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Kings Mountain, North Carolina, United States
"A mind lively and at ease" is a blog by a first-generation Russian-Ukrainian immigrant Maria K. (Maria Igorevna Kuroshchepova). An engineer by education, an analyst by trade, as well as a writer, photographer, artist and amateur model, Maria brings her talent for weaving an engaging narrative to stories of life, fashion and style advice, book and movie reviews, and common-sense and to-the-point essays on politics and economy.

Friday, April 17, 2015

The skinny on Warrior Dash

Why do it?

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A very legitimate question, that, since one must wonder why hundreds of people get together and spend half of their precious weekend to crawl through mud and climb over tall walls. First of all, it's for a good cause. Warrior Dash proceeds go to St. Jude's hospitals - directly to research and treatment of cancer in children. If you participate in one of the St. Jude's Warriors waves, you get to contribute a little extra and get a few perks after the race (like a free beer, a separate gear check station, and a separate shower - which is a REALLY precious commodity at the Dash). Shoes donated by some of the warriors are cleaned using an innovative, environmentally friendly process (I've seen how some of them come out - they look almost new!) and donated to neighborhood and school sports programs, where families cannot afford to buy their kids decent athletic shoes.

Second, it's a way to find out what you are capable of. Sure, there are some hard-core participants, who have Warrior Dash annual membership (yes, there is such a thing), and run several of these competitively every year. There are many army and marine participants - they always have fun with it. But those are actually in the minority. Most participants are ordinary people of all ages, sizes, and fitness levels. They sign up for the fun, for the challenge, and for something out of the mainstream they can share with their families and friends. Besides, when else do respectable, grownup people have a chance to play in the mud and climb fences?

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How to prep?

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That is really a personal choice. Some people don't train at all. Some train a little. Some train like it's the Olympics. My first Warrior Dash (Huntersville, NC in 2014) was very challenging despite some prior training (such as long distance walking and weight lifting). I had a busted ankle and was recovering from the summer flu, which meant I couldn't run, was constantly running out of breath and overheating. In 2015 (Mountain City, GA), my goal was to run the entire event (3 miles) and take all the obstacles (12). To that end, I spent most of the year between the two events running at various speeds and through various terrains, including hills. I continued lifting weights, but also took up zumba and yoga to improve my endurance and stamina. Both helped, but not enough to fulfill my goals 100%.

Due to heavy rains the week preceding the 2015 event, the track was moved and upgraded from "moderately hilly" to "mountainous". Even the Warrior Dash veterans acknowledged the first mile of the Dash was murder - it was entirely uphill, jumping over rocks and fallen tree trunks. All but the toughest gave up on running that bit. There was a lot less mud compared to the 2014 Huntersville event, but a lot more water and climbing. As the event took place in April, in the mountains, a 200-yard swim across a very cold lake make moving challenging - let alone pulling yourself up and over some of the walls. The real bear for me came with the 20-foot "Warrior Wall" - the one obstacles I couldn't scale despite the help from my husband and other participants. The post-swim muscles simply refused to operate.

Lessons learned - I need to add climbing to my training. In the next year I plan to take advantage of the excellent climbing wall at one if the YMCAs in the area, as well as work on rope climbing and developing the muscles for pulling myself up. I plan to continue running, zumba, and yoga for the simple reason they are fun and good for me.

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What to bring?

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This depends a lot on the event - each one is unique. When you sign up, you'll start getting regular e-mails with the information about the event. READ THEM. Carefully. Yes, of course, there is some stuff in there just for fun, but most of the information is really important and useful. The one thing that is common across all the events is the waiver. Let's face it - Warrior Dash is a tough, gritty, somewhat dangerous athletic event. The waiver is important for protecting both the organizers and the participants. ...Especially in America where people file lawsuits for spilling coffee on themselves. Print out, read through, and sign your waiver the day before the event, put it with your stuff, and have it ready.

Between Huntersville and Mountain City, we got to see two formats of the event. In Huntersville, the parking was right there, next to the event site. So, you could leave most of your gear in the car and just keep your key (sealed in a plastic bag, in a zipped pocket, pinned close to make sure you don't lose it). In Mountain City, the parking was off site, you could bring your stuff with you, but you had to check it.

