Editors Note: Brian sent this in as a community review, but it was such a detailed and well written write up, of an event that many people misunderstand or don’t quite grasp, that I wanted to give it more exposure as a Featured Review.
* From: Brian Lynch
* Event Details
* Race Details
Note: As with every Death Race, there were a variety of pre-race emails and instructions- some meant to help you, others meant to confuse you. Ours were as follows: Email a 50 word explanation about why you signed up for the Death Race, email your own short definition of leverage, get to know your teammates very well in as much detail as possible about their hopes/dreams/fears, and bring the following gear to the start line: 12 foot 2″x6″ lumber per person, 1 plush stuffed animal at least 30″ long per team, 1 sewing kit per team, 1 waterproof note pad per person, 1 first aid kit per team, 100 feet of 3/8″ rope per person, and 1 blue barrel with a lid per team. There were also quotes in a different language at the bottom of each pre-race email that when translated said “My life is a circle”, “What rises must come down”, and “If we do not learn from history we are doomed to repeat it”.
The Breaking Point…
As the last few hours of Sunday pre-dawn darkness enveloped us, we sat in a small circle, the orange glow of the dying fire occasionally providing just enough light to see the thousand-yard-stare in each of our eyes. I leaned forward, elbows on my knees, forehead on my palms, uselessly trying to visualize Stephen’s design plan and the knots I would need to tie in order to secure it. Written on his waterproof notepad, Stephen’s crude illustration of a trash barrel tied between a pair of 12 foot 2″x6″s failed to clarify anything, in particular how we would secure the pieces together. Unable to articulate my doubts, I just muttered, “Draw it again” as Stephen retraced the same scribbled lines that had already failed to provide any insight the first three times he drew them. I looked to Carey for any help in deciphering the code, and saw the same blank stare in her eyes. We were fading, hard and fast…
Two and a half days earlier on Thursday night, myself, Matt Dolitsky, Carey Degon, and Shane Ellison sat at iPie Pizzeria in Killington devouring our “Last Supper”. The conversation centered on the optional 6AM meeting for all Death Racers at the top of Joe’s Mountain at Shrek’s Cabin. With registration starting at 9 am, and the race at 11 am, the idea of arriving 3-5 hours early to a 48 hour suckfest was not particularly enticing. Despite the promise of “information about something we would be looking for twice during the race”, we all decided that potentially doing 4 hours of burpees would not be a gamble we wanted to take. After all, it is the Death Race, so we hardly expected a warm welcome and a massage to kick things off.
Due to a last minute conflict for one team member, we were a team of three- Matt, Carey, and I- arriving at the top of Tweed Road at around 9 am Friday morning. After a quick intro with race director Johnny Waite, we were told to go see Mark Jones a few hundred yards up one of the trails to sign our literal Death Waivers. One of us had to remain with Mark for a PT exercise test, while the others would work on the first challenge from Johnny. We left it up to fate with the flip of a Mechanix Glove, and sure enough I, the Death Race rookie, was sent to meet Mark. My nerves were red-lining at this point, unsure of what to expect and wondering if I was in over my head here.
Before the PT test, though, Johnny called all the racers together for an overview of the race- the gist of it being that this would be a true race, an honest race, and that they would not be screwing with us for no reason like in years past. Previous Death Races had staff lying to racers saying they missed a challenge and were out of the race (when they in fact did not), just to see who would push on after being told they were out. Johnny explained the race was about our own minds not his deception, but that our minds would be what screws with us. This was equally as comforting as it was frightening, as we had no idea if it was true or just a bigger mind game to mess with us even further.
For our stuffed animal we chose a thin snake so that it would be easy to carry and lighter when wet. We were certain we outsmarted Johnny on this one, as other teams brought massive bears and other animals that looked like carnival prizes. Our first team challenge was to slice open the stuffed animal, empty the stuffing, and fill it with rocks/sand/etc… until it weighed 60 pounds. And we would be carrying this weight with us for the entire race. “We are screwed”, we said in unison.
