Flo-Foto, www.flo-foto.com
Amelia Nielson-Stowell and brother Trent Nielson jump in the mud pit during the Dirty Dash, a 10k mud run in Soldier Hollow.

I was barely half-a-mile into the Dirty Dash Saturday when I pulled my sticky braid off my mud-covered costume. "Mud in my hair — already?!" I squealed with excitement. "I wasn't this muddy during last year's Dirty Dash until the finish line."

The two-year-old Dirty Dash felt like a brand new race. The run on Sept. 17 at Soldier Hollow was full of more mud, more obstacles, more surprises and more sponsors. In just one race season, the Dirty Dash has managed to reinvent itself.

Instead of long chunks of trail running interspersed with a few obstacles, this year's Dirty Dash had lots of obstacles with shorter stretches of trails. Like wood beams towering over mud pits, a cargo net ladder wall, rope swings and over-and-under pipes.

The tunnels that were on top of dry dirt last year? This year they were covered in a mud pit, so we crawled through them "Shawshank Redemption"-style. The hay bales that were one-level last year? They were hay bale towers, so we scaled them. The empty hills we ran over last year? They were broken up with spectators with water balloons and more aid stations.

We got virgin Jell-0 shots on the race course, there were plenty of post-run showers (no lines!), and there were lots of sponsors to visit (and pick up free food and swag) before and after the race.

A brutal Mother Nature was one of the best additions, though. A short, wet summer and a rainstorm the night before made the course extra muddy. My favorite obstacle, the Deer Creek Reservoir Hog Bog, was roughly a half-mile long and waist-high. It was challenging entertainment. We swam for part of it, getting tangled in the long swamp grass.

I didn't think the Dirty Dash could get any better, but it exceeded my expectations. The 2011 additions were a massive improvement over an already well-run race. This is a race that needs to be included in every runner's portfolio.

Don't be intimidated by the 10K length. There's a 5K shortcut (you miss running through and around Deer Creek). But inexperienced runners can still finish it. Our five-person team included marathoners down to a newbie whose longest distance was a 5K.

The Dirty Dash isn't so much a race but an event. You don't need to run the whole thing — in fact, few runners do — and stopping to tackle an obstacle is a fun workout compared to just running six straight miles.

If you're itching to experience the race, there's still room for runners this Saturday, Sept. 24. Register online at thedirtydash.com, during packet pick-up Thursday at Orem's Gold Gym or Friday at Salt Lake's REI or Saturday at the race at Soldier Hollow (it goes all day). Wear an old pair of shoes, prepare to get muddy and bring a costume.

Amelia Nielson-Stowell is a writer, editor and photographer. She lives and runs in Salt Lake City.