In the heat of the day, I barely knew which way was up and which way was ground. What should have been running became more of hobble as I shifted the weight of my pack back and forth to move with some sense of purpose; as I approached the White Barn with a few other racers, we were directed to drop our bags and run over to a grab a cement bag. The moment was chaotic — a flurry of events unraveling in what seemed like it all took place within a single heartbeat.
As the remaining Death Racers made their arrival at the White Barn, another round of cuts began and once again, the last five were sent on their way. Suddenly, it was very apparent that the field had dropped some 20-30 participants since we boarded the buses all those hours ago. Those who remained were literally battling one another for dear life — a friend you were running next to was also the competition –the difference between making the cut and going home. What it all boiled down to was who wanted it more?
At this stage, it was every racer for themselves. You had to give it your all if you wanted it all. I wanted this Death Race more than anything, I wanted to finish what I started all those years ago when I first saw an online advertisement for this crazy thing called the Death Race. What started as me questioning whether I had what it took to conquer the Death Race or not, and through the process of answering the question was subjecting myself to a multi-year endeavor requiring the courage, the power, and the wisdom to overcome all the trials these masters of suffering known as race directors conjured up — all in one orchestrated effort to make us quit. To either make or break us. Those were the two options. Many find any excuse possible to give up while others dig deep to ask themselves if they will you do whatever it takes to walk away with a skull? As for myself? I wanted that skull.
I wanted to finish the Death Race. I wanted to do it without that “unofficial” tag. I wanted to outsmart the masters of an event considered by publications around the world to be among the top 10 ultimate sufferfests, and this was my year. This year I was more relentless than ever before. Over the course of the past 58 or so hours, I had given a massive effort to not only doing what it takes to finish, but doing what it takes to perform, to excel, and to give it my all.
In all this chaos, I had a flurry of thoughts ranging from how much more I wanted to push, to how broken I was starting to feel. With how hard I exerted myself throughout this event, my body was starting to feel a bit broken, but my mind was strong. In an instant, the weight on my shoulders came crashing down. My cement bag exploded almost as soon as I stood in the position where we directed to hold our bags overhead. Quickly, some hero whose name I can’t remember in all the chaos gave me a large black contractor’s bag.
As soon as I had it opened, I frantically tried to get ALL the cement powder back in there. I feared my bag wouldn’t make the weight wherever it was we were going with these 50-pound cement bags. I panicked, I was completely overwhelmed by what just happened. Thinking about just how far we had come, tears uncontrollably rolled down my cheeks.
I couldn’t let this bag of cement get the best of me, I couldn’t give up now, I’d come so far.
With all the experience collected over the years, this was the smoothest this race had felt. Years of experiences from both sides of the coin developed me into a wise and powerful Death Racer.
My time was now.
Through my tears, I found the power within to self-motivate myself to carry on.
One foot in front of the other, that’s all it would take.
With our 50-pound cement bags we were sent on a trek to the infamous ravine that leads up to Miguel’s cabin, and we were to ascend that wonderfully terrifying terrain with our cement bags fully intact.
At first, the bag felt surprisingly light. However, it didn’t take long to fatigue and after a few hundred steps, I could really feel the weight. Throughout this segment, I found it odd that one moment, I barely noticed the weight and then suddenly, the weight made me feel like I was about to collapse. The first half mile or so from the White Barn to the entrance of the ravine was mostly flat, but once we entered the ravine, the intensity was cranked up. This ravine is treacherous. The terrain, was wicked and slick as the water pooled in some areas and flowed in others. Up and over rocks, fallen trees, solid roots, the whole while focusing on keeping that bag of cement high and dry.
As I slugged my way further and further up the ravine, I found the terrain becoming less and less forgiving. It wasn’t exactly the best route to choose for someone who must carry a bag of cement up a mountain. Of course, the most humorous thing was knowing that just a few feet higher and to the right was a perfectly good trail that we could be carrying this cement bag on.
And just like that, as I was trying to climb my way up a series of fallen trees, roots, and whatever else was supporting the pseudo steps that created the incline of the ravine, I fell forward and the cement bag parted my neck and created two sacks which smacked me on both side of the face. Bam. I felt trapped there, between two 25-pound sacks of cement that held my head down onto the log in front of me.
I laid there with my head pressed down onto the log. For a moment, I felt helpless; not quite defeated but damn close. With tears of rage I grunted and groaned and dug deep within my soul to muster up all the might I had left. I picked my head and those two 25-pound sacks of cement that smashed my face into a log and hoisted them up from the ground, I recovered to a vertical position and took this moment to sit myself on the log. I needed a moment.
