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Tough MudderBy Katherine Bindley for

When Lauren Mundell and her friends planned a girls weekend in Mount Snow, Vt., last May, they chose to spend part of it watching one of the most intense endurance challenges on the market: Tough Mudder, a 10-12 mile course that involves diving into ice cold water, crawling through mud and running through bursts of fire.

For a small fee, the women were able to hang out in one of the event’s nearby spectating tents where they drank beer and danced to live music. “Of course, we were like, ‘We could do this. Look at all these girls who are doing it.’”

The group returned to Mount Snow in July to compete, and got a taste of the rapidly growing field of obstacle course runs — a sport that’s recently become appealing to more and more women. For between $90 and $200, anyone over the age of 18 willing to sign a waiver relieving Tough Mudder of all liability can participate (Another $15 pays for personal injury insurance.)

The Tough Mudder and its separately owned but similarly themed competitors, the Spartan Race and the Warrior Dash, saw an estimated 1.5 million participants in 2012, up from just 41,000 in 2010. The brands are adding more races each year to accommodate demand. The Spartan series, which varies from three-mile sprints to 12-mile runs and a 48-hour “death race,” held 27 events in 2011: Spartan has 60 slated for 2013 from New Jersey to Utah to Scotland.

These events tend to have a stereotypically masculine feel: Their promotional materials rely heavily on pictures of groups of muscular men grimacing as they scale walls and brag about the military-inspired roots of the challenges, with names like the “ball shrinker.” But despite the marketing slant, women haven’t been discouraged.

Keep reading for more on why women are crawling through the mud…

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