Dressed in knee socks, ’80s gym shorts, miniskirts and Richard Simmons headbands, my siblings and I hit the trail at the base of Copper Mountain. We belly-crawled through drainage pipes. We hoisted ourselves up and over walls. We slogged through mud. We hurdled flaming logs. All in the name of adventure, also known as The Warrior Dash. We laughed. We compared cuts and bruises. Then we rocked out to a heavy metal cover band to take our minds off our tired muscles.
The Warrior Dash is one of about a dozen obstacle course races (OCRs) that have grown in popularity over the last decade. In fact, nontraditional racers overtook the number of half-marathoners and marathoners in 2012, according to USA Running. Maybe that’s due to the fact that adventure, fun and teamwork are the elements of any good OCR.
The two front-runners on the national OCR circuit are the Spartan Race and the Tough Mudder. But the Springs has its own homegrown version going on its eighth year: Big Dog Brag. In 2012 Misty Banta and her husband, Ron Weide, were brainstorming fundraising ideas for their nonprofit Adventure With a Purpose. Instead of another dinner or breakfast, they wanted to do something adventurous.
“At the time, Tough Mudder and the Spartan Race were coming into their own, and people were all excited about those,” Banta says. “So we thought we’d try to create an adventure race of our own that would stay local.”
That was the ticket—1,100 people signed up for the first race. And a group of track coaches from Pueblo who raced that year asked the couple to bring the race to Pueblo. So Big Dog Brag made its debut in Pueblo in 2012, where 1,000 people joined the fun. Between the two races, they now run between 3,500 and 4,000 participants each year with several hundred spectators.
“We thought, Maybe we’re on to something here,” Banta recalls. So instead of keeping the race as a fundraiser only for their nonprofit, they decided to use the race to give to other groups in the community, such as Angels of America’s Fallen and the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) Colorado Springs.
Two characteristics distinguish Big Dog Brag from other OCRs. First, they build each course based on the natural Colorado terrain. So the rope climbs come out of a canyon and go up a rock face. The first hill on the course is a mudslide. Ellicott firefighters supply water for mud pits made of good ol’ Colorado dirt. “We’re committed to Colorado. We don’t have any aspirations to be a national race,” Banta says.
The second distinction is that Big Dog Brag is especially family-friendly and accessible to anyone, from competitive obstacle racers to . walkers if that’s more your speed. “We aren’t trying to compete with Tough Mudder or Spartan,” Banta says. “We wanted to create something that was accessible to anybody no matter where they are on their fitness journey. … It’s for people who want more fun in their run.”
OCR veteran David Tatham says he enjoys the variety and community aspect of these races. He’s done over 100 races and is a member of the Colorado Obstacle Racers (COR) group. “You see every shape and size out there, the fastest runners and others who’ve never raced before. It’s for everybody, hands down. You’ll find someone there to run with you. People pull together at these races,” he says. “Plus it brings out the little kid in you.”
Big Dog Brag includes a 2K course for young kids, which doubles as the beginning of the 5K course and shares 12 of its 15 mud pits. “Kids like to get dirty,” Banta says. “The muddier it is, the happier they are.”
Other Big Dog obstacles include a Tarzan swing, a 60-foot slide that ends in a mud pit, cargo net climbs, tire scramble and more that you’ll have to discover for yourself. “This race gets better and better every year,” Tatham says. “They throw in slacklines, buddy carries, different angled walls. … I like to watch the growth of the course every year.”
Banta and Weide’s goal was to create an adventurous balance of fun and challenge. “We’re not out there making people do burpees if they can’t get up the ropes,” she says. “If you give people an opportunity to work together, whether family, friends or a corporate group, it creates these memories that are embedded for a long time. The thrill for us is watching the team part of it. You see dads helping kids get up a cargo net, or a team of 10 people coming down the slide together.” Last year the electricians union sponsored the race and brought a team of 60 people instead of hosting a company picnic.
COR member Martha Pasquale began obstacle racing in 2008 and was hooked immediately on the fun and camaraderie. “You will always find someone to connect with, and it is especially rewarding to be part of a group or a team,” she says. “Even though you have to do your own individual race, there are always people who will inspire you, help you, cheer for you and just be there for you to give you that little extra boast to accomplish something.”
I love the idea of adding fun to fitness. In fact, that combination is what drew me to my first OCR, the Muddy Buddy (part run, part bike, part relay, part obstacle). The trickiest and unexpected part of that race came on the third leg. I had to ford an inlet with my bike. Said inlet was neck high. The 6-foot-plus racers had no problem, but my feet were barely touching the bottom. I couldn’t get my bike above my head, and I couldn’t quite swim with it either. I vaguely remember someone grabbing my bike for me so I could make it across. There was something rewarding about clambering out of the muck. And when I slid out of the final mud pit with my friend Annie, I wanted to yell “Boo-yah!” and chest bump. We settled for a high-five. A very muddy high-five.
Colorado Springs Obstacle Course Races
June 13-14, Fort Carson
8-10 miles, 24-29 obstacles, prize money
Big Dog Brag
June 29, RAM Off-Road Park
2K and 5K courses, up to 25 obstacles including a dozen creative mud pits, benefitting NAMI
The Great Inflatable Race
July 20, Memorial Park
Fun run with inflatable obstacles spread throughout the course
Obstacle Course Races Around Colorado
Where to hit the road May to September.
Loveland, May 11
5 miles, 20+ obstacles, carrying a
20- to 30-pound rucksack
Big Dog Brag
Pueblo, June 8
2K and 5K courses, up to 25 obstacles
Littleton, Aug. 10-11
5K with 13 obstacles, 8 miles with 25 obstacles
Denver, Aug. 10
3 miles, 20+ obstacles
Erie, Aug. 11
3 miles, 18-20 obstacles
Larkspur, Sept. 14
5K with 12 obstacles, 10K with 20+ obstacles
Denver, Sept. 14
5K, 18 obstacles
Top Tips for Your First Obstacle Race
Taking on an OCR allows you to play like a kid and test your skills, all while staying fit. Bonus: Fitness experts say that if you love doing something and it feels like play, the more likely you are to stick with it. Are you interested yet? If so, here are my top tips to get ready for an obstacle course race this summer.
How to Train: To get a feel for race day, hit a playground to make a few circuits through all the equipment. (If you have kids, race them.) Scramble up and down rocks at Red Rocks Open Space. Trail run at Palmer Park. Or jog around Prospect Lake, stopping at the fitness stations along the path and taking a dip in the pond at the end.
What to Wear: clothes, underwear and shoes you don’t mind trashing. A pair of scissors will come in handy to cut off your underwear without getting undressed. Believe me, it’s much easier that way. Bring beach towels and a change of clothes.
What to Expect: Prepare to get dirty, bruised and scraped. Some races have a little more risk—barbed wire crawl, anyone? Others offer mellower obstacles—inflatables. Just plan to find dirt in odd places for a few days afterward.
Adventure Race: What’s the Difference?
While many people refer to obstacle course races as adventure races, adventure races are a bit more serious. The United States Adventure Racing Association says that adventure races can vary anywhere from two- to five-person teams and cover 10 to 100 or more miles. Adventure races include combinations of mountain biking, hiking, trail running, rappelling, kayaking, canoeing, etc. Visit usara.com for more info. Or sign up for the S’More Adventure Race at Camp Shady Brook in Deckers, Sept. 28. This YMCA race involves orienteering and navigation, cross-country running/hiking, mountain biking, paddling and other challenges. ppymca.org