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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Andy Weinberg Announces Death Race Rules and Safety

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

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

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

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

Photo Credits: Marion Abrams and Doug Kline

10 Lessons From My First 100 Mile Ultra Marathon – Peak Races

Originally I had planned on running the 50 mile option for the Peak Races Ultra Marathon up in the beautiful Green Mountain Trails. When I signed up this past winter for the race, I believe it was around the middle of November while visiting Joe De Sena, Miguel Medina and Andy Weinberg up in their cozy town of Pittsfield, VT.

As soon as I told Andy, the Race Director of Peak Races, that I wanted to do the 50 miler he came back at me telling me that I had to do the 100 miler. Apparently, the 50 miler was not an option for me. Perks of being a previous Death Racer and friend I suppose? I didn’t hesitate and happily took on this challenge. Going into the race I did not put in nearly enough training to be running this race, I knew it, my girlfriend knew it, everybody that knew how little I ran on a regular basis knew I hadn’t trained nearly enough to be going into a 100 mile race. Regardless, I was still ready for the challenge. After all, I have finished one Death Race out of pure stubbornness and both times I’ve competed in the Death Race I was forced to stay awake and on my feet much longer than the 34 hour cut-off allotted to complete the mileage in. 100 Mile, Ultra, Peak Races, Peak Ultra, Marathon

When I decided to write this post I opted to skip the long story that I normally put together for these types of adventures. Let’s be real, no one wants to hear about how I went around in circles for nearly 24 hours doing the same loop over and over again. That’d be really boring, I promise. What I did instead is create a list of lessons I learned on the trail from doing my first true Ultra Marathon, other than the Fuego Y Agua Survival Run: Hunter Gatherer 50K I did last October I’ve never ran more than a standard marathon (2012 Chicago Marathon) in one go.

From what I gathered from the seasoned ultra marathoners on the course, I picked quite the difficult 100 miler for my first. Of course I did. In addition to this list I created, I put together a short video of clips I filmed during each of my loops. Hope you enjoy.

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10 Lessons I Learned at the Peak 100 Mile Ultra

  1. Not a lot of people show up to run the ultra long distances, 15 racers showed for the 100 Mile and 11 racers for the 200 Mile
  2. Having a support crew can make all the difference in a race of this nature. Thanks momma (Darnell Matesi) and sista (Mariah Matesi) and Kristine Iotte
  3. Teaching your support crew about your needs for each lap can save anywhere from 5-10 minutes during each lap
  4. Having a water bottle that works is a lot more useful (I couldn’t sip out of my Ultimate Direction water bottles if my life depended on it, I kept having to unscrew the cap to drink which resulted in lots of spillage)
  5. More real food, less gels, chews, and other non-real food substitutes. By mile 70 my stomach was in knots and couldn’t stand much of anything
  6. Burgers, Pizza, Beer, and Egg with Bacon sandwiches are the most delicious things you can have between laps and give you such an incredible energy boost. Oh ya, and Mountain Dew. Mmmm
  7. Apparently taking Aleve is a very good idea to help with some of the aches and pains that start to settle in after 40 or 50 miles
  8. Trail toes truly is the most amazing anti-chaffing balm there is, after 70 miles of rugged terrain over the course of just under 22 hours I only changed my socks once and had zero hotspots and zero blisters. Note: I wore Injinji Outdoor 2.0 toe socks, they’re fantastic – sock review coming soon
  9. Training is a lot more important than I expected. I thought I could will my way through this, I’ve finished a Death Race, why couldn’t I finish this? That was my thought process. It was wrong. Next year I’ll be logging more miles the months leading up to this race.
  10. There is something exciting about pushing yourself to run a ridiculous amount of miles through the mountains. When it comes to trails and mountains, I really do enjoy running on them.

Legend of the Death Race Year 2: Part 10 – Swim to Death

There I was just standing there, at the water’s edge, second guessing whether or not I could complete the swim challenge when a fellow racer entered the water behind me. It was Death Race veteran, Keith Glass. He walked up next to me and said, “Come on, Tony you can do this.” I looked to him shivering, and told him I was scared that I couldn’t make the three mile swim. We were on the clock to remain in the race as official racers, and we only had a couple hours left to complete this challenge. Even though time was of the essence, Keith was in no hurry. He convinced me to follow him into the water and assured me he would stay by my side the entire time. After a little hesitation to take one more step forward I followed Keith into the water.

