Most of the first and second waves of runners in the Dirty Girl Mud Run were climbing over walls and jumping into muddy pools by the time the fourth wave reached the tunnel where they had to crawl through a foot of muddy water. Completing the race with a few scratches and a 20-foot blow-up mud slide, racers erupted into cheers and muddy high-fives.
In all, more than 800 women tackled 12 obstacles in the 5K course that wound through Old Tucson Studios earlier this month.
It was Wisconsin-based Dirty Girl's first event in Tucson.
Dirty Girl is part of a national movement of obstacle course racing that is building a following throughout the country.
Despite the grueling challenges of hoisting oneself over a 10-foot wall, or slithering under nets and through tunnels, there was a decided atmosphere of fun.
Many of the runners wore bright colors and matching outfits. Some wore tutus, bandannas or self-made T-shirts.
Most seemed to take part in groups, with creative names ranging from the "Breast Friends" and the "Mud Slingin' Country Girls" to the "Berry Dirty" girls.
A Dirty Girl race in Phoenix drew about 6,000 in November. Organizers, happy with the turnout, plan to return to Arizona next year.
So what's behind the growing popularity of crawling through mud and over rope-link fences?
"Not only athletes, but a lot of individuals are looking for different ways to push the envelope," said Lorey Pro, assistant director of fitness and wellness at the University of Arizona's Student Recreation Center.
"The body is an amazing machine. It can tolerate almost anything and there is a piqued interest in 'Will I be able to physically or mentally be able to do this?'"
Events such as the Dirty Girl 5K also address a growing desire to do something beyond the traditional marathon or triathlon.
These muddy obstacle runs offer something for everyone - from the extreme to the not-so extreme.
Anita Kellman founded the Beat Cancer Boot Camp in Tucson nine years ago.
"I think the growing trend is that people are tired of all the runs and walks everyone does. People are looking for something different, exciting and challenging. I used to participate in all of these walks and runs and it was almost an obligation. I didn't want people to feel obligated - I wanted people to come because it was fun," Kellman said.
Fans view these races as a fun way to support a good cause and to see who is the toughest or the strongest one out there. Friends, families and strangers also form bonds.
"The camaraderie and the community they build with these individuals is amazing. Everyone is cheering everyone on, its fun and exciting. Just to see someone do something amazing, it's uplifting," Pro said.
Susan Hill competed with "Breast Friends" at Old Tucson.
"We did the mud run in Phoenix and thought it would be fun," she said. "We probably all have someone who's been affected by cancer so it's just a bonus that we can go and have fun, be silly and support somebody," she said.
There are three races scheduled in Tucson within the next two weeks.
On Saturday, more than 750 are expected at the Beat Cancer Boot Camp Challenge, from first-timers to some who have been training with Kellman for years.
Now in it's fifth year, it was one of Tucson's first obstacle challenges.
"What sets us apart from all the other races is this is really community involved," Kellman said.
On Sunday, the 5K Kiss Me Dirty Race Series, promoted as the "World's Most Fun Female Mud Run and Obstacle Course," takes place at Pima County Fairgrounds with challenges like the 'Main Squeeze,' 'Crouch and Crawl' and 'Foaming the Runway.''
Escape the Walkers 5K Zombie Mud Run takes place on March 23 at The Slaughterhouse, best known as a haunted attraction in the former Farmer John's plant on Grant Road.
An "After the Apocalypse Party" gives racers a chance to watch the stragglers finish and celebrate their escape from the zombies.
If you go
Fifth Annual Beat Cancer Boot Camp Challenge
• What: 5K obstacle challenge .
• When: 7:30 a.m. Saturday.
• Where: Brandi Fenton Memorial Park, 3482 E. River Road (course along the Rillito Wash).
•Cost: $40 per person; $180 for squads of five.
• Register: At the park from 10 a.m.-2 p.m. today; 2-6 p.m. Friday.
• Training: Year-round physical support group open to all cancer survivors, families, friends and anyone who wants to support the cause.
• More: www.beatcancerbootcamp.com
Kiss Me Dirty Race Series
• When: 9:30 a.m. Sunday.
• Where: Pima County Fairgrounds 11300 S.Houghton Road.
• Cost: $70 preregistration fee closes Saturday, $80 day of race.
• More: kissmedirty.com
Escape the Walkers 5K Zombie Mud Run
•When: 8 a.m. March 23.
•Where: The SlaughterHouse 7565 W. Yellow Moon Place
•Cost: $70 until March 22, $95 day of event.
• More: escapethewalkers.com
By the numbers
gallons of mud brought into each event for the Dirty Girl Mud Run.
participants worldwide who experience "probably the toughest event on the planet." - Tough Mudder
in cash and prizes given away to winners of various extreme events by Spartan Race at the 2012 Spartan Race Championship Event at Killington Resort in Vermont.
estimated amount that will be donated to the UA Cancer Research Center to benefit gynecological cancer research through donations and fundraisers for the Kiss Me Dirty Mud Run.
age of the oldest woman participating in the Kiss Me Dirty Mud Run in Denver.
