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Legend of the Death Race Year 2: Part 7 – Between a Rock and a Hard Place: Bloodroot

Photo Credit: Chad Weberg

Photo Credit: Chad Weberg

Now that the race had officially started, we were informed that the next leg of the race would take place on the notorious Blood Root Mountain Trail.  At last it was finally upon us, one of the most demanding segments of last year’s race took place here, but even when my team was forced to drag a tire for nearly 20 miles through Blood Root we refused to quit even after falling more than six hours behind the rest of the racers. With prior knowledge of how ridiculously technical Blood Root could be and how well we conquered it as a team the previous year, I felt a sense of excitement—this  would be the place where many would break. The scary part about this trail is it’s the point of no return. There is no compromising, no turning back, no cutting corners and the hike is designed to decimate the brave souls traversing the path.

Anthony Matesi

To keep things interesting we were instructed to go search the surrounding land for a large rock, which we would be required to carry in front of us for the entire hike. That’s right, they did not want us putting it in our pack, over our head, or anywhere else, but rather right out in front of you. That was the rule. . Before I even began looking for my rock my mind raced through a checklist of all the gear I had on me that could possibly lend me a “hand” in completing this objective. Bungee cord. Rope. 550 Cord. I had a lot of ideas in my mind as to how I would hack this challenge. To be a successful Death Racer one must  be a hacker and must excel at thinking beyond the box’s walls; and sometimes requiring a racer to go even further to reach a solution to aid in beating the game that Joe and Andy devised. As I searched for my rock, I saw Joe giving Junyong Pak a hard time about the size of the rock he brought over. Before anyone was allowed to take off, every rock was inspected and a volunteer was snapping photos of each racer with their rock. Supposedly, they’d be using the photos to make sure we kept the same rock the entire length of the hike. I highly doubted they were actually going to perform a photo review at the end of the challenge, but then again, this is the Death Race, so anything is possible.

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Photo Credit: Chad Weberg

Joe had it out for me for this challenge. He knew how strong I was performing so he wasn’t going to let me get away with anything. I brought him my first rock. He laughed, I honestly had thought it would be adequate, but alas, I was sent back to find another. When I returned, Joe told me that I’d have to go find an even bigger rock because again, the one I brought over was nowhere near big enough. I was stunned. This one was actually a pretty solid piece of slate, it had size, weight, but didn’t satisfy Joe’s sadistic expectation. Off to find another rock. Joe was starting to get to me. My impatience to race was creeping up on me. I thought to myself, I’m just going to have to find a large slab and suck it up. This next section is going to push me. Joe is making sure of that. But, it made me feel good inside that Joe thought I could haul a larger slab. When I returned, I presented my rather large, flat, slab of slate it was a rugged piece, jagged edges, almost the entire width of my body. I knew this was a keeper. Quoting Full Metal Jacket, I thought of the mantra: This was my rock. There were many like it but this one. This one would be mine. And most importantly, Joe approved. At last after having my photo snapped, I strategically positioned the slab so it wouldn’t be very identifiable in the photo in the event they actually did review these photos at the next checkpoint. I had a distinct feeling people would be swapping out their rocks along the way. I had an even stronger feeling that I would not be keeping this ridiculously large rock for very long.

anthony matesi bloodroot death race

Photo Credit: Chad Weberg

At last, I was on my way across Route 100 heading toward the legendary Blood Root Mountain Trail. The race really felt like it had finally begun the sun was setting. Then, just like that, while we were heading down the road that led to the Blood Root, I felt the air change. It was already getting dark from the sun setting, the clouds dimmed the sky, and I felt a rain drop hit one of my fingers. Then another. Then it came a full-on downpour. There is a running joke in the community that Joe and Andy have a direct line to the weather gods. Too often the weather has come in and changed the game whether (pardon the pun) it be at a Spartan Race or the Death Race. Somehow the weather always seems to play out in the Race Director’s favor. Giving them that little extra bit of suck to dish out without having to do anything other than let Mother Nature take over the mind fuckery. It was just another way to make this task a wee bit more challenging. That was the mindset I had to maintain. This is just another obstacle. I was certain the combination of this unexpected rain storm, and the treacherous hike, which forced us to carry a heavy rock would be THE tipping point for this race. I was certain this would thin the heard.

Not even a half hour after leaving Riverside Farm, I was already growing irritated with my rock. The one I choose was less than ideal, but at the time my only concern was making sure Joe wouldn’t delay my departure, so I grabbed one of the most gnarly rocks I could find. His plan was working, it was aggravating me. The stone slab I chose had some nasty edges and already pierced through the skin on my hands in a few places. There was no way I was carrying this exact same rock for the entirety of this challenge, I thought to myself. I’ll never make it. There it was…that self-doubt. That uncertainty that tries to overcome you right at the moment when things start getting rough. That’s when I said NO. I will not let my thoughts defeat me. I will not let this rock defeat me…not yet at least. As we made our way down the road I began to strategize a way to secure the rock to the straps of my ruck. Before busting out the supply of 550 cord, bungee cords, and whatever other rope I brought along for the race I tried to just secure the rock by using my chest and waist belts as holders for the rock. It didn’t take long for me to realize that this method was going to leave my pelvis severely bruised. I fashioned the ropes and bungees to my chest straps and waist belt, securing the rock to my body so I could avoid slicing my hands up any more than I already had.

Trying to stay with a pack for once and especially with those who had taken a bit of a lead I found myself having a bunch of difficulties getting my headlamp situated for the impending darkness that was beginning to engulf the skies above. I finally decided to stop and take a moment to fix the straps on my headlamp. Once fixed, I had to gather myself and figure out which direction to continue. I followed a few racers, and was soon united with some of my friends including Daren De Heras, Pete Coleman, Junyong Pak, among many other Death Race veterans. We all continued on through the pouring rain toward Blood Root. Eventually we approached a fork in the road where everyone’s opinion was divided 50/50 on which way to go. We spent a fair amount of time here trying to figure out which direction was the correct path. I recalled the directions we were presented and knew that the left path was the shorter route, there was no way in hell that was the correct path to take. This is where things became a bit interesting. Half the group followed Junyong up the path to the left. I decided to hang tight for a bit before making any rash decisions. I wanted to be certain I wasn’t going the wrong way, I did not want to risk being penalized for taking the wrong route, miss a challenge, or the worst case scenario, wind up lost with no idea where to go.

After what seemed like a significant amount of time a group of us finally headed down the path to the right. Not too far along we eventually ran into another group of Death Racers who were being led by Andy, Norm Koch and Jack Cary. This turnaround point led to a lot of chaos and confusion. People who were behind us didn’t know whether they should keep going or turn around and join this group. Seeing all the Race Directors together was all I needed to see, I would let them lead the way. Where the Race Directors go, I’ll follow. I knew I had taken the right path but they were going back in the direction from which we had just been. By turning around I was among the leaders of the pack. That’s how fast things can change in the Death Race. Just like that, you can go from being somewhere in the middle, yet in almost the blink of an eye you can be back in the “top” position.

Now knowing we had taken the correct path I realized the other guys went the wrong way. I didn’t want to get too excited so I kept this thought to myself and just tried to keep pace focusing on staying with the taskmasters. The further back we traveled the more spread out the group became. I was running with a couple people two guys were in front of me and another pair behind. My bungee cords were flopping around quite a bit and as the rock slowly made its way out I finally brought myself to a halt deciding it was best to take the time to readjust my rock holster. When I looked back up I was alone. No one was in sight. I ran ahead a bit more. Still no one. I turned off my headlamp to see if I could spot anyone else’s beam of light through the darkness.  Nothing… I was alone.

To be continued…

Legend of the Death Race Year 2: Part 6 – The Unexpected

After finishing the barbed wire challenge I had the opportunity to gather my gear before proceeding to the next challenge; or lack thereof. My mission required that I head back to the Riverside Farm and wait. That’s right, myself and the other four racers who finished were so far ahead that we had to wait for over four hours. After everyone was together, we once again gathered for instructions about the next challenge. In the meantime, we were practically given a free pass to do anything we wanted. The only instruction was to be back at Riverside Farm ready to go by 4:00 pm.  I made my way to the bottom of Tweed River Drive back to the large field outside the White Barn at Riverside Farm. This area was also used as the parking lot for most of the racers and it just so happened that Mark had also parked his car here.

IMG_8145Finally arriving at Riverside Farm after hiking back down, I went straight to Mark’s Land Rover, found the key that he hid just in case one of us finished early, and opened up the hatch. Inside I found the perfect tool to keep me busy these next few hours. I recall purposely packing away my travel-size foam roller knowing how wrecked my body would be after another dance with death. Around this same time some of my fellow Corn Fed Spartans came back down from the barbed wire challenge to check on me. They asked if I needed anything from my bag check, or if I wanted anything to eat as they were about to go grab lunch from the General Store.

Oh, the Original General Store of Pittsfield, VT. The most magnificent General Store ever. (How I love you so). I was ecstatic when they asked me if I wanted  anything to eat. Are you kidding me? Of course I want something, I thought to myself, I’ve been eating protein/energy bars, trail mix, and other random foods up to this point. The thought of a juicy bacon burger from the General Store popped into my head. When Missy Morris asked me what I wanted my immediate response was, “Can I have a burger, with BACON?!” Everyone laughed and then they hopped back in Lisa Weberg’s SUV and headed out.

While I waited I grabbed the foam roller and went to town on every sore part of my body. No muscle was left unrolled! Upper Back? Check. Hamstrings? Check. Calves? Check. Hip Flexors? Check. Lower Back? Double Check. My basic theory in rolling everything out during the down time was to prevent my muscles from locking up. A few of the guys I made it back with laid down and went straight into nap-time. Not me, I was still rocking-out from the wicked energy spike after crushing that barbed wire crawl and nailing the celebratory Burpee back-flip. My primary objective was to be proactive and reserve some of my energy and channel it to my active recovery efforts.. The more I thought about it, the fact was evident that, once again, being a leader in this race was less than ideal, especially early on. The larger the lead you take in this race, one of two things happen. First, they continue to give you more and more work to break you down until the rest of the pack catches up. Or, secondly, they do make you wait, giving you time to rest. You are probably thinking, how is that a bad thing? The thought of it isn’t that bad, especially since you’ve been going for over 30 hours at this point. However, the reality is the longer you rest the more the soreness sets in. Muscles begin to cramp and you can feel your shoulders tighten, your legs begin to stiffen up, and the thought of lifting them becomes the greatest challenge. I could not let this happen.. During those hours in the field I did everything I could to stay somewhat active. Everything in my power to keep my body “fresh” whatever “fresh” meant after 30+ hours of racing.

