Warrior Dash 2012, Illinois: Dollinger Family Farm

At the start of this year, I found out that Mike and Phil were entering an event called Warrior Dash – a 3.19 mile obstacle course that involved, fire, barbed wire, and copious amounts of water and mud.

Though I wasn’t interested in participating as a runner, I was still interested in going to document the event. I wrote in, and was able to get onto the media list. Which, I found out, involved me pretty much being able to wander the course on my own (which was pretty great).

The event itself took place in Channahon, IL at Dollinger Family Farm. Since we were going to be hanging out in Frankfort for Father’s Day, I ended up having to drag poor Liz with me, on the early drive down.

We left Chicago around 6AM, and got to the I-80 flea market a bit before they opened at 7AM. Unfortunately, I ended up having to ditch Liz there before her parents arrived, so that I could get out to the race before the first wave at 8:00 AM. I think from here on out, Liz may refer to this as “that time you abandoned me and my stuff, on the side of the road.”

Looking back, I’m glad I left when I did as traffic was just starting to build up outside the farm. I got to the entrance around 7:30 AM, but it took me a while to wind me way through the line of cars, park, and to find my way to the proper info booth where I could check in for my media pass. I did end up making it to the start of the 8:00 AM wave, with maybe 10 minutes to spare.

The main area was pretty huge – an enormous, open space with tons of tends and small booths. At several points, there were places clearly set up as photo-ops for participants.

A little before 8AM. There were lots of people, but as the morning progressed… it definitely got more crowded. Here’s one of the larger tents where people would be relaxing, post-race.

A very large pile of discarded shoes, courtesy of Green Sneakers – an organization that works to reuse/recycle donated footwear. I’m guessing that this pile was generated from the racers that participated the day before.

Walking towards the starting line for the 8AM wave, I spotted these two handsomely dressed gents. Awesome.

This is on the opposite side of the starting line, looking towards the runners.

A few of the pyrotechnic guys, looking over their setup.

A few minutes before the official start…

Propane tanks and fire extinguishers.

The guy on the left was getting the crowd warmed up, a few minutes before the race began. Here’s what the start looked like:

The guy checking his watch looks pretty hardcore.

Though things got queued up a bit (to help funnel the large crowd), by the time folks reached the first curve, they were able to pick up a little speed.

Throughout the morning, I’d see bursts of energy from participants when they saw me with a camera. Lots and lots of folks, really happy to be at the event and to be participating.

A shot of the flames at the starting gate.

You could definitely feel the warmth on your face, and each time it happened you would hear someone in the crowd yell out “woah.”

Back in the main area, and the first signs of smoke from the finish line.

Given the length of the course, my goal was to document the start of the first wave at 8AM, find Mike and Phil, then hopefully hitch a ride out to the first checkpoint. Mike and Phil’s start time wasn’t until 9AM, and I figured I might have enough of a head start to either catch them out on the course… or maybe, if I was lucky, catch them at the finish.

Two tutus.

The racers arrive! Near the main entrance, I happened to see my friends. L to R it’s Mike, Jorge, Phil and Charity.

Shortly after this, we parted ways as they went to register and I went to find myself a ride.

I’ll say this: there are a lot of people involved in the event. From medical staff to police/security, to a whole army of volunteers doing water and trash duty… it’s pretty massive. And everyone I spoke with was really nice and polite. When I asked about a ride at one of the volunteer booths, they said they could get me out to the first checkpoint… but that I’d need to wait.

Given the distance from the start to the first checkpoint, it seemed preferable to catch a ride versus trekking out there completely on foot. Looking back, I’m definitely glad I caught a ride out there.

As I was waiting around, I’d occasionally see a few folks in costume. Here’s a gentleman, straight out of the Colosseum. I half-wanted him to ask me Are you being entertained?

Another participant, dressed in warrior garb. Dig the duct tape holding each part together!

After a brief wait, a girl named Rachel gave me a ride over to the first checkpoint. The minivan she was driving was pretty covered in mud, there was a small carpet of bottled water on the floor of the passenger side. A lot of her job involved ferrying volunteers around, switching out people at various checkpoints, delivering water, etc.

