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2014 Peak Death Race

Legend of the Death Race Year 3: Part 9 – Comin’ in Hot

This is it; this is where the fun began.

For the next 7-8 hours or so we would be tasked with doing laps up and down Joe’s mountain from the White Barn to Shrek’s Cabin, and back again. Just as the racers did at previous Winter Death Races, but I was on the other side of the fence –organizing and photographing the event. I remember how incredibly epic it was standing inside Shrek’s Cabin, with the fire ablaze, checking participants in as they did laps in the snow, up and down Joe’s Mountain after having spent the better part of the morning dancing to Bruno Mars’s hit song, ‘Uptown Funk’.

The thought of this being the last task of the event crept in my head. At that last Winter Death Race, the event ended with running laps up and down the mountain. Could it be that this would be how they’d end this Death Race, too?

Could it be? A new quasi-level of standardization for the Death Race? Having worked for Spartan in a more official capacity for about a year at that time afforded me more insight into the direction the team wanted the Death Race to go. One thing I kept hearing all year was the desire to make the Death Race more of a race – to get back to the core values, make it more performance-based, meaning less time out in the woods. After all, even the race directors didn’t want a repeat of the 70+ hour Death Race finish in 2013. That race put the whole crew into panic mode. Participants didn’t believe the event was over, they were willing to do damn near anything to end their suffering. After a year like that, maybe this would be a shorter Summer Death Race, perhaps 48 maybe 50 hours, tops? Or so I began to hope.

In hindsight, this specific moment gives me goosebumps. To this day, it’s my favorite personal moment from all the Death Races in which I participated.

With the next task being a time trial of sorts we were, of course, given some parameters. I took this as another hint at what could possibly be the finish of the 2014 Death Race, Year of the Explorer. The rules for this specified that we had until 0700 to run as many laps up and down Joe’s Mountain possible making sure we checked in at Shrek’s Cabin and at the White Barn each time. Furthermore, a minimum of five laps were required to pass this challenge, extra laps would be “rewarded” to decrease the actual laps run, and we did not have to carry our packs.

Sweet baby Jesus. This was so much like Winter Death Race, I couldn’t help but think, this is it, this is the time to push it! The time arrived to put in a maximum effort. It was time for me to do the last thing necessary to earn my skull.

How wishful am I? I thought to myself.

As I came in, people were already beginning to ascend the mountain for their first summit. I was still a bit behind compared to where I thought I’d be having taken a ride. I realized how badly held up I got with the bag fiasco. No worries, I knew I could catch up. It wasn’t even a question, it would happen. With my bag stripped off my back and my legs itching to do some time trials up and down this mountain, I was stoked.

How many laps can I do? I wondered.

The next thing I knew I was sprinting up the mountain heading for Shrek’s cabin. As I made the climb up the stone stairs I noticed some people were carrying their rucks. I was confused by this as I remembered confirming whether we needed our rucks for this segment of the race. We didn’t.

Sometimes, it pays to confirm the rules of the challenge. In this case, I was at an advantage because I took the time to make sure I understood what was required of me, and that was to do as many laps up and down the mountain as possible – without a ruck. That first ascent took me about 25 minutes from the bottom to the top. I checked in at the cabin and immediately turned around and began my descent. On the way, down there was a huge line of people trying to make their ascent. I immediately started shouting out, “On your left, comin’ in hot!”

I repeated this like a broken record throughout the dark night. That first descent took me right around ten minutes to complete. I checked in hastily at the white barn where I made a quick stop for some water and Skittles at the SISU team tent.

Up and down I’d go each lap checking in at the top and bottom as quickly as the volunteers could get me in and out. I’d only stop at the team tent for a few minutes at a time, I didn’t want to waste any time. I wanted to see just how far I could push myself. I wanted to see how many laps could I do in this small amount of time.

By the fifth lap I was all hopped up on Skittles and Mountain Dew when Kristine forced me to eat a protein bar since it had been hours since I’d eaten anything other than sugar and corn syrup. At first, I resisted, I wanted nothing but Skittles and Mountain Dew. The fact was, she was right, I did need something else. To this day,  I’m thankful for her support. I probably would have bonked had she not shoved that Mint Chocolate Chip Builder’s Bar down my mouth.

At this point my ascents had slowed drastically, that first ascent was without question my fastest but from that point on each ascent after took me anywhere from five to ten minutes longer, which was to be expected. My descents, however, were a whole different story. Each lap I got more precise, more calculated with how I was attacking the downhill.