1040752_10151998181159418_71694408_oWhile waiting in the field, I was visited by my dear friend, Andi Hardi. She was also about to make a trip back to Amee Farm, where our gear drop was and asked me if I needed anything. I realized this was quite possibly the last chance I’d have to get some fresh socks and shoes for a while so that is exactly what I requested. I gave her exact directions as to where to find my gear at bag drop and any other pieces of information she’d need so I could finish this monster of a race.  She asked if I needed food but I informed her that Missy was already grabbing me a burger—or  so I had hoped she was. It felt like it had been a while since they had left. Andi took off and I went back to stretching and utilizing my foam roller. I will NOT cramp up, I kept repeating in my head. Control the mind, control the body.

I was just about to begin stretching when down came my Corn Fed Family. The sight of burger brought out pure jubilation from my ribcage. I demolished nearly half of the burger before they had to take off to look for the other members of Corn Fed who were back at the previous challenge now. They only stayed long enough to hand me the burger and wish me luck. My caloric deficit was quite evident, something that’s just part  of these multi-day adventures. In endurance racing, caloric intake and retention is everything—it can really make or break someone’s race (and body). No matter how much you try the body will almost always be in negative calorie deficit.

1010434_10100879264324369_690310363_nTo put that into perspective, in a typical day a person will generally eat anywhere between 1200-4000 calories/day depending on a lot of factors. A typical high intensity, hour plus workout can burn upwards of 1000 calories, again many factors to actually determine accurate counts. During a race of this magnitude you are easily burning nearly 10,000 calories/day and it is very likely you are only consuming somewhere in the realm of 2000 calories per day. Taking that into account I was trying very hard to keep my intake optimal so I could still perform and not lose too much weight and keep my energy levels sufficient. I entered this event weighing in around 158-160lbs on average leading up to the Death Race.  No matter what, I was leaving this race lighter than when I began, and with my metabolism helplessly trying to keep up.

After they left I ate another quarter of the burger and put the rest aside for later. Not knowing when we might start up again, I didn’t want to risk being too full. Nothing is worse than throwing up during a race. I wanted to avoid that as long as I could. I don’t remember when it was, but eventually Andi returned with a whole trove of goodies including a whole pizza. I was stuffed but not even ten minutes after her arrival I found myself digging in and having a slice. Might as well take advantage of the fresh, food while it’s available! Soon enough, it’d be back to dried fruit and nuts, beef jerky, and whatever protein/energy I had left in my ruck. Andi also brought me a new pair of smart wool socks, my Brooks Cascadia 7’s that I used last year for more than half the race. I was excited to have something to change into since I’d been walking around barefoot since arriving at the field. It’s good to take advantage of being able to air your feet out and keep them dry. I stick to a strategy of using a pair of Injinji performance socks underneath either a pair of smart wool socks or compression socks. The smart wool wicks away the moisture and the Injinji toe socks keep anything from rubbing usually resulting in minimal blisters.

1011758_10200579451383550_26490325_nAnother hour or so had passed and finally it was time to get back into race mode. All the other racers were arriving at the brown barn toward the back of the. Making my way over to the circle drive where all the racers were reconvening, I was shocked to see how many people were still in the race at that point. It didn’t sit right. Given that I knew the race was about to become increasingly difficult from here on out. If this many people remained there was no doubt Joe and Andy would turn things up a notch to assist in boosting the drop rate and help them reach their less than 15% finisher rate.

I decided I’d be ready for whatever sadistic curveball they were about to dish out. I remember wandering around trying to catch up with any of my friends that I hadn’t seen in a while to see how their race was going. There was a ZICO Coconut Water tent set up distributing coconut water to all the racers. I snagged a few for myself being conscious of how much I ingested knowing that the magnesium content could make you more likely to be required to dig yourself a hole in the woods. Something I’d like to avoid for as long as possible.

992864_10200579444343374_492645063_nI recall connecting with some of my Team SISU friends, including Daren, whom I met at my first dance with Death the year before during our eighteen mile hike with Team Tire. I also saw my fellow Corn Fed Spartans teammates, Jonathan Nolan, TJ Nomeland, and Andé Wegner who informed me she would not be able to continue after the barbed wire crawl challenge. When I asked why, she showed me her ruck and how it was completely torn apart. There was nothing she could do to fix it. She had tried to make adjustments and fixes but nothing worked and that was it. I never would have thought to bring a backup ruck, but after seeing that I made a mental note. Something to consider. You really never know what could be the determining factor in this race. Somewhere in-between all this and the race announcements I also bumped into another friend that I met around this same amount of time into the race the year prior, Matt B. Davis. He informed me that he had been talking to Corinne and she wanted him to give me a kiss for her. That’s right, Matt gave me a kiss…from Corinne, of course. At this point I was like whatever and told him alright, he promised to shoot her a photo of it, too. It definitely gave me a smile and made me laugh. He asked me if I wanted to tell her anything, and I told him to tell her I loved her. He reluctantly obliged.

936434_559919897387856_216992498_nShortly after, Andy and Joe hopped up on a rock and began to explain to the racers, the crew members, and all of the family and friends in attendance that the race was about to officially begin. Another one of the mind-boggling mind games they play. At this point, I sympathized more for the family, friends, and crew. They usually are the ones that are most taken aback by these announcements usually having less understanding of how the race works than the racers. Being a veteran, I just knew they were trying to see if anyone would drop, they had a goal and sometimes the mind games were the most effective way to achieve their desired results. I understood this, studying the race so closely gave me a lot of insight on what their tactics were, especially from developing how to conduct my own simulation of this event. They began to explain what our next task would be, but my mind was racing. My energy still spiked through the roof and all I wanted to do was blast through this next part of the race. I just spent more than four hours doing next to nothing. I needed to get back out there. I needed a new challenge. I needed something to curve my appetite. I was starving for adventure.

To be continued…

Legend of the Death Race Year 2: Part 5 – A Dance with Barbed Wire

Making my way up to the top of Tweed River Drive, I was surprised not to see anyone ahead of me and looking back, no one behind me. I was all alone. The solitude felt strange. The sun beat down hard as I charged up the same path I remembered taking the year before, when Morgan and I headed toward one of the last challenges. Just like that time, I felt the sun’s punishing rays rapidly increasing my body temperature.

The reality of being alone and still wandering up the road after Anthony passed by on the bike left me feeling a bit edgy. By now, I expected at least one person to catch me. Uphill climbing isn’t exactly my specialty. I continued to climb until finally I reached the last stretch just before the cabin where Chris Davis had once stayed came into sight. I could see a table where Peter Borden sat waiting for his next victims. This was the year of the Gambler and I was about to play my first real hand at his sadistic card game, literally.

unloading pack for barbed wire crawlFinally, I saw some racers already playing the game,  so I took a minute to observe how everything was playing out; all the while being greeted by some of my Corn Fed Spartan family members. They came here to observe this particular obstacle since it was one that everyone had been murmuring about since people started arriving in Pittsfield. Admittedly, it was a pretty gnarly obstacle designed to physically and mentally break a person. At the top, was a ravine and a drain culvert was constantly dumping water into the ravine. The ravine itself was wonderfully decorated with strands of barbed wire hanging loosely from the roots and a few stakes here and there. At a typical obstacle or Spartan Race you’ll see a saggy barbed wire section every now and then, but this…this was unlike any barbed wire section imaginable.

Some sections required making a choice between crawling over or under a log—the key factor being how easily one might navigate their pack across the obstacle. At the top of this crazy barbed wire section was a fold-out card table. There, Peter Borden, another Death Race mastermind and race director, was challenging each racer returning from their dance with the barbed wire to a little card battle. High or low? Choosing a low card meant you went back for another round of barbed wire navigation. Choosing a high card resulted in moving on to the next card. But let’s be real here, who’s kidding who? This is the Death Race. Much like life, it’s not designed to be fair and I could see that was the case at the present. From what I could tell, you retrieved your card from the bottom of the crawl and played it at the top.

Observing this obstacle, I took my time to get myself “comfortable” for the first time I took off the tactical pants I wore and stripped down to my compression shorts. The heat was a major factor and I knew this obstacle would leave me soaking wet. We were to take our bags with us through the challenge so I unloaded most of my contents in the safest location I could find behind the little shack. Closing my pack, I took a gamble.—leaving  my gear unattended. In addition to unloading my gear, I took advantage and refueled with some Gatorade and snacks. Once I was ready, I notified Peter Borden that I was ready to gamble. He sent me to the barbed wire section with my recently-lightened pack, to the bottom of the ravine where I was greeted by volunteers before receiving a card. Once I received my card, I was to return to the top of the ravine to play my card against Peter’s. Let the gamble begin.

peakDR-6214aI grabbed my pack and began my dance with the barbed wire. This barbed wire crawl was unlike anything I had ever experienced, which had nothing to do with slinging my ruck along with me. I was no stranger to bringing a ruck through a crawl, I’ve simulated this at many obstacle course races by dragging my ruck along for the ride. What made this barbed wire crawl so dire was the very element of its design. It snaked through a treacherous ravine that most wouldn’t even consider trying to navigate without the manmade string of thorns. But I couldn’t help but think,here, climb up and down this slippery slope of death…and wait, let us throw in a bunch of loose, low hanging barbed wire in the mix to give it that added touch of “you may die” that sounds like a great obstacle.  And the sick part is, I really enjoyed this challenge, a lot.

