Mud. What is it, really? A mess of exposed soil, heavy rain. Dirty, grimy and wet. And home, to all kinds of bugs.

Like mycobacterium vaccae. It’s a species of bacteria that occurs naturally in soil, and the second part of its name refers to the fact it was first cultured from cow dung. There’s a bunch of research being done into what it can do – like boost the body’s immune response to asthma, eczema, and even cancer. But most recently it has been suggested that mycobacterium vaccae, ingested while still alive, can induce an antidepressant effect as it stimulates the generation of serotonin.

Yup. Smear enough of the stuff on your skin, and mud will make you happy.

This coming Saturday a few of us from the Men’s Health office will be covered in it. Someone here had the brainwave of putting together a team for the Impi Challenge, a 12km, adventure-style obstacle course-slash-trail run in the heart of Stellenbosch. There’ll be 18 obstacles, which the site calls “hard but do-able,” both natural and man-made, from rope nets and barbed wire to water pits and wooden bridges and monkey bars and tyres and more tyres and there’ll be mud. A lot of mud.

Impi is a traditional Zulu word for an armed body of men, but in English it’s most often used to refer to a Zulu regiment, part of a larger army, under warriors like Shaka and Dingiswayo. You know, the kind of guys who tore through the country, back in the day, naked and unafraid, making history, defining a culture. We have an army of seven: two designers, a couple of marketing guys, an intern, a sales guy and me. We have gear – Faas 300s and bright orange T-shirts – thanks to the generous guys at Puma SA. We have a little bit of experience, and we have a lot of team spirit.

And we have mud. In 2010, scientists injected mycobacterium vaccae into mice, then put the little guys in a maze. They navigated that labyrinth twice as fast as they usually did, setting a few new furry personal bests, and demonstrated a lot less anxiety while doing it too.

Mud. What is it, exactly? Sand and water, earth and rain. And home, soon, to a pile of wet, dirty, happy people.