The Grand Strand is about to get dirty.
Trendy mud run competitions - a multiple-mile race with obstacles such as climbing walls and pits thrown in, and, of course, lots of mud - have made their way to the area, with two of the races scheduled for the first time along the Grand Strand in May.
Organizers say these events have been growing in popularity and it was time to bring the concept - loosely patterned after military boot camps - to Myrtle Beach.
Run-A-Muck is set for May 14 in Myrtle Beach, followed by the Dirty Myrtle Mud Run on May 28 in Waterbridge in Carolina Forest. The events are expected to draw a combined 900 competitors this year, according to organizers.
"We think that this is an event that is really getting a major following," said Jason Greene, co-director of the Run-A-Muck competition. "We think it is something unique, something Myrtle Beach could use to draw a big crowd."
These events are designed for thrill seekers who don't mind getting dirty. Traditional runners don't sign up for a mud run aiming to log a personal best time, said Dave Watt, executive director of the American Running Association.
"It's something different, and it combines challenge and grit and it's not always about speed," he said.
Can you make it through the courses without getting covered in mud?
"Not a chance at all," Greene said of the Run-A-Muck course. "They are going to get dirty within the first quarter mile."
Run-A-Muck will transform the wooded area between the Marina Inn and the Grand Strand YMCA into a 3.5-mile course with 20 obstacles such as climbing walls, water-filled ditches and pits you have to slither through on your stomach.
Two weeks later, a similar course will be set up at Waterbridge in Carolina Forest for the Dirty Myrtle Mud Run, which organizers set for Memorial Day weekend aiming to tie into Military Appreciation Days.
The mud races have been so popular in other places, it was time that the Grand Strand had one, said Mike Shank, whose Festival Promotions company organized the Dirty Myrtle race. Shank said he knows locals who have traveled to Columbia to participate in what organizers say is the largest mud run in North America.
The USMC Ultimate Challenge Mud Run in Columbia, organized by the Greater Columbia Marine Foundation, has grown so large since it started in 1993 - 3,600 teams and 14,000 participants last year - that organizers added a second race this year, according to the group's website. The races on the 5.2-mile course with 34 obstacles will be April 16 and Oct. 15.
"It's just been so popular everywhere else," Shank said. "It was really a coincidence that two of them [along the Grand Strand] came up at the same time, two weeks apart."
Different versions of mud races have popped up across the country in recent years, with the first mud series, Muddy Buddy, emerging in the late 1990s, Watt said.
Some races have a playful element - with runners wearing crazy costumes - while others aim to be the hard-core competitions that appeal to a person's desire to have the toughness to conquer the course. Others combine the competition with a music festival or celebrate at the finish line with a beer.
"They are selling out," Watt said. "Everybody who does it thinks they are fun."
About 125 runners have signed up for the two Grand Strand races, though registration only recently started. About 100 have signed up for the Run-A-Muck race since February, but organizers expect about 500 will have signed up by race day.
Registration started last week for Dirty Myrtle, and about 25 signed up by Friday morning, Shank said, adding that he expects between 200 and 400 runners on race day.
Shank considers the competition an adult's way of playing in the mud - without the bad ending that you often got when you played in the mud as a kid, he said.
"You go crawl through the mud with your friend, have a beer and you are not going to get in trouble," he said.
Showers and hoses will await competitors at the finish lines of both local races.
"Plan on having a good time, getting dirty," Shank said. "And bring a change of clothes."
Contact DAWN BRYANT at 626-0296 and follow her at Twitter.com/TSN_dawnbryant.