Short of finding a Mercury deposit out here in the woods of Vermont, there was no chance that this snake could ever weigh 60 pounds. We made our way to my Jeep to unload the last of our gear, wondering if we would have to cut up our extra warm clothes to sew together with this stupid goddam snake. That’s when I realized I just happened to have the spare outside cover to my 40 pound sandbag in my truck, which was made of canvas and perfect material to sew the snake onto and fill with rocks. Carey and Matt set to work gathering rocks, while I went up to complete the PT test with Mark Jones. My PT rep score could be used later on in the race to get us out of challenges, and Mark said the next time I see him, the first thing to do would be to ask if it was high enough. After pushups, sit-ups, burpees, bear crawls, sprints, planks, and others I have since forgotten, I felt confident in my score, but still doubted that they would ever actually matter. Even still it felt good
to get the blood flowing and start pushing myself and it actually calmed my nerves a bit.
When I was done with PT, it was weigh-in time for the teams. We would have one chance to weigh-in, and if we were over 60 pounds we still carried the entire weight the whole race. If we were under, the team did 1,000 burpees, and then reweighed after finding more rocks. The first group climbed confidently up onto the scale, and sure enough they came in at 59 pounds. A collective groan and laughter rose from the rest of the teams, as well as last minute scrambling to find more rocks. As I would find out later, that team had a 60 pound weight vest in their car and pulled all the weights out of it. The issue? The vest itself they left behind weighed 1 pound.
After that, no one else wanted to be under weight, and sure enough, the next team weighed in at almost 90 pounds. Our team’s was a comfortable 65 pounds. The beauty of this Death Race is the way it made you think and strategize. Faced with 1,000 burpees and public ridicule, everyone was hell bent on being over 60 pounds. But in retrospect, 1,000 burpees can be cranked out in less than 30 minutes by a team of four, whereas an extra 30 pounds for the next 48 hours will slow you down by much more than 30 minutes. As the race progressed we learned to slow our thinking, consider the long term over the short term, and plan accordingly.
Johnny told us to strap our animal-weight to our 2″x6″s and carry it up to Shrek’s cabin on any trail we could find. The spine trail was steepest but avoided a lot of switchbacks, and we were up in 15 or 20 minutes. That being said, splitting the weight between just three of us and being forced to walk in a line rather than in a square formation was brutal on our shoulders, and a distinct disadvantage early in the race. At the top of the mountain, Johnny explained that he wanted us to really think about our lives and our purpose in life during this race. Sadly, a former Death Racer had died this past summer, and while this was a new issue for the Death Race Community to deal with, this would happen more and more as the group aged and the community grew in numbers. Despite the fact that as Death Racers, we probably “live each day to the fullest” far more than the average person, Johnny still charged us with the task of imagining our own Eulogy, what would be said about us
, what we would like people to say, and how to make that a reality. We actually meditated on this for an hour before setting off on the first real lengthy challenge, which was a fantastic element to the race and really embodied Johnny’s personality and passion.
Additionally, prior to each challenge we would also be given a new quote to memorize and recite at the end of that challenge, all of which focused on life and death and what they each really mean. The first quote was: “It’s only when we truly know and understand that we have a limited time on earth — and that we have no way of knowing when our time is up — that we will begin to live each day to the fullest, as if it was the only one we had.” -Elisabeth Kubler-Ross
…With our eyelids weighing down and bodies slumped, Matt crashed into our static fire circle. It was unsettling and startling, particularly the way he stood upright while we all sat hunched over, his sudden presence disrupting the toxically lazy feng shui the three of us had created around the warmth of the fire. “The leading team just finished a 5 hour hike, and if we don’t get moving now we won’t finish that hike before the noon cutoff.” The image was actually horrifying, our team carrying a perfectly constructed and engineered barrel/lumber structure up to Shrek’s Cabin 30 minutes after the race cutoff. I shot off the rock I had been perched on, backed away from the fire, and felt the cold air rush over my skin and through my body- as much of an energy boost as the strongest caffeine shot. Staring at the fire with contempt, I realized how close it had come to ruining our race…
With the thoughts of our own mortality and legacy fresh in our minds, plus an impromptu speech from Joe DeSena who just happened to be trail running past us at the end of our meditation, we were off on the first challenge: carrying the lumber and team weight back down the winding switchback trails to Tweed Drive, and then around the far side of the mountain and back up the steeper side. We tried a dozen strategies to take the weight off our bruising shoulders, never finding a good way to utilize the third person. Some poorly designed shoulder padding did little to soften the weight on our bony shoulder blades, and an imbalanced design caused a number of obscenity laced tirades as the weight twisted the lumber. The trail switchbacked a full 180 degrees no less than two dozen times, but with a single trail running down the middle begging you to cheat and cut the course. Even worse this center trail clearly showed us that we could have covered in 10 yards what just took us 5
00 yards. This was the mental grind Johnny talked about, our minds fabricating rules about fairness and how long this “should take”.
