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Survival Run: Hunter Gatherer – Camp Eagle: Because I Can

The further away from the cabin I found myself going, the more cruel I felt Josue was. At times I found it difficult to wrap my head around how I found myself here. Why did I sign up for this race? Why do I continue to put myself through these ridiculous challenges that bring out the primal nature within? I started questioning myself but the first answer I came to and always will come to when people ask “Why? Why do this? Why put yourself through something like that?” Because I can. It was as simple as that, and with that thought, that knowledge, I did what I had to do and I carried on and continued along the path Josue laid out for us. Up and down the hills, moving further and further away from that tiny beacon of hope. That cabin on the ridge.

In my mind I already knew reaching that cabin meant a few things. It would be the next source of water. My next challenge would await me and perhaps I would be that much closer to finishing this extraordinary race. In my haste to leave the fire pit I did not refill my water. That last time that I enjoyed the refreshing taste of water that I had to purify myself was during my last few attempts at starting a fire.  It became apparent that unlike most races I was not taking my nutrition or my hydration very seriously.  I was not eating as much as I normally would during a race of this magnitude. Upon that realization I thought back to other racers where I had been laser-focused on my nutrition and yet even with that perfect balance of carbs, protein, potassium and all the other important nutrients needed to succeed there were many races where I still had issues. Back in Vermont at the World Championships Spartan Beast I even had issues. Somehow out here in the foothills of Texas, my lack of nutrition or focus on it had little effect. In fact, I felt quite wonderful. My body was doing well, the feet – while suffering from the technical terrain and lack of protection, I found it wasn’t all that unbearable.  My mood was starting to lift. My face began to pull itself up and I could feel an enormous smile forming, ear-to-ear. In the silence around me with only my thoughts to guide me I knew it was true, I love this shit. This is my happy place. This is what I, what we (as a species) are born to do. Astonishing. Being alone can either be the worst thing or the best thing, it’s all about perspective. That’s what this moment was. It was that feeling of enlightenment. This entire race was a meditation. I was finding myself yet again. And even though I did not succeed in making fire, even though I was unofficially moving forward one step at a time in this race, even though I was all alone with no one to talk to, I was happy. That’s why I do this. That’s why I challenge myself and find myself alone, whether it be in the woods of Vermont of the Hills of Texas, I do it for one reason and one reason only. To find my happy place.

srhg6Almost within an instant of making that connection, my happiness was tested. My concentration had strayed away from watching my every step and in that moment of bliss my foot came smashing down into a patch of prickly pear cacti.  What felt like a 1000 needles pierced my skin, sticking deep within the tips of my toes and the top of my foot. “DAMMIT Josue!!!” That’s the edited version of what I really said. Profanities became my vocabulary for a brief moment, but I would not let this ruin my mood. I couldn’t. This is what I signed up for. This was my choice to take on this race and a few needles in my foot was not going to break me. No. I wouldn’t let it.  So I picked all of them out with as much haste as I could trying not to miss a single one. (Even after a month I still found needles buried deep within my toes.) 1275480_521493091273678_836067679_o Screen Shot 2013-11-24 at 8.01.30 PM From there I continued on my way toward that distant cabin that loomed over the cliffside almost mocking me. I needed water bad and that cabin was my source. I needed to pick up the pace. Nearing the last stretch of trail leading to my next challenge Josue started taking us up a very interesting cliffside.  The brush became thicker and I found myself ducking under branches while trying to find the right footing as began to scale my way up the cliffside. I was even faced with having to do some bouldering just to make it to the top. This is so badass, is all I could think. This adventure was proving to be one of the most complex, riveting challenges that I have faced to date. As much as I found my self cursing Josue, I found myself loving the brilliance of his twisted creation. 1271837_521493117940342_264512149_oPlacing my hand on the boulder that protruded from the cliffside I pulled myself up over that last ridge and a feeling of relief swept over me. I made it. Finally, after all those moments of false hope I had arrived at the cabin. I was greeted by a very jolly man who as it turned out was the father of the two boys who had been “taunting” me with their superior fire making skills. Screen Shot 2013-11-24 at 7.57.23 PMAs had become the standard at this point I asked him the same question I asked each time I arrived at a challenge. How is Corinne doing, and how long ago had she left. It turned out I wasn’t too far behind but she had left over an hour ago. I really wasted a lot of time because of my absent-minded loss of my knife. I needed to finish the challenges here fast so I can make up more time on the course. Before that though I needed to take care of the most basic of needs. I needed water. I asked where I could fill up my canteens and was pointed over to a cow trough. Are you kidding me? I walked over to it and it was disgusting. Filled with mosquitos and gnats. I turned everything off in my mind and just did what had to be done. I purified over 3Ls of water with my SteriPEN there, drinking one of the liters before finding out what challenges await. Screen Shot 2013-11-24 at 8.00.43 PMAlong the way we were supposed to gather Juniper berries and algarita. I had grabbed mine before even leaving the fire-making challenge and stuffed them inside a wrapper from my GU Chomps. After presenting those to the man, I was handed a test all about the qualities of those plants. From the airport to the race Corinne and I had studied the plant guide we were given by Josue. Since finishing graduate school I knew that the less I study something the better I usually do so I only reviewed the material as much as I felt I needed. The real test here was how well do I know my ability to retain information. As I waited for my test to be graded I wondered how I would do. Passing was 7/10…I nailed it. Only missing one question and realizing my mistake before he even told me which one it was. Feeling extraordinarily proud of myself I was ready for my next task. Screen Shot 2013-11-24 at 8.00.37 PMWe were to take a few strips of Sotol fibers and we had to soften them up with a rock so we could make it into almost a string-like material.  Then we were to braid them together a total of 3 feet. Having grown up with two older half sisters and a younger sister, I found this to be way too easy. Once I finished I was presented with my beads for completing the first two tasks and I was given my final task before leaving the cabin. Make a Bow. This was it. One of the tasks I had been waiting for. The Bow and Arrow has been one of my favorite weapons since I was a wee little one. I went over to one of the Juniper and found myself the best curved branch I could. I hacked away at it with my KaBar and began to shave off the excess bark. I noticed some of the other racers were taking a significantly large amount of time to craft their bows. I was more concerned with making the time cut-off than anything else so I did not put in the time or effort that I would have liked to but felt I had made a fairly decent bow. I strung it up with some of the orange string I was provided and made my way. Once again, I was all alone. And I felt absolutely epic running along those trails, bow in hand.

To be concluded…

Survival Run: Hunter Gatherer – Camp Eagle: Primal Beings

As I trudged through the river I could see we were nearing the large cabin area, the same place where the race began, I knew the water was about to become deeper and swimming with our logs as opposed to walking with them would become my ultimate challenge. My panic began to rise again. Without the help of Justin Atteberry, whom I met over a year ago when I crewed and played photographer at the Ultimate Suck, I would have probably taken much longer to finish this section of the course, that is if I’d have finished at all. The other racers: Paul Kavanagh, Shannon Hulme, Christian Griffith, and Isaiah Vidal also offered encouragement, which helped me to overcome my newly developed fear. Until that moment, I had no idea how terrified of swimming in a river at night I was. After taking some deep breaths, and eventually calming myself down, I pushed forward.  Justin stayed by my side and helped me through every freak out I had. Every time I felt the seaweed slowly wrap around my torso to weigh me down and hold me back, or I felt it entangling and intertwining itself around my legs – he was there. Every time I began to lose my cool, Justin was there to calm me. I’m very thankful for all he did.

Screen Shot 2013-10-19 at 9.07.14 PMWhat someone in this situation needs to understand is this seaweed was very thick and in many spots completely unavoidable and all there was to light the way were the headlamps of some incredibly skilled, talented, masochistic athletes. As you tread through the dark murky waters barely lit by the moonlight the seaweed would wrap itself around your legs, your waist, your feet and ankles. It felt like it would completely consume me, and yes, I feared it would pull me under and hold me there. Trapped and unable to escape. This was my fear. This was my demon. The density of all the seaweed combined with my fear added an additional element to the already muscle and confidence-sapping challenge of having to swim a mile and a half with a floating log.  By time we had hit the first dam the sun began to rise. My fear faded away and we made up some serious time as Justin and I swam side by side, purposefully swimming longer distances just to avoid any patches of seaweed that we might encounter. We even passed a few racers in the process. It felt good to be back in a secure state of mind. It goes without saying that dark waters really did a number on me. I guess I have something to work on. 

Screen Shot 2013-10-31 at 11.21.04 PMContinuing down the river we eventually reached the final dam, concluding our swimming adventure. After tossing both logs down together I climbed my way to the ground below, untied my log and carried it over to where the volunteers were waiting for us. Thankfully, there were a couple of metal folding chairs so I could sit down in and reattach my awesome DIY Luna Sandals to my feet feet again. Now that the fabric was wet I made sure to secure the lacing just a slightly tighter than I had earlier. I also took the time to make sure I wouldn’t have to screw around with it later, which was the last thing I wanted to have to do during a 100K race was stop more than I had to. Every time you stop it’s a chance for your body to seize up, so constant movement is key. I collected my bead for successfully completing that terrifying swim down the river and consumed a Clif Bar and a GU packet if I recall. Next, I began my climb up the trail and across the wobbly wooden suspension bridge and followed that same path Shannon and I went on for our “5K Warm-Up.” Again, I found myself running alongside Shannon and we joked about how it was a good thing we turned around when we did the night before, the terrain that started to come up right after that turnaround point was pretty gnarly.  It involved some rock climbing, scaling and lots of bushwhacking.