Peak Death Race, 2014 Peak Death Race, Death Race, Running Laps, Mountain Laps, Mountain running, death race running laps, death race mountain laps

Photo Credit: Elizabeth Spicer

I began to know exactly what trees I could grab to maximize my speed, which stone stairs I could bounce from to control what was essentially me falling down the mountain. I was letting gravity completely take over. Each descent I got faster and faster, and as the sun began to rise, I memorized the fastest route to get from Shrek’s to the White Barn and my body glided almost effortlessly down the mountain.

When I arrived at the White Barn on my eighth lap up and down Joe’s mountain, I discovered I currently held the position for the most laps and my friends Mark Webb and Mark Jones both were heading out for another lap to tie me. Before this knowledge was made known to me, I had planned on calling my eight laps a ‘job well done’, but the competitive side of me wanted more.

I checked how much time I had and how long each lap had been taking me. On average, I was taking about 45 minutes on my ascents and anywhere from 8-10 minutes for the descents. There was just over an hour left for the challenge, if I went out for another lap I’d be cutting it close and not knowing what was next, if anything, could be risky business.

I was determined to dominate this challenge and without much thought, I took off for another lap. I’d already far surpassed the five-lap minimum, and for all, I knew I was just wasting my energy on another lap. Maybe I was being foolish but I really wanted to clinch this challenge. As I began yet another ascent, it was clear there weren’t too many people left on the mountain.

A large majority of the racers stopped after they had finished five laps, they were comfortable with doing the minimum requirement. Others who hadn’t yet hit the threshold continued to push to get there and here I was chasing after Mark Jones and Mark Webb who were both a lap behind me because something inside me told me, to keep hammering.

That final descent is one of my most fond memories of this event. With the light of the sun glistening through the trees and showing me the path previously been lit only by headlamps now fully visible, my line was even easier to see. I hopped and jumped and practically flung myself from one tree to the next as I barreled down the mountain side. I could almost sense that I was moving faster than the previous laps.

Suddenly, I could hear someone coming up behind me. It was Mark Jones, and although I had him by a full lap, I couldn’t help but crank up the heat. The battle was on. Mark Jones is a dominating force in the world of adventure and endurance racing. He’s unbelievably fast and strong and the patter of his feet on my tail drove me to push harder than ever.

Every lap I did I took the exact same route. On the way up, I took the stairs and on the way down I took this snowmobile trail, which was an extremely steep slope. As I neared the turn-off, I wondered if I was the only person who had been taking this route for the descents. I soon found out as I peeled off and took my “shortcut” to the bottom that all of a sudden, the sound of Mark’s feet pounding the trail dissipated. I lost him.

It wasn’t until this moment that it occurred to me that I was, in fact, the only person taking this path to the bottom. I could feel my toes absolutely destroyed. It felt as though the toenails on my big toes were disintegrating. I feared what I would find when I got back to the SISU tent. I pushed through the pain determined to make it back in time.

As I entered the White Barn there were only mere minutes left before we had to get ready for the next challenge. Completely wrecked from completing nine laps I could only hope that the next challenge was nothing more than the ending ceremony. When I found out how fast I finished that last descent I was in shock, from the top of Shrek’s Cabin to the White Barn I managed to do it in six minutes. SIX MINUTES! Holy shit.

Additionally, to my surprise my feet were fine, my toenails were still intact. The pain was immense, I couldn’t believe my toes were OK, it really felt like I had just absolutely destroyed them. My crew instructed me to that we had to be in our white Tyvek suits and diapers ready to go within the next five minutes. I quickly rinsed my body with the hose and without even thinking twice I stripped naked right then in there in front of everyone (something I feared ever doing in front of anyone other than a significant other) and threw my diaper and my Tyvek suit on, I grabbed my ruck and I began to sob uncontrollably.

I couldn’t believe that it wasn’t over. I had just wrecked myself for nothing. I let my pride get the best of me, and now the race would go on and I had to wonder. Did I have enough energy left in the tank to finish this?

To be continued…

Photographers – Please contact me if these are your photos, I forgot to write down your name when I downloaded late one night and I want to give you proper credit. Email me at and I’ll get that sorted right away. Thank you in advance or in some cases I’m sure again, for letting me use your photos to tell the story. 🙂 

Legend of the Death Race Year 3: Part 1 – Here We Go Again

As the end of June approached it became ever apparent that my favorite kind of painful pleasure was coming into focus, The Peak Death Race. It loomed over my head like a dark cloud following a cartoon character around, just waiting to blast them with lightning. In the weeks leading up to the race I could sense it, the experience and all it encompassed was inevitable. The Death Race was, “In the air,”as they say. I couldn’t log into Facebook without seeing some 50 or so notifications related to the Death Race, mostly stemming from the specific Death Race Facebook group. Every once and a while, I received a phone call or an instant message from friends entering the race for the first time; each of them asked for advice. I told everyone the same thing, focus on your nutrition, stay in the middle of the pack, and just keep smiling. Of course, there was more to some conversations than others, but these were the most important tips I could universally dispose.

