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Riverside Farm

Legend of the Death Race Year 3: Part 7 – A Ravine and a Cemetery

Back at Riverside, we were briefed on the next task, which could be completed in teams. I opted to wait for my friends to make their way back to the White Barn before embarking on this next challenge. Everyone was given until 1600 hours to complete this task. The biggest relief was that we did not need to carry our full rucks for this segment of the event. It was entirely our decision what we would carry along with us and the rest of our gear could be safely left back at our tent in basecamp. Naturally, I opted to drop my ruck and suddenly what felt like thousands of pounds came off my shoulders.

At long last we had finally entered the orienteering challenge, one that everyone knew we would inevitably face during the “Year of the Explorer”. With items such as a compass on our gear list, many participants worried how involved the actual orienteering of the event would be.

When we approached the White Barn we received our instructions for the orienteering challenge, participants were to collect a four points to move on to the next challenge, should you fail, you were done with the race. There was a firm cut-off at 4:00pm. At the White Barn, we were shown a map of Pittsfield, VT. On the map, there were points plotted with descriptors such as the Hayes Brook, the cemetery, Iron Mine, and the ravine. Some of these locations were a great distance to travel after all we had done, while others were much closer. Picking a solid strategy was vital if you wanted to be successful at completing this challenge in the time allotted.

Each participant was given a punch card, so essentially we would be looking for an orienteering hole punch at each of the locations. From looking at the card I could tell that each hole punch had a different shape, star, moon, circle, etc. Looking at the map, there were a few spots that I knew the exact location of straight away, the cemetery which we had just passed on our way back from Gilke’s, and the ravine where I had spent plenty of time during the week I stayed in Pittsfield helping my good friend, Miguel Medina to build the foundation for what was meant to become a cozy cabin in the woods. Knowing the general location of the cemetery and the ravine convinced me that we had an edge. These two destinations on the map would give us enough points to move onto the next challenge and they shouldn’t be too hard to find. 

Death Race Land NavThere was still plenty of time to do this challenge so I took a brief moment to collect myself. When a few of my friends showed up I decided to team up for this and I reached out to Chris Rayne, Chris Accord, and Brain Edwards to tackle this challenge with. The plan was to break up into two separate teams. One team, those who felt the freshest on their feet, would make the longer trek to the cemetery. Those two would take all of the punch cards and have them punched with the Silver Circle hole punch and then make the trek as quick as possible. While the two who went out to the cemetery were on their journey, the other two would climb up the ravine and locate the Green Clover hole punch wherever it was hiding. Given that the location was so close to the White Barn, where we would be checking in, the assumption was it might require more time to find, possibly hidden in a tree or somewhere out of sight.

Once the strategy was understood, the question remained, who had the freshest feet? Rayne and Edwards both offered to go to the distance back to the cemetery. The four of us decided on a spot just past an intersection on the Green Mountain Trails that led back to the stables at Riverside Farm. We declared this our meeting spot, this is where Accord and I would wait after we had located the hole punch at the ravine.

Our two teams split and sought out the hole punches that would maximize our points with the least likelihood of becoming lost in the rolling mountains of Vermont. Having spent so much time over the years on these trails, I had become somewhat of an expert at navigating them. I knew the fastest routes to the ravine and in my gut, I had a feeling I knew exactly where this hole punch was hiding.

As we crossed over the rushing water that was flowing down the ravine we came across the unfinished cabin in the woods, I knew it was time for us to start looking high and low, that hole punch had to be somewhere in that general area. I was feeling a little better now that I was moving again, so I quickly headed up the steep slope to the rear of the cabin. It felt steep, but I was determined to find the green clover hole punch. Everywhere you looked there were leaves that covered the forest floor and when you looked up it was just a sea of green leaves, ten shades of green, with a sprinkle of orange and yellow making it very difficult to identify the green hole punch that we were looking for. The directions we were given back at the White Barn were intentionally vague, if you were a master at finding Waldo, you were playing the right game.

