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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.

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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.

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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.