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Featured Review: Team Death Race 2014

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.

IMG_3608* From: Brian Lynch

* Event Details
Pittsfield VT

* 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…

The Beginning
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.

IMG_3601Before 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

The Realization
…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…

The Marching
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.

IMG_3616The Build
…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.

IMG_3604The 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…

IMG_3618, 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.”
Saul Alinsky

“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.”
Sogyal Rinpoche

“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.”
Marcel Proust

“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.”
Steve Jobs

* Rating
Excellent

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Featured Review – Peak Snow Shoe – Building a fire within your heart.

It is below zero.  It is 7:30 in the morning.  I have had half a cup of coffee and a portion of a danish for breakfast and I’m about to run a 10k on a mountain.  I’m ecstatic!  At Riverside Farm Peter Board and and Andy Weinberg are talking loudly at everyone and no one.  Some people look anxious. Other people look happy.  A few people however are positively beaming.  I’m one of them.  Why am I so excited?  Because there is absolutely no where else I want to be.
Whenever I get to Pittsfield I feel very at ease.  Vermont itself can have that effect, but there is something about Pittsfield specifically for me.  There is a very real sense of home.

“I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived.”

~Henry David Thoreau.

Living.  That is what we come here to do.  To be cold on our skin and warm within our heart.  Weather can bring the cold but friendships they are what warms the heart.  That’s why I am so happy when I get to one of these shindigs in the woods.  Good people.

The race was in typical Peaks fashion or at least my experience of them.  Huddle everyone up.  Say “Go” and follow along like a heard of turtles.  The course went like you would expect…straight up.  We looked rather like gold miners in the Klondike going over Chilkoot pass.

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And thats just how it is at a Peaks race.  The initial accent followed much of the same trail that Summer Death Racers followed and built in 2012.  I’m not going to lie I had a few flashbacks.  We made our way over ever steepening terrain till at last we summited Joe’s mountain and saw Shrek’s cabin.  The familiar faces of Mark Ford and Eric Matta were welcome.  The views were breath taking.  The decent lead us into the labyrinth, that might have been during the accent but who cares.  From there more woods.  More ups more downs.  The weather being so blasted cold made the snow in the trail like sugar.  It became down right slippery at times causing snowshoes to act like skis.  But a clear sky, beautiful day and great company can help you overcome any obstacle.  I ran with a small group of Spahtens, my wife, my boss and her husband and the unsinkable Hannah Hawley.  I can’t really tell you any more about the race that would be of any great value other than those small observations.  Running in snowshoes is a challenge.  Running on Vermont trails is a challenge.  Doing anything below zero is stupid.  But…

“Then it turned and trotted up the trail in the direction of the camp it knew, where were the other food providers and fire providers.”

~Jack London

The dog in London’s story is a great example of why I do these things.  Because of the camp.  I don’t always receive actual fire or food but I certainly do metaphorically.  And afterwards I can carry it in my heart for months.  Inspiration, motivation.  You can’t go to a Peaks race and leave unchanged.  You can’t leave a Peaks race without changing someone else. If I have raced with you or trained with you, you have been part of the moments that define my life.  If you have met me after one of these things you also know I don’t shake hands; I hug.  I’m a hugger.  I also really don’t care if you aren’t, you’re getting one.  If you’re Don Devaney you might get a blindside hug.  If you’re Keith Glass you might get tackle-hugged in the middle of your race.  If you are Jane Coffey you might get hugged twice.  If you are a New England Spahten it’s coming you have been warned.

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Featured Review: The Traveling Death Race – La Virgen, El Toro Mexico 2014

Token Kiwi, Copie took a trip to Mexico – Peak Races style … this is his recap

The Journey

By the end of 2012 I was drinking coolaid from the fire hose and happy with my progression at OCR. I had planned out and registered for my races in 2013 via a Spartan Seasons pass. It was in March 2013 I got this email ~ Traveling Death Race sign up for $100 and could be anywhere. The NE Spahten’s who are Death Racers hold my amazement and admiration plus being a Kiwi just mention foreign soil adventure and my hand went up faster than a schoolboy. If I kept going at current pace I might be able to get ready for this.