While searching up, down, left, and right, I found myself ascending higher and higher up the trail past Miguel’s cabin. I carried on and continued to navigate the steep trail. After going a fair shot up the hillside, I turned around and shouted back to Chris to see how he had been doing. Right as my head came full 180 back in his direction is when I suddenly spotted it, the green hole punch! It was down a little ways, dangling from a low hanging branch. I alerted Chris that we had found it and the two of us quickly began our descent back to the meeting spot our team had designated earlier.

While Chris Accord and I waited for Brian and Chris Rayne to return, feelings of guilt began to set in. As the sun moved across the sky, and time went on, a feeling of remorse developed inside me. Did we let them down? Was it bad of us to handle the closer less challenging checkpoint while they went on another long hike? Why did we let them do the harder part? How was that fair? I started to question the logic, it still seemed sound, but I remembered I knew the area around the ravine better than anyone, I knew the most direct route there, the hope was that we would save time finding hole punch at the ravine because of this knowledge I had. They knew exactly where the cemetery hole punch was, they remembered seeing something purple in the distance on the way back from Norm’s task at Gilke’s.

In my head, I justified the strategy, when they returned they would be able to go sit and relax while we went out and captured the final hole punch. No matter how I tried to frame it in my head Chris Accord and I definitely got a better deal and in acknowledging that I cannot thank Rayne and Edwards enough for going the extra mile or 10. Your selflessness certainly helped improve our chances of finishing, especially mine, so thank you, again.

Whether or not the strategy we utilized was fair or not, one thing was certain, it was efficient. When Chris and Brian returned, I grabbed their cards from them and took off, all the rest we had while they went to the cemetery gave me a huge boost of energy. The whole process of running there and back was quick and painless, for the most part. I returned with the holes punched and we checked in as one of the first few teams to finish. We had an entire two hours to spare until we had anything else to do. Two truths were proven, knowledge is power, and it pays to win, we finished quickly and as such we earned rest. It was welcomed and feared…for if you rest too long, your whole body could lock up.

To be continued…

Legend of the Death Race Year 3: Part 6 – Charred Axes and A Bucket Full of Lies

Adorning my freshly-made “buckskin”garb I gathered my gear, and after meticulously crafting the aforementioned buckskin outfit with 108 stitches and completing the tedious task of sliding a porcupine quill through my log, my load was lightened considerably. I no longer needed the log, so I was allowed to toss it in the fire near the teepee, which was a relief from all the weight I struggled with during the hike up and down Bloodroot Mountain. Our next task was to follow a sparsely-marked trail along a snowmobile route out to what was referenced as General Gilke’s. The hike had some serious ascents and descents as it followed alongside the mountain. 

Late into the night, I found myself hiking alongside groups of racers, but I never attached myself to any particular group. Back at Riverside Brian was still making his buckskin outfit when I took off and I hoped that he would catch back up at some point. The darkness was intensified by the surrounding trees and tall brush, and who knew what animals could be lurking around the surrounding forest. I was also much further behind than I had wanted to be at this point in the race, so all I could focus on was pushing myself as hard as possible to catch up to the leaders. 

Surprisingly, someone was besting Mark Jones and was already returning from whatever challenge that awaited them. Not to succumb to defeat so easily, I saw Mark Jones in hot pursuit of this unknown leader. At the time, I had no idea who this mysterious racer was, but one thing was certain, he was giving Mark Jones one hell of a competition. It was exciting to see and motivated me to push myself in hopes of catching up to those guys. Seeing that they were already returning from a challenge I hadn’t reached to yet I hoped I was nearing it myself. How wrong I was. 

I was probably only about halfway out to General Gilke’s when I approached a group of racers that were seemingly confused about where to go. There was a gate that was closed and no markers in the immediate vicinity to assure you to cross over. This moment served me well and provided me with a chance to overtake this large group of racers. Confident in the path I was taking, even with the limited markers I had been following, I urged everyone that this was the path we had to take. I began crawling around the gate through a gap to the right of the fence where it appeared others had crossed as well. The rest followed. Continuing along the trail, I eventually saw another marking and was reassured this path would lead me to my next destination. 