That’s right, I pissed myself… right there. I couldn’t move, I couldn’t hold it, and I didn’t even think about it, it just happened. I had reached my limits – it was 100% no fucks given. I pissed myself and suddenly, I didn’t give a fuck how much those cement bags sucked, I didn’t give a fuck that I was emotional, I didn’t give a fuck that I was in a ravine. At that point, I remembered, I am unbreakable. I remembered, I had everything I needed within me to finish this race. I just had to stand up, and carry-on. That’s all I had to do, stand up, carry this cement bag, continue making my way up this ravine, and don’t stop until I’m told that I finished the Death Race. That’s all I had to do.
And that’s just what I did. I lifted myself up, I laughed off the fact I just pissed myself, and I continued making my way up the ravine. I carried that bag up, until I finally reached one of the most devious course designers in all of obstacle racing. A man who became notorious in this racing world for his sinister laugh at the suffering he concocted in all his course designs. Norm Koch, stood there grimacing at me as I struggled with my cement bag. He stood in front of the cabin that now stood where my friend Miguel and I had worked on the foundation together for. He stood there knowing full well that I had lost some of my cement powder when we were all standing by the White Barn earlier. He saw that it happened and now he was the one checking our bags at this checkpoint.
In that instant, I feared what was about to happen. The truth here was I didn’t know what he had planned for us and as far as I knew, he had the power to do whatever he wanted.
Next to Norm was a plank on a balance point to create a scale. On one end, he had what was presumably the expected weight to be matched by our cement bags and on the other, which is where he quickly directed me to place my bag. He was laughing his happy ass off the entire time with that twisted grimace.
Was he going to let me pass, was I screwed?
My bag didn’t quite balance it out. It wasn’t off by much but enough that it was teetering and not staying in perfect harmony. I looked at Norm. He directed me to put my bag in the pile and to get out of there.
That was it, I was home free! I thought.
I took off for Riverside.
Was this really the last thing? Or how much more did we have to do? When the hell is the other bus coming back?
My mind raced. This was, without question, one of the hardest Death Races that I had witnessed or participated in and we were closing in on being 60 hours into this relentless pursuit of trying to reach a finish line that doesn’t even physically exist.
That’s what we signed up for, a race that had no defined start and no clear finish. That is what made the Death Race so special. It was a race that was reminiscent of life, you don’t know when it’s going to start, you’re just born one day, and you don’t know when it’s going to end, the lights just go out, and just like life we all have a different path that we take to get from that start to the finish.
Once we were back at Riverside, we were not allowed to leave the perimeter of the horse corral or else we would be out of the race. Once everyone who had completed the cement carry made it back we were all told that we would not be allowed to leave the corral for the next six hours. That was it, that’s all we had to do. Of course, feeling skeptical many of us wondered what else was in store.
During our time in the corral all the crew were forced to leave the corral and could only talk to us from the other side of the fence. It was like we were in prison.
Thankfully, these fences were a couple of poles and posts. To keep me company, Kristine set up shop alongside the fence and made an area to rest while all of us waited for the other bus to return from New York.
Time went by and we all kind of bounced around, shared stories from the weekend and reveled in all that we had accomplished. At one point, we were reminded by some of the race staff that everyone on the other bus was still wearing their diapers and that we should be very kind and considerate to all them when they return.
Were we really being told that essentially that entire bus spent the day in New York unable to use the restroom or else be pulled from the race?
I couldn’t imagine what I would do in that situation, other than unrealistically hoping that I don’t need to expel any bodily waste throughout the day.
The smell must be…just awful, I recall thinking.
After a few hours went by and we were all thoroughly convinced that we got the better end of the deal, even though our bus involved time hacks, and tons of manual labor, at least we didn’t have to spend a day in a diaper basking in our own secretions. I was thrilled that I took the yellow bus, our deal seemed far better than that luxury coach bus deal. I couldn’t imagine sitting in my own poop for five hours on a bus just to finish a race and earn a plastic skull. It was beyond demoralizing, it was outright disgusting, and probably the cruelest thing any of these absurd endurance race events had done to a group of people.
What the hell was wrong with them? Would they really do this to a group of people?
At the time, my brain was quite exhausted from all we had endured, and as outrageous as this seemed, it wasn’t completely impossible. After all, this was the Death Race. I wasn’t sure if it was true, and I wasn’t willing to rule out the possibility.
After six long hours of killing time, attempting to nap, and catching up with racers, volunteers, and anyone who wanted to talk, we got word that the other bus was about to arrive. Again, we were reminded not to treat the racers in any particular way, they had been through a lot. It was kind of awkward, I once again thought to myself, this doesn’t seem right, would they really do such an awful thing to their fellow humans?
