Before I begin, I want to be sure to thank the Gila River Fire Department and other volunteers for their participation in this event. Without these people, the event would not have been possible.
This is not my first rodeo. In fact, this is the third time that I’ve participated in the Dirty Six Mud Run and because the Dirty Six was my first obstacle-type race, it will always have a special place for me. The first thing you’ll notice that this event is not called a ‘race.’ There are no timing tags, no official times, no medals, and no prizes for finishing ahead of anyone else. While it may seem strange, I assure you this is completely intentional. At the Dirty Six, the organizers encourage having fun above all else… except maybe safety.
The obstacles don’t have names, there are no punishments for failing to complete an obstacle, and nobody really knows what to expect when they show up. Actually, due to a change made this year, one obstacle does have a name: a new type of obstacle was added to the course and had to be called out due to its nature. This new, optional obstacle consumes either 10 minutes or the amount of time it takes those who opt-in to down 3 beers. This obstacle is called The Oasis and required an ID check, additional fee (I believe), and wristband for participation. This is the first I’ve heard of an obstacle like this.
Like a good little participant, I filled out my waiver and picked up my race number the day prior. Everything there went smoothly: I looked up my race number on the printout provided and walked to the registration tent to receive my number and bandana. That’s right, no T-shirt. You can purchase one separately if you like, but they’re not included in the cost of each registration. I think it helps keep costs down and I appreciate that. This shouldn’t be a surprise to anyone because the website informs you of this fact when you register. You just have to read.
I was in and out of the pick-up area in less than 5 minutes. As an added bonus, all registered runners also received 10% off at Roadrunner Sports (where pick-up was held) for any last minute gear — or a new pair of shoes to replace the ones that we were about to trash on the course!
Because all of the waves of the Dirty 6 are self-seated, and timing is not performed on an individual basis, the more competitive individuals arrive early to ensure a spot in the first wave (~70 people). As they say onsite, “the first wave gets real times, everyone else has to do math.” Waves are started roughly 5 minutes apart. I got there early this time because I was curious about what had changed this time and wanted to be among the first to see the new course.
When I arrived and parked, I immediately noticed: no charge for parking.
The Spring 2012 Dirty 6 took place at Rawhide western town in Chandler, AZ, a bit south and east of Phoenix. This venue offers a variety of desert trails, plenty of mud, and some fairly deep water without a real current. They had picnic tables, a “bounce house” for the younger kids, group showers for rinsing off, and what appeared to be a fairly well stocked bar. All that, and a barbecue was going when we finished with burgers, chicken, etc. for sale. The bar opened around 8am to provide liquid calm before the 9am start. There was also a Powerade tent, water coolers, various vendor displays, and abundant portable toilets.
There was no admission cost for participants or spectators.
If there’s anything that you’re particularly attached to and don’t want to get wet and muddy, you definitely want to check it. Since I was flying sans spectators this time, I didn’t have anyone to watch my bag — you know, the one with dry clothes, shoes, a towel, and my car keys in it? I appreciated the friendly and efficient volunteers at the gear check who were happy to help me out. They used my race number as ID … unfortunately, we heard later that we should expect to return without our numbers due to the intensity of some obstacles.
Bonus: there was no cost to check my stuff.
With preparations and arrival out of the way, and my gear safely stowed, I drank some water and waited. The Dirty Six has two course options: 3 mile and 6 mile. The main difference is that the 3 mile breaks away from the 6 mile course in a “short circuit” manner, skipping several obstacles in addition to losing 3 miles. In the past, that meant that the 6 mile course completely encompassed the 3 mile course. I’ve only run the 6 mile course, but I would imagine the experience for the 3-milers is roughly similar. Quick tip: you might think the shorter race would be called the “Dirty Three,” or something. It isn’t. Apparently, the name “Dirty Six” has nothing to do with the distance.
I knew this course would be different right from the beginning: there was a large “mobile garage” in front of the start line. Think of something like one of those big shipping containers with a small garage door on one side and large double doors at one end. The first 70 or so people were herded into the garage and shut inside. It was pretty dark and we were closely packed. Then the noise started. The participants still outside the container were told to beat on the thing to ensure that those of us inside received the maximum experience possible. In the meantime, the fire hose was turned on, we heard someone yell, “GO!” and the doors were opened. We were greeted with an immediate shower of cold water in the face as we took off onto the course.
The first half mile or so was a nice trail-type run across some gravel and soft dirt paths. We got another shower from the fire department, which helped cool us off. Then we came upon The Oasis. In addition to beer, there were scantily clad models in there to check wristbands, monitor beers and time consumed, and overall keep things interesting. For the record, the models consisted of 3 guys and 1 girl – because the majority (75%!) of participants in this event are female. Who knew? I hadn’t signed up for that obstacle, so I passed it by. Maybe next time!
With The Oasis behind us, we encountered the more traditional obstacles: cross a large ditch using telephone poles as balance beams; climb piles of dirt, jump into mud pits, climb out and repeat; run down an embankment, cross a stream (knee deep), climb out. There were a few of the “fun” obstacles like a large inflatable slip and slide plus one that I’m going to call the “bikini girl slide” because the volunteers helping at the obstacle were both wearing bikinis… and we had to slide down the plastic-covered side of the hill on our backsides. One guy in the group was so distracted that he forgot which way was “left” and almost ran the wrong way.
New this time was the introduction of the “cargo container climbs.” Basically, a big shipping container was placed in the way and our job was to get over it. If you’ve never tried to climb one of those things (I hadn’t), you WILL need assistance – especially when you’re wet and muddy. There were some ropes attached to the container, but there was so much “give” in them that they were practically useless. This is where the teamwork aspect comes in. After several failed attempts to scale the container on my own, another runner had me stand on his knee so I could climb up. Once I got on top of the container, I braced myself, he grabbed my hand and I helped him up. My advice: come with a team. Besides, it’s more fun that way.
Since this course ran across and near a golf course, we had a couple of bonus obstacles: golf balls and carts. While volunteers did a great job promoting awareness that there were runners around, there was some dodging of carts going on, and I saw no fewer than four golf balls on the trail. They looked pretty shiny and new.
To close out the race, we got another shower from the fire department then had to climb another cargo container. A big thank you to the firemen for being there to make this climb much easier. The final obstacle was a dive into the pool at the end. There are always interesting photos from that one.
After all of the adults are cleared from the field, there is a “mini mud run” for the kids. They get to run a little and get wet and dirty… and that part of the event is 100% free. They don’t even have to register. If you think your kids might consider doing it, just plan to provide dry clothes. Better yet, bring the clothes anyway; playing in the mud always seems like fun.
As some people like to say, “it isn’t how you start, it’s how you finish that matters.” I really like that the Dirty Six focuses on having fun. I also like the fact that the course is so accessible, even to newcomers. There’s no electricity, ice baths or barbed wire. Don’t be afraid. You can take it at your own pace. If I had to choose something that I don’t really like, it would be the souvenir beer glass given to finishers. I don’t know that a glass is the best souvenir to hand out to wet and muddy runners. Not that I don’t believe that runners drink beer, but because of the glass part. I’ve seen several glasses broken in the parking lot because they slipped out of the hands of someone who was wet and/or muddy. I wish I had a better idea, but everyone gives out medals and I know DCB tries to be different. What do you think?