1016123_10200564170481537_1925074420_nAs I started crawling my way down I realized how advantageous my natural flexibility would be a factor in this obstacle. On the descent, I started to get an idea of how many of us were already here. There were only maybe six or seven of us when I started. Crawling down the ravine really brought out all the natural movements I have come to perform naturally (thanks to the many years of martial arts, to my years in gymnastics and my collegiate cheerleading continued to strengthen and maintain my flexibility).. I moved through the barbed wire with incredible ease, like one of those spies sneaking into a heavily laser-guarded museum, moving under each wire and even picking them up when need be with zero hesitation. My speed to the bottom proved to be noteworthy. At the bottom, I was surprised to see the volunteers were two young children. They gave me the opportunity to select a card and as I turned it around to view it I was not happy to see it was the two of hearts. Knowing that the high card wins, I was ready for my punishment before I even began my climb. Figuring there was no point wasting time, I hurried myself back to the top trying not to catch my ruck or my body on any of the wire. From that point forward, I was on a mission to regain my leading position in the race. I couldn’t turn off my competitive edge.

5904_10200564168201480_1022476558_nApproaching the card table, I sarcastically threw my card down and told Peter Borden, “beat that” and laughed almost maniacally. He laughed and said, “Looks like you have another lap” as he pulled out an Ace from his deck. If, for some reason, you got lucky and did win you’d instantaneously move to the next challenge. Since that was a very unlikely outcome the other option to move on to the next challenge was to complete five laps of this barbed wire crawl challenge. There was a least some sign of relief though, after three laps with the ruck you were allowed to finish the last two laps without it.

Knowing that this was the Death Race and with almost 100% certainty that the game was completely skewed in the House’s favor, much like a casino except with even worse odds, my strategy was to barrel through the barbed wire crawl with as much speed as possible. Finishing this obstacle with the fastest, that was my goal. As soon as I could drop the bag I knew I could fly through this course. I knew that was how I’d catch up and pass my competition. My energy levels surged through the roof at this stage. I can’t really explain it other than feeling empowered. Maybe it was the young boy cheering me on, or the support of my fellow Corn Fed Spartans, or Andy telling me during one of my laps that I could win this thing, or the fact I was actually gaining on the leaders and was ahead of previous winner Olof Dallner and female winner Amelia Boone but I felt powerful.

998252_10200564169361509_1995097685_nThis race seemed ruthless, yet in a sick and twisted way, it also felt ridiculously easy to me. Up until now, nothing really demanded too much of me and we had to be a good 30 or so hours into the event. The moment I was free from having to lug that bag up and down was the moment that obstacle was over. I knew I wasn’t going to win a single one of these rounds of cards so I just moved as swiftly and quickly as possible. Sliding my body over an enormous tree root while staying low enough to avoid getting snagged, aping my way down the rocks, and bear crawling with unbelievable ease I completed those last two laps so vivaciously.

When I finished I even celebrated with a Burpee backflip or two for the camera. That’s right, after nearly 30 something hours moving up and down that mountain, chopping wood, moving rocks, running, and hiking and navigating this perilous barbwire course I was still able to show-off with my favorite variation of the Burpee. I have to admit, I wasn’t sure what would happen when I went to throw that backflip but I had so much power, stamina, and vigor that I wasn’t worried. I knew my muscles would activate and I let them take over. It was with great surprise I landed, but of course I didn’t show it; no, I nailed that Burpee backflip. Pure ownage!. This was my race. Get off the tracks or be destroyed by the freight train because I am unstoppable!

To be continued…

Legend of the Death Race Year 2: Part 4 – Ready, Get Set…..

Running down the staircase, yes, the one we just built not even a few hours earlier was absolutely exhilarating. Seeing the variety of boulders we’d placed and dug into the mountainside to create this new pathway leading us from the bottom to the top was a thing of beauty. In my head, I could already see how beautiful it would be a few months from now when I would return to Vermont for the Spartan Race World Championships Beast and Ultra Beast. As I hastily glided down the mountain, I fully embraced this boost in my energy levels; I started to think about how everyone gathered from all around the country and about how some people even travelled internationally to be here. For this race. This crazy insane race requiring us to build a staircase up the side of a mountain as we seeded the ground around what we had built. Then, it clicked. With people coming from all parts of the world, it surely meant the likelihood we were planting a wide array of grass seed from these very geographic locations was high—really high. This realization lost me in thoughts of how magical this place would soon become; something truly remarkable and uniquely special was being created before our very eyes. With shear man power, will and determination we had finally built a mile long staircase. We planted all kinds of grass seed and we’d created something that will outlast even my future grandchildren’s lifetime. All I could think about was what an absolutely breathtaking scene this mountainside will be once Mother Nature has her way.

pittsfield vermont stone stairs death racer built staircase

Regaining my focus on the task at hand, I arrived at the location where Andy directed us to unload our seed and hay. I opened my compression sack took out my grass seed, hurriedly spread it all about and laid my damp hay a top the seedlings. And before I knew it, I was sprinting my way up the mountain. Having the capability to travel without the ruck is so incredibly liberating—all that weight off my shoulders. I literally moved like the wind. Approaching the mountaintop and passing Shrek’s Cabin, I could hear Joe instructing Junyoung Pak, “See if you can beat the racers we already sent down and back up,” but just as Joe presented this challenge I was returning from the task. I announced my arrival to Joe and he looked to Pak and said, “Too late.” I remember Don being shocked at the blistering speed of my arrival. I was noticing quite a difference in my performance from the previous year when I was wandering the mountain just trying to get by with my torn labrum. Things were different this year. My power was back. I wasn’t supposed to be back to 100% and, at the time, I was probably only at about 80% of my strength, but it felt like 110%. That’s the difference between compensating and competing for an entire year on an injury. I felt like I could actually destroy this race and possibly even find myself in the top three spots if I kept moving with such ferocity. Going into the race my goal was simple, finish. It’s funny, how quickly that goal was evolving.

After this section, Joe took the first group of us down the mountain where we had quite a bit of bushwhacking to do before the next task. There we were required to move a few bucket loads worth of gravel to various spots on the mountain to assist in repairing sections of the trail. These are the typical “chores” that many racers have been known to complain about, but as a person who’d come to love this mountain and understand what it means to contribute to the preservation of its usability, I was happy to oblige. As we all finished our portion of the trail-grooming chores, we were told to grab a rock, which Joe had to approve, before he’d lead us through some gnarly terrain. Some of the spots were a bit sketchy and dangerous at times. With all the weight on my back and the big rock in my hands, I took extreme caution, but the terrain wasn’t enough to stop anyone, myself included. I remember one particular spot where a few people had clearly been recently. I must’ve been with the second group of people that Joe was showing the correct path to take, I thought.  I recall trying to follow these vaguely marked “trails” and at some point he said the magic words I’d been waiting to hear for well over 24 hours, “The race starts now.” BOOM! I took off trying to bushwhack, duck, dip, dodge, and climb over all the branches and rocks in my way while trying to pass people without endangering them or myself. The fire within my ribcage raged! Swelling with determination as my guide and Amee Farm as my destination. Once I found myself on the open, well-groomed trail I kicked it up a few notches.  Still carrying my rock in hand, I flew down the mountain. It was a rush passing everyone and soon enough, I found myself leading the way. I lead the entire pack to the next challenge. 

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My frontrunning didn’t last too long, however, one of my good and very inspiring friends, Isaiah Vidal, saw my speed as I flew past and I saw him launch himself into a full-out run. The two of us glided down the mountain, twisting and turning, jumping over rocks, crushing the switchbacks, doing whatever it took to be the first to Amee Farm. Isaiah took the lead as I started to fall back ever so slightly. I looked back, no one was anywhere in sight. To me, it seemed that we were the only ones pushing ourselves to race. As the clearing approached I could see Amee Farm in sight. Arriving less than a minute behind Isaiah, I was ecstatic to find out I was in second place. Our reward for being the first two to arrive at the wood chopping challenge? The largest damn stumps I had ever seen! These were not meant to be split with an axe or even a maul. I looked at mine in a defeating disbelief. Lesson learned, don’t be among the first to arrive to a challenge, you’ll only be rewarded, no, punished, for being a top contender.

As the other racers poured in I realized how everyone else was greeted with normal-sized stumps, which they only had to split into six pieces each, requiring a total of 30 logs split. Isaiah and I, however, were to split these enormous stumps into 25 pieces of fire wood. Starving, I remember eating some food and chugging down some Gatorade. I was half eating a PB&J while trying to split this monstrosity. Whack. Whack. Whack. With each swing I couldn’t help but laugh; this was ridiculous! No matter how hard I tried I was making ZERO progress. Each strike just reaffirmed that this was an impossible task. I focused on trying to slam my Fiskars X27 into the edges of the stump to start splitting it up but in reality I was just mulching little tiny pieces away—I couldn’t chop one clean splice. I had no clue what to do. I checked on Isaiah and he was having similar luck—or lack thereof. Nothing was giving on these stumps.

The other racers were trickling in one by one. I felt a suffocating sense of claustrophobia by all the ax swinging that  surrounding me. Unlike everyone else, who could easily grab and move their stumps wherever they wanted, I was unable to re-position mine because of the weight. I even had to ask a few racers to relocate because I simply could no longer bear the proximity of everything. All of it began to stress me out. I think I even felt just a bit concerned for my life. I didn’t know how skilled some of these guys were in the art of chopping wood and I didn’t want become the victim to a stray piece of wood or worse, an ax courtesy of Mr. Butterfingers. Once I put things in perspective for a few of the racers surrounding and boxing me in, they finally moved.

Isaiah and I working hard at our burpees.

Isaiah and I working hard at our burpees.