2013 ended up being a year of drastic change in so many ways with the passing of my father in an accident to the great outdoors, a new home and changes in employment. The TDR was put away at the back of the mind as something fanciful but not as important anymore. How wrong I was.

Much like the old adventurers you knew you were going somewhere but you didn’t know exactly where or what was going to take place. You didn’t hear anything about it again until late November upon which you were provided the following information:

Arrive in Mexico City by Saturday, February 22nd.   Transportation will be provided from the airport at NOON.  Race will last 48 HOURS.  You’ll quit or finish Monday, February 24th.  Athletes are responsible for getting back to the airport and getting out of Mexico.   Don’t drink the water.  Good luck.

By this stage I had piled on the pounds and was picking up some bad habits and not training. I still had some time and at the end of the day I could put $100 down to “dumbass what were you thinking” ~ Death Racer yeah right. We have a type of people in NZ we call GUNNA’s, they are all bravado and are gunna do this and gunna do that. I was never brought up as a gunna and more of a give it go if you want to but go all the way not halfway. The switch clicked in my head and I knew Dad would be so into this and everything about it as he told his mates down at the pub. Plus he loved Clint Eastwood Spaghetti Westerns how could I not.

I got into it, back into the training, started working with Eric Matta’s Team Fired Up. Running in the snow, my pet tire Hercules running, burpee challenges but still knew I was a long way from being ready for something like this. My hip continued to have episodes but pushed through it as much as I could. The Polar Bear challenge was the perfect training for it until I really hurt my left leg when I fell of the cliff before the hoist and then again jumping across the hay bales, went out for two laps to see if I was able to work through this type of issue and did manage to find a way to keep it all moving. I kept it very quiet that I was doing the race to closest friends as I was not going to be a gunna but I was up in the air if I would continue this journey. It was the support and words from my lovely wife Boo that had me go all chips in and get the ticket ($350). I still had to recover the hip so training was light and the eating and beers didn’t help overly but I kept telling myself to DNF the journey is still much better than a DNS the journey, I was still fairly fit and had built good strength so who knows.

Much like it must have been back when expeditions were planned and the workers were told not long before the ship was to launch exactly what was to happen in mid-January we were sent our get ready orders. I certainly did not share this one or bring it up at the dinner table. The mind games had been turned up a notch:

Traveling Death Race is just around the corner.

Arrive in Mexico City by Saturday, February 22nd 10:00 am local time.  Transportation will be provided to the venue.  The race starts when you arrive.  Don’t get to Mexican airport past 10 a.m as stated above Saturday morning. You will receive specific instructions when you arrive at the airport. Those instructions will have an expiration attached to them.  Do not be late.  Bus will leave at 11:15.  If you are late then you will find yourself on vacation in one of the worlds most dangerous cities and not at the Traveling Death Race. 

Please bring a snake bite kit as you should expect to run into rattle snakes.  Please study bull fighting in detail, how to dress a chicken, what to do if bitten by a rattlesnake, and basic first aid for being gored or trampled by a large animal.  Most violence is related to drugs so you’re unlikely to be beheaded. Getting robbed or abducted is likely.  Abductees are typically held for three days and forced to use an ATM machine to withdraw money.  We suggest you set up a separate account and put a few hundred dollars in it so that is the account your abductors and/or the cartel will force you to withdraw from.

By this stage I was on the excited/nervous/worried side. I needed some advice so reached out to several blokes I have much respect and admiration for when it comes to getting things done. Paul Jones, James Horgan, Keith Glass, Don Davini and Eric Matta. All of the answers came back a unanimous confirmation that I would gain so much out of this and no matter how far I make it the experience will be positive in more ways than I could imagine. Some gear was offered up and silence was kept and you all played a role in my journey in the race. No options left to back out people now knew. Then 4 days before departure comes the gear list. This was a pain to gather and took time ~ damn you sharktooth necklace. I was going to take a Lego brick but thought better of it, Jill Chmielewski actually did ~ everything is awesome.