After going up another one of what seemed like an infinite amount of Texan hills, we finally arrived at the next challenge where the volunteers awaited our arrival. My two concerns were: How far behind from the leader were we? And how long ago did Corinne leave this challenge? I wanted to know if I would be able to realistically catch up to her during the running sections after having so many issues early on. I learned that she wasn’t too far ahead, so I listened to what the challenge was, and without hesitation opened my custom-made ruck, pulled out and opened up the yellow compression sack. This sack exclusively held my random gear such as my SteriPEN, paracord, and the item I pulled out for this challenge, my orange sharpie that I kept with me for moments just like this where memory would be key.

caveentranceOur challenge was to crawl through this very small hole in the ground into a cavern; a very tight and narrow cavern that I am told was littered with snakes, scorpions and who knows what other bugs and such. Fortunately, I was so focused on finding our objective, find six symbols placed throughout the cave, that I never really noticed any bugs or reptiles. I went straight down the cavern and to the left. I snaked my own way through the different levels of the cave until I found myself in the very back where I found the first two symbols. All they symbols were found in pairs. The first four I found within 30 seconds of each other.  Each time I found them I would take my bib off my compression shorts, scribble the symbol onto the back of the bib with my sharpie and continue to hunt for the next ones. The last two were a little more difficult to find, but thanks to Shannon, I found them and made my way out. I ended up sharing my Sharpie with a few people and even left it for Paul to use since he was entering as I was leaving.

photo (7)Upon exiting the cave I removed a couple safety pins and peeled back my bib off to reveal all my drawings and asked the volunteers, “Do you want me to draw them, point to them, or will this suffice?” They looked over the symbols and let me carry on my way. In hindsight, it was pretty funny because you could tell they considered having me point them out but decided not to bother since I had all the correct symbols. The seemed very amused by my tactic for conquering this challenge. I was awarded my FAIL amulet and I was directed to collect a prickly pear cactus pad before the next challenge and went on my way. I was on a mission to catch up with my race partner, Corinne. A lot of the trails followed along a fence line that surely kept us separated from the exotic animals that were hunted on the other side. It was kind of creepy to think about. With every step I had to constantly make sure not to roll my ankles, step on a prickly pear cactus, or stub my toes. It was a constant battle and basically limited me to a cautious jog as opposed to anything that could actually resemble a “run.” When I was not running along the fence line I found myself navigating ravines, climbing over trees and dodging branches searching constantly for the little trail markers to make sure I wasn’t going off path or missing a sneaky turn. I found some of the markers to be extra tricky to spot sometimes. After climbing through a rather heavily covered area eventually I emerged only to find myrself climbing through a bed of prickly pears only to see a Windmill in the clearing at the peak of this hill. There, my next series of challenges awaited me.

841178_521492717940382_2069296530_oAs I walked up to the challenge I could see this was going to reveal another weakness, throwing. Growing up I played a little tee ball and threw around footballs like all kids do, but it became very apparent that my left arm was nothing special, it wasn’t meant to throw, my aim (when it comes to throwing) is just not there. That’s why I strayed further and further away from most American sports and stuck to what I was best at, climbing, swinging, jumping, and flipping. When I saw that we would have to hit one of these three skinny hanging log targets with a requirement of hitting at least one of those targets 3 times out of 7 chances. Immediately, I knew I was probably going to miss out on earning this bead.

Screen Shot 2013-10-31 at 11.25.18 PMAll positivity escaped me but I found humor in knowing that I wouldn’t succeed. The Volunteers presented me with my first quiz when I arrived. There were three questions asking us about the qualities of a prickly pear cactus and of course now we were also to take out our prickly pear pad which I had already de-needled and we had to turn it into a canteen and prove that we could drink from it. I missed one question on the quiz – no bead. I got out my KaBar and started to clean up my throwing stick just a bit to avoid splinters. When I went to make my first few practice throws at the metal legs of the windmill I was dead on, so I figured after two throws it was time to try my luck. First throw, way off. Second throw a little closer. Third and fourth throws were perfectly aimed just came in a bit low. Finally, I hit one on my fifth throw and it wasn’t even a direct hit, I basically just clipped the edge of the hanging log with my throwing stick. To leave this challenge successful I would have to hit the next two throws dead on. Knowing my abilities and lack of consistency, I had little faith that I would succeed and expressed it very vocally. I know I wasn’t being positive but there is a reason why I got myself into sports such as gymnastics, cheerleading, and now obstacle racing. I suck at throwing sports. Period. So with my awesomely negative mindset I took my last throws. Two more misses and that was it.  I only hit the throwing stick target once – no bead.  All I succeeded at here was making my canteen.

At this challenge checkpoint we were also given the opportunity to refill our water from this giant water collection tank that was filled with mosquitos and who knows what else. Between the quiz and throwing challenge I took the opportunity to rehydrate and fill up.  Thankfully, I had my SteriPEN Freedom with me and I was able to make that water clean and purified in just a short 48 seconds (for each liter that I filled). After filling my steel canteen and my foldable hydration pack, I ate some of the Saquito Chia mix the volunteers offered us and took off with my throwing stick that we were told to keep with us. I also grabbed an Epic Bar to try later. We were also told we were welcome to find another throwing stick later if we would like so I ditched mine and took off. I was now only 10-15 minutes behind Corinne, and I knew I could catch up to her at the next challenge so I took off.

856096_521492617940392_1171662524_oThe next few sections of the course had me cursing Josue and the course markings constantly. No matter how hard I looked or how hard I tried to get some sort of pace going I couldn’t, the course marking were sometimes too high to see. It didn’t help I had my eyes glued to the ground in front of me for fear of wrecking my feet and or ankles in these oh-so-protective barefoot sandals of mine. All of this slowed me down quite a bit, I had to constantly stop to scan the area and make sure I wasn’t missing a trail marker. It’s not that the course was poorly marked, it was very well marked in terms of frequency but too often the markers were either too high to easily see or from the angle I was searching they were just hidden behind a branch or a leaf. I was just not seeing them as easily as I’d have liked. The distance from the Windmill to our next challenge was 4.8 miles and around half way through all the treacherous climbs, rocky descents, and ridge-less ridge traversing, I looked down at the knife sheath that I had fixed to my left calf with paracord and to my absolute horror I discovered that my KaBar was no longer there, the button that holds it in place was undone. Had I left it at the last challenge? Did I lose it along the way? What was I going to do at the next challenge? At that moment all the frustration that had been building up came out and I screamed…”F*********CK!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!”

To be continued…

The Ultimate Suck: A Endurance Race Worthy of the Title

Another weekend of adventure, this time I was traveling to an Endurance Race that has been given the title, The Ultimate Suck.  Hosted by Joe Decker of Gut Check Fitness out of California, I knew this was an event I could not miss even if I wouldn’t be competing.  It took about four hours and forty minutes to drive straight from work to the central Illinois region, to the small town of Cuba, IL, just outside of Peoria, IL.  As I drove down the winding, hilly, dirt gravel road I remember thinking to myself how this felt like the setting to one of those awful “scary” movies that always seem to take place out in the country. When I finally saw the camp sites come into vision I could see just past them there was a bonfire blazing and the red LED display lit up as it tracked how many hours the racers had been competing. They were already a few hours in.

There were no racers in site when I checked in and was directed to park by the campsite for Tim, who myself and Candie were crewing for.  When I arrived most of the racers were still out on a hike. I changed into my typical race gear and sat by the fire while waiting for the first few racers to start coming back. I brought my camera with for the event, I had been wanting to shoot an endurance event like this for a while now.  There could not have been a better opportunity, a 36 hour event, with a small enough attendance that photographing every athlete was possible. I don’t suspect that will be possible next time The Ultimate Suck makes it out to the Midwest.

Endurance Challenge Obstacle Race Adventure

Wood Splitting – Night One

When the racers started to come in they were way behind the lead competitor, Ben, who was almost done chopping his wood when I plopped down by the fire. Each racer had a pile of logs with their number on it that they had to chop. After that they had to take stack by stack over to Joe’s brother’s house which was about a mile roundtrip. Typically it took four to five trips for the racers to finish this. When Tim came in we couldn’t help but laugh at the ridiculously large stumps Joe had save for him.  When Joe came over he even laughed at the sick joke all the enormous stumps were and replaced one of them with a smaller one.

The Ultimate Suck Endurance Race

Tim hacking away at his ridiculous collection of stumps.

After Tim finished running all his logs back and fourth he was given his next task, which was to travel through this ravine in reverse from how they went through it earlier in the day.  I opted to join him on this excursion and we were accompanied by two other racers including Michael Sandercock of Epic Racing Arena, whom I first met at the St. Patty’s Day GoRuck Challenge.  The ravine hike was outstanding.  It was muddy, wet, and full of natural obstacles. We covered a few miles, avoided full submersion by climbing out of the ravine at one part and made our way back to the farm. Then they had to dig some post holes. That’s when I decided it was time to take a little nap.

The Ultimate Suck Endurance Event Challenge Race

Ben made sure every racer finished their 3 miles.

When I woke up they were beginning the Marines Corps. Fitness test.  That was one of the most amazing parts of the race.  Lead competitor Ben, finished the 3 mile run first, but he didn’t stop when he crossed the plane of that orange cone. No, he turned right back around and went back no more than an 1/8 of a mile and ran in with another racer.  He didn’t stop there, he did this four or five times until every one had made it back.

Ultimate Suck Endurance Race

Marines Corps PT Push Up Test

They moved on to the push-ups part of the PT test and Tim was just making it around the corner. He was pushing himself.  When he got back he was able to join in and do his push-ups and sit-ups separately.  At the conclusion of the fitness test the racers were told to go get their buckets and sandbags which were each 50lbs for men and 30lbs each for the women.  Tim knew this was the end for him.  He assured me that he knew his body, he knew his limits and he was happy with how far he had made it.  I was a little bummed he didn’t attempt the bucket carry but when someone decides they are done it is hard to get them out of that mindset. I pushed on him a little but he insisted and was happy with his performance, as long as he wasn’t going to regret it, I was not going to piss him off by pushing the subject too much.