Shortly thereafter, after a few of us veterans, maybe 10, were pulled away from our splitting logs and informed we had to complete some ridiculous amount of Burpees, something like 500!. I can’t even remember why or what the whole deal was, but what I do remember during this whole Burpee Fest, that no one took it seriously and our counting went a little something like…1, 2, 3, 10, 15, 20, 50, 100… our counting may have been a bit….off, but we were all doing them in unison. If I were to guess, I’d say we easily did anywhere between 150 and 200 Burpees. but I can’t “confirm” that number with any certainty. Once the torture was complete, we were allowed to go back to splitting wood, but I was no longer forced to hack away at that enormous log. So, what I did here was collect all the logs required and I positioned myself on the other side of Route 100 where they stored all the firewood at the top of the parking lot near the lodge. My strategy allowed me to split everything on location so I could go straight to stacking everything as soon as I finished.

Switching from that monstrosity to the normal-sized logs was the greatest blessing. That was the trigger I needed. That was it, now focused all my fury on my pile of logs. I remember Chad Weberg checked in on me and was shooting some photos. It was good to see a friend and fellow Corn Fed Spartan. The logs were splitting like a dream, I was just slicing through them like a hot knife (or ax) through butter. As soon as I finished splitting and without even skipping a beat, I stacked them and carried them over immediately. I was a machine—mechanical in my movements and output. I spent a little time adjusting the existing pile and I just knew I had to be one of the first to be finished splitting. After stacking all the wood and fixing the pile, I tried to see if I could move on, but I was told to continue stacking. I felt it begin to set in. Panic. I began to worry that I would get stuck in the wood-splitting vortex. Unable to continue on to the next task. Trapped. I wanted to see if I could get moving. I was already done with this challenge. I remember, Missy Morris came over to me at one point and informed me they’d started sending people on to the next task. I was livid. She could see it in my face and told me she wanted to make sure I knew what was happening. I was thankful but pissed not to be with that first group. I felt like I somehow got screwed out of being the first to leave even though I was the among the first two to: arrive, crank out a bunch of Burpees when I should have been splitting wood, and was one of the first to finish splitting all my logs. Needless to say, I was not happy, but this was the Death Race. I knew this type of thing could happen, which was why I was so concerned about moving to the next challenge in the first place.

Furious, I made my way back across Route 100 and went to the gear tent where I was stopped by Candie Bobick, another good friend and teammate from the Corn Fed Spartans.  Apparently my frantic rush to get my stuff together in an effort to catch up with the others (the ones already on their way to the next challenge) set off an alarm to Candie that I was not in the right state of mind. She asked me when the last time I had eaten and, unable to answer her, my mind raced around trying to think of what I needed to bring. The worst part is you are always unaware of how long it’ll be until the next time you’ll have access to your drop bin. My mind continued to race. Did I need shoes? Socks? How much food should I bring? I could barely think and Candie could tell. She stopped me and forced me to drink some chocolate milk; it was so damn delicious.  I’m pretty sure she fed me something else, pretzels for the salt content. Definitely pretzels. Within a few minutes I was feeling more self-aware again and back on track. Nutrition is probably one of the most important things at the Death Race, I’m usually very self-aware of my food intake, but in this moment my priorities were a mess. 

Before leaving Amee Farm I finished packing my gear and gave it all one more mental checklist read off.  I was primarily concerned with resupplying my food and water supplies and I was off to the top of Tweed River Drive where the barbed wire task awaited. I was told I could get there any way I wanted. I couldn’t find any alternative transport so I just started running along Route 100 towards Riverside Farm. I figured taking the direct route might be my best bet right now, in hopes of possibly catching a ride. Any means possible, right? That’s when I saw fellow Death Race competitor, Anthony fly past me on a bicycle. I yelled,  “How the hell did you get a bike?” Feeling defeated, I continued moving along the road. This sucks, I thought to myself. There goes my huge lead. For some reason I was letting my high hopes of staying in the top positions get me down. This wasn’t like me, I wasn’t here to win, ever. I was here to finish. Coming into the wood chopping challenge second was inflating my head. It didn’t take long for me to stop caring about where I ranked as I hiked my way up the long road to the top of Tweed River Drive. I had a race to finish.

 

To Be Continued…

Legend of the Death Race Year 2: Part 3 – Mile High Staircase

The first night we were on Joe’s mountain we didn’t finish working on the staircase until something like 3AM. The entire time, we worked tirelessly building those stairs. It was evident that some teams were clearly expending more energy and putting forth more effort in making a respectable staircase compared to other teams. My team, Team 1, was absolutely killing it. Our staircase was among the best with each step perfectly placed, filled in, and properly fitted with the chosen stone.1017478_589216627776933_448729304_nIn terms of weight, we moved anywhere from 300 to 3000-pound stones, each one requiring precise lifting and positioning before sliding it into place. The most impressive of stone steps that we placed had to be the one that Don Devaney claimed to be comparable to the weight of a Ford F-150 — in other words, It was enormous! To make this happen, we needed ti recruit help from other teams, coordinating how to lift the stone, and make that stone slide into place in addition to stopping it without endangering anyone’s life. Accomplishing such a feat required us to lay out multiple pipes that ended right where the stone needed to be set in place. Then, three or more people began prying the stone up from the ground with more pipes and a second group that had more pipes angled at the bottom as fail-safe, to stop a slipping rock just incase it locked into place further than we wanted. 1002957_589215937777002_801157212_n Naturally, there were naysayers, a lot of them, when we tried to coordinate this. I took the lead and directed everyone to successfully maintain sense of direction and order. Since we had already moved many stones of similar, we had a working system to accomplish this task. As soon as a stone was lifted and placed on the pipes, it started sliding fast and the second it hit the soil it came to an abrupt stop. What seemed like a disaster waiting to happen (especially for those watching) became the most successful and amazing moment of the staircase construction process. Success — it felt so good, especially after having so many other racers tell us we were nuts and that this would never work. We succeeded and with that, we connected one of the last sections of the staircase that needed to be filled in.

All this time there was only a few things on my mind:

1. Keep going.

2. This is the easy part.

3. Don’t push yourself to hard.

4. Keep your nutrition and hydration solid while it’s still manageable.

5. I wish Corinne was here.

During this whole process, while we busted our asses on those stairs, I started hearing from people that we might be getting food for doing so well. This struck me as very concerning and shocking at first. Why would they give us food?Is this a gamble? Are we being tricked? And what was up with them providing everyone with ZICO. I thought this race was self-supported. Something was fishy; it just didn’t add up. They were helping us and being nice to us. Then it hit me. We were going to be on that mountain until those stairs were finished. How can they make sure these stairs get finished as fast as they want them done…provide the racers with unconventional comfort that will motivate them. Very interesting tactic, Joe and Andy, well-played. The chicken coleslaw and bread was delicious. I feasted, then went back to work. Feeding the racers worked very well, very few people dropped those first 18-24 hours and the stairs…they look magnificent (you should really get to Pittsfield, VT and check them out). Those stairs will only get better with age. 1053054_589183007780295_457346040_o

Once we had done as much as we could on the staircase one team at a time we were sent to the top of Joe’s Mountain. Atop the mountain the directive called for headlamps off and to find a place to sit or lay down. I sat there with Michelle Lomelino and Lee Biga, impatient and aching for this race to begin already. There we were, laying under one of the largest moons you could ever see — shining through some clouds with an ominous hue. The view of the nighttime sky at the top of Joe’s mountain is incredible. It’s one thing I stare at in awe every chance I get when I’m in these mountains. Joe’s Mountain top has come a long way since last time I was up there. The cabin is now covered with the most amazing stones that have been laid by the athletes training and living in the cabin. There is an incredible stone fire pit that was made earlier this summer by my friend, Michael Aspinall, whom I stayed with for the Indiana Spartan Race. He did a damn fine job of constructing this fire pit. Given that there was no seating, I knew at least one thing we’d be doing after nap time.

All at once everyone instructed to get up, headlamps on, and begin doing some good old fashioned landscaping. We had to bust out our snips and saws and whatever other useful tools we brought for cutting down some brush and such. Some racers were instructed to move logs and stones to create a seating area for that badass hand-built stone fire pit. Seriously though, it’s what I envision when I think of building one, but with probably a much different outcome. I was instructed to do some hedging, so I used my saw and began tearing through all the tall grass, weeds, and whatever else we were gutting through. Joe kept reminding us that there was a wedding later in the day and that was why he needed the stairs and landscaping completed ASAP. I never saw a wedding. 1014266_589216374443625_1486149692_n

Finally, there was one particularly large stone at the top of the mountain that everyone was trying to move. Literally almost everyone was on it. I could tell from the distance (and basic physics) that the ropes might snap any minute. That stone just wasn’t moving. As I began to walk up, they summoned all hands on deck. Snap. The rope snapped just as I approached. Back to cutting down brush and staying away from the race directors to avoid risking being caught doing nothing. It’s better to do something than nothing. As I hacked away, Don called me over and told me to take my hay and seed and bring it down the mountain to Andy. He told me how long it took him to get from the top the bottom and I was sent on my way trying to go as fast as possible. I grabbed my compression sack filled with wet hay, the easiest way to get 5 pounds without requiring an extra large garbage bag to carry all the hay stalks it would take to make 5 pounds dry. I was one of the first few sent off on this task, and I took off at full speed.

Determination. Power. Confidence.

I had it all at that moment. I wanted to push myself to compete with everything I had. No limits. No torn shoulders. No excuses. I felt great and with that newly-risen sun, I was feeling alive. This was it, this was my time! I had been training for this since last year. Even when I was stuck in my parent’s house with one arm stuck to my side, I was preparing for the Death Race. My mind knew what it had to do. The rest was just systematic. My body is programmed to do what my mind tells it to do. Whoosh. Full speed down the mountain. I knew, this race is about to begin.

To be continued…

Legend of the Death Race Year 2: Part 2 – Stairway to Heaven

As I made my way over toward Andy’s place I was noticing how muddy the terrain was beneath the grip of my Inov-8 Roclite 285’s.  The path that led to Andy’s was pretty short and simple as we arrived we instantly came to a halt and it was time for a gear check by none other than the children of the race directors. I find it hysterical and humorous that they involve their kids in playing the games with the racers, and they’re pretty damn good at it too. I jumped the line and went off to the side and was accused of trying to “cut” when in actuality my intentions were to open my Gunslinger II and locate my index card of what gear I brought with me and so I could have access to whichever items would be needed. I’m always trying to be a few steps ahead to speed things up when I know what to expect. I quickly showed my three items and zipped my gear back up.

