Weekend Warrior DashBy: Sean | September 14th, 2011
This post has very little to do with soccer except for the fact that two of my teammates were with me for it.
However, as The Offside is a footballing website, I will endeavor to tangentially tie the awesomeness of last weekend back to our basic topic.
The Beautiful Game has given me no small number of joys, memories and experiences. As a fan, as a coach and as a player, a lifetime measured in 90 minute intervals has been one of ecstatic highs, despairing lows, and more bottles of ibuprofen than I can count. And at the very least, soccer has helped to keep me reasonably fit, something that I frequently take for granted. The ability to run, jump, slide and not die as a result of those actions is something my middle-aged self is appreciating more and more with the passing of time. Once, at a party with some toddlers frolicking happily about the room, one of the parents in the group remarked casually, “When was the last time you just ran as fast you could?” There were some quiet nods of appreciation and a lengthy silence until I piped up, “Uh, every Wednesday night and Sunday afternoon. At least until some sweeper scythes me down in the box.”
No one knew had a clue as to what I was talking about. Whatever.
And so in the lifelong quest to maintain midfielder levels of fitness, I find myself pounding the same familiar stretches of sidewalk, the same running trail at the Nike World Campus and the same bleacher grandstand at Liberty High School. Several months of these well-trod paths left me itching for something different to try, something that might test my abilities and be fun in a non-soccer kind of way.
That something was Warrior Dash.
Warrior Dash, as you may know, is an adult obstacle course event put on by Red Frog Events. With events staged around the United States, it is part Wipeout and part Lollapalooza. A three-four mile trail run/obstacle course capped with beer, food, live music, and often outrageous costumes, the events draw thousands of people for mad scrambling up walls, through cargo nets, across bodies of water and over fire. And, of course, mud. Every Facebook profile picture of someone who has done it (me included) features a wide, exhausted grin of the participant covered in mud, usually sporting the signature furry Viking helmet of the Dash. A few perusals of their website left me giddy at the prospect of bolting through the woods of nearby North Plains, Oregon and who better to join me on this epic adventure than my 0-30 soccer team Rangers teammates? We’ll call them “Jim” and “Dan” for the purposes of this post (if those are their real names…but they probably are!)
The day of the Dash dawned unnaturally hot for Oregon and smoke from far away forest files gave the sun a murky orange color. Our start time of 5:00 p.m. taunted us with mid-ninety degree Fahrenheit temperatures in Portland and the three of us followed a dirty cloud of vehicles over gravel and unpaved roads to the parking fields of Horning’s Hideout, the site for the Oregon Warrior Dash. We tromped our way over the grounds to a wooden bridge that led to the Dash “village”, the site of the registration tents, gear check, beer pavilions and amphitheater. It wasn’t unlike a music festival, with a large video monitor playing scenes from heats in progress, a master of ceremonies inciting us to “give it up!” for the participants, and thousands of people milling about to the pre-recorded musical stylings of Katy Perry’s “Firework”.
Thousands of dirty, dirty people. Young guys…covered in mud. Middle-aged women…covered in mud. Guys in tutus…covered in mud. Groups of ROTC cadets…covered in mud. Women dressed as superheroes…covered in mud. A dude in a pair of Punisher underwear…covered in mud. Little kids…covered in mud…because their parents had given them a big, sloppy hug when they finished the course! The vast diversity in attire was universally characterized by the milk chocolate slathering of mud and grime from the course’s last obstacle. As we passed a parked ambulance near the packet pick-up, I noted the dozens of muddy hand prints that covered the vehicle like a rash and a new thought occurred to me: I suppose I could get hurt doing this thing. That would totally ruin my fall soccer season. That would suck. I got a little anxious, kind of like first match of the season jitters, wondering if I was really up to this.
Then I saw a bunch of half-naked, mud coated twenty-somethings chest bumping nearby, obviously still on the post race rush. They were laughing, swearing happily like you do when you’re completely in the moment and the filters that generally keep you from bellowing things like “F**k yeah!” around older people and toddlers have completely switched off. That could be me, plus twenty-ish years and no hair, in just 3.18 hellish miles.
It’s Go Time, baby!
Dan, Jim and I got our packets, affixed the microchip that recorded your time to our shoes, and pinned on our bib numbers. Would 29603 be my lucky number this afternoon? I stowed my gear away and we ambled toward the end of the course where the smell of Duraflame logs wafting from the other side of the construction fencing beckoned us on. A small crowd of spectators and supportive family members were cheering and shouting encouragement as a ragged throng of runners streamed out of the trees and over the burning piles. Each runner to a person appeared to tense up as they recognized the Warrior Flames ahead and then, also to a person, grin broadly as they successfully launched themselves over the first hurdle and realized they did not spontaneously combust. Beyond this, to our left, the route completed in a barbed wire covered pit of thick, oozing mud, followed by a slippery decline to the finish pylon. The sight of three or four people flailing wildly in the waist deep mire wasn’t exactly the mud wrestling scene from “Stripes”, but it was quite a spectacle to behold as the runners hurled themselves over the mound and careened down the hilly slip-and-slide to the finish line.
Jim, Dan and I looked at each other. The verdict: “Awesome!”
We took our places in the starting chute and I took stock of our competitors/comrades for the day’s final heat. A group to my right were dressed in plastic gladiator outfits, a kind of Spartacus meets Under Armour. A bunch of shirtless men, obviously runners or athletes of some stock, crowded the front of the chute. A couple in their early twenties nervously held hands behind me and stared at the large propane cannons flanking the start pylon. Another group of runners donned heavy metal attire, complete with studded wrist bands and leather jackets. And then there was Dan, Jim and I. Just three soccer guys out for a trail run with four hundred of our (soon-to-be) closest friends for the next forty minutes. I did most of the same nervous leg stretches I usually do before an indoor soccer match, not entirely sure with what I should do with myself. Eventually the race announcer shouted out the expected countdown and with a roar of “3! 2! 1!” and a dual blast from the propane cannons, our merry band of wannabe Warrior pilgrims surged forward into the forest.
