BOSTON ( MainStreet) -- Your accountant is running through a mud field this weekend. That electronics store clerk you play Battleground 3 with online? Carrying buckets of gravel up hills. This is what weekends look like to a segment of the population whose Facebook photo galleries make them look as if they've spent the weekend digging out their town in the wake of a flood. Those photos of mud-covered friends, the logos in their profile photo spaces and the stories being told around the water cooler the next day are all courtesy of huge mud runs and obstacle races that have sprung up in wide open spaces across America during the past decade.
Warrior Dash, Tough Mudder and Spartan Race fill a social and physical void for the desk-bound while raking in dollars.
The slovenly stepchild of strait-laced endurance events such as 10K runs, marathons and triathlons, organized mud and obstacle runs have been kicking around since at least 1999, when the Columbia Muddy Buddy Bike and Run Series in the Pacific Northwest first put folks through rough terrain and mud pits before planting them in a giant party in a Redhook ( HOOK) Brewery beer garden at the race's end. By 2009, Chicago-based Red Frog Events had expanded its offerings from scavenger hunts, beach parties and pub crawls to include a muddy, fiery obstacle run called the Warrior Dash. The first event drew 2,000 participants and sold out immediately. By 2010, participation had jumped to 150,000 people and 15,000 to 20,000 people per event. The total number of mud-caked runners reached more than 500,000 last year, and Red Frog expects more than 1 million runners to attend 62 events throughout the U.S., Canada, U.K., Ireland and Australia. For $70 to $90 per participant, runners get a beer, a helmet, a medal, snacks and the opportunity to run either alone or as a team among squads of firefighters, cops, veterans, extreme athletes and cubicle dwellers looking for a story to tell around the water cooler on Monday. "Some people will blaze through this thing in 20 to 25 minutes and some people will take an hour," says Red Frog and Warrior Dash spokesman Matthew Robinson, who adds that his parents are in their 60s and plan to run in the event as well. "We're OK with that, because it's really just a time to challenge yourself and it doesn't matter what the other warriors do."