This is it; this is where the fun began.
For the next 7-8 hours or so we would be tasked with doing laps up and down Joe’s mountain from the White Barn to Shrek’s Cabin, and back again. Just as the racers did at previous Winter Death Races, but I was on the other side of the fence –organizing and photographing the event. I remember how incredibly epic it was standing inside Shrek’s Cabin, with the fire ablaze, checking participants in as they did laps in the snow, up and down Joe’s Mountain after having spent the better part of the morning dancing to Bruno Mars’s hit song, ‘Uptown Funk’.
The thought of this being the last task of the event crept in my head. At that last Winter Death Race, the event ended with running laps up and down the mountain. Could it be that this would be how they’d end this Death Race, too?
Could it be? A new quasi-level of standardization for the Death Race? Having worked for Spartan in a more official capacity for about a year at that time afforded me more insight into the direction the team wanted the Death Race to go. One thing I kept hearing all year was the desire to make the Death Race more of a race – to get back to the core values, make it more performance-based, meaning less time out in the woods. After all, even the race directors didn’t want a repeat of the 70+ hour Death Race finish in 2013. That race put the whole crew into panic mode. Participants didn’t believe the event was over, they were willing to do damn near anything to end their suffering. After a year like that, maybe this would be a shorter Summer Death Race, perhaps 48 maybe 50 hours, tops? Or so I began to hope.
In hindsight, this specific moment gives me goosebumps. To this day, it’s my favorite personal moment from all the Death Races in which I participated.
With the next task being a time trial of sorts we were, of course, given some parameters. I took this as another hint at what could possibly be the finish of the 2014 Death Race, Year of the Explorer. The rules for this specified that we had until 0700 to run as many laps up and down Joe’s Mountain possible making sure we checked in at Shrek’s Cabin and at the White Barn each time. Furthermore, a minimum of five laps were required to pass this challenge, extra laps would be “rewarded” to decrease the actual laps run, and we did not have to carry our packs.
Sweet baby Jesus. This was so much like Winter Death Race, I couldn’t help but think, this is it, this is the time to push it! The time arrived to put in a maximum effort. It was time for me to do the last thing necessary to earn my skull.
How wishful am I? I thought to myself.
As I came in, people were already beginning to ascend the mountain for their first summit. I was still a bit behind compared to where I thought I’d be having taken a ride. I realized how badly held up I got with the bag fiasco. No worries, I knew I could catch up. It wasn’t even a question, it would happen. With my bag stripped off my back and my legs itching to do some time trials up and down this mountain, I was stoked.
How many laps can I do? I wondered.
The next thing I knew I was sprinting up the mountain heading for Shrek’s cabin. As I made the climb up the stone stairs I noticed some people were carrying their rucks. I was confused by this as I remembered confirming whether we needed our rucks for this segment of the race. We didn’t.
Sometimes, it pays to confirm the rules of the challenge. In this case, I was at an advantage because I took the time to make sure I understood what was required of me, and that was to do as many laps up and down the mountain as possible – without a ruck. That first ascent took me about 25 minutes from the bottom to the top. I checked in at the cabin and immediately turned around and began my descent. On the way, down there was a huge line of people trying to make their ascent. I immediately started shouting out, “On your left, comin’ in hot!”
I repeated this like a broken record throughout the dark night. That first descent took me right around ten minutes to complete. I checked in hastily at the white barn where I made a quick stop for some water and Skittles at the SISU team tent.
Up and down I’d go each lap checking in at the top and bottom as quickly as the volunteers could get me in and out. I’d only stop at the team tent for a few minutes at a time, I didn’t want to waste any time. I wanted to see just how far I could push myself. I wanted to see how many laps could I do in this small amount of time.
By the fifth lap I was all hopped up on Skittles and Mountain Dew when Kristine forced me to eat a protein bar since it had been hours since I’d eaten anything other than sugar and corn syrup. At first, I resisted, I wanted nothing but Skittles and Mountain Dew. The fact was, she was right, I did need something else. To this day, I’m thankful for her support. I probably would have bonked had she not shoved that Mint Chocolate Chip Builder’s Bar down my mouth.
