When you’re only minutes away from arriving at a race venue, your phone rings, and you see it’s someone on your team calling, you immediately ask yourself two questions, “What’s wrong?” and “Are we still running?”. The answer to the first was “We may be lost…” and fortunately within the hour the answer to the second was “Yes”. Back in February, I received an email from the folks at Warrior Dash informing me there had been a location change due to “some changes with the venue”. As expected, this message included the address for the new location, however, navigating to said location using Waze or Google Maps brings you here:
I’ve encountered an ass or two at races over the past year but never one that looked like this. I found the rest of my team along with quite a few other warriors on the side of the road all checking related web pages, forums, and Facebook groups in an attempt to find out how far off we all were. It was slightly comforting to know we weren’t the only team lacking navigational fortitude. Thankfully, a good samaritan drove by with windows down telling those of us suffering from spatial unawareness, as well as anyone in the general vicinity, the entrance was less than a mile down the road in the opposite direction. I understand this venue was Plan B for the folks who run Warrior Dash, but it’s not out of the realm of possibility that someone could have put a few makeshift signs out on Monroe Jersey Rd. that morning. Surely, between February and April, someone had checked Google Maps and noted the discrepancy between the actual geographic waypoint and mailing address. Out of curiosity, I just checked and interestingly enough, Mapquest, which I didn’t know was still a thing, nailed the location.My first impression of the festival area was that, while all the mainstays were there (beer tent, bag check, merch shop), it felt like it had all been jammed into a slightly smaller space than intended. The length of the bag check line was ridiculous; so immediately after checking in and picking up my race packet, I went right back to the car and dropped my bag there. Smaller event space = closer parking = awesome. The hose off and changing areas were quite close as well; so we had that going for us, which was nice, Unfortunately, the bathroom facilities were entirely too close to everything else too. This seemed benign until it became an issue later in the morning when some sort of malfunction occurred. I didn’t investigate further, but let’s just say it was evident. I suppose when dealing with a backup venue scenario, you have to make adjustments to the plan on the fly, so it’s difficult to fault Warrior Dash for any shortcomings like this. Overall, the vast majority of the event layout was perfectly fine despite these ‘proximity flubs’. The only other thing I happened to notice was that the Shocktop tent didn’t appear to be serving the Twisted Pretzel Wheat Ale. I prayed I just wasn’t seeing it as that is one of my very favorite brews.Onto the race!
Now, my race history thus far has consisted of challenging myself and testing my limits with intense events in the vein of Spartan, Savage, and Battle Frog. Each has been a unique experience and valuable lesson in what I can do, what I can’t do, and most importantly what I need to work on. I’d been looking forward to Warrior Dash because I knew it was the ‘fun run’ of the obstacle race community. It’s the one John Q. Public comes out to run with his buddies for something enjoyable and different to do on the weekend or with his co-workers as a team building activity or to raise money for St. Jude. For me, there was nothing by which to be intimidated this time. I’d finished much more difficult mud runs and was really excited to attack it without worrying about specific obstacles. While I wasn’t in a competitive wave, I promised myself I’d run for time for the first time to see what I could do.
The corral was small and we were right up front. Due to the navigation issues discussed previously, we missed our wave time by a few minutes. I was pleased to find out no one was really checking assigned times or seemed to care. I imagine I could’ve run the course a few times without anyone taking notice. I was also pleased to hear the laid back demeanor of the race starter. I don’t care how pumped I am to begin a race, sometimes those guys are a bit over the top and downright obnoxious early in the morning. After a few of his appropriate “Warrior!” cries, answered by our “Dash!” responses, we were off. I immediately felt a blast of heat and it threw me off for a second because I couldn’t figure out where it came from. Later after I finished the race, I saw the pyrotechnic fireballs that accompanied the starters. Very cool effect and much less of an odor than colored smoke bombs.
Within a minute or so of starting, I encountered my first obstacle. It was a pond. Nothing flashy or intimidating; just a pond. As I mentioned, I was running for time and I started at the head of the pack so at this point so early in the wave, there wasn’t anyone to follow and I thought for a moment that I’d already lost the trail. Nope. They wanted us to run the entire course drenched or at a bare minimum with soaked shoes. It was difficult to tell how deep it got. This particular body of water only rose to knee level, but it wasn’t the last.Soon after skirting the edge of the pond, I came upon something called the Diesel Dome, which is odd because it’d be more aptly referred to as an arch and from what I can tell had no connection with fuel whatsoever. It was constructed with smaller, more flexible lumber than I’m used to seeing in similar structures on other courses. Other than that, it was pretty unremarkable and easy to negotiate. It struck me as nothing more than makeshift playground equipment, but at least it got the ball rolling in the obstacle department which up until this point had consisted of a pond.Next came the mounds of mud. There were three deep valleys separated by three high mounds of the earth that created them. I liked this particular obstacle a lot because the mounds were steep enough to be challenging but dry enough to avoid the frustration of constant slipping. Any slippage was due to loose dirt as opposed to slick, wet mud. I passed without any notable difficulty though I did notice a few racers in the vicinity had some trouble with the steep incline from valley to peak. Maybe I am getting better at this mud run business after all.
