The 2024 Warrior Race is almost here. So, we thought of exploring the principles behind it. For example, can obstacles designed to test endurance, strength, agility and perseverance be used to help us excel in other areas of our life? Dylan Muhlenberg runs, carries, lifts, climbs, swings and crawls his way through the Virgin Active Warrior Race, and discovers that the answer to that question is a resounding, YES! Let’s hear Dylan’s story.
Last January, Virgin Active signed a three-year deal as title sponsor of South Africa’s largest obstacle course racing series. Pushing participants to the limits of body and mind, it’s the ultimate test for fitness enthusiasts who spend time in the gym working on their strength, stamina and endurance.
As one of only a few opportunities for athletes from different sporting codes to compete against each other on a level playing field, the Virgin Active Warrior Race is the benchmark. On Saturday, 30 September, at Devonbosch in Stellenbosch, I joined 1 564 warriors in a cold drizzle to run, carry, lift, climb and crawl my way through obstacles designed to test our endurance, strength, agility and perseverance.
It is a stark reminder of my physical neglect. Nature calls for adaptability and is a true test of our primal abilities. Natural movements have become rarities in a world of ease, and by breaking free from comfort and embracing the obstacles that the Warrior Race challenges us with, we discover parts of ourselves we’d forgotten existed. I seldom use my body in all the ways possible. I’ve forgotten the language of motion.
This is a skill diminishing with age and modern living. The Warrior Race is a gruelling trial over treacherous terrain that demands every step be a calculated one. Balancing is more than steadying oneself. It’s survival. The course is a testament to this truth: slippery and uncertain. Know how to balance and you’ll evade the fall. The payoff? Stability, agility and a sharper mind.
Instinctive but forgotten, crawling is a fundamental movement that we discontinue as soon as we can walk. The Warrior Race thrusts us back to our roots, demanding we manoeuvre under barbed wire, through tunnels and even crawl under electric fencing. It’s a return to simplicity, a reawakening of the essence – and hell on the elbows and knees.
This rebellion against gravity’s embrace is a neglected art, drowned in our sedentary existence. But the Warrior Race offers a stage on which to reclaim this defiance. Over obstacles, the leap is a proclamation of vitality, a challenge to our dormant muscles and, it’s worth remembering, needs to be married to the ever-important landing.
The Warrior Race is a classic test of strength through carrying heavy loads. From sandbags and logs to gas cylinders and cinder blocks and even buckets filled with gravel, being able to carry these things over a distance is a show of power that jellies the legs and tightens the core.
5. Swinging, Hanging, Climbing
Arguably the most difficult of all movements, this trinity urges competitors to conquer obstacles in a primal way. It’s a helluva workout for the shoulders and arms, demands He-Man upper-body strength and a strong grip. I couldn’t do it. Even though my great-great-great-great-great-great-great-grandfather preferred to swing from a tree instead of dragging his knuckles, I’m unaccustomed to this sort of thing and had to forfeit three obstacles. I kept restarting and had the best of intentions to finish each and every obstacle… but I just couldn’t do it.
Throughout it all, I got to spend quality time with a part of myself that I don’t often get to meet. That voice in my head that only speaks to me during KM10 of a long run, when I’m drenched in sweat and my legs are cramping. That voice that says, ‘Keep going.’
Endurance sports allow us to spend more time with that voice, and the more it speaks to us, the more chance we have of it sticking around and talking to us when we need it for some other part of our life. That voice that was whispering to me at the start of the race as I stood shivering in a puddle grew louder as the race progressed, and was screaming at me like a drill sergeant by the end.
There are only four events a year, but intense gym training brings some of those feelings back, and I’m determined to use every run, every weights session and every group class to train the warrior in me. I realise that the pain I’m experiencing post-race isn’t agony – it’s the body acknowledging the rekindling of an ancient flame that invites us to reclaim our movement. So embrace the new, and explore the unknown. Be courageous enough to live a life that few will ever understand. That’s the way of the warrior.
4–6 km, 15 obstacles
Rookie is all about fun and camaraderie. It is the shortest distance with the easiest obstacles. You will be crawling, climbing and jumping your way through the course – running is not even required! The Rookie Race is a great opportunity to challenge your friends and colleagues to try something out of the ordinary… and a little bit muddy. Although the main focus is on obstacles that are fun, there are one or two that will challenge you mentally and physically.
8–10 km, 22 obstacles
For those seeking a greater challenge than Rookie, and who want to test themselves a little more in terms of endurance, strength and agility, Commando is a good option. It places a bit more emphasis on upper-body strength than Rookie, but is still easier than Black Ops. Teams can go out and enjoy this challenging category, helping each other through the obstacles and providing a good opportunity for team building.
12–15 km of racing, 25–30 obstacles Black-Ops is the most challenging category, combining both Rookie and Commando obstacles with the addition of endurance obstacles that involve carrying and dragging heavy objects for set distances. For those who are brave, fit and strong enough, Black-Ops is a good way to test yourself mentally and physically. No excuses, no mercy, no giving up!
Book one of our Warrior Prep Classes, at a Virgin Active gym near you, to get a feel of the real deal – are you up for the challenge? Book a spot here.