May 30 2012 12:00 AM

Adventure races will have you dodging boulders and climbing over lily pads


June is shaping up to be a muddy, bruise-y, adrenaline-fueled rush for Lansing thrill junkies. With all the wimpy “fun runs” cluttering the River Trail and Michigan Avenue with sweatless, unsullied speed-walkers and joggers, cutthroat competitive runners have had to run politely with the rest of the herd. But over the last two years, something extraordinary has happened: The local racing world has apparently reached its critical mass, giving rise to two sports that are putting the fight back in fight-or-flight. 

“Adventure races and obstacle races are different, but they both give you something that you don’t in of a traditional race,” said Jeff Smith, co-organizer of Dirty Feat, an East Lansing-based adventure race now entering its third year. “They’re designed to be fun and to make you use your brain.” 

That is, if you call putting yourself in the path of falling boulders — like the ones used at the Rock the World obstacle race in Grand Ledge. — “using your brain.” (So what if they’re made of foam; try telling that to your medulla oblongata.) In addition to Dirty Feat (June 16) and Rock the World (June 30 and July 1), you can also challenge yourself to the Filthy 5K obstacle race (Saturday). Why live vicariously through “American Ninja Warrior” or “The Amazing Race” when you can put yourself in faux mortal peril practically every weekend this month?

“Adventure racing is like concentrated life — in a matter of a few hours, it dishes out challenges that remind you you’re only human,” said Christine Fisk, who competed in her first adventure race with the inaugural Dirty Feat in 2010. “My closest comparison was going through my divorce, but of course this was way more positive.” 

This will be Fisk’s third year partaking in Dirty Feat, which this year expands from six to eight hours. It kicks off at 6 a.m., forcing competitors to get started before sunrise. Two-person teams must hit 24 semi-hidden checkpoints throughout an approximate 10-square-mile area around East Lansing’s Patriarche Park. Teams travel mostly by bike, and carry backpacks loaded with emergency gear, including space blankets, first aid kits, and compasses.

Smith is mum on what new aspects this year’s race will have (“We’ve got to maintain the element of surprise”), but it will be similar to the last two, which forced teams to travel by canoe, rowboat or on foot, with climbing challenges and at least one orienteering section. 

“It just sounded like a hell of a lot of fun,” said Fisk, who learned about it through her Twitter feed. She says she randomly found her teammate through a friend of a friend, and trained “a little,” not knowing how tough it was going to be. 

“Then we did it and it kicked our asses,” she said. “But it was a new kind of rush for me, and I knew instantly that I needed to do more like it. It’s become a lifelong addiction now, I think.” 

Last year, Fisk added the Grand Rapids Warrior Dash to her schedule. This year, she has plans to compete in up to five races, including the new Rock the World competition. Event organizer Matt Dyksta said he was inspired to create Rock the World after he ran the merciless Warrior Dash last year, but was put off by the alpha-male machismo of it. 

“This is a new generation of racers coming up with a different kind of competitive mindset,” he said. “But I wanted something you can bring a 4-year-old to. Everything about this event, from the obstacles we developed to the bands we picked to play afterwards, was designed to be family-friendly.” 

Rock the World is a themed 5K trail race, with 12 obstacles representing iconic world landmarks integrated into Fitzgerald Park’s landscape. On the “Mt. Kilauea” section, competitors will be pummeled by the aforementioned fake rocks. There will also be a “Grand Canyon” climb, a “Panama Canal” crossing, and even a “Statue of Liberty” wire walk, in which racers will have to carry a mock torch for part of the race that they must then use to clip on to a zip-line. There will also be live bands, a beer tent, food vendors, and free children’s activities, which are also all features of Delta Township’s fledgling Filthy 5K obstacle race. But the latter will have a unique aspect to it, appealing to a whole other crowd of racers. 

“This is the only race in the country that was designed for dog owners,” said Filthy 5K founder Trever Schmitz. “People are going to get wet, they’re going to get dirty, they’re going to have a great time.” Sections of the race will include inflatable lily pads that will enable racers to cross a pond (or fall into it), a water slide and an uneven platform that moves as people walk on it.

“If someone’s on the left side and someone else gets on the right, there’s a good chance they’re going down,” Schmitz said. “It’s tough, but not impossible.”  

So why would someone be willing to willingly put his or her body through the proverbial wringer? 

“I can’t say that I’ve ever done anything else that has given me this kind of feeling of accomplishment,” Fisk said. “I’m not a super-athlete, but these races have inspired me to reach beyond my limits and try something new. Something scary. But most of all, they’re damn fun.”

Filthy 5K

8 a.m. Saturday, June 2

Grand Woods Park, 

Delta Township

Free for spectators; for registration details, visit

Dirty Feat

6 a.m., Saturday, June 16

Patriarche Park, 976 Alton St., East Lansing

(Park toward the back of the park)

5 a.m. check-in; 6 a.m. start

Register at

Rock the World

Begins at 10 a.m. June 30 and July 1 (races begin every 45 minutes until 5:30 p.m. June 30 and until 7 p.m. July 1)

Fitzgerald Park

133 Fitzgerald Park Drive, Grand Ledge

Registration is $67 before June 1; $72 after. Visit