This weekend, three of our best loved New England Spahtens took a trip up to Vermont for the Winter Death Race training camp – this is a small taster of what they should expect at the full Winter Death Race in February – and while the experience was still fresh, I asked for a recap.
Nele came through – and her story is amazing. If you haven’t read about Nele and her history yet – check this post out – she has an amazing story, and it really puts this Death Race training into some perspective.
Over to Nele …
Death Race Training Camp
The Spartan Death Race is possibly one of the hardest races to complete and it is not your traditional obstacle course race. It has a dropout rate of 90%; there is no time limit. It is a physical and mental beating full of lies. The 2012 Death Race lasted 60+ hours, the 2012 Winter Death Race was a 31 hour Death Race in the snow and below freezing temperature. That is all I can tell you about Death Races because I have yet to participate in one, until now. I will be participating in both the 2013 Death Race and Winter Death Race.
I train often and I like to think I train hard. However, I was unsure how to start training for Death Races. Thankfully, Spartan Race hosts a weekend long Death Race simulation known as the Death Race Training Camp to help you prepare. On Friday afternoon, Joshua Grant, Keith Glass and I filled Keith’s car with gear and headed up to Pittsfield for a weekend I will never forget.
I have never done anything remotely similar to a Death Race. I hadn’t really thought about taking part in one. It was Keith, an actual Death Racer and dear friend and training partner of mine, who talked me into signing up. Initially I was treating the Winter Death Race as training for the Death Race, I would just do as much as I could and then drop out but my competitive nature has gotten the better of me and I see the glimmer of a skull on the horizon, I just have to give it my all.
We arrived in Pittsfield on Friday January 4th at 7pm and headed to The General Store to get checked in. We were told that CBS were coming to film for “60 Minutes” and that this was a race, with a winner and prizes. I couldn’t help but get excited. Keith quickly dragged me back to reality with one simple line. “It’s a lie”. I quickly remembered where I was and what I was here for and agreed it did seem too good to be true. We went into the Death Race Training camp with no goals. It was a gear check and a chance for Joshua and me to see what a Death Race is like.
We went to the farm to meet everyone and get started. Our home for the weekend was a heated (I use the word ‘heated’ loosely) greenhouse minus any plants. I had a gear box that would stay at base camp and a backpack with me filled with necessities to carry during activities. We got changed into our cold gear and waited for it to begin. People who were on time had been dragging wood to the side of a river for about an hour. I was getting excited. We were split into color coded teams. Keith, Joshua and I were all on the pink team. We had to wear a strip of pink duct tape on us, this would identify us as pink team members and be our burpee ‘scorecard’.
Fourteen people started the training camp. We had to do 300 burpees before the training camp was over. Our score was going to be kept on that strip of duck tape we wore. CBS were indeed there filming, that part wasn’t a lie.
I honestly cannot remember what our first task was, the whole experience just blurs together but I will try my best to get the order correct. We were late so we had to carry big planks of wood down snow covered trails to the river with two other latecomers. Upon return to the farm, everyone had a head start on sawing and splitting wood. I tried my best to catch up. The group was energetic and enthusiastic, a lot of laughing going on. I was feeling good. Then we ran to the Bikram Yoga studio and dugout an entire Spartan Race in pieces from the snow and loaded them onto trucks. I remember this taking a while. Lastly, the concrete blocks used for the ‘atlas carry’ were uncovered and we were told to grab a bucket and a pipe and get them back to the farm any way we want. A couple of people unloaded their rucks and carried the concrete block on their back. I opted for the dragging method, putting my block in a bucket and looping rope through the pipe and looping that through the handle. After dragging tires for training I could handle this. Not sure what time we returned to the farm but this is when the first person dropped out.
Again, I’m a bit hazy on facts and tasks, but we spent a considerable amount of that night cleaning out a barn. A foot of hay followed by 2 feet of some sort of hay/feces/urine/dirt mess. All our gloves were getting covered in the dirt mess and the smell was unbearable at times. We were allowed 30 minutes to sleep after that, before sunrise and before Joe and Andy arrived.