The Ultimate Suck Bucket Carry

“Why can’t this be over?” I am sure that’s what Nicole was thinking.

I took off with my camera to document this bucket carry that would cover some decent mileage going up and down a very steep gravel paved, backroad hill.  Some of the competitors didn’t seem to be phased by the distance or the weight they had to carry. Others it was a completely different story. Mike was struggling early on.  I was actually concerned he wouldn’t get past this challenge.  No matter how far he fell back, he never quit, he never surrendered.  There was a group of us hanging by the camp site and Mike had laid down to take what he thought was just a 20 minute nap.  He shot up out of the tent resurgent.  When we told him he had already been out for nearly two hours his face dropped, “Do you think I can still finish he asked?’  Unsure what challenges lay ahead and how much time he had left before the end of Phase 2 (the second 12 hour session).

the suck put mike to sleep at endurance race

Mike just resting…turned to sleeping for over an hour and a half. Lesson? Never lay down (without an alarm)…you’ll pass the EFF out.

As it turned out Joe let him attempt to catch back up and Mike was off. I would like to turn it over now so you can hear the story from Mike’s point of view. He is a testament to the definition of Fortitude. Here is his story of making one of the most amazing comebacks any of us ever witnessed or heard of.

The sandbag carry didn’t treat me quite as well as the other competitors. My stubborn nature is great for some things, but I decided to farmer’s carry the buckets long after my shoulder and grip strength had failed me. I crossed the finish line totally exhausted, but relieved, and headed to my tent to grab some food. My legs, shoulders, hands, and arms ached, my heart didn’t want to stop pounding, and my stomach was trying to turn itself inside-out.

Tim was kind enough to offer up one of his MRE’s out of concern that I looked “as white as a ghost” and I laid back to catch my breath for what I thought was about half an hour, after which I hopped up to continue my quest to finish. In actuality, I was out cold for up to an hour and a half, and at one point told one of the volunteers that I thought I was done; I don’t remember any of this. I rushed over to Joe to see if I could still compete (technically you’re not supposed to sleep) and he gave me the green light after mentioning that I had a lot of catch-up to do. I took to the new set of tasks with new life.

The Ultimate Suck Strongman during Endurance Race

What a lovely bunch of heavy objects to throw around.

Stage 2 of The SUCK consisted of some more enjoyable aspects than the previous stage. It started out with a strongman circuit including kettlebell throws, (more) farmers carries, sled drags, rock deadlifts, and tire flips. After completion of the circuit, you had to grab your PFD (personal flotation device) and run over to the shooting range, where they had a set of 3 targets at different ranges. If you missed a target, you had to perform a burpee penalty.

Strongman competition during endurance race

Strongman Competition.

Luckily, I have some shooting experience and knocked this section out without trouble. The staff at the range then instructed me to run down to the bridge. When I arrived at the bridge, there was nobody there to direct me, so I continued along the path for up to a mile uphill, at which point I decided it would be best to turn around and double-check with the staff at the shooting range. Luckily, I ran into one of the racers on the way back, who lead me into the dry creek that we traversed the previous night. The MRE and rest definitely left me refreshed, but the food settled heavily in my stomach and the time off my feet had allowed some blisters to form on my soles. Each step felt like knives digging into my feet, but I continued to push on. At the end of the creek lay a disgustingly green and stagnant pond with a quicksand-like bottom and some really odd hot/cold spots. We had to swim across this pond to continue on the path, and after climbing out of a ravine, proceeded to jump back into a smaller green pond to get to our next task, the gas chamber. Apparently, Joe thought twice about spraying us directly in the face with pepper spray, and instead set up a hut with a fine mist from a pepper spray canister. Racers perform 10 burpees and are free to head on their way. I’ve always been a fan of horribly spicy things, and I left the gas chamber with only a slight burn in my eyes. From this point, each racer was tasked to carry 5 loads of firewood back to HQ, and proceed to dig a posthole. I was sure to pop a few Advil before taking up the posthole task.

gas chamber during endurance race the ultimate suck

Maureen Entering the Gas Chamber.

The 24-hour mark was drawing near as I scraped out the last few inches of post-hole dirt. It was at this point that Nicole and Joe informed me I had to complete the entire circuit one more time, otherwise I would be disqualified. Time for completion: Less than 2.5 hours. I knew the trip from HQ to the gas chamber would take me about an hour, the log carry would take me 30-45 minutes, leaving me just under an hour for the post-hole dig. It was very possible, but I couldn’t stall or make any mistakes.

A few volunteers tagged on my heels to pace me as I took off towards the dry creek path, but I wasn’t about to let myself get DQ’ed after all the hard work I had put in thus far. The Advil was finally starting to kick in as I pushed the pace to an almost reckless level through the rough terrain of the creek. I scaled the slopes up to the green pond and jumped right in, moving as efficiently as possible through the water. One of the farm dogs, Tess, had jumped in alongside me and was furiously doggy-paddling to keep up. It’s the little things like that that lift your spirits and lighten your mood. After that, it was all downhill, as I returned from the trail after being gone just over 30 minutes. By the time I had run back and forth with my 5 handfuls of wood, I had over 1.5 hours to finish my post-hole dig. With the stage finish in sight, I dug with everything in my power and finished the 36” hole with over an hour to spare. Towards the end, Nicole walked over with a radio to see how I was doing. “He has about an inch left!” she reported.

I hear Joe on the other line saying “Tell him he has one minute to finish it.”

“Thanks Joe…” I replied sarcastically.

“Tell Mike he just bought himself 15 seconds with that comment.”

As with the beginning of each new stage, we started out with a PT test. This time it was a modification of the Navy test, and consisted of a 1.5-mile run, with timed dive-bomber pushups and leg lifts. When Joe told us to bring over both buckets with sand, I knew what was coming next. I wasn’t happy about it, but after coming back and avoiding DQ, I wasn’t about to give up with only 12 hours left.

enduring the bucket of suck

Enduring the Buckets of Suck.

The task was to carry both buckets of sand up to the top of a hill and back—a distance Joe mentioned would be about 1.5 miles round-trip. It wound up being 2.6 miles. I was smarter with the carries this time around, and took one sandbag and bucket on my shoulder at a time. I carried one as far as I could, and then went back and carried the second. It wasn’t the fastest method, but I was able to finish with little to no grip strength left in my hands, with only an hour or so lost time from the other racers. I still felt strong and ready to catch up with the other racers on the 10-mile run.

It was at this point I realized there was some disconnect between my wishes and capabilities. The 2.6-mile carry had taken a toll on my feet and they were blistered on every contact point. I attempted to cushion them with pads and rolls of gauze prior to leaving for the trek, but I knew it was going to be a mental game from this point on. Advil no longer took away the sharp pain of walking and was even starting to upset my stomach at this point.

One of the volunteers had offered to pace me and I hobbled up towards the fire to meet her. I could barely walk at this point, let alone run. “I think I might be done,” I told her as I approached, and immediately stopped myself. If I could just push through this mentally for a few hours, I could make it.

The run started at a slow shuffle, but my feet were not getting any better. The poor form that resulted made it twice as exhausting to move just a little faster than a walking pace, so we slowed down to a brisk walk. It was at this point my mind started to fail on me. My balance started to go and I began to zigzag my way down the 10-mile trail, freezing since I was no longer running to keep my body temperature up. I started to see floating houses and at one point, the volunteer’s headlamp turned into a blow-up kiddie pool… which she subsequently flipped down the road like a tire. I have to admit, if she wasn’t there to talk to and keep me at least slightly sane, I may not have made it back.

Upon reaching HQ some 3-4 hours later, I was instructed to perform burpee leap-frogs the final 1/8 mile to camp. At this point, there were only a few hours left before the 7am finish of the event. The other racers had been chopping the remaining wood throughout the night.

When I arrived back at base, we were all instructed to grab our packs with 50lb weight for one, final ruck with Joe. We set off into the woods, and Joe proceeded to find some of the steepest, most awkward hills possible to climb. The bottoms of my feet were absolutely screaming at this point and I couldn’t help but verbally reflect at this point. Flat land was one thing, but horribly uneven terrain was downright painful. After 4-5 hills, one of the racers nearly fainted, so Joe cut the ruck short and lead everyone back to camp.  After a few minutes, Joe issued the final challenge: Every remaining racer had to complete a mile run in under 15 minutes, and we would be done. With every ounce of energy we had left in our bodies, we pushed ourselves through that final mile to cross the finish line in less than 15 minutes.

Ultimate Suck Endurance Race Finish

“Hey Mike Smile!” – Me

When it was all said and done, you could see the excitement through the pure exhaustion in everyone’s face. Personally, The SUCK was one of the most incredible, rewarding experiences of my life and I am truly amazed at the incredible athletes that completed this race. We left with new friendships; new respect for each other, and new understanding of ourselves… plus a pretty awesome trophy. What more can you really ask for?

endurance races kick your ass

From Left to Right, Top to Bottom. Ben, passed the EFF out. Rick and Justin with celebratory brews. Mike passed out, again. And, Nicole giving Nicole a piggyback ride.

Thanks to Nicole, Joe, and the Decker family for putting this incredible event together. Thanks also to the amazing volunteers and crew that were out there in The SUCK with us. It wasn’t just the tasks and location that made this event, but the people, hospitality and perseverance that went along with it.

Mike is an incredible athlete and I am thrilled that he was willing to share his story with us. Thank you again, Mike.  I think you are more than ready for the Death Race. Hopefully we’ll be seeing Mike at the Legend of the Death Race Training Camp this November. He’ll crush it.

The remaining hours spent at the event we all shared stories, enjoyed some awesome homemade gravy and biscuits, and I finally shot my first gun ever, a 22 gauge shotgun. IT WAS AWESOME! I was never a fan of guns prior to this…that might have changed. One thing is for certain, I cannot wait until the next Ultimate SUCK. I will most definitely be competing next time Joe Decker brings his extreme endurance event to his parent’s lovely farm in the good ol’ Midwest.

