By Pete Williams
LAKE WALES – We’re not sure if obstacle mud runs will be a long-term part of the endurance sports world or just a fad that will disappear after a few years. But Warrior Dash, which kicked off the mud run season this weekend at the Triple Canopy Ranch, seems intent on being part of the category for however long it lasts.
It’s not that the 2012 version is more difficult than the 2011 rendition. Warrior Dash seems comfortable being the shorter, first-timer mud run, as opposed to longer endurance tests like Tough Mudder and Spartan Race. With Muddy Buddy announcing last week that it’s scaling back to eight events this year, in part because of the success of Warrior Dash, it seems Warrior Dash should command even more of the first-time mud run demographic.
This weekend’s Lake Wales attendance was 9,000 over two days, down from 13,000 last year. That’s in part to the countless mud runs that have sprung up in the last year in Florida, at least five of which left postcards on windshields while athletes raced. We’re guessing Warrior Dash will have an easier time maintaining and building its numbers in other parts of the country where there’s not a mud run nearly every weekend of the year.
With so many events, it’s difficult to come up with new challenges. We liked Warrior Dash’s main water obstacle, a 10-yard swim through chilly water to a floating obstacle, followed by another 10-yard swim back to shore. The distance was short enough for non-swimmers to doggie paddle – lifeguards were on hand just in case – but long enough for everyone to feel uncomfortable. Even with temperatures in the high 70s, it’s still January in Florida and the water is 60ish.
The Dash featured many of the obstacle run staples – walls, rope ladders, hurdles, fire jumps – along with running over old cars. Though it did have 100 yards of mud at one point that took some competitors down waist deep, it was easy for some just to run around the obstacle. Perhaps the biggest challenge was running about a mile through sand.
We missed last year’s Warrior Dash and wish we had done it before taking on Tough Mudder, Spartan Race, Savage Race, Highlander, and multiple Muddy Buddies. It’s one of the easiest among that group, though there are a lot of things Warrior Dash does best.
Warrior Dash was the first event to take the mud/party race formula national and they still do a great job with that, attracting perhaps the youngest crowd and probably selling the most beer. (Athletes get the first for free.) It definitely had the liveliest post-race atmosphere. It helps that the Chicago-based Red Frog Events, parent company of Warrior Dash, was founded in 2007 by then-27-year-old Joe Reynolds and the band of Millennial staffers on hand worked tirelessly. The Chicago Tribune recently rated Red Frog as the No.1 small company on its list of top workplaces and clearly these young adults love their work.
We liked the fuzzy Warrior hats all athletes received, perfect for Halloween should we ever go as Fred or Barney. Warrior Dash also has jumped aboard the soft T-shirt craze with some sharp, fitted, navy blue shirts with the Warrior Dash helmet logo on the front. (Hopefully this will inspire Tough Mudder and Spartan Race to give out something other than fairly generic unisex numbers with a concert shirt-like race calendar on the back.)
The back of the Warrior Dash shirt reads “World’s Largest Running Series.” Tough Mudder is taking aim at that title. For now, Warrior Dash, which caused obstacle mud racing to blow up a year ago, shows no signs of slowing down.