Mud Runs vs. Obstacle Course Races

What’s the difference?

You may have recently heard people talk about the mud runs and obstacle course races in which they have participated. Then, you may have been left scratching your head thinking, “They are the same thing, right?” Well, yes and no. Both of these events will have you crawling, climbing, jumping and possibly facing a few fears along the way. Both will have you covering a distance of anywhere from a 5K to a marathon or more on trails or other natural terrain. However, there are a few characteristics that make a mud run and obstacle course race different.

3 Ways To Know You Are At A Mud Run

DG2-MUD-RUN-VS-OBSTACLE-INS21. The event is untimed. Mud Runs are mostly non-competitive events. There may be a clock running, but no prizes are given to the fastest runners. Mud Runs are a great introduction for those worried about competition—it’s a non-stressful way to be introduced to this world.

Mud Runs vs. Obstacle Course Races2. Costumes are encouraged. Mud Runs often feature costume awards at the end of the race and encourage their participants to come as their favorite character, zombie, etc. If you see teams of people all dressed in matching costumes, chances are you are at a Mud Run.

DG2-MUD-RUN-VS-OBSTACLE-INS43. Team-based obstacles. Mud Runs have been known to place obstacles in the course that require the assistance of other participants. The most famous of these is “Everest” at Tough Mudder. Everest looks like a skateboard quarter pipe. For the majority of participants, it requires help from another participant to get over the edge. Climbing the ten-foot wall is another typical team obstacle.

3 Ways To Know You Are At An Obstacle Course Race (OCR)

DG2-MUD-RUN-VS-OBSTACLE-INS51. You’ll have a timing chip. The number one way to know you are at an obstacle course race is you are handed a timing chip at packet pick-up. Your finishing time is recorded, and results are posted after the event. Both Reebok Spartan Race and Superhero Scramble both have points systems this year to rank their participants.

2. There’s an elite heat. Obstacle Course Racing normally sets aside one or two heats a day that are competitive, and those heats’ participants race for prizes and, sometimes, money. It is not mandatory for an obstacle course race to have a competitive heat, but if you go to register for a race and see it as an option, you know you are signing up for a race.

3. There are penalties. Most races have penalties for missed obstacles. If you try an obstacle and fail, you could be penalized with a workout, time or something else before continuing on with the race. These penalties vary by race organizer and normally will be listed on a race’s website.

Overall, whether you have a preference for Mud Runs or Obstacle Course Races, you will enjoy your experience. The important part is to know what type of event you are headed to before you show up on race day. There is nothing worse than thinking you are headed to Mud Run for a little fun with friends only to find you have actually signed up for a competitive race. That’s all the dirt for now. Next week, we talk all about burpees—an exercise you will need to master!

Photo Credits:
Image 1 by: Margaret Schlachter
Image 2 by: Margaret Schlachter
Image 3 by: Glynnis Jones /
Image 4 by: Glynnis Jones /
Image 5 by: txking /

Margaret Schlachter

Margaret Schlachter, the first professional female obstacle course racer, is a top ranked athlete in the Reebok Spartan Race series. She is also an endurance athlete specializing in ultra trail running races, a Spartan SGX Coach, and a CrossFit Level 1 Trainer. She founded, a leading source for all things obstacle course racing and endurance sports. For more information on Margaret, her upcoming book and online coaching services.

Margaret's book "Obstacle Race Training: How to Beat any Course, Compete Like a Champion and Change Your Life" is available for PRE-SALE! Click HERE to reserve your copy.

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