Mud Puddles for Grown Ups

By: Christine Culver


Mud, mud puddles, mud pies, tromping through the woods, climbing, twirling… music to any child’s ear on a hot summer day. Throw in some running and jumping, and you’ve got the makings of those long-lasting memories that remind us “grown ups” of simpler days.


Fast-forward to the present day-envision a place where you can again find mud, mud pits and slippery foot bridges… You can trail-blaze through the woods over crazy obstacles, and get completely filthy in the process. You’ll challenge your physical abilities, probably fall down more than once, and laugh alongside your friends as you trudge ahead. Yes, this place does exist: it’s the Mad Mountain Mud Run—the first race of its kind in Western North Carolina.


On Sunday, June 3, the Mad Mountain Mud Run—a 3.5-mile mud-filled adventure race—will take Hendersonville by storm. Born as an idea to raise funds for Hands On! – A Child’s Gallery, a premier experiential learning children’s museum in WNC, the Mad Mountain Mud Run is set to impress. This event is sponsored by the healthcare community as a new and exciting way to highlight health and wellness. The business community also is embracing it as a unique team-building experience. And impressively, the Mad Mountain Mud Run is the first event of its kind in WNC—a natural fit for the adventurous spirit so organic in our mountains.


I interviewed two of the organizers of the Mad Mountain Mud Run to learn about the event’s inception, the details about the day, and interestingly—a special challenge to women throughout our mountain region.


Meet Heather Boeke, Executive Director of Hands On! – A Child’s Gallery (the beneficiary of the proceeds from the Mud Run and co-chair of the event) and Ellen Seagle, avid trail-blazer and Mud Run race administrator.


Q: First of all, why bring a mud run to Western North Carolina?


A: (Ellen) Just talk to anyone who has participated in a mud run, and they’ll immediately smile and launch into a story about their awesome experience! Also, though, Western North Carolina is nationally acclaimed as a Mecca for outdoor adventure enthusiasts, yet where is our “signature” adventure race? We’re filling that void, and for a great cause.


Q: That brings up the next logical question: this is a fund-raiser?


A: (Heather) Yes, all proceeds from this event will benefit Hands On! – A Child’s Gallery, which is a non-profit organization dedicated to promoting learning through “hands on” experiences. We are located on Main Street in downtown Hendersonville and serve children and families throughout Western North Carolina and upstate South Carolina.


Q: Describe the Mad Mountain Mud Run.


A: (Ellen) Imagine a warm summer day and a 3.5 mile off-road trail run. Now, imagine it with 15-20 obstacles that must be scaled or traversed—from “mountains” of mulch and log balance beams to creek crossings and mud pits. Best of all, envision running alongside your friends, helping each other through the course, and finishing together at an outdoor festival with food, beer, muddy games and live music at the stage. A full day of outdoor fun!


Q: So, how many people are you expecting?


A: (Heather) Events like this in other areas across the country often attract thousands of participants. We have limited our race participants to the first 1,300 to sign up—and there is still space available. Also, the festival is open to any and all who want to play our muddy games, cheer for their friends and family who are racing, enjoy food and beverages, and listen to the live music.


Q: You said the event has evolved due in part to the enthusiasm of others. Can you explain?


A: (Heather) Yes, when we began planning, everyone we approached about being involved jumped on board and new ideas continued to emerge. First and foremost, almost immediately into our planning, Park Ridge Health and Southeastern Sports Medicine, both regional healthcare organizations, joined as the presenting sponsors of the event, and they are sharing their passion for the health of our region with a significant presence and health offerings at the festival. Also, when looking for a location for this huge endeavor, the City of Hendersonville enthusiastically donated use of 60 acres of land for this event. They realized the event’s potential, and wanted to ensure that the first Mad Mountain Mud Run was held in Hendersonville—a wonderful destination in WNC. We were encouraged to approach Kimberly-Clark, whose plant is adjacent to the City’s land. We did, and Kimberly-Clark is now a significant sponsor and has opened their facility for parking. Next, the Henderson County Chamber of Commerce decided to sponsor a special competition for businesses: The Dirty Business Challenge. They are challenging businesses to enter teams in the race to compete for the Dirty Business Trophy—which they see as a great team- and community-building activity. How fun is that?


(Ellen) We’ve also had organizations join us to provide food (Hannah Flanagan’s Pub), beer (North American Breweries), a website design (WNC Digital), marketing (Summit Marketing), as well as many other sponsors who have given money, services and media coverage. A full list can be found on our website:


Q: This event benefits a children’s organization. Can kids participate?


