Warrior Dash Disenchantments

Warrior Dash Disenchantments
Photo by Benjamin Lehman, Flickr/Creative Commons

I try really hard not to be judgmental most of the time.  We all have our own reasons for doing what we do and our own needs that dictate our day to day choices.  It’s not my place to deem the choices others make as right or wrong.  Usually I do a pretty decent job of living without an attitude of judgment hovering overhead. Usually.

Recently one of my clients shared that he was going to do a “Warrior Dash” — If you aren’t familiar with that, or with its cousin the “Tough Mudder” they are basically running races 5-20K in length, in which the participants must prevail over various obstacles while on the course- i.e., run through mud, climb walls, jump over fire, etc.  They are one of the latest crazes in modern physical competition, and a large number of people that I know take part in them regularly.  The draw is testing one’s self physically, as well as the camaraderie and team work that it takes to make it through all of the obstacles.   All well and good, you might say.  And training for one of these events helps a person maintain good health and provides motivation to continue a lifestyle that is filled with exercise and presumably healthy eating habits.

So, all well and good.Where does the before mentioned judgment come in then, you ask?  Certainly not on my client who plans to partake in a Warrior Dash.  Nor my second cousin who did a “Color Run.”  Nor my neighbor who does the local Turkey Trot every year.  Nor the friend of a friend who is training for something called a “Spartan Race.”  Not even on the ultra-marathon-ing professionals who run crazy long distances over the tops of mountains or across 100 degree deserts.

Judgment creeps onto the scene because I find myself disenchanted with all of the energy that goes into putting something like a Warrior Dash on. (Truly, this post could be about any other “fitness challenge” type of event…or, if I’m being really honest with myself, any organized sport or recreational activity. The Warrior Dash just happens to be standing out on the radar today) My disenchantment stems from the building of obstacles for the sake of having obstacles and the exertion it takes to run through them to the team work that is required to conquer an unnecessary challenge to all of the temporary community that is built on testing one’s physical limits during such an event.  Why do we need to make up challenges to build community and keep ourselves motivated to lead healthy lifestyles?  Aren’t there enough real challenges in the world on which we can spend the energy that we have? Don’t we have neighbors who need help and who could potentially help us, as well as ample opportunity to test our physical limits while at the same time doing something to benefit the earth, instead of taking from it?

I am, of course, not above any of this. I am as much a part of this culture as anybody else. I’m using fossil fuel to power my computer as I type these words, and I’ll probably go out to ski later for no other purpose than to get some exercise and fresh air. It’s even fairly likely that I’ll sign up for race of some kind in the future. Truth be told, humans have organized and participated in competitions, races and fitness events for hundreds of years. So I suppose the judgment here is on culture — on what’s evolved to be so broken that these events continue to grow and claim the energy that could be used elsewhere……and so much energy is needed elsewhere for positive change to really impact the world. So many people are hungry. So many people don’t have clean water. So many people are struggling to survive in the midst of a desperate life situation that they were born into.

So as I said, I have participated in my fair share of running events, and though they weren’t perhaps as extreme in set up as a Warrior Dash, in the end, any event or race is simply a made-up challenge.  Last time I did a trail race, I paid an entry fee to run 10K over a rocky trail with hundreds of other people at the same time. I didn’t do it to get food or water for the week.  I did it because I could, because it sounded fun, and because I wanted to tell other people that I ran a race that weekend. You might call these events ‘challenges of luxury’ – a few bucks might be donated to a charity cause, but when you boil it down it’s usually simply entertainment, a distraction, or an ego booster.  On my really cynical days, it feels like just another way to keep the illusion of “separation” alive and well.

I realize this sounds harsh.  Drastic, maybe. A kill-joy? Fun wrecker? Maybe it’s all of those things. I like running in races, and I like all the feelings that come from doing well, being around exercise-loving people and feeling good about myself. But perhaps we are at the point where taking a hard look at what we are holding as priority is necessary if we want to see real change in the world.

So what do we do with this?  We know that modern competition is not essential for human life to continue.  We could argue that something like a mud run or a marathon offer a sense of accomplishment, or that they keep people in good health, or that they provide a venue for like- minded individuals to come together….or any number of other positive attributes.  And they’d probably all be generally accurate arguments.  The trouble I keep coming back to is that we can get all of those benefits from participating in activities that don’t waste resources, that use our energy for an even more positive outcome than feeling accomplished for an afternoon, and that build true community that is based on something authentic that might help our planet and its inhabitants instead of adding to the machine that fuels so much destruction.

Do I think participating in a Warrior Dash makes somebody a bad person?  Not at all.  I would guess that the majority of participants are very good people, just like all of the people who run marathons, 5Ks and trail races are, too.  Just like I consider myself to be a generally “good” person. Good people get caught up in what our culture has deemed important all the time.  I certainly do.

Do I think that there’s no value in testing one’s physical limits and pushing one’s self to overcome obstacles?  No. There’s plenty of value in stepping up to a challenge and making it through.  A lot can be learned by overcoming barriers and pushing past perceived limitations.

Do I think that running a race for a good cause and knowing the money you put down will (hopefully) go to the charity you are passionate about is a bad thing?  Again, no.  As society currently operates, good causes and charities do need funds to keep their operations going so they can do their important work in the world.

Do I think we can do better?

Yes.

Do I know the answer to how we do better? Not really. Shifting what a whole culture holds as important is not an easy feat. But maybe the awareness that something needs to shift is the first step to figuring it out.