I’m not sure the exact time frame, maybe 6-8 months ago or something. Either way, my brain had a malfunction and thought it would be a good idea to do a Death Race. Maybe it was the fact it was announced that this would be the last year? I signed up and now, it is only a few days away.
Malfunctions aside, after signing up a few things became clear to me and that was purpose. In order to complete, or even begin, a challenge like this there needs to be purpose.
Last year I lost my father to cancer. Many years ago he was told he only had months to live. Well he lasted years after that “prediction”. He was determined to not let the disease beat him, and accomplished all sorts of tasks. Years back he and my mother moved to Florida. They bought a house and as a builder, he started chipping away at projects that needed to be done. The cancer escalated a lot of the tasks and he was driven to make sure they were done before he was gone. No matter what, my mother came first and he wanted to make sure he left nothing unfinished. This was how we was while I was growing up too. Nothing fazed him, he was laser focused on doing what he had to do to achieve a goal.
That is my main purpose for doing this. If my father can mentally shut off cancer and get his stuff done, I can shut down the pain and get this done!
Secondly, I’m doing it for myself. I want to test myself, and honestly, who doesn’t? When I started this fitness journey it was clear to me I had to change my lifestyle. I was a beer drinking, cigarette smoking oaf! I ate horribly and it was evident when I went to see a doctor. When I was told I had the cholesterol level of a 600lb guy, and was barely 145lbs myself, I knew I had to make some changes. I started running, blah, blah… you get the idea.
Right here was about 600-750 words. That diatribe was about my health and diet, etc… You don’t need to hear that. I will just say this, after hearing my doc tell me about my health, I changed my diet and went plant based. I can’t wait to test out my nutrition on that mountain.
Over the months I ran as often as I could and trained when I had enough time to do so. I completed a Spartan Trifecta during that time, it took less than 1 1/2 months based on the schedule of NJ, MA and VT. VT was the hardest thing I ever did and will pale in comparison to WDR. It was a good gauge though of mental aptitude. I’ve been told that WDR is more mental than anything. In VT I didn’t even second guess myself. When I was in pain I focused on the task and the finish. I’m hoping that same focus can be applied in a few days.
I’ve been told by many DR veterans that gear and nutrition are the most important factors. I’ve been meal prepping, so I believe I have nutrition covered as well. My meals are carb heavy, tons of beans and rice. I will be bringing more than enough apples to keep in my pack and am preparing some homemade energy bars with a lentil base. Vega, a plant based supplement company, has sent me a ton of stuff to use out there including energizing powders, protein powders, etc. I’m 99.9% sure everything is on point there.
Gear? Well I have everything they asked us to bring, which is:
2 Heat Mylar Blankets
2 sets of gloves
5 Gallon Bucket
Cold Weather gear
100′ 3/8″ Rope
Hiking Stick/Trekking Poles
Construction Ear Covers
Knowledge of Basic Skydiving Principles
Sleeping Eye Mask
Locking Carabiner Rated for Climbing
What that all means? What do we actually need and what will actually be used? Who knows, we shall see when we get there!!
I have layers upon layers of clothing to bring, and will be rocking as much Spahten gear as I can to represent the best team on the planet. I don’t just say that, I truly mean it. I’ve received so much support from this community I can even begin to thank people individually, because it’s been a team effort. I feel like you will all be there with me.
There are some who physically will be there either crewing for me, other Spahtens or other racers in general and I want to individually thank them.
Peter Monaghan… Brother, we’ve known each other before this OCR/ Endurance stuff. I can remember the first time we met and felt like there was an instant kinship. Back then we were training our minds, and through the Dharma Collective we created a friendship. Even though we may not hang out all the time, that connection is always there and I appreciate everything in the past, present and future. When we went and saw the Dalai Lama talk at Gillette Stadium it changed my life. I’m glad we were able to share that experience. You sir are one of the most inspiring people I know and you’ve overcome some of the greatest obstacles. You are not only a great friend but a great Dad, your kids are lucky to have you in their lives. Your wife, Jen, has one of the most amazing partners to spend her life with. I am happy to be able to share the experience if this weekend with you, THANK YOU!
To Adrianne Wallace and Hannah Hawley, thank you. Your experience as far as crewing in the past will not only prove to be valuable, but already has. Your expertise has helped me big time in preparing and again, I can’t wait to share this experience with you two as well.
Thank you to Emily Huntington for the use of the crampons!
To all those that helped me in my fundraising to get to this point, I am blown away by your support and will do my best to make sure a skull is brought home in your honor!
