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Adventure Runs Could Be Hazardous For Participants

MIAMI (CBSMiami) – Adventure runs packed with obstacles are a hot trend, promoted as a healthy and fun way to get out and get dirty but can they be downright dangerous?

Critics said some race organizers have pushed things too far for participants.

In the past, Sarah McDowell competed in as many as 30 organized runs a year and sometimes she threw a little adventure into the mix.

"The majority of the time the obstacles are pretty great and they're a pretty good time," said Sarah McDowell, who was once injured in an adventure run.

Adventure runs, like the ones McDowell competed in, are all the rage. A host of companies let participants slither through mud, jump through flames and even offer military inspired obstacles.

"It's a lot of fun!" said participant Maria Burla.

Others participants agreed, the adventure run is a fun experience for everyone.

"It's a great way to get together with girlfriends, get a little exercise, and have a lot of fun," said Emily Schulz.

But along with the good, maybe not so clean fun, the competitions can be risky.

Dr. Balu Natarajan with the American Medical Society for Sports Medicine said he has seen patients with injuries different from the type you'd find in a marathon or 10K.

"Jumping over fire, going through mud walls, twisting, turning, if the athlete thinks 'It's just three miles it's not that big a deal', those are the ones who approach this an almost brazen manner that are most likely to get injured," said Dr. Natarajan. "Three miles with a lot of obstacles, is fraught with risk."

Risk that can put more strain on the body, leading to bruises, breaks and sprains as McDowell learned during one race when she injured her ankle while navigating a muddy obstacle.

"It was the first time that I had ever really thought, wow this is a little bit more in the danger zone than I wanted to be," said McDowell.

Troy Farrar of the United States Adventure Racing Association (USARA) said that he has seen other things happen too, like second-degree burns.

And it's the more severe injuries that has medical and event experts speaking up. CBS4 reached out to some of the companies that organize the runs for information on safety precautions. Two refused comment but Ben Johnson with tough mudder had a different approach.

"Our top objective is, and always has been, to deliver safe events. We work with engineers and industry safety experts to continually review our obstacle designs and on-site response capabilities," said Johnson.

Farrar overseas the USARA which sanctions outdoor team competitions. He said the USARA used to unsure some obstacle runs, however, a lot of people started getting injured, and their underwriters wouldn't cover them anymore.

The USARA has safety standards for the races it governs, but the adventure runs are different.

"They don't have a governing body laying down any safety standards. Some guys are doing a really good job of keeping their obstacles safe and other guys aren't doing quite as good a job," said Farrar.

Farrar is pushing for standardization, but meantime, runners are on their own to make sure when they sign up for a race they research the group hosting the event and look at reviews and reports of previous injuries.

McDowell still participates in the occasional adventure run but avoids them when she knows she has another race on the horizon.

"It's just too high of a risk of injury for me," said McDowell.

There are no statistics that track injury in these types of races and Dr. Natarajan said many of his patients run in them safely.

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