It’s Championship season in the world of OCR and flanked right between the Spartan Race World Championships and the OCR World Championships is the Warrior Dash World Championships in Esparto, California on the Yolo Land Cattle Ranch. I may have used up my quota of the word “championships” in that sentence alone. With a straight up $100,000 on the line for the top 5 men’s and women’s finishers, Warrior Dash threw down the gauntlet and some of the biggest names in OCR responded in kind. With that much money on the line, this was a race few could pass up.
On the men’s side, 2013 Spartan Race World Champion, Hobie Call, quietly qualified a month earlier at the Warrior Dash event in Portland…coming in 3rd. When Hobie posted the outcome, it came as a shock. 3rd place at a Warrior Dash? How’d that happen? Well, when the field included Spartan Pro Team’s Cody Moat and Atlas Pro Team’s member Max King, the results seemed much more forgiving. Coming off a heartbreaking 2nd place finish ($8000 spear throw anyone?), Ryan Atkins came as part of the Canadian contingent representing Team BattleFrog along with fellow Canadian, Marco Bedard. Alongside Cody, Spartan’s Pro Team was well represented with Hunter McIntyre, John Yatsko and Brakken Kraker. Stacked field. The consensus after the media and athlete course walk-through was that this mostly a runner’s course with the terrain offering as much of a challenge as some of the obstacles. To that end, it was anyone’s game and not just your household OCR names.
On the women’s side, coming off a 1-2 finish at the Spartan World Championships, Claude Godbout and Corinna Coffin came representing Team Battlefrog. Spartan Pro Team was respresented by Rose Wetzel-Sinnett and K.K. Stewart Paul and Atlas Pro Team brought Cassidy Watton, a dark horse and ham in front of the camera (we’ll get to that later). Talk around the water cooler was that there were a few pure runners in the women’s field that would give the OCR women some potentially stiff competition. Relative newcomers to obstacle course racing, but incredible speed.
Who will prevail? Will strength and endurance matter in a 5k distance race that will be won in around 25 minutes? Will the runners lose precious time navigating the 15 obstacles on the course? Who will be $30,000 richer at the end of the day? Will they serve turkey legs? How am I going to keep up with the elites and shoot them on a course that is as unfriendly for a two-legged photographer as humanly possible?
5 kilometers, 3.2 miles, or if you prefer, 384,838 jellybeans laid end to end. 15 obstacles. No surprises. A walk-through the day before allowed any competitors to walk the course and check out the obstacles. Racers will climb, crawl, slide, jump, balance, and traverse their way to the finish line. While the course will be timed, the winners will be determined by gun finish. First across wins. The full obstacle list.
1. Storming Normandy
2. Warrior’s Peak
3. Road Rage
5. Shocktop Unfiltered
6. Deadman’s Drop
8. Leader’s Ledge
9. Unnamed Rock Climbing Wall
10. Trench Crawl
11. Warrior Roast
12. Vicious Valleys
14. Mud Mounds
15. Muddy Mayhem
Men’s Championship Heat
The morning of the race was clear and crisp. You could not have planned for better weather. The festival area is scattered with athletes doing their pre-race stretches and warm-up. While everyone looks focus, the atmosphere is not tense. Racers are smiling, giving interviews, and some were even giving massages.
At around 7:45, the men’s field head to the starting line. In what is one of the coolest starting lines I’ve ever seen, the racers line up in one long horizontal line on a wide empty field.
Think Braveheart minus the blue face paint. Mel Gibson (aka Brett Stewart of Mud Run Guide) even made an appearance.
At 8, with a flash of flames, the massive line-up charge across field like a cavalry towards a narrow choke point before the first big climb. With an early lead on the field is Max, followed by the first pack/peloton of racers determined to stay as close to him as possible. The hill would continue to go up for nearly half a mile before a steep drop off that would test everyone’s quads. Run too fast, burn out and the race is over before the 1st mile. At the bottom of the hill was a steep climb up on the backside that would eventually force all by the strongest to switch to power hiking mode.
Max is first up the hill, followed by Cody. Hobie is neck and neck with John a few racers down, with Hunter and Brakken not too far beyond heading to the first obstacle, a crawl under a set of barbed wire and net.
I’m forced to sprint down the hill and cut across the course to catch the leaders just after the Trenches, a series of 6 water pits approximately 6-8 feet long that racers could choose to jump across or into. As expected, most of the elites opt to jump the trenches, but not all are successful.
At the halfway point, it’s Max, Cody and Hobie in 1st, 2nd and 3rd with John a few seconds behind. With just half the obstacles left and a relatively run to the finish, Max is comfortably in the lead while Cody and Hobie continue to fight for second place.
Ultimately, it is be the mud that would determine the runner-up as Hobie and John overtake Cody coming out of the mud pits. From behind, Brakken comes in 5th to round out the top 5 with who were separated by less than 2 minutes. As expected, it was the fast trail runners that prevailed.
By the time I’m back at the finish line, I’ve worked up a full sweat and put in a good 2 miles myself. I down a bottle of Gatorade and run right back to the starting line for start of the Women’s race.
Women’s Championship Heat
At the women’s line-up, I scan the crowd for familiar faces. Cassidy sees the camera strikes a pose. It might be a Hunter McIntyre impression. Probably most definitely a Hunter impression.
The start of the women’s race was just as intense. I suspect that if you overlaid the women’s sprint to the hill with the men’s, it would look almost identical.
I shoot the racers going up the hill and sprint to the Warrior Peak as steeplechase runner, Kimber Mattox barrels down the hill and over the A frame rope wall. She’s followed by Renee Baillie, in only her 2nd obstacle course race (the first being the the Portland Warrior Dash where she qualified for the Championships).
At the Road Rage obstacle, another steeplechase runner, Julia Webb, is 3rd high-kneeing through the field of tires and over the junk cars. Rose is a few seconds behind in 4th followed by Guadalupe Merlos, another newcomer to the OCR world, and K.K.
As I’m running along the course, I see a cart on the path and hitch a ride to the Pipeline just as Kimber passes with Renee crawling through the cargo net tube right on her tail and none of the other top 5 positions changing.
In the last mile, all but the 5th place spot is decided. K.K. overtakes Rose within 2 obstacles and maintains the lead nearly to the end. But the race is not over until the finish, and Rose pushes across the finish just ahead of K.K. to claim the last podium position.
Claude and Corinna finish commendably in the top 12, but could not match the speed of some of the pure runners on this shorter course format.
Your 2014 Warrior Dash World Championships Women’s Podium.
And with that, the inaugural Warrior Dash World Championships was in the books and questions were answered. And yes, they did serve turkey legs. But they ran out by the time I finished my heat. Life is not fair.
The Final Results:
This was an amazing event put on by the awesome team at Red Frog Events. Props to the crew for being so organized and to the volunteers, who did a heck of a job cheering the runners on everywhere on the course.
If you ran the race, let me know your thoughts? What did you like/dislike? What would you like to see next year?