Nestled in Pennsylvania’s picturesque Laurel Highlands territory sits Seven Springs. Seven Springs, which boasts a slew of year-round activities from skiing and tubing to ziplining and biking, is also the proud home of the local obstacle course race known as Mud on the Mountain that has, over the past few years, been quickly gaining momentum (no pun intended!)
Seven Springs’ Mud on the Mountain is a 7.77 mile (cleverly referencing the resort’s 777 Waterwheel Drive address) mud run; this year’s event consisted of a slew of over thirty obstacles, some seriously lofty elevations, a heaping dose of good fun, and— of course— plenty of MUD! Keep in mind that only the first “elite” wave at 8:00 AM is performed competitively with timing chips for runners. Otherwise, you’ll have to keep track of your own time according to the finish line clock!
Mud on the Mountain is trail running at its finest: steep elevations, downward corkscrews, laps around ponds, and rough terrain that will require some of your fanciest running footwork. Be warned: keep your eyesight firmly planted on the upcoming 2-3 yards in front of you; barreling ahead at full speed can actually be a disadvantage if you’re not being vigilant.
Miles 1-7 are almost all uphill. There are very few downgrades, but experienced runners will take advantage of them by gaining speed. The inital first mile of the course will quickly thin the herd: prepared runners will be able to adeptly scale the elevations, but novice runners may need to slow down to a walk. Newbie or expert, the important part is to JUST KEEP GOING!
Somewhere around mile 3 or 4 of the course, mudders are introduced to the make-you-or-break-you elevation that will have your quads, glutes, and calves screaming in agony. Smart mudders will alternate between climbing the hill forwards and walking up it backwards; doing so provides a much-needed break for those aching leg muscles, while still allowing you to keep moving through the course! Training tip: include hill and/or stair runs in your training program, along with plenty of squats and lunges, to prepare you for this bad boy.
After mile 7, it’s all downhill from there… literally! Shortly after mile 7, the course corkscrews into a winding and weaving downward slope. After 7 miles of steep elevation, imagine the condensed 1 mile descent! Going too hard or too fast can wreck your knees, and the sharp turns require some quick footwork. You’ve been forewarned!
With 31 obstacles in Mud on the Mountain’s 2015 course, there’s no way I could detail every single one, but I’ll give you the run-down of a few of the most memorable obstacles:
Sno Way: If you slacked off on your winter run training, you’ll be regretting it during this obstacle. Sno way is a slippery ice “run”— quotation marks because it’ll require more of a penguin-like slide than a full-on run!
Prepare for it: This obstacle requires less strength and more balance. Including some balance training in the form of yoga will help exponentially. At the very least, performing exercises that increase proprioception (which aid in balance) will help. Try this: while standing on one foot, lift your heel off the ground, maintaining balance for as long as possible. Repeat with both feet. For an advanced move, perform this exercise while standing on a pillow, which will require increased proprioception.
Cat Tales and North Face Plant: Both of these obstacles involve steep elevation, and, as such, they require some serious leg strength. Don’t wuss out on these climbs! Whatever you do, keep climbing upward!
Prepare for it: Stair and/or hill runs will help strengthen your leg muscles, so be sure to include them in your run training. You can also substitute with a stair machine if desired. Additionally, weighted squats, lunges, and calf raises should be go-to exercises in your training plan.
Trout Line: Shimmy across a mid-40 degree pond (which, amidst all the running, is actually going to feel quite refreshing!) suspended between two ropes.
Shorties take note: at 5′ tall, this obstacle was very unkind to us vertically challenged folks, and it felt like I was being stretched apart on a medieval torture device, à la William Wallace in Braveheart. That said, IT CAN BE DONE! Shorties will need to take their time on this one (this one cost me at least 10 minutes), and occasionally flexing your back muscles in a pull-up style motion can help relieve the shoulder discomfort.
A lifeguard was stationed at this obstacle, along with a helmet-endowed kayaker (what’s he gonna do, fish me out with that paddle?), so even swimming-challenged folks can attempt this obstacle.
Prepare for it: Perform pull up hangs by simply hanging from a pull up bar, starting with 30 seconds and gradually increasing by another 30 seconds each week of training.
Hangover: Like almost all mudders, Mud on the Mountain boasts a monkey bar style obstacle requiring some upper body strength. Fortunately, while many mudders expect you to tango with the monkey bars despite mud-covered mitts, Mud on the Mountain provides some neato colored chalk to ease the process. The first half of the bars ascend upwards, while the second half of the bars descend downward. Scaling the ascent will require some upper body strength, and bicycling your legs to propel you forward helps tremendously! You’ll feel like a kid tackling this one!
Prepare for it: Pull ups will be your best friend in prepping for this obstacle; perform pull ups on a regular basis as part of your training program. If you’re unable to perform a pull up, begin with either machine assisted pull ups, resistance band pull ups, or negative pull up reps (beginning from the top of the pull up and lowering yourself down slowly).