When we ascended the last section of that 6 mile trail, over 3 hours had passed and I remember thinking “I would rather do anything with this lumber if it means not carrying it on my shoulder, absolutely nothing is worse than this.” It took me about 20 minutes to retract that statement.
As we reached Shrek’s Cabin and dropped the wood and weight, Carey recited our quote and we received instruction for the next challenge and the new quote: “Your life feels different on you, once you greet death and understand your heart’s position. You wear your life like a garment from the mission bundle sale ever after — lightly because you realize you paid nothing for it, but cherishing it because you know you won’t ever come by such a bargain again.” Louise Erdrich
The next challenge was to attach our feet by any means necessary to our lumber, tie our feet to the feet of the teammate behind us, and march tethered together back the same trail we had just taken but in reverse direction. We cut our lumber into 3 sections, used the small amount of Duct Tape we had and began our march (the majority of our extra gear/food/clothing/duct tape was at Tweed Drive where the race started, at the very end of this trail when going in the reverse direction). Roughly 40 yards in, before we reached the trailhead, Matt’s tape had already ripped off. This was going to be a long march.
The Death Racers now refer to it as the “Clip Clopping”. All you could hear for miles was a sound like that of horses stumbling through the woods, our headlights bobbing in the distance as Friday night darkness fell upon us, with teammates stepping on their ropes, ripping tape, falling over, and swearing at each other and the world. And the team-weight. And Johnny. We swore at Johnny a lot on this one.
This is where strategy became so important, and teamwork a must. Whereas previous Team Death Races were more like racing a normal Death Race simply with other people on your team, in this race every challenge required coordination and planning and synchronicity with your teammates. On top of that, during the first march with the wood on our shoulders, we had the benefit of never knowing how much farther we had to go. On this march, we knew exactly how long this trail was, how many switchbacks we faced, and what we were in for. The slow grinding pace and monotony of the process was grueling, and we actually had to force ourselves to stop and take water and calories when all we wanted to do was get it over with. I think the lack of a serious physical challenge made it even harder to deal with. By the time we reached Shrek’s Cabin again, over 7 hours had passed, for a pace of 0.85 miles per hour.
…K.I.S.S. Keep It Simple Stupid. That was our mantra and design premise. Matt had awoken us from our trance and we were on a mission now. We had to essentially build a ladder, with the 12 foot 2″x6″s on the sides, only the rungs could be made out of any material. Our challenge was to march down the mountain with each of us in between rungs of the ladder and the 2″x6″s on our left and right. We would be going into town and up Lower Michigan Road until we reached a turnaround point marked by a car with flashing lights. Stephen and Carey frantically packed our bags, and Matt helped me cut rope and tie half hitch knots every few feet to make our rungs. We would not be rigid which meant we really needed to work together to move around, but we would be flexible and fast. I had no idea at the time, but that one sentence essentially defined the theme of the entire race and what it demanded of us…
The New Guy
It was a little after midnight and now technically Saturday morning, roughly ¼ of the way into the race, and we needed a spark. Twelve hours, same trail, same lumber, it was getting to us. Fortunately Johnny informed us that a team had just dropped out, and that one team member was still here and waiting for a new team to join. We quickly welcomed Stephen aboard, perhaps somewhat selfishly to give us a break with the animal-weight, not knowing just how helpful he would be as a teammate, or the depth of friendship that would be formed over the next 36 hours.
