Where are people with quick-twitch muscles supposed to find spiritual athletic fulfillment?
So you've read Born to Run, deliberated on the merits of evolutionary biologists over podiatrists, stared in fascination/horror the first time you saw a dude wearing Vibrams. The idea of minimalist running infected you, and when you close your eyes you imagine yourself running over natural landscapes, bare feet padding -- no heel striking! -- over dirt and pine needles through virgin forest. The manna of the Earth gushes between your toes. Or gliding along city sidewalks and asphalt, it makes no matter, because as Chris McDougall and Lady Gaga will tell you: you were born this way. Fat, padded running shoes, in your new foot paradigm, are ridiculous at best and irresponsible at worst.
And so you're part of this remarkable renaissance in runner's footwear. People everywhere are racking up miles in 10K's, half-marathons, full marathons, and even ultras. And therein lies the primary characteristic of the minimalist running revolution: lots and lots of miles.
But to a sprinter, which is how I self-identify as a runner, the whole minimalist wave seems a bit strange when you look at any track shoe: a slab of thin material underfoot (albeit with metal spikes) with a light upper. I always hated putting on those awkward 'running' shoes when we did distance work on the street. I always felt like I was going to turn an ankle on those platform shoes before making it back safely. So for me, the move to minimalist was not so much re-aligning with my hunter gatherer self, but simply putting back on the shoes I liked anyway.
Since long distances are not really my thing -- you could fairly say I suck at them -- but minimalist footwear IS my thing, I'm always interested in other ways to gain pleasure out of my mocs besides running for one or two mindless (or Zen-like, depending) hours. I've messed around with them for basketball quite a bit (maybe that could be the subject of another post), and I use them for track work... but this year I heard about an event that portended some serious moc joy. The Warrior Dash!
First of all, I liked that it had the word 'Dash' in the name. Already you know this is not some grind it out race where you're popping energy gels and other NASA food as you pass the same dilapidated barn in the morning, the afternoon, and evening. A dash is short, fast, and furious.
The Warrior Dash is actually bit over three miles, so it's not really a dash, but it's only 3% of a hundred miler. And then there's all the other stuff: the fire, the barbed wire, the obstacles, the warrior costumes, and the mud, mud, mud, mud. Running in the Warrior Dash is like being an extra on the set of Braveheart or Conan the Barbarian. You are expected to let your inner ferocity shine through as you attack the series of obstacles along the course. Thus there is a lot more shouting, more horned helmetry, more kilts, more flesh, more flesh painting, and more beer swilling than at your average 10K. Among the short list of items you are supposed to bring to the race according the information packet is 'guts.' It's like that.
(And an event like the Warrior Dash can't escape the wrath of irony: there was a guy running in a business suit with a briefcase, some women in bridesmaid or prom dresses, and legions of faeries and butterflies.)
For the race, I decided (obviously) to wear the DASH RunAmoc. In addition to the name symmetry, it has the most secure lacing of the three RunAmoc varieties and I knew I'd be running through a mud bog that might suck at my feet. (I was not mistaken.) The Dash is also the shoe I use for track workouts and basketball because it doesn't move around on my foot. My pair has the trail sole.
Unfortunately, due to the nature of the race course (fast, crowded, muddy) it's difficult to get photos of the obstacles, even when a fellow Elf is toting a camera (and two small children). Well, a thousand words is worth a picture. The first obstacle is a jump into a cold, muddy pond strewn with logs that you have to belly over. I tore my race bib at this first obstacle. Several obstacles were tall wall-like structures, I'd guess around twenty feet high, that you clamber over with the help of a rope, or maybe just with your guts. There was a large, thick-roped cargo net to scramble across (or roll across, as some did). Another obstacle was a field of tires to high-step through as in a football drill, and more tires were used in a different obstacle where they were hanging from an overhead structure and you had to bull through them (which had the delightful side effect of bonking anyone next to you). At another place there were a series of raised platforms like a checkerboard, but with gaps between the squares so you had to jump from one to the next. The last mid-race obstacle I can recall was a series of chest-high walls to leap or scramble, each immediately followed by an obstacle to duck under.
The final obstacles are the ones most associated with the Warrior Dash -- a running leap over fire and then a long slide into a bog, where you belly crawl through brown muck under low-strung lines of barbed wire.
Yes, it is as fun as it sounds. I could not help from grinning as I charged the various obstacles.
My Dashes were awesome. Some people had some issues with shoes pulling away in the mud at the bottom of the pond (first obstacle), and the heel of my left Dash pulled away a bit as I leapt to roll over one of the logs, but it was never really a scare. For all the obstacles where we had to climb stuff, I think the Dashes were superior to all the 'normal' shoes because my feet were able to feel and conform to the various surfaces (often two-by-fours). Also, I find that mocs in general (and the Dash, in particular) have good lateral stability, which is good for ankle-rolling obstacles like the field of tires and for jumping off of stuff.
I should note that the race was well-populated with Vibram Five Fingers, including a pair on the dude dressed as Luigi from Mario Brothers with whom I tangled up sliding into the mud bog.
I would do this race again even if I wasn't awarded with a horned fur helmet, a beer, and a giant turkey leg. The Warrior Dash travels the country, and at least for my race in Portland the event was well-staffed and well-directed. They also had a shoe donation pile. It's a fitting image, throwing all those foamy high-tech witch doctor shoes onto a rubbish pile. I hope they're getting ground up for playgrounds.
It's good to put your feet on the ground. Or into the mud.