100 Mile, Ultra, Peak Races, Peak Ultra, MarathonIn the few weeks leading up to the race, I slowed my training down dramatically after unsuccessfully attempting the Peak Ultra 100 Miler and focused only on recovery. At the Ultra, I managed to complete a solid 70 miles climbing up and down the very same mountain where the Peak Death Race takes place. I only stopped myself at after my 7th ten-mile loop for the sake of saving my body for the Death Race. I sacrificed finishing that race for the sake of giving myself the opportunity to attempt to finish this one. During that last lap what felt like a potential injury in the ligaments that connect my shin and ankle began to flare up, making every step excruciating. The pain lasted almost three weeks and only went away completely just a week and two days before I arrived in Pittsfield, VT. 

Once again, like last year, and in what seems to become the norm for me, I found myself traveling all across the country the week before the race. The weekend before the race I joined my girlfriend, Kristine, for a wedding in San Francisco. The Sunday before the race I flew from San Francisco to Boston to spend some time working at the Spartan HQ. And then on Wednesday, I took a bus up to Manchester, NH to meet my good friend, I suppose I could even call him my Death Race “bestie”at this point, Mark Webb. He graciously welcomed me into his home once again and we kept an ongoing tradition of hanging out, having a beer, and sipping whiskey before the Death Race. On Thursday morning, the day we would head up to Vermont to prepare for the race. We spent most of the day packing. Before heading up, we came to realize our combined eight yards of buckskin, one of the mandatory gear list items, would not be delivered as quickly as had promised — a problem we’d have to resolve before our drive up to Vermont. 

Strangely enough, as we readied our gear bins and secured our rucks with the essentials to start the race, we both felt less excited about the race than normal. Both Mark and I kind of shrugged off the unusual notion and went over our checklists before heading to the store to purchase the remaining essentials and the majority of our nutrition for the weekend. Our first stop was a JoAnn Fabrics store that apparently already had other Death Racers frequenting it. The employees responded with a quick, “No, someone else asked for that yesterday,”when I questioned if they had any buckskin. Thankfully, Mark thought of one other place, a locally owned fabric store ran by the sweetest elderly lady. When I asked of buckskin, she didn’t have it, but was quick to help me figure out an alternative that could pass for buckskin. I happily and thankfully scooped up the two large rolls of tan vinyl four yards each, and it was off to Target. There, Mark and I went a little overboard on making sure we had a plethora of food that wouldn’t spoil over the next few days in a storage container, which included: trail mix, peanut butter, bread, bananas, beef jerky, fruit snacks, Chex Mix and all kinds of delicious treats that I’d normally stray away from. When it comes to the Death Race, any and all food is good food. Unlike last year, I wanted to make sure to maximize my calorie intake and eliminate the possibility of coming home looking like I had lost close to fifteen pounds. 

1487790_785666184798642_20223758704835755_oAfter gathering our food and putting the final touches on our prep and packing, it was time to load up the Land Rover and embark on our journey to Vermont with our mutual friends James Vreeland and his wife, Amanda. Once we were in the quaint little town of Pittsfield, VT, it was like one big reunion. Just one step into the Original General Store and I was bombarded with hugs and smiles from some of my favorite people on the planet. After a quick bite to eat it was time to head back to the Team SISU house and find myself a place to sleep. It was already getting late, and I would need as much sleep as I could muster. My bed of choice would be a futon at the top of staircase in the middle of the hallway that led to the two bedrooms. Not the ideal last night’s sleep but it would have to suffice. It took longer to fall asleep than I anticipated. I wanted to knock out as early as 2100 but wasn’t able to fall asleep completely until closer to midnight. That left me with a mere seven hours of tossing and turning as I couldn’t help but anticipate the challenges I would face over the course of the next 70 hours or so in my dreams. 

Predictably, the next morning came very, very quickly. Before heading out to registration Mark, James and Amanda picked me up and we headed over to the Original General Store for the most delicious breakfast,. I opted for the French toast with bacon and bananas. It’s so damn good. Registration was open from 0600 to 0900. Trying to avoid having to do any “extra”work, we decided we would wait until around 0830 to enter the registration line. 

