Some think the normal stressors of life aren’t enough. Unemployment? Old hat! Relationship problems? So what! Give me fire and mayhem in the Warrior Dash.
Described as a run of “3.18 hellish miles” the Warrior Dash this weekend in North Plains, Oregon will be a near-mirror-image (with big differences) of other Dashes across the United States. Launched in 2009, a Warrior Dash is a die-hard athlete’s answer to the same old, same old. Twenty-six miles of pounding pavement or path doesn’t cut it for those who want their outdoor activities transformed into Burning Man-type happenings. A Warrior Dash provides strong, muddy, hilarious competition, with prizes, pints of beer, and a costume contest thrown in.
Warrior Dash events hatched from a brain-storming frenzy at the offices of Red Frog Events, a coven of completely crazed individuals headquartered in Chicago. Red Frog, lead by head croaker and “architect of adventure”, Joe Reynolds, encourages its just-out-of-diapers staff to channel their inner Dennis the Menace and create events both challenging and over-the-top playful. So successful is this formula that Red Frog expects to push past $50 million dollars in business this year, with Warrior Dashes occurring in over 30 locations across the U.S. and even in Australia.
Interviewed by the Chicago Tribune in the summer of 2011, Ryan Kunkel, married to Reynold’s sister and the #2 Frogger, confided, “We flourished during the recession. We provided this niche staycation … For $100, you just got whisked away into this whole different world. It went viral.”
Though manic in concept, the organization of a Dash experience requires hundreds of man/woman hours, local contacts and vendors, and a gleeful group of volunteers. Initially, when a site is chosen, Red Frog sends scouts and event facilitators to town to woo and direct the locals in setting up the Dash. So intense is the planning and execution pre-Dash that event facilitators leave feeling like they have made friends with a whole town. Sarah M, a Red Frog planner waxed rhapsodic on the magic of Crawfordsville, IN “… between the volunteers that I worked closely with…, the venue owners (and their family and friends) who cooked us multiple meals, and the construction and food vendors …, Crawfordsville, Indiana has gone down in my passport as one of my most memorable destinations.”
That’s how Warrior Dashes work. A muddy gulch becomes Disneyland, a rusty car a favorite playground, and Crawfordsville, a choice travel destination.
The notion itself is the attraction, and Warrior Dash has it all. Says one blogger, “First off, what a perfect concept! It’s easy enough that anyone can do it, but tough enough so that you can’t just sprint right through without getting a little challenged.” That “anyone” shows up in droves, 18,000 souls for one weekend run: rock climbers and marathoners, sprinters and football players, cheerleaders and chumps – anyone itching for a combination carnival, rock concert, beer fest, and obstacle course, with stand up comedy and mayhem thrown in.
A Warrior Dash is run in waves, that is with a new group of several hundred spewing past the starting gate every half hour. The Dash may begin as early as 9:00 a.m. and continue into the evening so that everyone has a chance to scratch their knees, jam an elbow, or get ooze in an ear. Generally, the Dash will consist of a dozen or more obstacles, including streams to run, cargo nets to climb, fires to jump, rusty cars to crawl through, mud pits to negotiate, walls to climb, and hay bales to scale – all in good, not-so-clean fun.
As if going flat out through grime, muck, and sweaty bodies wasn’t enough, Warrior Dash winners are rewarded with engraved Viking Warrior helmets, the emblem of the Dash. Winners swear that wearing the helmet to any local bar will attract lots of female attention. No research confirms this, however.
Run your heart out; keep your head on
Still, the race organizers caution that funsters should arrive with both good shoes and a working brain. Race obstacles are designed with both challenge and safety in mind, so that Dashers can end the run on an up rather than a down beat. When hot weather threatens, extra water trucks are brought in and runners are encouraged to hydrate. Before any Dash, first-aid certified workers walk the field looking for the unexpected or the overtly dangerous. No one wants anything to turn the Dash into a downer.
If extreme races could “go viral”, the Warrior Dash would definitely be in the running. In just two years, this crowd-pleaser has seen an increase in events from one to 35, spread all over the U.S. and overseas.
Originally published on Suite101, on September 10, 2011