Our next challenge was to run a 10 mile trail, carrying only the animal-weight, but with just three of us. One person would need to stay behind for a mental challenge of some sort. Carey stayed back, and the rest of us decided that to keep a quick pace, we would rotate the weight every 5 minutes or so to ensure we were running at top speed at all times. We descended to Tweed and took off on a new trail, invigorated by a new route as well as the freedom of running without lumber draped over us.
The trail markings disappeared after a few miles, though, and we were forced to forge on in the hopes of picking them up again. Passing multiple teams doing the same thing, we ran a full loop of the trails in the area until we were back at the point we last saw markings. We felt lost. We were lost. Some racers actually slept at the trail intersection. It was here that I remembered at the end of the “Clip Clopping”, we saw multiple single racers from teams that were already on the next challenge screaming their teammate’s names as they wandered the woods. At the time I didn’t understand how so many of them got separated. Now it made sense. “Carey is going to get sent out to look for us, let’s retrace the trail we know is correctly marked back the other way.” Matt and Stephen asked how I knew that Carey would be coming, and I explained about the screaming lost racers from earlier, and that this race has all been about teamwork, so this challenge is about losing a team
member. If we wander further, deeper into unmarked trails, Carey will never find us and we will be wandering aimlessly screaming for each other. Content with staying on the trail we knew was marked properly; we doubled back, and sure enough ran into Carey coming our way. She explained her mental challenge was to recite info she learned about us, our hopes/dreams/aspirations from the pre-race email, and when she had given enough info she was allowed to come join us.
Hustling back to the top of the mountain, we realized we had moved from almost last place all the way up to second place. Our next challenge, along with some more quotes to memorize, was to take our animal-weight to the Pittsfield General Store and take a picture with it there. (As a side note: I have forgotten which quotes were assigned to which challenges after this point, and our group wasn’t given a quote for one challenge so we had to double up later on, so the rest of the quotes are listed in a group at the end- they are definitely worth reading to further understand Johnny’s race concept). The descent to Pittsfield town center is down the backside of the mountain, on the steepest section, over the hundreds of massive stone stairs that were placed and constructed by previous year’s Death Racers. It was remarkable to experience a small piece of races from the past, and through the many ascents and descents this connection was never lost on me.
We advanced well in our descent, passing the team weight around to save our legs and shoulders. Interestingly enough the trail to the main road took us past the barn that Stephen was actually living in on Joe’s property. Stephen recently moved to Pittsfield and was working with Mark Jones and others in town, in his words “to give back to the Spartan lifestyle that changed my life forever”. A very cool twist on our race and another reason why it was so great to have Stephen with us.
Once we re-ascended the mountain, Johnny’s next challenge was to all attach the same body part to a piece of 2″x6″ lumber, and work together to gather 50 pounds of burnable firewood while attached. With a bit more planning and strategy than we had been employing so far, we decided to take a 2 foot piece and tie one hand each to the lumber, allowing us all an outside hand with which to gather wood, to pile wood onto the board-strapped hands, and place wood in the team blue barrel we had with us. Armed with my hatchet, we made our way down the trail to find burnable wood, as in not rotten, that would fit in the small fireplace. This was no easy task, in terms of finding non-rotten pieces on the ground or chopping branches while tied together. I know my teammates were at least a little afraid of my flailing lefty hacks, so I deliberately did not tell them I was a righty. But I think they knew anyway.
We returned with our wood, and once again were given one chance to weigh both the wood and the team weight while standing on the scale, subtracting out our own body weight- no easy task just to balance it all. I stepped on the scale and after some quick math and delicately holding everything together, we made weight and were off on the next challenge. But only after we chopped the larger pieces into smaller chunks to feed the very fire that would almost ruin us 24 hours later.