At this point my ascents had slowed drastically, that first ascent was without question my fastest but from that point on each ascent after took me anywhere from five to ten minutes longer, which was to be expected. My descents, however, were a whole different story. Each lap I got more precise, more calculated with how I was attacking the downhill.
I began to know exactly what trees I could grab to maximize my speed, which stone stairs I could bounce from to control what was essentially me falling down the mountain. I was letting gravity completely take over. Each descent I got faster and faster, and as the sun began to rise, I memorized the fastest route to get from Shrek’s to the White Barn and my body glided almost effortlessly down the mountain.
When I arrived at the White Barn on my eighth lap up and down Joe’s mountain, I discovered I currently held the position for the most laps and my friends Mark Webb and Mark Jones both were heading out for another lap to tie me. Before this knowledge was made known to me, I had planned on calling my eight laps a ‘job well done’, but the competitive side of me wanted more.
I checked how much time I had and how long each lap had been taking me. On average, I was taking about 45 minutes on my ascents and anywhere from 8-10 minutes for the descents. There was just over an hour left for the challenge, if I went out for another lap I’d be cutting it close and not knowing what was next, if anything, could be risky business.
I was determined to dominate this challenge and without much thought, I took off for another lap. I’d already far surpassed the five-lap minimum, and for all, I knew I was just wasting my energy on another lap. Maybe I was being foolish but I really wanted to clinch this challenge. As I began yet another ascent, it was clear there weren’t too many people left on the mountain.
A large majority of the racers stopped after they had finished five laps, they were comfortable with doing the minimum requirement. Others who hadn’t yet hit the threshold continued to push to get there and here I was chasing after Mark Jones and Mark Webb who were both a lap behind me because something inside me told me, to keep hammering.
That final descent is one of my most fond memories of this event. With the light of the sun glistening through the trees and showing me the path previously been lit only by headlamps now fully visible, my line was even easier to see. I hopped and jumped and practically flung myself from one tree to the next as I barreled down the mountain side. I could almost sense that I was moving faster than the previous laps.
Suddenly, I could hear someone coming up behind me. It was Mark Jones, and although I had him by a full lap, I couldn’t help but crank up the heat. The battle was on. Mark Jones is a dominating force in the world of adventure and endurance racing. He’s unbelievably fast and strong and the patter of his feet on my tail drove me to push harder than ever.
Every lap I did I took the exact same route. On the way up, I took the stairs and on the way down I took this snowmobile trail, which was an extremely steep slope. As I neared the turn-off, I wondered if I was the only person who had been taking this route for the descents. I soon found out as I peeled off and took my “shortcut” to the bottom that all of a sudden, the sound of Mark’s feet pounding the trail dissipated. I lost him.
It wasn’t until this moment that it occurred to me that I was, in fact, the only person taking this path to the bottom. I could feel my toes absolutely destroyed. It felt as though the toenails on my big toes were disintegrating. I feared what I would find when I got back to the SISU tent. I pushed through the pain determined to make it back in time.
As I entered the White Barn there were only mere minutes left before we had to get ready for the next challenge. Completely wrecked from completing nine laps I could only hope that the next challenge was nothing more than the ending ceremony. When I found out how fast I finished that last descent I was in shock, from the top of Shrek’s Cabin to the White Barn I managed to do it in six minutes. SIX MINUTES! Holy shit.
Additionally, to my surprise my feet were fine, my toenails were still intact. The pain was immense, I couldn’t believe my toes were OK, it really felt like I had just absolutely destroyed them. My crew instructed me to that we had to be in our white Tyvek suits and diapers ready to go within the next five minutes. I quickly rinsed my body with the hose and without even thinking twice I stripped naked right then in there in front of everyone (something I feared ever doing in front of anyone other than a significant other) and threw my diaper and my Tyvek suit on, I grabbed my ruck and I began to sob uncontrollably.
I couldn’t believe that it wasn’t over. I had just wrecked myself for nothing. I let my pride get the best of me, and now the race would go on and I had to wonder. Did I have enough energy left in the tank to finish this?
To be continued…
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