Thank you to James Horgan, Nele Shulze, Keith Glass, Mark Webb and anyone else who gave me tips or talked about their experiences in previous Death Races.
To my family and most importantly, my wife Leah, thank you. I know this has been rough on you as I am hyper focused on things. I know you cannot wait for it to be over and for me to be back to normal. When have I ever been normal though? I jest, I jest! Thank you for supporting me, believing in me and for the words that will play over and over in my head when I hit the darkest moments on that mountain. I won’t let you down!
So, what are my expectations?
To have my rear end handed to me! Besides that though, I am seeking an experience. I’ve never even thought I would be in this situation and I look forward to testing myself. I expect to be brutalized, to suffer, to be so cold I can barely feel things. I know it’s going to suck, but finding the balance of suck and motivation to keep moving is what drives me.
I’m prepared as I am ever going to be. My head is in the game, now let’s just see what this body has in store for me.
Anyone reading this is likely familiar with the Death Race, or at least the concept. It’s not truly a race, but an event. Folks gather in VT on a Friday night, then do random, unpleasant, painful things until the organizers (who are professional sadists) tell them to stop. This can be days later. Food, sleep, hydration, clothing and footwear tend to be after thoughts.
And there is a Winter version too. Because this isn’t unpleasant enough.
If you were around the Facebook Group last weekend you will also be aware that Nele and Joshua – both well known, loved and respected New England Spahtens – won the damn thing.
I was thrilled when she agreed to write up her thoughts and experience for us – and as you sit at home, with winter storms blowing – don’t forget – this was only one week ago!
Winter Death Race
Curled up in a warm bed at the Swiss Farm in I was thinking that this would be the last time I would be warm and comfortable for some time. You see it was February 1st and the Winter Death Race was scheduled to begin at 6pm that day.
Trying to be smart Keith, Joshua and I went down to The General Store early to register and collect our bibs (I was #001, Joshua was #100, and Keith was #102). We had then planned to head back to the hotel, get our gear ready, and sleep for a couple of hours before heading down to Amee Farm for 5.50pm to begin the race. We know they make early arrivals begin working before the race actually starts so the idea was to try to avoid that. Little did we know that almost as soon as we had left The General Store they announced the 6pm start time was a lie (the first of many) and the race started at 4pm.
Joshua left the hotel about 5 minutes before Keith and I. We walked the 5 minutes to the farm to find no one there. I had no idea what was going on. We were told the group was at Joe’s house. So we walked/ran the mile or so to Joe’s barn. Empty. We walked/ran back to the farm. We stopped into The General Store to see if anyone was there. Thankfully Don was. He told us the group was at Joe’s house in the basement. Not the barn. We were told to head back to Amee Farm and wait for the group who would be back shortly. Burpees were done to pass the time. A frozen beaver was pulled out. That’s all I’m going to say about that.
Just as Don brought over buckets filled with rocks for us to do Turkish get-ups with Andy told us we were going to Joe’s house to join the group. I was finally excited about the race. I had just wanted to be with the group and was frustrated about the whole start time lie. Everyone was in Joe’s basement. It was about a million degrees down there. Everyone had stripped down to basically what was their underwear and were doing squats. I was excited about getting involved. But no, because we were late we had to remain in full gear and continuously hold plank in the middle of the room until everyone had done their squats. I was dripping sweat just standing in that room. I switched between plank, raised plank, side planks, and modified planks. I was exhausting myself within the first hour of the race. We didn’t have water. Michelle, a previous Death Race finisher, came over and held me up in plank while she squatted over me. This was how I met Michelle Roy.
After what seemed like forever we ran back to the farm. The sweat instantly cooled and I was already unbearably cold. Levi from Reload Fitness was there with a gift of supplies! It felt so good to see another friendly face and it was such a surprise. I can’t remember what happened next. The sleep deprivation of the weekend just blurs everything together. I know we chopped and split wood. Cleaned out a barn. Carried 900lb bales of hay over to the barn in teams (we weren’t allowed to roll them). Lots of burpees were done. Again, my memory of that first night is very fuzzy. I remember seeing the sunrise from the top of Joe’s mountain. The view was breathtaking and I remembered why I was doing this. I felt renewed and recharged. It’s amazing what sunlight does to you.
I know at some point, maybe during the night I’m not sure, we split into 3 teams. We were all attached to a length of rope and had to reach the top of Joe’s mountain together as a team. We were also racing against the other teams. I know everything I’m writing is out of order, but that’s what the Death Race does to you. I can’t remember bits and pieces and things I do remember seem so disjointed.