Shotguns and Endurance Races



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…

Legend of the Death Race – Part 8: The Comeback Kids

Andy asked me whether I was sure I want to quit or not. Well no, I was not sure I wanted to quit. More than anything I wanted to finish. That’s why I came out to Vermont to compete in this race in the first place.  Finishing the Death Race was the only option I had truly considered. Days before the race I pulled a Bart Simpson and wrote “I will finish the Death Race” until I covered the entire dry erase board. When Andy offered me that moment to decide if I really wanted to quit I knew I had to re-evaluate the situation at hand. Morgan wanted to as well.  When Andy questioned us we looked to each other, then back at Andy and quickly responded “Give us a few to think this through.”

Bart simpson moment

“I will finish the Death Race” Photo Credit: Lena Burkut

Laying on a make shift cot made from a couple of chairs was Jennifer. Finally, I got to see my crew member. I did not want to tell her I was considering quitting. She seemed half awake at the time. I went up to her and she could tell I was cold. I explained to her the situation with my shoulder, and how Andy had questioned our desire to quit. She told me that no matter what I had to be proud of how far I had come. She was, and so was I. But, I was still only half satisfied. I joined her for a bit in the make shift cot. Thankfully she was very warm, she had me place my legs under her sleeping bag that she was still bundled up in. Just that combination of body warmth and the sleeping bag had me feeling warmer. It was nice. I had taken off my shoes and socks and placed them by the fire before sitting down. I was starving, I’m not certain what my calorie deficit was but it was not helping to make this decision any easier. Jennifer got out a bunch of MRE packs and started feeding me, I had an oatmeal cookie which I covered with peanut butter along with some roasted almonds, and let me tell you, that was stupendous!

Jennifer went on to tell me that she never stopped looking out for me from the time she arrived.  She was informed that we would be making our way back to the farm, eventually.  Instead of searching on the mountain and missing me, she decided to wait at the farm; the plan being to link up with me when I returned.  It was a long while until I made it back.  Jennifer spent her entire night laying on that make shift cot searching for me. Calling out my name over and over throughout the night.  Because of the darkness out in Vermont it was difficult to identify faces, so she would call out “Tony?!”  Over 30 people came through. Jennifer called out to every one of them in hopes of finding me.  Someone actually responded one of the times, but it was the wrong Tony.  Jennifer you are an angel, thank you for sacrificing hours of sleep to avoid missing me when I came through.

never quit, never surrender, this is the death race

Warming up by the fire in red contemplating. Photo Credit: Jennifer Sullivan

Once I was feeling a little more alive I told Jennifer I’d be back in a bit. I went over to the racers tent to see Morgan. She was organizing some things and had decided she wanted to continue on. She started hounding me to come with and finish what we started. I was not sure yet. Mr. shoulder was hurting me a lot. I told her to give me a few. I had an idea. I scrambled from the tent and went to Andy. I couldn’t carry the wood but maybe I could negotiate some sort of alternative obstacle. Andy wasn’t buying it though, I had to bring the logs back to the farm. He liked where my head was at but if I didn’t bring the logs down I was done. Okay, I thought. Andy, has completed some serious events in his life, he must have dealt with injuries before. I asked him to be straight up with me about my shoulder tear and what he thought I should do. He told me ultimately I have to decide.  If I thought this could cause permanent damage, we’re talking damage that would last a lifetime. If I thought that were possible I should really take that into consideration when making my decision. I didn’t have much time left to think.

With the new advice I still wasn’t fully ready to quit, nor was I completely ready to go back for those logs. Another twelve to sixteen miles would await me.  Just to finish a challenge I was only three miles away from half completing before deciding to “quit.”  That really sucked. Then in the distance I saw another good friend, Todd. He was making some adjustments before heading back out to his next challenge. I gave him a quick run down and asked his advice. He looked at me and then divulged to me the key elements that would make this race beatable. We had gone over whether or not I could feasibly go back up the mountain and bring at the very least a couple logs at a time. Of course I could handle that, other than a couple blisters starting to form on the ball of my foot I was pretty golden. It was just the thought of excessive weight in addition to the weight of the pack that got to me.  Todd suggested that no one said you have to take the logs down all at once. If you must, then simply take one at a time. Good logic right? It’d be more distance but, I’d still be in the race. That wasn’t the key piece of advice though. That came next when Todd said to me, “only you can pull yourself from this race.” Only I could pull myself from the race?  He was right, there were no real disqualifications. That was part of the mental game. If we truly wanted to continue on and continue racing, who was going to stop us? No one. Not Joe. Not Andy. Not any volunteer. The only person who could disqualify you from the race is yourself, you are your own worst enemy. 

With this new found knowledge I thanked Todd a bunch, gave my favorite red-headed giant a hug and wished him the best of luck with the rest of his race. One of the main reasons I was here competing in 2012 versus waiting until 2013 was because of this guy. Todd has a way of motivating and inspiring that is unparalleled. Hell, the man claims training for the Death Race is a crutch. So,  I shuffled my way through the wet grass back over to Morgan in the racers tent. I sat down with her and asked if she was going to continue on. I told her my shoulder was sucking it up and making this extremely difficult, but if I had to go one log at a time then maybe I could continue on. For some time she had been harping on about how we couldn’t quit. “Are you going to keep harassing me until I decide to keep going?” I questioned her.  Morgan’s head shook up and down and she vocally confirmed that she wouldn’t let me quit. Well, alright then, “let’s do this damn thing,” I exclaimed.

Death Race Time

40 Hours on the Death Race Official Timer

By the time we had our gear back together and acknowledged our desire to continue on, the red led lights displayed just over 40 hours. Jennifer wished me good luck and told me she would keep in contact with my dad about my progress. During the prep time just before we set back out on the trails, I ran over to Mark’s car in hopes of finding his keys in his bumper. I searched and searched and didn’t find anything. Then I heard a noise. I started to walk toward the rear passenger door, when a head shot up and I jumped back. Holy shit it was Mark. I was shocked. He quickly handed me my container of pain medicine as he opened the door. Apparently, important messages travel well at the Death Race. As it turned out he almost destroyed his Achilles.  It was a very wise decision on his part to pull out of the race (confirmed by his doctor later). He had only just DNF’d a few hours prior and was going to hang out until I was finished.

Death Race Ravine Shortcut

This is the start of the ravine that we choose to go up. Photo Credit: Andy Greenwood

So there we were back on the trail. Morgan and I felt refreshed and silly for wanting to quit. We hustled our way from the farm towards the mountain once again. We had some options for which direction we could take to get back to where we chopped the wood. There was the normal trail route, which would probably consume more time over a longer distance. Alternatively, we could head up the ravine. It was a bit more challenging and involved the likeliness of getting wet feet again.  However, it would decrease the amount of distance we’d have to travel and  hopefully, the amount of time as well. This is where I discovered that the shoe I choose as my second pair would not be to my benefit. I had chosen to bring along my New Balance Minimus Trail MT10’s as my second pair of shoes. The problem with the MT10’s is they were nearing the end of their life span. They’ve been through quite a few races, many runs and a few other miscellaneous adventures. Though the bottoms were low on traction I don’t think it was simply the fault of them being old. The ravine was slippery. As, wet rocks tend to be. That was the only bad part about choosing this route. I was on my ass a few times and every time I did slip, Morgan and I would just laugh it up.

It didn’t matter that my shoes sucked though. The sun was shining through the trees, and the water trickled down the ravine. Pure bliss. This is the life, this is some good living! It’s truly amazing how refreshing and revitalizing the sun can be. It reinvigorated our very souls, and gave us that extra push to be happy about racing again. There was nothing that could wipe the big smiles off our faces. We were back in the Death Race and we had decided to make a pact.  From here on out we would finish this race.  Together, we would finish the Death Race. No matter what. Together, we would be, unbreakable.

To be continued…


It’s not a shortcut if it’s not a challenge. Photo Credit: Andy Greenwood

Legend of the Death Race – Part 7: Make It Hurt So Good

At last, I could relieve myself of carrying my pack. I was overdue to give my shoulder a rest from all the added weight. Unfortunately, swinging an axe, being left handed, splitting a log in half and then both halves into sixths is not the kind of rest I needed. Walking along the right side of the road, which had been consumed by logs, I scouted for a good one. During that time I came to a few quick realizations. First, the good pickin’s were becoming scarce at an increasing rate. Second, some of these logs are GINORMOUS! Okay, maybe just lowercase enormous. My last realization was that my shoulder had become a serious issue I needed to consider from here on out.  I would have to chop this log using both right and left handed swings to get through this challenge.  I found a log with a diameter slightly larger than I’d have liked.  No time to be a picky, though. I grabbed it, pulled it out into the road and made my own little area to start chopping.

Even though I had cleared an area, so I thought, I was very nervous about how close people were walking without noticing my swing.  That included racers, volunteers, and support crews. It was a sea of people hacking away at their logs. A few racers broke their axe heads off. Others were struggling to get through, taking out handsaws to finish getting  through their log. The open spot I thought I cleared for myself continued to be a nuisance for me. After changing my angle that I swung from much I became much calmer.

Smack, crack. All you heard all around you was the sound of axes ripping through the logs. Wood splinters flying off in every direction. Every so many strikes I would take a pause, switch sides and go back to it. I positioned my log with a rock wedged in front of it to minimize its rolling, and movement. Trying to get this log in half was quite the task, there was a pretty nasty knot towards the center. I finally made it through and once I had my two halves the rest was just like the Fiskars website had advertised. While I didn’t have exactly a one swing split, it only took a couple strikes before my first half  divided. Soon enough I had my first six logs and was ready to move onto the other half. Same deal, thankfully. Now there I was, I had a dozen split logs. It was time to strategize.

