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One Tough Mudder

Exploring Infectious Disease Transmission


Kristiann M. Dougherty
Department of Biology
Palm Beach Atlantic University


There are a number of well-recognized physical hazards associated with running in mud obstacle races, but recent reports have also brought to light the infectious hazards that competitors may encounter. This case study contains actual data from two such infectious outbreaks: one that occurred following a mud run on a cattle ranch in Nevada in 2012, and the other after a mud run at Michigan International Speedway in 2013. The case is presented as a conversation between two fictional characters: “Sam,” a college senior, and her mother, a physician. Sam is planning to participate in a mud run and her mother is concerned, especially since she recently treated patients from one of the latest outbreaks. Using the information conveyed in the story, supplemented by a video of a mud run and a discussion of disease transmission, students are asked to decide what Sam should do. The case was originally written for a microbiology course, but it could also be used in other courses that cover the topics of disease transmission and epidemiology.


  • Define and identify reservoirs of infection, portals of entry, and types of transmission for various infectious diseases.
  • Recognize the existence of and understand the risks of exposure to environmental pathogens.
  • Identify ways to help decrease exposure to pathogens.
  • Understand the basics of an epidemiological investigation.
  • Use critical thinking and analysis to come to a decision.


Norovirus; microbiology; epidemiology; disease transmission; diarrhea outbreak; obstacle race; mud run; Tough Mudder

Topical Areas


Educational Level

Undergraduate lower division


PDF, PowerPoint

Type / Methods

Dilemma/Decision, Discussion



Subject Headings

Epidemiology  |   Microbiology  |   Public Health  |  

Date Posted


Teaching Notes

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Supplemental Materials

The optional PowerPoint slide deck below can be used to help present the case in class.

  mud_run.pptx (~868 KB)

Answer Key

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The following video(s) are recommended for use in association with this case study.

  • Reebok Spartan Race Utah 2013 at Soldier Hollow
    This video is used to show an obstacle course race “designed to test your resilience, strength, stamina, quick decision making skills, and ability to laugh in the face of adversity.” Running time: 4:22 min. Produced by Ryan Samanka, Park City Television, 2013.