Another “challenge” was the sprints. This happened during the first night. We were told to lay face down on the covered bridge with all our gear on (packs and everything). Initially we were told we would be sleeping here but within a couple of minutes we had been split into teams of five and were told to race the other members on our team and the loser would receive a strike. Three strikes and you were out of the race. This was the first time I felt the pressure of the race.
Those of us that made it through to see daylight on Saturday had the pleasure of pulling a 2,600lb metal beam out of the river. We worked as a team for this. The race had technically started at this point. Strange to start a race with a group activity where no one can take a natural lead, but it worked. Many of us spent a considerable amount of time in the river. I stripped down to shorts and went in like that. I saw others with hip waders and wetsuits. I didn’t have these items so I kept it simple. I knew I had to keep my clothes dry, they had to go. My first time into the water wasn’t so bad. I was laughing and smiling. Sure my feet went numb and I was shaking uncontrollably, but I could handle it. It was my second and third time in when I began to really feel the effects. My legs turned bright red, my teeth were chattering, and I was finding it difficult to walk. Every time I got out to warm up I was back in the water again within 5 minutes. It was no use arguing with Joe. I was sent to the greenhouse on ‘medical’ to warm up because some of the race directors were worried about me. I cried at having to leave the river. I was confused and thought I was out of the race. I had to be told several times I was still in before I would leave. Upon my return I was straight back in the water again. There was no sympathy from Joe. His demeanor actually helped me. If it was left to choice I don’t know how many more times I would have went in, but because Joe demanded it with no excuses I went in time and time again. One time I had re-dressed and he began shouting a 30 second countdown for me to get back into the water. I couldn’t take my clothes off, my fingers were numb and I had so many layers on. My boyfriend Ben was pulling my pants off me as I ran towards the river. I would do anything to stay in the race, I knew that.
We did the un-thinkable, the beam was out. I thought that was it, no more water. I was wrong. Now we had to cross the rope bridge, do 100 burpees on the bank on the other side, then wade back across the river to receive a tally on our foreheads. Once we had done this we were free to return to the farm to carry on the race. This whole period by the river is when I saw a lot of people drop. It was heartbreaking to see someone push themselves and give it everything but be unable to go on.
Now it felt like a race. After 1000 burpees and 10 river crossings you were allowed to leave to go to the farm. I ran to the greenhouse. I needed to warm up and change clothes. But importantly I needed to start the next challenge. Drag a log up to the top of Joe’s mountain and complete the tasks they have for you up there. Seemed do-able. We were paired with someone for the first ascent. I was paired with Melody Hazi, a strong female competitor. We got lost on the trails on the way up, but we weren’t far behind the leading men. On the top of the mountain we had to saw and split our log, build a 1.5ft mound of snow using just our right shoe (then knocking it down and doing it again with our left shoe), and then complete 6 tangrams (a puzzle involving 7 pieces and you had to copy the image on a card using all 7 pieces). After completing these three things we had to run down the mountain and do it all over again. I finished the 3 tasks alone and had no idea how to get back to Amee Farm. Thankfully Michelle Roy offered to run me down as she knew the way. I will never forget that run down. She talked and it kept me relaxed but motivated. She inspired me and gave me confidence in myself. It was at this point I thought about trying to win. She lit the fire inside me. I felt like I had just slept for 8 hours, renewed and ready to go. The faith she had in me kept me going. I would not let her down I kept telling myself.
I burst into the greenhouse at Amee Farm 5 hours after leaving for the first lap. I needed to rush to keep the female lead. My support crew came through for me. I had a quick turn around and I was ready to go. Then it dawned on me. I would be climbing a mountain in the middle of the night while it was snowing, alone. My heart began to race. What if I got lost? What if I tripped and fell and hurt myself? What if a psycho killer came out of the woods and killed me? What if the Blair Witch got me? Yes, all of these things did cross my mind. But I couldn’t stop. I just went. One foot in front of the other. Every sound I heard I ignored. I hummed tunes to myself to calm myself down when my mind started racing. I tried to think of the race and nothing else. I kept my eyes forward. I didn’t look back once.
I made it up and down the mountain a second time alone. Completing the tasks at the top. My next turn around was faster than the last. I had been told we were to meet at the yoga studio at 5.30am and that our order of arrival into the greenhouse after the third lap would be noted and would give us an advantage at yoga. I saw Olof and Josh getting their logs as I was leaving for my third lap. I arrived at the top of the mountain by myself. There was no-one else there. I had to knock on the hut to grab someone to monitor me while I completed the tasks. “Where is everyone else?” I asked, “You’re the first one up. You’re leading everyone” was the response. Complete and utter shock. How had this happened?
