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Guest Blog: 27 Hours of Pain

As a follow up to Nele’s amazing Winter Death Race training blog post, Josh also sent his recap … no less amazing (and funny) .. we’re a lucky group to have folks like this out there and inspiring us.

Over to Josh!



As Nele described, we drove up to Pittsfield to kick ass and chew bubblegum and yes, we were all out of bubblegum. The first 20 minutes of the event was fun. That was the part where we created our own little gear nests in the slightly heated plastic tarp hut. The last 26 and a half hours were less so. Much less so.

It was interesting listening to the various in-charge people feed us all kinds of crap, as we unpacked, less than a third of which turned out to be true.

It was chilly and we were late. It was already pitch black outside and when the rest of the field came up from the river where they had been stacking wood. The three of us and a couple others had to do a ton of burpees and carry more stuff down to the river for a bridge we were going to build. (We didn’t build a bridge). Then we got a little lecture about being late and went back into the slightly heated gear tent. We learned that 60 Minutes was in fact going to be filming us and our stupidity throughout the event. 60 Minutes believed it was THE Winter Death Race, but the Spartan people took pleasure in laughing at us when we made similar insinuations. One of them had also posted odds on Keith finishing the Camp at 30-1. We could have cleaned up and bought a Yugo!! Don’t bet against him in 2013.

Our first group task was to move 900 lbs of soil that was in a massively huge bag that looked just like the ones you are supposed to use when you shop at Whole Foods and are ecologically conscious. It was frozen to the ground and we had fun trying to push/lift/ slide the thing to no avail. People threw out all kinds of ideas. “Let’s Pee on it.” “Use a rope!” “It can’t be done.” “Sure, it can.” “Push Harder!” “Let’s empty the bag and refill it after!” Someone brought a brain along thankfully, and we used wedges and a sledgehammer to gradually break the bag loose. Dragging it was a piece of cake after that. We all cheered. We did it! All right! How many hours left? We’ve only been here 40 minutes. Right.
Sawing and chopping wood came next. Man, did our saws suck. I hate those lumberjacks on TV that go through a whole log in three seconds. My wimpy 10 inch saw took a whole day to get through one log. Felt like a whole day anyway. It was fun though. As Nele wrote, we hoofed it down to the Yoga place afterwards though we never saw the inside of it. There were about a hundred dogs in the house all of whom took turns coming out and barking at us as we meandered through the obstacle course graveyard behind the studio, and dragged stuff out into trucks. We were out there a while because every snowy hump had a big stack of wood under it and all of it had to be relocated. We unearthed a little vole that started running madly around the snow until I scooped him up in a bucket. I put him under the studio where he could tease the dogs and stay warm. I’m pretty sure I heard him say “Oh, shit!” at least once.

The Spartan people told us we were going to have to put this giant slab of stone in one of the trucks. I looked it over. The thing probably weighed over 2000lbs. I told them even if a miracle occurred and we flipped the friggin thing over, there was no way in hell 15 people were getting it on the truck with less than a 25% fatality ratio. I guess that was too high for them because we let the rock stay as it lay.

We each had to get an 80lb concrete back a mile to Aimee Farm. I brought tons of rope and set up a little dragging harness quickly with the stone in a bucket. People without rope were not looking too happy. I shared mine with the Crew, so Keith and Nele were good. Wish I had brought enough for everyone. I caught up on burpees while others were setting up their rigs. One guy dropped out when we got back, but by my count 14 people had dropped because a bunch of people had signed up and not shown. That hurt us because many of the tasks were designed for a larger group.

We all headed for an ex-sheep barn. The sheep were gone, but you sure could smell them and the three feet of refuse they left behind. We had to dig all that stuff out with minimal tools. I remembered to bring my sled and used it to drag load after load out to a giant pile of hay and excrement we were building. Everyone worked really hard. We were in there for hours and I made more than 300 trips to the hay pile with my sled. I wasn’t loving the “do our farm chores for us” aspect of this camp, but the company made it all worthwhile.
We got a quick break to hydrate and sit around enjoying the smell of putrid sheep feces that covered us all head to toe and then we headed out to drag four of the Spartan race obstacle walls deep into the woods. This is when our little troop fell apart a bit. The walls were hard to drag and it took a very long time to get each of them into the woods. It was probably a half mile to the furthest wall drop spot. The spots were marked in the snow, but we dragged the walls over before examining them carefully. Thus, we spent a good 20 minutes trying to figure out which wall went where with only cryptic hints from Don who was our chaperone on this leg. The group came to a consensus, and we had a plan, until a couple dopes decided it was the wrong plan and we didn’t move forward for a good while. As this is a race of lies, the truth was it didn’t matter where we put them. Literally. We hauled them all back out at the end of the camp! In other words, we were all dopes.

It was around 6am when we finished, 12-13 hours in. Some people were semi-pissed off, but mostly we were still feeling pretty good. We caught about 20 minutes of sleep until Joe Desena and Andy Weinberg arrived. I had slept on the gravel floor with my extra jacket over me. The rocks didn’t bug me. Keith and Nele were in great spirits. Powerful team!

60 Minutes showed up and were running around all day with cameras looking for shots. I think most people tried to put on a good show for them. After a while you ignored them because there were far more important things to pay attention to.