A: (Ellen) The course is designed for adults, but we are allowing participants ages 12-17 with consent from a legal guardian. The organizers of the mud run are all moms, so I can bet that several of our teenagers will be on the course.


(Heather) The Mad Mountain Mud Run is now the signature fund raising event for Hands On!—so we did feel that part of the event needed to focus on younger kids. So, the evening before the big race, we’ll be hosting our Mad Mountain MUD FUN event, geared specifically to younger children and families. This smaller event will be a big mud puddle party, with a one-mile mud run for kids up to age 12. We have more information about this posted at Also, at the Mad Mountain Mud Run, we will have muddy games for all ages and music. There will be mud and fun for everyone!


Q: Now for a more personal question. How did the two of you decide that you could take on the planning of a major adventure race?


A: (Heather) Hah! Good question. Ellen and I, along with our two other core committee members, Alex Kealy and Tina Kinsey, are four women who get things done. We were faced with a challenge to find a new way to raise funds for Hands On!, and we had thought about planning a mud run for several years. Then, we heard of a few other organizations who were considering bringing a similar event to Western North Carolina, so we knew we had to be first, and we had to do it right. We put our heads together, organized a pro forma, an implementation plan, seven sub-committees, and hit the ground running. When our presenting sponsor and “location donation” lined up so nicely, we knew we were on to something pretty great.


(Ellen) I personally participate in races of all kinds around the region, and have felt for years that Western North Carolina needed a mud run—what better place? So, the girls (Heather, Alex, Tina and I) met over coffee, and before our last sips, the Mad Mountain Mud Run was conceived. I think we were all really excited that day, and during the past few months, our excitement has been joined by the realization of the magnitude of what we’ve set out to do. You don’t tackle a project like this lightly. There are so many big elements that need to come together for everything to work—and it’s working! This event is going to be epic. I’m a little bummed that I’ll be working the race and not competing!


Q: I know readers will wonder about the course. What will it be like? How was it planned?


A: (Ellen) The 60 acres is a mixture of terrain. We’ll start the race at Berkeley Park, which is a minimally developed City park with a big open field, some woods, and a great pavilion area where our festival will take place. Racers will wind through the woods and encounter a few minor obstacles at the onset. Then, once they cross the road to the Mad Mountain—the more challenging fun begins. Our course designer is the fitness specialist at Wellspring Academy, and avid adventure racer, Andy Hayes. He has spent countless hours at the race site mapping a challenging 3.5-mile course and planning obstacles that will leave racers feeling pretty great about their accomplishment. Racers will encounter five mud pits, and will have to traverse them in different ways. There is even a “razor wire crawl,” where wire or tape is criss-crossed just above a mud pit, and racers have to belly crawl through the mud under the maze of wire. We’ll have obstacles that have to be climbed, tunneled, swung, balanced and jumped. Oh, and there’s a creek involved, too!


Q: What if racers encounter an obstacle that is too difficult for them?


A: (Ellen) No worries. Racers who choose to bypass an obstacle will be detained from continuing for a period of time—kind of like a “penalty.”


Q: Anything else you’d like to highlight?


A: (Heather) Yes! We hope to see women of all ages at this event— in fact, our research shows that the average age of women who participate in events like this is 50! I will be so inspired if I see a team of 60-plus age women out there. I keep thinking that this event all started with four headstrong, determined women, and it’s empowering to make all of this happen. We think that teams of women from all over Western North Carolina should embrace this challenge, do something a little different, challenge themselves physically, get filthy in the process and then bask in their accomplishments while enjoying some live music and craft beer.


(Ellen) As I said before, I truly believe this will be an epic event. And I agree with Heather—ladies, let’s show how it’s done! We’ve got some great prizes for fast racers, but even more fun are the competitions for the best team uniform and best team name. This day is all about fun, pushing ourselves, getting dirty, laughing, good food, good drink, live music and bonding with friends. And just think, in the process a children’s experiential learning center benefits, too.


Q: Where do you go to find out more or to register?


A: (Heather) Visit our website at for information and to register. Remember, registration is limited, so sign up soon.


The 3.5-mile obstacle course, muddy adventure race will be held in Hendersonville on Sunday, June 3. More information can be found at

Sandi Tomlin-Sutker
Written by Sandi Tomlin-Sutker