Along with this little video to get you guessing all of a sudden started floating around

image001On the day before departure we were sent a list of questions to better associate ourselves with Mexico and Mexico City. All very interesting information as a traveler in itself so the Traveling Death race which had started over a year ago was underway at 4:30 AM the next morning.

1) Mexico City is built on top of which ancient city? 
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tenochtitlan



2) What year did Mexico gain independence? Sep 16 1810…
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Grito_de_Dolores

3) When was the Mexican constitution singned? Feb 5 1917
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mexican_Constitution

4) Which Mexican sculpturer is responsible for the Obregon Memorial? Ignacio Asúnsolo
http://www.mytravelguide.com/attractions/profile-79071705-Mexico_Mexico_City_Monumento_al_General_Alvaro_Obregon.html

5) Reforma Avenue was inspired by which famous European City? Vienna and Paris
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Paseo_de_la_Reforma

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Tenochtitlan (Classical Nahuatl: Tenochtitlan[tenotʃˈtitɬan]) was an Aztecaltepetl (city-state) located on an island in Lake Texcoco, in the Valley of Mexico. Founded in 1325, it became the capital of the expanding Mexica Empire in the 15th century,

That night I said goodbye to the 3 crazies getting requests to bring back scorpion’s and snakes. Called my mother who basically said you haven’t changed since you were three have you – be careful. Goodnight to Boo who was holding the fort and looking after the 3 that had colds and had given me the one I woke up with that day. Checked my bags (Loaned from Keith Glass) and I didn’t know if we were going to be able to store anything at race time so went as light as I could and treated it just like I did when I was backpacking the world one small bag for a change plus the back pack with everything; then finally built my sharktooth necklace and got a marble sculpture. The next day the race unofficially started for me; got up at 4:30 and into the change of clothes I would take. Then the car wouldn’t stay running for some reason, that came right after 15 minutes. I got to the airport to have the flight changed from Terminal C to A and only 35 minutes until it flew. I had to beg to get someone to walk me through. Got to Huston late and had to get from Terminal A to E with 17 minutes. Made it with lots of running but was starting to think I was not supposed to going on this adventure. Luckily my ruck popped out at the other end on the baggage claim and I only got minimally interrogated when they inspected about all of the various gear (poles, bandages, statues) and bricks that I was carrying around.

Once in Mexico I quickly got organized with some Pesos (HINT:don’t buy on inside of airport) and rang the hotel to get a shuttle. (HINT: turn data plan off once organized). Got to my room and then over to the local super market to stock up, hydrate and get some food down as had not had a chance that day yet. Mexico City is one crazy place, it is at 7000 ft to start, the temp goes from 75 in the day to 35 at night, it has smog issues and the lines on the road are a waste of money as no car comes even close to using them. New high rises are built next to slums, there are lots of cops and they all have big guns; it reminded me a lot of Shanghai for some reason. Once back I met up with a group of DR’s staying at the same hotel: Jill Chmielewski, Mark Webb, Joe Crupi, Rob Belley and Brett Rein. They were packing and repacking, adding up food calories, talking through previous races or what to take. I just sat back and took it all in but was starting to wonder if I had actually packed enough. Brett had more food than I had room in my pack for. That night we went to the prerace pizza downtown to meet the rest of the racers and organizers. I found out over 100 people had signed up and only 45 had turned up so from my perspective I had already beaten half the field.

I had a very restless sleep that night and I had let a few racers crash in my room. Up the next day and into race gear and good to go. Still not knowing if we would be made to carry everything we brought with us we left our spare bags in storage at the hotel, a good move for sure.

image005The Race

The race started at Les Angles statue in the middle of the roundabout. You had to be there at 11:00 AM with all gear. The funny thing about this is that the roundabout had no underpass, was 8-10 lanes wide and the craziest thing of all the cars went around it in both directions. So with a 50lbs+ pack we all dodged the traffic and made it to the center to sign the Death waivers, officially register and get the team photo. Then back through the traffic to get on a bus to take us to the mystery location.