The next part of this challenge was to return to Amee Farm.  As I understand it a few people were sent back to the Farm and told to leave their logs. They were being penalized for the cheating that happened with the numbered sticks. Their punishment. Tread in the pond for various amounts of time. Since I was informed that we were given the go ahead because of the mistake the volunteers made I did not join the cheaters. I remained behind with some others to figure out how I was going to get all these logs back with all the pain I was experiencing. If there was ever a time I could use my pain medicine it was right here and now. Had I more pills readily available at this point, which I was completely out, the following events may have unraveled differently.

Trying to build a log transport device…FAIL! Photo Credit: MadMotion

For some time I played around with different configurations, I had strapped all my logs to my Gunslinger bag, that was a fail. When I tried to stand, I could barely get my pack off the ground. Then I split it in half and tried putting six in my bucket and strapping six to the pack…another fail. I still couldn’t bare that much weight on my shoulder. What was I to do?  The sun was gone, it was now night. I found myself teaming up with a partner. We spent some time grabbing some long skinny trees out of the woods. From there we proceeded to build a sled of sorts. Using a lot of rope to bundle the logs, and even more 550 paracord to create a platform and tension system to hold everything together. Well that ended up being a waste of energy, strength, and time. It didn’t work and fell apart within seconds. Our brains were not functioning at their full potential. We should have known that wouldn’t have worked but we were willing to try anything to ease the workload. It wasn’t going to be simple though. It was going to be evil, so heinous that it would eat at me and put me into a downward spiral that would lead to my first desire to just quit this damn race.

Since the sled didn’t work I decided there was no way around it, I was going to have to take two trips to get all the wood down to the farm. I believe it was 8 miles to get back. That was a lot of distance to cover just to finish this task, but then again, this is the Death Race, right? I dropped half my logs. Grabbed the other half and made my way out with Patrick and another racer (sorry, drawing a blank on names). We began our decent and my logs were not cooperating with me. The bundle I had made wasn’t holding together well, some logs were sliding out, and I had to keep adjusting. Patrick thankfully lent me some compression straps which made things a lot more bearable. My shoulder continued to aggravate me.  It’d have been best if I could get my mind off of it but it seemed nothing would stop my mind from focusing on the pain.

During our decent we ran into a couple other racers including Morgan. Morgan is a fellow Storm Chaser who I knew from a brief meeting over six months back. It was after the World Championship Spartan Race in Texas. We were excited to see each other and started talking about how much the race was sucking at this point. We both were aggravated with how things were going.  At that instant of the race we were starting to feel notions of quitting. One negative thought after the other. This is pointless. I’m hurt.  How bad  would my pain be without the cortisone shot the Monday before? Why are we here?  Should we even bother finishing this race?  We were losing focus on the goals we had set prior to starting the race. I no longer cared if I finished our not. I was actually very proud of how far I’d come. Finishing seemed so far away though, and some of the madness was getting to us. The darkness of the night, the silence of the forest, the pain.

Oh My GOD! The pain! The pain was getting so bad that I could not do this anymore. F this and F that. I don’t want to do this anymore. I QUIT!

Soon enough, Morgan and I had made our decision. You know what sounds a lot better than this lunacy…a beer! Thats right, Morgan and I had decided. This was it. We were going to quit and become TEAM BEER! While everyone else will continue to suffer we’ll get to go drink beer and have fun during our remaining time in Vermont. We chucked our wood into the forest, I returned Patrick’s compression straps. When I told him, he was a bit shocked. Patrick didn’t blame us. He felt this years race was way different from last year when he finished. He wasn’t having as good of an experience as he remembered having a year ago and was even considering throwing in the towel. I’m happy he never did. Patrick was an inspiring person out there. I am happy we worked together here and on Team Tire.

Even though we had decided we were done we still had over three miles to get back to the farm. Those three miles were some of the most absurd. We were beginning to face some of the consequences of sleep deprivation. Once we had an understanding of the path to take back Morgan and I decided we were going to break off from the rest, Patrick and the others, so we could get back faster. The path zigged and zagged. There were a few long switchbacks which led us to Morgan’s most interesting hallucination. “Is that the Michelin Man?” exclaimed Morgan. Perplexed, I looked at Morgan and back out into the woods. I didn’t see the Michelin Man, but I did see what she was talking about. It was another racer not too far off in the distance. It was someone we knew, Will. We joined up with him for a bit right until after we crossed this creek.

This is the Bridge we searched for. Photo Credit: Jennifer Sullivan

We couldn’t find the bridge in the dark so we opted to cross the shallow creek together. Once we got to the other side we had to go through this very wet field of tall grass. I was only wearing shorts, a compression shirt and some compression sleeves. My legs were already wet and cold from walking across the creek. This grass was just making the cold wetness worse.  I wanted to just get out of that field. We could see in the distance a light and we were really hoping it was Amee Farm. It wasn’t. When we got to the road we looked left and we looked right and we had no clue where we were. We plopped ourselves down in front of a house that sold Maple Syrup. That’s what the sign out front advertised. I took out my phone and tried to see if we could get any signal. Sadly, there was none.

The Miniature Fire Morgan Started

My body temperature was starting to drop. We sat down and Morgan got out a foil blanket. We wrapped each other in it. She also went and busted out a fire starter. So there we were. We had a mini fire for us as we snacked on some trail mix, pretzels, and I think I even had a piece of chocolate (fyi: I almost never eat chocolate). The chocolate gave me some life back. A few cars drove past. Every time we saw a car we would start waving a twig that was lit on fire and I’d wave my lit up iPhone in hopes of getting them to stop. We never stopped to think, hey these people probably think we’re nuts. All wrapped up in foil waving a cell phone and fire lit twig at them. Clearly our brains were fried. After many ill attempts (more than I expected  to be possible at 4am) to get a lift from a passing car we decided it was time to pack our food and supplies back up. We had to start moving again. I had a really good feeling that we were in fact on the main road, Route 100, and only had to go about a mile to get back to Amee Farm. Sure enough, as the sun rose behind the mountains and dimly lit the sky I could see just down the road.  There it was.  Amee Farm.  As we got even closer I could see someone running across the road.  I knew within a tenth of a second who it was, “Norm?!” I shouted, hoping I wasn’t wrong. He saw us and once he realized who it was asked why the hell we were coming from that direction. We explained how we were lost and wanted to throw in the towel. I could tell he was disappointed to hear that but he also seemed very eager to bring us to Andy to report this news. Was he one of the moles?

Norm brought us over to Andy.  We said to him, “Andy, I think we’re done. I think we are done with this.” The red led lights on the timer displayed how long the race had been going. I think it read something like 38 hours and some minutes. We’ve already been in this race 38 hours, I had thought to myself. That’s pretty damn incredible given that prior to this my longest challenge was only thirteen hours or so. When Andy responded I was shocked. From everything I knew about the race, and especially about quitting the race, it was not what you’d expect. Andy looked at both of us, and with deep concern for how far we had already made it, he asked us, “Are you sure?”

To be continued…

Legend of the Death Race – Part 6: Human Error or Betrayal?

Our six person Tire Dragging System we created.

Another fork in the road halts us.  We challenge the information we’ve been provided by a couple different people. A portion of us want to go one way, another group wants to go down the other path, and a few are lost as to how we got so mixed up. After a few good arguments were presented over which direction to continue, we came to an agreement. We would turn around and head back to the intersection and take the route we were hoping was fastest back to Amee Farm. There we were dragging that tire, once again. At least now we had a system. We had room to travel, minus having to move aside for cars we were doing stupendous! Thankfully a team’s crew arrived before we took off and helped us to replenish some of the many many calories and fluid loss we’ve accrued over the course of the past, almost, 24 hours. The best thing in this everyone-grab-what-you-can-for-all were the clementines. They were Oh Em Gee delicious. No really, they were. With our newly fueled bodies, and a decision made we decided no matter what we were finishing this race. Even if we had to drag that tire for another 48 hours to do so. That’s how determined and dedicated we grew to be during our time together.

We were down to about 14 members on the team. There were a few people that did not look like they’d make it much further. They had aggravated old injuries or developed new ones during their time on the course, they’ve come far but this was closing in on being the end for them.

We rounded a few corners and went up and down a few hills. Soon we were came up on the peak of this one hill. We were dragging the tire down the middle of the road. As we hit the top we could see a group of racers being led by Joe. I WISH I could have captured a picture of that entire moment, or better yet a video. Where’s the iPhone when you need it? This one image was so memorable I still see it in my dreams. It just stands out so much to this day. Joe had this look of astonishment on his face. Almost like he couldn’t believe we were still smiling after dragging this blasted tire around. The look said, “Holy shit these mofo’s won’t quit. What do I do to them?” and it was glorious. It was staggering to see that look of fear that we couldn’t be broken glimmer in Joe’s eyes. He quickly fixed his composure, so fast I’m not sure everyone else witnessed that same moment of shock that I did. Instantly Joe was firing off that we were so far behind we could never finish. We could not finish. We could not go on. We were done, according to Joe. A few of us rebuked his sentiments posthaste. We told Joe, “No, we are not finished. We are not done with this race. We will go on regardless. We’ll drag this damn tire the entire race if we have to. WE. ARE. FINISHING!” Joe collected himself, and told our crew members that we couldn’t continue dragging this tire around if we really insisted on continuing the race. He then asked them if they could see to it that the tire makes it back to Amee Farm. From here on out we were free, of the tire.

