United Warrior


By Tamara Browning

Shelly Hannant has several reasons why she’s looking forward to running the United Warriors Xtreme Race Aug. 1 at the Morgan County Fairgrounds. Having run in two previous races, Hannant hopes to best her time this year in the 5K, 24-obstacle event that will benefit agencies of Prairieland United Way. “I run … and I do CrossFit, and combining a run that’s got obstacles is very challenging for me personally,” said Hannant, 44, a Jacksonville resident who does several obstacle races a year. “It’s also a great way to support a wonderful cause and to challenge yourself physically and mentally and keep you busy. At 44 … I think it’s more of just trying to prove to myself that I can still stay in shape and still be active and healthy. And they’re fun.”

Hannant will be among the 400 people race officials anticipate to run the third United Warriors Xtreme Race. The first year, 130 runners participated, and 220 ran last year. The race raised $10,000 its first year and about $15,000 its second year for distribution among Prairieland United Way partners that helped with race planning. This year’s goal is $20,000. “We’re always looking for creative ways to raise funds in ways that people won’t mind paying,” said Lori Hartz, executive director of Prairieland United Way. “They don’t mind paying a registration fee for something that they get to do. It doesn’t seem like just a gift. They’re doing it for a purpose.”

Why not Jacksonville?

Raising funds for charity is “ icing on the cake” when it comes to the United Warriors Xtreme Race, Hartz said. For the past five years, obstacle racing has exploded in popularity, with an estimated 400-plus events now produced in the U.S. and about 200 more worldwide, according to the USA Obstacle Racing Association at its website obstacleusa.com. Realizing the manpower it would take to run a race, Tom Atkins of Jacksonville brought the idea of obstacle racing to the Prairieland United Way after three of his six sons competed in a Warrior Dash in Joliet and had “a great time.” “I got to thinking, ‘There’s no reason that we couldn’t have something like that in Jacksonville,’ and I thought, ‘It’d be a great fundraiser,’” Atkins said. “We pitched the idea with the United Way, because, one, there’s more strength in numbers as far as people who would be able to help with organizing. “I particularly was engaged with Boy Scouts, and I wanted to do everything I could to help improve that relationship with United Way, as well as just overall fundraising.”Atkins said 20- to 40-year-olds aren’t typically a “philanthropic group of people.” “But if you can give them something crazy to do, they let go of the money,” Atkins said. “It’s a way to provide some entertainment and get some funds from a group of people we don’t normally collect a whole lot from.”

Natural obstacles

Atkins, who works at Illinois Road Contractors, designs and builds the obstacles for United Warriors Xtreme Races.Atkins tries to incorporate obstacles into the natural layout of the central Illinois landscape and the Morgan County Fairgrounds, Hartz said. For example, one obstacle is round straw bales stacked in a tower that competitors climb using a rope. “We’re using the slopes on the racetrack for slippy-slidey types of obstacles that have water incorporated in them,” Hartz said. “We’re using the parking lot of the fairgrounds for our party area.”Atkins said the mud pit this year is not the last obstacle, as it had been previously.“There is still about 300 yards to run to the finish line after the mud pit – some may lose their shoes in the mud,” said Atkins, who added that there are a lot more climbing and water obstacles this year because participants indicated that’s what they enjoy. “The last two obstacles are some simple tubes to cross over and then a wall of foam before the finish line. These are both new to this race.”

Fresh every year’

Feedback from racers is welcomed so that the race can be made “fresh every year,” Hartz said.That feedback has resulted in several changes, including the addition of fast heats, fast lanes and a family run at the end of the race where kids as young as 10 can run with family members. There is also a free children’s obstacle course for kids under 10.“(We) try to incorporate as many of those ideas as we can so that we have a race course that is competitive but isn’t too difficult for like the average person who may be used to running but may not be used to climbing over things,” Hartz said. “Challenging enough, but not too hard.” Hannant said it’s fun not knowing what the obstacles are beforehand. “When you run up on them, you’re like, ‘OK. How am I going to do this one without hurting myself?’ ” said Hannant, who runs the race with friends. Hannant, who said she runs 3 miles four times a week and does CrossFit (strength and conditioning) workouts, doesn’t do anything special to train for the United Warriors Xtreme Race. Last year, Hannant beat her previous year’s time by 3 minutes, clocking in at under 30 minutes. But people not in the best physical shape can still do the race, she said. “I found last year very inspiring. There were a couple of people who were older and not in the best physical shape, and they walked the course,” Hannant said. “I thought that was totally amazing because they challenged themselves to do something that they would never have done. I heard all of them say when they got done, ‘We’re going to do it again next year, and we’re going to get healthier this year.’ The course is designed with all skill levels in mind, Hartz noted. “If you are really fit, you’re going to be challenged. But if you’re not really fit, you’ll be able to do this course, too. It’ll just take you longer,” Hartz said. “Fun is the name of the game with this course.”

— Contact Tamara Browning: tamara.browning@sj-r.com, 788-1534, twitter.com/tambrowningSJR.

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