Again, given all the work going on… I was happy to be able to have caught a ride. Before dropping me off, Rachel gave me her number and said to call if I wanted a lift back. Depending, of course, if she was in the area.

Here’s a map of the course. Note that the start/finish are all in the same large area… so the hardest part to me was getting out on the course itself, to the first checkpoint. After that, my goal was to simply travel the course myself, cutting through where I could to take photos at each station.

I’l say this: I think I hit things a little out of order, so what you’re about to see here won’t exactly match the official map. I’d just see an obstacle, take some shots, then walk over the next one I spotted.

First up: Mortimer’s Crossing – a rope bridge obstacle (the ladders are in case you fall in).

I waited around here for a bit, but seeing as it was already a little after 9AM, I got nervous and decided to not wait for people. I figured there would be a delay until the 9AM runners showed, and decided I should move on.

Throughout the course, real barbed wire was used. The obstacles would have warnings, but would also mark the wire with red ribbons.

The Trenches. It’s worth noting that the obstacles didn’t have their names posted anywhere that I could see, and I’m mostly comparing my photos with the website.

When I first arrived here, my initial thought was that people would have to crawl through the tunnels underneath the planks.

Red ribbons = barbed wire.

I was wrong about there not being people! A few minutes after I moved to this checkpoint, I started to see a constant flow of folks coming in. Here are two guys, walking across the planks.

At the time, there wasn’t anyone here at this obstacle… and so I thought I had the wrong impression of what people were supposed to do. Once the first person walked across the top, it kind of became this self-fulfilling thing where others would see it, and do the same.

In hindsight, I really do think people were supposed to crawl in the ground. Kind of funny how different people will look at the same thing, and see different obstacles (and different solutions to them).

One of many water stations throughout the course. At each one, there were typically two volunteers working pretty non-stop on keeping cups out and filled with water.

And at every one, the runners would all be yelling out things like “Awesome” and “You guys rock!” Though the morning had started out pretty cloudy, the sun broke through the clouds after 9AM and it got pretty brutal.

I think this was the Vertical Limit. Hand/foot holds are built into the inclined wall, and after you reach the top… there’s a pole you slide down.

Note the girl’s shoes: after simply walking around, mine were pretty clumped up with mud and straw (and rocks).

Folks making their way to the poles. As we were driving by, Rachel was laughing because people usually got really cautious at the top of this obstacle. She said it really wasn’t that high, but many people get spooked.

Here’s a wider shot of the obstacle. I’m sure that with my fear of heights, I’d be cautious too.

Storming Normandy. If people weren’t dirty by this point, there was no avoiding it. LOTS more barbed wire to contend with, and a pretty muddy patch to crawl through.

At several stations, there would be a loudspeaker with music… and ocassionally a photographer stationed (the guys in yellow). For the most part, I tried to stay out of their shots as much as I could.

Lots of red ribbons…

I decided to get low to the ground, and snapped a few shots of people as they pushed by. This was really fun.

I couldn’t tell 100%, but these three women were dressed pretty similarly. Triplets?

Vicious Valleys – a set of three angled walls people had to navigate.

Along the inside, there were planks where you could put your feet (and also barriers you had to move over).

Some folks used an approach where they had their hands on one side, and feet on another. That seemed to be a pretty good strategy here.

When I arrived at the Petrifying Pluge, it totally brought a smile to my face. Seeing all the water and how cool it must have felt, I was happy for the runners. As the sun continued to make things hotter, this seemed like a great obstacle (and a great chance to cool off).

The obstacle involved sliding down into a pool of water, then traversing a hill that was pretty muddy. I didn’t go all the way down, but made it to where folks were splashing and landing.

It may be dirty, but at least it’s water.

The top of the slide was deceptive, as I saw/heard more than one person nearly slip.

This was a really fun place to take photos, and I could have easily stayed here the rest of the day. The looks on people’s faces as they hit the water was awesome – a mixture of relief and dread and surprise, with a whole lot of laughter.

This guy was awesome.

Road Rage – lots of abandoned cars, side by side. I think that in the middle was a whole life of tires to get past.

There was a small traffic jam (sorry), with people making their way through the middle. Guy on the left decided to create his own lane, and bypassed a lot of people.