On the bus journey we were provided a video that ran us through the dangers we were to encounter and the outcomes. This included the gorging by the bulls through about every body part you can think of. The snakes and what the people were to look like after they had been bitten. The spiders, the ants the poison plants, poison water and the infections and what all of this would do to people. A great way to play with the mind and led to some funny faces. After a couple of hours this part of the journey finished with us in the middle of nowhere but somewhere.

We had to rush to get off the bus, made to eat a handful of bugs and get our gear as quick as possible with Joe and Andy shouting, shouting, shouting to get it all into a crazed up state.

We were loaded into Bull transports ~ a 3ft W, 4ft H, 6ft L steel box that has been sitting in the sun all day. They were told to put 5 prisoners per box but somehow we ended up with 7 in ours and still had bullshit on the walls. This was for a pleasant hour in a squat on a very hilly, winding, pothole ridden (first bump to the head and blood when they had to slam on the brakes) and dusty road. There was an overhead flap that we were able to get open so were able to take turns at standing and getting some air. It was also a great way to meet the other racers and get some good stories in and learn more about each other.

We got to the ranch and where we had water sprayed onto us into the crates as we waited to be unloaded into the stock pens. Each crate was opened and we were prodded into the shouts to be led to the corral. Joe told us the rules, informed us that no support crews allowed so they had to compete, that 90% of us had to finish or none would finish, then one last chance for anyone to get on the bus and back to México city.

This is where the real fun started. We had to go back into the bull pens 6 at a time. We could not see anything going on around us apart from the walls and the people taunting and cheering above. The first group went through and were sent into the Bull ring, I was in the second group and as we got pushed through could here all of the yelling, screaming Ohh’s and Ahh’s from both the participants and the crowd who had come to watch. We got our hands tied zipped in front of us with our rucks on. That was a surprise to me as I was not worried up until then. We had to wait for some time as we listened to all of the mayhem that was taking place out on the ring and then the door was opened in front of us gladiator style and we had to run out into the ring. We were not told what to do and had to quickly work it out. Run directly to the other side of the ring and find your number on the board. From this you then had to look through all the 100+ red shirts buried in the sand to claim your bib while at the same time with your hands tied avoid the bull and the other racers running around like headless chickens. This was definitely a highlight of the race for me and had great fun out there running and dodging. Several racers got a little going over; Mike Millar got taken down face to face but got back up and managed to take the bull down. He is a beast of a man. Myself I got a little love tap on the ass by the Bull when I went to run into one of the safety barriers around the edge but found out I couldn’t fit (HINT: must lose some more weight). We were able to work as a team so lots of shouting of numbers and looking for other people’s numbers while you tried to keep the Bulls engaged in different places. I ended up with lucky number 13 and was sure someone was still trying to tell me something. Our hands were then released and we were not allowed back in the ring. At this point 2 racers were taken out of the race and a few others managed to grab a few honor badges from the bulls.

From there we were on the march. A quick mile and half jog to the ravine where we loaded our sandbags with 40lbs of rocks for our carry up through a rocky and prickly ravine to a dam at the top. The river bed was dry but there were pools of water that you had to either walk through or climb around. This was our first time out in the native area so was all still exciting and new. As we passed several pools we saw some multi colored snakes swimming in the water down below so it made you think and look as you stepped into the next pool that’s for sure. It was also when we first learnt that every plant and bush in this area was going to have sharp spines on it so get used to it quickly. After some time we got to the top of the ravine to the dam. This is where I made my first mistake by being polite. I was up with the front group but instead of just getting behind the rope with the easiest climb and waiting there I spread to the next rope like it was a que. That person was having issues getting up and I waited patiently supporting them. By that stage others started showing up and when it became obvious that I would have already been up the dam and went over to the other rope I was pushed away back down the group. Once at the top it was an empty of the bag and off up the valley to the next stage.