Always on the hustle from challenge to challenge

At that moment we were no longer on the same team, it was finally time for this to become a race. Here’s something interesting though, it still isn’t really a race by normal standards. There are still so many unknowns and so many times where you need to wait to do things with others. The next task we were set out on for example, we were to head over to this hill near Joe’s house. We started running with the rest of the racers that were following behind Joe and made our way towards his house. I made sure to stay near the front of the pack. I wanted to stick with people I knew and I had spotted a few familiar faces fairly quick. I said hello to them and we continued on our way back past the fork of indecision from earlier. We down the alternate path and when we arrived at Joe’s house we were to perform a plank position on the hill. We we on the decline heads facing the bottom of the hill were Joe stood. There we waited for everyone else to arrive and join us.  It didn’t pay to be in the lead, since you were now holding that plank much longer. Once everyone had made it we continued to plank it out for a bit until Joe decided it was time to move on out.

On our way to the next challenge I remember we made our way up this path next to Joe’s, it did a little fork split and of course the group divided. I second guessed my choice of path right away and made my own way back to the other path. It turned out they both led to the same location. Our next challenge was an interesting one. We were paired up into a few small teams which varied in size anywhere from two people partnered up to a group of five. This task led to some “cheating” and I quote that because its debatable what really happened.  We were put into a four person group. To be honest I was going through some crazy fatigue and began a downward spiral that would lead my mind to the dangerous thought of Q.  U.  I.  T  .T  .I  .N  .G. Yes, quitting. I’ve always known that once you start thinking negatively the thoughts can compound themselves. They will proliferate until you either give in to the notion or break the darkness and persevere.

Once we were in our groups we were assigned a quantity of buckets that were to be filled with gravel. Those buckets would then need to be brought up the mountain trail to pour out on the various bike trails. We were designated as team 32. On top of the gravel dumping we had to find a stick with our team number on it.  My shoulder was wrecked. The treacherous tractor tire did a number on me. The thought of carrying a bucket seemed impossible. I stood there for a minute and thought how could I go on without doing damage. They were checking fill heights of the buckets. I couldn’t just bring a half bucket. I looked to my teammates and explained to them what was going on with the tear in my shoulder. I told them I don’t want to be skimping out on the labor but we have to make at least two trips up the mountain, there were four of us. We could only bring one bucket at a time. I suggested that while they are carrying the buckets I could run faster and search all the different trails for the sticks. I cannot thank those guys enough for helping me out and going along with this strategy. You guys helped me so much. I didn’t get to say a proper thank you out there, but I really do appreciate everything, thank you.

Searching for numbered sticks at the top of Joe’s mountain

I took off but hit another fatigued moment as I tried to make my way up the mountain. I sat down on a rock and started scouring through my bag for something to eat. I found a bag about a quarter full of pretzels. I started eating them quick. Todd was making his way up and I offered some to him. Todd made sure I was doing alright and carried on. After about 5 minutes and my last GU packet I went back to searching for the number 32 stick. I found a bunch of them. Team 5, Team 42, 38, etc. Everywhere I looked I found sticks. Some close to where the bike trails started and others near the top of the mountain, near Joe’s cabin where we originally weighed in. I ran back to the bottom to report my status to the rest of my team. They were readying themselves to bring the next round of buckets up. I told them I’ll go continue to look. I saw Todd again and asked him what team number he was.  He hadn’t found his team’s stick and I was hoping for his sake maybe one of the ones I saw corresponded with his team number. Things got quite confusing when he responded, “I’m team 32.” I immediately responded, ” get out of here, we’re team 32 are you sure?” I ran back down to check with the race volunteers that had all our team cards with our names and bucket amounts marked off. I told him the issue and he said it was impossible.

Was this a betrayal?  Were all the sticks out there just random numbers and no one could actually find their stick? No, I did come across a few groups that found their stick. Did some racers take other teams sticks and change them to their number? Unfortunately, yes. I saw this happen a few times. So what happened to ours? Did it actually exist?

Well I went back and told my teammates and Todd the issue. I headed off to look for our stick, I believe Todd decided to make one. When I got back down I was told by someones crew member, Andy, that our situation was presented to the volunteers by both teams. They admitted they must have made a mistake and told us we were free to move on to the next challenge. Andy was kind enough to hang back to make sure I knew I could move on to the next challenge. He asked me if there was anything he could do to help me since I had not met up with Jennifer, my only crew member, still. I was out of my pain  medicine. Until I made it back to Mark’s car, I would be in a lot of pain. Andy said he would do his best to find Adam, or Mark and ultimately my medicine. Thank you so much for your help during the race Andy.

Although my shoulder was gonna suffer for a while, I was happy to hear I could stop looking for the stick. You could tell the sun was making its way down into the mountains and soon it would be dark. I would not want to search for a stick in the dark. I made my way back down the hill to where all these massive logs were lined up along the outsides of the road. I was instructed to find a log and join the rest of the racers. We were to split our log in half and then both halves into sixths. Finally, relief from carrying my pack, relief from running up and down hills. The idea of chopping wood for awhile made me happy. Time to rip off my compression shirt and get out my beloved Fiskars x27 splitting axe.

What rolls down stairs
alone or in pairs,
and over your neighbor’s dog?
What’s great for a snack,
And fits on your back?
It’s log, log, log
It’s log, it’s log,
It’s big, it’s heavy, it’s wood.
It’s log, it’s log, it’s better than bad, it’s good.”
Everyone wants a log
You’re gonna love it, log
Come on and get your log
Everyone needs a log
log log log – Ren & Stimpy

To be continued…

Legend of the Death Race – Part 5: Team Tire’s Tribulations

Tire Pulling with Pole and Ropes

Up until now, Team Ten had been rocking out. We were leading every challenge thrown our way. We were struck with poison though. It came in the form of a tractor tire.  The troubles the tire caused us took the Death Race to an all new level for everyone out there. The teams that got far ahead ended up doing burpees for a long time before catching some rest. After a short rest they made their way toward the Chittenden Reservoir with their kayaks and slosh pipes. This is where they dropped their items off. Those racers did a swim and made their way back all while we were still making our way down Bloodroot Mountain Trail with the massive tire.

Overcoming Adversity – Team Tire

What I started to realize as we moved on was the imbalance in the distribution of time people spent with the tire. You see we were unable to ever have more than 5 people max on the tire.  Once Bloodroot Mountain Trail narrowed down to being a single track trail, thats one user, we would manage to have 2-3 people on the tire at a time. The third person would usually be on the outside of the tire because there was no where to fit on the inside. The chances of someone falling off and sliding down the side of the mountain were incredibly high. I’m still in a state of confusion as to how we beat what I assume the odds were. What started to become one of the pains in Team Ten’s side was the over ambitious nature of half the team and another half that was more focused on conserving energy. Those of us that were gung-ho about keeping the tire moving at the fastest safe pace possible would get frustrated and step up, sometimes too soon to give others a chance to move up. Many of us just didn’t want to stop the momentum. Multiple times we had to operate under what was basically an Indian Run cycle. Three people would drop all the way to the back and the next batch moved forward. I had a tendency to drop 3/4 of the way back, I simply did not feel comfortable being all the way behind. I have found that when I am at the back I start to slow down even more but when there are people behind I keep a much better pace when in a group.

At this time I had already taken my second dose of pain medicine and we had gone through the second burpees stop which was completely done in darkness. That stop included eating some more trail mix and taking down a GU Gel Pack, I think I had Mandarin Orange…mmmm. Tip: Join The Clymb, look it up on Google. I picked up a variety pack of GU products and a 24 pack of mixed flavors GU Gels. They sell them at deep discounts, and have all kinds of athletic, running, hiking, and active lifestyle products. Another teammate was experiencing some pain so I hooked her up with some aspirin. It didn’t do enough and I had to eventually share some of my pain medicine. After the race I found out that her heal was fractured. This is where I put myself into a sticky situation, later I would be out of medicine, in immense pain, leading me to be on the cusp of quitting.  I don’t regret sharing my medicine with Lisa. If it would help her make it that much further and survive these treacherous switchbacks, climbs, and descents then so be it. I was more than happy to help any of my fellow racers however I could. Even though it’s a race, the camaraderie never dissipated the entire race. We were all in the suck of it together. Fighting, fighting to survive all the mental objectives Joe and Andy devised for us.

Putting things in perspective. Note location of Amee Farm and the Chittenden Reservoir

When we had reached what I’ll call a half way point our leaders, Joe and Andy, made an announcement.  If you were not able to continue on, now was the time to turn back. They had an ATV on its way up to pick up the knee injury and would be leading a group of anyone who couldn’t go on back. This was the last time we’d see anyone for a long time. We had to start up again with the tire and would go on throughout the night. I remember that as the night went on some tensions would build and then subside. We were becoming dehydrated, many of us were conserving the last of our water. I was doing alright for the most part and remember at the end of the trail from hell sharing my water with those who ran dry many hours prior. Having a 3L bladder is a must when you are out this long and in the future I’m always going to bring at least one or two water/gatorade bottles in addition to the bladder. The extra weight is worth it in the end. Not only were we dehydrated but most of us were also low on food, we had gone through our baggies of trail mix, sucked down the last of our gel packs, and chomped away at the last of our energy and protein bars.

As the sun began to rise we were nearing the end of Bloodroot Mountain Trail. I remember the breadth of life that made its way back into a bunch of us as those rays of light made their way over the mountains and shined through the trees. It was an amazing sight, but our focus had to remain on that damn tire. We only could enjoy the beauty of what surrounded us for a brief moment and it was back to trying to navigate the tight pass. After a few more ups and downs, going over roots and squeezing between trees.  Dead leaves crunching beneath our feet, we made it out to a clearing where we saw Joe waiting for us.

Joe waited for us here through the night. We finally had a short break.

He sat there waiting for us next to a smoldering fire. At first I thought he was tied up when I saw him sitting on the ground, “betrayal?” I had thought. I quickly realized my eyes were playing tricks on me and he was just wrapped in a black garbage bag. Even Joe needs to stay warm in the wee hours of the night. Upon our arrival we were told we had fallen something like six hours behind the rest of the racers. Joe presented us with two options. Option A would involve us heading out to the Chittenden Reservoir as a group and trying to catch up on what we missed out on so far. Option B was to wait for the rest of the group to come back, with no knowledge of how long that might take. Instead of letting our body’s muscles sieze up we opted to keep moving. There was some hesitation to just hang out but ultimately we knew it was best for us to keep moving.

