6. The Dangers, Health And Safety of Obstacle Race

Date: 19 September 2022
Health And Safety of Obstacle Racing

The Dangers, Health And Safety of Obstacle Racing


This article will cover:

  1. Dehydration
  2. Muscle tears
  3. Sprains
  4. Obstacle accidents
  5. Infections
  6. Broken bones
  7. Paralyzed
  8. Drowning
  9. Overheating


Is Obstacle race such as Spartan Race and Tough Mudder, dangerous?

I remember reading an article about doctors who were seriously concerned with the severe accidents seen in obstacle races. The type of injuries surpasses the common sprains and scrapes from regular competitions. Even with the occasional heart attack during marathons, they were more concerned with the different dangers of obstacle racing.

Sure if you mix running with slippery mud and odd obstacles to climb, you are bound to have a portion of the participants who are unprepared for such challenges. Which will result in various injuries.

Just take a look at the explicit tagline from Tough Mudder: Probably the toughest event on the planet. The danger aspect is a massive part of the marketing campaign, and people love it. Every year, only in the United States, it’s more than a million people are expected to stand on the starting line of an obstacle race.

That’s a lot of people willing to pay the big buck (up to $200) to jump over the fire, roll under the barbed wire, dive into ice-cold water and get zapped by 10,000 volt live wires.

It’s evident that danger is something appealing for a portion of those participants. However, those dangers seem controlled, and safety is an illusion that comes with thinking it’s safe because other people are doing it.

Those doctors are probably right, and the variety of possible accidents is a sign that obstacle racing is dangerous.

However, no sport is 100% safe, and the risk is everywhere. Among every activity, people can hurt themselves whether it is on a treadmill at the gym or cleaning the house. The accident rate during obstacle races such as Spartan Race is not higher than in any other sport. The following article is not meant to scare you from doing a Spartan Race; the goal is to point out the possible danger and teach you how to stay safe.


What Are The Dangers?


There is different kind of danger in obstacle races, and some are scarier than others. After researching the subject, I’ve found the most common risk related to obstacle racing. Let’s take a look at the various danger of this sport.


1. Dehydration


It’s inevitable in all outdoor sports, dehydration is a well-known danger.

In almost every obstacle race, a bunch of participants will be taken to the medical stations to be treated for dehydration. Many beginners underestimate the importance of drinking water, and they end up dazed or even unconscious.

This is what happens during a Tough Mudder in New Jersey, in 2013. An experienced participant, who had correctly trained before the event, and had already done a similar endurance competition. This 6-foot tall runner was dehydrated before entering the Electroshock Therapy, a signature obstacle for Tough Mudder filled with 10,000 volts of live wires. The electrical shocks knocked him unconscious, face-front in the dirt. They had to cut the electricity to rush him out of the obstacle.

Obstacle races are brutal, and participants must be adequately prepared to face such a challenge.


2. Muscle tears


A muscle tear happens when you overstretched muscles. A pulled muscle can occur when you try to lift something heavy, and even anywhere on the course because your body is fatigued.

This type of injury can happen especially during a Spartan Race, with strength obstacles such as the Hercules Hoist or the Tire Flip. However, it’s not an injury unique to Spartan Race, and it can happen during any obstacle race.


3. Sprains


Another common injury among Spartans and Mudders is a twisted ligament, also called sprains.

Your feet, ankles, and knees are vulnerable during such events, because of the brutal terrain. How many participants have twisted an ankle while running downhill or jumping off an obstacle?

Probably more than we think because it’s not every injured person who reports to the medical stations. Many people will think it’s just normal pain from such an extreme race.

However, it’s only 2 or 3 days later they realize their ankle is getting even more swollen, and they require medical help.

It’s not just your lower body that’s at risk, but also your elbows, shoulders, and wrists.

Some participants dislocated their shoulders while hanging from the monkey bars or throwing the spears.

If your body is not used to moving in such ways, you are putting yourself at risk.

However, these injuries can happen while working or playing with the kids. When our body is not used to a specific range of movement, we can even twist an ankle while walking in the park.

But there are also overuse injuries that happen after one of too many repetitions of the same movement. A common injury of this type is the IT band syndrome (iliotibial band) and plantar fasciitis. Those are very common in all running sports. They are the result of an accumulation of action instead of a particular event.

In this case, it might be your running form or muscular imbalances, and it could happen during your Sunday jog around the neighbourhood. It’s not unique to obstacle racing.