Not too much further along, the snowmobile trail came to an end. It was time to make a right turn onto a road that continued to add more ascents to this arduous hike. I began to wonder whether we were going to the same summit that the past Winter Death Racers had to conquer during the latter half of their race. I knew how far that was and this hike was far longer than the five miles we were lead to believe was the actual distance. 

As I climbed up the road, dawn was beginning to break. Dan Grodinsky was arriving from where I was going and he stopped to take it all in. Seeing him stop snapped me out of my focused state and ushered me to say to Brian “hold on, we’ve gotta soak this all in,” followed by turning around and doing just that. It was at that moment when I saw it. One of the most beautiful sunrises I’ve ever seen in my entire life. It was breathtaking. Fog, mountains, and gradients of pink, orange, red, blue, and purple. The word, “majestic” doesn’t do justice to that view. That sunrise is forever forged into my memory as a reminder of how gorgeous the world is. The experience reaffirmed why I enjoy tackling these incredibly challenging events, they combine an unbelievable journey with extraordinary scenery.   

After taking a moment to enjoy my surroundings it was time to snap back to reality. I was in a race, the Death Race. If I wanted to remain competitive this year I needed to hustle. I hurried down a road which seemed to go up and down with no end in sight until I could finally hear the sound of people working. As I arrived at the location of the next challenge, I was warned by some racers that the next challenge required a bucket. Go figure. I didn’t bring a bucket. I decided not to bring one because for the first time in what seemed like forever a bucket wasn’t on the list. I assumed (unwisely) there would be buckets available if we needed them especially since there were so many that have been left behind over the years. I should have known better! This is the Death Race, nothing is ever going to be handed to you that easily. 

Because I didn’t have a bucket I slowed my pace and began strategizing on how I could convince a fellow racer to lend me their bucket. As I approached, I saw that there was a group of people doing burpees. As it turned out, 1,500 burpees was the penalty for not bringing a bucket. Having done that kind of quantity of burpees over the years I knew how long such a task would take. There was no way I could risk falling as far behind as that penalty would set me. 

I dropped my pack off to the side of the road and walked the remaining couple hundred feet over to the most devious man in all of obstacle racing, the ever sadistic mountain man who challenges all who enter his realm to leave their comfort zone far behind, none other than Spartan Course Designer, Norm Koch. He’s known well in the obstacle racing world, and he, too, started as a Death Racer. Norm was now focused more on creating the ultimate trials of human ability, and he sat here with our next array of tasks. 

First up, we were required to grab a branch from a nearby tree. I had my hunting knife secured underneath my handmade garb and it came in handy. Then, Norm instructed us to make an ax out of a rock, paracord, and a stick, like one he showed us. From the looks of it, the quality of the craftsmanship wasn’t too important so I quickly fashioned any old rock to a stick, showed it to Norm and was given the nod. Finally, Norm asked me if I had a bucket, knowing the penalty I pretended I had one and told him it was by my bag. At this point I had to join in the rest of the people who had made it this far and were also “playing the game” of pretending to have a bucket. There was literally a line of people rotating the use of just a few buckets that were brought along by other racers and left behind to prevent us all from failing this task. It was there, in that moment, that everyone was working together–us  against them. We all told the same lie so we could avoid a penalty that none of us wanted to face. Our rationale? The bucket was never on the gear list, so why should we be penalized?

After waiting patiently, it was finally my turn to grab a bucket, head down this trail and find a stream powerful enough to fill my bucket sometime before the race was over. Everywhere I searched I was finding barely a trickle of water. I finally found something that looked like it might work, so I started filling. It took a while. I remember thinking to myself, there is no way this is the stream he was referring to, but I didn’t want to look any further. Once my bucket was finally full enough I started heading back up. It was then that I saw another racer further up the hill that I just went down to find water, coming back with a very full bucket, and realized where the good stream was. I had passed it. Nevertheless, I carried on and went back to show Norm my bucket full of fresh water. I passed the test. 

