Posts Tagged:

Tweed River Drive

Legend of the Death Race Year 3: Part 8 – Endless Yoga

Having made up a lot of time with our strategy we found ourselves beating the 4PM cut-off by four hours. As I recall, we were somewhere in the middle of teams who finished. After a quick refresh at basecamp it was right back to it with the next challenge.

Next up, we found ourselves back on our own again and the task was to get to the top of Joe’s mountain all the way to Shrek’s Cabin where we would have to “start a fire”. I say that in quotes because before taking off for the summit, I caught wind that all we needed to do was make a fire by using a bow drill.

In typical Death Race fashion, it wasn’t explicitly stated that you had to use a stick and a bow drill to make the fire, so some people who arrived earlier had discovered that you could have a match attached to the end of your bow drill and still receive a passing grade. With this knowledge, I made a sprint to the top with only the things I needed. As I made my way up, I received confirmation from a few others who had already made fire and were headed back. Knowing the secret to completing this task set me up make up some time if I could get it done quick enough.

When I arrived at Shrek’s Cabin, I checked in with Peter Borden and went off to the side of Shrek’s to gather some hay, I quickly fashioned myself a bow drill, recalling my experiences at the Survival Run in Texas, this felt like cheating know I was using a match to make my fire. One of the strange things about Death Race is the lack of direct rules and instructions, with such an open box and the freedom to do anything in, around, our outside the box, it’s sometimes hard to determine what was within reasonable compromise and what wasn’t. I often look back on this decision and my rationale is that it was allowed which means it was an acceptable strategy, whether it was the right strategy, is up to the person who used it. In my opinion, I feel I cheated myself by not actually making my fire, but on the other hand, my conscious tells me that I played the “game” of Death Race. By playing the “game,” I found myself propelling forward, way ahead of the rest of the participants by doing whatever it takes.

You can decide what you think, but here is how it went down. I got that bow drill, I attached a stormproof match to the end of my drill, placed the strike pad on the wood notch that I was going to grind and eventually cause enough friction to create fire with. I set up my bow drill and like magic, I had fire quickly. Technically speaking, I used a bow drill to create fire. My drill just happened to be a bit, modified.

When I think back to past experiences at Death Races, I recall the time that another Tony rode a bike more than half way up Joe’s mountain while everyone, literally, everyone else ran to the top. Or the time I heard some guys caught a ride to the next challenge just because they were that much more resourceful and willing to take that chance. Could they have been ejected from the event? Certainly. Were they? Nope. It was with this prior knowledge and the wisdom of past Death Racers, that I could quickly justify my doing this task in this manner. It was all a part of the game, and I was hacking it, one challenge at a time. At survival run, the rules were very specific, something like this would never fly, and I would never have tried it, but the Death Race things were, different. Everything was open to interpretation.

By playing the game and hacking this challenge, I was in and out of Shrek’s Cabin within eight minutes of arriving. Running downhill is one of my strong suits, I navigated back to the White Barn at Riverside Farm in a flash.

After returning to the White Barn we were directed to grab a log and carry it up along Tweed River Drive, this part kind of blurred past and brings me to the next challenge which we had to endure for oh, somewhere between six and eight hours, at this point in the race, who’s counting? The next challenge was probably one of the most brutal, it was a test of how bad you want it, how much mental fuckery can you endure. That’s what this next challenge was all about.

Navigating up Tweed River Drive with a log was easy compared to what came next. It was in this challenge that some of the hardest, strongest, athletes would suddenly break. Unbelievably so. The challenge was quite simple, a test, administered by none other than the mastermind who had tortured me with a mile and a half of log rolling through other people’s puke back at the 2012 Death Race during the Year of Betrayal, the infamous, Jack Carry.