image011

Up the valley we were split up into groups of bush clearers and sandbaggers. I was in the bush clearing group. We had about a 10th of an acre of scrub marked out to clear. They provided us with very light and blunt machetes’ and said get to it in the afternoon sun. It was hard and thorny work but I really enjoyed it as it reminded me of working on the farm at home with the Spaniard grass, matagari and gorse; instead it was cactus, some sort of serrated flax, thorn bushes and lovely smelling thyme bushes. We cleared bush all afternoon and Mike Millar and myself got a real good little plot of land ready. It was here that one of the trees I cut down released another branch that wacked me in the eye and gave me a black eye and little scrape to the side of my face. We were the last to be called off the hill for this task as we were away to the top out of the way and didn’t hear that the task was finished until they came to get us. It was time to switch with the sandbaggers as it was becoming dusk.

(HINT: would have been a benefit to have been sandbagging first as you would have prime real estate on the sand, would have been at daytime)

(HINT: make sure you have a way of turning off your headlamp in your pack. Mine must have turned on and went flat so had to take everything out to do a change. Just eats up time and is frustrating)

Next it was the goliath sandbag task. Not sure where they get these but Mexican sandbags are at least 100% bigger than an American sandbag (just saying). By this stage it was dark so head lamps were required for digging and moving and we were warned to watch out for snakes from the trees as it was time for them to come out. You had to full 4 sandbags to the very top and one to half way with the shovel you brought. I had a fold up one from Army surplus, I would go for a lighter one next time but it did its purpose. You had to scavenge around to get the rocks sand and dirt to fill up the bags. I got my four bags fill and then was onto the carry. Each bag would weight anywhere from 140 to 180 lbs which you had carry about ¼ – ½ a mile up a hill to deposit them at a check point where they looked to see it was full enough. It was this that I think actually fixed my hip and pushed it back into place and alignment as I did not have issues with it for a long time after this. I got two of the bags up there and down to get third, Mark Jones showed what makes him both a great competitor and great character at that point when he just jumped up and said he felt like doing another run up the hill and would take my last bag. Absolutely awesome as by the time we came back down and I went to clean up Joe and Andy were bellowing to get ready for the next stage.

(HINT: make sure you are in the middle of the pack for this stuff as it allows you to change, fuel and organize at a good pace not rushed)

(Virgin Hint: Make sure you have had some good time with your gear as when trying to do things on the move you need to know where it is and how it operates just when you need it. Having to hunt through a bag or try and work out what is going wrong with something eats up time and is frustrating)

The half filled sandbag was to be made into a 50lbs bag by your own weight judgment. We were then to a fast march from the work station to the water tower at which point the race would officially start. It was a quick mile or two in the dark through the rest of the valley and up a stone roadway to the water tower where we were told we were about to go and meet the Devil and be doing 2 loops until the sun came up at sometime around 7. By this stage it was about 10:00 at night so we had been going for about 11:00 hours. Our sandbags were checked and marked and we were informed that they would be weighed at the top by the devil and if your judgment of weight at the top was to light you would have to go back down and do another flight. At this point I was in the middle of the pack and in good condition after taking some pain medicine before I could feel any.

image017

The climb up the Devils Mountain was probably the most dangerous part of the whole race for me. It was rocky terrain of both boulders and volcanic nature. It was a single goat track that you just had to follow where you saw the Spartan markers. It was dark and over cast on the way up. It was step and also very step in places, like rock face climbing step. All the bushes were thorny or could be pulled out of the ground as you grabbed them. Another rookie mistake I made was that my walking poles did not fully contract to let the sand bag fully rest on the pack and mold around my shoulders. They would also catch scrub when you had to bend to walk through it which could be prickly.

