How to Train for Warrior Dash (And Win With No Experience)

Recently I surprised the hell out of myself and beat 16,659 other people to win Warrior Dash.

With no experience training for Warrior Dash or with any of the obstacles.

Training for Warrior Dash

I was more surprised than anyone. Who me? I was just having fun!

The funny thing is – I didn’t train for it at all. My 5k training helped a lot but I did no gym exercises or practicing on any type of obstacles. If you’re wondering how I did it, I’ll show you how to train for Warrior Dash without any obstacle experience.

The decision to race a Warrior Dash was born out of a question I’m trying to ask more in life: Why not?! I rounded up my wife and two other friends and we made the trek to southeastern Maryland for the 8:30 start on Saturday morning.

While we had enough time before our wave was scheduled to start, I didn’t adhere to my typical pre-race routine. With only 12 minutes of running before the race, no strides, and a limited dynamic warm-up, I wasn’t confident that I could run fast.

And to be honest, that wasn’t the goal. With a hard 5k the weekend before and a duathlon coming up in a week, my only goal was to have fun and see if Warrior Dash could live up to the hype.

My experience led me to write a free report outlined the five “Universal Truths” of obstacle course racing. You can download it now, for free.

The Warrior Dash Race Report

Train for a Warrior Dash

Any race that has a narrow beginning onto an even narrower trail needs a strategic start. So I weaved my way close to the starting line and got close to the front runners, expecting to be in the top 20-30 of the 500+ runners in the second wave.

When the announcer signaled the start – by enormous flames shooting from the canopy above us – we took off and ran along a narrow trail maneuvering over mud, logs, roots, rocks, and puddles. Less than a minute into the race I stepped onto a slippery log, slipped off and nearly face-planted into the mud.

Luckily, I recovered and somehow found myself in third place. With a quick backward glance I saw a horde of runners behind me splashing through the mud and yelling their warrior battle cries.

There’s no way I’m getting caught in that! Time to maintain my position…

With no real goal to compete in Warrior Dash, I was happy to maintain 3rd place just so I could be in front of most people (who wants to wait in line at the obstacles?). I was probably running about 6:20 per mile – or significantly slower than my marathon pace. My effort was comfortable but the terrain was tough, which made it a little harder.

Soon the trail widened and cleared of any significant roots or logs so I sped up to about 6:00 per mile and passed the two runners in front of me.

Then I realized I was winning. My competitive instincts took over and I quickly established a new goal of winning my wave of Warrior Dash. I thought how crazy I was, laughed it off, and thought it would be fun.

The first obstacle came out of nowhere after a turn: a series of wood barriers that you had to hop over, alternating with a barbed wire fence you had to crawl under.

I took my time, not wanting to get cut by the barbed wire or have my knee destroyed by the wall.

After a steep hill the trail opened up onto an enormous field. This is when the obstacles really started. Every minute or so a new obstacle presented itself:

  • a 20 foot high cargo net
  • a near vertical wall with just a thin rope to help pull yourself over the top
  • truck tires to leap through
  • a concrete tunnel to run through
  • a horizontal cargo net to climb over
  • more steep hills to run up and down than I care to remember
  • two lines of fire to jump over
  • a mud pit, complete with barbed wire so you had to get down and crawl

The race felt like a fartlek workout: run hard between the obstacles, try not to die climbing twenty feet into the air, jump down, and repeat. Add the Wave 1 runners I was passing for the final 2 miles and it was madness.

And the hills. The damn hills! The course was on an unrelenting rolling course of wet grass, uneven footing, and brutally steep hills that destroyed your quads and burned your lungs. Even though I was going at about marathon pace during the race my effort level felt like 5k pace.

Winding down the final steep hill, across the fire, and through the mud pit, I finished in 19:10 – the fastest time of the two days of Warrior Dash by 1:18. The course was billed as 3.02 miles so the pacing doesn’t make sense – who knows how long it actually was.

Later I realized one unfortunate reality: I accidentally ran around two of the obstacles: a water slide and a series of Motocross-style hills. The water slide would have actually saved me time because I ran down the hill instead of zipping down on my butt. And the rolling Motocross hills only would have slowed me down by about 15 seconds. No big deal.

But… I’m not eligible for an award. While you can skip any obstacle, you’re then ineligible for the engraved steel helmet that goes to the top 3 finishers. That would have been awesome!

Looks like I have to run another one…

Warrior Dash Group Shower

This is how you clean off after the mud pit: group shower / hose-off!

