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To adventure racers, here’s mud in your eye

The Flying Muckers obstacle is a 35-foot zip line over a spectacularly mucky pit. Gameface Media for the Globe/Gameface Media

Despite the recent cold snap, diehard adventure racers and neophytes alike already are looking forward to the spring and summer race seasons. Whether it’s the Warrior Dash, the MuckFest MS, Mudderella, Spartan Race, Tough Mudder, or other similar events, competitors can expect to have their bodies and brains put to the test.

“I don’t do these races to compete against others’ times; I do it because it’s a huge physical challenge and accomplishment for me personally,” said Deborah Eaton of Bolton. “Never in a million years would I have believed that I could do this.”

These single-day versions of the epic, multi-day adventure races have captured the imagination of thousands. The local season kicks off with the “Up, Down and Around Challenge” at Wachusett Mountain Ski Area in Princeton on March 26, and hits high gear with the two-day MuckFest MS Boston, May 14-15, at the Willard Athletic Complex in Devens.

Eaton, an elder care professional, entered her first two adventure races — the MuckFest MS and the Warrior Dash — in 2014, at age 52, after losing 70 pounds while working with a personal trainer.


“Having surprised myself with my accomplishments at the gym and with my rowing team, I had the confidence and desire to push myself to a new limit,” said Eaton. “This also seemed down and dirty, along with being physically rough for this 54-year-old mom of two. I love a hard challenge.”

That challenge is tempered by the single-day format, which works for more participants and allows the races to be held closer to urban areas.

“Obviously, not everyone can take the time off from work, or afford to do a multi-day race,” said David Darby of Wellesley, a 52-year-old IT professional who participated in his first adventure race in 2001. “It’s a big commitment, and you need to find teammates that are willing to make the same commitment. The shorter races eliminate those hurdles and make it easy for people to go and compete without much prep.


“Because the races are short, they are more physical and less mentally challenging, but usually nothing that most people that are in decent shape can’t handle,” he said.

Darby made the jump from competitor to race designer when he befriended the organizer of the Genesis Adventures series in Connecticut. He also worked with adventure race impresario Joe DeSena for the legendary Death Race in Vermont, and DeSena’s subsequent Spartan Race series. The goal for the race designer, he said, is to push competitors in every aspect.

“In the longer races — 12-plus hours or multi-day events — mental toughness is more important than physical toughness,” said Darby. “Things begin to hurt, you get very hungry and thirsty, you get tired, you want to quit. But, when you’re a team, you have to be together, and you have to all finish together. You have to overcome your mind telling you to just sit down, or lay down, or stop, or sleep.”

While the one-day events may not be as mentally taxing, it puts demands on your body that the typical competitor might not be accustomed to. That, after all, is part of the attraction.

“Because of an old knee injury and bursitis in both hips, I don’t outright run the distances between the obstacles,” said Eaton. “I do a walk/run, sometimes more walk than run, however much I can take.”


Before stepping to the start line, make sure your body and your equipment are ready to go.

“Adventure races are usually multi-sport events, with hike or run, bike, and paddle,” said Darby. “My best recommendation is to do them all, get to know your gear, like your paddle, your paddling gloves, your mountain bike, your hiking shoes, etcetera.

“You need to know what clothing to wear for the temperatures of the race — they vary a lot sometimes — and the weather,” he said. “If the weather forecast calls for a 40 percent chance of rain during a race, what I’ve learned is that means it will rain on you for 40 percent of the race. Plan accordingly. You don’t want to use a new pair of shoes or a new pair of paddling gloves. You don’t want to blister and knock yourself out of the race.”

In many instances, keeping a level head will help competitors remain above the fray.

“Doing well in a race is more about being efficient and smart than it is about being able to bench press more weight in the gym, or run a 10-second faster mile,” said Darby. “Being more physically fit will make you go faster or last longer in a race, but getting a blister or your bike pedal clips not working correctly will quickly end your race.”

If you’re racing as a team, Darby recommends putting together a coed squad.


“If you have four guys on a team, they’re all similar — similar strengths, similar weaknesses,” he said. “It makes the team one dimensional. If you have two women and two men, you have more variety. The women are much better at mental stuff — remembering to eat, drink, where stuff is.”

“It is amazing how much women add to making a team move better,” said Darby. “People only think of the physical, but there are so many other aspects to working as a team that women contribute more than men do.”

Best of all, said Eaton, is that these races capture an inescapable sense that “we’re all in this together.”

“What has impressed me the most about the two events I’ve done is the amount of good sportsmanship and genuine caring,” she said. “Someone ahead of you may offer advice or a hand, someone behind you may give you a push or words of encouragement.”

For details on the “Up, Down and Around Challenge” at Wachusett, visit MuckFest details can be found at -

Brion O’Connor can be reached at