As I gathered my gear, it appeared that a large group of people showed up and must have missed the memo about the buckets, but what they were doing did not look like the 1,500 burpee penalty we all feared. It appeared that Norm wasn’t actually paying attention to those serving the penalty, and even when he did look over, so long as they weren’t just standing around he let whatever sorry excuse for a burpee they were doing pass. Literally, half the group would stand and perform only the jump portion of a burpee while the other half laid on the ground and pretended to do push-ups but they weren’t even that, it looked more like a bunch of people lying on the ground humping and flopping around for some sort of strange ritual. I laughed at the sight, finished packing my gear, and took off back down the long trail to the White Barn at Riverside Farm.  

On the way back, I got word that we would need our axes for the next task when we reached the White Barn. Of course I wasn’t thinking and had already ditched mine, so I busted out everything needed to quickly fashion another ax. Returning to Riverside Farm, I was instructed that I would need to have my axe checked by Peter Borden to determine how many forward rolls I would be performing.

Death Race, Vermont, Pittsfield, TeePee, Mountains, Riverside Farm, Peak Races, Upon initial inspection Peter was a bit worried about performing the first test he had lined up which was seeing if the ax, when swung, could actually do what it was intended, and cut wood. Since the construction of my “ax” was flimsy at best he opted to perform a durability test instead. Peter took my axe and placed it in a fire pit. Since the ax was made out of a stick and a rock, the chances of it catching fire were huge. I was worried. At this point, I thought there was absolutely no way I’d pass this test without having some huge penalty. After a few minutes my ax proved to be more resilient than any of us expected and still had not caught flame. It passed the test! 

Now all I had to do was grab all my gear, pack it up and head up to the top of Joe’s mountain to Shrek’s cabin for a quick time trial. The rules were simple: get to the top, check in, and get back to the bottom, as fast as possible. Not knowing what we would need to do at the top, I made sure I had all my required gear, but packed a little lighter on the food this time just to lighten my load. That last trek all the way out to Norm took a huge toll on my feet. 

Returning to the White Barn in under an hour and a half was helpful to my mood and spirit. I had made up a great deal of time on that challenge—especially given the weight of the pack. I felt happy that it was mid-morning and the sun was shining brightly. I made my way over to the volunteers who were administering the next challenge. I could see that they were handing out what appeared to be a topographical map for the next challenge. Orienteering…being the “Year of the Explorer” I expected a navigational skills challenge to eventually present itself. The time had finally come. 

To be continued…

Legend of the Death Race Year 3: Part 5 – Pocahontas and Porcupine Quills

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Don Devaney at the water cup in a log challenge.

The time had come to depart from the top of Bloodroot Mountain Trail. After a long and tedious process thanks in part to Don’s desire to break me by angering my soul, I successfully finished crafting my cup of water in a log holder project. With the remains of my creation packed tightly away, I took off down the mountain trail. With the radiance of the sun gone and replaced by the starry skies of central Vermont, the first night of the Death Race had finally begun.

Darkness engulfed the sky and these moments are a test of willpower and determination. Naturally, when the sun fades, the body and more importantly, the mind will naturally find itself desiring sleep, rest, and comfort. During these long, dark hours are a test of perseverance. Enduring the darkness and doubt brings its own reward — like the rising sun’s power  to bring a spiritual resurgence  and provide the kick in the ass necessary to carry on. 

Unaware of what lie ahead during this first evening and now alone in the mountains, I knew I had to maintain my focus. Knowing that  Kristine had finally arrived I knew it would be tough when I finally saw her to not want to stop the race and spend all my time in the majestic wilderness alone with her. It’s true, internally my emotions within were all over the place, as much as I’d probably want to suspend time and stop racing to be with her, I was equally giddy with excitement at the prospect of having her see what I was made of. I wanted her to see that I had the gusto to finish the Peak Death Race.

