MuckFest bills itself as the fun mud run, and a break from the grueling, competitive tests that many in the OCR community have come to love. The contrast is fitting considering that at its core MuckFest is a fundraising event to increase awareness and research dollars to combat multiple sclerosis.
Admittedly, I didn’t know much about MS prior to the event. But after learning more about the disease and its debilitating effects on more than 2.3 million people worldwide, MuckFest (and the MS Society) is the kind of organization that you want to root for.
But does MuckFest live up to its own hype as a fun way to spend a day with a group of friends? I gathered a small team with varying levels of mud run experience to find out.
Things Done Well
From the moment my team met onsite, we knew this was going to be a different experience from the typical races we run. The event was on the beautiful, rolling country grounds of Glen Mills Schools about 30 minutes west of Philadelphia. What made the experience unique (aside from the free parking!) was the walk through a suburban neighborhood to get to the course. Curious neighbors said hello to the race participants along the route to check in. Young girls with a lemonade stand offered drinks and snacks. And, the backyard cookouts and lawn parties that lined the first half-mile of the course made us feel like we were part of a community before we took our first squishy steps.
Check in was quick and easy. The professional staff and a small army of volunteers were well organized, enthusiastic and appreciative of all the runners. The village set up, food and merch offerings were appropriate and the village emcee provided enough entertainment for a festive experience. Bag check was easy to navigate and there was plenty of privacy for post-race clean-up.
The course itself was perfectly suited for the entry-level crowd that showed up to run. It was clear from the outset that fun was the primary objective. Many of the obstacles were creative ways to get wet and muddy, yet were enjoyable because they were different from the usual OCR course offerings. There were no 6-foot walls to climb or monkey-bar tests of grip and upper-body strength. In fact, if you have ever watched the TV series “Wipeout,” and thought “I’d like to try that,” this is your kind of event. The zip line feature “Flying Muckers”, and stuntman airbag “Crash Landing” were some of the highlights. And what Wipeout-inspired course wouldn’t have Big Balls.
But, the real appeals were the people and the reason for running. At the starting corral, the top three money-raising teams of each were recognized. It’s sometimes hard to put into perspective the single event when MuckFest has raised nearly $32 million since its inception in 2013. But the website was immediately updated after the race to share that the nearly 4,500 muckers that participated in Philadelphia raised over $400,000 for MS!
Room to Grow
While the people were inspiring, there were a few places where the experience breaks down if you are a veteran OC racer. Let me stress that as a fun run, this event is designed as an entry-level experience. Really entry level. If you are looking to introduce your spouse or kids, coworkers or church group to the sport with which you are obsessed, this is a great event. But you have to temper expectations. Partially by design, and largely based on clientele, the overwhelming majority of people in our wave walked out of the starting corral. Many of them continued to walk the entire course. So, if you are looking to enjoy the cackling and shrieks of joy from people who have NEVER done this kind of thing, then you will have fun. If you are annoyed by folks who are not there to exert themselves, you’ll need to find another event.
As you can expect, with walking, there were a lot of people on the course. That meant waiting for every obstacle. In fact, the zip line obstacle had a 40-minute wait to complete. Waiting for this, and many other obstacles pushed our time to complete the 5K course to over two hours. This is a really long time to complete a course. (Considering some of my team had recently completed the Tough Mudder Classic in under 2.5 hours, and one other teammate had run a sub-4-hour marathon just two weeks ago, the waiting was excruciating.)
One suggestion to eliminate some of the waiting would be to make the zip line the opening obstacle and offer a rolling start in favor of waves. This would offer some space for those who wanted to run more and potentially reduce the total time on course.
MuckFest gave us everything that we expected, and I would encourage folks of any fitness level to try it at least once. It was a well-executed, and worthwhile experience for a good cause. And while veteran OC racers will not find MuckFest physically challenging, this event is specifically designed to be inclusive.
Overall, we had fun. We got dirty and got to spend some time together participating in something that is larger than ourselves. And when you think about it, isn’t that why we love this crazy sport in the first place?
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This author is part of the Mud Run Crew and received a free race entry in return for an independent review. All opinions are those of the author and were not influenced by the race sponsor or Mud Run Guide.