The test contains 26 questions with 26 matching answers, you were to match the answer to the question using letters. Simple enough right? There were a few stipulations, for one thing, if you turned in your test and had one, just one wrong answer, you’d be sent home. Think that’s bad? It’s worse, you were not allowed to speak to anyone during the entire test. No cheating. No sharing answers. No talking. Silence. One hundred percent silence from the participants. Think that’s it? Ha, I’m just getting started, after all this is the maniacal, Jack, who orchestrated this challenge from hell. For questions, you didn’t know you could wait in line and check if an answer was correct. The more questions you knew the easier this would be to do the process of elimination until all the answers were correct, however, after you asked a question you could do one of two things. First, you could elect to stand on the hillside and work on your test, trying to figure out answers. Then to get back in line you would have to hold a Yoga stance for eight minutes at a time. One pose, hold for 8 minutes. Jack would give you options you could select for your pose. There were a few poses in his collection, standing on one leg, or laying on your back with your feet over your head, or laying on your stomach and holding on to your bent legs by the feet, I almost always alternated between laying on my back with my feet overhead and laying on my stomach with my legs bent. Those two were great, stretched my back and my hamstrings like crazy. I rather enjoyed the long holds. They were, meditative the more we did them. At least, they were for me.

This madness went on for hours and hours and hours, as the night wore on the cold began to set in. One of the first things we did upon our arrival was drop our rucks in a pile. We weren’t allowed to access them. Oh, how I had wished I’d grabbed an extra layer. I had arrived with one of the first groups initially, so the line we waited in to ask Jack a question grew longer and longer after each cycle. Since we couldn’t access our rucks I did what any sensible person would do after being up for more than 30 hours or so, I started acting a fool. I was dancing, and bouncing around and doing all kinds of silly things to keep my body heat up. Remember that whole silence thing, yeah, that sucked every so often someone would slip, the race directors or volunteers might have asked a question and instead of staying silent, a participant would acknowledge the question, and boom, that was it, race over. For some, this was devastating, to put so much effort and training and to travel to this event is everything, and to get kicked out all for opening their mouth and uttering a single word. I found this to be quite brutal and every time a fellow racer was dropped for this I genuinely felt for them. What a shitty way to get dropped from this race, but it’s a mental challenge, a very, very, effective, and difficult challenge.

As the night wore on, all I could think was when would this be over? It seemed like this could go on and on and on. As we did more questions I started to realize that some of the questions and answers were bullshit. How did I come to this conclusion? I purposefully asked a question regarding the same answer twice and received two different answers, evidence that this entire event was another mindfuck, possibly one that couldn’t be won. I lost trust in Jack and figured he was just trying to drop people. At that point I stopped caring about the test, now it was just about enduring. Eventually, I thought to myself, they’ll just shut this thing down. At least, that’s what I had hoped.

Not long after my revelation, which I couldn’t share with anyone due to the whole silence game, another racer lost it. I don’t recall the exact circumstances but some of the race directors, in an effort to get participants to break their silence I am sure, started dumping out everyone’s rucks. Mind you we were initially told to empty our rucks, many of us used separate dry bags within our rucks to keep things organized so even though we had to empty those bags out it would have been relatively easy to find most of our things. But they started dumping the individual bags and mixing everything up. This was a pretty messed up and a shitty move, one that should probably never have happened. Nonetheless, it did, and a racer completely lost it. Sleep deprivation, fucking with gear, and the fact that everyone’s stuff was now mixed together in this massive pile including medications was the shitstorm we needed for them finally bring this challenge to an end. After the racer went wild and sacrificed his bib to the raging campfire, the race directors decided to let everyone collect their things and we were told to meet at the White Barn back at Riverside Farm with no mention of how to get there.

It was now midnight and tt took my quite a while to collect my things, I tried to be strategic by stringing my things together with a carabiner, yet I couldn’t find half my things. After what felt eternal, but was really only a good five to ten minutes of scrambling around, I finally found everything and started on my way. By this point I had fallen behind, I was probably sitting somewhere in the back half of the pack as I set out toward the White Barn. On the way out I saw my girlfriend, Kristine, she had parked her rental car up there and was just hanging out watching all of this insanity play out.

Over the past two years, I have struggled to come to terms with my decision to “game the system” at this point of the race. It has been an internal struggle for me and a large part of why it’s taken me so long to finish my “Death Race story”.

