Stephanie Garcia likes to play dirty.
"Growing up, my brother and I were always outside," the 33-year-old science teacher from Tampa said. "I don't have a problem with mud."
Garcia, who started exercising to lose weight, is one of the more than 1,000 women who paid $100 and signed up for today's Dirty Girl Mud Run in Dade City.
"It is going to be 3.1 miles of fabulously filthy fun," said Garcia who has enlisted a gang of girlfriends to run the obstacle course with her. "You can't be scared. You just have to go for it."
What separates the Dirty Girl races, and the Pretty Muddy held in Tampa in December, from other obstacle runs is that they are women-only events.
"It is part of a national trend, not just with obstacles races and mud runs but with half-marathons as well," said Pete Williams, a Safety Harbor author who writes about endurance and adventure sports.
"Women love the camaraderie these events offer," said Williams, who just released a book, Obstacle Fit. "A big part of the appeal is that they can do these events together."
Garcia, who weighed 400 pounds when she began her fitness regimen three years ago, was a little scared when she did her first mud run two months ago.
"I didn't know if I could make it over the obstacles," said Garcia, who has shed 120 pounds since she began working out. "But this event is not timed, and any obstacle that participants don't feel comfortable completing, they can take a detour and skip it."
Event organizers said many women feel more comfortable running, jumping and climbing with only other women rather than in a group that includes men.
"There is absolutely no judgment," Garcia said. "It's all about having a great time and feeling that awesome sense of accomplishment. It's all about girl power."
Andrea Neukom, marketing director for the Dirty Girl, said the event is designed to help women get outside their comfort zones. "Nobody is pushing you. … Go as far as you can go," she said. "A lot of our participants have never even done a 5K before, so when they finish this, they really feel like they have done something."
The Dirty Girl series has proved popular. The 2013 schedule contains 60 races. That's up from 25 in 2012.
"This is no Warrior Dash or Tough Mudder," Neukom said, referring to other series of obstacle-course races. "I think the only similarity is that there is mud involved."
The Dirty Girl series kicked off its 2013 season last week in San Diego. This weekend's race is the first time the tour has come to Florida.
Garcia said she is running today for her mother, Judy, who had breast cancer and died in April. Dirty Girl recently partnered with the National Breast Cancer Foundation. Entries are free to breast cancer survivors, and participants are given the option of raising money for research.
"I know if my mom was still here, she would be running right there beside me," Garcia said. "But my teammates and I will be thinking of her every step of the way."