Forget trudging through a half-marathon or sprinting in a standard 5K on a path through a park, the Rugged Maniac coming to Dade City on April 22 will draw some 5,000 people to crawl through the mud, jump over a burning wood pile and careen down an 80-foot slide.
The race, which has made a stop at the Little Everglades Ranch every year since 2011, has grown in popularity along with other nontraditional fitness events. And it doesn't hurt that billionaire Mark Cuban from the hit show Shark Tank has lent his support and his cash to a 5K that is embedded with more than two dozen obstacles.
There has been a huge spike in popularity over the last five years in fun fitness events like costume runs, bubble races and glow-in-the-dark 5Ks. There has also been a strong surge of macho obstacle races like the Tough Mudder and Spartan Race that are grueling competitions. More runners participated in nontraditional races than traditional half-marathons and marathons last year, according to Running USA.
Rugged Maniac positions itself between those two trends. Instead of 12 miles of tough challenges, like traversing a field of mud with live electric wires overhead (a signature Tough Mudder obstacle), this is just a 5K. But there are twice as many obstacles, a full 25 challenges.
"We want people to have fun doing this, so it's not about being shocked with electricity and punishing yourself," said Rob Dickens, 38, who co-founded the company in 2010 with law school classmate Brad Scudder, 34. "What people like is the challenges."
The course will be built on the edge of the Green Swamp in Pasco County by the company's crew of roadies, "like a traveling circus," who will arrive in Dade City with a semitrailer truck full of equipment to build walls, mud pits and seesaw obstacles.
Among the challenges
Frog Hop: Floating platforms, or "lily pads," held together by rope over a muddy river.
The Ringer: Rows of pullup rings suspended over a large water pit.
The Gauntlet: Massive swinging bags suspended over narrow paths made of foam pads. These paths slowly sink into a pool of water.
Pyromaniac: Rows of burning logs that participants must jump over.
The most popular obstacle is the Accelerator, a steep water slide into a deep pool of water. It was recently redesigned and increased from a 50-foot drop to almost 80 feet, Dickens said, and lanes have been added so racers don't plow into each other.
Three years ago, the company was approached by the producers of Shark Tank, Dickens said, because they like to have a mix of different businesses on the show.
"We didn't need the money," Dickens said. "Our initial reaction was we are doing alright, but at the end of the day it was a great opportunity to be seen in front of millions of people. And Mark Cuban is a celebrity in his own right so that helps."
On the episode, Dickens and Scudder sold a 25 percent stake in the company to Cuban, who owns the Dallas Mavericks NBA team, for $1.75 million.
Since the Shark Tank episode, the company has gone from 19 events a year to 30 and has also acquired interests in other events, such as the Boston Triathlon, and other small producers of fitness events.
While Rugged Maniac is a fitness event, the focus is social, Dickens said.
"Nobody runs this alone," he said.
Typically it's a group of friends who head out together and help each other over obstacles. Whatever your typical 5K time is, expect to double it. This is more about completing the challenges than scoring a personal best time.
And then afterward, it's party time.
There's a DJ-comedian working the crowd, pie-eating contests, a mechanical bull and dance-offs that can keep the crowd there until 6 p.m. or later if the weather is good, Dickens said.
Participants have to be at least 14, but on the other end of the spectrum, it's not unusual to have racers in their 70s and 80s.
"My mom is 60-something and she did it two years ago," Dickens said. "It took her a long time because she was careful and she skipped some obstacles. But she had a great sense of accomplishment."
Contact Sharon Kennedy Wynne at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow @SharonKWn.