1013050_10151998200234418_1514993983_nAndy was wandering around the group of people saying hi to all the veterans and greeting many of the new prospects. Most of the group arriving was comprised of veterans since we all waited while a majority of the newcomers started things off early and had already been at Andy’s house breaking up rocks and stones. Many of them were using the butt of their axes, and so once I knew that was what we had to do and Andy confirmed, I went to work but within a brief moment all the veterans were called over to the front lawn of the house. We were directed to do some obnoxious number of burpees, I think it was something like 300. When Todd made his, now expected, late appearance he was directed to do 1000 burpees and the rest of us were to count for him. That lasted a good five to ten minutes before the race directors became bored with the shenanigans of messing with Todd. After that we were further broken up into Veteran Finishers and Veteran Non-Finishers. Those of who had finished – officially and unofficially – were directed to make their way back toward Riverside Farm.

Once we returned to the Riverside Farm area we discovered what we would be doing for the next few hours. As it turned out during some of the camps that Peak Races hosts the race directors already had participants set some rather large stones into the earth, building a staircase up the side of the mountain. Sections of this stone staircase would be used for the weddings that are hosted here, the rest of it would create a new easily navigable trail to the top of the mountain. What better way to improve the scenery than to have a group of Death Racers build a beautiful staircase up the side of Joe’s mountain. These guys are brilliant, you really have to hand it to them. Not only do they get free labor but they actually get us to pay them to bust our asses. It still boggles my mind but being a part of something this historic….you can’t put a price on that. I was ecstatic to be part of this.

1053139_10151446129747038_248409917_oThis first section was pretty much complete but there were some stones that needed to be replaced, moved, or re-set since the staircase wasn’t up to Joe’s standards. Understandably so. Some of these stones that were already in place moved to much and others just were not large enough to make the pieces of this puzzle fit together. That’s what the task became the more we built. A very heavy puzzle made of a collection of miscellaneous pieces that all somehow would fit together to become a work of art. This staircase would one day become the masterpiece of those who signed up to take on the madness that Joe and Andy subject us to every time we come out to the wonderful foothills of Vermont.

We were provided with very little tools in order to succeed. Like the Egyptians who built the pyramids we had to use primitive tools to get the job done. This was our pyramid. We had a collection of iron poles handed to us and the rest was up to the racers to figure out. Just as we were about to start new directions came and ordered us back to Andy’s. Not even half way there we were turned around again, we quickly  made our way through the single track trail that leads straight from Riverside to Andy’s, extremely convenient. Andy and Joe are only going to have that much more time to come up with torturous Death Race task. When we arrived back at the staircase Joe had us sort ourselves into teams of 5, each team had a captain and Olof, the reigning champion of Death Race was made into main leader. Our team was solid we had Amelia, Mark, Bryan, Isaiah and myself with Mark taking the lead as our captain.

1044692_10151998202079418_885269467_nWe set to work on the staircase immediately. Within minutes you could tell we weren’t exactly sure how to organize and structure our staircase assembly line. Everyone was kind of getting themselves into a little of everything and instead of digging into the earth to make suitable resting spots for each stone step the group was mainly trying to just piece a puzzle together. It didn’t work very well and when Jeff Foster made his way over he was assigned to take over for Olof in commanding the group of previous Death Racers to assemble this stone staircase. Since Jeff does this sort of thing for a living he was able to get our asses in gear and no longer were we just a bunch of Death Racers moving stones through sloppy mud and hacking away at branches, but we were a cohesive unit building a solid stone staircase that would actually be suitable for Joe to take wedding parties on. Together we were making history.

To be continued…

Legend of the Death Race Year 2: Part 1 – Jet-setter

Just a week prior to the 2013 Spartan Death Race – Year of the Gambler, I was being trained to be a Spartan Group X Trainer, had the trip of a life time to California – my first time ever (I was there once before but only for a day trip to Magic Mountain) traveling up and down the coast from San Diego to San Luis Obispo and back. To top it all off I finally had a shot at a purely obstacles only race at the Alpha Warrior course in San Diego where at long last I stood on my first OCR podium. Coming off the trip I was beyond ecstatic but as I flew back from San Diego the Monday night before the Death Race the nerves began to trigger a slight bit of anxiety within. Before leaving on my trip I had already packed most of the necessities for the Death Race, when I returned I would only have a few things to gather, or so I thought. My flight from San Diego to Chicago’s O’Hare International Airport arrived at 11:59PM on Monday, I was to fly out to Manchester, NH Wednesday at 6:00AM from O’Hare arriving 1:34PM, Cleveland layover = nap-time! Talk about cutting things close. Packing was a nightmare.

2013 Death Race Gear To my luck, my pops – the dude who has always been there for me in everything I do – found someone to give my beloved Fiskars x27 Ave a very nice sharpening. just days before I returned from San Diego. Gathering my gear and some of the shopping frenzy that took place on Tuesday was extremely chaotic but made the race feel like it had already begun, enjoyment and happy smiles were in full effect even though my mind was traveling faster than Ferrari on the Autobahn and at times I felt like I was going to forget all the essentials in my haste. I kept reminding myself that 90% of what I needed was packed and that this last 10% was always going to happen the days leading up to the Death Race, it’s just the nature of it. After Mark Webb picked me up from the airport we did even more shopping for food and other items we needed for the race such as grass seed, food and hydration, hand shovel, compression sack, Colgate Wisps (such a key item to have after being out there over 24 hours getting all kinds of nasty mouth), you know important stuff that’s best bought once you are on the way to the Pittsfield, VT area to minimize travel weight.

Death Race Last SupperOnce again Mark and I would be heading to the Death Race together. My favorite part about this race is seeing, being and racing with all the incredible people I have become friends with over the past couple of years. Truly inspiring individuals to be with, it brings tremendous happiness to my life. We checked into the Hill Side Inn located in Killington, VT Thursday evening just before the race. That evening we ventured close to Pittsfield for what has become the traditional “Last Supper” hosted by Team SISU. The last time I was at the “Last Supper” at the Winter Death Race earlier in the year, I wasn’t even in post surgery physical therapy yet. This time was much more enjoyable, I didn’t have to protect my shoulder constantly. It was great catching up with everyone that was there including my teammates from the Corn Fed Spartans.

After dinner Mark and I headed back for an early night at the hotel. We were to be at registration by 9:00AM at the latest Friday morning. We discussed it back and fourth and eventually concluded that we would head out try to drop our gear at Amee Farm and then head to the Original General Store, grab some breakfast. What happened instead is we pulled up and were not allowed into Amee Farm for our gear drop. I could see in the distance Amelie Boone doing exactly what Mark and I had requested to so this mildly irked me during our breakfast. I kept breakfast simple and stuck to granola, yogurt and fruit.

After we finished and had time to connect with other friends and racers Mark and I gave our attempt to gear drop at Amee another go around and this time we succeeded. We showed the “parking security” volunteer the email pointing out that we could indeed drop our gear anytime after 5:00AM at Amee and he agreed to allow us. As we unpacked a Staff member appeared and the mind games began. He kept trying to go on and on that we were incredibly late for registration and that we’d never make it in time to begin. Both Mark and I kept doing what we needed to unload his vehicle and secure our location in the gear tent not letting his incessant “you’ll never make it” talk disturb us. It always cracks me up how hard the staff and volunteers try to make someone drop. Then it was off to the Riverside Farm to park Mark’s vehicle, drop off our identification and another valuable item (I used my old DePaul Student ID and Driver’s License).

When we pulled up we were next to the Corn Fed Spartans, my teammates and support. Jonathan Nolan and TJ Nomeland looked ready to go, uncertainty about when to start showed in their eyes. We waited until almost 8:30PM to register, knowing from the email that it was from 6:00AM until 9:00AM. It’s one of those things many of the veterans now know that the first timers usually don’t, the sooner you show up the sooner you go to work and it doesn’t stop until the Race Directors say you finished or you pull yourself from the course. The more you do the sooner and more likely you are to overwork yourself and DNF. It’s just the facts. That’s Death Race. There is a balance to find in playing the game. After all this year we were Gambling.  Up until the race I was uncertain how gambling would play into the race, but it was all starting to make sense. Everything you do in the race, the choices you make, the food you eat, the shoes you wear, it’s all a gamble. Completing a challenge, knowing you completed it, that’s a gamble. We were gambling with when to register and when we would choose to begin the race.

death race spartan We started at 9:00AM and the first place we were sent to was Andy’s new home. On the way we had a checkpoint that involved taking out our hand snips and trimming some foliage. Typical Death Race landscaping right off the bat. Hilarious if you ask me. When I tried to get my snips out I must have turned or something while I pulled them out and dropped them. For about 5 minutes I was tweaking out trying to find them and suddenly everyone was being sent onward to Andy’s just as I clipped my first branch. Time to pack my stuff up and move back on. Being aware of everything happening within my bubble was all that mattered. Within a few more minutes we’d really be kicking off this dangerous, twisted, challenging race. Was I ready? Absolutely. No thoughts, no worries, just doing whatever task they ask, and moving on to the next challenge one after the other. Like a robot. The Year of the Gambler had finally begun.