(HINT: make sure your poles can be fully packed away. They are handy at times but they can also be a hindrance if you are dealing with thick and step bush)

On the way up at one point a girl dropped her bag as we were scaling a rock face, I stopped it going down and looked down and around the edge of the rock. It was a long way down before you were going to stop. I didn’t really look down the hill side of me from that point on. It was dark so you wouldn’t really know anyway. This is where my fitness became my downfall and my stubborn nature had to step in. By this time we are climbing way above the 7500 ft range and the lungs are burning. I was having to take more breaks than I should have and slipped from the steady moving pack to the next pack that was more stop start. This is a big problem on a single mule track as you end up in a traffic jams and getting held up more often. I eventually managed to break from this pack with Mike Millar and we continued up the hill pushing each other along. It was as we were about ¾ the way up that I got to experience the parts of the mind challenges where it starts to work against you. Telling me that this is not really my type of thing, that I am nothing like the other death racers, what was I thinking coming out here I wasn’t ready…once I sat down for a bit and got some real food into me and got a new gaterade mix down I felt myself pick up and wanted to get back into it and spent a good deal of time by myself. This is when I got to do something that I have never been able to do and reached a meditation state in which I was able to work through everything that had happened in the last year and came to terms with what has taken place finding true gratitude in what my father has done for me and how proud and happy he is with everything. I cried and felt so warm at the same time. Got to the top of the Devil and quickly turned around to come down. The ride down was almost more knarley than going up with all the rocks, thorns and vines which continually tried to roll the ankles. Working with Mike we made good progress down only going off trail a few times but quickly getting back. Near the bottom I made my fatal mistake and had to take a toilet stop and dug a hole. I didn’t want to be needing if we had another task so thought to do it before. I lost Mike at this point and when I got to the bottom I had just missed the check point. I requested to be allowed to go out and grab my rock as I was in a good condition to keep moving and catch Mike. It was explained that the clearing team was going through with Mike and was now too dangerous to go it alone. I was put on detour and requested to help with tasks around the water tower. Not doing the second loop will never allow me to say I fully completed this race or put me on the same pedestal as those official racers but deep down I know I could have done this if I had been better prepared (my own fault no one else’s). Did my climb up through the water tower and handed in my Virgin to stay in the game. Once we got all the other racers down from the Devil we were allowed to move on.

We did trekking around in the night to end up back down in the ravine where we were stopped and asked to answer the questions. Nailed all of these so do not know what was to happen in failure to get them right but would guess it was another pass up the ravine. We then went back to the bull ring where we were made to stand in the center as the detour group. We had to stand as statues with our feet together and packs on not moving or talking as the Virgin summit racers came in. This was for a good 45 minutes and things went very numb and stiff over this period. I was glad to have the walking poles to lean on for this challenge.
We were then punished for the DNF’s and made to do Burpee jumps around the bullring for about the next hour (or what seemed like an hour) where Joe, Andy and the Mexican staff continually pushed us to do full chest to ground in the dust and dirt; when you stopped to keep moving and in general make it look like a ring full of human frogs. This finished and we had to line up around the outside of the ring and present the rest of our packing list to continue and become a finisher: The brick we had lugged around for the whole race, the bulls favorite carrot, the sculpture and the shark tooth necklace. The sun had come up and we were allowed to go out into the farming area with the Bulls.

The next stage was a half marathon death march to be completed in 4 hours to finish and for those in placement they were told of the time differences between them. Anna a Mexican girl who had been a participant in Survivor Mexico was winning the race 17 minutes ahead of Mark Jones. We had to get out of the Bullring without using the doors so it was up over the 8-9 ft wall with our gear and off at a brisk pace in the morning sun. We went over the stone walls that served as fences to each of the bull paddocks that we could hear all the bulls roaring in while we were doing our statue stands. These are big high and solid but as Mike Millar was getting over one of them he still managed to just push it over. This took us through scrub trails and tracks that led through the bull grazing areas where we had to stop on several occasions as the bulls to some close notice to us and performed a bit of roaring and hoof scraping. This then turned into a cobbled path up to a volcanic area and over to a chasm that was about 100 – 125 ft down to an oasis pool at the bottom. We had to climb down to this via rocks, vines and make shift ladders put there by the natives of the area. The chasm had great acoustics and echo so this is where the Kiwi decided it was time to let the Haka roar. It was then a swim to the other side and back but the water was freezing to the point it sucked the air out of you as soon as you jumped in. We then climbed back up out of the chasm to continue further up the hill through the volcanic igneous rock to a point where the next task was awaiting. We had to dig 100 boulders out of the ground and stack them for the building of a rock wall. I totally enjoyed this task and got to move big stones around and talk with the local farm hands. Once you got you 100 boulders stacked and signed off by the staff you were to take one and carry that to the top of the mountain where we were to receive our Death Race tablet that had to then be taken all of the way back to the Bullring without any breakage or chips or you would be disqualified. This was a highly emotional time personally as you knew the journey was almost over, all that I had got out of this personally and physically, the elation of being on the verge of completing a Death Race and something deep down before that day did not truly believe that could happen and was looking to just go as far as I could as a self-evaluation and be one of those that if it came to a DNF at least I was one up on the DNS. I did this part with Mark Webb a truly awesome athlete and positive influence on all those around him like so many of these people that take part.