Photo Credit: Marion Abrams - Madmotion

Photo Credit: Marion Abrams – Madmotion

We began swimming out into the open waters. The turnaround buoy was just a half mile out. As we got closer and closer Keith continued to assure me that we could do this, “It’s just a little further,” he would say to me. “Just keep swimming and we’ll be on our way back.” As we swam, the oversized life vest began to rise up on my body. It was not necessarily choking me, but the discomfort it caused with my head just barely poking out of it forced a panic to rise inside me. I was freezing cold, like the beginning signs of hypothermic cold, and this life vest was did not feel like it would be able to save me. I’m not gonna make it, I thought. “I can’t do this,” I said to him. I shouted out to the rescue boat that was circling the waters in the event of an emergency. I tried to ask the support/volunteer if there was anything I could do to get a different life vest. No help. He informed me that if I got on that boat I was out of the race. I tried to continue just a bit further, but I couldn’t contain my unexpected fear and the senseless shivering that took over my body. Between the cold, feeling ill and this life vest situation, I lost it. I lost my composure and lost my will to continue. I asked to be taken back to shore. Keith tried to convince me to keep going. It was too late, I was on the boat. As soon as the boat started toward the shore, tears began pouring down my face. My race was over. I was no longer “officially” in the race and I knew it. I never even had the chance to spin the Wheel of Death.

Defeated

Defeated

When we reached the shore I was a mess. No longer was I the tough, Death Racer. In the place of that warrior was an emotional disaster of a man. I wanted so badly to finish this Death Race, officially. This outcome was destroying me. Joe De Sena was standing in his barn where he had been performing burpees and push-ups all morning. There he stood with his collection of all the Death Race bibs of every DNF at this challenge. This was breaking everyone. A number of the toughest Death Racers bowed out at this challenge. There at the pool shed the bibs hung on the door like trophies for Joe representing all those who couldn’t hack it.

Now, I would become one of those racers as well. I started bawling my eyes out in front of the man that I looked up to. Joe looked to me and said, “What are you crying about you know how this works.” I looked up and replied, “I want my skull, and I want to finish officially.” He smiled, “Just go buy a skull on eBay.”

“That’s not what I want Joe!” I barked back at him. “I want to EARN my skull. I’ve come so far.”

Joe looked at me and said, “You know that you can continue unofficially, you’ve done it before. Hand me your bib and if you want to continue, go for it. But you won’t receive a skull.”

I couldn’t believe it. I could continue on but this year it wouldn’t be like last year. If I did go on to finish I would be leaving with nothing to show I was capable of beating the game that is the Death Race. I gathered my things, my shoes, my clothes, and packed my bag. After a short period of collecting myself, I told them I would continue despite feeling physically and emotionally miserable.

Photo Credit: Marion Abrams  - Madmotion

Photo Credit: Marion Abrams – Madmotion

My next stop was the challenge at Peter Borden’s house. I set out on the trails that we came from and started to head back in that direction. Not too far out, I decided to stop and pull out my cell phone to see if I had service. I called Corinne. I was a mess. Surprisingly, I had just enough service for the call to go through. She answered and I went on to tell her what just happened and by the end of the conversation I was telling her I quit and I didn’t want to finish unofficially. This game had me so upset and I was feeling worse by the minute.

Whatever I had contracted was bringing out the worst in me. Perhaps it was the embodiment of doubt. Perhaps it was a purely physical ailment. Whatever it was, I felt like death. Funny, the Death Race was making me feel like I could just keel over and die right there. My throat had been swelling up, I could feel the soreness in the glands. After hanging up I went back and forth within my mind and eventually decided I would try to continue. I couldn’t quit. It just wasn’t in me.

About a mile further down the trail my body started to give up on me once again. My head began to hang lower and lower by the minute. Bugs began to nip at my skin and it felt as though I was being targeted. Every split second I was slapping at my arms trying to stop the attack. It was an onslaught. I dropped my bag. In it was a can of bug spray, unfortunately my generosity the first night got the best of me, and it was empty. Trying to find a solution I continued to search my bag for something to protect me, it was fairly hot out but within the bag I found a long sleeve compression shirt along with a roll-on stick of Icy Hot. Assuming the smell would be enough to combat the onslaught of bug bites, I rubbed it all over every piece of exposed skin before switching into the long sleeve compression shirt. I had hoped this would do the trick. Minutes later the bugs seemed to stop. No more biting. Success, I thought to myself.