Once chopping was complete, we retied ourselves to the board, picked up our team weight, and again marched the 6 mile trail together. This was significantly easier than it was with the lumber on our shoulders or our feet, and our teamwork had improved such that we set a 5 minute alarm for each person to carry the weight. At times people took an extra shift if they felt particularly strong, or if the rocks in the bag happened to be sitting nicely on our shoulders instead of stabbing into us, and we were moving efficiently and easily in the early hours of Saturday dawn. We arrived back to Shrek’s Cabin mid-morning Saturday, to an odd site of racers gathered around a pair of 40 foot trees, all staring towards the tree tops.
The Sprint Down
…Each step landed with enough force to buckle my leg. Our rope-rung ladder design accomplished everything we needed, namely getting us on the course quickly, but unfortunately would not allow for the use of trekking poles that had been so crucial in helping us up and down this steep trail with the heavy team weight. Carrying it down the steep decline without the aid of poles was exhausting, but we forged on with an unrelenting pace, determined to make up time on this 5 hour hike and be back to the cabin with a few hours to spare before noon. On the main road through Pittsfield, we actually passed a few teams, most of which had much larger and heavier ladder designs. After just a few exchanges of the team weight, we saw a car parked on the side of the road. But no lights were flashing, and this was miles and at least an hour before we expected to hit the turn-around point. Regardless, we held out hope that this was it…
The Eggs and Water
After nailing a few quotes for Johnny, he told us that not only would we each be climbing one of the trees, but that we would also need to tie a string around a branch about 30 feet up. Just getting up it would be hard, let alone tying a knot around a branch while swaying in the wind. There were minimal branches to use as foot and hand holds, and the first person up would be free-climbing, as in no ropes. Once up that person could set up a belay system on a high branch for the other three climbers. Having free-climbed a tree of this height in a race before I knew I was capable, but certainly was not thrilled about the idea given how exhausted I was now 24 hours into this race.
Stephen jumped right in and offered to climb, saying he does this all the time, and he practically ran up the tree. Matt, Carey, and I were thrilled, and shared a moment of appreciation and fortune that we acquired such a great teammate. I was second up the tree, Carey third, and Matt fourth, and we were all excited to be back on solid ground and footing. We took off down the stair-laden trail on our next challenge, this time again to the General Store, where we had to buy a dozen eggs and bring them, unbroken, back up to the cabin. This would be the first time we were in town during daytime hours, and the first time we truly realized how odd we looked. It must have been around noon, and we went charging into the store covered in dirt, blood, sweat, and asking for eggs. We bought two dozen in case we broke them, and on impulse I grabbed a Pastrami sandwich to ease my stomach’s cravings for real food. Eating during ultra-events is a strange combination of healthy snacks
and core calories, as well as binge foods that give you more of a mental boost than any physical nourishment.
Back up the mountain once again (which I breeze through for brevity’s sake, but it was actually a lengthy ascent/descent each time) we began perhaps the strangest challenge of them all. Showing Johnny our unbroken eggs, we each took one, cracked the top open, and swallowed the egg white and yolk like a shot. It was 1,000 burpees if anyone didn’t keep it down. We all managed the task, not exactly gracefully, but to completion. Next we each grabbed another egg, and Johnny read us the following quote: “After your death, you will be what you were before your birth.” While he read it, we each put a whole egg in our mouths, and without being able to say the quote aloud due to the egg, we still had to memorize it and EACH recite it back perfectly in 20 minutes. No writing it down like before. And to top it off, we had to do squats for those 20 minutes, struggling not to break the egg, drop the egg, or choke on the egg. There’s no other way to put it, we looked ridiculous,
and the EMTs on site loved it.
After an agonizing 20 minutes, the first of us recited the quote, but missed one word. That meant the eggs went back in our mouths, we got to hear the quote again, and we had to do a continuous 5 minute plank without dropping or breaking the egg. One knee touching the ground meant a failure for the group, which would have resulted another egg-based PT challenge. After a lot more almost choking and lots of drooling we finished the plank and the four of us perfected the quote, including Stephen who is native French Canadian and spoke just a bit of English. We set off on the next challenge, energized and laughing at the next team arriving with their eggs, and made our way to the covered bridge and river at the bottom of the mountain to await instructions on what to do from there.
