This is going to be a periodic feature here at Fat Boy Big Wall: reports about the OCRs, and maybe other events, that I take part in. I’m going to try to take a somewhat journalistic approach-no unjustified hyperbole or superlatives. On the other hand, I will be sharing my opiniony bits, which are, of course, opiniony bits rather than facts. Hopefully they’ll be useful, or entertaining, or a nice distraction from work.
The Illinois Warrior Dash (June 14, 2014) was my first-ever obstacle course race. That figure has since swelled to two—so keep that in mind.
To give you a sense of my mindset going into it, the Warrior Dash was my focus for about 9 months: I set some goals for it, and I was hoping to use it as a benchmark for how I was doing, fitness-wise. In that respect, it really didn’t succeed.
There were several logistical problems that contributed to that. I don’t know exactly what happened beyond some rumors that I heard when I got there or that I read online afterward, so I don’t know truly know the full story, but what I heard was that there were issues with building some of the obstacles and filling some of the mud pits, which meant that the early heats got delayed, and all of the later heats cascaded as well. I didn’t hear any official announcement about this, which is kind of surprising in retrospect. There was an excellent sound system blasting the generic get-pumped party music that you hear at any race. It would have been nice if the race organizers had used that to provide information as well, although maybe it was provided by a contractor with strict agreements on precisely how it would be used.
There was another system used for race announcements, but it was kind of a joke: it was located at the starting line in the far corner of the field, and you couldn’t hear it at the end of the starting corral. So if it provided useful information, I didn’t hear it.
Once I got onto the course, capacity was a serious problem. Several obstacles had long waits, and one of them was crowded enough that I thought it was a safety concern—it was one where you climb up and over a wooden structure, but there was a pretty big gap between the last support slab and the top. I figured I could probably give myself enough momentum to pull myself over, get my foot safely on the support on the other side, and not kick my neighbor in the face—but only two out of the three. Since two out of three would have left someone on the ground writhing in pain, I wound up climbing down in a safe but annoying manner and skipping the obstacle.
I assume the obstacle capacity issues were worsened by the late start, but there were some other capacity issues that seem really unnecessary. At the start, for example, we were let go in waves of about 500 people, and we ran through a wide-open field… which was closed off with flags so the course was only wide enough for about three people.
The section in the woods was even worse, although perhaps more understandable. It had large sections that were only wide enough for a single person. Unfortunately, it was also slick, wet clay. The result was a long chain of people, no one able to pass but no one able to move beyond a slow crawl without breaking a leg. By the end, many people started simply started ignoring the course and cutting through the woods to bypass this short but lengthy journey.
I didn’t, but I don’t blame them. By that point, the warrior dash was an ordeal but not a challenge. The experience of using trees to support myself as I trudge down and back up a slick hill really didn’t tell me anything about myself, which is the experience that I was looking for.
That’s too bad, because if I can take that expectation out of the equation, I did enjoy the experience: being in a semi-race atmosphere, dealing with obstacles and mud and the out of doors, and the whole eventness of it all. It wasn’t really the challenge I was looking for, though. The obstacles tended to fall into two categories: climbing over things (with some form of support) or crawling under things. At the fitness level I was at, the obstacles weren’t particularly challenging; the real challenges were artificial, crowd-related ones.
I will say that I was pleasantly surprised with their post-race response. They received a lot of complaints—I watched the Facebook page for a few days afterward with that petty, self-righteous glee you get when you feel like someone’s getting a come-uppance. But in an email afterward, the company acknowledged responsibility for the problems, and they didn’t try to deflect criticism by pointing out how the event raised money for St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital, which I was expecting. They also offered half off another registration for any of their other events. I’m not planning to take them up on it, but I can accept that things go wrong, and that feels like an appropriate level of response.
Overall, I could see it as a fun social event or a good introduction to the world of obstacle course racing. It wasn’t the experience I was hoping for, but it may be the right one in some circumstances.