New 'Cholera Caper' Mud Run Series Will Test Athletes' Stamina, Bowels

A new adventure race series is promising competitors the usual mud, obstacles, and camaraderie but with "an exciting new twist"—the threat of contracting cholera, an acute, diarrheal illness.

The Cholera Caper series is the brainchild of Florentino Ariza, a longtime runner and event organizer. In an interview with Dumb Runner, Ariza said he got the idea while doing an obstacle race in his native South America.

"I had paid good money to do this event," he said, "and I realized about halfway through that I was bored."

"It was, like, OK, here's the wooden wall. Here's the barbed wire. Ooh, look out—a fire pit!" he said, in mock horror. "Then I noticed another runner, crawling next to me, get a mouthful of mud. And it hit me. Cholera. Now that would make things interesting."

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention describes cholera this way:

The infection is often mild or without symptoms, but can sometimes be severe. Approximately one in 10 (5-10%) infected persons will have severe disease characterized by profuse watery diarrhea, vomiting, and leg cramps. In these people, rapid loss of body fluids leads to dehydration and shock. Without treatment, death can occur within hours.

In other words, Ariza explained, physical barriers and challenges are one thing; the possibility of getting hit with violent diarrhea—and yes, even death, he said—took things to a whole new level. Thus was Cholera Caper born.

Ariza said he and his team lace "some" of the water and mud obstacles on their race courses—only they know which ones—with Vibrio cholerae, the intestines-attacking bacterium responsible for cholera. And then they wait.

"So you swallow some muddy water during our event," he said. "Uh oh! Will you get cholera at some point over the next few hours? The next day? The day after that? Maybe you will. Maybe you won't."

"You just don't know," he said. "And that thrill, the not knowing, is what makes our event unique."

The idea already appears to be taking off. Registration for the first Cholera Caper event, to be held in San Francisco, sold out within hours of opening despite its $150 price tag.

"I'm super pumped," said Alfred Knopf, 28, a book designer who was among the first to sign up. "Finishing the race will be cool, of course. But not knowing whether I'll be racked hours or days later with violent diarrhea and vomiting? That will be the real rush."

"Plus," he said, "race photos are free."