Adventure #14–Insane Inflatable 5K

Originally written 731/15.

All photos from Flickr used in accordance with this Creative Commons license:


Photo credit: Stephan Mosel,

When I was in 8th grade, I joined the school track team for a season. I’m sure I had some reason for doing this, but now the reason is completely lost in the mists of time.

For the entire fall, I ran the 800 meters, the 4×200-meter relay, and the 100-meter hurdles (until I tripped over a hurdle one day and completely lost my nerve). I also threw the discus without much success, which wasn’t surprising given that my coach gave me one three-minute lesson in how to throw it and then said, “Go practice.” That was my whole training. Seriously.


Photo credit: Magnus Akselvoll,

This stone guy threw the discus better than me.

Even though I didn’t get much in the way of coaching, I did come away from my lone season of organized school sports having learned a very valuable lesson: I hate running.

I’m not sure why this is. In general, I like physical activity, and I’ve had a lot of fun at various times over the years with gymnastics, swimming, biking, cross-country skiing, hiking, fencing, Crossfit, and, of course, dancing. But running just doesn’t do it for me. I’ve heard people who like running say that they get a high from it, a feeling of intense well-being and joy, but the only joy I’ve ever gotten from running is when I stop.

Part of it is that I get bored after a while. I have a hard time getting my brain to turn off, and when I’m plodding along and my muscles start to get tired, my brain gets fixated on how much everything hurts. Dancing involves thinking about choreography and form, which seems to keep my brain happily occupied, but when I’m running there just isn’t much to distract it from the physical misery.


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Is it time to stop yet?

So I’m not one of those people who has “Run a marathon” written at the top of their bucket list. Yuck. I’m not even interested in running a 5K—not even one of those where they drench you in colored dye or make you run at night or have different rock bands along the way.

No, the only 5Ks that interest me are obstacle courses. Those are races where they have stuff to do every now and then, like crawling through mud pits or scaling walls. THOSE I love. I’ve done the Warrior Dash three times now, and next year I’d like to do the Spartan Sprint or the Tough Mudder. Even with Warrior Dash, though, I tend to walk instead of run between the obstacles. Gotta save my strength for the fun parts, right?

Earlier this year, I was looking at a list of obstacle courses in Colorado when these words caught my eye: INSANE INFLATABLE 5K. It was a 5K obstacle course where are all the obstacles were inflated, like giant bouncy castles.


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This Russian bouncy castle looks both awesome and copyright-infringing.

I could hardly sign up fast enough.

That’s how I found myself in Loveland, Colorado one Saturday afternoon in May. This was before my birthday (I’m posting this adventure out of order), so Ray was with me. He hadn’t hurt his knee yet (

The Insane Inflatable 5K was held at the Larimer County Fairgrounds, where I’d been before for dance competitions. It’s a huge complex that includes an arena for horse shows and events, another barnlike building for dog and animal shows, a big multipurpose building, a venue that can be used for concerts and sports, and many acres of parking lots and grassland.


Photo credit: William Andrus,

This is one of the sporting events you can enjoy at the Budweiser Events Center at Larimer County Fairgrounds. Actually, going to a monster truck event is an adventure I haven’t done yet….

The day that we were there, it seemed like every single part of the fairgrounds was in use. One of the parking attendants told us that they had a horse show, a dog show, the 5K, and two graduation ceremonies all running at the same time, which meant that the parking lots were full to bursting with vehicles of all kinds. It also meant that the people we saw were wearing a wide variety of clothing, from running clothes to cowboy boots to suits and ties.

The obstacle course was being held in the grass on the east side of the complex. As we walked from the parking lot to the entrance, we could see the tops of some of the inflated obstacles peeking over the fence, colored neon green and blue.

Oh, yay!

We walked through the front gate and made our way over to the event. Just like at Warrior Dash, there was a group of tents in front of the starting line where you could check in, pick up your runner’s number, and have your bags stored. Also like Warrior Dash, there were booths where you could get food, beverages (including the adult variety), and merchandise.


