Source: Sherman Publications

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One dirty runóWarrior Dash 5K

by Susan Bromley

August 03, 2011

Brandon Township resident Diana Bertapelle, second from right, with friends after completing the Warrior Dash. Photo provided.
The "Great Warrior Wall" was only 15-feet high in reality, but as Brandon Township resident Diana Bertapelle arrived at the third obstacle in the Warrior Dash 5K event last Saturday, it looked like it was 50-feet high and insurmountable.

A rope to climb the wall hung just low enough for the 5-foot-1-inch tall Bertapelle to reach. At the bottom of the rope was a girl laying on the ground who had fallen and was waiting for medics.

A shaken Bertapelle looked up. Straddling the top of the wall, her personal trainer, Greg Taylor from Anytime Fitness, was yelling at her.

"I thought, 'I can't do this,'" she said. "But Greg was yelling, 'Just do it! Come on!' He was yelling orders, and since he's my drill sergeant, I started climbing. I was almost crying. That's when you think, 'What the hell was I thinking? I'm 46-years-old.'"

When Bertapelle learned the Warrior Dash, which bills itself as a "mud-crawling, fire-leaping, extreme run from hell" was coming to Michigan for the first time, at the E.A. Cummings Center in Mt. Morris, she set a goal to be fit enough for the July 30-31 race.

She knew it was something completely out of character that her friends and family wouldn't expect from her. For the past 16 years, since the birth of her daughter, Bertapelle said she had been overweight. At this time a year ago, she weighed nearly 200 pounds, the heaviest she had ever been. In September, sick and tired of being sick and tired, Bertapelle joined Anytime Fitness.

"I was 45 and I knew if I didn't do it now, I would never be fit," she said. "I was tired of being a spectator in my life, I wanted to actually live it."

Bertapelle has since lost 32 pounds and gone from a size 18 to a size 8. To prepare for the Warrior Dash, she started running about a month ago, but felt with her strength and cardio training workouts at the gym, she would be in good enough shape for the course.

"I didn't plan on the ropes," she laughs.

On July 30, Bertapelle lined up for the 10:30 a.m. wave. The Warrior Dash had 10,000-plus people run the course on Saturday, with 300-500 people in each wave.

The first mile of the 3.1 mile race was strictly running, and then Bertapelle and fellow gym members Karen Miller and Sheila Roque reached the first obstacle, a junkyard dash with multiple tires to hop through and cars to climb over which she described as "pretty easy and quick to get you warmed up."

Next was the swamp— logs in water that racers had to climb over, and mud. After that was the wall and the injured runner. (There would be many runners injured throughout the two days, some critically. According to news reports, the next race day a runner was paralyzed after diving into a mud pit and landing wrong.)

Bertapelle was pumped full of adrenaline and didn't even feel the bruising her arms, elbows and legs were sustaining or the rope burns as she cruised through obstacle after obstacle, including rolling across a cargo net (not the best way to cross it, she says), walking across planks, army crawling through a pitch black tent in 100-plus degree temperatures, and weaving through a weblike series of bungee cords.

"We were trying to be careful and the next wave of psychotic people come through, and I said, 'Stop trampling us,'" recalled Bertapelle. "Then you come to the obstacle that wasn't an obstacle. It was a ravine with a creek running through...There's five feet of mud before you get to the river. You're sinking down and trying to keep your shoes on... People were worried about leeches and I was like, 'Great, I hadn't thought about that.'"

The fire obstacle was more mental than anything, she said, and Bertapelle jumped over two lines of flames with her comrades before they reached the last obstacle, in which they jumped into a mud pit and crawled under barbed wire before crossing the finish line.

"I felt like I could do anything at that moment, I wanted to go again," Bertapelle said. "I was on a high most of the rest of the day until the pain started. My hip hurt, but I felt amazing. I can't believe I did it... I got up to the wall and thought, 'I can't,' but I I just sucked it in and did it. You can't listen to what your head says, you just shut everything out and do it. Everything is mental. You just have to get over the mental challenge."