A Warrior Dash is coming to Kentucky for the first time this year and I have taken it upon myself to convince as many people to enter it as possible. While I am an unabashed Spartan Race fan, I credit the 2011 Logan Ohio Warrior Dash for getting me (and my wife) hooked on obstacle course racing. I want to see this sport grow in Kentucky so that I don’t have to spend hundreds of my dollars just to travel to a race. I already know the questions that I will be getting (and already have been getting) from those agreeing to race and rather than keep repeating myself, I’m going to write it all here. Based on my 2 Warrior Dashes and 3 Spartan Races, here is my advice on how to prepare for the Warrior Dash. I’ve separated into sections depending on what your goal is. Take my advice or leave it.
Just running for fun and aren’t concerned about winning or placing: Read this section
There are lots of people who participate in Warrior Dashes just for the experience and the opportunity to get a really cool Facebook profile picture. You don’t need a lot of training to complete this race. It is only 5K and the running is broken up with the obstacles. However, you should still get your body used to this type of thing so that you don’t wake up Sunday morning feeling like horses trampled on you. First, forego the treadmill and head outside to run some. Whenever possible, run in the grass, dirt, gravel, and even mud. You’re not going to be running on a street/sidewalk/treadmill in the WD, so get used to it. Run up and down and across hills. The terrain at these types of races vary, but the best races don’t have a lot of flat running. It’s okay if your shoes get dirty (running shoes were made to run in, not as fashion statements). Ease into the distances if you don’t already run. Run every 2 or 3 days until you can easily get through 3.5 miles.
The race isn’t just about running as you will have different obstacles to contend with. You can see a list of obstacles on the Warrior Dash event site. None of the obstacles are overly difficult and if you can’t complete them, then there is nothing (except your conscience) stopping you from going around them. You’ll need some upper body strength to pull yourself up the ropes and over the little walls. Push-ups, pull-ups, and some simple chest presses and curls will get y0u ready. If you can’t do push-ups and pull-ups, then modify them. I’m not going to explain the modifications. Do a Google search. Maybe even more important than upper body strength is core strength. Almost all of the obstacles will engage your core. The stronger you are in the core, the easier the obstacles will be. Planks, mountain climbers, and crunches are just 3 of literally hundreds of core exercises. Do another Google search to find more.
Finally, work on your flexibility. Spend lots of time stretching and yoga (even if you’re a guy). Nimbleness is probably more important than strength in the Warrior Dashes. One really good yoga routine for beginners is Tony Horton’s Ho Ala ke Kino yoga. It is a nice and easy workout for beginners.
Those competing against others (or themselves): Read this section
While the Warrior Dash isn’t difficult, you can still push your body and mind by competing to win or simply trying to finish as fast as you can. I am not a “runner” and I had no idea how I would do in my first Warrior Dash. I just wanted to go as fast as I could and was surprised when I finished in the top 2.5% of the 10,000 runners that day. While some people will have a great time running for fun, I just can’t do that. If I’m not racing, then it isn’t worth it to me. So, how do you train to compete? I should reword that to say “how do I train to compete?” While there are several “not so good” ways to train, there is no single “best” way to train. This is what works for me. Others do what works for them and I’ve included some links to those athletes and their training methods. You should do what works for you. Fellow Spartan racer (a great one at that) and friend, Chris Rutz, has an awesome website. Here is his page on training for obstacle races. Keep in mind that his training advice is for the longer, more difficult events, but it you’re prepared for those then you’ll do great in a WD.
Obviously, there is running. The Warrior Dash is a speed race, not endurance, so you need to be able to burst out of the gate and keep a fast pace. If you are already a fast runner then you have a good base, but there are lots of fast runners that don’t perform at the top of the pack of obstacle races. The terrain sometimes don’t permit runners to find that “zone” where the pace is steady. There are lots of stops and starts. The ability to get through an obstacle that may require bursts of energy and then take off sprinting again is crucial for placing. As stated, earlier upper body power and core strength is important. This is not about how much you can bench press or how much you can squat. It is about functional strength, agility and power. I am a Team Beachbody coach and train regularly with P90X, P90X2, Insanity, and Asylum. These are the perfect types of programs for Warrior Dashes. They are not bulking programs, but focused on creating lean, powerful, agile bodies. Insanity and Asylum are especially good at increasing your VO2 max, which enables you to run faster. If I could only train with one program for a Warrior Dash, it would be Asylum hands-down. It is extremely challenging and trains your body and mind to compete at fast and high levels. I usually don’t promote my Beachbody products on this blog, but they are truly my base for obstacle course racing. Should you decide to use and/or purchase one or more of them from me, I am available to coach you through them…answer questions, encourage, motivate, etc.