We all knew there would be a cold water element to this race, and the covered bridge over the river was telling. Arriving at the bridge, we saw the team in front of us shivering together as they hastily put on dry clothes. Seeing the end result of this next challenge was not ideal. We stripped down to our base layers, and began a series of water submersions (water temp 43 degrees) and PT as a team, including rolling in the rocky sand, cutting up our arms and legs in the process. We were also forced to take handfuls of sand and put it down the front of our underwear, and then another handful down the back, with clear instructions to “Get it all way in there!” That part really sucked. Not much else to say there. Covered in sand and feeling like a breaded piece of chicken, we did more PT, more cold water dunks, more sand rolling, until finally we were allowed to get dressed and leave. Before doing so though, we all had to get in the water to scrape every last bit of sand
off our skin or else face horrifying chaffing the rest of the way. It was tough to crawl back in the water, but a necessary evil in the long run.
With dry clothes back on, we were told to march down the riverbed, sometimes with water hip deep and sometimes just ankle deep, but we were strictly told to never get out of the water and that we were being watched. The riverbed was lined entirely with algae covered rocks ranging in size from from golf balls to soccer balls, so not one square inch of ground provided sure footing. Again we carried the 60 pound weight through this march, struggling to stay mentally sharp so as not to roll an ankle on the rocks. After two miles we finally saw race staff, unfortunately we were in for more PT and submersions, this time actually using the team weight. Numb from the cold we actually managed it in good spirits, and instead of warming up by the fire when we were finished, we sprinted onward, determined to get back up the mountain quickly and then fully change/eat/hydrate at our gear drop at Tweed.
We arrived at Shrek’s Cabin atop the mountain in 4th place just after sunset on Saturday night, where Johnny presented us with the next challenge. A change of pace, we had to answer the riddle of the pre-race email clues. Our team had talked about this earlier in the race, and Stephen actually figured it out…the answer was The Sun. The translated quotes had the clues: “My life is a circle”, “What rises must come down”, and “that thing we would be looking for twice during the race” that we would get info on at the optional 6 am meeting…they all meant the sun/sunrise. Each sunrise is a well-known mental savior during the Death Race, often giving racers a surge of energy and enthusiasm after the cold dark hours of 2-5 am. Since we answered the riddle, we were allowed to skip 1,000 burpees that would have been the penalty for an incorrect answer. Johnny told us to head down to Tweed, change clothes if needed, get whatever food/water we needed, and then head to Mark Jon
es’s farm down the bottom of the mountain, which was called the “The Stump Dump”.
The Sprint Up
…As we approached the car, one of the EMTs we had seen throughout the race stepped out and told us the best news we had heard in 2 days: this was the turnaround point, and he thought it was the last challenge as well. He asked us a very thoughtful question to bring to Johnny in order to prove we made it all the way to the turnaround, which was to ask ourselves what we could do in the next 6 months to make a lasting change in our lives, using this incredible race experience as the leverage to do something great. Johnny never shied away from his desire for us to really think about our lives, and how we want to use the potentially limited time we have. We did an about face in the middle of the road, and immediately we were charging back towards the mountain, not entirely convinced this was the last challenge and sure we wanted to get back as quickly as possible in case it wasn’t . My teammates alternated the team weight until we reached the base of the mountain, at whic
h point I took it over. Still with no trekking poles and me at the front of our ladder, Stephen marched behind me driving his head into my pack to help force me up the mountain. Each step felt like I was climbing in quicksand, with the weight of my pack nearly toppling me backwards on multiple occasions. I wouldn’t let Stephen take the weight at the halfway point like he offered; I was determined to make the full mountain ascent with the weight. This was not to be a tough guy or a badass, but because I wanted to prove to myself that I can be even stronger 48 hours into the race than I was at the start, exhaustion and fatigue be damned…
The Stump Dump
It was named the Stump Dump as it used to be a mess of rotten stumps that Stephen and other workers had cleared over time. We had dropped a couple spots in the standings as our break at Tweed was longer than we expected, but it was necessary to fuel up and get ready for the Saturday night push. We wouldn’t see light again until the race was almost over, and tonight would be the toughest test yet. It was 8 or 9 pm when we arrived at Mark’s farm, and the scene was surreal- pitch black darkness with racers frantically running around doing PT or farm chores, with a roaring fire in the middle providing the only light aside from our bobbing headlamps. After stacking some long pieces of plywood, we were brought to one end of the farm which contained an obstacle course that Mark designed.
