by Will Bryant

HUNTERSVILLE – It was two days after I paid the $50 fee for the Warrior Dash in Huntersville that I learned of its lethal and tragic history.

The Warrior Dash, a 5k race that is advertised as a “mud-crawling, fire-leaping, extreme run from hell,” saw two of its participants die and 57 people treated on site for symptoms of heat exhaustion at its race in Kansas City on July 31.

That same weekend, at the Warrior Dash in Flint, Michigan, a 21-year-old man was paralyzed from the neck down after jumping headfirst into the course’s barbwire mud pit.

My first thought: panic.

What had I gotten myself into? How could the thought of running 3.08 miles while jumping over mounds of fire and crawling through mud on my hands and knees persuaded me to sign up for such an event?

My friends and family were equally, if not more, concerned. Talking to my mother made me feel as if I had contracted some life-threatening illness.

“What if you die?” she screamed at me through the telephone. And then she took to offering money so I wouldn’t run the race. First, she offered me $50. Then, after I refused to give in, she upped the ante to $100.

Much to her dismay, I still refused her offer. With so much danger and curiosity surrounding the first Warrior Dash in the Carolinas, how could I not participate?

Organizers reported 13,500 people had signed up for the race. The Warrior Dash was coming – and I heard its warrior call.

Fast forward a few weeks later, and I and my good friend Alex Walters stood at the forefront of an army of 500 warriors at Huntersville’s Rural Hill. Waves of 500 warriors left the starting line every 30 minutes from 9 a.m. until 4:30 p.m. that day. Luckily, I had gained a spot at the 9:30 wave, a stride ahead of the Carolinas heat that was sure to make an appearance later that afternoon.

Massive cannons spouting towers of flame shot 10 feet into the air as we left the starting line. Like many of the warrior-runners around me, I wasn’t dressed in normal athletic garb. Instead, I donned my favorite “Go America” red sleeveless shirt, complemented by my American flag bandana and a burly four-month beard that would make even Chuck Norris blush.

As ridiculous as I looked, my outfit was amateur at best. Along the route, I passed warriors sporting Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle outfits, Legends of the Hidden Temple costumes and – my personal favorite – an American soldier wearing full-fatigues, helmet and gas mask.
Running along side the soldier as his gas mask struggled to keep up with his labored breathing was akin to taking a morning jog with Darth Vader. But I did not linger long beside this brave runner. I had to push on. The force was strong with this one.

The 3.08-mile course featured 12 obstacles standing between me and the finish line. Along the way, I climbed 20-foot cargo nets, shimmied up and over a 15-foot wall using only a rope and waded through a pond that I am pretty sure contained more cow poop than water. The last bit of the race featured the 30-foot mud crawl, where warriors army-crawled beneath strands of barbed wire in a pool of thick, brown mud.

Upon running through the finish line, I looked down at my clothes and realized that I was soaked and covered head-to-toe in mud.

Dirty doesn’t come close to describing my grimy appearance as I finished this exhilarating dash, but at the end, I kind of liked it.

There is something fulfilling about being completely filthy. In the world of 9-to-5 workdays, it’s rare to find a setting that being the dirtiest is a point of honor rather than a badge of shame. Looking around at the crowd of warriors, nearly all of them stained the same color of brown, the shared, shining beacon was the smiles – the only part of any runners body that remained somewhat unblemished.

Everyone who took part in the race seemed to have had a great time, and authorities reported only seven runners were transported to the hospital with injuries, one of which involved  what emergency workers called a cardiac save.

After the race, I made my way to a nearby water truck, where I took a warrior rinse and then made a beeline to a nearby food tent to use of my free beer token. Out of the 4,513 runners participating Saturday, I came in a solid 292. Holding an ice-cold beer and sporting my complementary warrior helmet, I felt I had to reward myself for a job well done.

Not too shabby for a weekend warrior.