In addition to these programs, I run hill sprints (30-60 second bursts of speed up a hill, brief cool-down, and then repeat). I also incorporate weighted vests, carrying sandbags and even small logs into my running regimen. Bear crawls are great, as are a lot of the CrossFit training programs. Finally, I will sometimes utilize the Spartan Workout of the Day to guide my training. I typically have 3 strength days per week, separated by a day of yoga, 2 intense cardio (or running) days, and a recovery/rest day. As time permits, I extend my workouts by adding extra core work, burpees, or hill sprints. It is extremely important to train your whole body, but to also let your body recover periodically. Whatever you choose, train consistently, train intensely, and push yourself every single time. I intentionally think about the race ahead and push myself as if each training session dictates my future performance.
I’m not going to elaborate in this post about the importance of nutrition and sleep. Let me leave it at this. If you don’t fuel your body properly (no junk, cut the sugar, cut the saturated fats, limit grain-based carbodyhdrates) and don’t allow it to rest, then your training performance will suffer…and ultimately your race performance.
What about the day of the race? (this is for everyone)
Now that you have an idea of how to train, what are some of the important things to know about race day? I found out most of these the hard way. Learn from my mistakes.
Allow plenty of time to park, get to the race site, pick up your bib numbers, check your bags, etc… I personally plan to be parking my car at least 1.5 hours before my heat. The races are really well-organized and the booths are well-marked. Find the race packet pickup area first to get your bib and timing chip. The timing chip will go on your shoelaces. Make sure you bring a signed waiver and a form of ID.
Wear cool, tight-fitting, light-weight clothing. You are going to get wet and muddy and don’t want to be weighted down by your clothes. No cotton. Compression and running shorts are good. Wear trail-running shoes. Tie them tightly and/or double-knot them. Many a shoe has been lost in a mud pit. The lighter the shoe and the more traction they have the better. My friend, and obstacle racer extraordinaire Margaret Schlacter, wrote a fabulous post about what to wear to obstacle races. This is a must-read! Finish reading this post and then go read hers.
You’re going to get muddy….really muddy and want to change clothes afterwards…at least for the drive home. Bring garbage bags, wash cloths, and towels. I recommend bringing a few gallons of water too. The “showers” at the Warrior Dashes are less than sufficient for getting clean.
Bring a bag to check your belongings (keys, cash, sunglasses, etc.). Don’t even think about running with an ipod.
Drink plenty of water the days leading up to and the day of the race. To go along with the water-drinking, use the bathroom right before you line-up. You don’t want to be hampered by that basic biological function.
You might want to bring some antibiotic spray and band-aids. Let’s just say that I have had my share of injuries and infections after these types of races. That reminds me. I need to get a Tetanus shot!
This next part is important (at least to some of us)
Choose your starting position in the race. People usually start gathering as soon as the previous heat takes off. Warrior Dashes have up to 500 people going off at once, so the line gets really deep. The races are chip-timed, so your clock doesn’t start until your cross the starting line.
If you want to compete, line-up near the front. If you’re not competing, then please line up further back. Some obstacle races quickly go to single-pass trails making it important to not get behind slower runners if competing. It’s okay if you’re a slower runner, just place yourself at mid-point or further back and let the faster runners get out in front of you.
As the race progresses, you will likely encounter runners from the previous heat (if you’re fast) or runners who started after you (if you’re slow). If you need to pass someone, give them a verbal warning that you’re coming behind them and are going to pass on the left (or right). Be nice about it. If someone wants to pass you, let them. Intentionally or unintentionally getting in the way of faster runners is called “clock-blocking“. That is bad. Don’t do it!
Finally, have fun! The Warrior Dash is just an all-around fun event that can be enjoyed by serious racers and those who just want to participate in the festivities. You may hear others talk about how much more difficult a Spartan Race is or that Tough Mudders are better, but they are all 3 very different events. The Warrior Dash is what it is, so make the most of it!
I’m always willing to answer questions if you have them. You can find my information on the Contact Me page.