I took off at a modest clip, unused to running with more than 21 other people around me. It seemed crowded, almost claustrophobic, as the trail dipped and swerved in front of us. Fifty yards in–seriously, FIFTY YARDS FROM THE START–the big-boned guy running slightly ahead of me broke stride, dropped his head forward with an exhausted gasp and started to walk. Fifty yards. You could still see the big “Start” banner behind us! As I weaved to the right to avoid running into him, any nervousness I had disappeared. Seanny, you’re going to be all right. We three Rangers continued around other runners as the trail set upon a series of sharply sloping switchback inclines. The tedious hours at Liberty High were paying off in spades as I continued forward, flanked ably by my holding midfielder and stopper/sweeper. The trail turned and churned, always continuing up it seemed, until after what felt like three-quarters of a mile a sign off to the side warned us of the first obstacle: Deadweight Drifter.
A small pond had been stocked with large, floating logs secured by cables at their ends. The horde splashed madly into the drink and slip-stumbled their way over the rolling slabs of tree. Without breaking stride I plunged into the water and–HOLY CRAP! EVEN TODAY THIS IS COLD!–and pulled myself over the slippery barrier. Momentum and the simultaneous thrust of several others on the log made it spin and I splashed awkwardly onto the other side, barely keeping my mouth above the surface. Several more logs were similarly conquered in less than graceful fashion until I trudged sodden and surprisingly weary onto the far bank. Dan was there already: “I’m pretty sure I swallowed some of that water!” I think we joked about giardia until Jim emerged and continued on.
More trail gave way to a sea of tires and junked out automobiles. The pack had significantly thinned out since the start and we were able to motor efficiently through the sea of rubber and over the dead vehicles. The next obstacle was a field of suspended tires that, again, would have been challenging had there been more runners bumping into them at the same time, but we neatly picked our way around the gaps in the obstructions. Jim joked that our teammate “Nabyl” would have totally parkoured through them. We laughed–which seems weird given that we were running, but I distinctly remember chortling at that comment–and pressed on.
I won’t bore you with an obstacle by obstacle record of how we successfully conquered each one. Many of the challenges involved climbing a plywood wall with a rope or a cargo net or horizontal boards or all three. Spotters at each station continued to shout encouragement and give pointers to other Warriors who were struggling. Calkins and Snyder tended to take the lead and I brought up the rear of our trio–or “anchor”, as I choose to think of it–but through every station we generally finished within seconds of each other. With each mile and each new feat I felt myself getting progressively more tired but then I would spy another competitor similarly slowing ahead and will myself to pass them. At the horizontal cargo nets, Dan figured out that it was not the best way to “bear walk” on all fours and instead pulled off this Spiderman balance-run that was pretty damn impressive. We went over low walls and under lower barbed cords. We bounded like Altair from the video game “Assassin’s Creed” over these wobbly platforms and down a fireman’s pole. I felt my lungs getting smaller and smaller as the trail (damn you, trail!) continued up and over, up and over. Jim, to his credit, never stopped running. I found myself slowed to a hike for about a hundred feet until I could get the lactic acid in my legs to burn off enough and start running.
And then I could smell it. The alkaline stench of hot, burning chemical soaked wood-based products. The Warrior Flames. I remembered the tense looks on the runners as they recognized the peril ahead and I am certain my face did the exact same thing. There was a good-sized crowd to the left yelling positive affirmations and I forced a smile. I really was having fun. I just needed to look like it, too. With a carefully timed bound even my 5′-6 7/8″ tall frame danced over the fires once, then twice. I looked up, wiped the sweat from my face and watched Dan and Jim disappear into a tract of mud.
One last obstacle. How long had I been running? The rhythms of soccer are familiar to me and easy to gauge from years of experience, but this Warrior Dash was a completely new experience. Had I been running thirty minutes? Sixty? I couldn’t tell. I plunged clumsily into the mud to the cheers of the assembled watching from the side. The strands of barbed wire passed me by in a slow, but surprisingly refreshing, crawl that left grime in my teeth. Jim was going over the mound at the end and sliding to the finish. I pulled myself out of the muck, expertly timed my movements and leaped forward to clear the top of the mound and get the momentum necessary to slide safely home.
I did not time my movements as expertly as I had thought.
My crotch smacked against the top of the hill, followed soon thereafter by my chest. And face. D’oh! I flailed around like a gutted trout to keep from sliding backwards into the mud and managed to get enough inertia and momentum to start me forward, always forward, face first toward the finish line. But then gravity conspired against me–damn you, gravity!–and my aforementioned inertia and momentum sent me sliding uncontrollably to the left…towards the hay bundle/erosion control bales that marked the course…until with a mighty thump I ran into the wall like a stock car driver and bounced around onto my backside. Above me, just a dozen or so yards away, the ending pylon taunted me: “FINISH”. I scrambled to my feet and stumbled the last remaining footsteps to glorious victory. Dan and Jim were there, looking hardly bothered but equally smeared in the mud of the earth. We high-fived and some attractive young volunteers offered us water, bananas and our coveted Viking helmet medal. It took us 36 minutes and 30-ish seconds to earn our little horned trinket which proudly proclaimed: I SURVIVED WARRIOR DASH 2011.
It would then take another three hours before I changed my Facebook profile picture to a shot of three muddy over-thirty soccer dudes wearing three big, exhausted grins.