I was on the last tangram when Olof and Josh arrived. I couldn’t recreate the stupid picture of a barn. Eventually Olof and Josh were by my side completing the tangrams. We decided to help each other. I needed their help. We were going to wait for each other and go down the mountain together. After what felt like forever we all finished. Off we went. Running straight down the mountain. Forget the road or the trails, those routes were too slow. About halfway down I lost Olof and Josh. They were fast. Too fast for me. I could see the light of headlamps behind me. I instantly thought it was Melody and Don because they left straight after us. I began to run faster. Suddenly Mark Webb, Jeff, and another man speed past me. It was like they weren’t wearing full packs and hadn’t just climbed up and down a mountain 3 times. I was amazed. I ran the last stretch alone. Exhausted but still with the will to continue. I made it into the greenhouse 6 minutes behind the leaders, Josh and Olof.
I had no idea what time it was. I was hoping I was going to have some time to sleep before 5.30am. I had no time. It was 4am and I had to be ready. At 4.45am Don shouts we need to be in full gear we’re leaving now. We’re not doing yoga, we’re going to go on a 20 mile hike through Blood Route… I almost started to cry. I had been sat down long enough for my legs to stiffen and the pain to set in. My feet were swelling up, I was bruised everywhere, and it hurt to stand. “I don’t want to go” I said to my support crew. But even as I was saying this, and as defeated as I felt, I was getting myself ready. My brain was on autopilot. They made us run to The General Store. We did some PT as a warm-up for the hike. Then we ran again to the yoga studio. We were told how dangerous this hike was going to be and once we started there was no way to get us out of there. I was silent, just listening, looking for signs that this was an infamous Death Race lie. I couldn’t see any.
We began jogging into the woods. I quickly fell to the back of the pack and walked with melody and a volunteer, Dave. I would do this, I would complete the hike, but it would be at my pace. It would take me 12 hours, but that’s ok I kept telling myself. Finally I caught up with Josh. He was as defeated as I was. We both knew we wouldn’t stop. But this wasn’t something we wanted to be doing right now. We would get through it together.
We climbed an incline and rounded a corner and suddenly we saw everyone. Ben, Keith, Patrick, Andy, Don… People who had dropped out. I couldn’t believe it. They were going to see us off is what I thought. It did give me a boost, one I desperately needed. As I walked towards the group Don came up to me, shook my hand and said “congratulations, you’ve finished”. I was in disbelief. I denied it. I kept denying it. It couldn’t be over. But it was. And when that thought finally hit me I cried. And I mean CRIED. I was balling my eyes out. I was hugging everyone. This had been my family since Friday. These are the only people I had seen or spoke to. I had had no communication with the outside world. This was my world. We had experienced something utterly amazing together. We had gone through so much. Highs and lows.
“Go get your skulls” I heard. There they were. 11 perfect skulls placed in the snow. It was beautiful. I picked up my reward. This was it. This is what I had to show for everything I had gone through. Not everyone would understand when I would tell them, but instantly that skull has become one of my prized possessions.
I finished Winter Death race as I started. In The General Store laughing and smiling. Only this time I felt nothing but pure happiness. I was surrounded by people I loved. I had breakfast in front of me, my first real meal in over 40 hours. And sitting in front of me next to my plate was a skull that said “female champion” on it….
I still look at that skull and smile. I will never forget that weekend. I learnt so much about myself. I am more capable than I ever imagined. I saw the good in other people, in a world where you are constantly reminded of the bad. People ask me about the race, but unless you were there or have previously done a Death race it is too difficult to describe. The only thing I can say is that it is life-changing. I already miss it. I miss the pain, the discomfort, the other people, the greenhouse which became my home, the powerbars which became my diet, and the uncertainty of what was going to happen next. But I will return in June to do it all over again, and I couldn’t be more excited or happy by the thought.
There will be a lot more from this to come – but wow – what a weekend.
If you weren’t aware, three well known members of the New England Spahtens were competing in this weekends Winter Death Race. They were crewed by three more Spahtens, and via a couple more folks, a ton of SMS messages and spotty phone calls, we kept a running Facebook event going from 6pm Friday when it started, until somewhere around 6am Sunday morning when it was suddenly ended, 30 minutes into what the racers thought was a 6 hour hike.
