CHANNAHON — With mid-week rain in the form of a powerful derecho soaking the grounds of Dollinger Family Farm, the general visitor experience would have been a bit messy at the 161-year-old family plot.
Luckily for the nearly 35,000 people in attendance, getting a little bit sloppy was part of the plan this weekend.
Now in its third year at Dollinger Farm, Warrior Dash has quickly become one of the most popular events in the mud-running industry, a phenomenon that is growing at an unbelievable pace and taking distance running to an all new, and dirty, extreme. Hosted by Red Frog Events, a production company started in 2007, the Warrior Dash is a five-kilometer (3.1-mile) obstacle course.
However, it’s also a lot more than a race.
“We definitely like to embrace the party atmosphere of the event,” race director and self-appointed “Master of Magic” Kelly North said. “We have a deejay and a live band set up, and there’s a beer tent and it’s just a fun time … the traditional Warrior Dash shot is when someone has finished and they’re all covered in mud with their horns on and they’re drinking a beer. That’s when you know you’re a warrior.”
Over 20,000 people participated this year, heading out in waves of 500 every half hour from 8 a.m. until 6 p.m. on both Saturday and Sunday. The remaining 15,000 or so spectators watched on from an area that looked onto the final three obstacles: a fire pit, a row of mud-soaked hills and a water-logged trench under barbed wire that you have to slog through to reach the finish.
For Morris native Rachel Tabler, having a support system that included her running partner Sylvia and several members of her family watching on from the spectator’s area served as added motivation.
“It’s awesome because if I did this by myself, I don’t think I would actually be like amped to do it. The support of your friends and family mean everything at an event like this,” Tabler said.
Tabler heard about the race last year, and after having a baby, she decided to join a gym and lost nearly 40 pounds in an effort to train for Warrior Dash 2013. She didn’t have a time in mind for a goal, hoping instead simply to finish the grueling run.
She did, however, look forward to the complimentary beer all runners of legal age get at the end of the race.
“I am definitely looking forward to the intermittent obstacles. I’m not a run solid type girl, so I’m looking forward to those breaks,” She joked. “I can’t wait to finish my beer at the end.”
Out on the course, Tabler and the other tens of thousands of runners face several obstacles, both natural and man-made en route to completion.
The landscape of Dollinger Farm provides several elevation changes that, combined with the rain from earlier in the week, turned into mud-slides going down and sloppy rope climbs coming back up.
Of course, there is an element of danger to such a run, and there were injuries. However, that’s become a hazard of the mud-run industry, and several local EMS were on hand, stationed throughout the course.
“We obviously want everyone to stay safe and have a good time, but people are going to twist ankles at an event like this. You saw earlier that we had emergency medical service on the spot in seconds,” North said after a girl was injured traversing one of the courses man-made obstacles.
In addition to all the EMTs, fire department staff and police in attendance to help put on the event, Warrior Dash was also staffed by 18-20 full-time staff members from Red Frog and around 200 volunteers, 100 on each day.
They worked the tents in the festival area, ran water stations out on the course, collected parking money and did a number of other things to help make the event go smoothly. It’s an integral part of the Warrior Dash experience, and there are now 49 races across the United States and in five different countries.
“We like to call everyone here a part of our Warrior Dash family,” North said.
Shortly after the races were over on Sunday evening, the family gathered around and packed everything away for the next event in Hastings, Minn. on June 29.
“It’s funny because it takes five days to set this all up and five hours to take down,” North concluded.