It only took 6 years of obstacle racing and a lot of putting my ego aside, however a couple weeks ago I toed the line at my first all women’s obstacle race at Dirty Girl Mud Run outside of Pittsburgh. A couple weeks earlier I was on a call with Human Movement Management the parent company of Dirty Girl Mud Run, Ugly Sweater Run, DirtyBird Mud Run (happening this weekend in Utah) and many other events. These are the guys who saved Run For Your Lives from going under a few years ago and did the same with Dirty Girl Mud Run over a year ago.
They presented an opportunity to me to check out their Dirty Girl Mud Run event. To say I had mixed feelings about an all women’s race would be putting it mildly. For years I have pushed for women to be on equal ground as men and honestly saw the all female race category as another device continuing to divide men and women. It’s easy for me to say I had some pretty big barriers to break down before heading to this event. However, in a year which has consisted of changing perceptions of what OCR is, I took on the personal challenge of seeing the event though a new set of lenses.
The first impression of Dirty Girl Mud Run came the day before the event, when I met with members of the staff in the hotel lobby the night before. While speaking with a staff member it became quickly apparent that many of the patrons of the hotel were racers, and all women. I asked about participation numbers and quickly was taken aback to learn Dirty Girl Mud Run gets between 4,000 – 6,000 people at events depending on the market. This stopped me in my tracks. These are serious numbers for any OCR.
The next morning I made my way to the race venue and watched both men and women filing out of cars. Many of the women came in groups with team shirts, and matching outfits. The biggest change was instead of seeing women holding gear for their partners it was the men holding all the gear, corralling the kids, and holding backpacks. Many men had their Spartan Race or Tough Mudder t-shirts on while supporting a spouse or girlfriend. Speaking with some of these men, a common theme popped up, their partner had been supporting them at events for years and now they had the courage to try an event themselves. This was their gateway into the OCR world.
The festival featured a Paul Mitchell booth braiding hair, Think Pink cancer awareness charity, bag check, photo ops, and all the normal features of an event. At the start, a sign proclaimed “women only”. The start line MC was great, part of the routine he asks how many women have done an event before, then how many have this event, and finally how many are cancer survivors. The final question was the one which I took note, in EVERY wave of the day at least 5-10 women held up a hand. One course I met many women who were running with family members or friends who have overcome cancer. Some running in memory of a loved one. The event was a chance for those to celebrate life on all levels.
The course itself was a 5K with over a dozen obstacles. If you are looking for the most badass extreme obstacles in the industry, go to another event, however this event included obstacles accomplishable for all levels, lots of mud, some inflatables, and smiling employees and volunteers. My favorite was “Barn Burner” a huge inflatable and H2OMG a balance beam large balls swinging back and forth. The course finished with a muddy pit and finish line announcer cheering women in. The course design featured a layout that gave spectators a view of 90% of the course and allowed loved ones to follow their family members the entire way.
After the finish line, speaking with more women a few trends appeared. For many women this was not only their first OCR but also their first 5K ever! It was the first time a race medal was put around their neck. It was great seeing groups of women posing together for photos and having their male spouses take photos. I talked to women who had done Spartan Races, Tough Mudders, BattleFrogs, Warrior Dashes, etc… and used Dirty Girl Mud Run as a way to introduce their love to friends and family. Other women just loved the event and said it was their second or third year in a row participating in the event.
Overall, I walked away from Dirty Girl Mud Run with a new view of an all women’s OCR. They might not be the toughest event in the world, but we have lots of choices for tough races. What Dirty Girl Mud Run offers is a nurturing environment where women can excel. It’s a judgement free zone. The event is just plan fun and allows those of us immersed in the OCR world to give back to our community by sharing our love with friends and family.
On a more serious note, in recent years some of the larger OCR’s have seen declines in female participation. Seeing the robust numbers of Dirty Girl Mud Run gives me hope, and who knows maybe the next Amelia Boone was at the event with her mother, or on the sidelines watching her mother. Indeed, the all women’s race has a place in our industry and an important one.