By Alex Voigt
Free Press Staff Writer
Imagine a 5K race where it’s pretty much a given that you’re going to be covered in mud by the end of it.
Now, imagine that same 5K race featuring various “obstacles” on the course, like a cargo net, a slip ‘n slide, junkyard cars to climb over and a fire to jump over. If that wasn’t enough, imagine that 5K being a race where most participants care little about what their time is. Instead, they’re concerned about enjoying live music and dressing up in ridiculous costumes.
Does that sound like a fun 5K? Well, close to 20,000 runners — myself included — thought so a couple of weekends ago at the Warrior Dash at Afton Alps.
The race’s website terms it as a “mud-crawling, fire-leaping extreme run from hell.” I’d say that’s pretty accurate. It’s part of a growing trend of “extreme” events popping up everywhere, with the Warrior Dash series alone having more than 30 races around the country and Tough Mudder races also growing in numbers. (See Friday’s paper for a story on a Mankato couple who participated in a Tough Mudder a couple of weeks ago.)
For experienced road racers like myself, the Warrior Dash is an exercise in juxtapositions.
Instead of taking place on quiet residential streets and peaceful bike paths, it takes place at a ski resort with brutal hills and loud music blaring in the background. Instead of trying to complete the race as quickly as possible, many people take their time and joke around on the obstacles. Instead of a goodie bag filled with coupons to local health-oriented businesses, Warrior Dash participants get warrior horns and a free beer.
Strangely enough, it took some convincing to finally get me to sign up for the Warrior Dash. It seemed a bit pricey for a 5K, and it was a two-hour drive from Mankato, neither of which made it particularly appealing. The obstacle course aspect of the race intrigued me, but was it really worth the commitment? I figured I could sign up for two local races for the same amount of money, travel considerably less and still get the same rush of crossing the finish line.
Thankfully, my friend Justin convinced me otherwise, because it’s definitely not the same rush.
There’s something much more exhilarating about going into a race knowing that you’ll have to crawl through the mud and jump over a fire to reach the finish line. You can’t train for it like you can for a typical road race; all you can do is react to it and make the most of the moment.
As much as I enjoy running in regular road races, they all kind of have the same format and few — if any — ever have an atmosphere that makes you want to stick around long after the race is over.
That’s definitely not the case with the Warrior Dash. The race itself was a completely unique experience and the festive setting was one I could’ve spent all day soaking in.
And I must admit, the free beer tasted pretty darn good after the race.
Alex Voigt is a Free Press copy editor. He is available at 344-6389 or at firstname.lastname@example.org. He also has a health & fitness blog at alexvoigtfitness.blogspot.com.