The drama, the speculation – it was tense! Personally, I probably got three or four hours sleep Saturday night, and I wasn’t even in Vermont – just acting as one of the relays for information!
It was SO worth it though. Of the three Spahtens racing – Keith missed a time cut-off and wasn’t allowed back up the mountain for the second of three laps on Saturday night – DNF with roughly 30 hours under his belt. Josh was ahead, and while he was pushed hard by reigning champ, Olaf – they walked into the barn arm in arm (literally) for a show of solidarity and joint first place. Sleeper Athlete, Nele Schulze was LEADING EVERYONE at one point in the race – but ultimately finished 6th place over all, winning it for the women. You can read more about Nele’s story here – and maybe you’ll understand why this woman has inspired us all.
Back at Spahten Nation – the tension was unbelievable. We had folks who had found us this same day be so inspired, they stayed up all night. There were folks who threw rucks in their cars, and headed to Wachusset Mt for a midnight, 4 hour long ruck. Sunday saw the Trouble Twins arrange a hike at Purgatory Chasm. The new Spahten casual shirts had just started hitting folks mailboxes, and many of us wore the same shirt all weekend in a show of support for the Death Racers … the longer they stayed in, the stinkier we got. They saw WODs at Crossfit boxes, martial arts classes, hikes, a bunch of Spahtens even did a stair climbing event in Boston, and yep – the shirts were worn the whole time …
But for now -the Death Racers and their amazing support crew are hopefully sleeping. Rest and recovery – and hopefully, when they get their brains in gear, we’ll be able to get them some guest blogs about their experiences.
This weekend was a fantastic time to be a member of the New England Spahtens.
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.
This weekend, three of our best loved New England Spahtens took a trip up to Vermont for the Winter Death Race training camp – this is a small taster of what they should expect at the full Winter Death Race in February – and while the experience was still fresh, I asked for a recap.
Nele came through – and her story is amazing. If you haven’t read about Nele and her history yet – check this post out – she has an amazing story, and it really puts this Death Race training into some perspective.
Over to Nele …
Death Race Training Camp
The Spartan Death Race is possibly one of the hardest races to complete and it is not your traditional obstacle course race. It has a dropout rate of 90%; there is no time limit. It is a physical and mental beating full of lies. The 2012 Death Race lasted 60+ hours, the 2012 Winter Death Race was a 31 hour Death Race in the snow and below freezing temperature. That is all I can tell you about Death Races because I have yet to participate in one, until now. I will be participating in both the 2013 Death Race and Winter Death Race.
I train often and I like to think I train hard. However, I was unsure how to start training for Death Races. Thankfully, Spartan Race hosts a weekend long Death Race simulation known as the Death Race Training Camp to help you prepare. On Friday afternoon, Joshua Grant, Keith Glass and I filled Keith’s car with gear and headed up to Pittsfield for a weekend I will never forget.
I have never done anything remotely similar to a Death Race. I hadn’t really thought about taking part in one. It was Keith, an actual Death Racer and dear friend and training partner of mine, who talked me into signing up. Initially I was treating the Winter Death Race as training for the Death Race, I would just do as much as I could and then drop out but my competitive nature has gotten the better of me and I see the glimmer of a skull on the horizon, I just have to give it my all.
We arrived in Pittsfield on Friday January 4th at 7pm and headed to The General Store to get checked in. We were told that CBS were coming to film for “60 Minutes” and that this was a race, with a winner and prizes. I couldn’t help but get excited. Keith quickly dragged me back to reality with one simple line. “It’s a lie”. I quickly remembered where I was and what I was here for and agreed it did seem too good to be true. We went into the Death Race Training camp with no goals. It was a gear check and a chance for Joshua and me to see what a Death Race is like.
We went to the farm to meet everyone and get started. Our home for the weekend was a heated (I use the word ‘heated’ loosely) greenhouse minus any plants. I had a gear box that would stay at base camp and a backpack with me filled with necessities to carry during activities. We got changed into our cold gear and waited for it to begin. People who were on time had been dragging wood to the side of a river for about an hour. I was getting excited. We were split into color coded teams. Keith, Joshua and I were all on the pink team. We had to wear a strip of pink duct tape on us, this would identify us as pink team members and be our burpee ‘scorecard’.
Fourteen people started the training camp. We had to do 300 burpees before the training camp was over. Our score was going to be kept on that strip of duck tape we wore. CBS were indeed there filming, that part wasn’t a lie.