Joe said we could leave the tire there for now and that we would be back eventually. We all headed out towards this next checkpoint together but this is where you could really see who was struggling, some people took off. Others, hung back and moved slowly. The rest fell somewhere in the middle. I was somewhere in that middle. I started off in the front but then Damien, who managed to wear that damn pink bathing cap of his the entire race, took off on a run with Joe. It was at this moment that many of us on Team Ten began to think he was a mole. He wasn’t, but for a period of time we were all questioning this decision of his to take off without any of us. Did he know something? Was this on purpose? Is he going to get us penalized? We eventually lost sight of them and came to a turn and we became uncertain which direction to continue on. I tried using my phones map but service was next to none. I was able to receive a few texts from one of my favorite Storm Chasers, Jennifer, who was arriving Saturday to be my support crew. She was still in route to Pittsfield at that time and I would continue on through the race without seeing her until Sunday morning.

After a few minutes trying to figure out if we should continue on we began heading down the road and then quickly everyone said we should just go back to where we dropped the tire. There we were again undecided. We started heading back because we desperately needed water. I think Andy came back and told us he wasn’t sure if the water in the streams we had passed was safe or not. But then again, it was better to hydrate than to die. Comforting, aye? Joe came back with Damien and we got called out for not keeping up. I believe the rest of the racers started coming up and soon we were back in the race with everyone. We had missed a swim challenge and were instructed to continue on.  We had to head back to the spot where we dropped the tire off. Once we got back it was time for another burpees set. The first group started off doing 100. When the next group arrived they did their 100. Once all of Team Ten arrived we were punished for not making it as a team to the swim….that’s right, we were back to carrying the tire. Our hopes of the other teams having to help with it were diminished. It was upsetting but time to move on it was.

We tried to organize a system again, I became annoyed. Every system we’ve tried to implement up until now has failed. What we had experienced up until now was that no matter what some people would step up more frequently to take turns on the tire while others would go to the extent of dropping back just before it was supposed to be their rotation. This happened a few times. Eventually people called each other out and the problem would be solved, temporarily. Team Ten was still strong as a bull but we had our troubles. We tried to keep up with the other racers who all had nothing to carry other than their packs now. It was a lost cause but as we made our way back to the farm we would occasionally come up on people stopped for water refills in the creeks. We would use iodine tabs to purify the water just to be safe. Then there were also a few times that we’d get passed and realize we were not the furthest back. I remember we eventually made it out of the woods after many nasty spots. By that time we had finally created a superior system. It took a while but thats how these things go sometimes. How did we achieve a better system for moving the tire? We did it by attaching multiple pull ropes to the tire.  This made it so we could have six people on it at once. We woud be pulling the tire behind  us. When we made it to the regular streets we stopped at a house on the corner as we emerged from the end of the trails. We were treated by the owner of the house to free water from his hose. It was a very exciting moment for us. Then it was back at it with that tire.  We faced another fork, undecided which way led us back to Amee Farm we began to argue our options and why this way was better than that. It didn’t help that we were given information by someone we didn’t know and immediately felt we couldn’t trust. The betrayal theme was making our judgement of what was real and what was false less distinguishable by the minute. And we still didn’t know which direction to head.

To be continued…

Legend of the Death Race – Part 4: Bloodroot Mountain Trail Begins

Operation Get to Bloodroot Mountain Trail

It was still light out. There we were on our first challenge as a team heading up into the mountains of Vermont. We would be on our way toward one of the most wicked, switchback infested, narrow passages I’ve ever encountered. Passing room would be so narrow we feared for losing someone the entire evening. This part of the journey took place on what is known as Bloodroot Mountain Trail. Over 18 miles of hell that we would spend close to 12 hours traversing. But lets slow down a little and get back to the first challenge as a team.

During the initial ascent we found ourselves adjusting in many ways. Ranging from acquainting ourselves to our new teammates to developing a system for dividing the burden of carrying the slosh pipe. At first everyone was not aware of the need to equally distribute the water in the slosh pipe.  I recall offering up the suggestion to distribute the weight of the slosh pipe by height. Then we would change our set-up depending on what surface we were on. Meaning if we were headed uphill the logical set-up would be tallest in the back and shortest in the front and vice-versa. We only required 4-5 people on the slosh pipe at a time. As we traveled on the MacGuyver in each of us came out and offered up new ideas that led to more efficient ways to handle this heavy piece of fun and joy. I don’t recall this entire part in as much detail as others because it was a lot of hustling to get to the next “checkpoint” first. We were told the team in last would be the first group of people to be DQ’d (disqualified). At the sound of this the Team Ten stepped it up a notch. In that moment we sped up and began flying past everyone instead of remaining in a peaceful line of teams ascending the mountain. People took quick notice of what was going on and realized the urgency. This was a bit chaotic and in some ways unsafe.  Racers began to forget they were going through a mountain pass with kayaks and heavy objects. Not literally forgot, but definitely acted like it. Many were not taking proper precautions when trying to pass other teams. Those of us with slosh pipes definitely had a size advantage, we were still narrow and able to pass with greater ease than the other teams.

Hiking with Kayaks, Slosh Pipes, and Tires

One of the downhills where everyone was tying to NOT be last

I remember we reached one point of the ascent and all teams were directed to immediately turn around. Team Ten was somewhere in the front among the first three teams to arrive. That was a very clever move on the race staffs part. All who were first now sat in last.  All who fell behind had the upper hand. We wouldn’t let this slick move interfere with Team Ten’s incredible athleticism though.  Within what felt like just a few brief minutes we were back at the front of all the packs.

Team Ten had a drive to excel, this was thrilling. It’s been a long time coming, the past few team events I’ve been a part of were too spread out in terms of athletic capacity. Many events have had me left disappointed but the Death Race was showing me what I wanted and needed to experience in a team atmosphere. A collective of absolute machines. Not only were we working together we were also kicking some ass and rockin’ out. Team Ten had the oldest and youngest of the Death Race together on a team. We were a diverse bunch of racers from all over. Each of us with completely different lives. Different upbringings. Yet, here we all were working together as if we’d known each other forever. Acting as a single unit. Simply taking order, and executing at the highest level. Team Ten was back at the front soon enough. I’m not sure whether we were over exerting ourselves at this point, or that we were just doing that well. Regardless, it felt wonderful so why not keep the pace. If I remember  the order of events correctly. Before we reached our first burpees pit stop, there was intentional confusion created when Andy and Joe split paths. One team was in front of us and followed Andy. We almost followed Andy but realized we were being tricked and cut back to follow Joe. There was some “are you sure this is the right decision” thrown our way by Joe but we stood our ground. We were congratulated and we moved on. I’m not sure what happened with the team that broke off, there was no time to pay attention to anyone but our team. Team Ten was back in first. This could be good or this could be bad.

Circle of Burpees Team Ten Rockin’ Out!


When we arrived at the first burpees resting point. Yes, if you weren’t hiking you were probably doing something else, like burpees, I considered that rest. So for the first time since starting the hike started we had a chance to relieve ourselves of wearing our packs. It was a nice change. Now our shoulders could rest, but only briefly. We placed all our packs in the middle of a circle formed by our team.  I think we still had 21 members on Team Ten. We started out with 100 burpees for all. The other teams joined in making their own circles as they arrived. Can anyone guess the advantage of arriving first? More than likely you’ll be doing more burpees.

Team Ten had a solid system, at first we knocked out 25 at a time. Then we brought it back to sets of 10. After each set of ten there would be a 5 second count down. Once we heard 1 we all dropped to the ground and began our next set of ten burpees, with the precision of synchronized swimmers. We were in tune. The quantity of burpees kept increasing by a hundred every-time someone was caught standing around.  When we were around 300 burpees in, I think the total expected was up to 600. Sergeant Screamer looked over at us at one point, we were right in front of the truck he stood on with his loud ass megaphone. As he looked over he questioned how many burpees our team had done. Collectively we shouted out what we were at. He seemed dumb founded at first. It was then we heard one of the most uplifting comments since the race began. Sergeant Screamer actually praised our team and said everyone else should be following our example. Our goal was simple. Work together. Be Awesome. They eventually stopped the burpees somewhere in the mid 4 or 5 hundreds as I recall. Team Ten feel free to comment if you remember how many, I forget.

Circle Passing the Slosh Pipe

Back to bringing pain upon the shoulders. This time it was not the fault of the pack. Oh, no. In the next task you were to as a team lift your object: slosh pipe, kayak, or tire above your head. Once above your head you were to pass it around your team’s circle.  Team Ten used this time to start rehydrating, which was also done periodically during the burpees, as needed. I remember chowing down on my first Mint Chocolate Chip Cliff Builders Bar during this task. I can taste it just thinking about it. It was revitalizing. Energy levels rose up, and we of course were noticed. Then, we were given a second slosh pipe. This rendered us to the point where there was only a half second of rest between receiving and passing a pipe. No more snacks, or water breaks. Nice work, race directors. You stayed true to your dominant ways in this game but we were unaffected by it. We needed to ration our supplies anyway. The next part of this journey was only going to get worse and worse as we moved deeper into the mountains and began the madness that is Bloodroot Mountain Trail.

After circling with our objects above our heads for a fair amount of time we were instructed to put them down, get our packs on and switch items with another team. There was one item we all seemed to have that distaste for as it approached. The enormous tractor tire. The tire that would become the first to probably ever be taken through Bloodroot Mountain Trail. Hell, I’m sure with this tire that we set the record for “most miles covered dragging a damn tractor tire on a hike through the mountains of Vermont.” Will someone  call Guinness Book of World Records next time, please?