10491352_780069098691684_2656279399505580564_oWhen we arrived at Riverside Farm, we unloaded all our gear, and gear bins and set up shop at the Team SISU tent area. This would be our home base where all of our crew would hang out and be located whenever we came in for any help we might need throughout the race. Between all the athletes racing under the Team SISU banner, we had a LOT of support, more than I’ve ever had at any race. In years past, I didn’t have any dedicated support but this year that was different, I had my girlfriend Kristine Iotte arriving sometime Friday afternoon there for me and I had everyone who was there for Team SISU including friends from the Corn Fed Spartans to assist me in my efforts to conquer the Death Race. Their support, whether it was a high five handing off a burger, or re-filling my water would be vital to my success. After participating in multiple Death Races over the years, one thing I gained was the wisdom from those past experiences  that assured me that the participants who had an outstanding crew were that much more likely to succeed. This year, I had that crew. 

Once Mark, James, Amanda and I moved all our gear over to the drop area we headed over to registration. Finally the excitement I had been lacking for this event began to sink in. It was about time! I felt some sort of emotion toward participating in the Death Race this year, for a while it felt as though I were just going through the motions. Finally, I was feeling something. I felt excited, nervous, and anxious all at once. It took me almost by surprise. I even mentioned it to Mark, “Oh there it is, there’s the nerves and excitement…right on time.” 

Legend of the Death Race Year 3 Wisdom Peak Death Race Spartan Pittsfield Vermont

Andy Weinberg Announces Death Race Rules and Safety

While waiting in line for registration, I started seeing more and more friends, including some Spartan Race co-workers who were volunteering to help with the race. It’s truly amazing how many people are willing to sacrifice their time to help us experience this remarkable journey. Without all the volunteers, friends, and family that come and lend a hand in the execution of this race, the adventure of it all would be nowhere near as fun, nor would it be possible. When I finally made it to my turn to turn over my ID and receive my bib I was struck with realizing I didn’t bring anything else to turn in for registration. The race admins required two belongings to be turned in whether it be your driver’s license and a credit card, car keys, or something else of high value. I left my entire wallet at the SISU house and there was certainly no time for me to go back. I tried to play it off and simply told them, “This is all I have.”They wouldn’t budge. I had to turn in two items or I couldn’t participate. I looked around to Mark and James for assistance here and at first they didn’t have anything they could part with, until Mark remembered he had his concealed carry license in his car. He ran back and snatched it up for me. I couldn’t be more thankful for him remembering he had that and allowing my use of it for my second “personal”item. Finally I received my bib, number 351. It was time to head over to the white barn where everyone else was gathering for the pre-race briefing. 

Legend of the Death Race Year 3 Wisdom Peak Death Race Spartan Pittsfield VermontOnce everyone had arrived in what became known as the “corral,”an area that was gated off for horses near the white barn at Riverside Farm. We all took a seat with only fifteen minutes left until the official race start would supposedly begin. I say “supposedly” because with the Death Race, one never really knows when the race starts or ends. Last year, it took over 24 hours of hard work, mostly building the stone staircase until it was completed before Joe and Andy switched the gear into race mode. This year, I had no idea what I was in for. I never really do. Racers just show up, and do what is asked of them and always remember to smile through it all— the good and the bad. There in the corral, Andy and Joe gave us a quick briefing on the race, the importance of safety, the understanding that medical could pull us if we were not looking coherent enough to move forward, and an explanation that the race would be a traveling race where we would be gone for sixteen hours. They also made it a point to clarify that this is a race. There would be strict cut-offs. The idea of pushing on when you haven’t made a cut-off and continuing on was a thing of the past. Andy and Joe only wanted those who pushed hard enough to continue on. If you missed a time cut-off, you are out of the race. Plain and simple. This would make for a much more interesting race, and it would be interesting to see how this plays out when stubborn people like me just keep going. 

With only seven or eight minutes left I took this opportunity to approach Joe and talk to him quickly. After exchanging a few words about this very story, I overheard Andy asking him if they should just kick things off shortly. During the briefing we were informed that the first task would be to leave our packs and run the staircase we built last year to the top of Joe’s mountain and check in at Shrek’s Cabin. By positioning myself by Joe and talking with him, I had already set myself up with an advantageous start. I was right next to the closest exit point. Not even 30 seconds after Andy asked Joe if they should start the race, I heard them say it, “GO!”

Legend of the Death Race Year 3 Wisdom Peak Death Race Spartan Pittsfield VermontTo be continued…

Photo Credits: Marion Abrams and Doug Kline