It was as simple as it was devastating. There were 15 stations in a line, a glow in the dark pole 75 yards away from the stations, and another pole 25 yards past that. Each station had one item in descending weight and size, starting with a 450 pound tractor tire, next a 150 pound concrete block, then a smaller tire, etc… all the way to a small concrete block. The challenge was simple, flip the tire or carry the item to the first pole (or the second pole for a few of the small items) and then carry or flip it back. Then move on to the next station. You must finish all 15 stations in 15 minutes. Stephen had done this course before, and his personal record was 13 minutes 30 seconds, and that was with fresh legs and not after being awake and running for 36 hours. The rule was everyone on your team needed to finish in time, or you all kept attempting it until you get four total passes.
Adding to the chaos was some basic math: There were 30+ racers, and 15 minutes per attempt equates to over 7 hours at this obstacle course, and that’s just one attempt per person. With some failures it could be double that. We recognized this problem immediately and were forced to coordinate overlapping attempts, despite the fact that there was only one pole we all were carrying items towards, and a collision would count as a DQ. Mark and the two course timers were no help in structuring all the chaos. Delirious from lack of sleep and still competing with each other, we somehow managed to organize with some semblance of order, rotating in different teams at each failure or letting a team continue if someone passed.
Stephen was first from our team, and managed to beat his previous record, finishing in just over 13 minutes. I stepped up next with some basic advice from him, namely to take deep breathes during the cement block carry as you use a ton of short explosive breathes during the tire flips. The first tire was devastating, as it was essentially a 450 pound deadlift and then a push-thrust, that by my calculations of a 5 foot tire diameter, we must have flipped 90 times. I know it took me 2 minutes 30 seconds to get through the first tire, and that was one of the faster times on that station. I finished the course in a collapsed heap, somehow completing it in 12 minutes and 52 seconds. Matt followed me with a time of 13 minutes 30 seconds, and Carey, like all the other females, was forced to try hopelessly at the first tire. There was serious gender bias in this challenge. Mark told us that to get our 4th pass, two of us could split the course but that we only had 14 minutes i
nstead of 15 to finish. Stephen and I had the freshest legs and lungs, and with me being stronger at the big tire flip and Stephen being better at the sprints, I took the first half and Stephen took the second. I managed to shave 15 seconds off my time on the large tire flip to 2:15, knowing I could run out of gas sooner, and we completed the full course in 12 minutes 20 seconds. I firmly believe I would have struggled to break 15 minutes doing this challenge on fresh legs outside of this race, which speaks to the very purpose of the Death Race in that it drags you to a terrible, awful, exhausting place, and then forces you to see how much strength and power lie within you if can force yourself to find it. Finishing that course twice in those conditions is something that will be a source of strength for me forever, and a reminder of what can be accomplished when the mind takes over the body, and “I can’t” is just not an option.
