By Pete Williams
If you’re someone bitten by the obstacle mud run bug, you have Joe Reynolds and Warrior Dash to blame.
It was Reynolds, 31, whose Red Frog Events company launched Warrior Dash on July 18, 2009, a spin-off series to the company’s Great Urban Race scavenger hunt that began in 2007. Other companies, most notably Competitor and its Muddy Buddy series, had combined endurance sports and mud. Warrior Dash dialed it up a notch with military training-style obstacles, costume contests, and post-race beer and parties.
Reynolds and his band of Millennials built a massive following via social media and word of mouth from their Chicago offices. A $5,000 investment in 2007 became a $50 million company at the end of 2011.
Tough Mudder and Spartan Race debuted in 2010. Dozens of competitors sprung up around the country last year. Here in Florida, we have at least two races – The Highlander and the Ragin’ Warrior – created in 2011 by guys inspired by racing in the first Warrior Dash in Florida last January.
New race organizers scoffed at the relatively easy three-mile Warrior Dash course, and dialed it up a notch with longer distances and more challenging obstacles. Tough Mudder, which stages races between 11 and 13 miles, installed a banner at its 3-mile mark reading “Warrior Dash Finish Line.”
As Warrior Dash kicks off of the 2012 obstacle mud run season with a two-day event in Lake Wales next weekend (Jan. 21-22), it’s tempting to write off the series. Tough Mudder has grabbed the lead in popularity, with Spartan Race not far behind, and many athletes are clamoring for challenges beyond what Warrior Dash provides.
Alex Yount, spokesman for Warrior Dash, says 8,899 athletes are registered to compete at Triple Canopy Ranch. That’s down from last year’s 13,176 and below the projected 13,000 for this year.
Still, Yount says the company expects to draw 1 million athletes to the 65 Warrior Dash events the year. About two-thirds already are announced, including a North Florida race March 31 in Live Oak. A third Florida location is being considered.
Athletes might be surprised by the degree of difficulty to this year’s 14 Warrior Dash obstacles. The race will include more water obstacles, some requiring athletes to swim. (Like other races, alternative challenges will be offered for non-swimmers.) At the moment, the weather looks promising, with projected highs of 78 degrees both days. (No word on the murky water temperature.)
Yount says there’s a fine line between making the race all-inclusive and yet challenging for most.
“The beauty of Warrior Dash is that it is for everyone and it’s about challenging yourself,” he said. “We want to have some pretty challenging obstacles. We’re upping the stakes by having water obstacles requiring people to swim and challenging the warriors out there that have been there year after year.”