Bringing a sleeping bag and sleeping pad was the best decision I have made in a long time. I slept warm and comfortably and woke when the sun was rising. It was beautiful outside; trees everywhere. I hadn’t seen my surroundings by daylight yet. Not much time to enjoy it though because we were back to sawing wood and splitting logs. Joe and Andy arrived with a promise of breakfast from Joe, Keith immediately rolled his eyes and told me it was a lie. I’m new to the Death Race deception and acknowledged that he was right but inside hoping Keith was wrong. We had just 5 minutes to finish and clear up the wood and choose 4 pieces of wood to carry with us.
We ran down to the general store with our rucks and wood and were told to go in and place our breakfast order and then come back outside. I ordered pancakes and diet coke. Mostly because Joshua was right in front of me in line and that’s what he ordered and I couldn’t think. I also hadn’t had a proper meal since Friday and pancakes sounded delicious. Once we were back outside, we were told to carry the sled that was buried in a snow bank. It was a full sized sled designed to be pulled by reindeers or something and we must have spent an hour digging it out. Once the sled was free, Joe broke my heart, no breakfast. Keith was right, everything is a lie. We carried the sled across the street to some trails, and dragged it like reindeer for what felt like forever.
We reached a house in a field where we left the sled. We then hiked up Joe’s mountain in the snow with no snow shoes, carrying rucks and wood. It was a hard and steep climb that didn’t seem to end. Keith, Josh and I reached the top in good time. We dropped off our wood and waited for the group. When the group had reconvened, we all sat in the snow like children while Andy told us an inspirational story about a Russian swimmer that will forever resonate. Then we were off again, back down the mountain and to the river where we had carried the planks of wood to the previous night.
Keith had brought heavy duty construction bags which we all put on our feet and legs in an attempt to keep our feet dry. Thankfully it worked for me. I don’t think Keith and Joshua had the same luck I did. I watched several people cross that river bare foot. We spent hours then trying to drag a 2000+lb metal beam out of the water. That felt defeating.
When we arrived back at the farm to warm up we were told we were going on a 10 mile run. A couple of people dropped out right there. So off we went, nine of us following Joe and Andy on a 10 mile run up and down a mountain. I took the lead and became separated from the group. Joe and Andy were miles ahead so I was running alone. This is when sleep deprivation really kicked in. I never stopped moving, not even for a second and I ran whenever it wasn’t a steep uphill. I knew I was alone, but I started to hear voices, people running and footsteps behind me but no one was there. I became confused, convinced someone was right on my tail, which kicked up my competitive mode and I was now racing with my imagination. I thought I was lost several times. When I was running the final stretch of road back to the farm I was convinced I was lost. Nothing looked familiar and the road was lasting forever. Then I rounded a corner and saw the glow of the greenhouse. I ran faster. I had to get there, I wanted to get there and be warm. Entering into that greenhouse as the first person back was an overwhelming feeling. I felt like a true winner, even though it wasn’t a race. I was racing myself and my doubts and I won.
It took some time for the rest of the group to arrive back. It gave me time to dry my clothes, destroy a jet boil, learn about sleep deprivation, eat a hot meal, and rest my tired feet. The longer I rested the sorer and stiffer my body began to feel. I needed to keep going, and soon. They announced the next task would be our final task and this would over. We had to drag back the four Spartan Race walls we had dragged out onto trails the previous night and put them back in the truck. Of course we did, we spent hours dragging heavy walls into the snow and through trails and the dead of night. Only for them to sit there 24 hours and have nothing done with them, just so we could then drag the back to the farm and load them back onto the truck. That felt like the hardest task we had most likely because we knew it was the last.
Then we were done. It was over. 27 hours after we began, it was finished.
I immediately felt sad. I realized I didn’t want it to be over. I had loved being here. The corner of that greenhouse had become my little haven. My gear box felt like the center of my universe. I didn’t give up, that resonated with me a lot. We had no goals upon our arrival and we were one of the last people standing. I had, no wait let me correct that, I HAVE more fight in me then I ever thought possible. I am mentally stronger than I thought. I am able to just focus and zone in on the task I am doing and see it through. Nothing got the better of me.
However, that was just a training camp….
I can write about how much I learned about myself this weekend and how difficult it was, but in reality that was the tip of the iceberg. February 1st 2013 will be the real test. I expect the Winter Death Race to be twice as long and twice as hard. We’ll see if I break then.