Like most guys I like to think of myself as a "warrior." The fact that my only battle these days is an ongoing struggle with a poop filled kitty liter box doesn't matter. Move my birthday back a few hundred years and in my mind I'm right there next to William Wallace, battle ax in hand, charging across some mud covered Scottish field. So when my buddy Brian casually mentioned he was running in a race called "The Warrior Dash," naturally I was intrigued.
A quick glance at the "Warrior Dash 2010" website, which describes the race as "fire leaping,mud crawling,beer drinking,run from hell," and I was hooked. My mind quickly filled with visions of me and my mud covered buddies at the finish line celebrating our victory with our complimentary "warrior" mugs full of German beer and free gigantic "warrior" turkey legs. In fact, now that I think of it all of my thoughts about the race involved celebrating when it was over.
At no time did I actually think about what running the race entailed. Let's just call that mistake number one. I saw the race was being held at Windham, a ski slope in the Catskills, but for some reason it never occurred to me that we would actually be running up the mountain. Mistake number two. When we went to check in I learned that the awesome looking "warrior" helmets with horns that I thought we got as part of signing up for the race, were only for the winners. My "warrior" helmet was a cheap black terry cloth number with two pitiful looking cotton horns. Oh and the cool "warrior" beer mug and free turkey legs weren't free.
As I looked up at the mountain looming over the starting line I realized those pre race disappointments were the least of my worries. Ahead of me lay a 3.23 mile course the first two miles of which went straight up the mountain. If that wasn't hard enough there were 13 military style obstacles along the way with ominous names like the "tunnel of terror," and "slithering swamp." The highlight was a huge mud slide at the finish line followed by a jump over a fire pit aptly named the "warrior roast." Standing in back of hundreds of people lined up for the start of the race, I got my first look at some of the other "warriors."
I was definitely one of the oldest guys there which is never a good sign. Some over achievers had on elaborate "warrior" outfits with kilts and face paint. One guy had on a full blown Tigger the Tiger costume. I was wondering what I had got myself into when a loud roar ripped through the crowd and before I knew it the race was on. It's funny how quickly running up a mountain can curb your enthusiasm. After a couple of hundred yards people started dropping back. About a mile up I saw the guy with the Tigger costume off to the side of the trail bent over with his hands on his knees. He had ripped his mud soaked tiger outfit halfway off his body and looked miserable. Somehow that cheered me up and I picked up the pace a little bit. After a final steep climb that crushed and extracted the last remnant of enthusiasm from us like grapes, we were at the summit.
We now faced a mile and a half run down a ski slope with obstacles thrown in along the way. I should mention at this point that I have had four major knee operations. I tell you this because after my last one a couple of years ago I asked my doctor if I could play basketball. He told me the knee was fine and I could do anything I wanted adding with a laugh "just don't go running down any mountains kiddo." As I started to run down the mountain pain seared through my knees and I thought of the chuckle my doctor and I would share in the operating room just before he cut my knee open for a fifth time.
"Warrior what?" he'd say trying not to laugh through his surgical mask.
"Dash...warrior dash," I would say my voice fading from the anesthesia ."I got a warrior helmet and turkey leg," I'd say already hallucinating about the turkey leg being free.
I really didn't have time to ponder this thought though because straight ahead lay the "slithering swamp." The chest deep ice cold mud water was a different kind of pain and it actually took my confused brain a few seconds to recognize it. Coming out of the water I thought of the "Seinfeld" episode where Elaine walks in on George while he is changing and to George's dismay learns about the term "shrinkage."
A bruised ego though was hardly my most serious injury. At this point my knees were numb from the constant pounding and for good measure I had pulled my hamstring going over the cargo net. As I limped down the mountain I looked over at my longtime friends and fellow "warriors" Brian, Dave and Morgan. They, like me, were all covered in mud, and like me all of them were hurting. Looking at them, I realized two things. The first was that we were idiots. The second was that sometimes it's fun to be an idiot. Let's face it as you get older life changes.
All of us are married, all of us have demanding jobs, mortgages, all of the responsibilities and pressures that come with being an "adult." Yet here we were running down a ski slope. Why? It is a question my wife would ask me days later. How can you explain why we do the stupid things we do? I imagine at one point the guy wearing the " Tigger the Tiger" costume actually thought that was a good idea too. I guess doing stupid things is part of the human condition. It's also, in a world that constantly demands more and more of you, fun as hell.
The race was almost over now. Coming out of the tree line we could see the crowd down below. A final steep quarter mile stretch of mountain was all that stood between us and the final two obstacles at the finish line. We paused and a for a moment there was silence. Three girls dressed like the mannequins from the "Old Navy" commercials looked nervously at us as they passed. We hardly noticed them. We were in the zone and knew what we needed to do. With a yell we took off down the mountain. Laughing as the cold wind whipped against our faces.