With our four passes of the obstacle course complete, we began the first of four farm challenges. After each task was done Mark would give us one of our four coveted Death Race bibs, something we had been expecting early on in the race and fighting to get for nearly two full days. The tasks were assigned based on random numbers Mark told us to pick from 1-15, and these tasks could be much easier or harder, faster or slower, depending on our luck of the draw. At this point I asked if we could use my PT score from the first morning to offset one task, when Mark reminded me “I told you to ask me first thing the next time you saw me. You forgot. So no you cannot.” I knew those PT scores would be worthless, I just didn’t think it would be my fault. There wasn’t any time to lament my oversight, our first task required unloading four massive 10 foot walls used in Spartan Races from the back of one truck and drag them up into another truck. The second was to each throw a 10
0 pound cinderblock 100 times across the farm lot. The third was to do 1,000 pushups as a team. We cruised through these first three tasks, until getting hung up on our last: Move 100 buckets of sand from one end of the farm to the other.
This seemed simple, and it wasn’t physically taxing, but it was a 2.5 minute walk end to end and back. That equates to over 4 hours for 100 buckets, time we did not have to spare. Creating a relay system and hurrying our asses off, we finished in 2.5 hours, twice the time all the rest of the tasks took combined. I even tried to barter with Mark with burpees to shave off some of the 100 buckets, to no avail. It was a devastating blow to us mentally and physically as we weren’t taking any food or hydration through the process, in fact Carey never left her post in the relay to even take a drink. We received our fourth bib at around 4 AM, and made the tired hike, again with our 60 pound team-weight, back up to the top of the mountain to Shrek’s Cabin to meet Johnny for the next challenge.
With our spirits low, our bodies starved for calories and hydration, the cold Vermont wind beat on us atop the mountain. I was the first to ascend the mountain and get instructions for the next challenge. I sat down in front of the glowing fire to stay warm, and moments later as Stephen and Carey formed a circle around the fire, we sheepishly began to throw out design ideas for Johnny’s “ladder” challenge…
, pittThe Finish
…Quads twitching, trail shoe lugs digging deep into the dirt and rock, we powered through the last few steps up the final incline. As it was just past 8 am, the sun was barely climbing over the tree line and the dew of the night still glistened off the leaves. The smell of the fire was faint as it burnt itself out, and as we crested over the last hill we saw Johnny sitting in a folding chair, right leg crossed over left, taking in the morning view. He smiled calmly, and before he even got the words out, I knew we had finished. I collapsed down and shed my pack with a thud; fighting back a few tears as I let the sweat roll off my face and the warm sun wash over me. Johnny gave us one last task though…asking us once again about our lives, what we had come to know about ourselves through this journey, and he prompted us to write our own quote about life and death and what they mean to us now having been through this race. His genuine and honest effort to help us discov
er our purpose and meaning of living was pervasive throughout the race, and was just as much a part of the significance and achievement of the race as were any of the physical challenges he threw at us. This experience seared itself into me; and I will carry with me what I learned about myself in those 47 hours for the rest of my life. I am truly grateful for my teammates, my fellow Death Racers, and for Johnny, Mark, and the rest of the race staff team for the experience we shared together atop that mountain.
This is my quote: “Our understandable but misplaced fear of death, the fear of its finality, is what drives us to achieve true greatness and inspiration in our lives.”
The rest of the quotes we had to memorize throughout the race were:
“Once you accept your own death, all of a sudden you’re free to live. You no longer care about your reputation. You no longer care except so far as your life can be used tactically to promote a cause you believe in.”
“When we finally know we are dying, and all other sentient beings are dying with us, we start to have a burning, almost heartbreaking sense of the fragility and preciousness of each moment and each being, and from this can grow a deep, clear, limitless compassion for all beings.”
“We say that the hour of death cannot be forecast, but when we say this we imagine that hour as placed in an obscure and distant future. It never occurs to us that it has any connection with the day already begun or that death could arrive this same afternoon, this afternoon which is so certain and which has every hour filled in advance.”
“Of all the wonders that I yet have heard,
It seems to me most strange that men should fear,
Seeing that death, a necessary end,
Will come when it will come”
William Shakespeare (Julius Caesar)
“Almost everything–all external expectations, all pride, all fear of embarrassment or failure–these things just fall away in the face of death, leaving only what is truly important. Remembering that you are going to die is the best way I know to avoid the trap of thinking you have something to lose. You are already naked. There is no reason not to follow your heart.”