Another view of the obstacle.

I didn’t know it at the time, but this was the Hard Rain obstacle. There was a small pool of water people had to wade through, and then a wall to climb over. When I first arrived, the water was just gently trickling down. Note the guy in the red, working with the water lines.

There were planks to help people up on one side, and a kind of sheer and slight drop on the other.

Again, I think this obstacle was timed well as people got to cool off a bit more along the way.

Here’s a shot before the rain…

And here’s one, after the generator kicked in…

I seem to have been pacing well, and was kind of keeping up with this guy. I wasn’t 100% on the order of the obstacles, so it was kind of nice to see a few recurring faces in the crowds.

A tough, wet climb up.

This guy is looking pretty focused.

Over the top!

On the other side, people would have to grab one of the two rails, lower themselves and then let go. The distance was just enough so that people would fall a little bit, before hitting the bottom.

There were several volunteers stationed, and helped out if they saw anyone struggling.

The Great Warrior Wall.

Just including this one b/c I liked the shot.

Up and down, sun and shade.

Just past the wall, this trio celebrates. Not sure who the sword belongs to, though…

Chaotic Crossover. This wasn’t a particularly large obstacle, but it was pretty wide and looked tough to traverse.

I spotted a woman (far left) somehow walking over the entire thing, but not quite sure how she managed that.

Finishing the crossover.

Another group of happy participants (note the Lara Croft guns, far left).

Entrance to the woods. When I asked the volunteers if there was any part of the course where I’d get lost, and they mentioned this area. Normally, I’ve been cutting through the course to various spots… but with this section, I didn’t seem to have a good shortcut option. Additionally, it looked like pretty close quarters, so I felt like I would be getting in the way of people trying to get through quickly.

That, and I’m lazy.

So I called up Rachel to see where she was at, and found out she was nearby. We planned to meet at the nearest water station, so I headed back a ways.

When I arrived at the water station, I felt like doing more than just standing around. There were two women handling the cups, and I kind of just jumped in, trying to help out where I could. A few minutes later, I looked up and saw…

Mike! Looking good and smiling.

A little bit farther away, I spotted Charity, Phil and Jorge.

Everyone hydrating up.

Phil, taking a quick mini-shower.

Phil, not really saving that much water.

When Rachel pulled up, I helped unload some water and switched out some of the trash bags. Again, I felt bad just standing around… it felt like I should be earning my keep, given the free transportation.

On our way back, I snapped a few shots out the window. We ended up stopping near the Petrifying Pluge, and were really close to a guy laid out on his back. There were maybe 6-8 Emergency staff crowded around him, looking at his really dislocated ankle. At a certain point, they were working on cutting his shoe off his foot (I’m guessing to help relieve some of the swelling).

Without really thinking, I snapped a few shots and immediately felt pretty ghoulish. A few minutes later, one of the staff members politely asked that I not use photos of the injury, and I went ahead and deleted them from my camera. It felt wrong to showcase someone suffering like that.

Suffice it to say, injuries can and do happen. There are a lot of areas that were slick due to water and mud, and the way debris builds into your shoes… I can easily see several points where people might slip or get off balance. When our car made its way to the main road, there was already an ambulance there with its stretcher out, and two paramedics in wait. Seeing this was really assuring – even when things didn’t go as planned, event staff were really on top of things.

Driving back to the main area, I talked a bit more with Rachel and found out she’d been working non-stop. Throughout the day, there are waves of runners every 30 minutes, with about 550 people per wave. Per wave! According to her, yesterday they saw about 27,000 participants. Rachel was up at 4AM, and went to sleep yesterday night at 11PM. Earlier this morning, she was up again at 4AM to prep the area.

“It’s a good thing they give us free energy drinks,” she joked.

Here’s a pic of Rachel, who was nice enough to ferry me around the course amidst a host of her other (real) responsibilities.

Walking towards the finish line, I spotted these three dressed in full warrior garb. Check out those shinguards!

A cooling station, where people could get clean after finishing the event.

I really wished I could have popped in there, as it was pretty hot. Check out the awesome runner on the far right, cooling down with the spray and her victory beer.

Just another day at the office, hosing down muddy people…

Two participants, post-race, drinking some water and watching the finish.

