.  Usually, you have to ask to shut down roads for extended periods of time.  There is such a proliferation of races these days that cities and towns are saying enough is enough and even imposing moratoriums.

However, with most of these new MOB events, they can and are being held on private property, not on public roadways, like at ski resorts during the off season.  Thus, it is quite easy to get permission to conduct the event as long as you pay the appropriate site fees.   In most of these cases, there is no negative community impact other than the massive amount of cars making their way to the event venue. 

This past summer my wife was driving on Rt. 495 up to her mother’s house in Salem, NH and then turned around and came back home due to a massive traffic jam.  We, of course, thought it was because of a major traffic accident.  Later we found out there was no accident at all, it was all the traffic making its way to the Color Run in Amesbury, MA!  Wow.

In contrast to traditional one-off, community-focused road races, many of these formats are exploding onto the national scene overnight.  The Color Run took place in over 50 cities with more than 600,000 participants in 2012, its very first year of existence!  There are lots of reasons for these aggressive growth plans.  The low cost and viral nature of social media are allowing these concepts to catch on quickly without huge marketing budgets.  Some of the events - particularly the obstacle course events like Spartan Race and Tough Mudder - invest a lot up front in equipment, staging and signage.  To get the fastest return-on-investment, it’s understandable that they’re expanding into as many markets as they can and as quickly as they can.  Like mobile “events in a box,” their trucks pull up, off load and set up equipment, put it all back in the truck and drive to the next venue.

It is reported that over 55 million people in America run or jog at least three times a week.  Of that, “only” about 10 million participate in road races.  That leaves 45 million that these MOB events are going after and their numbers are staggering.   Many of these events are attracting 10’s of thousands of participants, most between the ages of 20 and 45.   And, because many of these events are on private property, you can take all day or even all weekend to conduct the events thus allowing for wave after wave after wave of participants.

So, am I envious and jealous of these events and their instantaneous success?  You are darn right I am…but…all I can say is good for those folks who came up with these “outside the box” ideas and new trends.  The question everyone is asking now is, “is it a fad or are these events here to stay for a while”?  Only time will tell but meanwhile lots of people are having lots of fun and a few people are certainly making LOTS of money while these participants crawl through mud, have colored dye tossed in their face, run through fire and even experience a little zap of electricity to boot…and then to party like rock stars when it is all over. 

Hmmm, I might have just convinced myself to try one of these crazy events out myself!  Then again, maybe I’ll just go for a long run.