How to Train for Warrior Dash

In classic David Letterman fashion, here are the top 10 ways to train for Warrior Dash:

10. Safety First! The barbed wire is real; slow down and make sure you crawl low enough. Ladies, don’t put your hair in a high bun or ponytail (my friend learned this the hard way). Warrior Dash races don’t mess around, so assume obstacles are real (barbed wire, fire, water, mud, etc.).

9. Warm-up just like any other race. This is something I didn’t do and regretted it. With crazy obstacles, uneven terrain, and wild elevation in most Warrior Dash races, a good warm-up that has you moving in multiple planes of motion will help you get ready for the demands of the race.

8. Start at the front. Get near the front of the pack before the gun so you’ll have time to get ahead of your competition. Bottlenecks always happen, especially in the beginning when the field isn’t so spread out, so get out fast and ahead of everyone else.

Warrior Dash races use chips to time you, but if there are 400 people ahead of you it’s inevitable that you’ll wait in a line to get over some obstacles. Some people waited for a long time – don’t let that be you.

7. Safety first! Don’t rush over the obstacles. Yes, it’s a race, but you can’t continue if you fall off a twenty foot high cargo net and break your ankle. As one of the runners I coach tells me: Relax…but hurry.

6. Get strong. You’re going to cover the obstacles much more quickly if you’re comfortable doing a few pullups, 25 pushups, a 60 second plank, and 30 body weight squats. General body-weight strength is all you need.

Now with that said, it’s not 100% necessary. I had been neglecting my strength work for at least a month before I won the Maryland Warrior Dash and I was just fine (see tip #1).

5. Be athletic. Crawling up and over cargo nets, hopping over barriers, crouching under wood beams, and jumping over fire means you’re going to need a lot more coordination and athleticism than you need for a simple road race.

Make sure you’re doing flexibility exercises, mobility drills, and dynamic stretches in all the planes of motion to prepare you for a Warrior Dash. Pulling a groin muscle because you can’t lift your knee to your chest isn’t fun for anyone.

4. Make sure you’ve done some fast workouts. With the consistent stops and starts between obstacles, a Warrior Dash feels like a supercharged Fartlek on steroids. It’s incredibly helpful to be comfortable switching gears and running at different speeds. Consider running a few combination workouts that include many different paces.

3. Run hills – a lot of hills. Every Warrior Dash is different and some won’t have any hills. But if it does, bet your ass that they will be ruthless. The Maryland WD had some of the steepest hills that I’ve ever run. If you’re not ready, prepare to walk because they don’t call it Hell’s Hill for nothing!

2. Train on trails! Every Warrior Dash is run on grass, dirt, trails, and undulating surfaces. If you’re not ready for this type of terrain you’ll be caught off guard and mentally insecure in your ability to move quickly over the uneven ground.

The majority of my running is in Rock Creek Park – full of hills, mud, dirt, rocks, roots, and dangerous footing. After nearly four years of running there almost every day I can fly over gnarly trails. It takes practice to get good at it and increase your confidence level. Plus it’s a helluva lot more fun!

1. Run a lot – endurance is always king. There’s a reason I beat over 16,000 other runners in Warrior Dash and it has nothing to do with my strength or agility. I was just a better runner.

If you want more details on how to train for (and compete) in an obstacle race like Warrior Dash, check out the report on the Universal Truths of obstacle course training here – it’s free.

See, Warrior Dash doesn’t attract runners. With a 10+ hour party post-race, Miller Lite tall boys, and a costume contest there are a lot of people who just want to have fun. There’s nothing wrong with that – but it’s also an opportunity to grab some glory. Train like a runner and you’ll dominate a Warrior Dash.

Scared? Don’t be!

Warrior Dash

If you’re intimidated to jump into your first adventure race, don’t be. Most people were not runners and are a lot more inexperienced on the race course than you. Warrior Dash is accessible to anyone with even a moderate level of general fitness.

But if you want even more ways to train for Warrior Dash (and maybe even win!), check out the free report on obstacle races here

And here are a few quick ways to start:

  • Run a cross country race. The varying terrain, uneven surface, and hills will definitely prepare you for Warrior Dash.
  • Jump into (pardon the pun) a steeplechase race if your local All-Comers track meet has them. Caution: this is a technical and potentially dangerous race. They’re fun as hell, but practice hurdling before you run a steeple.
  • A few Parkour classes will help you learn how to run quickly over obstacles.

Warrior Dash is a fun vacation from real road racing. If you’re bored and need a new challenge an obstacle race might be just the cure.

Just remember: runners will always be the first finishers at a Warrior Dash!