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From the top of the mountain it was time to get back to the Bullring. I did not really have the room in my ruck and was not will to damage the tablet so arm carried it for the 6 so miles back. I got to do this last part of the journey back with Mike Millar which was very fitting and is someone I would gladly spend time with again any day. Once back to the Bullring you had to enter the ring and got to chisel your bib number into the travelling death race tablet.

I was an unofficial finisher and could never say I did what the others did but I will take that with pride. I got more out of this than I could ever dream of and will cherish it for years to come. I learnt I still have lots more training to do, I need to learn my gear and nutritional needs much better and I have to push myself to the front rather than being too polite at times. I met so many great people from all over the world and too many to mention. Jill was also a virgin death racer and nailed it first time out, Joe G, Rob B and the Marky Bunch helped and pushed you as long as you gave it back. All of the Mexican competitors were hard cases and know you will see many of them in the years to come.

The event that Joe, Andy and Pablo put on was par excellence to say the least. The journey started a year ago and I can imagine it was a logistical nightmare for them. They had paramedics for the whole time to the point I felt that there was no critical danger unless it was of your own doing or mistakes. Every section was managed with check in and checks out so that it was known where people were at all times. They pushed us and took us out of our comfort zones mentally and physically. The staff they had were in full control of the situation at all times and plenty to keep it well organized. If you want to do a foreign Death Race the Mexico Death race is where it is at. I will be signing up for the next Traveling Death Race for sure as it captures my youth and culture in one place but I most certainly will be more prepared next time.

Click here and sign up:
http://www.peak.com/death-races/traveling-death-race/

The event finished up with a Fiesta of beers and real Mexican cuisine. Obviously DR’s don’t drink much beer as they could not open a bottle without an opener. At least there was one thing I could teach them

Negatives:

  • I was not in top physical condition and had some health issues going in
  • I was not at one with the gear or the distribution of equipment
  • I did not stay up with the forward pack and that led to getting caught in traffic and not being pushed enough
  • I sat on the fence for a bit before the race and could have saved some money if committing earlier

Positives:

  • I did it, unofficial but did it!!!
  • The Brooks Cascadia trail shoes that James Horgan recommended
  • The Ruck that Keith Glass leant to me for the race did the business
  • The cost is not excessive (Entry, flight, room, food, gear and beer) and getting there for 4 days is so possible

I went to the markets the next day and got a skull carved out of volcanic rock of the area, a stone Aztec calendar of “the worker” carrying the pack full of all the tasks he has to do for that year plus Mexican wrestling masks for the 3 kids at home and some jewelry for Susannah. On the way back I had everything fully searched at every step of the way and led to some very interesting conversations, I was definitely the most interesting man in the world that day “If you are going to have a Dos Equis in Mexico, I suggest you run a Death Race first”. If I did not have the support of my wife and family none of this great adventure would be possible from the start and for that I will be forever grateful.

Sorry this is a bit of a novel but I hope you were able to get something out of it and if you have any questions or want to clarify any points just hit me up on facebook.