To be continued…

Legend of the Death Race – Part 11: Never Quit, Never Surrender

Here we were back at Riverside Farm for the last challenge.  To begin you needed to have a ticket, if you wanted to “ride.”  If you did not have a ticket you could earn one by doing 120 pushups.  Thanks to a tip from Morgan’s parents, I quickly grabbed a note card out of my bag.  I tore the card in half and wrote “ticket” on both cards.  I told them, “Of course I ‘bought’ the tickets for our first date.”  We gained our admission.  Jack further instructed us that at the end of each lap we had to answer a question of his choosing.  A correct answer made the lap count, a wrong answer meant you were re-rolling.  So that’s why we needed to know the questions and answers Morgan’s parents provided.  This made for a very interesting obstacle.  Before setting off on our first lap I made some adjustments to the gear I was wearing.  We would be able to set our bags aside too.  Jack made sure to insist countless times about how toxic that contents of that bucket were.  I wasn’t sure what we were up against and for fear of anything being on the course I took every precaution possible.  From my pack I took out a long sleeve compression shirt.  For my legs I was already wearing my long compression socks.  In addition, I put on a pair of construction gloves, made myself a bandit style face mask from my bandana and finally I was ready to rock.  Jack made a comment that I was the first to think of covering my face, and that it was probably a really smart idea.

Death Race "Roller" Coaster

A gentleman always pays for the tickets on a first date. Image Credit: Joei Harrison

Over confidence in my abilities led to brutal test of everything I had to give.  In large part because of my background in gymnastics I assumed I was capable of handling more speed. I threw myself into the fastest log roll I’ve ever performed.  For some reason I thought to myself that maybe, just maybe I had a chance to pass some people up for once.  My competitive edge was kickin’ in during the final hours.  The average time up until then for completing a single lap was somewhere around 20-30 minutes.  I knew I could destroy that time at the pace I was going.  Now I am not one hundred percent positive exactly how fast I finished that first lap but the looks I was given when I finished said it all.  I dominated it.  It was somewhere under fifteen minutes but who knows how long it was exactly, they were not timing us.  Jack asked me the smell question, I of course got it right and other racers finishing their lap with me were allowed to group up with my answer.  We were congratulated and our first lap was marked on a white board next to our name.

Enter Exit if you want to ride.

Death Race “Roller” Coaster Entrance and Exit. Photo Credit: Karl Allsop

That first lap went very well. The only trying parts were the few pins we had to avoid while rolling through some mulch and stirring the bucket of guts.  I waited for Morgan and we went back for more.  My second lap would be a huge reality check for me.  About half way through the lap I started to feel nauseous.  Was it the rolling? Was it the smell?  It didn’t matter…I had to get up and, and….BLARGHHH. Vomit number one.  Morgan’s dad passed me  some water; I sucked it down and continued.  Shortly after stirring the bucket I met captain vomit again.  It felt awful. Morgan’s parents continued to encourage me to go on.  I correctly answered the question about smell and prepared myself for the next lap.  Facing the third lap wasn’t too bad but I definitely slowed down more each round.  Throughout the lap Morgan’s parents would provide me with water and Gatorade.  They’re the best.  Thankfully, I only found it necessary to puke once during that lap.  Regardless of the vomiting, Morgan and I were still in high spirits.  Lucky her, she had no need to spew her guts out.  All of us, randomly sang every song we could think of with a verse about rolling.   When I got to Jack,  I answered the question about smell, it turned out Jack was rotating between just a few questions.  The smell one being the most frequent, of course.  After the fourth lap, which I completed puke free thank you very much, I needed to just lie down for a second.

Mark Demonstrates How to Log Roll

Mark demonstrating how to do a proper Log Roll. Photo Credit: Karl Allsop

Morgan’s mother, Dian, agreed to give me five minutes.  She made sure to get me back up to keep going.  Five minutes wasn’t enough.  I was feeling awful.  I shot up; I needed to go take care of business out in the woods.  This was one of the most awkward moments I’ve experienced in my life. At the time it was out of necessity, with a touch of absent mindedness on top.  I knew Morgan had baby wipes, but forgot to grab one before heading out into the woods.  She was close enough to make sure I was okay.  Before I even pulled down my pants I found myself puking.  Once all the toxins expelled, I turned around and dropped trou.  Sans baby wipes.  Oh, no!  “Morgan!!!” I shouted.  I need baby wipes.  Poor girl. Desperate times.  She came up quickly, handed me a couple and ran off.  Never in my life.  This wasn’t a time to be shy though and thankfully Morgan was such a team player.

The moments following my bathroom break were harsh.  My body was shutting down.  It was collapsing on me.  Snot was clogging up my nose and pouring out all at once.  Suddenly, I found myself shivering.  Instead of going back to where the rolling was happening I went back to the clearing.  Back where we saw Morgan’s parents earlier.  I curled up in a ball and tried to get myself back together.  What’s happening to me?  Completely depleted of food and water I still refused to give in.  Morgan came over and made a fire.  She’s damn good at it too.  Her mother cut up a pair of Morgan’s grandfather’s socks.  She helped me cover the only uncovered part of my body, my knees.  Derek, Morgan’s father, provided me with a vest to increase my body warmth.  With the snot spewing of course came a waterfall of tears. Uncontrollable, pain-felt tears.  It was as if every body part that had a releasable fluid wanted to join in on the fun.  I stumbled my words, “I. Am. Not. Giving. Up. I have come to damn far to quit this damn race.”  Morgan felt differently.  She couldn’t stand seeing me like this and thought maybe we should call it quits.  Quit? Hell, no!  Not now. We’ve come to far.  I told her that wasn’t an option. We had to finish. We had a pact.

Spartan Race Hurricane Heat Dog Tags

Warrior Ethos

My Warrior Ethos dog tag pressed against my chest.  A reminder.

“I will always place the mission first.

I will never accept defeat.  

I will never quit.  

I will never leave a fallen comrade.” 

I remember how great I felt when Todd gave me those tags just a six months prior to this experience on my 26th birthday.  A birthday I’ll always remember.  Thank you for everything, Todd.  In such a short amount of time he has taught me so much.  Todd played an enormous in my success.

Feeling miserable after the rolling

Morgan and Stacie nursing me to life. I’m in the middle, the orange is the end of the fire we had going for a bit. Photo Credit: Derek Mckay

From the direction of the Death Race “roller” coaster came another racer, Stacie. She had already stopped racing for a while now and was helping out; she came over to check on me.  I remember asking her for a hug.  It was one of the most comforting hugs, I have experienced.  Sometimes, all you need is love.  The love that comes from a hug can go a long way.  Stacie and Morgan spent time cheering me up, they switched over to encouraging me and telling me that I was awesome for coming so far.  The whole group helped bring me back to life.  They revitalized me with food, water, fire, and clothing.  It’s all about the essentials.  The simple things in life.

Before heading back out Morgan wanted to lie down to get some rest.  I was anxious to get back out there, but figured, what was another couple of minutes after racing for over 50 something hours.  Morgan laid herself down in front of me by the fire.  I cuddled up next to her.  Sharing our body warmth was pleasant.  I couldn’t rest long.  Within ten minutes I woke her up.  It was time to finish what we started.  Feeling invigorated, I had a new found determination to conquer this infernal race.

Just keep rollin' rollin' rollin' ah!

Ready to go back and get my roll on! Photo Credit: Derek Mckay

Morgan had pulled off an extra lap between my vomiting slowdown during laps two and three.  That left her with only one lap to go, I had two.  She insisted that she would complete both with me, regardless of what I told her. This girl is crazy awesome!  By the time we went back to Jack for the last laps, the sun had already set.  Everything was completely black.  The darkness would play to our advantage for the next two laps.  After clocking in my fifth lap and Morgan’s sixth, she revealed her plan to Jack about doing another lap with me.  He was stunned.  A racer was volunteering to do another lap of misery to help another racer finish?!  Preposterous, read the look on his face.  He radioed the news to Joe and Andy.   They too seemed taken a back at this announcement.  With the guidance of Morgan’s father, Morgan and I set out on my final lap, together.

We finished the lap at a nice pace, and answered the final question.  One last attempt to trigger our sense of smell.  You’re a sick man, Jack.  He was clearly trying to use the memory trigger from the question to upset our stomachs.  It seemed to be the only question he asked, as time went on.  It had 100% failure rate, thankfully.  Jack went on to inform us that when we were ready and we had our gear gathered, to let him know.  We didn’t need long. “Where to next Jack, we’re ready” we asked.  When Jack radioed Joe, he received an unexpected response.  Previously Joe had been directing racers to go meet at the top of the mountain, but this time he told Jack to hold us there.  Hold us here?  Are we really unable to finish? Are we really unofficial?  Concern overwhelmed me, if only briefly.

There we were, waiting.  Other racers were constantly coming through the rolling section. Answering that same memory sense question over and over. Seriously, Jack, you’re twisted.  It was getting to me even.  I ended up throwing a pair of gloves and my bandana into the woods because I thought they were making me nauseous. Eff that damn smell. 

After what seemed like an eternity of waiting we spotted Andy approaching us.  He lurked from the darkness but I quickly noticed he was in very high spirits.  Andy went around asking a few racers how they were doing.   He gathered an idea of everyone’s thoughts and feeling regarding the challenge.  Then Andy came up to us and asked us how we felt about it.  He looked over to Jack and confirmed that we had finished our laps.  Jack made sure to point out how Morgan was the only racer to voluntarily complete seven total laps.  Andy was pumped; he loved it.  He looked at both of us and said six words. Six word that meant more to me than, well, words could ever possibly describe.

“Congratulations, you finished the Death Race.”

No way!!! We shouted. We were completely shocked. We did it. We finished. We finished the Death Race. We finished the Death Race.  WE. FINISHED. THE. DEATH. RACE!  Overcome by excitement, we quickly calmed ourselves to listen to the last of his instructions.  All we needed to do was walk across the field and over to the pool house to claim our trophy.  Really?!  I couldn’t believe it. Is this real life?!

We finished the Death Race

Death Race. Vanquished.

We made our way over to the small shack.  We were greeted by Margaret and Chris.  They had relocated the HQ that was set up down at Amee Farm to this new location near Riverside Farm.  The red LED lights of the clock displayed over 58 hours.  Morgan didn’t know what our true status was.  She questioned it and told us we had to await confirmation. Seriously?!  The mind games never ended!  Andy came in and confirmed it. He congratulated us, and in his delusional state awarded Morgan second place female.  We were shocked and completely pumped.  Later we discovered his sleep deprivation got the best of him.  He too had not slept much.  Fellow Illinoisan, Amelia, placed second.  In mine and Morgan’s case we finished the race.