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  1. Wow, I didn’t think I’d actually ever know anyone who one a Warrior Dash, and I wouldn’t have pictured you being the one who actually did. After all, aren’t we mostly prissy road runners / marathoners? Nice job showing the Neanderthals how it’s done!

  2. This actually sounds like fun! I may have to try one of these someday. Have to try a few trail runs first, though. Baby steps.

    Congrats on the win!

  3. Wow…this sounds like a blast. Nice job and nice job on the 1529 5k….wow!!!!

  4. Nice work. I have to 100% disagree with you on the VFFs. My first year I wore my regular shoes, my 2nd year I wore the VFF Treks and it made the obstacles and course significantly easier. I had my doubts going in on using them because I thought I would fall flat on my face but the treading on the Treks was just enough. They are basically a water shoe and were very nimble for getting around the obstacles. For the course in Windham, NY how well you did 100% depended on your hill training. Something like 1100 ft elevation gain in the first mile straight up a ski mountain. If you didn’t walk you were one of maybe 4 people in your heat. If you have a modicum of strength and agility the obstacles were pretty easy. Women definitely struggled with some of the ones that required a little upper body strength.

    • I disagree on the Virbrams too! Just finished a warrior dash today. I have old worn VFF KSO’s with most of the (little to begin with) tread gone. I searched everywhere to find out if I should wear them and couldn’t find out. I wore them anyway and they kicked ASS! Mud is mud, and slippery no matter what shoe you have, but… I wouldn’t wear anything else… Well perhaps the VFF flow if the weather is cold.

      Hopefully this will help anyone else wondering like me.
      100% go with Vibram five finger! Only caveat being, you really need to be used to them to begin with first!

  5. First of all congrats on your win, that is awesome!

    I’m not running a Warrior Dash…this year….but I am currently training for a “Run for your Lives” 5k zombie obstacle course later in the year. Its comforting to see that you’ve mentioned a few things (parkour, hill running, strength training) that I’ve already begun to incorporate into my fitness regime, for the first time in my life I can do a pull up. Now I just need to find some nearby trails to train on.

  6. David (chudleycannonfodder) says:

    I can’t do a pull up but can do the push ups/squats/planks. Would I still be able to do the race?

  7. So what shoe do you suggest for this race? Would a XC flat work? Or maybe the New Balance MT10/20?

    • Keep in mind the terrain/footing is poor so you want some stability but also enough “groundfeel” to be able to avoid any awkwardness over the obstacles. I’d use what you race a 10k or half-marathon in.

    • Most any shoe you use is going to be ruined with all the water and mud. So use a pair of old crappy shoes or use the VFFs which you can machine wash. At the end there is a mountain of dirty disposed shoes that everyone donates because they dont want their shoes. Seriously there are thousands of pairs by the end of the day on that thing.

  8. Awesome race! There are so many variations these days that you could run one a month, at least in my area, from May to September. Ran 2 last year but didn’t get a turkey leg, on my agenda for this year!

  9. I had my race this past Sunday in CT. It was a blast. Ended up running in the New Balance MT10’s, since my road shoe is the MR00. The sheer amount of mud at the start was ridiculous, at one point it was 6inches deep. I was glad to have trail shoes on. But I’d have to agree with you Jason, the people who won were the best runners. I’m looking forward to my next one, maybe later this year!

    • The MT10’s are nice shoes! Hopefully you didn’t completely ruin them or at least they were an old pair. Glad to hear you had fun, I still need to figure out if I want to do another one.

  10. I used the vibrams, they were sensational.

    What did you wear?

  11. Fantastic breakdown, Jason, and congrats on your success!

  12. The Warrior Dash will be my second obstacle race for me did Run for your Lives last year such a blast…I was very intimidated at first but the people are great

  13. This is my problem with the races like warrior dash and Spartan, If anything warriors and Spartans didn’t run much but were physically strong and stood and fought. These races are all about the faster runners. If a Kenyan had been in that race you’d have lost just like the stronger weightlifter/crossfit/hybrid runners would cause its 95% all about running speed

    Someone who could bench 350, squat 500, and Deadlift 500 and run a 7:30 mile 5k pace would lose to a pure runner like yourself. Yet I would call that person more of a warrior and more all around fit (No offense).

    Greg Strosaker thats because theres is no real man weight involved in these races. The
    only way to remedy this is to put some real weight out there. Instead of flipping a 150 lbs tire over the tire should be 300 lbs. The men should have to carry 150 lbs over there shoulder for 100 yards!

    The point is the faster runners are gonna win these races because there is really no extreme strength dependent stuff out there. This guy proves that.

    Spartans and warriors had to carry heavy swords and shields. Now who do you think they would pick in there army? A more muscular strong well rounded man who could run decently or a 130 lb marathoner runner who could run very fast but couldn’t lift much?