The final challenge is called Muddy Mayhem, and involves water, mud, and… you guessed it: more barbed wire. No one really walks out of the thing without being totally drenched, head to toe.

If I decide to do this, I really need to figure out how this would work with glasses. Maybe I’d need to keep just my upper head above water, like the person on the far left.

The goal is to get past each row of wire, typically by ducking your head underwater.

Folks sliding in. I love how the red ribbons have lost all semblance of color, and are just totally caked over with mud.

And this guy, again! With a surprising majority of his costume, still held in place. This encounter was really funny in that we both spotted one another at around the same time. He didn’t say anything, but just kind of pointed both fingers at me. We both and this “Hey, I remember you” moment. Hysterical and awesome.

Diving in…

A view of the final stretch, as participants make their way towards the finish.

I walked past the final obstacles, and grabbed a few shots of the Cargo Climb.

This one seemed just a little higher than the previous up/down obstacles.

Over the top, with an eye towards the finish line.

The next-to-last obstacle: the Warrior Roast.

While not terribly difficult, it’s definitely one of the most photogenic points of the entire race. People rounding the corner see the flames, and there’s typically a big burst of energy as everyone leaps over the fire.

The home stretch. The Muddy Mayhem area is directly behind where I’m standing.

Hand in hand.

Literally, I could spend the entire day at this checkpoint, watching people’s expressions and antics.

The look of happiness on people’s faces was a great thing to see.

You know what this obstacle reminded me of? Airports, and recent arrivals. It’s the look on people’s faces when they see someone they’ve been expecting, and everything just lights up when their loved ones come into view. There’s a kind of celebratory exuberance that’s really infectious, and especially here on the course… you feel plugged into it, even as a spectator. I found myself laughing out loud a lot, and unable to stop smiling.

There’s a little bit of mud, just past the finish line.

I lucked out and found Mike, cleaned of mud with a medal around his neck.

Mike and Jorge. Unfortunately, I didn’t get to see Phil and Charity, as they had already taken off.

I would have loved to have photographed them at the finish, completely covered in mud… but alas, I think I just a little too late, by the time I returned to the main grounds. Still though, I’m happy I got to see everyone at the start, and midway through the event.

I am a terrible runner, but after seeing today’s obstacles… I’m definitely tempted to do this next year. I’m not too concerned about any of the checkpoints per se, it’s just mostly being able to run for that long of a distance.

Fun fun day today, and pretty exhausting (even though I didn’t run the course). I’m looking forward to seeing other people’s photos from the events, as I’m imagining more people would be in costume later on in the day. I spotted at least one guy who had a GoPro camera contraption on his person, and can only imagine how cool that video will be.

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This Post Has 7 Comments

  1. That looks intense and fun!! You should do it, Felix!

    Layla Reply

  2. You should definitely do it! You can run with us!

    Mike Reply

  3. Felix,
    This is a great blog about the Warrior Dash. We are so proud of Mike and Jorge, along with Phil, Charity, Eddie and Jackie. You saw so much more than we were allowed to see. Thanks for sharing!
    Joyce E.

    Joyce Englebrecht Reply

  4. Thanks for sharing Felix! I wished we were able to see more – and now we can. Way to go Warriors, so proud of you Mike! CE

    Christine Englebrech Reply

  5. Felix great blog and you connected with the whole feeling surrounding this event and that this is a great function for the St. Judes Childrens Hospital. You should have gone into the forest that was fun and the last obsticale before the cargo netting is pulling yourself up the muddy hill. Thanks for sharing

    Jim Bennett Reply

  6. Do you still have any of those pics of the injured guy with the dislocated ankle? That was probably me and I would like to have those if you have any to see how bad it was

    Mike Reply

    • Hi Mike – actually, after one of the organizers asked me not to include the photos as part of my recap, I decided to delete the few photos I took right then and there.

      I felt a bit ghoulish taking those photos, and when I saw the look on the face of the woman waiting with you and the paramedics… it just felt wrong. Sorry to say, I don’t have any photos of your injury.

      That said, I hope you’re doing better. From what little I saw, it looked like a really rough injury, and I do hope you’re on the way to a full recovery.

      avoision Reply

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