You could also enjoy a display of different Kia automobiles, and some advertisements, like this adorably mohawked Volkswagon Beetle, courtesy of Shock Top Ale. Now I want a car with a mohawk!

Unlike Warrior Dash, however, there was a distinctly amateurish feel to this whole area. Part of it was that the Insane Inflatable 5K was a much smaller event. Warrior Dash hosts thousands and thousands of participants, filling up the entire village at the Copper Mountain ski resort with people and booths. There, the check-in tent alone is the size of an Olympic swimming pool.

The booths at the Insane Inflatable obstacle course, on the other hand, were sitting in an area the size of two basketball courts, sort of huddled together in the middle of the field like a flock of white nylon sheep. There were only a couple food booths, one offering hot dogs and hamburgers and one offering funnel cake, and the lone merchandise booth had a small, dispirited display of cheap t-shirts laid out on a bare table. The teenage girl running the merchandise booth looked like a picture illustrating a Wikipedia article on boredom.

Over this scene boomed the amplified voice of the event’s MC, a man dressed in a strange-looking kilt that might have started out life as a woman’s plaid skirt. He had two sidekicks: a larger guy in jeans and a Green Lantern t-shirt, and a short, thin man wearing a Superman t-shirt, a cape, little running shorts over a pair of running tights, and big white sneakers. He had a really broad forehead and a hairline receding into exaggerated widow’s peaks, and something about him made him seem like a character from The Tick.


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Look it up on Wikipedia, kids: Spoon!

The MC and his sidekicks talked the whole time we walked around waiting for our race wave to line up–and we’d gotten there almost two hours early because traffic was lighter than expected. Sometimes they would announce that it was time for the next wave to line up, which was at least useful; sometimes they would gushingly thank the sponsors of the event, which was not. Sometimes they would interview “elite competitors,” who turned out to be people they’d pulled randomly out of the crowd (since there aren’t really elite competitors in inflatable 5K racing).

At first it wasn’t so bad, but, after a while, the thundering volume of the loudspeaker, the jokey used-car-salesman quality of the MC’s voice, and the complete inanity of what he was saying combined to make a background noise only slightly less awful than nails on chalkboard.

They talked for so long, without a pause, that I started to wonder if they were going for some kind of announcing world record (eight hours of talking without taking a single breath!). Ray started to wonder how long a prison sentence he’d get if he beat the MC to death with his own wireless microphone.

I definitely prefer Warrior Dash, where they’ve got live bands playing music instead of people talking.


Speaking of music, would I be dating myself if I said I really wanted to check out this Evening of Totally Awesome 80’s concert featuring Howard Jones, Flock of Seagulls, Information Society, and Katrina and the Waves?

At last, though, it was time for us to line up. We were herded into this little fenced-in area like a sheep pen, where we got to make VERY close friends with all of our neighbors. I was grateful that I’d remembered to put on deodorant. The MCs counted down from ten, and then we were off.


The starting line, with the sheep pen right in front of it

The first obstacle was immediately beyond the sheep pen. It was a big inflated triangle with sets of steep stairs up one side and slides down the other. You scrambled up the squishy stairs using both hands and feet, and then you slid down to the ground on the far side. There were about six sets of stairs and slides so that the whole herd of us could go up at once. As the mass of humanity surged up the bright blue and green nylon of the obstacle, I wondered what the strength rating of a set of bouncy stairs was, exactly, and what the newspaper headline might look like if it collapsed underneath our combined weight so that we all fell to our horrible, squishy deaths.


The mass of humanity from a previous wave in the race.

When we reached the ground, most of the people in the wave took off running, leaving us behind. Neither Ray nor I had done any training for the race (see “hatred of running,” above), so we had decided to walk the course. The obstacles were the fun part for us anyway.