Recently, I had a revelation and was able to talk through this with a close friend. In that moment of the race I panicked, I wanted to finish this so bad and didn’t want something stupid like this dumping of bags thing to be my demise, I wanted to get back to the front of the pack, where I had been the majority of the event. I began to think back to past Death Races I had been a part of and recalled some tactics utilized by racers who not only finished but ranked in the top three.

You see, after the Year of Betrayal in 2012, the Death Race morphed into this sort of, do whatever it takes and use a “figure it out” mentality to finish. For instance, if the instructions are, “get to the White Barn as fast as possible” with no indication of HOW to get there, what’s to stop you from riding a bike or hitching a ride? Hell, if I had a jet pack, I could have used that. The rules were arbitrary. You have to kind of figure out what is and isn’t acceptable through trial and error. Sometimes you can get away with gaming the system, sometimes you are punished severely. In previous Death Races, I witnessed top finishers carpooling to a challenge, and one time I got passed up by a finisher who was lucky enough to find a bicycle to ride up Tweed River Drive to whatever the next challenge was at the 2013 Death Race. With this knowledge, I made a decision.

Resourcefulness, in this event, was considered a necessity and given that prior knowledge, that wisdom, I decided this was my moment to play the game the way others had in the past. Let me be clear, this is something I would only do at a Death Race, were it any other race, I prefer to play by the rules. But this was the Death Race, and the Death Race was about “figuring it out”. In many cases, at any given moment during the race, what rules existed and what rules didn’t could be up for debate. For two years I have struggled with writing about this part of the event. Given the circumstances surrounding how the Death Race worked, I still don’t really feel good about what this specific segment but, live and learn, right? One thing the Death Race showed me was that I was willing to take a huge risk even though there could have been consequences. You see, I had already played the risk analysis out in my head, in the Death Race, this was [possibly] an acceptable strategy, worth the risk and were it any other event, an Ultra Marathon, a Hurricane Heat, or hell even one of the 12-Hour Hurricane Heats that I brought to life under the Spartan Endurance umbrella, it wouldn’t even be on the table as an option. My prior knowledge of the Death Race gave me the confidence that this risk was worth taking.

It took me two years to come to terms with the, rather ballsy decision I made back then. The fact remains, I was just willing to take that chance. That chance could have gotten me a DNF, but it didn’t. The fact is, had I been “caught” and told what I did was unacceptable I would have accepted my fate and walked away.

You could say, lady luck, was on my side.

After catching a quick car ride half way down from the top of Tweed River Drive, I jumped out of the car and ran the last quarter of a mile back to the White Barn, likely saving myself a solid 10-15 minutes of rucking and providing me with the recharge needed to prepare for the next evolution in this race.

To be continued…

Author’s Note: It’s been three years since this event occurred. This article has taken about a year to write. Some events may be missing information, out of order, or misremembered. I’d be happy to hear of any corrections I need to make to the timeline if needed.

Legend of the Death Race Year 3: Part 2 – Another Beginning

In what was the most race-like start of all my experiences at the Peak Races Death Race, we were off in an instant. What remained the same is not knowing when it starts (officially, it’s seriously complicated), and you don’t know when it will end. Andy and Joe had just finished telling us the race would start in seven minutes and there we were starting three minutes early. Well done Joe and Andy, well done. I was the first one out the gate after strategically placing myself next to Joe and catching an earful of the quick change of plans for a slightly earlier start. Though I was the first one to the stone stairs, I quickly slowed my pace and reeled myself back in. If there was one thing I learned from last year’s experience is that more often than not it pays to fall somewhere in the middle of the pack versus blasting ahead and taking the lead. 

Climb Up Stone Staircase Pittsfield Vermont Death Race Start Peak RaceThis year, all the wisdom I’d gathered from my previous Death Race experiences would be relied upon greatly in making all my decisions. I’ve seen the Death Race from every angle, as a racer in the summer, as a photographer and assistant to the Race Directors in the Winter and Team, and as a reporter in Mexico. Combining all the wisdom along with my courage to continue to return to this race, and all the strength and power I’ve developed since recovering from shoulder surgery a year and a half ago, I hoped and prayed by the end of this race I would  land the fabled official finish, leaving me to take a skull and bib home. Knowing full well that those would just be symbols for my achievement and what it really means to finish the Death Race. 

