Leaping over fire. Ducking under barbed wire. Swimming in a giant pit of mud. The Warrior Dash—held at Afton Alps in July—promised to be “an extreme run from hell.” In addition to the three-mile course and 11 obstacles (enter the fire, mud, and barbed wire), the event also boasted live music, beer tents, and thousands of participants.
So, of course, I was in. Even if I hadn’t actually run in well over six months.
But never mind that. By the time we pulled in to the Warrior Dash that Saturday morning, I was all adrenaline. “OK, let’s do this thing!” I yelled, bouncing up and down. “I’m ready to be a warrior!” And then, suddenly, I was.
Starting line: My friends and I line up with hundreds of others for the 11 a.m. wave. Ahead, I see the first ski hill we’ll be climbing. People are clapping and yelling, “Let’s go!” Fire erupts from the top of the starting gate—and we’re off.
Kind of. There are so many people that even though our wave is underway, we’re basically walking in place. “Well, this isn’t nearly as bad as I thought it was going to be,” my friend Kelly says.
The first stretch: We’re running! We’re warriors! Hear us roar!
The first hill: We’re walking. And none too fast. That is one steep hill. Further roaring will have to wait. “We’re almost there!” I yell. “We can do this! We just have to get around this corner!” We turn the corner, and—
“What the hell?” says the man next to me. “It keeps going up?”
Road rage: The first obstacle requires us to “stampede through a scrap yard” of rusted metal—which consists of rows of junkyard cars. Piece of cake. “Ha!” I yell, challenging the Warrior Dash gods as I clear the wreckage. “Is that all you have for me?!”
Treacherous typhoon: Gale force winds accompanied by spraying water fly at my face as I squint and duck behind Kelly, holding fast to her shoulders. It’s not cheating, exactly. I’m just using my resources.
Barricade breakdown: This obstacle—requiring us to hurdle over short-wall barricades, then crawl under walls of barbed wire—is slow going. Several warriors try to go over at once, and I end up kneeing the woman next to me. “Sorry!” she says. Under normal circumstances, I’d say, “No, I’m sorry!” But instead, I think, “Watch out, sucker. I’m a warrior.”
Chaotic crossover: I’m one-third of the way across the spider web of canvas nets when my wrist gets kicked out from under me. “I’m OK!” I yell. No one really cares.
Blackout: In the weeks leading up to the Dash, this obstacle terrified me most. Pre-race photos showed it as a large, low black tent accompanied by the description: “Dive into darkness and escape the trenches.”
“How is it?” I yell after my friend Missy as she hits the ground and crawls in.
“Dark,” she yells back.
“Can I handle it?” I call again.
“Bawhablgrh,” she answers from deeper inside the tent.
I have no choice but to follow. I stick my head in—and while it’s dark, and low beams require an army crawl, I discover that just enough light sneaks in when new warriors enter. I scrape my knees along the gravel at a snail’s pace. “Hey, watch where you’re grabbing,” the person next to me yells. I don’t think he’s talking to me, but just in case, I speed up.
Cargo climb: Seriously too much fun. I scramble to the top of the rope wall and crawl back down. “This is like a giant, adult playground!” I yell to my friends.
Great warrior wall: Kill me now. The hardest obstacle by far, I cling tightly to the rope as I pull myself up the towering wooden barricade. “Should I lean back?” I yell to my friends, who’ve already bounded over the top. “Should I get closer to the wall?”
“It’s easy!” they say. “Keep going.”
They’re already back on the ground as I scrape my thigh across the rough top of the wall. My shorts, still drenched from the typhoon, rub against the scratch so it burns.
“Badge of honor,” I say to the guy next to me. He doesn’t ask. He just nods.
Teetering traverse: I scrape my mud-soled shoes against the grass as we approach this obstacle, hoping to gain leverage on the narrow, teeter-totter-like planks. Others walk upright, but I decide to bear crawl. Whatever works.
Petrifying plunge: I’ve been waiting the whole race for this—essentially a giant, downhill, multi-lane Slip ‘n’ Slide. I sit at the top of the slide, the water at my back, and let go. I’m flying—while Missy is stuck midway through the ride. “Watch out!” I yell. “Here I come! And I have muddy shoes!”
Warrior roast: Fire shmire. Missy, Kelly, and I jump the flames
together. I feel the heat, but there’s no real danger of catching fire. And, heck, even if I did, the mud pit—which is just ahead—would extinguish the flames.
Muddy mayhem: I hit the mud pit with both feet, then stretch out on my stomach to clear the barbed wire running overhead. It’s so much thicker than I expected, what crawling through Jello must feel like. I reach forward and dig into the ground with my hands to pull myself forward. I’m not really in a big hurry, though. This is too fun.
Finish line: Fresh out of the mud pit, I cross the finish line as a Warrior Dash volunteer hangs a “Finisher” medal around my neck. Kelly high fives me and mud flies into my eye, the only place it’d previously missed. “That was awesome!” I yell. “Let’s get in line and do it again!”