Mud. Fire. Ice. Logs. Water.
This isn't your mother or father's race.
Thanks to Tough Mudder and the Warrior Dash, mud runs have been the latest fad over the past few years. For the past two years, Gretna Glen in Mount Gretna is making sure you don't have to go to Poconos to do your run, as they'll be offering up the third annual Gretna Gritty Mud Run and Walk-a-Thon fundraiser this year on Saturday, May 9.
"Tough Mudder brought the idea to the States. I've seen some of those. There are a bunch of the big mud runs, and we had a volunteer that came here and told us we should think about doing something like that," said Gretna Gritty coordinator and outdoor education manager Dan Kirby. "So we thought about it, and decided we should do that to see how it goes. We have a nice site that lends itself to us. It's a cool place that is unique for this setting. What we do out here, there's something really cool about using the terrain and the things that we do have.
"It's kind of an event that's off the beaten path. You don't see a lot of places doing these. But it's something that we've put a lot into. We've heard a lot of people saying they are going to the gym now. It gives them something to go for. It's a big community event. We have fire trucks on site. We have law and medical on site. We're prepared for an emergency. We have 100-plus volunteers that show up. They man the obstacles, drink stations, give warnings and just to cheer people on. I'm really excited about all of those parts of it. It's a fun thing for us."
Gretna Glen is a United Methodist Camping Retreat Center, which has been in ministry for about 56 years. The Gretna Gritty is a fundraiser that goes toward a "pathway to our future" initiative. It's working on and chipping away the current debt that the organization has.
The debt, which was at $690,000, is now trimmed down to under $400,000. The plan is to eventually have the Gretna Gritty pay for non-debt items. The goal this year for the organization is to raise $50,000.
"This is the third year of our event. In our first year, we had just over 200 participants sign up, which we were pumped up about. We said if we got 75 we would be happy. That was fun. Last year, we did it with a similar goal to this year. We had 400 participants last year," Kirby said. "To reach the goal, we would need 1,000 people, if it's based on just purely registration. Right now we have a ballpark of 400 people signed up.
"I doubt that we'll get there on just registrations, but we do push for our runners to fundraise. We put that goal out there to let them know we can't meet that on registration alone, so if they can fundraise, that would be awesome. The website that we use for fundraising is runsignup.com."
Along with the Nitty Gritty, which is a one-mile kids fun run, the Gretna Gritty is broken up into three sectors – the Walk-a-Thon, a non-competitive 5k and a competitive 5k.
"The competitive is timed. That's simply to give a first, second and third for male and female, and also for teams. Our teams are made up of four people. If it's less than four, you're not a team. If it's more than four, then four of you are a team and the leftover aren't," Kirby explained. "The average time of the four people when they cross is the team's score. The non-competitive isn't timed. The non-competitive is $10 less than the competitive, because it isn't timed."
The 3.1-mile course provides a challenge to all runners, but sometimes it's the avid runners who find frustration with it because it isn't a non-stop run. But there are those who come to run competitively and dominate the course.
"I think it's more appealing to non-avid runners. Some avid runners aren't into mud runs for that reason. It stops them, and they don't get the workout they want that they usually get," said Kirby. "The people that run competitively, I'll say that some who have come in the past, get a workout that's harder than anything I've ever done in my life. We've had some people who have gotten through in 30 minutes or so. That's just insane to me."
But not all of the runners that come to the event are avid or competitive runners. Some come out for a fun challenge, but how do they prepare for a daunting event like this?
"I would tell them to work on cardio. Go jogging outside, as much as you can. This is a type of terrain where if you job only on the treadmill in your preparation for this, it won't really prepare you," Kirby said. "Find some gentle hills. Go to a park. That would be great to prepare you for it."
Depending on how many Kirby can fit in, there will be anywhere from 18 to 21 different obstacles that runners have to overcome.
"The first thing you'll come up on is a mud crawl. Then you'll have a tire element, where you have to get over tires. There's a team wall next, where the team has to get over the wall. Then you'll find log climbs, which are pretty beefy logs that you have to get over. They sit about four or five feet up," said Kirby. "You'll do a fire jump after that, and then you'll come down and go through so mud hills. You'll then go through a rope swing, and then a monkey bar.
"You'll then go over one of the rockiest parts of our site, holding on to a rope and heading up and down over a hill. Then you'll have a rock crossing, which is just getting over the terrain. The new thing this year is haybells. You have to get up and over those, as well as up and over a cargo climb. It's about 15 to 20 feet of cargo nets. You'll then do some tunnels, and then you'll get into a creek to do some creek running. After that, you'll come out by another lake to do a pipe crawl, a pond crossing with floating boards and a mud crawl right there. Then you'll do what is called Beethoven's Nightmare. That's where you step up and over upright pianos, with walls in between. You go over those, through an ice bath and finish with a fire jump."
No, really. There are two fire jumps.
Isn't safety a concern, though?
"We take safety seriously. It's all regulated. We keep the paths clear of sticks and such, and we have a pretty good track record of not having any incidents. However, there is a waiver for a reason. We can't account for how someone is going to do something. Every athletic event runs into that. There can be that X factor. That's why we have our emergency plans in place," Kirby said. "The fire jumps are just trenches, with fire in them. The flame is at a safe distance. It gives them something to jump over. We keep our fire crews there to respond in case they need to respond to put something out or a burn."
Kirby said that closed-heel shoes are required, and most of the runners wear running shoes, running shorts and a T-shirt. But as Kirby put it, "I wouldn't wear anything you feel attached to. It won't ever look the same again."
If any of the obstacles appear too intimidating, non-competitive runners can pass them by. But competitive runners either have to complete the obstacle, or they have to do some burpees to make it fair.
"No one will force you to do anything. We just want people to have fun," said Kirby.
Having fun and helping each other out is what the event is all about, after all, as Kirby and his staff of more than 100 volunteers will let you know.
"Anyone who is running by themselves, make some friends. We encourage people to make friends at the beginning. You don't have to run together, but you can help each other out. We start out every event with a discussion about that," Kirby said. "We have nine waves going. At the beginning of each wave, a good friend of mine, Matt, will talk them through a scripted thing that talks about it being a community event, and people should not act in a way that puts yourself or others in harm's way.
"Help each other out. That's what this is all about. We remind people about that and get them pumped up. We don't want it to be scary for folks. We just want them to have a blast. If it takes someone two hours to run it, that's fine. There's no time frame or limit on it, especially in the non-competitive."
For more information and to sign up, visit www.gretnaglen.org/gritty. Non-competitive runners will pay $65 before race day and $70 on race day. Competitive runners will pay $75 before race day and $80 on the day of the race.