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Guest Blog: 27 Hours of Pain

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

Over to Josh!

Joshua
Joshua

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Guest Blog – Winter Death Race training camp

This weekend, three of our best loved New England Spahtens took a trip up to Vermont for the Winter Death Race training camp – this is a small taster of what they should expect at the full Winter Death Race in February – and while the experience was still fresh, I asked for a recap.

Nele came through – and her story is amazing. If you haven’t read about Nele and her history yet – check this post out – she has an amazing story, and it really puts this Death Race training into some perspective.

Over to Nele …

Nele
Nele

Death Race Training Camp

The Spartan Death Race is possibly one of the hardest races to complete and it is not your traditional obstacle course race.  It has a dropout rate of 90%; there is no time limit. It is a physical and mental beating full of lies. The 2012 Death Race lasted 60+ hours, the 2012 Winter Death Race was a 31 hour Death Race in the snow and below freezing temperature. That is all I can tell you about Death Races because I have yet to participate in one, until now. I will be participating in both the 2013 Death Race and Winter Death Race.

I train often and I like to think I train hard. However, I was unsure how to start training for Death Races. Thankfully, Spartan Race hosts a weekend long Death Race simulation known as the Death Race Training Camp to help you prepare. On Friday afternoon, Joshua Grant, Keith Glass and I filled Keith’s car with gear and headed up to Pittsfield for a weekend I will never forget.

I have never done anything remotely similar to a Death Race. I hadn’t really thought about taking part in one. It was Keith, an actual Death Racer and dear friend and training partner of mine, who talked me into signing up. Initially I was treating the Winter Death Race as training for the Death Race, I would just do as much as I could and then drop out but my competitive nature has gotten the better of me and I see the glimmer of a skull on the horizon, I just have to give it my all.

We arrived in Pittsfield on Friday January 4th at 7pm and headed to The General Store to get checked in. We were told that CBS were coming to film for “60 Minutes” and that this was a race, with a winner and prizes. I couldn’t help but get excited. Keith quickly dragged me back to reality with one simple line. “It’s a lie”. I quickly remembered where I was and what I was here for and agreed it did seem too good to be true. We went into the Death Race Training camp with no goals. It was a gear check and a chance for Joshua and me to see what a Death Race is like.

We went to the farm to meet everyone and get started. Our home for the weekend was a heated (I use the word ‘heated’ loosely) greenhouse minus any plants. I had a gear box that would stay at base camp and a backpack with me filled with necessities to carry during activities. We got changed into our cold gear and waited for it to begin. People who were on time had been dragging wood to the side of a river for about an hour. I was getting excited. We were split into color coded teams. Keith, Joshua and I were all on the pink team. We had to wear a strip of pink duct tape on us, this would identify us as pink team members and be our burpee ‘scorecard’.

Fourteen people started the training camp. We had to do 300 burpees before the training camp was over. Our score was going to be kept on that strip of duck tape we wore. CBS were indeed there filming, that part wasn’t a lie.

I honestly cannot remember what our first task was, the whole experience just blurs together but I will try my best to get the order correct. We were late so we had to carry big planks of wood down snow covered trails to the river with two other latecomers. Upon return to the farm, everyone had a head start on sawing and splitting wood. I tried my best to catch up. The group was energetic and enthusiastic, a lot of laughing going on. I was feeling good. Then we ran to the Bikram Yoga studio and dugout an entire Spartan Race in pieces from the snow and loaded them onto trucks. I remember this taking a while. Lastly, the concrete blocks used for the ‘atlas carry’ were uncovered and we were told to grab a bucket and a pipe and get them back to the farm any way we want. A couple of people unloaded their rucks and carried the concrete block on their back. I opted for the dragging method, putting my block in a bucket and looping rope through the pipe and looping that through the handle. After dragging tires for training I could handle this. Not sure what time we returned to the farm but this is when the first person dropped out.

Again, I’m a bit hazy on facts and tasks, but we spent a considerable amount of that night cleaning out a barn. A foot of hay followed by 2 feet of some sort of hay/feces/urine/dirt mess. All our gloves were getting covered in the dirt mess and the smell was unbearable at times. We were allowed 30 minutes to sleep after that, before sunrise and before Joe and Andy arrived.

