Ready for a Mud Run? Here's How to Slop Your Way to the Finish

Thinking about signing up for a mud run?
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You know, one of those races where....

  • The chance of rain is 100%
  • Fast finish times aren't guaranteed
  • Your chances of slip-sliding in slop are 100%
  • You might have a total-muddy wipeout that might skid-mark your clothes, shoes, maybe even your face
  • One minute you're bombing downhill and the next, you'll wallowing in mud like a barnyard pig trying to get back on your feet

Based on that description, a mud run sounds kind of fun. Right?
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🌧️
FYI...this basically describes running in the Pacific Northwest at least 3 to 4 months out of the year.
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Thinking about signing up for a mud run? Maybe even a muddy ultra like the Hagg Lake 50K in Oregon? 
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πŸƒβ€β™‚οΈHere's how to slop your way to the finish.

Mud is a guarantee = Hagg Lake Mud Runs

Chances are pretty good you've headed out for a trail run on a rainy day, or maybe following some showers.
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Maybe the trail is in decent enough condition, you don't encounter a lot of mud.
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That's just not the case at the Hagg Lake Mud Runs (25K and 50K distances) held in mid-February about 30 miles west of Portland, Ore.
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πŸ‘‰Mud is a guarantee.
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βœ…
Here's what runners signed up for...

  • Run a loop around a boat ramp + a 3-mile out-and-back on a gravel road
  • Then funnel on to the Hagg Lake Trail heading counter clockwise
  • Navigate the next 14-ish miles on muddy single-track trail
  • And try not to fall

Hagg Lake Mud Run: On your mark, get set, go...

At 7 a.m., I joined the 50K runners at the start of the race.
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Temps hovered just above freezing, and down by the water the humidity was high = COLD.
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I layered up with:

Would this be enough to help me go the distance and navigate muddy trails?
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I was about to find out.
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After the usual pre-race speech, I headed out with the rest of the runners to hit the trails.

Don't be fooled: It's muddy out there

The first three miles on trail and gravel road were easy-peasy.

  • Not a lot of mud
  • It wasn't raining
  • Cool morning temps were perfect
  • The field of 69 runners taking on the Hagg Lake 50K Mud Run and 48 runners doing the 25K distance started spreading out

πŸ‘‹I saw a long list of running friends on the out-and-back section, like...

  • Denzil Jennings: We've crossed paths on the Springwater Trail dozens of times. And once, deep in the middle of the Mount Hood National Forest just after I cut my leg open crossing the Sandy River, Denzil appeared. He was among just a handful of runners at the Hagg Lake 50K who would run another 25K on Sunday as part of the Hagg Mud Double.
  • Gabe Callaway. He's another badass runner not afraid to go the distance. Gabe's finished Pine to Palm 100, Tahoe 200, and many other ultras. And he's just months away from stepping up to the starting line of Moab 240 in Utah.
  • Rylan Phillips. This veteran ultrarunner has finished Bigfoot 200, Tahoe 200, several 100s, and next month he'll take on Cocodona 250 in Arizona.
  • Megan Bruce. I first met Megan a couple years ago when she was coaching high school cross country. A few weeks later, she showed up again volunteering at the Mountain Lakes 100-miler. And we've crossed paths multiples times since then, including the time I accidentally ended up in the middle of Run Like Hell in October completely by coincidence.

😲And then it happened...

First, one of those slip-sliding away feelings where your feet aren't connecting with anything solid enough to keep you upright.
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It was kind of like one of those cartoon-comedies where the character appears to be running, but going nowhere.
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I took tiny rapid steps across the muddy divide that appeared out of nowhere and managed to avoid a fall.
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A few miles later...
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I see a string of runners down the trail ahead of me, so I head in that direction. And seconds later hear someone yelling my name:
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πŸ›‘"Evan! Stop!" I look back and see Gabe Callaway, waving me back.
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"Come back. The trail is over here."
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It's only a few miles into the Hagg Lake Mud Run, and I've already escaped a mud-bath wipeout and been saved from getting lost.

Run around the lake...then do it again

The next few miles around the lake included:

  • Periods of running in silence
  • Only damp trail conditions, not muddy
  • Aid station pit stops and chatting with other runners
  • And some tricky trail conditions exacerbated by a week of rain and fallen trees

Ruck this way...
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πŸ’ͺWhile crossing the Hagg Lake Dam, two women were speed walking the course wearing 30-pound packs. They weren't in the race, but they were rucking the entire 17 mile loop.
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πŸ’©#2 emergency
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At the aid station on the other side of the dam, I made an emergency exit from the course straight for the bathroom.
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Only to discover it was locked.
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Fortunately, about 100 yards away, a porta-pottie saved the day.

Half way: It's not that muddy out there

I rolled into the mile 17-aid station feeling pretty good about completing the first loop of the Hagg Lake Mud Run without a single wipeout.
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Sure, there were some slick spots, but nothing you couldn't manage with good trail shoes and a little patience.
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But that wouldn't last.
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While I chowed down some grocery-store donuts and drank chocolate milk (thanks to the ultimate crew chief Shazam Smith😍) at the half-way point...
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🌧️It started raining...

  • But not a passing downpour like you might get in the Midwest.
  • It was classic Pacific-Northwest rain
  • A heavy, wet drizzle that quietly saturates everything it touches
  • The kind of rain that turns a little mud puddle turns into a wide swath of slop, capable of pulling your shoe off
  • Stream crossings flood. Bridges get slicker and more precarious.
  • Every beautiful patch of green meadow becomes dangerously water-logged
  • The downhill sections with fallen trees look more like mud slides than a trail.
  • And even the waterproof gear and moisture-wicking clothing can't seem to stay dry forever

After just a few minutes of rain, the trail conditions for the second loop around the lake became a lot sketchier.
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I left the aid station with Denzil Jennings, and we ran for miles...

  • Chatting about work, family, running, races, fueling
  • That time we crossed paths in the middle of the Mt. Hood National Forest
  • Sometimes running in silence
  • And helping each other navigate the trail, now a lot muddier than the first loop

Mud Run: Total wipeout just 3 miles to go

Eventually, Denzil cruised ahead of me heading for the finish.
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With just a few miles to go, I felt pretty good about avoiding a fall at this year's Hagg Lake Mud Run.
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And then it happened...
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If I was going to take a mud bath, I expected it to be back on this slick downhill section with a fallen tree and deep mud at the bottom.
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But I managed to tippy-toe my way through that without any real issues.
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So the long stretch of green meadow ahead of me seemed like an easy straightaway.
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But it wasn't.

  • One minute, I'm running along, trying to pay attention to where Denzil is going in the distance.
  • And the next, without warning, I stride forward, plant my foot, and I'm gone.
  • It's like a slow-motion free fall headed for blackberry bushes and mud.
  • But there's nothing I can do. Nothing to grab on to. Nothing to dig my feet into to try and stumble forward.

I hit the ground on my side and slid forward a foot or two in the mud. There's muddy skid marks from my hip to my heel. And the mittens look like I've been making mud pies.
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Fortunately, I wasn't hurt. I get up, laugh it off. And run to the finish.
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This is how you slop your way through a mud run.

What's your favorite mud run?

Tell us about it in the comments.

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Evan Jensen
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SANDY, Oregon
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I help RUNNERS reduce injuries, fix running form, run longer & faster by strength training without running ragged. I'm a NASM...

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