Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Warrior Dash, Tough Mudder, and Other Cross-Obstacle Races

Over the weekend, one of my Facebook friends recently put up a status asking why the sudden proliferation of events like the Warrior Dash, Tough Mudder, Muddy Buddy, and urban adventure races. It seemed that the comments on this status fell onto one of two sides. The first side declared that such races are a show of false bravado for weekend warriors, a money making scheme that lacks the seriousness of a "real" competition, and an injury risk for "real" athletes. The other side stated that such races are a ton of fun, a great way to get people moving, and an excuse to push one's limits. A similar discussion was posted on LetsRun last week, with similar arguments on both sides (though LetsRun being LetsRun, I'm sure you can guess which side most posters took).

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.

16 comments:

  1. Warrior Dash doesn't really appeal to me for some reason. However, obstacle course running definitely does. And fortunately there are the in between races, sort of like warrior dash and sort of like a marathon. This race is one I definitely plan on getting to someday (note the 2009 winner): http://www.wahsatchsteeplechase.com/Wahsatch_Steeplechase/Wahsatch_Steeplechase.html

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  2. Warrior Dash would have appealed to me in late 2007, right after graduation when I wanted a break from competitive racing. It may appeal to me again at some point, just not now.

    I spent outdoor track season in college doing "in between" races, sort of like Warrior Dash and sort of like track. You did too. I don't recall you liking it. :P

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  3. Oh haha I just saw the 2009 winner. Is that why you want to do it? To carry on the proud Bucknell tradition?

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  4. Have you seen this zombie 5K?

    http://runforyourlives.com/

    I've been considering doing that one and Warrior Dash. I haven't run competitively since high school, and I doubt I will again, so the risk of injury isn't a big concern for me.

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  5. That race looks hilarious! So there are still obstacles, but you also add the entertainment of getting chased by someone dressed as a zombie? Who comes up with these ideas?

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  6. Wow, awesome. I love those photos taken during the race, the participants did their best. Congratulations to all the racers especially the winners for a great job well done. Keep it up. Looking forward always for the next race.

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  7. Yeah, and if nothing else, the competitors are certainly badass!

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  8. I did the KC Warrior Dash this year, and I loved it! I'm a road warrior, typically, so it was nice to mix it up a bit. Plus, they give out badass helmets for awards. It looks pretty cool on my trophy shelf, I must say! ;)

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  9. I'm not going to lie...the Warrior Dash helmet is cooler than anything sitting on my trophy shelf right now.

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  10. What i gathered from your well written blog, is that you praise hard work toward a goal and friendships based on common interest of similar goals. But tell me, if you weren't the winner, wouldn't you want to be recognized too? would you feel discouraged when people only looked at the Winners, and you, no matter that you trained hard, didn't win. These events are meant to encourage others to gather together in teams and work hard to finish. They test strength, stamina and speed, not just a single set of muscles, which is easy to train, but all the muscles in the body. I praise Tough Mudder for there "It's lame" response, because it is, why do you need recognition to feel good about yourself? Shouldn't the fact that you finished alive and backed by strangers and friends alike?

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    1. I'd argue that training a single set of muscles isn't very useful for running, and anyone who does it going to find themselves with some very major muscle imbalances, which will almost undoubtedly lead to injury.

      I've also done my fair share of races where I didn't win and didn't get any recognition (read: my entire college career, as well as any big race I show up at). I worked my ass off and received no recognition...and that's fine, I wasn't running for recognition, I was running for myself and my own set of goals.

      Warrior Dash and Tough Mudder are cool by me...they get people to be active and have fun, and that is never a bad thing. I simply seek to point out that 1) people in the middle of a training cycle for something else should probably think twice before entering one of these races, and 2) quotes like this: "And the only thing more boring than doing a marathon is watching a marathon. Road-running may give you a healthy set of lungs, but will leave you with as much upper body strength as Keira Knightley. At Tough Mudder, we want to test your all-around mettle, not just your ability to run in a straight line, on your own, for hours on end, getting bored out of your mind. Our obstacle courses are designed by British Special Forces to test you in every way and are meant only for truly exceptional all-around people, not for people who have enough time and money to train their knees to run 26 miles." (from Tough Mudder) are kind of dumb and full of false bravado.

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  11. I've done 2 warrior dashes. They are fun as participatory events, not as races. There really is very little injury risk at stake. It's primarily geared towards people who don't work out, but want to experience a feeling of accomplishment. I tried to race my first time (having paid $75 I wanted to win). About a mile in, I caught up to the previous wave of runners and had to wait in line at all of the obstacles. The second time, I ran with a group of friends and had a much better time, helping everyone over the barriers and having more of a bonding experience.

    Jack

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  12. Also, I don't think Warrior Dash could exist without Facebook. Every aspect of the race is intertwined with it. I'm convinced that most people who participate wouldn't if there was no status to update telling all their friends about their accomplishment. On the Dash website they offer as one of the reasons to run : "The ultimate Facebook brag."

    Jack

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    1. Facebook has actually done a lot for running in general, I feel like. I constantly see old high school friends of mine who weren't athletic in high school commenting on pictures or statuses about other people running and saying it's motivating them, and then not long after, I see pictures of them running too. As much fun as we all make fun of Facebook and Twitter, social media may be good for the sport.

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  13. Well written article and I respect that. However you are talking from a biased and theoretical perspective. Have you actually completed a Tough Mudder? Have you looked at the challenges presented? You do realize that the TM and Warrior Dash are significantly different - in essence and spirit. You appear awfully smug about being a 'real runner'. You should experience both before you advise others... it might change your mind.

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    1. Of course I haven't participated in a Tough Mudder or Warrior Dash, I'm a REAL runner, duh.

      Kidding, of course. Everyone has their own set of biases and opinions, and they show through in our writing. And I'm not quite as smug in person as I am behind the keyboard. ;)

      As far as advising people, I maintain my position that if you're training for a peak race that ranks high on your priority list, you probably don't want to risk injury competing in an obstacle race. That's just common sense. Then again, I mountain bike, snowboard, and used to rock climb. I understand the allure of participating in "riskier" events. I just save those activities for times when I'm not training, which would be my advice to serious runners who want to participate in an obstacle race.

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