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McHenry County companies see money in muddy obstacle races

Muscle-searing. Sweat-rousing. Mud-drenching.

Sound like fun? To a growing number of fitness die-hards, indeed it does. And for the coordinators and host communities of major-draw obstacle-racing events such as Tough Mudder, Mudderella and Hard Charge, it’s big business.

McHenry County, which hosted Hard Charge Chicago in Richmond last summer, will play host again to Hard Charge this year, and will add the much bigger Tough Mudder and Mudderella events as well. 

These and similar events nationwide drew an estimated 1.6 million participants in 2013, according to the Los Angeles Times. Other races include Warrior Dash, which will be held in Channahon this year, and the female-only Dirty Girl Mud Run, which will be at the Lake County Fairgrounds.

Hard Charge, Tough Mudder and Mudderella, combined, are expected to draw between 20,000 and 30,000 participants and spectators to McHenry County in May and July. Not all will book a hotel room, but a significant portion will. And even those who don’t will spend, on average, $81 a day at local businesses, according to Visit McHenry County.

“It’s definitely a great benefit for McHenry County to land these events,” said Jaki Berggren, executive director of Visit McHenry County, formerly the McHenry County Convention and Visitors Bureau.

“It brings in quite a few outside visitors who would not otherwise be here, and who will see that there’s a viable visitor economy if they choose to return to McHenry County at a later date to enjoy other experiences,” Berggren said.

Hard Charge had an estimated 2013 area economic impact of $56,700 during its activity Aug. 10 at the Richmond Hunt Club, according to Visit McHenry County data. The Tough Mudder and Mudderella races this summer should bring in about $1.8 million and could bring in more in the coming years.

Richmond Hunt Club has an exclusive contract with Tough Mudder to host the event for five years, said owner Richard Wonderlic. Terms of the deal weren’t disclosed, but Wonderlic said it didn’t guarantee the race would stay in Richmond. The news already has generated buzz throughout the area.

“It’s the talk of the town,” Wonderlic said. “I think the exposure McHenry County is going to get is fantastic.”

After hosting Hard Charge in 2013, Wonderlic sought out a deal with Tough Mudder, which he called “the granddaddy of the industry.”

Last year, Tough Mudder held its Chicago race in Seneca. The event is a good fit for Richmond Hunt Club, which offers hunting, paintball, fishing and other activities, Wonderlic said. 

Although Richmond has been seen as a “pass-through” town on the way to Wisconsin, Wonderlic said he expects the race will introduce more people to outdoor adventures in the area.

“I hope they embrace it and crave it a bit more in their lives,” he said.

This summer’s Hard Charge Chicago is scheduled for July 19 at Richardson Adventure Farm in Spring Grove. Tough Mudder Chicago will be May 10-11 at the Richmond Hunt Club, and Mudderella, marketed to the female set, will be May 31 at the Richmond Hunt Club.

What’s involved? Well, these are not your run-of-the-mill 5Ks. Both Hard Charge and Tough Mudder build challenging, miles-long courses (4 miles for Hard Charge and about 10 for Tough Mudder) that feature military-style obstacles.

Tough Mudder is billed as “probably the toughest event on the planet” and features an obstacle called Electroshock Therapy where participants run through a field of live wires. In another, called Electric Eel, participants crawl on their stomachs through mud under a tangle of live wires. Those who touch the wires “find out what it feels like to get slapped in the face by a jellyfish,” according to Tough Mudder’s website. Others include jumping into icy water and jumping over fire.

Hard Charge has both a Charge for Glory (competitive, timed and marshaled, as well as filmed for Comcast SportsNet Chicago) and a Charge for Fun, in which heats are not timed and participants may skip some obstacles, with the goal simply to finish and have fun.

“We had 700 to 800 participants last year,” said Lindsay Babb, director of public relations and marketing for Hard Charge. “We really wanted to bring the event to the Chicago area because we have strong TV distribution on Comcast SportsNet Chicago.

“We looked a little bit north, and McHenry County was great,” she continued. “We had formed some relationships with [Visit McHenry County] and decided that it would be a really great place.”

This year’s event will include a Hard Charge for kids, too, with a child-appropriate version of the obstacles, complete with a mud-crawl portion, of course.

“Those events are open to kids ages 5 and up,” Babb said. 

Berggren said McHenry County has the dual draw of featuring open spaces amenable to creating obstacle-race courses and being located about one hour from Rockford, Milwaukee and Chicago.

Carol Gottshall, media relations associate with Tough Mudder, said coordinators there are excited about this May’s McHenry County debuts.

“The land at Richmond Hunting Club definitely drew our attention – the varied terrain, with rugged trails, creeks and ponds, will allow us to build a challenging course for our participants,” Gottshall said. “We’re excited about the 2014 event and look forward to beginning discussions around plans for 2015.”


For information about participating, watching or volunteering at Hard Charge Chicago, set for July 19 at the Richardson Adventure Farm in Spring Grove, visit

For information about participating, watching or volunteering at Tough Mudder or Mudderella, May 10-11 and May 31, respectively, at the Richmond Hunt Club, visit or

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