My trek down Bloodroot Mountain Trail was far better than my ascent. No longer feeling any foot pain, I had almost completely forgotten about the episode. Determined to return the the White Barn at Riverside Farm to catch my lady, a fire inside began to rage. I barreled my way down the treacherous trails. With my headlamp lighting the tree lines up with the power of 200 lumens, I swear that Black Diamond Icon headlamp is like having your own personal sun, and because of its brilliant light  I was able to leap over every puddle, creek, and stream that lay in my path. Utilizing my trekking poles, I managed to navigate the dark path without hitting any water by propelling myself over each water source in my way. 

The further down the trail I made it the more I felt the weight of my pack taking its toll on my shoulders. In an effort to quell the discomfort, I messed around with my straps loosening them and tightening them, sometimes unclipping the chest strap and allowing the shoulder straps to fall off, putting a majority of the weight into my waist belt. I was resolute to keep my pace and not have to stop. I had made it down the more treacherous parts of the trails, but no matter how much I shifted and adjusted the pack, the nearly 70 pounds was too much. I eventually caved, and dropped my pack to the ground. I had to rest, if only for a minute. Fellow Death Racers passed by and I felt a sense of defeat, I was unhappy with my inability to bear the weight. It was my own fault; even with all my knowledge from previous races, I made a mistake and over-packed. The truth of the matter was I feared Bloodroot. In my experience, going to Bloodroot typically meant a trek to Chittenden Reservoir. A journey to those parts meant long distance swims in frigid waters. Swimming, I can do. In frigid, open waters? That’s when I get a little shaky. Thankfully, it seemed we avoided that water hole of misery, at least for now, I thought to myself.

Continuing to make the long hike back, I relished in the fact that at least with the downhill gravity was doing some of the work. Just a little further and I’ll be back, I told myself. It seemed like a never-ending hike. As I made my way off the trails and onto the road that leads to Upper Michigan and towards the path that leads past Jason’s home, I paused to soak in my surroundings. Here I was, still in the beginning stages of another Death Race adventure,and yet, if only for a moment, it was a chance to acknowledge the vastness of the universe. I gazed up at the blackening abyss over the clear Vermont sky speckled with blinking beams of light that traveled light years just to reach my eyes in this very moment. The experience was transcendent. Staring out gave me this assurance that as difficult as anything I might face ahead may be, that there are far greater challenges being faced everywhere. For a moment, my mind expanded beyond my conceivable conscious. I returned my mind and myself back to this planet after sitting for a brief moment on a roadside guardrail, lost in the stars above. I redirected my enlightenment to getting through this Death Race as a finisher. This was it, everything I’ve done over these past few years has led to this defining race. You’d be mistaken if you thought it was only about racing others, the truth is the Death Race is you against you. Can you overcome whatever demons might reveal themselves in the face of the adversity crafted to disrupt you? I believed I not only could, but would. 

Not too long after my short meditation, I gained a bit of pep in my step and finally could see the lights of Riverside Farm in my sights; all I had to do was safely cross Route 100 and run up the driveway. As I approached the farm, excitement filled me, having already been going for well over 12 hours; I finally got to see the beaming smile of my lady, Kristine. As I ran up she greeted me already prepared to help me as my crew in any way possible. 

I was informed I had to speak to the woman by the teepee tent that was there in the back corner of the corral where a large amount of Death Racers were already hard at work on the next task. 

The next task to be completed was to take the log that I had just carried back from Bloodroot and I needed to make a hole in the center. It was required to show this woman, who resembled Pocahontas in the garb she adorned, through this hole that the mandatory porcupine quill I had brought with me could be slid all the way through it. Sounded like a simple enough task. Before I was allowed to do that, however, I had to change my clothes. It was time to take the four yards of buckskin, or in my case vinyl that looked the color of buckskin but felt like a “pleather”, and create a top and bottom that mimicked her look. Specifically, I would need to use 108 stitches to do so. Those were the instructions. 