Clearly delirious, I hadn’t thought of what it would feel like to have a majority of my body covered in Icy Hot. Everything began to tingle and my body felt somewhere between frozen and scolding hot. Yes, this stuff does exactly what the name says. It was the strangest feeling, on top of feeling as sick as I did. It was very unwelcome. Still, I pressed on.

Coming in and out of reality, I came to the realization that I was finding it extraordinarily difficult to maintain the course. I was drifting off into la-la land. Barely able to keep my eyes open, I nearly went off the trail and collapsed. Immediately, I stopped. I took my phone out once again, the battery nearly drained, and called my friend Matt Davis to see if he was still in the surrounding area. Desperate for a ride back, I explained to him I was done. The sickness that was filling my body became too much to bear. This was it, this was the end of the road, I had to pull the plug, no longer because I simply wanted to quit but because I was becoming a danger to myself. I could barely walk. Staying awake was becoming more and more of a challenge and a risk. Almost falling asleep a few times mid-hike was not my idea of smart or safe. Matt said he would try to find me.

Over an hour passed and still no sign of Matt. My phone died. I was stranded. While waiting I dropped my bag and headed back down the trail to see if I could spot any other racers or someone with a cell phone. Just when I was ready to pass out right there on the ground, a biker emerged from the trails. He stopped for me where I waited next to a pick-up truck hoping the owner would show up. This biker’s kindness was beyond welcomed. He allowed me to use his cell phone, even though I looked like some bearded homeless man wandering around the mountains of Vermont, no longer wearing a Death Race bib and with my bag up the trail I did not look like much of a racer. I thanked him immensely for helping me.

There I laid on the trail hoping other racers would begin to show up. And they did just as it began to rain. There was a collection of us now and none of us knew the way back. I had explained my situation to them and in the immense downpour we all tried to take cover. Much of what happened next is quite a blur to me as I lost the ability to stay coherent.

With what transpired I cannot thank those who were there for me enough in these moments of darkness. A large conversion van arrived and allowed a group of us racers to toss all our gear in and drove us around. The second I sat myself down in the back row I lost consciousness. Drifting in and out it of consciousness, I was in that van for what seemed like hours. The lady shuttled the group of Death Racers around making multiple stops, I just recall waking up every so often checking to see if we had made it to the Amee Farm, yet. When we finally arrived, I was the last one to be let out. My situation was explained to a medic as I gathered my things in the bag drop area. After a quick assessment the medic informed me that I was not doing well and should most definitely cease participation in this race. I already knew that was the outcome and had accepted my fate.

Mark Webb who had dropped at the swim due to severe foot issues was informed that I was done. He gathered our gear and that was it. The race was over. This was my first DNF. I did not finish what I started. It didn’t feel as bad as I had thought it would. Sure it sucked, but many lessons could be drawn from it.

Upon arriving back in Manchester, NH where Mark resides I went straight the guest bedroom and passed out for nearly 24 hours. Going into the race I weighed in at approximately 160 pounds. By the time we arrived back at Mark’s place my weight had dropped significantly over the 57 hours that I had made it through the race. I weighed in at 147 pounds—a  weight I hadn’t seen since my sophomore year of High School.

Mark showed a lot of concern for me, saying, “I’ve never seen you this down, are you going to be okay?” I was certain I would. I just kept taking down the NyQuil and tried my best to rest it off until it was time to fly back to Chicago. Mark provided me some of the best hospitality I have ever received. He took me for soup, made sure I was hydrating, and took concern with my well-being. For that, I am beyond thankful.

When I returned to Chicago on Tuesday I was still quite the mess. Still feeling sick on Wednesday I immediately went to my primary care physician to see what was going on. It didn’t take long for the doctor to conclude that I had contracted a bacterial infection. Could it have been from the water? Could it have been from all the traveling I was doing? This is something I will never know, but going forward I plan to take extra precautions to prevent such a thing from happening again. The Doc prescribed a heavy dose of penicillin and within a few days I was back to myself. The Death Race got me this time, but that didn’t stop me from signing up for another go just days after my defeat.