As I began my climb up the staircase that was built the year prior I couldn’t help but reminisce. At this time last year at the start of the race, myself and the veterans  moved these rocks I stepped upon into place. The stairs we built at the Year of the Gambler go one mile up the side of Joe’s mountain. A lot of racers were already making moves to push to the front. My friend and fellow Spartan Race competitor, David Magida came up next to me saying something along the lines of, “I think I can be first to the top.” I reminded him of our phone conversation a week ago and assured him (and his ego), that I was certain he could be first to the top. I reminded him, “remember Magida, stay in the middle of the pack.” He decided to hang back, and thanked me. He immediately changed his plan deciding it best to stay near me for at least the start of the event. 

Death Race Shrek's Cabin Pittsfield VT 100 BurpeesRunning up these stone steps has become one of my favorite past times every time I come out to Vermont. Just a month before the race I had the pleasure of showing my mother, sister, and Kristine, the pride and beauty of what we built the year prior. It’s a wonder to imagine that these stairs will be here for what is likely to be the rest of time. The most glorious thing of all is to say I helped build them, not with machines, but with my hands and the hands of my fellow Death Racers, my brothers and sisters in arms. 

Death Race Rucksack Pile Peak RacesWhen we reached the top I was somewhere in the first ten to fifteen racers to arrive. At the top we were required to check in and knock out 100 burpees before heading back down the stairs  back to Riverside Farm. On the way down caution had to be taken as there were still a swarm of racers were still ascending to the top. As I reached the bottom of the mountain and began an all out sprint toward the white barn I could see in the distance all of our packs and rucks stacked up into a mound. As I entered the corral, I was instructed to find my pack. I could hear Don Devaney in the distance yelling, “if you don’t have all your gear you will be disqualified.” As soon as I found my bag I realized the Nalgene bottle I borrowed from Mark Webb was missing and it became clear that they were messing with everyone and some gear was purposefully taken away from a few of us. I shrugged it off and moved on to the next task. 

Death Race Story Notes Peak Races

Yes, That’s me typing notes for the story in my phone. | Photo Credit: Big AP Photography

We were once again instructed to hike to the top of Joe’s mountain to Shrek’s cabin. When we arrived there was no one actually checking people in but the instructions were to continue on to Tweed River Drive. On the descent toward Tweed, I became a little uncertain of the path we were taking. It wasn’t the same path I had taken in previous treks up and down the surrounding areas. I had a feeling that we would make it to our destination regardless. At the time I was traveling with a group of veteran Death Racers and some newbies which included Ella Kociuba, David Mick, and Magida. On the way down we had to do a little bushwhacking which added to my uncertainty. Knowing the general area and direction we were headed I still had faith we would wind up at the trail that leads to the top of Tweed River Drive soon enough. 

Not even five minutes later, I recognized our whereabouts and led everyone across the trail toward the tiny cabin at the top of Tweed. There awaited a mound of stones and rocks and my predictions became true. We would be rebuilding the sections of the stone staircase that were not up to standard. When we all arrived there were already quite a few Death Racers having their pick at the stones. I overheard Peter Borden making claims that, “if you don’t grab a large enough rock they will send you back for another.” I took this to heart, knowing that Joe and Andy will often challenge racers to exceed their perceived limitations. If I didn’t grab a large enough boulder, and they’d definitely expect a lot of me given what they’ve seen me lift while helping Miguel Medina build his cabin this past Winter, I’d be sent back without a second thought. In all actuality, my fear was that having become so close to the masterminds of the Death Race over the past couple years might work against me. Typically at this race, being well known can work against you and I had a huge red target painted on my back. 

