Obstacle course racing and mud runs are among the nation's fastest-growing events. And, for the second consecutive year, the Great Divide Montana Mucker will offer a taste of that muddy fun.

Organizers expect upwards of 1,100 at this year's Mucker, set to start at 10 a.m. Saturday at the Great Divide Ski Area.

On Thursday afternoon, though -- the course newly built and sparkly clean -- race organizer Matt Gibson allowed the Independent Record a sneak peek. Let's call it a trial run -- for quality control and all.

The aim of the day is muddy fun, and that box will certainly be checked off. With multiple mud crossings in the first mile of the three-mile course, runners will get a taste of what is to come. Also scattered through the start of the course are hay bales to scale and walls to climb, including one angled obstacle (a knotted rope is provided) that is perhaps 12 to 15 feet tall.

Runners will spend a fair portion of their time on trails and service roads, before winding into a meadow where another tall climb awaits.

Coming back up out of the meadow, runners will have eaten up about a third of the course. Then comes the meat of the Mucker. After scaling a tall cargo net climb, the trail quickly enters a wooded swamp. It wouldn't be a bad idea to create a bit of a duct tape stirrup to keep shoes on feet through this section, as there are bound to be calls of "I lost my shoe!" The suction of the mud -- which is often mid-calf and in one section waist deep -- is such that it won't be all that surprising to hear tales of lost socks.

Another unofficial challenge discovered on Thursday are the flies and other swamp bugs. Once runners are mudded up, they can expect the swarming critters to accompany them for a while.

Once folks are sufficiently filthy, they'll get to climb back up the hill. This is, after all, a ski area. And there are plenty of hills. This hike is the most physically difficult section of the course, but it isn't particularly lengthy. And, once they are at the top, all that stands between runners and the finish line is another mile of (mostly) gradual, downhill. There are a few more obstacles thrown in the mix, too, but we can't give it all away!

The course, first of all, is laid out extremely well. Well marked with orange flags, directions were nearly always clear even without volunteers pointing out the way. And Great Divide is a beautiful place to spend a day, offering fantastic views -- particularly at the top of some of the taller obstacles.

The Mucker doesn't put the focus on competition and doesn't look to break you down into a blubbering mess, either. New this year is a 10 a.m. elite heat with prizes for the top three finishers from Bob Ward's on the line. Even then, it's supposed to be both fun and accessible -- and it is. That said, there are certainly natural, physical challenges enough to keep the competitive runner entertained.

A substantial portion of the proceeds from the event will go to Helena-based Intermountain, which provides therapeutic care to children and families facing extraordinary challenges.

"The Mucker is an extremely fun, local event with a big-time atmosphere," said event director Christie Anderson. "Working with local businesses, especially our nonprofit partner, Intermountain, has been one of the most rewarding aspects of this run."

Also rewarding -- though, sadly, not yet set up on Thursday's trial run -- is the chance to rehydrate with a beverage from Lewis and Clark Brewery at the course's halfway point.

There will be plenty of food, beer and other goodies available at the venue, which will mercifully be about 10 degrees cooler than Helena. Still, the forecast for Saturday is for temperatures to reach the low 90s. So, while there will be one beverage station on the course (alongside the beer, water and sports drinks will also be available), bringing a hydration pack wouldn't be a bad idea.

And, your spouse/sweetie/mom is right, too: Sunscreen's probably a good call.

Troy Shockley is on Twitter @IR_TroyShockley and can be reached at troy.shockley@helenair.com.

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