Some obstacle races require relatively little training. Others, such as the Tough Mudder and the Spartan Race held in the Phoenix area, demand much more intensity.
Here are a couple of local training programs to consider before you hit the mud.
• What: From jumping to climbing to crawling, the University of Arizona Rec Center offers a six-week training program to help people prepare for these obstacles courses. The program incorporates group activities that simulate the types of obstacles featured in races.
• When: 5:30 to 6:30 p.m. Tuesdays and Thursdays through April 25.
• Where: Bear Down Weight Room. 1428 E. University Blvd.
• Cost: $80; $60 Rec Center members. Register by Friday at campusrec.arizona.edu
"What we're hoping to do is gather groups of people who are interested in training for these types of events. We're trying to reach out to the people we haven't in the fitness industry," said Lorey Pro.
Beat Cancer Boot Camp Classes
• What: Beat Cancer Boot Camp offers classes in eight-week sessions year round.
• When: 5:30 p.m Tuesday and Thursday classes offered year-round, Saturday classes vary.
• Where: Tuesdays and Saturdays at Brandi Fenton Memorial Park, 3482 E. River Road. Thursdays at Morris K. Udall Park, 7290 E. Tanque Verde Road; and Northwest Community Park, 7601 North Mona Lisa Road.
• Cost: $35 one class per week, $50 two classes per week, $70 three classes per week. Register at beatcancerbootcamp.com
"The program is a physical support group and open to all cancer survivors, family and friends. Based on the Navy SEALs training, it is all outdoor military exercises and I do something year-round for people to be involved and engaged in the program," Anita Kellman said.
For a good cause
Not only has being the toughest and the baddest participant out there grown in popularity, so has fundraising and donating money to the organizations partnered with the races.
"A lot of these races are trying to keep that connection of giving back in some way," said Lorey Pro.
Better Than Ever is a UA Cancer Center program that strives to instill physical fitness and a healthy lifestyle while raising money for cancer research.
Now in its 13th year, the program encourages participants to walk, bike or run to train for events, while raising money.
Participating in obstacle races is a fun way for people to get involved.
"Whatever the venue is to get people interested in the cause, in this case cancer and physical fitness, those things tend to work very well together. We're delighted when an organization like Kiss Me Dirty adopts us as a recipient. We're very grateful recipients," said UA Cancer Center Public Affairs Director Sara Hammond.
Kiss Me Dirty Mud Run donates a portion of all proceeds to gynecological cancer research in every community where it holds an event.
Last year, it donated $5,714 to the UA Cancer Center, according to Charity Vernon, a Kiss Me Dirty founding partner.
This year organizers expect to generate up to $15,000 from Sunday's event at the Pima County Fairgrounds.
More races that give back
•Escape the Walkers: The March 23 5K zombie run in Tucson benefits the Diamond Children's at the University of Arizona Medical Center.
•Muckfest MS: The Oct. 19 race in in Phoenix, raises money for the National Multiple Sclerosis Society.
• Warrior Dash: This April 13 Phoenix run gives participants the option to raise money for the St. Jude Children's Research Hospital.
•Tough Mudder: This extreme race, in Phoenix last month, has raised more than $5 million for the Wounded Warrior Project.
•Dirty Girl Mud Run: Dirty Girl raised over $250,000 nationally last year for the National Breast Cancer Foundation.
•A 10K obstacle course on March 30 in Scottsdale.
•April 13, Phoenix warriordash.com
Extreme Gladiator Mud Run
•April 20, Fort Mohave. xtrememudrun.com
•Oct. 5, Peoria. mudfactor.com
•Oct. 19, Phoenix
nationalmssociety.org - then search for muckfest
Run for Your Lives
•Nov. 2, Sacaton. runforyourlives.com
Dirty Girl Mud Run
•Nov. 16, Phoenix. godirtygirl.com
•Nov. 16, Chandler. rugged maniac.com
Arizona Spartan Sprint
• Feb. 8-9th 2014, Chandler. spartanrace.com
Climbing over walls and jumping into freezing water pits can get pretty pricey. With entry fees ranging from $40 up to $200, it's easy to spend some serious cash.
Tip: Register early. Entry fees tend to increase closer to the race. Also, many of these events fill up.
Typically, part of the registration cost goes to an insurance policy, in addition to covering other costs.
"You still have to sign a liability form saying you aren't holding anybody but yourself responsible, you are waving all your rights as long as they make it as safe as possible," UA's Pro said.
Rachel Cabakoff is a University of Arizona journalism student who is an apprentice at the Star. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org