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If you are a runner like me, the 5ks, 10k and even the half and full marathons can get old. Been there, done that. So what’s next? What else is out there to challenge myself and get my blood pumping again?

Well, how about an obstacle course race? It’s the latest craze in running events with Mud Runs and Spartan Races the two top events. Both are a new way of having fun with running but with a twist. While you are racing against others, you must also complete the obstacles facing you before continuing the race and crossing the finishing line to glory. Sounds easy? Well, think again.

Mud Runs first stared in 1999 with the “original” Mud Run, an obstacle course competition requiring fair amount of sprinting, climbing, jumping, crawling, and swimming through you guessed it, mud and water. The Runs are all about getting dirty and having fun while pushing your physical and mental limits. Climbing over tall walls and crawling under wires are standard on these military-style obstacles courses which have been put together by military specialists to test your strength and stamina. Be prepared as you will get muddy, head-to-toe muddy, with the courses ranging from 5k to 20k in length. Some of the Mud Runs offered include the 5k Warrior Dash, the 5k Rugged Maniac, the 5k Pretty Muddy (just for women),the 3-4.5 miles Muddy Buddy, 3 and 12-mile Hell Run, the 10 to 12-mile Tough Mudder, and the 5k and 10k Original Mud Run – and are offered across the U.S. and throughout the world. Thousands sign up for each race as individual competitors or in teams. Showers and after parties are usually the norm immediately afterward.

The Spartan Race is another competitive obstacle course event raced across routes of varying distances and different challenges that test the participant to the max. Races are offered globally and include the 3-mile Spartan Sprint, the 8-mile Super Spartan, the 12-mile Spartan Beast, and the 26-mile Ultra Beast which is often ran after a neighboring marathon the day before. There is also a time-trial obstacle course race in one mile in length and a military series designed by the U.S. military. Oh and there is the Spartan Death Race, a 48+ hour extreme test of endurance and resilience, offered by the Spartan Race’s parent company, Peak Races.

Like the Mud Runs, no two Spartan Races are alike as they are customized for the level of competitors and the lay of the land itself which may include a mountain field to sprint up while carrying oddly-shaped weights, a lake to swim through only to climb a ladder to a bridge to exit and continue, or dessert-like conditions to race in unbearable heat. You name the most extreme obstacle or condition and it is there in the Spartan. Possible integrated obstacles include fire jumps, spear throws, wall climbs, object carries, over-under-through, Hercules hoists, Tyrolean traverses, traversal walls, slippery walls, gladiator arenas, hobie hops, and more. But that’s the point of Spartan Race; to truly challenge yourself and push yourself to your upmost limits of physical abilities and mental anguish to finish the race. TV network ESPN describes the Spartan Race as “a true test of will.” And that it does.

The Spartan Race was founded less than 10 years ago, in 2004, with the first event held in 2010 at the Catamount Outdoor Center in Williston, Vermont. Just about 500 participants competed with all finishers receiving medals and top athletes award prizes just like most other running races. Today, thousands of athletes sign up for a Spartan Race, often offered over a choice of two weekend days, with the events selling out months in advance.

Both Mud Runs and Spartan Races are offered all over the world and can be entered online as an individual or as a team with the last person’s time entered as the time for the entire team. Both are excellent forms of exercise working all of your muscle groups and requiring extensive training beforehand with most events offer training tips leading up to the event once you sign up to include strengthening exercises and cardio conditioning for both your upper and lower extremities. On race day, participants receive t-shirts and other goodies just for showing up. All races are rain or shine with starts in waves to balance the flow. Finishers of both races receive medals for completing and bragging rights while the top completers are awarded prizes.

So what’s the difference? The terrains and obstacles. While Mud Runs’ main ground of competition is mainly mud, Spartan Races can be raced across all different types of terrain – grass, dirt, water, gravel, dessert and so forth. And while both offer obstacles such as hay bales, wall climbs, crawls and tunnels, Spartan Races include challenges with a combat feel and style, such as Hercules hoists, Tyrolean traverses, gladiator arenas, and spear throws. So you will need that extra urge to fight to win with the Spartan Races. Also, readers of Obstacle Magazine voted the Spartan Race as the “Best Obstacle Race” in 2012.

But who’s to say? I believe it all boils down to personal preference. All are great, it just depends on what you want to accomplish. You can always sign up for another or try them all. It’s your choice. So get out there and complete! Have fun staying fit and get your medal once you cross the finish line.

Be Fit. Be Strong. Be Well.

Special Note: The night before either a Mud Run or Spartan Race, remember to push your carbs and eat bagels, whole-grain cereals and pasta. On race day, coat Vaseline on toes, inner thighs and anywhere necessary will enhance your comfort on race day. Wear thin socks, water-friendly shoes, non-cotton pants and a thin shirt to avoid carrying an extra 4-5 lbs during the race and to stay hydrated. Bring a change of clothes for after the race. Have fun and good luck!