Albiet a few challenges were incomplete we still fought through everything we  were told to.  We conquered every obstacle presented.  Went from each destination we were told to the next.   We battled through feelings of defeat. We overcame the trials of the human mind’s ability to persevere, even when all odds are against you.  Morgan and I went through the transformation from being acquaintances to being able to trust and rely on each other in moments that would crush most people and swallow them whole.  The quest to finish the Death Race had come to an end.  We finished the Death Race.  I finished the Death Race.  Sure, the Death Race is an individual event but having someone, especially as wonderful, uplifting, and positive as Morgan. Oh yeah, and pretty.  😉  There is just no better secret weapon.  The power of human camaraderie can conquer anything.

Morgan’s parents snapped a photo of our finish.  We did it. I’ve never been happier. We hung out for a while and saw the top two male finishers come in.  In first place was Olof, a fellow Storm Chaser, and in second place, Junyong.  Those two guys are some of the most incredible athletes I’ve ever had the pleasure of racing with.  Junyong, it was awesome running side by side with you during one of the mountain ascents.  A few people shared some Death Race beers, courtesy of another racer, Mark.  I still want to try it!  The reviews were so good I heard they will be brewing more of it.  Margaret went around with her iPhone and live streamed the reactions of racers after finishing.  While she did this, I was on the phone with my dad, it was so cool.  My father actually logged on and watched me say hi to him after finishing.  Sometimes, technology is magical.  Being able to share that moment with my dad.  It was the caramel drizzled on top.

Morgan’s parents asked me where I was headed.  I never booked a hotel, there seemed to be no need since the race was expected to conclude Monday.  It was now Monday.  Just after midnight.  They offered the only thing they could, which was more than I needed, a hard wood floor inside a hotel.   We went back to the Trailside Inn.  Morgan showered first, then I had my turn.  I did my best to clean off the three days of stink. Once we were both cleaned up we threw on our Death Race hoodies and we all shared a glass of wine together.  I took a look at how gnarly my feet were, snapped a great photo. Enjoy.  Before I passed out I made plans to meet up with Mark in the early morning.

My Death Race savior

Morgan and I sharing one last moment together celebrating our finish. It’s a wonderful life.

The next morning Morgan’s parents dropped me off by Mark back at Amee Farm. He had already gotten most of my things packed for me.  We said our goodbyes and that was it. The Death Race was over. It ended so fast. but the memories are forever.  Mark and I drove from Vermont back to his place in New Hampshire.   After another shower, sharing a couple beers, and icing our poor poor feet it was time to head to the airport. Mark brought me there we hugged it out and I was off. Headed back to Chicago.

I was a Death Race finisher. The Year of Betrayal, vanquished.

To Be Continued… Next Year. The Year of the Gambler.

UStream of some post race stories, reactions, and me phoning my father.

Video streaming by Ustream

Legend of the Death Race – Part 10: Sleepyhead

Happily waiting for us at Death Race HQ was Joe, and a few others. You could see they were surprised with our perseverance. Initially, they didn’t want to give us another task but they gave in soon enough. We just missed participating in the Origami, so next on their list of challenges required us to head over to the nearby barn.  There, a half full flatbed trailer of hay bales awaited our bodies.  We were allowed to put our packs down for this challenge.  Perfect.  My shoulder was feeling some crazy fatigue.  This reminded me that I was overdue for another dose of pain medicine.

Hay Bail Challenge

Two Death Racers grab their hay bales. Photo Credit: TBD

Morgan and I set out immediately to begin slinging our 15 bales of hay, each.  We were required to take them from the trailer, however many we could handle at a time, and neatly stack them.  Much of the second floor had already been covered floor to ceiling by the other racers who already encountered this obstacle.  Starting out I took one bale at a time.  After a couple trips, I decided to attempt speeding things up by bringing two bales.  It wasn’t difficult weight wise, but I quickly found that taking two at a time meant being more cautious.  Too cautious.  Once I had those two bales piled on I went back to just carrying one at a time. I didn’t want to deal with the consequence of a bale falling apart.

Shortly after Morgan and I begun bringing our bales of hay into the barn a few more racers arrived and joined us.  After their arrival and a few trips to the second floor, I discovered the bales of hay that acted as stairs to the trailer had shifted.  I went to step off the trailer; my foot never found the hay staircase. TIMMMMMBER! Luckily, I caught myself with the bale of hay I was holding.  I moaned and groaned a bit about how uncool it was that the stairs moved, but it was likely an accident. Definitely not betrayal.  Regardless, before heading back up for my next bundle I made sure there was a safer makeshift staircase in place.  We continued to bring our bales of hay up one at a time.  This was one of the shorter, less demanding tasks thus far at the Death Race.  After completing this challenge we gathered our gear and went back for our next task.

Stack Hay in the Barn House

Stack all hay on the second floor, neatly. Photo Credit: TBD

Morgan became side tracked and began helping a couple other racers take care of their feet before continuing on.  Many racers were suffering from the nastiest cases of wet feet I’ve ever been exposed to.  Morgan had a huge heart, and didn’t want to let our fellow racers suffer. I found myself stunned at how much Morgan cared about the other racers.  That’s one of the things about the Death Race, though you compete you come together.  There is a mutual effort to defeat the race that aims for an 80%, or higher, failure rate. She finished tending a racer’s foot and provided him with some extra Gold Bond foot powder.  I encouraged her to speed things up so we could continue on to the next part of the race.  Helping other racers was great, but we were many, many hours behind.  I feared for falling further and further behind.

The heart that Morgan had for helping others was tremendous.  I was proud to be teamed up with such an fantastic woman.  We made our short trek from the hay bales back to where HQ was set up.  We checked in with our makers.  Our next task was supposed to be the carrying of a cement mix bag up to the top of the mountain.  Joe explained to us that not only were we disqualified but also we would never finish.  If we chose to go on we would be unofficially in the race.  We could not be swayed.  Our minds had been made up, and as with all the other attempts to get us to quit, we just rushed him to get to the point. All we wanted was for him to move us on to the next obstacle we needed to conquer.  Joe didn’t let up though; he kept on about how we could never finish, officially.  I refused to believe a word he said.

The back and fourth went on for a short while. We asked him if we could just have our cement bags.  Morgan and I wanted to continue on, that’s all we wanted to do, move forward.  Surprisingly we were informed there were no cement bags for us and to just move on. I still don’t understand why this happened, and would have loved to take on that challenge.  It irks me that we were kind of brushed off from this challenge. My shoulder was dead sure, but the endorphins were firing at full force.  I’m certain that determination and persistence alone would have been enough to get us to the top of that mountain with whatever weight they gave us.

Caution Betrayal Lurks Everywhere

Example of the hints and signs we saw on the trails. Photo Credit: Matt Davis.

Just before leaving I remember seeing Jennifer and crew one last time.  I ran the idea of joining us by Jennifer but she had just returned from quite the hike herself and was not ready to back up again.  Our timing was nothing but off this entire race.  It did not bother me though; fortunately, I had an awesome partner to race with me.  I knew it’d be all good moving forward.  As we tried to make our way toward the suggested we found ourselves blocked off by one of the animal pens.  Instead of taking the street back like we were instructed to we used this opportunity to just go back up the trail we had taken every other time.

This was one of the toughest ascents for us.  We were becoming extremely delusional.  It felt as though I was rambling nonsense. Even I had a hard time understanding half the words that came out of my mouth.  Sleep deprivation was certainly taking its toll on us and the results were hysterical.  Moments like these would have been great to have recorded.  It became necessary for us to take a break just to close our eyes.  Our levels of sleep deprivation were dangerous, especially given the environment.  You may be asking how the hell we took a nap out on the mountain in the middle of a trail.  Quite simple really, we dropped pack, took out my iPhone, and set the alarm for ten minutes.  Voilà!  Nap. Time.

The most challenging part of nap-time was the fear of other racers seeing us.  After that fear came the fear of some unknown animal for us.  The same issues we faced before, but for some reason our senses were heightened.  The wind blowing would freak me out and wake me up within two minutes of closing my eyes.  We clearly never actually slept, but just closing our eyes for those few minutes was what we needed to continue on.

Approaching the last obstacle

Morgan and I captured by her parent’s just before our next obstacle. Photo Credit: Derek Mckay 

During our trek through the mountain passes we saw a lot printouts of the same images from the hints we saw prior to race start.  At first I didn’t think much of it, but as we kept seeing more I started to wonder if this was the last obstacle coming up.  We came to a clearing and out of nowhere came Morgan’s mother and father running to us from where the next challenge took place.  Beyond seeing their daughter again, there was purpose to them coming toward us with such haste.  It turned out they had done some recon work and had some intel for us.  Sweeeet.  They shared with us two of the questions and answers being asked as part of the next challenge.

Q. What sense is most connected to memory? A. Smell

Q. Which athlete does the most squats during their sport? A. Catcher

Very odd questions I thought to myself.  Morgan’s parents gave us a run down of the upcoming challenge and explained to us that they were not allowed to help Morgan but they could help me. I didn’t understand why but this is the Death Race, sometimes you just gotta go with it.  Morgan and I made our way over to the challenge and Jack began to explain to us the most intense obstacle we would face yet.  Mark was there also, it was good to see him smiling.  When the task was first presented to us I underestimated how difficult the challenge would be.  To finish this obstacle we were to perform a log roll, lying on your side and rolling your body…like a log, through a quarter mile loop.   At the halfway point they had strategically placed a bucket.  Inside the bucket?  Rotting intestines, and other internal organs from a bull.  That had been out in the hot sun rotting for the past two months.  We were to stir the contents of said bucket ten times during each lap of the course using a stick they left in the bucket.

Navy SEALS Training Obstacle

Jack’s Navy SEALS based Secret Weapon. The Log Roll Challenge. Photo Credit: TBD

We were to do this for a total of six laps.

