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Very muddy buddies: Race at Afton Alps featured obstacle course and mud pit

A competitor in Sunday morning's Muddy Buddy race at Afton Alps nears the finish line. Competitors had to crawl through a mud pit before crossing the finish line. The event featured a bike ride, a run, an obstacle course and, at the end, the mud pit.1 / 3
Aaron Hagen of Hastings competed in the Muddy Buddy race last weekend with his cousin.2 / 3
After the Muddy Buddy race was complete, a Mini Muddy Buddy race was held, giving children ages 4-13 the chance to crawl through the mud pit. Some even dressed up like their favorite television characters for the race.3 / 3

They ran about three miles each, biked three miles each, conquered five different obstacles, and before the race was over, Aaron Hagen of Hastings and his cousin crawled through a sloppy mud pit.

For Hagen, the mud pit was nothing new. He was in the military, so he's crawled through mud before. But it was still fun, he said.

The event was the Columbia Muddy Buddy, a national fundraising event for the Challenged Athletes Foundation. For the first time, Muddy Buddy came to Minnesota - to Afton Alps, to be exact.

The Muddy Buddy race is more about having fun than it is about competing. It's a team event where two people take turns running and mountain biking a six-mile course. At each mile mark, they pass the bike off to their teammate and complete an obstacle, such as crossing a balance beam, crawling under a cargo net or climbing a barrier. And of course, there's the famous mud pit at the end. Put together, it's just a lot of fun.

"We don't see a lot of people not smiling," said Bob Babbit, the event's creator.

"That's kind of what it's about, is having fun and being with other people having fun," Hagen said.

Teams compete in four divisions. The co-ed division is most popular, but there is also a male and female division, and The Beast division, in which teammates together must weigh at least 400 pounds.

The short distance and frequent trade-off on the bike make it a fairly easy race for beginners.

"Really, it's a perfect entry level event," Babbit said.

Fast competitors can finish the race in about 40 minutes, but average is about an hour. Slower teams generally finish is less than an hour and a half. Hagen and his cousin finished seventh out of about 10 teams in The Beast division, with a time of about 1:05.

Babbit, who lives in California, came up with the idea in the early 1980s when he joined a friend in a 28-mile ride-and-tie race. Instead of the bicycle Muddy Buddy racers get, he had to ride a horse. The only problem was that he had never ridden before, and in the race, he could barely keep his seat. But the idea stuck with him.

"This is a really fun concept," he said. "I've got to lose the horse."

After that he started putting on unofficial races with bikes. By the mid 1990s he had about 150 teams competing - still unofficially. In 1999 he hosted the first official Muddy Buddy and got 250 teams to show up. In that first year, Babbit hosted the event in Denver, Chicago and Boston, and since then he's added events in other areas of the country.

"It's been really fun bringing Muddy Buddy to the masses," he said.

Half the point of the race is getting people to realize that not every race has to be serious. A lot of people are intimidated by anything that requires a race number, he said, and his event works to show people that endurance events can also be fun.

When they see that, "they realize that this isn't a hobby, that endurance is a lifestyle," he said.

The other half of the event is a fundraiser for the Challenged Athletes Foundation, which purchases equipment for paralyzed or amputee athletes.

CAF is another of Babbit's projects. For amputees, insurance will cover a leg to walk in, but a leg they can use to ride a bicycle or run is considered a luxury item, and insurance won't pay for it, he explained. CAF buys the equipment for them.

"Sport makes people whole," Babbit said. "Sport is not a luxury item."

Each event also connects competitors with a CAF athlete, so people can see firsthand how adaptive equipment is helping someone's life, and also how the equipment itself works.

Babbit said he plans on bringing Muddy Buddy back to Minnesota again next year. This year's event drew about 500 teams. Next year he hopes to get 800 or 900 teams.