Bringing a sleeping bag and sleeping pad was the best decision I have made in a long time. I slept warm and comfortably and woke when the sun was rising. It was beautiful outside; trees everywhere. I hadn’t seen my surroundings by daylight yet. Not much time to enjoy it though because we were back to sawing wood and splitting logs.  Joe and Andy arrived with a promise of breakfast from Joe, Keith immediately rolled his eyes and told me it was a lie. I’m new to the Death Race deception and acknowledged that he was right but inside hoping Keith was wrong. We had just 5 minutes to finish and clear up the wood and choose 4 pieces of wood to carry with us.

We ran down to the general store with our rucks and wood and were told to go in and place our breakfast order and then come back outside. I ordered pancakes and diet coke. Mostly because Joshua was right in front of me in line and that’s what he ordered and I couldn’t think.  I also hadn’t had a proper meal since Friday and pancakes sounded delicious. Once we were back outside, we were told to carry the sled that was buried in a snow bank. It was a full sized sled designed to be pulled by reindeers or something and we must have spent an hour digging it out. Once the sled was free, Joe broke my heart, no breakfast. Keith was right, everything is a lie. We carried the sled across the street to some trails, and dragged it like reindeer for what felt like forever.

We reached a house in a field where we left the sled. We then hiked up Joe’s mountain in the snow with no snow shoes, carrying rucks and wood. It was a hard and steep climb that didn’t seem to end. Keith, Josh and I reached the top in good time. We dropped off our wood and waited for the group. When the group had reconvened, we all sat in the snow like children while Andy told us an inspirational story about a Russian swimmer that will forever resonate. Then we were off again, back down the mountain and to the river where we had carried the planks of wood to the previous night.

Keith had brought heavy duty construction bags which we all put on our feet and legs in an attempt to keep our feet dry. Thankfully it worked for me. I don’t think Keith and Joshua had the same luck I did. I watched several people cross that river bare foot. We spent hours then trying to drag a 2000+lb metal beam out of the water. That felt defeating.

When we arrived back at the farm to warm up we were told we were going on a 10 mile run. A couple of people dropped out right there. So off we went, nine of us following Joe and Andy on a 10 mile run up and down a mountain. I took the lead and became separated from the group. Joe and Andy were miles ahead so I was running alone. This is when sleep deprivation really kicked in. I never stopped moving, not even for a second and I ran whenever it wasn’t a steep uphill. I knew I was alone, but I started to hear voices, people running and footsteps behind me but no one was there. I became confused, convinced someone was right on my tail, which kicked up my competitive mode and I was now racing with my imagination. I thought I was lost several times. When I was running the final stretch of road back to the farm I was convinced I was lost. Nothing looked familiar and the road was lasting forever. Then I rounded a corner and saw the glow of the greenhouse. I ran faster. I had to get there, I wanted to get there and be warm. Entering into that greenhouse as the first person back was an overwhelming feeling. I felt like a true winner, even though it wasn’t a race. I was racing myself and my doubts and I won.

It took some time for the rest of the group to arrive back. It gave me time to dry my clothes, destroy a jet boil, learn about sleep deprivation, eat a hot meal, and rest my tired feet. The longer I rested the sorer and stiffer my body began to feel. I needed to keep going, and soon. They announced the next task would be our final task and this would over. We had to drag back the four Spartan Race walls we had dragged out onto trails the previous night and put them back in the truck. Of course we did, we spent hours dragging heavy walls into the snow and through trails and the dead of night. Only for them to sit there 24 hours and have nothing done with them, just so we could then drag the back to the farm and load them back onto the truck. That felt like the hardest task we had most likely because we knew it was the last.

Then we were done. It was over. 27 hours after we began, it was finished.

I immediately felt sad. I realized I didn’t want it to be over. I had loved being here. The corner of that greenhouse had become my little haven. My gear box felt like the center of my universe. I didn’t give up, that resonated with me a lot. We had no goals upon our arrival and we were one of the last people standing. I had, no wait let me correct that, I HAVE more fight in me then I ever thought possible. I am mentally stronger than I thought. I am able to just focus and zone in on the task I am doing and see it through. Nothing got the better of me.

However, that was just a training camp….

I can write about how much I learned about myself this weekend and how difficult it was, but in reality that was the tip of the iceberg. February 1st 2013 will be the real test. I expect the Winter Death Race to be twice as long and twice as hard. We’ll see if I break then.