Dunk Dunk Goose: Billed as “the toughest mental challenge on the course,” this obstacle actually wasn’t too difficult. In short, you’ll need to swim underneath three rows of barrels to traverse across a 4 feet deep lake. At 5′ tall, it was easier for me to swim across rather than to wade through, but many people can simply walk across the lake. You’ll only find this obstacle difficult if you’re squeamish about water and/or being submerged underwater. Again, a lifeguard was on duty at this obstacle.
Prepare for it: Just be at ease with water! Swimming proficiency is not essential.
Foggy Without the Goggle: Oh man, I had a blonde moment on this obstacle! There were two cave entrances, one labeled “hero” and one labeled “zero.” Of course, me being me, I immediately opted for the “hero” route. Apparently my blonde sense of direction kicked in however, and I concocted my own path… and ended up barreling right through to the “zero” side. So while I entered a hero, I emerged a zero! I added another 10 minutes to my course time due to my blunder on this obstacle, and while the staff assured me I wasn’t the first person to do this… I think they were just trying to spare my feelings!
Prepare for it: Bear crawls will help you prep for this obstacle. Also, not being a total direction dunce helps!
Falling Waters, Clint’s Hurdle, and 3 Stooges: Like many mudders, Mud on the Mountain has its fair share of wall-scaling obstacles. These walls, however, seemed to be short-people friendly, and almost all of the walls had a small hole for shorties to grasp onto. Of course, pulling yourself up the wall will still require upper body strength, so be sure to plan your training accordingly.
Prepare for it: Again, pull ups, pull ups, and more pull ups! Did I mention pull ups?
Talking about packet pick up, gear check in, and the like don’t have the same sexy allure as talking about all the “fun stuff” of mud running, but even with the best course, obstacles, and atmosphere… an OCR experience can easily be turned into a disaster if the kinks aren’t worked out in these details. And Seven Springs? Man, they’re on top of their game!
Parking: Plenty of parking is available; Seven Springs’ website states “we have parking for thousands of cars on the mountain.” Yup, they do. And bonus? They don’t try to rip you off by making you pay a ton to park like most mud runs do!
Packet pick up: Packet pick up was a total breeze. I was advised to arrive 2 hours prior to my 8:00 AM start time, but— being the sleepy head that I am— I arrived about 1 hour before the big start. There was zero line whatsoever, and the staff was super helpful. You’re supposed to bring your photo ID and signed waiver, but they’ve got plenty of waivers for you to sign in case you forgot. I snuck a peak into packet pick up later in the day, and even for the later start times, packet pick up was moving along quite smoothly.
Gear check in: Again, no wait time whatsoever. As always, friendly staff with smiles on their faces. Post race, I had my gear returned to me within 30 seconds of entering the gear check in area. Sweet!
Aid stations: The course had a total of 5 aid stations. Each aid station had plenty of water and plenty of Gatorade, along with 2 cheery workers providing words of encouragement. Thumbs up!
Photography: This year’s course had photographers (that I noticed— there may have been more) stationed at the start, sno way, trout line, nail biter, valley mud pit, cheese grater, and the finish. (I’d like to personally thank the photographer at the valley mud pit for helping me to remove a bug from my eyeball! Sticking mud covered fingers in your eye to remove a bug seems like a surefire bad idea!) Pictures were available in less than 24 hours for a purchase price of $15 each for an instant digital download.
Swag: Forget fugly orange headbands! Completing this mud monster of an OCR will score you a snazzy medal, cool shirt, and a free beer (I don’t drink, but in case you do… or the course drives you to want to start drinking!). Oh, and don’t forget the bragging rights of being a total bad ass!
Staff: Hands down, Mud on the Mountain has the friendliest staff of any mudder I’ve ever been to. I was offered words of encouragement at every aid station, along with updates about what time it was, what mile I was at, etc. Bottom line: you can’t ask for better people than the people working at Seven Springs Mud on the Mountain. They truly make the entire experience 100x more awesome!
My Only Complaint: Unfortunately, while most mudders embody a tough-as-nails, finish-at-all-costs, help-your-fellow-runner attitude, there were some cheaters on the course. Several participants did not even attempt the obstacles on the course, and simply barreled past each obstacle… clearly favoring time over obstacle completion. Mud on the Mountain really should enforce some sort of rule to prohibit this, and anyone not even attempting the obstacles should be disqualified from the timed wave, as it really takes away from the overall experience for everyone. The whole point is to push yourself to the limit, do what you thought impossible, and to have fun in the process! Cheaters on the course ruin the spirit of obstacle course racing. Bottom line: if these people want a simple trail run, they should sign up for one… NOT sign up for an OCR like Mud on the Mountain!
The Nitty Gritty
While OCRs such as Spartan, Tough Mudder (although not technically a “race” per se), and whatnot have gained in popularity, Mud on the Mountain isn’t a mudder to miss. The challenging course, obstacle variety, organized process, and friendly staff make this one of the best mudders out there!
Conclusion: Muddy Melissa approved! ✔