In Huntersville, the post-race Warrior Wash was a firetruck with a big hose, so there was no guarantee who will get how much water if at all - definitely not enough to rinse off. So, we had with us a camp shower, a portable camp shower tent, and three large containers of water to clean up after the race. In Mountain City, the Warrior Wash was at the lake. While ice-cold, it was a much better way to get the mud off. There were also showers for St. Jude's Warriors, as well as changing stations to get into dry clothes.

The point is - figure out your shower arrangements based on the format of the race, and bring supplies accordingly. Aside from that, you'll need a towel, a set of clean dry clothes, and toiletries. Obviously,you'll still want a REAL shower when you get home - nobody ever gets fully clean at the Dash site, that's just a given.

Keep hydrated before the race - all the way up to the point of the race. If you are like me and have a small bladder, bring athletic gel snacks and pop one just before you have to run. The taste is usually not bad, but they feel vile - like eating a bit of Bog of Eternal Stench, but they will keep you going. There are water stations right around each mile marker. If you tend to overheat, grab two cups at the station - one to drink, and one to pour on your head. It does help. If you absolutely don't think you can go an entire mile without sipping on something, find one of the smaller flexible water containers you can strap to your shoulder. Make sure it doesn't get in the way and can't get caught on anything (barbed wire is a common part of some of the obstacles.)

While there's beer and giant turkey legs to be had after the race, consider having another gel pack handy to swallow right after the finish - there will be some time between finishing the race, cleaning up, and finally getting to the food tent.

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What to wear?

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Once again - a matter of personal preference. Some people wear bare minimum (like bikinis). Some people wear costumes. Some wear wet suits. Most fall somewhere in between. Here is what worked for me - I pretty much kept my attire the same two years in a row: a techno-fabric sports top to keep the boobies strapped in, a light tee over that (incidentally, Warrior Dash tees you get are PERFECT for this - they use this amazing, light, breathable fabric, that is just great!), Jockey Skimmies, capri-length techno-fabric workout pants. The pants have a zipped pocket in the back, and that's where I carried my pedometer in a sealed bag. The capri length helped protect my knees from some of the sharp rocks and grit - although crawling over the rope netting was still pretty rough. Amazingly, while I incurred some scrapes and bruises, nothing I wore got torn or even snagged. I wore Fila Skele-Toes with five-toe socks underneath both years. The socks were REALLY helpful in keeping the dirt away from my feet and in helping my shoes stay on while slogging through the mud.

My husband wore running shorts and a tee last year, but opted for a long-sleeve techno fabric shirt this year, because it was chilly. It started out well, but worked against him after the lake swim, because the long sleeve took longer to dry. He wore trail running sneakers in all four events he did, and his favorites so far are The North Face Ultra MT.

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What to expect?

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Expect to push yourself. Expect not to be perfect. Most of all, expect to have fun. Of course, you can study the course in advance and see what sort of obstacles you'll get, but, honestly, nothing fully prepares you, until you are there. There will be lots of really exhilarated, really loud people - often with painted faces - and that's ok. During the Dash, you might feel someone's hand under your butt, pushing you up, or someone grabbing you by the arm to help you up an obstacle - that's ok too. Don't panic, it's very common. Total strangers, who might never agree on anything in real life, help each other out during the Warrior Dash, because, as things to have in common go - this is a BIG one.

Don't get discouraged if you can't scale an obstacle or if you don't scale it in the most graceful way. There are lots of other people there who have the same problem. Be in the moment, grunt, roar, cuss, do whatever you have to do - whatever works.

My zumba instructor told me something interesting recently. Apparently, it is not at all uncommon for people of average fitness levels to get addicted to things like Warrior Dash - for the very reason that it requires cross-training, and you get to do lots of different things. Based on that, if you do this once, chances are you'll want to do it again, and bring your friends with you. You'll blabber about it constantly. You'll describe it as the hardest and most awesome thing you've ever done in your life. And that's ok too. See you next year, warriors!

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