However, since we’d also signed up for the last wave of the day in order to make sure that we could make it in time after my morning dance class, our decision to walk meant that we were basically the very last people on the whole course.

It was a little disheartening.

“That’s OK,” Ray said when I mentioned this to him. “I know I won’t come in last.”

“Why not?” I asked.

“When we get to the finish line, I’ll just push you out of the way, and then you’ll be last.”

Gee, thanks.

After a short walk on the damp, scrubby grass, we came to:

Obstacle #2—Mattress Run


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Official description from the Insane Inflatable website:

“Trust us, you’re not going to want to take this obstacle lightly. Take one wrong step and you’ll be laying down laughing on this mattress! The Mattress Run challenges your balance and agility as you make your way across a huge mattress filled with ankle-loving holes.”

The Mattress Run was a big, inflated square about a foot tall with holes all over its surface like a giant piece of neon green Swiss cheese. The idea was to jump from hole to hole, one foot in each hole, like football players doing a tire drill.

Woo-hoo! Our first real obstacle! I threw myself into it with gusto, springing from one hole to the next with my arms pumping. Yeah! This is what I had signed up for. I glanced over at Ray to see if he was enjoying himself. He was striding from hole to hole nonchalantly, his height and leg length being exactly right to be able to walk comfortably through the obstacle without having to jump.

“Hey!” I shouted, offended. I couldn’t have gotten through the holes without jumping, not with my short little legs. “You’re cheating!”

He shrugged. “I’m not cheating. I’m saving my energy for later.”

Obstacle #3—Big Balls (yes, that really is its name)


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“These big balls are always bouncing, and we guarantee you’ll be smacked, whacked, and knocked down by them. It’s quite possibly the world’s largest ball-pit. Once you crawl under the entrance point, you’re immediately faced with giant flying balls coming directly at you, and that’s just the beginning. Duck, dive, and dodge your way to the other side.”

(“These big balls are always bouncing?” I feel like the creators of the Insane Inflatable need to apologize to ACDC).


The description makes the obstacle sound pretty exciting, doesn’t it? Unfortunately, the reality did not live up to the hype. The outside of the obstacle was like a big batting cage made of inflated struts and black netting. Inside on the ground were maybe a dozen oversized beach balls. When we crawled under the strut that formed the entrance, two teenagers inside the cage started throwing and kicking the balls around. They didn’t really throw or kick them at us, though; they just kind of moved them half-heartedly from one side of the enclosure to the other. Maybe earlier in the day they’d been more excited about beaning people with the balls, but the novelty must have worn off. They looked like the only thing they were excited about was hustling us through the exit so they could go home.


A view of the inside of the obstacle and one of the enthusiastic volunteers.

Obstacle #4—Bumpin’ Bumpin’


“There are always going to be speed bumps in the road of life—why not have a little fun with them? Scale a 2.5 story wall and then fly down the slide and make your way over our well-placed fun bumps.”

(“Well-placed fun bumps?”)

This obstacle was awesome. We climbed up a twenty-foot ladder (made of inflated rungs!) on one side of the obstacle and then slid down the other, bouncing over the “fun bumps” at the end before landing on the crash pad. Whee!


By the time we finished this obstacle, we were no longer the very last people. Several groups ahead of us who had started out running had slowed to a walk, and we had passed them. However, our feeling of accomplishment was short-lived. We’d rounded a corner coming up to Obstacle #4, and as we hopped off the crash pad we could see back towards the start of the race. We saw that the event crew had unplugged the second obstacle, the Mattress Run, from the fan that kept it inflated, and they were busy stomping it flat and folding it into a crate.


Photo credit: Jim Reynolds,

It just looks so sad when bouncy castles get deflated…

Wow. We were so slow that the crew was dismantling the whole race behind us.

Good thing we hadn’t decided to do the Zombie Run.

