Like a casting
call for “G.I.Jane, 2” or a zany reality TV sensation
two thousand people hit their bellies and slither through
a mud bog under flags after covering six miles on bike and
Before the mud flies:
Sarah and I at Muddy Buddy Chicago.
|It is an unlikely phenomenon: This
may be the formula for the ultimate mass-multisport marriage
of adventure racing, triathlon/duathlon, exercise, kinship
and just plain old, get-dirty fun. The Muddy Buddy features
two person teams covering a six mile (give or take) course
while switching off riding a bike and running. What’s
the hook? At five places around the course where the teams
trade off cycling and running they must also negotiate a
series of obstacles like the water crossing, low wall, monkey
bars, rope ladder wall and then the thing they all came
here for: The hallowed mud pit.
Muddy Buddy is a seven event series than spans
the U.S. including stops in San Jose, Los Angeles, Boston,
Chicago, Austin, Richmond and Boulder. Of the seven events
in the series, five sold out well before the day of the event.
Selling out a Muddy Buddy event means as many as 900+ two
person teams, or almost 2000 participants. Those are attendance
numbers any race promoter would die for. It also means showcasing
some powerhouse event producers like Competitor Publications,
who owns the event, and Michael Epstein Productions as well
as top shelf sponsors like National Geographic Adventure,
Land Rover and Adidas.
Muddy Buddy is the biggest multisport
success few people ever heard of. While attracting sell
out crowds in the thousands Muddy Buddy has stayed off
the hard-core endurance sports radar and flown under the
sometimes too-serious hype surrounding the Ironman and
triathlon boom. It is an event for everyone.
Muddy Buddy is about fun. It is about teaming
up with a partner, be it friend, co-worker, boyfriend,
girlfriend, husband, wife or training partner and going
out for a morning of exercise and laughs. You simply can’t
be too serious lathered in filth from head to toe. And
by the way, when was the last time you actually negotiated
a set of monkey bars?
Sunrise at the Muddy Buddy Camp.
Registration runs prefectly at Muddy Buddy.
|“What’s great about muddy buddy
is anyone can do it.” Bob Babbitt of Competitor Publications
told me during an interview in August. Babbitt is a fixture
in the multisport world. From the origins of triathlon at
Mission Bay to the emergence of Ironman as the Holly Grail
for the hard core endurance everyman Babbitt has chronicled
the sport with Competitor Magazine. “Muddy Buddy is
not about winning your division. Muddy Buddy is about getting
muddy with your buddy.” Babbitt told me. From his
office in California he brought me up to speed on the unlikely
history of the novel event:
“It started with the old ride and tie
thing…. People rode a horse and ran, switching off.
The problem with that is you have this 300-pound thing with
a mind of its own.”
Some people bring their own Buddy.
Others meet new buddies there.
Team names include the "Dirty Nurses" and the
Babbitt recounted the grass-roots origin
and feel of the event. “(Scott) Tinley was involved
in the early events. They were fun races, he hid stuffed
animals along the course and people had to find them to
score points. We had some heavy hitters from the triathlon
world out there- Tinley, Allen, Paula… Tinley teamed
up with Kenny Souza. I remember him riding with this huge
stuffed frog or something on his handlebars…”
The event stayed a local, minor affair contested
in a much less than serious manner by the most serious
names in the sport. It was a place for Ironman winners,
record holders and World Champions to blow off athletic
steam and relate in a non-competitive (less competitive?)
format while having more than a few laughs.
The Muddy Buddy Concept became slightly
more structured and started to go nationwide. “About
7 years ago a client, Brooks, wanted to produce an event
for advertising promotional purposes.” Babbitt and
Michael Epstein Productions took the concept mainstream.
Since then the event hasn’t looked back and has
been on a steep growth curve. The highly polished event
production company, Michael Epstein productions, with
a client list including the likes of Ford, Anheuser Busch,
Nissan, PowerBar, Allied Domecq, John Paul Mitchell Systems,
Audi, Clif Bar, Men's Health, Hi-Tec Sports, and Balance
Bar is the driving force for facilitating the rapid growth
in seamless fashion. Registration at Muddy Buddy runs
without a hitch. This is particularly impressive considering
most Muddy Buddy participants are not seasoned athletes,
but first time event participants or weekend, armchair
exercise enthusiasts. Clearly, Babbitt has found the magic
formula for making the sometimes too-serious world of
endurance sports fun.
|There are many elements that make Muddy Buddy a success.
First off, the team concept fosters companionship, and companionship
fosters fun. Secondly, there is no such thing as a “Muddy
Buddy World Championship”. The event simply isn’t
that serious. Great athletes do the event, but they are
in the minority. The spirit is one of participation and
fun as opposed to rivalry and competition. This less intimidating
format attracts couples and friends that are often unlikely
matches for any athletic event: The spin instructor wife
with the overweight executive husband; the local triathlete
hotshot with his office buddy who is using his old bike
from college; the two college runners who had to borrow
a bike from someone else in the dorm and of course, a legion
of people who saw the thing on the Muddy Buddy website (www.muddybuddy.com)
or in National Geographic Adventure, have no idea what is
going on and just want to roll around in the mud.
A different look at bike technology for Muddy Buddy.
The secret formula for Muddy Buddy hydration.
I traveled to the sold-out
Muddy Buddy event in Chicago on September 11, 2005 to
cover the event from the ground level for our website.