  14. Jason I love to run and i respect guys who are as fast as you. You have all my respect. But id never beat you in races like this because i spread my time out cross training/weightlifting/ and the rest goes to running. Ill run 30 miles a week tops and do strength training and some cross fit the rest of my work out time.

    I do think it would be cool if they made a obstacle course than had more strength intensive stuff in it though for the much slower but stronger guys 🙂

  15. I wouldn’t beat you anyway even if i was a pure runner cause you seem to have some major talent LOL anyway my point was it be nice for someone to come up with a obstacle race with more strongman type stuff in it lol

  16. I am debating signing up for thw WD in MD this year however I can barley run a mile without dying. I have 2 months to get ready and plan to hit the gym and nature trails as much as I can. I really just want to do it fun the run not for the race…do you think I’ll be able to hang in there and at least complete it?

  17. Well once you get past the fact that a “warrior” is someone who puts their life on the line. Guys who would march 60 miles and fight a battle/war to the death at the end of it, with little rest or food/water. It has NOTHING to do with an obstacle course race like this one.LOL.

    Now I have never run one but you have proved what I have always thought. The best runner can win a race like this most likely every time as long as he/she gets himself out front and out of trouble. Doesn’t mean I wouldn’t try one myself just to see what I could do though!

    Tell me………which wave did you run in? It seems to me that you would really want to be in an early wave before the course is destroyed.


  18. One more question… they have age groups in these races or is it first come first served type of thing? A masters division? LOL

  19. I know a guy who just did Spartan Sprint and he cant even do 1 full pull up. This goes to show how much of a joke these races really are when it comes to strength!

    This is how i would do it. I would put more weight obstacles out there for the men. Like a heavy dummy you would have to carry for 100 yards. And no none of this 75lb crap im talking 150 lbs. If someone who is a mostly pure runner can not complete a strength obstacle they get a 2 minute time out where they have to run in place for 2 minutes until the time is up then they can proceed. This will level the playing field! Even Hobie Call said the last place fast marathon runners would beat the fastest cross-fit athletes by 5 minutes. He even stated the spartan wasn’t a true test of being well rounded. Being a elite runner is a must everything else secondary. Hobie would destroy Rich Froning Jr in a spartan race but you are telling me he is more all around fit? Not a chance.

  20. Lauren D. says:

    For a 14 year old, what is an appropriate mile time to place in this race? (I have running and upper body training…and stuff)

  21. Michele says:

    I am signed up for the MD Warrior Dash in May. I know you finished first, but did it seem like the mud pits were chaotic? I’m not a great swimmer (runner, yes), so I’m a little worried about that.

  22. I am running the Warrior Dash in MN. Sept 7. I have begun some training now. Thanks for the advice. It has been on mine and my best friends bucket list so we decided to get er done! I am totally out of shape from my winter hibernation. Here is to hoping for the best! Cheers!!!

  23. Jason congrats on crushing the course. Too bad you did not get the helmet though. I have been though a few obstacle courses and may I suggest you try out the elite or competitor (I forget what it is called) wave of a Spartan Race. Spartan Races are a little more serious as they are chipped and timed ( The WD was too right?) and I think they attract a bit more of a competitor crowd as opposed to the brofest you find at a WD or Tough Mudder. I have also noticed some comments above saying that these courses are always owned by runners and there should be more strength involved. Spartan hits this (but still seems to be owned by runners lol). Rope climbs, sand bag carries (up double black diamonds on Killington). some crazy farmers carries with cement blocks, swimming among the standard crawls, jumps, and climbs. There is a kicker also, if you fail or miss an obstacle there is a 30 burpee penalty. To help identify with the “warrior” spirit Spartan throws you into the unknown by not releasing any of the course or the actual distance (they have four series described as 3+miles, 8+ miles ,13+ miles and “The Death Race”). Anyway just my $.02.

    • Thanks Rob – I’ve been tempted to compete at one of the longer ones but haven’t had the time yet with a few other goals on my radar. But maybe a fun race to do once I get Boston out of the way next year. Hope you’re doing well!

  24. Uauh!congratulation!!!
    In october i m going to run the Fisherman Friends Strongman run here in Luxembourg. 22k with 15 obstacles per lap. Is quite scary but i m training with a few 10 k trail and i am a crossfitter so i am confident with pull ups push ups and squats.
    I will suggest this sport in adition to the run to imporove the agility the endurance and the strength.
    Plus…pray a lot and don’t cry hihih….:)
    thank you for your precious suggestions!


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