I quickly began looking for my rock, it concerned me how quickly so many people made it over here and I soon realized that most of these racers didn’t get sent to Shrek’s Cabin first. I shrugged it off knowing full well that everyone will have their own unique Death Race. No two racers have the exact same race. They’ll be similar, but often muddled with slight differences. Once I found what I thought was a solid looking stone that I could manage to drag with my rope, as I had seen everyone else doing, I looked to Borden for confirmation of it’s adequacy. He laughed at me and said, “Matesi are you kidding me? You should know you need a bigger one than that!” I was genuinely perplexed. That rock seemed like a decent size, not too big but not small like some that I saw people dragging. Nevertheless, I didn’t want to show up with something inadequate to their standards. Instead of searching for a large one – I had already strapped mine in with my rope – I found some smaller stones to attach that would bring the weight up to par. So I hoped. 

Death Race Stone Staircase Repairs Vermont Pittsfield My good friend, Amie Meyer was right next to me working on securing her rock as well, she gave me a quick hand in adjusting and fixing my rope to my pack and I began to attempt dragging the rocks behind me. While using my trekking poles for leverage I found myself absolutely grounded. I could barely move it. It became quickly apparent that once I began moving it would bode me well to keep the momentum going. An object in motion stays in motion, as I recalled from my days in physics. While that may be true in theory, it most certainly is not in practice. Even with the assistance of a slight down hill, the amount of friction these rocks and the rope had being dragged across a rocky road did nothing but make this one hell of a struggle. 

I looked around at my fellow competitors and for the most part everyone in the surrounding area had the same difficulty. These rocks were massive. As we all made our way down Tweed River Drive, navigating in and out of racers who were moving slower than others became an obstacle itself. Sometimes I would find myself having a burst of energy and I would cruise down the road with ease, only to stop and became a roadblock to a fellow racer following behind me. A little ways down the drive, before reaching the U-turn where the gravel road becomes a paved road again we reached a turn off into the woods. Thus began the real challenge of this task. Sections of up and downhill areas. Some muddy, some dry, all sucked. No matter which way you went, or how you moved this challenge was a bitch. I wished I could just pick my rock up and carry it but that was part of the judgement for whether your rock was large enough or not. If you could carry it, “not big enough.” 

Joe De Sena Death Race Spartan Race Founder Peak RacesNot too far down the trail I had met up with one of my finishers from the first Hurricane Heat Twelve Hour, a twelve hour Death Race simulation camp I began leading under the Spartan Race banner earlier in 2014. Brian Edwards finished the one I held in Vegas, and I was excited to see him competing. We decided to stick together and work on pulling our rocks through this wicked tough section. After a few issues with my rope starting to burn my hands, and not working the way I had hoped, I decided to start working smarter instead of harder. There are times in the Death Race where you have to make decisions for yourself and many times that involves teaming up with a fellow racer. This was definitely one of those moments. I looked over to Brian and said, “let’s just start carrying our rocks, we’ll move mine then come back and move yours until we get there.” He was hesitant at first, not knowing what the exact rules were and being new to this all. I assured him that we’d be alright and this was a much simpler way to accomplish our task. 

We continued moving our rocks along the path, dropping them, then going back to get the other. It put a lot less strain on my body doing it this way, and it saved my hands from facing anymore torture. I took a look at my hands after taking the gloves off once, and already I had a few blisters and torn skin on my fingers and palms. Not a good way to start a race that would last up to three days. I think Brian was torn about the new strategy considering his system of dragging was working much better than mine had. Either way once we reached the staircase where the rope climbs and hercules hoists had been installed I think he realized that carrying up the steep slope of the mountain would be the only way up. 

Death Race Podcast for Spartan Race Ella Kociuba Spartan Pro

Ella being interviewed for the podcast.

As we approached the area I could see a bunch of microphones and recording devices set up. It turned out that Marion Abrams, the videographer and Peak Races Social Media Manager, was working on the new Spartan Race podcast that would be hosted on the new Spartan blog my content team was developing. By that point we had met up with another finisher of the first HH12HR (Hurricane Heat Twelve Hour), Christopher Rayne. Chris was an animal, he’s a military guy who is simply a genuinely great person to be around. I requested his assistance in getting both mine and Brian’s rocks up to wherever it was on the mountain that they needed to go. Before we could begin the climb, Marion spotted me and requested a quick interview for the podcast. Of course I had to oblige. 

To be continued… 

Photography Credit: Marion Abrams, Doug Kline and Big AP Photography

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…