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Running Dirty in Frederick

Despite reports of injuries and even a recent fatality at an out-of-state “Tough Mudder” competition, a Howard County firm is betting that mud runs and obstacle races will continue to grow in popularity among those who want a serious challenge.

A competitor slogs through the mud during an event at Wicomico Motor Sports Park in Charlotte Hall. Elkridge-based Running Dirty wants to stage 14 such races next year.

“Extreme events” like Tough Mudder, Warrior Dash and Spartan Race posted an 85 percent increase in participation from 2006 to 2010, according to The Outdoor Industry Association. Now, an Elkridge company — Running Dirty — is hoping to enter the increasingly crowded field.

Running Dirty will offer both a miles-long course filled with dangerous obstacles and an after-party, like most extreme runs, but its organizers hope that obstacles based on Navy SEAL (sea, air and land team) training exercises will set it apart, according to Michael Stamper, managing partner of Running Dirty’s parent company, The Epic Brands.

The four-mile race includes more than 23 obstacles, including a particularly challenging “Hell Mile.” Obstacles include “Cold and Miserable,” in which runners stand in frigid water for a minute, and “Get Some Air,” in which runners must jump over lines of fire.

Continuing with the SEAL theme, an undisclosed percentage of the race’s proceeds will be donated to the Navy SEAL Foundation, which serves current SEALs, veterans and their families. Stamper said Running Dirty plans to become one of the foundation’s largest donors.

He added that The Epic Brands’ background in large-scale event production and emphasis on live music will result in a more energetic post-race party than that of his competitors.

“It’s going to be a bigger and better show,” he said.

A race in Frederick scheduled for Aug. 3 will be the first of four Running Dirty events this year, followed by one in New Jersey and two in Virginia. Stamper said Running Dirty plans to host 14 races in 2014 and 34 by 2015.

The industry’s growth has not been hampered by a high-profile death at a Tough Mudder race in West Virginia. In April, Avishek Sengupta of Ellicott City drowned during a race, marking the fourth death during a mud run, according to published reports. Others have been seriously injured during a race and have filed lawsuits against the companies involved.

Running Dirty allows runners to skip obstacles if they do not feel comfortable (though this disqualifies them from any awards), and its website states that lifeguards will be on hand at the race, though participants must sign a waiver to run.

Running Dirty has been working closely with local businesses and authorities to prepare for the race, something that larger mud runs sometimes fail to do, Stamper said. The race is sponsored by Frederick Social Sports, and Stamper hopes that Running Dirty will be able to partner with local gyms so that members can train with a clear goal in mind: finishing.

The run may benefit those who are not directly involved. Richard Clinch, director of economic research at the University of Baltimore, said mud runs are a good source of regional tourism and draw dollars that may not otherwise come to the area.

However, Thomas Rhoads, professor of economics at Towson University, said local groups are not the winners when obstacle races come to town. He argued that since Running Dirty and its larger competitors are businesses, most of the proceeds go to the business itself, as opposed to more traditional races like marathons and 5Ks, which usually exist to support nonprofits.

“There’s a chance that money could actually leave the area,” he said.

While Tough Mudder, Warrior Dash and Running Dirty all donate a portion of the proceeds to charity, the donations are “not quite as large,” Rhoads said.

In addition to registration fees, mud runs and obstacle races also have a unique source of revenue: spectator passes. Rhoads said that watching a marathon or 5K is usually free; Running Dirty charges spectators $10 to $15 per ticket.

“That’s remarkable there’s a market for that,” Rhoads said.