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Amie Booth adorning her amazing survival garbs.

Immediately I ran back to where I dropped my pack by Kristine and my attitude changed. The temperatures were dropping and I was not in the mood to sew a stupid outfit that I would have to wear for what at worst could be the rest of the damn race. All I could think was, this was going to be miserable!. Negativity overwhelmed me. It engulfed my soul so quickly, I was actually thinking about quitting. Why the f*ck do I have to do this bullshit? I could just go back to the hotel with Kristine and enjoy Vermont for once, why am I putting up with stupid shit like this. It’s incredible how fast the negativity can exasperate into an uncontrollable fury. Kristine tried to encourage me. This was only the first night; I had to snap out of it. This is what the Race Directors wanted, they wanted to get a rise out of us, and they wanted to break those of us who lacked patience. It’s not always the physical tasks that will get you in the Death Race; it’s the ones that require mental solitude, perseverance, patience, more often than anything else it’s these challenges that force a Death Racer to quit. 

This would be my greatest challenge — overcoming the mind-numbing task of sewing, which I’m pretty awful at, my own hunter/gatherer style outfit. I decided to essentially slice the fabric in half, one part to make a skirt of sorts, a kilt, if you will. For the top I would fold it in half and using my Ka-Bar I turned it into a tunic, making a hole that may have been a bit larger than necessary for my head to go through. I sealed up the sides a bit to fulfill the requirements of having stitches and made sure to count each stitch one by one, an impressive test of focus. Stitch, count, stitch, count. It was a repetitive task that had to be done precisely for fear of penalty. By the time I had my tunic and skirt all stitched up I had regained my composure and desire to race. I  decided if I was going to deal with wearing this I might as well have a little fun with it, so I took my knife and sliced some stylish cuts into the skirt to give it a more “Gladiator” style, at least that’s what I pictured in my mind . It looked far from the garb of a gladiator, but it certainly gave me and everyone else a laugh, including Pocahontas.

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Death Racer working on porcupine quill through the center of a log challenge.

Next up, I had to get to work on my log. While the task seemed like it would be easy at first, I quickly realized how difficult this could be. Strategizing with my crew, Patrick Mies, a fellow Death Racer with whom I had raced with the previous summer, suggested first to begin splitting the wood with my hatchet without breaking it in half. Then I could shove screwdriver or something similar down the middle. While I loved his suggestion, there was one problem I didn’t have a screwdriver or anything like that. Not even two minutes later, I found one on the ground by my side. It’s strange how items just appear right when you need them at a Death Race. 

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Ella Kociuba working on her log.

Working hastily, I jammed the screwdriver into my already half split log and started pounding it down with the back of the hatchet I borrowed from fellow Death Racer, Rob Barger. Once it was through I went to pull it back out of the log. It was stuck! Shit?! What do I do? I could feel my heart rate accelerating. I’m screwed. I started throwing my log on the ground, pulling, pushing, twisting, and doing whatever I could to try to wiggle it free. After tirelessly working on it for a good 10 minutes I finally succeeded. Now to make sure I can get the porcupine quill through. It was important to me that I could do it before I went and showed them. My first attempt I lost my quill in the wood shavings and debris. I had to make it smoother. Round two with the screwdriver went a little smoother than the first. After losing another quill, and I only had 2 more left, I finally succeeded. Excited, I ran over to the teepee tent and fire that was burning in front of it and presented my project to Pocahontas. Success came only after my log almost fell apart, only a sliver of bark held it together. Ecstatic to finally be done with this tedious task, I ran over to Kristine and Patrick and began gathering my things so I could prepare for what lie ahead. 

To be continued…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

To be continued…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

To be continued…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

To be continued…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

To be continued…

Legend of the Death Race – Part 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…