As Nele wrote, we chopped wood for a while and went through the breakfast ruse prior to breaking the sleigh out of the ice. The breakfast thing didn’t bug me because I knew with absolute certainty that we weren’t getting it. I had eaten a peanut butter and jelly sandwich right before we left. PB and J is the bomb. I ate 4 over the course of the camp. Back at the sleigh, I was able to get my shoulders under one side and break it out of the ice. That felt good. It was a big sleigh and we threw our wood bundles in it and pulled/pushed the thing for about 2 miles, I believe, with Joe in the front telling us to pick up the pace every three seconds.
Pushing a sleigh through the snow with a dozen people sounds like a piece of cake, but it was brutal. Three people quit on the spot when we got the sleigh to some farm in the woods where it belonged. The rest of us had to carry our wood bundles and full packs up to the top of the mountain. I rigged mine to my axe handle with Keith’s help. That crazy bastard carried his wood in his arms all the way up and passed most of us along the way. El Capitan. Nele was a speed demon too, an asset she would show again at the end. I couldn’t have picked two better people to latch on to anywhere. Truth.

We had our kindergarten listening circle at the top of the mountain and ditched our wood. Then we hauled ass down the mountain at a pretty fair clip. One of our fellow campers broke down emotionally on the way, but she was a true beast and powered though it killing the rest of the event. Righteous stuff.

It was about to get real. When we got to the bottom we faced a river crossing. Thanks to Keith I knew this was coming and was prepared for it. I didn’t feel like waiting around for instructions so I pulled on my garbage bag boots and headed across to inspect a giant metal beam that lay a few feet under on the river bed. We were going to try and pull the thing out so I went to get out of the water and stepped in a deep spot and flooded both bags. So much for that. The water made me a bit chilly for a few minutes, but man, the neoprene socks I was wearing were a miracle. The water that had seeped in quickly warmed under the neoprene and I was good to go. Everyone else crossed the river after that, some getting wet, others not as much. Keith stayed in up to his knees to help Don from Spartan get the straps attached to the front of the beam. Don was deeper in the water and was soaked.

We, and by “we” I mean everyone except the 60 Minutes people, pulled like mad on that massive beam forever with no luck. The thing wouldn’t budge. We tried all kinds of levers/pulleys, etc. to no avail. I thought we could get it to move by attaching the strap to the back end and trying to swing it around. We tried it. It was working, but Don got so cold he had to get out of the water. Joe started yelling for someone else to jump in. I felt obligated as the straps had been my idea. I took off my gloves and jumped in. I wish I had been bright enough to take off everything but my skivvies, but alas. I got the straps attached and everyone pulled the beam quite a good distance to the side. We had to move the straps around a couple more times, but we finally got the beam into a position where we could all pull in a straight line on solid ground. At that point I knew I had to get out of the river. It had been no more than 10 or 15 minutes, but I was in trouble. When I got out of the water I was so cold I was in some pretty severe pain. My fingers were throbbing as though they had been filleted. I pulled up my shirts and put my hands under my arms. I was shivering uncontrollably head to toe and was unsure what was going to happen. I have only the vaguest memory of what was happening around me for several minutes until feeling started to return to my fingers. When I could feel them again, I grabbed the rope and started pulling with everyone else and I’ll be damned if we didn’t pull that beam straight out of the water. In my opinion this was an epic achievement by the group. There really weren’t many of us and that beam would have been happy to stay in the river for a hundred years. It makes you appreciate the power of the hurricane that dropped it there in the first place.

When we got back to the farm we were treated with the awesome news that we were leaving on a 10 mile run in 8 minutes, and that we had to keep such and such a pace and be back by 5 or we were out. I was pissed. I was soaked through and there was no way I was going to be able to change clothes head to toe in that time. Of course…we had more time. I bought into the BS in my stupor. We ended up with 12 minutes. Just enough. I changed everything except my neoprene socks and sneakers. Off we went, 10 miles. I ran most of it. The first couple of miles I ran/walked as I was still freezing and my limbs weren’t responding properly, and I didn’t run the big uphill. I ran full out for the last 1.5 miles after Andy and his daughters drove up and said “Good job you’re almost there!” I got back to the slightly heated shed in second after the amazing run of Nele. Don’t know how she pulled that off! We were told that our last job was to drag the obstacle walls back out of the woods and put them on the truck. Fine. I was ready to do it. After everyone got back from the run and had time to refuel and warm up, we were sitting around, ostensibly waiting for Andy or Joe to return so we could get the walls. I decided to rally everyone together and get us out there without further ado. Everyone was game and we marched out into the woods.

We struggled with strategy for a bit, but honestly we made pretty quick work of it (under two hours) because those of us who were left were hardcore bricks of human beings who couldn’t be stopped. Don came out and helped us power through the last few as well. There was a bit of sledding, a bit of lying down and watching the stars, and some uncertain moments as we wondered whether this event was in fact over. It was.

I lobbied Don for some skulls based on our epic achievement at the river. He said he’d give us skulls if we went out and finished the original list for the weekend. When he was done reading it, it became clear that he and I would have been in the woods for a fortnight before we finished. I agreed I’d see him in a month instead.

I have to thank Keith and Nele, especially, for their undying positivity and support out there. Everyone else was great too, but there we were, the Three Skulls. Now we just have to go out and get them. And we will, whether it snows or spears fall from the sky.

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