4. Obstacle accidents


Some obstacles are better at producing injuries, and it’s the case with the well know Electroshock therapy at Tough Mudder.

The outcomes of getting electrocuted may vary from headaches, seizures, confusion, temporary paralyzed, loss of consciousness and failure of bladder control. Furthermore, a Long Island resident has filed a lawsuit against Tough Mudder, after almost losing his right leg because a piece of metal pierced his knee. This incident happens in the murky water under the Electroshock Therapy.

Another pretty scary accident implicated a rolling 300-pound tractor tire and a Spartan Race participant. The tire used for the Tire Flip obstacle went flying downhill and almost kill one participant. The race organization decided it was a good idea to put the giant tracker wheel on top of a hill.

The obstacles are getting upgraded every year, and sometimes what seems safe this year might not be the next year. Many years ago the obstacles were made of wood. The problem with such materials is degradation. It was not rare to hear a story about someone who caught splinters or cuts from rugged wood.

Even if the race organizations are doing their best to create safe obstacles, a mistake can occur, and you must always be aware of your surroundings.


5. Infections


While participating in an obstacle race, especially a mud run, where murky water is part of almost every obstacle, the danger might reside inside the mud.

You are especially vulnerable to infection if you have cuts or fresh wounds and jump into the mud puddle. The problem is not the mud itself but another ingredient that can find its way into the water.

Many muds run are held in rural areas with farms or broad wildlife. The bacteria can come from the animal’s faeces that naturally find it’s way into the mud. Also, in agriculture, farmers will use animal faeces as fertilizer and spray the whole field. Which eventually gets mixed up in the dirt.

Furthermore, you can get an infection if you get mud in your mount, nose or eyes. However, it’s not always that you’ll get infected. Most of the time your body won’t react if your immune system is robust.

Nevertheless, if 2,000 participants cross an infected mud puddle, you’re sure to get a couple of infection cases.

It’s precisely what happened in numerous races over the past years.

For example, in Nevada, 22 persons who participate in a mud run, caught the Campylobacter Coli infection.

This type of mud infection is common, and the symptoms can vary from cramping to bloody diarrhoea.

Accordingly, to the CDC, this illness can last up to a week. Plus, the lucky people who get the red poop also required proper medication to cure from the infection.

The Campylobacter incident involving 22 people, leads to a special investigation by the CDC. The search for the source of the infected mud was also linked to another accident in a mountain bike race, where participants also got infected.

It seems they swallow a little bit of mud that is splashed in their mouths. Those few drops were enough to start an infection.

Another major infection incident occurs in France, where 1,000 participants contract the Norovirus. Another virus that leads to vomiting and diarrhoea for up to 5 days.

Such infection can be deadly if not treated properly.

Some infections can also have severe consequences. For example, in Texas, a woman participating in a mud run, unfortunately, contracted the flesh-eating bacteria in one eye.

The doctor seemed pretty convinced that the infection came from the mud. Unfortunately, she lost sight in her eye.

However, infected mud is not unique to mud runs and obstacle races. You could catch any of these infections while camping or playing with the kids at the local park.


6. Broken bones


From all the possible accidents during an obstacle race, the result is often broken bones. This type of injury mainly occurs with participants, who are not physically ready for such challenges. However, if you are not careful about the course, it can happen to anyone. The obstacles are slippery, your body is exhausted, and all you can focus on is reaching the finish line. This combination can lead to severe accidents.

A well-trained athlete, who participated in the Extreme K Mud Run in Silverdale (Washington, United States), left the course with multiple bone fractures in her foot.

She was not a beginner at obstacle racing and was in good shape at the time of the accident. The problem was the poor design of the obstacle, the steep pitch and a pile of rocks.

The obstacle called “Gravity’s Revenge” was a water slide along a hill that had a very poor landing. She and two other participants who suffered from similar injuries have sued the organization. The last Extreme K Mud Run was in 2012.

Sometimes it’s not the participant’s fault, and it’s the race organization that fails to create safe obstacles.


7. Paralyzed


Some injuries are more severe and permanent than others.

During a Mud run in 2010, a wild participant dived head-first into a pool of murky water. Unfortunately, the water was shallower than it seemed and no warning sign or supervision was warning the participants. She was paralyzed.

The same thing happened in 2011, during Warrior Dash in Michigan. Both accidents led to lawsuits that agonised the race organization.

In 2013, another person underestimated the deepness of a mud pool and died after jumping head first from a 15 feet obstacle.

At first, I was wondering why people feel the need to jump head-first into dark water or simply do something they usually wouldn’t have felt comfortable doing.

