The race starts us out running along the levee of a large pond then right up the side of a hill toward a line of trees. I’m thinking I might be able to jog all the way up; it’s a short hill. Two-thirds of the way up, though, and I’m walking like everyone else who isn’t in really good condition or just really determined. I join my fit family members at the top and we wait together for a couple of others who are even less determined than me.
After we jog alongside the trees for less than half a minute, we turn through the opening and see that we have more uphill. Eventually we find that we have three-quarters of a mile uphill. At the top, we see miles of Tennessee hills, tinged with the first fringes of autumn color, green pastures opening below the hills. When we finally hit the first downward slope, we find it leads us into a water/mud pit. We help one another up the slippery bank and make our way towards the first water station.
It is windy but sunny and the chill of the wetness leaves soon in the heat of exertion. Toward the top of the next series of climbs, we find the limestone base of what was once a huge barn. The mortar still holds the stones laid in the Nineteenth Century, a heavy frame rising six-to-eight feet high, eighty feet wide and three hundred feet long. Openings in the stone still show where doors and windows once held. In the middle, toward the far end, a series of strands of barbed wire stretch across the course. We crawl beneath, rise up at the opposite end.
Throughout the race, the faster wait for the slower, taking the breaks as needed, knowing they could run on ahead of us and finish in half the time. Today, though, is about being family, running together, sharing these moments, sunshine and wind sending us through the woods, along the trail, sharply defining the edges of skin as we wade our way out of the cold pond and move on to the next challenge.
Near the end, after climbing Goliath’s (Warrior Dash’s name for its large, triple obstacle challenge) first wall, crossing the cargo net suspended ten feet above the ground and then climbing up to the platform for the ten-tube water slide, we wait until all eight of us are gathered there. Each taking a seat, we kick off together, slip quickly down the steep slide and launch into that brief flight, then splash into the deep, muddy water below, climb out laughing.
We will cross the finish line together in another moment or two, plastered with mud from the last pit beneath the barbed wire. Long after the warm water in the parking lot, long after all of the grit has been washed away we will hold the memories of this good day. And look forward to the finishing of a much better race.