Tasting Mud at the USMC Ultimate Challenge


There are lots of different ways to gauge if a mud race is worth the price of admission and whether the event organizers do a decent job of putting together a real challenge.

Most people read the reviews of previous years’ events online, or ask around and talk to buddies who are into mud runs to see if it’s a been-there-done-that type of thing or if they keep going back for more.

14,000 Recruits

For the US Marine Corp Ultimate Challenge Mud Run, you find out everything you need to know by reading the news reports about how the event almost shut down the town of Columbia, South Carolina in 2010.

fitness2xtreme-images-usmc-ultimate-challenge-mudrun-02-traffic-jamThe population of 130,000 people expanded by ten percent as over 3,600 teams and 14,000 participants jammed the roads to be a part of the epic event.

1,400 runners couldn’t even make it through the traffic jams, so the race has been forced to create a second event just to accommodate everybody.

It’s the single biggest mud run on the continent, and people come from all over the country to participate.

That alone should give you some idea of what a monster this race is.

This Recruit, That Recruit

The USMC Ultimate Challenge Mud Run was designed as a team race by a former Marine Corp Drill Instructor.

You can organize your own group of four or get matched up with other singles, but one way or another no team member progresses until the last of his mates complete a challenge – this race adheres to the U.S. Soldiers Creed of “leave no man behind,” and it’s a big part of what makes the event so different.fitness2xtreme-images-usmc-ultimate-challenge-mudrun-03-course

The official training site for the run stresses the “there’s no I in team” philosophy, and the race site itself makes no mention of prizes … just results.

It’s all about putting civilians through Marine Corps paces, giving them a sense for the importance of working together under brutal circumstances as well as a taste of what the Marines go through in training and in the trenches.

Of course, all of this is done without bullets flying, and all the while you’re raising money for military families and veterans.

Running It

The course is 5.2 miles long and has 36 obstacles. The original course was shorter, but when they broke the race into two groups they moved to a roomier location that let them widen and lengthen the course to alleviate some of the crowding at the obstacles.

They also break teams down into waves on a first registered, first served basis.

Once the race reaches maximum capacity, it’s closed and you’re out of luck.

fitness2xtreme-images-usmc-ultimate-challenge-mud-run-marine-instructors-yellingA quick calculation shows an obstacle to distance ratio of five or six obstacles per mile, and none of these are cream puffs.

Not only are they all physically exhausting, but they are each surrounded by a battalion of hooting and hollering Marines, there to make sure you’re getting your moneys’ worth of military-style abuse at the highest possible decibels. Here is what one participant said about the “yelling”:

This is the mud you paid for, get in it!” barks a Marine as runners come to a pit of muddy water. Taking a leap of faith off a slippery bank, they land in the mud hole trying to stay on their feet. Many go under and pop up covered in a thick layer of mud.
“Oh, it tastes so good.” he laughs as they slosh around in the water towards the other side of the pit.

fitness2xtreme-images-usmc-ultimate-challenge-mudrun-03-courseAt first glance the obstacles seem like standard mud run fare of trenches and tunnels, but a closer look reveals that the walls are higher, the mud is deeper, and each step along the way is designed to make the next challenge feel that much more daunting.

Each of the course’s obstacles has a name, and though some are as simple and descriptive as “Mud Hole” and “Trench Low Crawl”, several areas of the course are named for famous battle sites or moments in Marine Corps history – Heartbreak Ridge, Ho Chi Minh Trail, Bunker Hill.

Each name evokes an image of American courage and heroism that is needed and called upon for inspiration as participants face down their next challenge with the dawning realization that the course designer has taken each obstacle to a whole new level.

Monkey Bars should offer a familiar and accessible respite, but there’s a catch.

…the bars are at an incline for the first 5 or 6 and then at a decline down the other side for the last half dozen.

fitness2xtreme-images-usmc-ultimate-challenge-mud-run-money-barsYou must use your momentum and swing your body to navigate the upward monkey bars. You can use both hands on the bar at a time, or swing like a traditional monkey bar, left hand then right.

However, keep in mind that on the way up, the incline poses an extra hard task. The decline is also deceiving, as your momentum carries you faster than normal and will cause you to slip…- http://mudruntraining.com/blog/

And of course, those bars are covered with mud from all the teams who have gotten there before you.

The mud pits (there are nine of them, not counting the obstacles that cross over mud) are deep, and there’s one towards the end of the course that is rumored to be the deepest, muckiest, smelliest mud obstacle found on any course known.

It’s not man-made, and its depth is such that it has been compared to quicksand.

fitness2xtreme-images-usmc-ultimate-challenge-mud-run-last-mud-pit-holeVeterans of the race advise against trying to stride or muscle through – if you allow yourself to touch bottom you are sure to get sucked down.

The only way to make it through this one is to swim the thirty yards of it.

It’s like crawling through wet concrete, and by the time you get to the other side it’s a wonder you have anything left for the ten challenges that lay beyond.

The final challenge involves carrying a teammate across the finish line, either on a stretcher or in a fireman’s carry – considering the exhaustion level; it’s amazing that teammates aren’t coming to blows over who gets to be the wounded warrior.

One thing’s for sure, by the end the participants have a new understanding of why the goal is not to compete, but to complete.

fitness2xtreme-imags-usmc-ultimate-challenge-mud-run-finish fitness2xtreme-images-usmc-ultimate-challenge-mud-run-finish-shower

In the End

The USMC Ultimate Challenge is one of the toughest mud races in the country, and testing yourself against its obstacles is reason enough to register.

But there’s a lot more to its popularity than the urge to conquer a challenging course. The event itself has a reputation of being one of the best organized in the country; from registration to parking, from tee-shirt pick up to the timed starts with no delays, participants universally say there’s not a thing that needs improvement.

For the spectators (there are three spectators for every participant), the course is set up to allow lots of viewing opportunities at various obstacles, making it a much more participatory event for friends and families who are there to cheer you on (and hold their noses at your swamp monster self at the end of the race).

There are two separate Devil Pup Challenge courses provided so kids ages five to eight and nine to thirteen can get as muddy as they want and even try out a few modified challenges.

More than the amenities, the race is truly a patriotic event.


Runners take the opportunity to thank the Marines for their service at every turn, and there is something remarkably uplifting and energizing yet humbling about struggling in front of true heroes in a race that is named for them, designed by them, and benefiting charities that support them.

The feeling that comes from having a Marine barking “Get out of my pit!” as you struggle through mud makes everybody feel like they’re participating in a kind of tribute.

Beyond the financial aspect, the actual act of extreme exertion and teamwork in front of true warriors imbues the event with an aura that is felt at the deepest gut level.

So, are you ready to eat some mud? Buck up and sign up today!

Boot Camp Info

Name: USMC Ultimate Challenge Mud Run
Website: http://www.usmcmudrun.org/
Location(s): Columbia, SC
Owner(s): Greater Columbia Marine Foundation, 803-451-1197




  1. […] REQUIREMENT – Some mud races like the Original Mud Race require that you to wear a boot that is either leather uppers or a combination of leather and mesh […]

Speak Your Mind