Following the mounds came the first impressive man-made structure of the day. The Warrior Dash pipeline wasn’t difficult to climb up and through but it was most certainly a sight to see for anyone who’s built a deck, a treehouse, or something similar. The cargo net tubes were a bit rough on the knees and I was about half way across when I discovered I was small enough to bear crawl keeping the soles of my shoes on the rope instead of my knees and shins. Lesson learned.So, approaching the next obstacle called Shocktop Unfiltered will briefly lead one to believe they are nearing the festival area again due to the copious Shocktop logos and signage. In actuality, this obstacle is a series of barriers in line with one another and laid out almost like a small obstacle course within the obstacle course of which you’re already in the middle. It’s a series of ramps, low walls to alternately go over and under, and a nice size cloth covering under which to crawl. Each piece had Shocktop logos emblazoned on it that could likely have been seen from space. Frankly, I think the inclusion of this obstacle is really more of a way to get the sponsor logo on the course than anything. Like most of the course, it was great fun, but not particularly challenging. That said, this one is unique to Warrior Dash and I love the signature obstacles you can only find at one event.When the advertising blitz was over, it was back in the water. Alcatraz was calling my name and that made for two signature obstacles in a row. This obstacle is simple enough on paper, but somewhat awkward to attempt as you have to start climbing a cargo net while you’re still in the water. The structure itself is made of hollow plastic pieces lashed together, then covered will cargo netting that drapes over each end into the water. I swam out without issue, crawled out of the water and rolled onto Alcatraz pretty quickly. I only had a problem on the backside when I jumped back in the lake to head back to shore. The depth on the back side seemed much deeper than the front side. I dropped in thinking the water level would be at my chest or chin when in fact I went a few feet under. For making such an inaccurate assumption, I was rewarded with a gnarly mouth full of lake water and subsequently rinsed and spit at both water stops thereafter.I’ll take this opportunity to interrupt play-by-play to make note of something I really like about Warrior Dash because this is the point in the race it made an impression on me. Humorous signs are peppered throughout the course for no other reason than to entertain the runners. I liked this one in particular, but in fairness, mid-stride I thought it read, “If you lived here, you’d be home by now… you’d also buy a beer.” Is there any question about my motivation to complete these events?Back to the race. Right about the time most of the excess water from the lake had left my clothing, Warrior Summit made its appearance. This was simply an A-Frame with knotted ropes hanging down either side from its peak. Climb up one side, then rappel down the other. No problem. While my Achilles heel is still a vertical, unknotted rope climb (and thankfully Warrior Dash has none), I can traverse obstacles like this pretty easily now. Similar obstacles at other races have been challenging for me due to the need to really use your body weight against the obstacle in combination with a tight grip on the rope to succeed. Here, the angle wasn’t bad at all and it seemed like it was over before it began which in terms of a race is a good thing I suppose, however, I feel like obstacles with climbing ropes should present a little more difficulty. Then again, this is Warrior Dash and I did see some folks struggling. In hindsight, this may very well have been another indicator that my OCR skill set is improving.One obstacle about which I was aware but had forgotten about until I came upon it was the trenches. Once again, not a hard obstacle, but more of a mental challenge especially for those participants who’ve ever felt claustrophobic or had a fear of being buried alive. Fortunately, the covering strung across the trenches let in the natural light; this would have been a bear to accomplish in the dark. So, the only real issue I had here was that the soil was quite rocky. Crawling through was extraordinarily rough on bare knees.I’m neither sure what was so risky about Risky Business nor could I figure out a connection between the obstacle and the movie of the same name. The objective was to cross a balance beam while overhead water jets attempted to throw you off balance. Much like the Warrior Summit, this obstacle barely factored into my race day experience.Another skill on which I need to improve is crossing monkey bars, hanging rings, rigs, and the like. I just don’t have the upper body strength or control to go end to end on these things yet, but I’m getting there. When I ran up on Fisherman’s Catch, I saw the hanging rings and was sure I’d finally come to a Warrior Dash obstacle I couldn’t finish. When I got closer, I saw they were in reach of a cargo net at the bottom of the apparatus. I could walk right across without ever touching a ring. It almost felt like cheating to have it there. Again, there were jets of water in play to distract you, though I found them to be more of an annoyance than anything. My few seconds of self-doubt were quickly out of mind and I was able to proceed without using any upper body strength or any delay.Goliath is a big waterslide. I’m not sure what else there is to say about it. It was fun like most waterslides tend to be and the volunteer at the top was probably the friendliest and most encouraging volunteer I’ve ever encountered at a race. Make no mistake, this was tame in comparison to anything like Savage Race’s Colossus. I would’ve preferred something taller and a bit more intense.
It was time for everyone’s favorite obstacle race photo opportunity, the fire jump. It’s standard fare at most races; here referred to as Warrior Roast. I will say one thing I thought was notable. Whoever was feeding the fire was doing a great job as there was a good line of tall, bright flames. I have quite a few photos of myself doing this at other races in which I appear to be jumping over blackened logs that were smoldering at best which isn’t too impressive after the fact. I imagine the weather, natural light, shade, wood, fuel, and likely a few other dynamic conditions play a part in that, so I lucked out at Warrior Dash. Immediately after the “roast”, was the deepest, stickiest mud pit I’ve entered in any race. Muddy Mayhem was just that. Many struggled to get out to reach the finish line and the thing absolutely painted people brown from head to toe to ensure a good photo as well as a nasty hug for the otherwise clean volunteers.And just like that, I was done. I’d run for time and I didn’t disappoint myself. Passing every obstacle and not taking any breaks to walk was a first for me and resulted in a time of 41 minutes. I was very pleased. While I didn’t find this race particularly challenging, I had a fantastic time running it and that’s what’s most important for me personally. I’m not an elite athlete and have yet to register for a competitive wave anywhere, so my primary objective is to have fun. I certainly achieved it at Warrior Dash. I would recommend it to anyone looking for their first obstacle race experience….unfortunately, it’s not for those looking to have a cold Shocktop Twisted Wheat Ale. As I suspected after first walking around the event area, the good stuff was nowhere to be found. Fortunately, one can survive on Belgian White variety in a pinch.
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