I’ll be back with all the wisdom gained from these past two years. This isn’t over, Joe and Andy. I’m coming back for my skull.

To be continued at the 2015 Death Race, the Year of the Explorer.

Legend of the Death Race Year 2: Part 8 – Surviving the Delusions

There I was, feeling a little lost back at the entrance to Bloodroot Mountain Trail. I thought, how did everyone disappear so fast? I tried to keep my cool. There were two people in front of me just a minute ago, they couldn’t have gone far, I thought,  reassuring myself. I decided to investigate the route that Junyong Pak took earlier. Perhaps he was right after all, perhaps that was the correct route to take. I started to climb up the mountain. Still carrying my rock, I could feel my heart begin to race. I decided to stop, and instead of wasting time searching for my fellow racers with no real sense of which route to take, I opted to use the best tool I could think of in this situation, my rape whistle! Just kidding, but it was a survival whistle. There I was at be beginning of Bloodroot, surrounded by towering trees, barely able to see the crystal clear, starry sky above. Finally, I found my survival kit. I hastily opened it and retrieved my survival whistle. Since so little time had passed since I last saw a person (maybe ten to fifteen minutes at most) I was confident someone would be close enough to hear the whistle. No matter how many times I made that whistle echo through the woods, I heard nothing in return. I turned my headlamp off to search for any bobbing lights in the distance. Nothing. I set my headlamp to flash and started scanning the horizon in hopes someone would either hear the sound of the survival whistle, or at the very least, see the flashing of my headlamp. Still nothing. I couldn’t waste any more time.

8560_10151688450303766_1649729534_nOnce my bag was packed, I secured it to my back once again and I tossed my rock aside. It was slowing me down and it was far more important for me to find the correct route. I assured myself this wasn’t cheating; I planned to pick another sizable rock up again as soon as I was back on track. Thankfully, the mountainside has an abundance of shale rock. I ran back towards the intersection where the group of us struggled to decide what route to take previously. As I ran back down the right path, I finally saw someone running toward me. It was one of the Race Directors, Norm Koch, relief entirely overcame me. I told him I couldn’t figure out where everyone went after I tied my shoe and he told me to hurry behind him and he’d show me the route.

We ran back down the path a little and we came up on this pink ribbon, which appeared to be placed in a manner suggesting this path was a blocked off. I realized that wasn’t the case when Norm climbed over the pink ribbon and started to climb up the mountain. It’s no wonder why I struggled to find the correct route to take. The path was hidden, it was blocked off. The path didn’t shout out and say, “Hey, take this path.” I laughed to myself and thought, another great way to mess with our heads, nice.

As it turned out, Norm is an exceptionally fast and efficient hiker; he moves up and down these mountains with ease and impressive speed. He should be fast, though, he lived in the area and hiked the mountains all the time. I tried to keep up with him but found myself trailing further and further behind with each step. Not only was Norm used to climbing up and down these mountains on a daily basis but there was no pack weighing him down either. He was cruising. I did my best to keep up with his pace until the gap grew at an exponential rate and I had to call out for him to slow down a bit. He continued moving at his pace. It is the Death Race, after all. Of course he wouldn’t put on the brakes for me.

I felt relieved that he never pulled too far ahead of me. After about ten minutes of climbing we reached a road where a group of racers were waiting by a truck. It seemed they too were off the path and were directed to wait there for Norm to come lead the way. It was clear I didn’t have a rock at this point. I feared someone would call me out for it. Naturally, I made an effort to blend into the darkness while I searched the road for something suitable to pick up and carry once again. I did not feel good about being rock-less. Guilt was finding its way into my mind. I knew dropping that rock when I did was the right choice, so I just told myself to keep looking. I assured myself, you’ll find something. And find something I did. Not even a quarter mile later I found myself back at it trying to figure out a way to fashion a harness on the front of my pack for my new best friend, the new rock. At this point my pelvis already felt bruised from the poor decision I made to use my waist belt as part of the holster for my first rock. The importance of finding a solution that wouldn’t add to the collection of cuts and bruises this challenge had already left me with was rising. When this challenge began I had thought I was a genius. I thought the combination of bungee cords and compression straps would be the ultimate solution to secure this rock nice and tight to my pack. That was not the case, the faster I moved the more the bungees gave, the more the rock would wiggle its way out, and the more frustrated I became. I had to stop at least four or five times just to readjust my straps and reattach the rock. The frustration was starting to poke at me like a five year old who wants you to look at something. It took everything in me not to let that frustration get the best of me.

