An awesome benefit of being a fitness author are the times when the phone rings (ok, it's usually an email or text – but stick with me here) and a the voice on the other end of the line says the magical phrase:
“you've gotta come try this out…”
I've been fortunate enough to be one of the first “outsiders” to set foot on Victory Quest's 100-acre obstacle race training course and indoor upper-body punishment chamber and even accompanied the staff at Flagstaff Extreme Adventure Course for a speed-training exercise featuring all 4 courses and dozens of challenges & obstacles over 40 feet up in the trees – and was “mock-rescued” from one of the most death-defying areas in the middle of the black course! From tossing tires with Francis & Bryce while setting up the inaugural Lozilu course or testing out Cahoots Duo Challenge's wild obstacles days before a racer touched 'em, there have been many “woah – that was intense” moments (just ask Devon at Cahoots about the forklift fiasco) but nothing prepared me for the ultimate challenge that was waiting in an average-looking San Antonio warehouse…
I knew the general premise: Inspired by the TV shows American Ninja Warrior and Wipeout, this new type of obstacle race was primed to shatter the all-too-familiar recipe that most OCR's and mud runs are following: Running longer distances, wading through mud & water and then tackling similar obstacles from event to event. Alpha Warrior made the conscious decision to change the game with the following promise:
“No Mud. No Miles. No Mercy.”
The team at Alpha Warrior apparently likes you being able to go home with the expensive shoes you showed up with – and still keep wearing 'em without having to stop by a car wash. Don't get me wrong, mud is still fun and challenging, but the AW crew had their sights set on a multitude of challenges that only involve a towel to wipe the sweat off your face when you're done. Instead of wearing clothes to an event that are headed to the trash after a race, you're encouraged to wear comfortable, functional clothes that will let you move with a full range of motion – because you'll surely need it. Leave those beat-up kicks at home, to conquer some of the technical challenges you need to have your feet shod in grippy, well-fitting shoes… in some instances the high-tech soles offer quite an advantage. Oh, and make 'em light – since you'll be jumping, climbing and flying through the air (literally) your footwear shouldn't be weighing you down! Since you won't be running long distances, they surely don't need to be marathon-worthy. Speaking of running…
As OCR's and Mud Runs are getting longer (as evidenced by Spartan Ultra Beast's whopping 26.2 mile course and Warrior Dash's new addition of the 15-mile Iron WD) Alpha Warrior went the complete opposite direction; tons (literally tons of steel, trampolines and netting make up much the course – more on that later) of challenging barriers are crammed into a spectator-friendly and competitor-battering quarter mile – or less. Alcatraz is a menacing, 4-story monster with what seems like a dozen different challenges all combined into one massive structure. Climbing in, through and out is taxing on your whole body, and those aren't even the obstacles! From the Gorilla Swing to Tree Tops and including the amazing Broken Bars, this huge cage of mayhem proudly lives up to the Alcatraz name, as every competitor is exhilarated while trying to make their escape!
Would you even ask for mercy if it were offered? Just walking up to the course makes your eyes beg for relief, the massive structures replete with obstacles of every kind will make your head spin. Your first question: ‘How the hell do I get through that?”. The aforementioned Alcatraz dominates the competitor's area, but is not alone in its silver and black splendor – rings, chains, nets, plexiglass, ropes and trampolines fill the spaces between the massive steel rigging used to create the ridiculously mind-bending course that is all at once imposing to competitors and inviting for spectators to walk in, around, through and under – yes, UNDER – the cages while racers are giving it their all to navigate the extreme obstacles. When's the last time you saw your kids 30+ feet below you as you were hopping from suspended blocks with only a thin (but secure) trapeze net separating you? Heart, meet throat.
The video interview above takes place only a few minutes after they let me (along with Chris, Brad, Brian and a few other hopefuls) through the door. We talk of our first experience seeing the course, as only a few employees had tested each of the obstacles. Alcatraz was still being adjusted while we're talking!
Immediately, we took to the rings and swung, flipped, and tried to outdo each other with muscle-ups and choosing the hardest path – like kids in a candy store we kept begging for more and took every chance to go at it again and again until our hands were raw and bloody from overuse. Then, we changed gloves, taped up our palms and went back at again! Once our goals of touching each one of the seemingly hundred rings about 20 times, we moved on to the industrial-strength trampolines, the spider wall, and every other obstacle they could set up for us to test and give feedback – oh yeah, we were brought in to “consult” on how fun and challenging each square inch of the Alpha Warrior experience was, and we didn't hold back. Aside from testing until we were battered and beaten (in some cases, even bloody*) we scrutinized every single element in order to provide the team the feedback they needed to build an amazing, world-class event. And they listened. And they DELIVERED. Even before we left, the full-time team started making changes, raising some takeoff and landing decks on the trampolines, swapping out the basic chains toclimb into Alcatraz with even more massive ones – and even more awesomeness that you need to see for yourself. Check out the next group of testers as they tackle the course at ActiveX in San Diego to see the fruits of our (amazingly fun) labor, then SIGN UP for an Alpha Warrior event and PROVE IT out on the course!
* As beta testers, we signed off and tested the course in its raw state; without the padding and all of the safety equipment that you'll see on race day. Yeah, we subjected ourselves to bruises, blisters, bloody hands and even some head stitches – but we got even more excitement than we signed up for by testing each obstacle over and over! Even after a mishap with steel to skull, Brad cleaned off, tossed on a band-aid and finished the day. Like a true Alpha Warrior, he waited until we were back in Phoenix to get his noggin stitched up!
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