Here's mud in your eye
Runners, cyclists and costumed characters get down and dirty for the Muddy Buddy.
Here are a few things you’re likely to encounter at Sunday 5’s Muddy Buddy Ride and Run in northwest suburban Gilberts: a 60-foot-long mud pit; a grown man in a frog costume; and a pair of fortysomething moms known as the Bionic Thongs wearing their trademark undergarments—on their bike helmets.
This is but a smattering of the curiosities and quirks that make the nationally touring Muddy Buddy spectacle one of America’s most irreverent adventure races.
Think American Gladiators meets Most Extreme Elimination Challenge meets Chariots of Fire. The resulting cocktail is a charity race in which two-person teams complete a 10K obstacle course. The catch: Each team has one mountain bike that the teammates swap halfway through the race so that each participant completes half the Muddy Buddy on bike, the other half on foot.
There are also five to six obstacles set along the course at roughly one-mile intervals. But what those are is anyone’s guess. Bob Babbitt, the north suburban Wilmette native who founded the Muddy Buddy race series in 1999, is mum on specifics, but past obstacles have included balance beams, cargo nets and a 20-foot wall leading to a giant inflatable slide. The race derives its name from the one known obstacle—that 60-foot-long mud pit teams must crawl through to reach the finish line.
“You’re getting mud in places where you’ve never thought you’d have mud,” says Allison LeCompte of Houston, who makes up one half of the Bionic Thongs. The duo, if all goes as planned, will hold the distinction of having participated in all eight Muddy Buddy races nationwide (you can catch them this weekend in Gilberts as well as the last two races scheduled for Boulder, Colo., and Los Angeles).
Costumes, which all teams are encouraged to wear, are as much a part of the race as the obstacles, says Babbitt, a.k.a. Mr. Frog. “People understand that it’s not that serious. I’m there in a frog suit,” he says. “The last I checked, we’re not on the Olympic platform.”
Last year, the Tiki Men (a pair of dudes built like defensive linemen) completed the race in a pair of grass hula skirts, and a duo of bodacious Vikings sporting horned helmets stole the show. Getups range from the suggestive to the just plain silly.
Whatever the costume, all competitors wear their hearts on their muddied sleeves. The race series is a benefit for the Challenged Athletes Foundation (CAF), which Babbitt started in 1993 to help his friend Jim MacLaren, who was paralyzed after being struck by a car while competing in the biking portion of a triathlon. The CAF provides specialized sports prosthetics to disabled athletes. Most health-insurance plans will provide a walking leg to the disabled or injured, Babbitt explains, but “nobody’s insurance is providing a cycling leg.”
Today’s advanced prosthetic devices, which allow the physically challenged to participate even in extreme sports like mountaineering and ice climbing, are considered luxury items by insurance companies. But for Babbitt, sports are no luxury. “They’re something important. It makes you feel good about yourself. It shouldn’t be taken away just because you’re disabled.”
But while the Muddy Buddy is for a good cause, on race day it’s a cause for celebration. “It’s this fun, festive atmosphere,” says Dee Chambless, the other half of Team Bionic Thongs. “And you know what? I hope it rains like hell before the race. It’s ridiculous fun; it’s like being a kid again.”
The Muddy Buddy race takes place, rain or shine, at 8am Sunday 5 at Indian Hills Farm (16N503 Powers Rd, Gilberts). For more information, visit muddybuddy.com.