I watched YouTube videos in horror, my heart palpitating as men without shirts leapt over fire, as women with buff Adonis legs and gleaming six-pack abs scaled ropes and swigged beer as if they were actual Vikings.
"Wow," said a friend who saw the video. "You're going to die."
"Thanks," I said. "I know."
In the annals of "what did I just agree to do?" the Warrior Dash ranked pretty high. For the past two years, friends had participated in the Warrior Dash, an annual 5K obstacle course known for its outrageous stunts, fuzzy warrior helmets and muddy, messy outcome. Year after year, they insisted it was so much fun, that it wasn't that hard, that anyone could do it as long as you used mind over matter. For me, it would have to be that way. My "matter" is about five feet tall and generally not athletic. I'd done a handful of 5Ks, but never considered doing a longer race, let alone one with obstacles.
My eternally optimistic friends, though, wore me down with their enthusiasm and cute group photos. This year, my boyfriend and I agreed to give it a try. We registered online and paid the $70 fee, which included race entry, a warrior helmet, shirt, medal and a free beer. Vital.
The Warrior Dash is put on by Red Frog Events all over the country and world. This year's lineup included two races in Florida, one near Orlando in Lake Wales and one in North Florida's Live Oak. We trekked to the latter and rented a house on a lake near charming small-town Madison.
The night before, we stayed up making costumes. See, people at the Warrior Dash get really into outfits. My friends had gone before as cavemen, then as the Village People. This year, we would be DC Comic superheroes. I chose Supergirl, and my boyfriend was Aquaman. Yes, we were two of the weakest super heroes in history. Figured.
The next morning, we drove out to a wide-open field and chugged some Red Bull. If we were hyper enough, maybe we wouldn't feel pain. We signed away our lives on a waiver, checked in and lined up for the race. The run started. I jogged. Hey, this wasn't so bad! This was just like the gym! This was...
Oh. We got to the first obstacle, a series of high (for me) hurdles to push over, then barbed wire to crawl under. It took all, and I mean all, the strength in my sad upper body to get over those hurdles. I wasn't going to finish if the whole race was this hard. There was no way.
But Warrior Dash is tricky that way. The next few obstacles were easy, including walking through a maze of hanging tires and weaving through a stack of wooden posts. No sweat! Completing those things got my confidence back up. My Supergirl cape blew in the breeze. I was good!
We walked a balance beam that went up and down, and a lady with one eye – yes, one eye – walked in front of us and nailed it. We crab-crawled through a rope net, and a woman with a large posterior remarked how great her butt served to keep her from falling through the holes. There were regular people doing this. Not just scary Olympians.
We scaled wooden hills and rock walls, then jumped on a fireman pole and slid down to the ground. We balanced on tight ropes and crawled through dirty fox holes. My Supergirl makeup, I was proud to say, stayed intact for it all. My red tights were starting to get worse for wear, but that was all part of the Warrior Dash's dirty charm.
When we had energy we ran, and when we got tired, we walked. I was actually glad to see the obstacles when they arrived, because it meant I could stop for a minute and catch my breath. We scaled old, broken-down cars, and I almost put my foot through a decayed dash board.
The piece de resistance was the fire jumping. Everyone online has pictures of it. Everyone has videos of it. It looks scary. But honestly, once you've climbed dozens of rope-wood-rock things, it is no big deal. The Superheroes, plus a stranger we picked up along the way who looked like she needed friends, joined hands and jumped together.
Since Warrior Dash's organizers are clearly twisted, they didn't let us stop there. Before we could cross, we had to swim through a giant pit of mud. It actually felt kind of cool and refreshing, and it was fun to get unapologetically dirty.
I finished in 52:49.55. I came in 925th out of 1148 in my age group. Not exactly Usain Bolt material. But I finished!
After the race we all got together for muddy-buddy pictures. Some of my friends went to a changing tent on site to hose down and swap their dirty clothes, but I hung out for a while in mine. There was something really liberating about being disgusting, about swilling my free beer and eating a turkey leg while dripping with mud. The race awoke some primal warrior in me.
We walked around, danced to booming music from the DJ, took pictures with other racers, including a nearly nude Batman and a girl in a Kill Bill-style yellow jumpsuit. My shoes were dirty beyond repair, so I tied them together and donated them to a big pile for the Green Sneakers charity. Green Sneakers cleans them up and donates them to people in need.
At the end of the day I was exhausted. I was sore. I was ready for a long, delicious shower. But I had done things I never thought I was capable of doing, and that helped to ease the pain.
And good news: Next year's Central Florida race has already been announced for Feb. 2, 2013 in Lake Wales. We're already thinking about our next costumes.
Find out more and register at warriordash.com.
This story first appeared on VISITFLORIDA.com