Nearly 7,000 people flooded Anchorage's Kincaid Park Sunday for the "Mud Factor," a 5-kilometer for-profit footrace that promised to coat runners in mud.
With Michael Jackson and Rage Against the Machine tunes playing over loudspeakers at the start line, the crowd -- a family-friendly, mostly younger cross-section of Anchorage -- ran or walked the popular Mize Loop trail, which had been turned into an obstacle course by a team of 20 over the past week.
After climbing rope ladders and Army-crawling through a mire of mud, they slid into the finish line on a giant slide coated in wet dirt. Most looked pretty happy about it.
Each had paid roughly $30-80, depending on when they registered. Parking cost $10, and spectators were charged $10 just to be there. Gear check-in cost $5.
But to the runners, the appeal was clear: "You feel like a kid again," said a grinning, mud-covered Jody Allen, standing next to her equally mud-caked husband at the finish line, trying to find a clean hand for a post-race selfie.
"Mud Factor" which bills itself as a "seriously fun, 5k obstacle run" is part of a growing industry of fun runs that feature such embellishments as inflatable obstacles, foam machines, zombie costumes, or neon-lighted nighttime jogging. In the Lower 48, the popularity of the approachable, social-media-friendly runs -- which are usually untimed and which many people walk -- has boomed in recent years, said Lindsay Davis, who works for Eight51, the Sacramento, Calif.-based event company that puts on Mud Factor.
"It's a very competitive market," she said. "Some cities are getting saturated."
But the themed fun run industry is just now making its way to Alaska in earnest, spurred in part by the success of last year's Color Run, which drew big crowds.
The company saw an opportunity in Anchorage, she said. Sunday's turnout was bigger than the 4,000 runners a Mud Factor race usually draws, according to Davis.
The company is planning a Fairbanks race and plans to return to Anchorage next year.
"You'll start to see more as you see other ones doing well up here," she said.
Usually, Mud Factor sets up its obstacle course on rented private property.
Mud Factor paid the Anchorage Parks and Recreation Department between $10,000 and 13,000 to turn Kincaid's Mize Loop into an obstacle course featuring climbing walls, mud pits and a giant slide.
The mud obstacles were designed to be "above-ground" to protect trails underneath.
"We're not allowed to disturb the ground," she said.
It took a crew of about 20 people to construct the obstacles, which included a giant mudslide and climbing walls. Locals volunteered four-wheelers and other supplies, Davis said.
While the Mud Factor is a for-profit event, the group usually donates some money generated by beer garden sales to a charity. Plans to offer beer at the Anchorage event fell through, Davis said. No money was donated to charity.
Mud Factor takes out a $2 million liability policy, according to the parks department.
Four Emergency Medical Technicians with Team One, a private medical services contractor hired by Mud Factor, were on hand in case of injuries.
EMT Alan Loken sat astride a bike near the course's finish line.
He'd seen little more than blisters and scrapes, he said.
A paparazzi-like scrum gathered near some mud obstacles, waiting to snap photos of friends and family. Davis said about two spectators come for every registered runner.
The $10 spectator fee is justified because the run takes on liability for every person who attends, Davis said.
Four-year-old Laken Roering ran the "Mud Factor Kidz" version, a shorter course with easier obstacles but plenty of mud.
He summed the experience up thusly: "I went, ew. But then I said, whoa!"
Roering's sneakers, boasting characters from the Disney children's show "Jake and the Never Land Pirates," were trashed.
Despite the parking headaches and fees, people seemed excited for the opportunity to wallow en masse in the muck.
Most in a long line for the outdoor hose-off sprinklers had smiles on their muddy faces.
Reach Michelle Theriault Boots at firstname.lastname@example.org.