If you were expecting to find a derogatory story about someone’s mother, you’re going to be disappointed. But if you were searching for a hysterical, unorthodox and punishing trail run, you’re at the right place.
The Ugly Mudder, an annual trail run in Reading, PA, is one in a long list of unusual trail runs organized by Pretzel City Sports. Its popularity has grown each of its nine years, this year reaching a field of 800 runners. The Mudder is a refreshing change from the sometimes-staid world of running. Trail runners who flock to PCS events are more likely to pull up in a Jeep than a BMW, and drink a strong stout after the race rather than some tasteless watery light beer.
There’s no mistaking you are at a Pretzel City race the moment you toe the line and colorful and effervescent race director, Ron Horn bellows instructions, jokes and assaults through a bullhorn. Once he called a runner who was celebrating his sixtieth birthday to the front of the field, placed a birthday hat on his head and told him to return it after the race. Ever since that day, I put my buddy’s birth date on my applications.
The weather in Berks County, Pennsylvania in February is unpredictable. One year a foot of snow that had fallen was covered by a spray of icy-mist the night before race, no doubt a joke cast by the trail running Gods. That year I set a personal worst for a seven-mile race, mainly because I was sidetracked retrieving runners from ravines, prying tightly wrapped arms from trees on the side of hills and shimmying my own ass back up slippery slopes.
The Ugly Mudder is hurtling bodies, improbable inclines, loose rocks, an alternative beverage station, a pagoda, lacerations, a guy in a grass skirt with hair down his back, and of course, mud. Closing in on the final mile, a woman was lying in the trail ahead of me holding her ankle, rubbing her shoulder and mud smeared across her face. Four sweaty, grimy runners helped her to her feet and she peered down the trail with a determined look. One of the guys said, “I’ve had it. I’ll walk it in with you.” I didn’t believe for a moment that he’d “had it.” Rather, it was a typical example of the trail running brother and sisterhood.
Some people struggle to comprehend why their friend, brother, father or grandfather can’t find something tamer to do on a Sunday morning. They just don’t understand that climbing a wall of mud in a valiant attempt to reach a finish line trumps being huddled next to a warm fire, drinking coffee and watching Bobby Flay. Feasting on a breakfast of pancakes and eggs, and washing it down with German beer while surrounded by 800 fellow-trail runners is all the proof I need.