They are billed as extreme obstacle events or adventure races because participants run, crawl, climb, jump and do other physical feats. Even their names — with titles such as gladiator, warrior and Spartan — conjure up images of ancient military combatants.
It’s the kind of physical activity where you can expect to get down and dirty and be challenged, participants say.
The challenge part is why Melody Campbell, Tia Noxon and Jan Ryel — participants in the first such adventure race in Wichita on Saturday — have been enduring twice-a-week 5:30 a.m. strength training workouts and twice-a-week early dawn runs on hills and various terrain for the past several weeks.
The three Wichita women are among the more than 320 people who signed up for the YMCA-sponsored Gladiator Run at the Y’s Camp Hyde on Saturday.
The event “takes the 5K run and breaks it up a little” with 10 obstacles ranging from a hay bale climb to a tree-stump carry, said Casey Garten, fitness director at the East Y and coordinator of the Gladiator Run. A 5K is equivalent to a 3.1 mile run.
And not all of it will be clean fun — there’s an Army-type crawl through a mud pit under barbed wire.
“The trend for these events is high,” Garten said about obstacle races, which have been gaining popularity across the U.S. since 2009. Apparently, local demand is growing, too.
Registrations for the Gladiator Run came in so fast that it filled up three weeks before the original March 30 deadline. About 50 people are on the waiting list for the Y’s event, Garten said.
Another adventure race — the Gladiator Dash — is scheduled for June 9 at Sedgwick County Park. Registration has started for that event and can be completed at Genesis Health Clubs and GoRun Wichita store locations, according to organizer Dan Giroux. Cost is $50 through June 1. Between June 2 and 7, the registration fee increases to $65.
Both events are fundraisers, with the Gladiator Run benefiting the Y’s Strong Kids program and the Gladiator Dash helping Newman University athletics and the Child Advocacy Center.
Meeting the challenge
“Do you have what it takes?” asks the brochure advertising the Y’s Gladiator Run.
“You’ve got to cross train to be able to accomplish the race,” Garten said.
Participants need both upper and lower body strength, a strong core and endurance to get through the race and the obstacles. That’s why cross training — a type of exercise program that works various muscles of the body through weight lifting or strength training, plus cardio activities — is important.
Campbell, Noxon and Ryel have been cross-training with North Y personal trainers Kera Harrod and Casey Jo Wanger, who have been leading 5:30 a.m. workouts on Mondays and Wednesdays for Gladiator Run participants. The workouts focus on core muscles and building strength.
“I’m not ripped, but I’m getting stronger,” the 39-year-old Campbell said. “I don’t really look like a gladiator. But you have to be in shape to not hurt yourself” in the race.
The three also continue to run several miles together every week, as they’ve done in the past when training for other small runs and even a marathon. On Fridays, they swim 48 laps at the Y.
Working out together keeps them motivated, the three said, and up to facing the challenges of the obstacles.
“I am not looking forward to the stump carry,” the 49-year-old Noxon said. That’s the same event Ryel said concerned her.
But Ryel is looking forward to competing in adventure race.
“The mud pit sounds fun,” said Ryel, a 39-year-old mom of three who coaches a Wichita youth track program. “It feels so empowering to do this as a woman and get dirty, climb walls and crawl through the mud.”
Guys find the events a challenge and a fun combination of running and physical feats, too.
That’s why Mark Pierce, a local law enforcement officer, competed in two Warrior Dashes last year in Kansas City and in Tulsa.
“I was looking for something other than the traditional run where you go and run and see how far and fast you can run,” said 47-year-old Pierce, a former high school and college track athlete.
He had just started cross training as part of his workout regimen when he heard about obstacle events through a friend in 2011.
He plans to compete in the Y’s Gladiator Run and is helping put together the 10 or so obstacles that will comprise the Gladiator Dash in June.
Participants are outfitted with timers to record race times, but the three women and Pierce all agreed that for them times don’t really matter — finishing the race while having fun doing it with a group of friends and meeting the challenge they’d set for themselves were the important things.
Physical, but fun
While adventure races are meant to be a physical challenge, they’re also filled with a sense of fun and teamwork.
If someone struggles to get through an obstacle, it’s OK to help without penalty, noted Pierce. Some races give penalties — by adding time — for not completing or bypassing an obstacle.
It’s common for organizers to suggest participants come in costumes, and often awards are given for best costumes.
“I raced Elvis in Kansas City,” Pierce said. “The guy was in a full white jumpsuit and sideburns.” A wedding party, with the bride in a white veil, also competed in that Warrior Dash.
If you don’t come in costume, Pierce has this advice on what to wear: “Wear your oldest pair of running shoes and something you won’t want to keep when you’re done. That’s how dirty and muddy you’ll get.”
The Wichita events also will feature musical entertainment throughout the events and free food, beverages and a shirt for participants.