Obstacle #5—Tangled Up


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“Sometimes, getting a little tangled up is more fun than not! Here’s your chance to get lost in one of our most unique obstacles on course. Simply pick a lane, take the leap, and navigate your way through. Don’t let the size intimidate you—trust us, you’ll get out, eventually!”

This was my favorite obstacle of the whole event. You climbed up two inflated rungs to get onto a big crash pad, and then you either jumped over or ducked under squishy, horizontal bars that were placed across the path. What made it super fun was that everything was inflated, including the floor, so you weren’t going to get hurt if you fell; you could hurl yourself over the bars like a stuntman or a ninja.

I definitely would have gone back and done this one again if they’d let me.

Obstacle #6—Levels


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“Life is full of ups and downs, and so is this obstacle. Pick your route, bounce up and down to each level, and try to make it through without missing a beat or getting leveled yourself!”

I really enjoyed this obstacle, too. The floor was made of inflated blocks of different heights and firmness, and you had to walk, run, or bounce from one end to the other. I bounced mostly, and it was fun careening from block to block. Having a good sense of balance from years of dance probably helped.


Ray, who has not had years of dance, did not enjoy this obstacle as much. A couple times he misjudged how high or how firmly inflated a block was and got thrown sideways into the wall. Since I got to the end faster than he did, I got to stand on the ground at the exit and watch him do this. I have to say, there’s not much in life funnier than watching your large, manly husband trying to run through a bouncy castle and falling on his derriere. Hee hee!

Obstacle #7—Wrecking Balls


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“Don’t let these big balls wreck your run. This behemoth at 110 feet long will push you to your limits, but don’t be afraid to push back. Break your way through to the other side, and try not to get demolished along the way.”

For this obstacle, you got to push your way through lines of inflated posts, kind of like punching bags, that were attached to the floor. Then you pushed your way through lines of big blue beach-ball type things hanging from overhead support poles. The floor sloped up and down like two hills over the course of the obstacle, so you had to deal with a change in footing, too.

If we’d been running the race for time, the posts and beach balls would probably have slowed us down, but since we just jogged through for fun, it was pretty easy. I kind of wished it was harder.

After the Wrecking Balls, we had a long section of walking without any obstacles. This part worried me a little, actually, because the sky had been overcast all day, and it began to look particularly dark and ominous as we trudged through the prairie grass between obstacles 7 and 8. I really didn’t want to try to navigate the nylon surfaces of the obstacles in the rain; they looked like they would get really slippery.


Photo credit: Joshua Mayer,

This part of the course was mostly hidden from the starting line by the horse arena and a little hill, so we couldn’t see anything but prairie and a little slice of the highway. What with the gray, threatening clouds overhead, it felt kind of lonely. That might have been why a number of people around us cut across the field to get to the next obstacle instead of following the orange cones of the course.

Hey! Isn’t that cheating? Plus, you paid for this nice 5K walk, so you might as well enjoy it, right?

Obstacle #8—SOS


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“Good thing cell phones now have GPS, as you may need to send out an SOS once you hit this massive obstacle. At 2 ½ stories high, with 3 different slides, it’s very easy to get lost. Choose your escape route wisely.”

This was by far the strangest obstacle: it was shaped like a giant airplane that had crashed and split down the middle. Who the heck designs a bouncy castle to look like a crashed airplane? It looked especially odd sitting in the middle of the grassy field, like a bizarre experimental balloon-airplane hybrid that had suffered a fatal accident on its maiden flight.

When we got to the obstacle, we climbed up stairs through the tail section, and then we emerged onto an open platform at the top. From there, we could either slide through the nose section or down one of the two wings. The slide part was fun (I mean, as an adult, how often do you get to go down slides?), but it still felt a little weird to be sliding through a fake crashed airplane.

Obstacle #9—Pure Misery


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“We took a page from our military’s training handbook and created this goliath that will leave you begging for mercy. The 100-foot long beast will test your strength, agility, flexibility, and endurance as you complete multiple obstacles within the confines of this challenge. As they say, misery loves company.”

