Without hesitation, Jacob Martinez grabs a rotten tomato from the mushy, mashed pile, which is attracting a frenzy of flies and overwhelms the nostrils with its cloying stench.
With tomato juice dripping from his palm, the 18-year-old from Plant City cocks his arm to the side and flings the rotting fruit against a wire fence, where it explodes.
Behind him, more people hurl beefsteaks, which smack into a barrier and rain into a murky creek filled with people.
Martinez and those other tomato-hurlers were among thousands of spectators at the July 21 Wild Hog Mud Run, a 5K event where, among other obstacles, 2,600 runners slogged through muck, scaled a 14-foot wall, hurtled down a 50-foot slide into the mud, made their way through a trench fortified with electrified barbed wire and a creek where people heaved cases of rotten tomatoes at them.
"It's fun. You get dirty," said a smiling Martinez, who also ran in the race, holding the dripping remnants of a tomato someone had thrown back at him. "It's a good test of fitness, upper-body strength."
Extreme fitness events such as the Mud Run, held on a 400-acre cow pasture in Dover, have become increasingly popular since the advent of Tough Mudder in 2010. Held in communities across the country, Tough Mudder is a 10- or 12-mile obstacle course that tests physical and mental strength and builds camaraderie. Designed by members of the British Special Forces, the event draws tens of thousands of people in some places.
Spurred by that success, similar runs have sprung up across the United States and Florida. In the next four months, for example, the state will host The American Mud Race, Savage Race, Highlander, Backwoods Challenge, the Turkey Burn Adventure and other races.
While the event is similar to Tough Mudder, with extreme challenges aimed at pushing competitive runners with obstacles not encountered in a typical road race or marathon, the Mud Run is also intended to appeal to average people.
"We wanted people from all fitness levels to be able to come out and enjoy themselves," said organizer Adam Morejon. "If you make it too hard you're not going to attract everyone. It encourages them to give it a try."
Parking fees and beer sales from the event went to the Tampa Police Department's mounted patrol unit.
"If we make a profit, we'll give them some of that, too," said Morejon's father, David.
"I knew the unit could use some help, so I said, 'Let's throw one of these.' They're hot right now."
"It's definitely a fad," said Pete Williams of Largo, who competed with a group called the Running Commandos. "Whether it'll stick remains to be seen."
The Hog Wild Mud Run was the Running Commandos' fourth event this year, with the group boasting 60 or more people at some races.
To make the events more enjoyable, members of the coed group dress in green kilts.
"It's something you can do with a group, unlike a triathlon or running races, which tend to be a little more individually focused," said Williams. "And the mud, getting dirty, that's fun."
Last month's race was the second Hog Wild Mud Run; organizers hope to stage another in the fall and hold two per year.
Already, the race seems to be finding a following.
"If you told me you'd pay money to fight through mud and get your butt kicked and exhausted, I'd say you were a crazy person," said Malcolm Yawn, 54, who came from Mount Dora for the race. "But we do it, and it's a good time."
Most runners said they didn't know the event was to raise money for the police unit, which operates on a $19,500 yearly budget, not counting salaries. Mounted patrol Cpl. Ellen Schantz said David Morejon, who owns Latam Catering in Ybor City, has been helping her five-officer unit for many years. The money raised goes for things such as saddles and hay for the unit's six horses.
Bobby Toenjes, 36, of Melbourne was the first to cross the finish line in Dover — his seventh race of the year. Toenjes, who loves getting dirty and the obstacles at these kinds of races, had to dodge a cow along the way.
"That was cool, and all the cow poop," a mud-covered Toenjes said after the race.
In addition to serious runners, the Mud Run draws people just looking for a little fun, Morejon said. Some even come in costume.
Despite the 90-degree heat, some people came in drag, dressed like rabbis or whatever else they could imagine.
Andrew Reading and Alex Dyles dressed as Batman and Catwoman. The 19-year-olds from Riverview said they hate tomatoes but played in the creek while spectators aimed at them with tomatoes.
"It's just fun," said Reading. "It doesn't count if you don't get hit."
"It's awesome," said 25-year-old Braulio Pardo, of Lutz, who enjoyed a Bud Light after his run. "Getting dirty, drinking some brews. It's like a big playground for adults."