Torn Labrum

1.7cm Tear, Almost One Inch

Before we started moving it became clear that now was the time to start taking my pain relievers. For the past six months I have been training and dealing with a tear in my labrum. It is a shoulder joint tear and has limited some of my range of motion. Days before leaving for Vermont I went to see my doctor one more time. This visit was for my second cortisone shot to ensure that my shoulder would NOT be THE reason I quit.  I knew I had to constantly monitor my shoulder’s status and be aware that the cortisone was taking away most of the pain. I must be careful, I constantly reminded myself. My prescription was for Norco, and was to be taken in a dose of 1-2 tablets every 3-4 hours. I always opt for the lesser amount and planned to adjust accordingly. For the next 24 hours or so I would stick to the 1 tab every 3.5-4 hours. I had a bottle back in Mark’s SUV and had brought about 10 tablets with me. I figured that would be enough for most of the race. A misjudgment that would have me asking other racers crew members for help later in the race.

Onward and out, now at this point I believe we had technically began what was Bloodroot Mountain Trail. I’m not 100% certain which part of the hike actually began the deadly pass. I do remember that the initial switch to the tire took us a while to adjust. All our successful strategies for carrying the slosh pipe were useless with our new found awkward object to carry. One thing I am sure of however, is that at this point the race staff suggested that anyone who wasn’t ready for at least another 18 miles of hiking through the night should pack their bags and head back now. I didn’t know anyone actually took up this offer to quit. Later, I discovered that there were actually quite a few who chose this as the end of their race. For me things were just getting started. Up until now this was just like doing a Hurricane Heat, you had a team, camaraderie, and an entire evening to get to know each other while you hauling an enormous tire through a dangerous pass. Ok, so hauling an enormous tire through the most dangerous pass you’ve ever been on may not be like the Hurricane Heat but honestly, what more could anyone wish for? 🙂

Keep Rollin’ Rollin’ Rollin’

With the tire we tried very hard to proceed by carrying it as we were expected to.  Reality soon slapped us for wasting our energy.  As we fell further and further behind we would resort to rolling it. We tried everything from carrying it with ropes, using axes as handles, hoisting it on 4 – 5 teammates shoulders at a time. We even took posts and rope and tried to push/pull the tire along as it rolled. Many of these worked initially, when the path was wide enough for 4 people plus a tire to fit across. As the ascent continued they were rendered useless. The path narrowing the further we traveled. It wouldn’t be long before we were stopped to help a team that, surprisingly, was further behind than us. I was stunned when we found that out. It turned out their teammate blew out his knee and we’d have to help him as we continued to struggle with the tire on our way towards the next burpees checkpoint. But carry-on we must, and carry-on we did.

To be continued…

Legend of the Death Race – Part 3: Crawling Under Highways, Pink Swim Caps, and Slosh Pipes

Culvert under Route 100 that we crawled through

Now that we had our fancy bibs, I’m not going to lie I’m still a bit pissed that we did not get the awesome bibs that the racers had at the 2011 Death Race. When we made it back to the farm our first task was to report to Sergeant Screamer, as most of us have dubbed him, show him our bib and he would check off our name on a list confirming our completion of the bib sewing task.

Death Race Bib from 2011

When Mark, Eric and I got to him we were each told that our bib numbers were not the required 4 inches in height and that we’d receive a penalty at a later time. This is where the betrayal seemed to have already begun because not one of us recall being told that there was a minimum height for the bib numbers. We accepted it however and began our crawl through the culvert that went under Route 100, which is basically the main road in the small town of Pittsfield. The tunnel was small, long, and absolutely pitch black. I’ve never been one to get claustrophobic but a little over halfway through that changed.  As I followed behind Mark, occasionally having to stop because my hand would feel his shoe as opposed to the metal pipe, my heart started to race.  I felt the anxiety starting to brew within, so I closed my eyes for a split second…took a deep breath, calmed my mind and exhaled slowly. I remember thinking at this moment, you are going to be fine, just a little further and you’ll see light and soon after you’ll be back outside. After that moment I heard someone ahead of both Mark and I yell back that they were starting to see the light. Hallelujah! I knew it couldn’t have been that much further. As we got towards the end I could see that Mark was up on his toes and hands but the rest of his body was off the ground. There were some slightly more jagged parts coming up ahead, so it made sense why he wasn’t just crawling. I followed suit.

We ran back across the street and were told it was time to grab those pink swim caps that were part of our mandatory gear list and to suit up in our lifejackets. I strapped into the slightly large lifejacket that I was thankfully able to borrow from one of my neighbors, thank you again, and opened the packaging to the sexy pink swim cap that we were all required to wear for this quick little swim. Once ready we made our way back across the street basically right where we came out of the culvert and were told we had to swim out to the yellow buoy go around and swim back. Simple enough. The fun part about this is the race staff and volunteers were instructed to tell us that the pond was filled with diseases and such, including E.coli. Yay!!! To this day I really don’t know whether or not that was just a scare tactic or truth. That water was pretty disgusting. After the swim we had to head back again to find out our next tasks. For many it was time to chop wood, for me I got to go back across the street, again, to re-stack some of the wood stockpile they had which was tricky because of a well placed SUV parked right in front of the wood pile. Just before I ran over though I had finally seen Todd, this is where I gave him his hair baggy I talked about previously.

Location of Fire Wood Stacking

Wood Stacking

As for the wood stacking, at first it was just a bunch of us racers grabbing wood, running around the car laying it down and then running back. Once enough of us were over there though we quickly switched tactics and formed an assembly line. I was a the front of the stockpile therefore I was in charge of, along with a couple others, grabbing the good pieces and handing them off while tossing the fire pit wood off to the side. We had to remove almost three stacks deep which were each a little over six feet high. We simply passed back and then once we removed enough to fix the trouble areas we started going in reverse and began to restock and align everything, all nice and purrrrty like. Towards the end we were “running out of time” according to Connor who was monitoring our progress and making suggestions as to what was acceptable stacking. A bunch of racers were selected to head back and a few of us left behind to finish. It seems being at the front or back of anything in the DR is bad news, your best best is to be somewhere in the middle of the pack. I was stuck still stacking with the few guys that were left. We quickly finished everything off and I went and grabbed my pack from behind the small shed that I hid it behind. Being the year of betrayal I was constantly thinking ahead as to how I could be betrayed and having my pack stolen seemed like one of the most risky betrayals that may be possible.

I ran back to Amee Farm to find out it was now time to turn in our IDs, car keys, or something that we would have to pick up before leaving the Death Race. This was a safety measure to make sure no one got lost during the next few days.  I made the mistake of leaving my wallet in my normal everyday back pack in Mark’s vehicle, which is also where my extra pain medicine was also stored. That medicine stayed there since I thought I had what I would need in a ziploc baggy in my survival kit that I was carrying in my ruck. More about that later. For a few minutes while everyone else was already checked in and tasked with holding various objects about their heads including, kayaks, slosh pipes, and the now infamous monster of a tire, I was scrambling around searching for Adam who had Mark’s keys. Just before panic found its way into my head I was able to spot him. We rushed over to Mark’s car I grabbed my ID from my wallet and sprinted back to the check in table. I exclaimed my bib number to the volunteers and dropped my ID on the table at top speed.

Barely able to reach my hand in there, I have the sweaty gray shorts on

After that debacle concluded, I hastily found my spot next to Mark underneath one of the slosh pipes with barely a full hand on it. For those that don’t know a slosh pipe is simply a PVC pipe, filled with water and capped off. It makes for a fun balancing act, even more so with how varied everyones heights were. No one had their rucks on while holding these objects above their heads at this point and we were all instructed to head across the street. In my mind I was uncertain about leaving my pack behind but I of course hid it by my other gear in the racers tent for safety. Once we had crossed Route 100 and put down the objects near the disease ridden pond. Of course now we were reprimanded for not having our packs with us at all time, which is what I had somewhat expected the moment I put my pack down in that racers tent. A mad scramble of racers began as we all ran back to the farm to find our packs and make our way back to the pond.

The Mad Dash for Ping Pong Balls

Upon our return we were told it was time to get our lifejackets on once again…splish splash we were all takin’ a bath…except it was a Friday night. Into the “E.coli” infested pond we all went. Though I wasn’t believing them fully about how bad the water was, I still was extremely cautious and squeezed my lips together almost the entire time, only opening my mouth to speak when necessary. As we bobbed around our fantastic masterminds of the race, Joe and Andy, began giving us instruction about the race going forward. We would begin the race as teams and would be heading out on what would be one of the most epic hikes in the history of Death Race hikes.  Shortly after this briefing a large box of ping pong balls were flung into the water and we were all to grab one which would determine our team number. There were 10 teams, so the ping pong balls had sharpie scribbled numbers from 1 to 10 obviously. Some however, had various messages such as “you will fail” or “give up now” or even “disqualified” written on them.  I of course picked one of the “give up now” balls first, the white was all I could see when I grabbed for it. I quickly tossed it away and looked for another. I found number ten and then along with the other racers began to gather along the edges of the pond. The edge is where you could actually stand and we positioned ourselves with our fellow teammates. I was actually surprised at how quick we were able to get organized. Usually these things don’t go so smoothly.

After everyone found their teammates we made our way out of the pond one team at a time. We were to find our packs, gather our team, and grab an object. It was finally time to go on our hike. I think at this point they made a jab at us saying we hope you brought enough food and water because we’d be gone most of the night. Betrayal this was not, they were actually serious, most of us didn’t believe them and it made for a lot of food and water sharing later on. Myself and the rest of team ten, I will love every single one of you forever by the way, grabbed our slosh pipe and filtered in with the rest of the teams as we made our ascent. The hike that would eventually lead to Bloodroot pass began as the sun was slowly hiding itself behind the mountains.

Our first evening begins with an all night hike carrying Kayaks, Slosh Pipes, and a Tire along with our gear

To be continued...