This description of the obstacle sounds fantastic. I love pushing myself physically, and something that requires strength and agility really appeals to me. However, like some of the previous obstacles, this one didn’t feel like it required much in the way of athleticism at all.


We climbed up a ladder-like set of steps on one side of an incline, and then climbed down another ladder on the other side. Then we pushed our way through a series of inflated pillars on a flat section before doing another climb-up-climb-down.

Again, if we’d been running for time, seeing how fast we could do it might have been a good challenge, but as it was, it was easy. Does it sound strange if I say I was disappointed not to have the Misery part?


As we dismounted the obstacle, we were finally back where we could see the starting line. The obstacle at the starting line was still standing, but obstacle 2 was completely packed up, obstacle 3 was getting folded into a crate, and obstacle 4 was flat on the ground and having the air bubbles pushed out. Sheesh. Couldn’t you at least wait until we finished?


Photo credit: Randy Robertson, “Too Much Eggnog?”,

It was almost as sad as this deflated Santa.

Obstacle #10—Jump Around


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“This is where the rubber meets insanity. Hands down one of the most insane obstacles you’ll ever experience, Jump Around is the largest inflatable of its kind—over 70 feet of crazy, bouncy, fun! Once you get on it, all you’ll want to do is jump up, jump around, and get down!”

Apologies to House of Pain.

This obstacle wasn’t hard, but it was really fun. It was a bunch of big bumps, like sand dunes or ski moguls, and you got to bounce your way through them. Yay!


Obstacle #11—Finish Line


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“Like all of our obstacles so far? Then you’ll love our finish line! We’ve taken our bouncer’s favorite elements from all of the other obstacles on our course and combined them into one crazy, inflatable. Dodge the Wrecking Balls, make your way past the tipsy towers, climb the rope ladder and slide you way to victory.”

As the description says, the last obstacle was kind of like a rehash of several previous obstacles. We went through a line of oversized, hanging beach balls and then through a section of squishy pillars before climbing up a series of hand-and-footholds (the “rope ladder” of the description) to the top of an incline. Then we got to slide down the far side of the incline to the finish line.


It was fun enough, but if we were going to re-do elements from previous obstacles, I wish we’d gotten to do the one where we bounced over the horizontal bars like ninjas. That was my favorite.

Just past the finish line, volunteers were waiting to give us t-shirts and participation medals. I was very glad they were there, because otherwise it would have been a really, really sad finish. The finishing area (the same place as the starting area) was deserted—and quiet, because the MCs had left (which I guess wasn’t all bad). When we went to the bag check area to reclaim our backpacks, we didn’t have to give the volunteers our claim tags, because our bags were the last two there. Even the food vendors were closed and packing up.

Geez! What if we’d really wanted a hot dog after our grueling race?

On our way home, the gray and threatening skies finally opened up and it poured, dumping so much rain on the highway that everybody had to crawl along at 10 miles an hour. I can’t tell you how glad I was that the rain at least held off until we were done. Nothing would have made that deserted finishing area even sadder than being soaked to the bone and having to run for the car.

About a week later, I got an email saying that photographs of us running the race were available on the event website—FOR FREE! So I went to the site and entered our bib numbers.

There weren’t any pictures of us. The photographer had gone home before we even started.

So, while I had fun at the Inflatable 5K (how could you not have fun as an adult getting to enjoy giant bouncy castles?), I don’t think I’ll do it again. If you’ve got kids who want to do the event, or if you like mild, easy fun where you don’t break a sweat, give it a try! This race would be a GREAT event to enjoy as a family. Just make sure you bring your camera and take your own photos as you go.

For myself, I think I’ll spend my money on doing another mud run next year instead. Maybe I should question my sanity, but there just wasn’t quite enough “Insane” in this 5K for me.


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Now, a giant bouncy Stonehenge? THAT’S insane.