Teamed up with Bikesport cover girl and USAT Regional
Duathlon Champion Sarah Johnston we wanted to experience
the event in all its gritty grandeur. We weren’t
Muddy Buddy is like Woodstock. People camp
out the night before the race and the atmosphere is decidedly
party-ish. On our way through the labyrinth of Chicago
freeways we found the Muddy Buddy event site on a sprawling
equestrian farm at the edge of the suburbs but couldn’t
locate our campground. Stopping into a local gas station
for navigational aid a pair of women dressed in quasi-athletic
togs and hefting cases of Bud into a new Styrofoam ice
chest asked, “Are you guys Buddies?” Once
cleared into the fraternity of mud-bathers we followed
them to a field dotted with tents and bonfires. This was
the Muddy Buddy camp, a cross between Woodstock, Burning
Man and “Johnny G. meets Eco-Challenge”.
In the morning my associate, Sarah, and
I wake to find the field alive with people picking up
event packets and decorating bicycles. We are competing
in the huge co-ed division by adding our ages together
for a spot in the Co-Ed 56-69 age category. Since athletes
switch off from running to mountain biking on dirt roads
and wide open trails there are a lot of bikes in the transitions.
It is important your bike sticks out. That is not easy
in a sea of bikes festooned with balloons, flowers, inflatable
dolls and every other type of tongue-in-cheek ornamentation.
As members of the un-initiated we quickly barter some
fluorescent pink duct tape from a team of girls in the
tent next to us in a pail attempt to appear “unique”.
Packet pick-up runs perfectly and there
seems to be a registration volunteer for every team. A
crowd gathers near snaking hoses that feed the rising
mire of muck that is the centerpiece of Muddy Buddy. It
is rumored that there is almost 60 tons of “clean”
(can mud be clean?) mud manufactured on site for Muddy
Buddy. “They have a secret recipe for the mud”,
Bob Babbitt tells me. The event announcer and D.J. gives
instructions to the teams waiting to start; “Don’t
open your eyes under the mud… there is nothing to
see in there.” It seems like no one can wait to
get in the mud. “I have CEO’s asking me to
go through the mud pit again…”
Team mates overtake each other switching off riding and
Some of the terrain is challenging but it is all smiles.
|At the start I run and Sarah rides. We concoct a strategy
for placing our shared bike at the lower right hand corner
of the bike change-up area each time so I can find it easily
once Sarah has discarded it after the first obstacle, a
rope cargo net we will both have to climb over, D-Day style.
Sarah passes me while I run on the 2nd leg.
Over the rope wall obstacle at transition two of five.
Coming into the first obstacle after running
about a mile Sarah left the bike right in the lower right
hand corner. I climb the cargo net like an extra from
“Saving Private Ryan” and grab our bike. Sarah
is up the road running somewhere about a minute in front
of me. Presumably, I will pass her on the bike as I ride
to the next obstacle and dump the bike for her to pick
up- and so on through five exchanges and about six miles.
Immediately after jumping on the bike I
am in a waist deep water crossing that must be forged
with bike held high. Sarah is getting up the road on foot
while I slog through the brown water with a big group
of other people holding everything from Huffys to fancy
mountain bikes over their heads. Back on the bike, now
dripping wet in the 80 degree heat (quite refreshing)
I catch up to and pass Sarah in about a minute and a half.
I grab the bike for the fourth leg up toward the mud pit.
The monkey bars were the fourth obstacle.
Riding into obstacle two there is a huge inflatable tower
with a giant rope ladder up one side and a sort of “slide
for life” thing you normally see sticking out the side
of a burning airliner. Having always paid attention during
the pre-flight safety briefings from the flight attendants
I am golden here. Up the cargo net on the inflatable tower
and slide down the inflatable slide to the other side. Sarah
will run into the transition area in a minute to climb over
the tower, slide to the bottom, jump on our bike and then
pass me as I run to the next obstacle.
Sarah climbs a steep hill with the bike.
Pretty Muddy and definately Buddies.
Leap-frogging over the rolling terrain over
the low wall, monkey bars and other obstacles the teams re-unite
at the entrance to the event namesake, the Mud Pit. Crossing
as a team, participants must low-crawl together G.I.Joe style
under a series of flags and then slither down into the quagmire
to the delight of thousands of gathered spectators hooting
and snapping photos or Uncle Al and Aunt Betsy all covered
in muck like a battalion of impromptu Al Jolsons.
The view from the mud pit as seen during the race.
Sarah and I hit the muck with a loud slap
and slide down into the cool, oozing slime for a game
of filthy twister with about fifty other teams negotiating
It is slippery getting to your feet on the
other side of the mud pit and the frenzied support of
spectators is a big help as you rise up from the ooze
like the missing link, now coated in brown, and make the
final dash to the finish where race photographers go mad
to capture just exactly what you look like as a full gown
four year old but without the threat of an enforced bath
and subsequent time-out.
At Muddy Buddy you can come home dirty without getting
Once across the finish line there is a large open field where
a giant green octopus of garden hoses sprouts tentacles that
rinse the mud off competitors in the warm sunlight. It smacks
of some new-age tribal ritual, with both genders hosing each
others’ layer of brown gunk off to reveal their friend,
boyfriend, girlfriend, husband, wife- all wearing a smile
distant since the last time you rolled in a mud puddle several
Your Muddy Buddy helps you clean off after.
It's like Woodstock and Navy SEAL training all in one!
Muddy Buddy is the event multisport needs. It
is a tongue-in-cheek affair that brings people together and
brings people into organized event participation. There is
room for everyone here, from Ironman hard-ass to couch potato
Oprah fan. But most of all, Muddy Buddy is just plain good,
dirty fun- the kind you haven’t had since the sum of
you and your buddy’s age added up to less than ten.
I think that is a big part of the appeal.
© Tom Demerly, Bikesport
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