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Runners take on challenge of grueling 'mudder' races

by on July 29, 2013 11:00 AM

Is it the thrill of the physical test? Is it the challenge of a climb filled with seemingly impossible obstacles? Maybe it’s just the mud.

Whatever it may be, something is drawing Indiana area residents to participate in events such as Mud on the Mountain, at Seven Springs, and Tough Mudder, near Pittsburgh, year after year.

Mandi Moranelli, 35, of Blairsville, said she will participate in Mud on the Mountain on Aug. 17 not only for the thrill, but also because of a personal goal she has set for herself.

“Since I made a commitment to live a healthier lifestyle … I have worked out regularly, but wanted to mix it up some and really challenge myself,” Moranelli said.

Doing “plain old 5K road races” didn’t interest her, she said. “The whole idea of a mud run with obstacles was a bit insane, and therefore fascinated me.”

She said she is participating in the race after encouragement and support from her friends and trainers at Building Bodeez Fitness Center in Derry. She signed up for the race as part of a group and said, “I’m going to do this.”

Races like these do take a physical and mental toll, though — after her experience with Mud on the Mountain in the fall of 2012, Moranelli vowed she would never do it again.

“It was at most 50 degrees that morning and pouring down rain,” she said. “About midway through, I was so cold and wet I couldn’t feel my feet or hands.”

The next day, she said, she heard Seven Springs would be holding it again in August, this time at night and in the dark, and she immediately decided she was in.

“It’s addicting in a strange sort of way. I’m pretty sure my boyfriend thinks I’m nuts.”

The August race is 7 miles long with 20 obstacles, including The Cheese Grater, a giant waterslide that Mud on the Mountain’s website calls the “slide of doom,” and The Head Banger, which requires challengers to crawl military-style under a web of barbed wire.

Moranelli trains for events like these by running and increasing her distance slightly each run. In addition, she takes weight training classes and Pilates at her gym, and tracks her food and exercise using the app MyFitnessPal.

She will do the Gladiator Rock n’ Run at Steel City Raceway in Delmont in September, and hasn’t ruled out doing Tough Mudder in the future.

Tough Mudder, which will be held Aug. 24 and 25 at Powerline Park in St. Clairsville, Ohio, boasts that only 78 percent of entrants are able to finish it. According to Tough Mudder’s website, entrants get a headband and shirt, a hard-earned beer and bragging rights upon completion of the course.

Powerline Park will have 25 to 30 obstacles on “a 1,000-acre combination of hills, streams and mud bogs that will all contribute to one … Tough Mudder course.” Obstacles include the Funky Monkey, where contestants “will start their attempt by ascending towards the sky while dealing with greased, spinning bars. You must keep moving or face a plunge into muddy waters below,” the website said.

“I’m doing it for fun and the physical challenge,” said Mason Beppler, 30, of Indiana, regarding Tough Mudder.

In the past, he says, he hasn’t done anything quite this extreme, but has done 5K mud runs and challenges.

“I train for triathlons and thought this would be a good change-up in between,” he said.

Unlike other races, though, challenges like Mud on the Mountain and Tough Mudder work more than just an athlete’s physical abilities.

“I think the Tough Mudder is more mental than physical,” Beppler said.

More than 20 Indiana-area residents responded to a Gazette Facebook post asking if they would be participating in either of these events, including state Rep. Dave Reed, R-Indiana, who will be braving Tough Mudder. Some respondents said they’d also be participating in The Biggest Loser Marathon in Erie, the Run for Your Lives Zombie 5K near Pittsburgh, as well as the Color Run and Gladiator Run.

Those who want to participate in this year’s events aren’t out of luck. Mud on the Mountain will accept entrants for the August race until Aug. 11 for $85, and is accepting entrants to a Nov. 2 event until Oct. 27, though those who register by Sept. 15 will pay a reduced rate. Tough Mudder Pittsburgh is also still accepting registrations.

PHOTOS: Zachary Schott, front, and Brandon Young, both ROTC cadets at Indiana University of Pennsylvania, participated in a Mud on the Mountain event at Seven Springs last fall. Other challenges facing competitors commonly include crawling under barbed wire.

Ellen Matis is the digital media coordinator and a staff writer at The Indiana Gazette. She is the person behind the Gazette's social media. A 2012 graduate of Indiana University of Pennsylvania, Ellen has a degree in journalism and public relations. Follow her on Twitter, @EllenMatis, or email her at
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