Of course, they wouldn’t. And, how could I, we, be so gullible? Many of us were convinced that this was the reality, our comrades who took the luxurious bus just rode back from New York City sitting in diapers filled with shit.
Thankfully, when the bus arrived and everyone unloaded, we all realized quick that the other racers had not been subjected to such cruelty. Once everyone made their way off the bus, the group was gathered round and speeches of empowerment, betterment, and encouragement to take what we had learned here and make a difference in the world.
We had done something, as Don so eloquently put it — . now it was time to DO something.
By signing-up, showing up, and participating in one of the grittiest races on the planet, we had seen what it meant to be alive, we tasted what it’s like to suffer, and we learned what it means to give it your all and never give up. No matter the circumstance, nor the obstacle. People will challenge you, daily, you’ll be faced with a myriad of challenges that can make you want to quit, but after going through something like this, it’s almost as if you transcend the trivial challenges that may upset someone who hasn’t put themselves through something so trying.
It doesn’t have to be the Death Race, there are plenty of trials out there that test your grit, and forge you into a hardened being. Whether you find it in doing hard labor in an industry such as logging, or you discover it summiting mountains, or by sailing across the sea, running across the desert, there are many ways to achieve this heightened state of living. I recommend you search for your own Death Race, find it, and work at it.
To succeed in any endeavor, you must have the courage to start, whatever it is, you must be courageous and try the things that intrigue and interest you. I encourage you to chase after the goals that you know will make you a better version of yourself. Do this with unabashed enthusiasm.
Once you’ve found the courage to start, you must develop the power to conquer whatever your challenge is. By power, I don’t necessarily mean strength, what I mean when I say power is, you need to increase your strength in whatever skillsets are required to master your challenge. Whatever skills or technique is required to be developed, whatever it is, you need to develop the power to succeed. You need this power so you can push through the struggles and the trials you are sure to face in your endeavor to succeed.
You can’t do it with courage and power alone, however. The last piece of this puzzle is the wisdom you need to overcome all the obstacles you’ll face. That can only come about from having the courage to start, and through the development of the power to keep on keeping on. Once those two are set in motion, if you keep your mind open to it, and you take the time to learn from your mistakes, and you don’t give up, even when your head is metaphorically smashed between two 25-pound sacks of cement, only then, will you have what you need to develop the wisdom to succeed. With the courage to start, the power to conquer, and the wisdom to overcome, you can succeed at anything you set your mind to.
And just that like that, it was over. That was it. Finally, I had done it, after 66 hours I was among the few who finished the 2014 Death Race. I was elated. It took nearly everything I could find within me to overcome this massive challenge, but my courage, power, and wisdom, got me through. After three years of analyzing, and methodically dissecting the inner workings of this race from the inside out. I lived it, breathed it, studied every aspect of it, I analyzed the race in all its variations, Mexico, Winter, and Team, and I even helped lead elements of some of them. With all this knowledge and all the power, I had developed, starting from a torn shoulder, to having it repaired, to fully recovering, and everything that happened in between, I had finally figured it out. Because of my relentless pursuit to earn a Death Race skull, I emerged as one of the victorious.
A Death Race Finisher. Not unofficial, or any of that. Simply, Finisher.
It felt damn good, and even all these years later, it still feels good. The Death Race is and will remain a pivotal period of my life. It showed me who I really am, it allowed me a chance to face my demons head on, and through all the highs and lows, the pain and suffering, it became clear, the only way to succeed at this race, and at life, is to keep on keeping on. This race showed me who I am, and it gave me a new frame of reference on how I can live this life to the fullest. The more I push myself, the more I challenge myself to grow, the more exciting my life will be. This race showed me what can happen when you keep forging ahead and you never give up.
I’ll leave you with this, whatever your Death Race is, if a first you don’t succeed, try, try, again. Then, try again, and maybe fail, maybe not. Then, if you fail, learn from your mistakes and then, try again. And if you fail again, maybe you learn something new. Life isn’t always going to allow you to figure everything out on your first go. Sometimes you must try, try, again. And that’s okay. That’s how you conquer life. You keep trying. You keep improving. You keep learning. Now, go find your “Death Race” and start your own legend.
Or is it? The Legend of the Death Race will continue. In 2018 I will be taking on the Georgia Death Race and the Mojave Death Race. Still to be determined is when I will take on the Canadian Death Race. Continue following my journey by joining my mailing list for updates on how to train for these types of events and to receive information on when the first book will be published. You just finish reading a small part of the book, the plan is to release a hardcover and paperback book sometime in 2018.