During my freshman year of high school, occasionally my cross-country coach would send out the girls' team and boys' team on a run together. The boys' team won the state championship that year, so for them these runs were no doubt easy recovery jogs. On the other hand, the girls' team was not all that impressive, making these runs fairly challenging for us, and the slower girls usually completely fell off the back, which gave the top guys ample opportunity to run extra by looping back and forth to keep an eye on them so they didn't get lost. On these runs, the guys took us on trails that we otherwise would not have seen. We shimmied across fallen trees or hopped across rocks to cross creeks, scrambled up rocks and hills of scree, used an old rope swing to make our way down a cliff, and one time even ended up in what looked like a junkyard that involved us crawling over various pieces of old discarded furniture to get to the other side. We dubbed these "cross-obstacle" runs, and more than a few people stated that they would give up cross-country to run cross-obstacle. These runs were a blast for us, and obviously the occasional cross-obstacle run did not prevent our boys from winning state.
The Warrior Dash and its ilk are a similar concept to what our high school cross-country team (and no doubt countless others) discovered years ago. Each event is a run that is broken up by a number of obstacles, such as barricades and ropes to climb, streams and mud pits to cross, hills to scramble up, and fire to hurdle. The distance and obstacles vary from race to race. I feel like there must be some people who race for place or time, and the Warrior Dash has winners and losers, but it seems that the vast majority of participants go simply for the experience (though I'm not sure that differs much from the modern marathon). The 3000m steeplechase this is not. In fact, the Tough Mudder does not even post results online, stating, "Since Tough Mudder is an event, definitely not a race, we do not post the finish times on our site. We’re not into people focusing too much on their time, as we think a)it detracts from some of the most important parts of the day, namely camaraderie, and b)it’s lame."
|Having faceplanted in the steeplechase pit in college, I think I'll pass on this. Picture from UPchicago.com|
Alright, before we go too much further, I take some issue with that last quote. WTF lame?! I work hard for my finish times. Calling them lame is not the best way to attract me to an event. And I've built fantastic camaraderie through real competition, and most of my close friends were developed through racing, finish times and all. But I digress, and my thoughts on how close friends and lasting relationships can develop through the blood, sweat, and tears that surround the journey towards a finish time have little to do with the rest of this post.
|You can get muddy and have friends with a very real emphasis on time too.|
For the most part (stupid views on finish times and competition aside), I think that these races are great. I've heard people at school talking about Warrior Dash. People who otherwise probably wouldn't give a crap about racing (or event-ing in the case of Tough Mudder). It gives them a reason to get off the couch, put in some training, and be active. Awesome. We need more events like these, if only for reasons like that. Additionally, it gives many "real" runners something with which to mix up their training, to break up the monotony of the trial of miles. I've heard from plenty of runners how much fun events like these are.
However, for some people, these events are less of a good idea. I remember having a conversation with a few of my runner friends and one of them brought up that she might be interested in doing a Tough Mudder. My other friend and I looked at her like she had lost her mind. This woman was a serious runner who is focused on performance. We eventually dissuaded her, since for her, the risk of injury was just not worth it. Her hardcore training put her at enough of an injury risk, why stress everything even more by making her jump off barriers? Her biggest priority was a time. Why potentially compromise her training and sacrifice the fulfillment of her major goal for a couple hours of fun in the mud? (As far as injury risk, it was pointed out that many trails have just as great, if not more injury risk than these cross-obstacle runs. Very true, but I don't run trails like that anymore, at least not during training cycles. And I gave up the steeplechase after college. And my mountain bike sits in the corner during serious training cycles too. Seriously, it's hard enough to stay healthy with my normal training. You think I need something else in there?)
While I have a pretty good idea of where the boys' team's trails are, I have not returned to these trails since high school. Part of this is because the city no longer maintains those trails, which would make them overgrown and even more obstacle-filled than before, but the big reason is that I'm sure I would find such a run a waste of time and an unnecessary injury risk. Does that mean that runs like the Warrior Dash and Tough Mudder are bad? Of course not. They have an audience that loves them every bit as much as someone else might love to see a new track PR, and it's up to you to decide whether or not you're part of that audience.