To be concluded…

Legend of the Death Race – Part 9: And We’ll Keep on Fighting Til the End

Being out on the mountain, living, surviving, being physically and mentally challenged, this is what life is about. From chaos, came clarity.  In the heart of feeling defeated we had found our inner strength.  Camaraderie creates a very powerful connection; it has the ability to make the impossible become another training day.  The presence of a strong, powerful woman helped give me the will and strength to go on.  I remember Morgan telling me about an incident early on when she was dehydrated and found herself vomiting. Thankfully, for both our sake she came back from it.  Without her, continuing on may not of happened.

2012 Death Race Ravine

Another Glimpse of the Ravine Photo Credit: Andy Greenwood

About half way up the ravine we found a couple of bundles of what appeared to be pre split logs.  Upon further investigation we discovered that not only where they already split logs but there were 12 of them.  This could be our first six out of  twelve, we both thought.  Morgan suggested we move forward and continue to the top of the ravine to see if anyone was making there way back. We met a trio of racers but they were already onto another challenge. Perfect.  We could head back down and save ourselves time traveling to our previously split leftovers, or worse having to chop more wood. From there we immediately pulled a 180º back down the ravine. Once we had made it back to the spot we had found the logs, I managed to squeeze a half dozen into my bucket and Morgan stuffed the other six in her pack. I actually took my ruck off and just brought my bucket up.  My ruck was left at the bottom in a nook I had thought was hidden enough.  Given the theme of betrayal I had no idea how risky this could be. I was willing to take the gamble in order  to give my shoulder relief before possibly having to split more wood. It paid off; the pack went untouched.

Yes, the Ravine was wet and slippery. Photo Courtesy of: Morgan Mckay

During the descent we had went slightly off course to avoid the ravine.  Truthfully, I was sick of falling on my ass, looking like a fool.  I went ahead to retrieve my pack. It actually took me a while to figure out where I had to cut over to find it.  Once I retrieved it, I made my way back to meet Morgan on the elevated path.  I was still a little ahead so I hung out, sat down, and soon enough I was fading away. Snap! Crack! Huh? What?  It wasn’t so much fear as it was panic that woke me.  Being seen sleeping by another racer (other than Morgan) was something I really wanted to avoid at that time.  Now, it seems kinda silly, considering we were closing in on racing for 42 hours. I had already been awake for two days.  Damn.  I grabbed my pack, stood up, then Morgan and I continued on. We reached a series of switchbacks that led down. Certain this was the right way, I started making my way down. I slid down a couple to try to scout out to make sure we were going the right direction and started second guessing myself.  Morgan was convinced this was not right so we went back toward the raving the way we came.

When we reached the ravine again, I looked to Morgan and teased her about how we had to go back the same way.  We laughed it off.  I mean, lets be honest how many trails can our brain actually process under current conditions. We made our way back and from a different direction found ourselves back on the switchbacks that would lead us to the bridge we had crossed earlier that morning. This part is fuzzy, but I remember running into a DR Volunteer, Jessica.  She radioed back to Joe to try to stir the pot some and create more madness. I kept shooshing her off.  When she ran into us as we were applying protection to our skin. We didn’t need the blistering heat of the sun to leave us sunburnt on top of everything else.  We also ran into our fellow Storm Chasers, Mies and Chris along with Jennifer who were on their way out with another racer up the mountain.  I asked Jennifer if I could steal her for a bit. She broke off from the others and came back part of the way to the farm with me. Morgan already had gotten a head start, we were less than a mile away now.

Return Trail

The path we came back on just before hitting Amee Farm to return our logs. Photo Credit:

Following a motivating conversation with Jennifer, at least I think it was, we hugged it out and she wished me well.  It’s moments like these that can really help you get through the Death Race.  A pep talk, pretty girls, hugs, the sun, I was surrounded with positive reinforcements.  Speaking of pep, I added a little to my shuffle and caught back up with Morgan. We were still carrying our logs and would have to check in as soon as we returned to the farm.  When we finally arrived Joe told us we needed to do burpees as a penalty for taking so long.  First we had to walk over and drop off our logs.  A volunteer witnessed the returning of our logs and we were sent back to Joe.

This was a pretty unique moment of the race.  Margaret greeted us initially; she was live streaming our check in on Ustream via Dirt in Your Skirt.  We answered some of her questions on the video and continued with trying to continue on to our next task.  I also recall being greeted by Matt, I had never met him before but he recognized me because of my blog.  It was the first time ever that someone recognized me for that reason.  I was secretly ecstatic.  Joe’s presence was made known the best way he seemed to know, by telling us that we were unable to continue on.  Joe continued to tell us that not only were we disqualified but also he went on to tell us that we would never finish.  Our minds had been made up, and as with all the other attempts to get us to quit, we rushed him to get to the point so we could continue on to our next task.  I refused to believe a word he said.



Video streaming by Ustream

We were not the only ones suffering from sleep deprivation it turned out. Joe gave us our next task, and did not at all acknowledge the burpees he threatened us with just a few minutes earlier. What a relief that was!  Thanks Joe, but mostly thank you sleep deprivation. 🙂

Our next task was to make our way back up to the location where we had chopped wood. No, I am not kidding, we were heading back to essentially the same location we had just trekked back from.  Fair enough. I remember Morgan feeling slightly panic’d about our pace and I stopped her. I told her she needed to STOP worrying and that it was all part of the game. They wanted us to rush and exhaust ourselves. There was no reason to do that though, we just needed to continue on at a pace that would allow us to finish whatever they threw our way.

Our trek led us back toward the bridge and up the mountain again. We took some shortcuts that led us out back on the road but eased the overall climb.  It was interesting to walk so much of the road this time.  The last time I remember going this route was when we took the truck up part of the way for weigh in. That felt like so long ago.  It was starting to get a lot hotter out, our focus shifted to utilizing every stay-cool tactic we could think of.  Shade, check. Water, check. Gatorade, check. For shade we would switch sides of the road depending where we could catch the most easily accessible “dark” areas.  Whenever we needed a rest we would hide out under densely covered areas to avoid the DR Volunteers and Staff. Who knew if they would harass you or worse penalize you. We didn’t, so we took precaution.

When we finally arrived at the wood splitting area there were a few volunteers on a picnic bench and that was about it. The rest of it was abandoned. Equipment was just thrown about. An ax, walking sticks, half split wood, buckets, there were so many items just left behind. We made our way to the table where the volunteers sat.  They had a list with our names, I think they were just checking us off with it.  We gave them our names, told them which obstacle we had just completed.  They made some marks to their sheets of paper, and told us we could head back and move onto the Origami portion. Really?  It was just a checkpoint and nothing else?  Oh how silly and tedious some of these tasks are. Ha Ha Ha. This cracked me up.

Morgan and I about-faced, put our smiles on, and marched off.  To the Origami challenge!  We had to head back down the same way we came.  Like a shot of caffeine being injected directly into your blood stream, suddenly Morgan and I found ourselves becoming very slap happy.  Our spirits overall were so high now.  I looked to Morgan and said, “you know what, we are going to finish this race. You know why…because Weeeeeee Are the Champions..” That’s right. I busted out some Queen.  That right there put us in the goofiest mood I think I can ever recall experiencing.  We couldn’t take ourselves or anything else seriously. On the descent we passed a few racers who were headed up, but for a different challenge. Uncertain to this day what it was that made us start saying this but we started joking around with people.  We would tell them we had just finished the race and all we had to left was to make it back to the farm.  Then we would be the first male and first female finishers to finish at the same time. We just kept making up nonsense about winning and being in first.  Some people actual would buy it, if only for a second.  Some we admitted to teasing, others, we let them figure it out.  It was all in good fun and we were just having a blast. Truth be told, I thought we had to be in last place.

During our return trip, Margaret pulled up and greeted us as she made her way down the road in a green Subaru. With her window already rolled down, she looked over to us and began one of the, seemingly common, attempts to tell us we were disqualified.  From the beginning of this race and beyond this moment, I lived and breathed by one absolute rule for tackling this Death Race of Betrayal. That rule was to only listen to Joe and Andy, and then know not only when to listen but what to listen to.  It was tricky but it left us with one easy device for handling these situations, don’t listen.  They are not Joe, they are not Andy.  Knowing who and what to listen to makes a world of difference in this race.  I’m happy I had this policy intact from the beginning. It was very beneficial.  Later I found out that not everyone knew to avoid listening to volunteers or in this case, someone who had stopped racing. Who knows maybe they were trying to strike a deal to get back into the race.  If they could make someone opt to quit, they’d be reward a spot in the race again.

Hmmmm….The plot thickens.

Margaret’s attempt to break us down was simple to shrug off for us now.  The strength of our pact to finish together grew stronger with every shot taken at us.  We wished her farewell, and continued following the road back down towards Route 100. We were starting to run low on water.  As if there was a direct link between Morgan and her parents, suddenly they appeared in their car driving up the road. They pulled up and with out stretched arms asked us “Do you need some water?”  I was in shock; literally two minutes prior Morgan and I were discussing our shortage and the need for hydration in this heat.  Fortune was in our favor.   We kept it brief and quickly they drove off.  Enough thanks could not be given.

When we made it to the intersection with Route 100 we were approached by another vehicle, this time it was an SUV with DR Volunteers.  They told us we could no longer go to the Origami challenge because it had been shut down.  Our response, of course, was, “where to next?”  This caused them to try to tell us we couldn’t finish and that we would be disqualified.  We didn’t accept that and told them, “No, we are continuing on. What’s next?” An unexpected, laughable response followed from the volunteers. They tried to tell us it was a safety issue for us to continue on.  I snapped back, “I don’t what kind of safety concern there is for you, but we are GOLDEN.   We are going to keep going, so please tell us what to do next.”  It was obvious they didn’t have anything else to throw at us when they just responded, “okay go see Joe at the farm.”

Original General Store. Pittsfield, VT

We took off down Route 100, went past the General Store. Our spirits were still incredibly high. We said hello to everyone we passed, including a very nice elderly man hanging out on his porch. Within ten minutes we found ourselves back at the farm ready to find out what challenge awaited us.

To be continued…