Eventually our little group hit a well-marked section and we were all on our own. I remember taking off on my own for a bit up the mountain pushing myself and trying to shake the delirium that was beginning to settle in. Bloodroot Mountain is one of the toughest climbs I’ve ever been on. It’s even more twisted and challenging when you are climbing while the moon is out and having not slept in over 40-something hours. With each step I began to question whether or not my eyes deceived me. Looking to the left, I saw what appeared to be a racer. As I began to get closer I was certain this racer was rocking back and forth. Were they cold? Is it possible the rain from earlier caused this racer to become hypothermic, I thought to myself. As I approached I closed my eyes and shook my head. When I reopened them all I saw were some branches swaying in the air. These were the dark moments of this race. I found myself questioning what was real and what was just a mirage from the delirium that takes over after being up for nearly two days straight drinking 5-Hour Energy shots every ten or so hours. Some of the things I would convince myself were there even if it made absolutely zero sense, but it was hilarious.. Without question I saw a chicken run across the path ahead of me; again an illusion from the branches blowing in the wind. Not knowing what was really there was pretty trippy; even if the illusions only lasted a few seconds it’s worthy to note that I wasn’t always in a stable frame of mind.

JANE CoffeyThis is what makes the Death Race such an extraordinary challenge to overcome, not only do you push your body to its absolute max but you are also testing the strength and endurance of your mind. Can you stay awake? Can you make the right decisions on little to no rest? Can you push your mind to keep going when your body starts to cry, only wanting to quit? The Death Race is ultimately a test of the mind, everything else is just there to make it suck even more. But those who endure, those are the ones who know success.

Along the hike I bumped into my friend Jane Coffey a few times and I expressed to her how I was feeling a little off with all the things I was seeing. At the same time I was running low on water and I recalled back to the previous year during the 2012 Death Race when Andy drank from one of the streams and told us this was his norm. I figured what the hell and filled my hydration unit up in one of the cleanest, clearest streams I could find. We also met up with one of the most incredible athletes I’ve had the pleasure of meeting. She was wicked fast, and relentless. Amy Palermo Winters was crushing this mountain. I couldn’t help but wonder how her prosthetic leg handled some of this mucky terrain they had us trudging through. Like I said, she was relentless.

My mind was entirely focused on reaching the peak of this climb. The climbs always take their toll on me. I knew once I reached the summit it would be all downhill from there. Literally. I was more than ready to reach the Chittenden Reservoir. Even if it meant we had to swim. As the descent continued I was cruising down the mountain, through some swampy areas and making killer time up for how slow I was on that treacherous ascent. During the climb down I ran into Mark Webb; I was so happy to see him.

urlAs I remember a group of about four of us all converged at a road and had to turn around and take another route that was marked just a bit up the mountain we had just came down. I thought I had seen the worst of the sloppy muddy marshes on the mountain, but they were nothing compared to what came next. I was shocked my shoes weren’t sucked into the abyss. The sun was finally starting to rise. It felt like we had been on Bloodroot forever. I kept seeing houses off in the distance but apparently those weren’t real either! What the hell is real anymore? I kept thinking we just had to be close to the reservoir by now. I wasn’t feeling good anymore. The food I was eating was starting to get to me. It kind of came at me all at once. My head began to hurt, my stomach uneasy, I could feel my throat swelling up. Why am I getting sick now? Is this flu sick? Am I going to be able to finish? What the hell is happening to me? I felt horrendous. Barrrfff!!

 

To be continued…

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

Photo Credit: Chad Weberg

Photo Credit: Chad Weberg

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

Anthony Matesi

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

600440_10151688453063766_544726524_n

Photo Credit: Chad Weberg

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

anthony matesi bloodroot death race

Photo Credit: Chad Weberg

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

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

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

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

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

To be continued…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

To be continued…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

To be continued…

Legend of the Death Race – 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…

Shortcuts

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…