The answer is peer-pressure. You are all pumped up on adrenaline, people are cheering, and you have a second to take the decision.

It’s precisely what happened to a man during a Spartan Race at Toro County Park. At mile 3, the 25-year-old Spartan was standing 10 feet above a pool of muddy water, with no warning sign or staff member and the crowd was cheering. In a matter of seconds, the race took a wrong turn when he decided to dive into the shallow water.

He ended up breaking two vertebrae, and he’s now a quadriplegic.

Another horrible example of peer pressure happened during a Spartan stadium race at the Citi Field course. A New Jersey woman was facing the monkey bar obstacle and was not sure of her ability to complete the obstacle. A volunteer offered his help by taking the participant on his shoulder to complete the obstacle. She decided to accept the offer to skip the 30 burpees penalty for failing the obstacle. While carrying the woman on his shoulder, the volunteer lost his balance, and the woman landed on her neck. The mother of four was paralyzed from the neck down.

After those accidents, Spartan Race has significantly improved the security measure to make sure it never happens again. Even if Spartan Race does the right thing, always be careful during a race, take more time on the course than end up injured for life.


8. Drowning


Unfortunately, tragic accidents have occurred during obstacle races. They are rare cases where participants have drowned in water obstacles.

During Tough Mudder, participants have to jump 15-foot down into cold water. If people are not careful and the obstacle supervisor loses control of the crowd, terrible accidents can happen.

It’s precisely what occurred to a man in 2012 when he disappeared under the water for more than 8 minutes. He and more than 100 participants were heading into a 40 feet wide platform with a 15 feet vertical wall above water. Everyone has to jump and swim to the other side of the obstacle.

Participants must wait for their turn before jumping, but mistakes can happen, and it’s precisely what happened on that day. One participant jumped onto another participant.

This accident could have been avoided if volunteers have been placed on the platform, managing who is jumping and when.

Another drowning happened during an obstacle race in 2012. A 30-year-old man participating in “The Original Mud Run” drowned while swimming across a river. His friends were cheering from the bridge above, and taking pictures. They got nervous when they didn’t see him at the finish line. In the chaos of the race, the lifeguard was overwhelmed by the number of people in the water and didn’t notice the man drowning.

Today, in most obstacle races involving deep water, safety devices are mandatory and more lifeguards are supervising the water. Even if you are a good swimmer, after hours of running, one must not go into the water without a life jacket. Cramping or pure exhaustion can occur anytime, anywhere.


9. Overheating


The heat is also a danger during obstacle races. Most races are held during summer, because the weather is more prompt for outdoor activities, especially in the areas where they have snow during winter.

The problem is your body temperature is already increasing because of the physical activity, and if you are running on a hot summer day, it can lead to severe consequences.

When our body temperature rises, the blood flow increases and that puts stress on the heart. Also, we are producing significant amounts of sweat, which causes dehydration and more strain on the heart.

In 2011, during a Warrior Dash race, the temperature was reaching above 100 degrees in Kansas City. One participant collapsed on the course and was rushed into hospital. He died from multiple organ failure. During the same event, another man also died from heatstroke.

Most race organizations will cancel the event if the temperature is too high, but you can also take extra steps to stay safe during such warm days.



Dangers are part of any sport, and that’s why we have to take the necessary measures. To stay safe during an obstacle race, and avoid injuries, I suggest you consider the following tips.

First, always respect the rules, wait for your turn and listing to the obstacle instructions. Take your time on the course, drink enough water and don’t eat the mud (seriously).

The most important precaution you could take before the race is to train accordingly and don’t underestimate the challenge you’ll be facing.


Please visit this site for a comprehensive list of Injuries –





Please note: I do not take any responsibility for an accident, disability, death, public liability, third party, medical costs, destruction of property, damages to self or others, destruction of all equipment, disability, personal liability, general liability, self-harm, suicide, harm to livestock, harm to animals, harm to children and intentional bodily harm, for using any of the listed products and suppliers. Please consult with the manufacturers and instructors, when buying the equipment that is suitable for you.

If you wish to learn more about this sport and its history, just pop me a mail and I will send the information to you: info@tanyasworldofsports.co.za

When you are ready to take on those mounts, Please take a moment and bow to people that are disabled, that cannot take part in such sports.

My views, comments and content are strictly are of my own opinion and research and are not governed or influenced by any marketing of companies or brands. It is of my own free will to mention companies and brands that supply sporting equipment pertaining to the sport in the discussion.