MIDWAY, Summit County — How do you turn a 5K into something just about anyone would want to do?
Cover it in mud.
Sounds simple, even silly, but adding copious amounts of water to a trail run turns what would normally be a tough task into child’s play.
Adding mud to a run is like dipping raisins in chocolate. It’s taking something that’s wholesome but unappealing to many and making it a lot more enticing by coating it in something nearly everyone loves.
Adding mud to a run reminds adults why they used to jump in those puddles on their way to the playground. Getting dirty on purpose is a blast, but it is more thrilling when you can get your friends filthy.
Adding mud to a run turns a solitary sport into a party. While most people run for themselves, a mud run is definitely meant to be a shared experience.
Converting running into a group activity may be the most attractive trait of the Dirty Dash. Founders John Malfatto and Jeff Harps knew mud runs would be popular in Utah because so many residents love the sport of running.
“There is such a great running community, and so many people are searching for new outdoor activities,” said Harps. “There were different 5Ks and races every weekend, but nothing like this.”
“This” is a 5- or 10-kilometer course covered in mud and obstacles. That’s right: Not only do runners have to deal with slip-sliding in the mud, they have to climb wet walls, crawl through giant tubes, hurdle a series of hay bales and show of that agility with high-knees through hundreds of tires.
Malfatto got the idea from a company that organizes mud runs in California, but unlike some of the more serious obstacle/mud races, the Dirty Dash doesn’t take itself seriously — at all.
While Malfatto and Harps figured locals would embrace the event, they had no idea how many people would clamor to run a race simply because it included mud and a Slip ‘n Slide.
“It grew a little faster than we thought,” Harps said with a laugh.
The first Utah race — a 10K last September — sold out before the early registration period ended. In just a year, the Dirty Dash has grown to a half dozen races in four states: Idaho, Washington, Montana and Utah. There are also several mud races sponsored by other companies now available in the Salt Lake area, including one that benefits the MS society in August (www.theoriginalmudrun.com).
The most recent Dirty Dash event was last weekend in Seattle, but the Utah 5K in June illustrates the hunger for events like the Dirty Dash. Organizers offered start times from 8 a.m. until 4 p.m. and attracted more than 5,000 participants. The next local race is the 10K (with a 5K shortcut) on Sept. 17.
Malfatto invited me to run the 5K in June, and I accepted when I realized it would be the perfect way to celebrate my daughter’s 17th birthday. What child doesn’t want to push her mom in the mud and not get in trouble? What mother doesn’t want to trip her (whining) daughter as she tries to run up a slippery slope?
I love running with my girls. I love it because I see them accomplishing something difficult, and I know they are learning important lessons about perseverance and hard work.
But the Dirty Dash may teach my girls another important life lesson: Enjoy life.
It may be hot, hard and full of relentless high-altitude hills, but any day is easier if you take some time to play.