I honestly cannot remember what our first task was, the whole experience just blurs together but I will try my best to get the order correct. We were late so we had to carry big planks of wood down snow covered trails to the river with two other latecomers. Upon return to the farm, everyone had a head start on sawing and splitting wood. I tried my best to catch up. The group was energetic and enthusiastic, a lot of laughing going on. I was feeling good. Then we ran to the Bikram Yoga studio and dugout an entire Spartan Race in pieces from the snow and loaded them onto trucks. I remember this taking a while. Lastly, the concrete blocks used for the ‘atlas carry’ were uncovered and we were told to grab a bucket and a pipe and get them back to the farm any way we want. A couple of people unloaded their rucks and carried the concrete block on their back. I opted for the dragging method, putting my block in a bucket and looping rope through the pipe and looping that through the handle. After dragging tires for training I could handle this. Not sure what time we returned to the farm but this is when the first person dropped out.
Again, I’m a bit hazy on facts and tasks, but we spent a considerable amount of that night cleaning out a barn. A foot of hay followed by 2 feet of some sort of hay/feces/urine/dirt mess. All our gloves were getting covered in the dirt mess and the smell was unbearable at times. We were allowed 30 minutes to sleep after that, before sunrise and before Joe and Andy arrived.
Bringing a sleeping bag and sleeping pad was the best decision I have made in a long time. I slept warm and comfortably and woke when the sun was rising. It was beautiful outside; trees everywhere. I hadn’t seen my surroundings by daylight yet. Not much time to enjoy it though because we were back to sawing wood and splitting logs. Joe and Andy arrived with a promise of breakfast from Joe, Keith immediately rolled his eyes and told me it was a lie. I’m new to the Death Race deception and acknowledged that he was right but inside hoping Keith was wrong. We had just 5 minutes to finish and clear up the wood and choose 4 pieces of wood to carry with us.
We ran down to the general store with our rucks and wood and were told to go in and place our breakfast order and then come back outside. I ordered pancakes and diet coke. Mostly because Joshua was right in front of me in line and that’s what he ordered and I couldn’t think. I also hadn’t had a proper meal since Friday and pancakes sounded delicious. Once we were back outside, we were told to carry the sled that was buried in a snow bank. It was a full sized sled designed to be pulled by reindeers or something and we must have spent an hour digging it out. Once the sled was free, Joe broke my heart, no breakfast. Keith was right, everything is a lie. We carried the sled across the street to some trails, and dragged it like reindeer for what felt like forever.
We reached a house in a field where we left the sled. We then hiked up Joe’s mountain in the snow with no snow shoes, carrying rucks and wood. It was a hard and steep climb that didn’t seem to end. Keith, Josh and I reached the top in good time. We dropped off our wood and waited for the group. When the group had reconvened, we all sat in the snow like children while Andy told us an inspirational story about a Russian swimmer that will forever resonate. Then we were off again, back down the mountain and to the river where we had carried the planks of wood to the previous night.
Keith had brought heavy duty construction bags which we all put on our feet and legs in an attempt to keep our feet dry. Thankfully it worked for me. I don’t think Keith and Joshua had the same luck I did. I watched several people cross that river bare foot. We spent hours then trying to drag a 2000+lb metal beam out of the water. That felt defeating.
When we arrived back at the farm to warm up we were told we were going on a 10 mile run. A couple of people dropped out right there. So off we went, nine of us following Joe and Andy on a 10 mile run up and down a mountain. I took the lead and became separated from the group. Joe and Andy were miles ahead so I was running alone. This is when sleep deprivation really kicked in. I never stopped moving, not even for a second and I ran whenever it wasn’t a steep uphill. I knew I was alone, but I started to hear voices, people running and footsteps behind me but no one was there. I became confused, convinced someone was right on my tail, which kicked up my competitive mode and I was now racing with my imagination. I thought I was lost several times. When I was running the final stretch of road back to the farm I was convinced I was lost. Nothing looked familiar and the road was lasting forever. Then I rounded a corner and saw the glow of the greenhouse. I ran faster. I had to get there, I wanted to get there and be warm. Entering into that greenhouse as the first person back was an overwhelming feeling. I felt like a true winner, even though it wasn’t a race. I was racing myself and my doubts and I won.
It took some time for the rest of the group to arrive back. It gave me time to dry my clothes, destroy a jet boil, learn about sleep deprivation, eat a hot meal, and rest my tired feet. The longer I rested the sorer and stiffer my body began to feel. I needed to keep going, and soon. They announced the next task would be our final task and this would over. We had to drag back the four Spartan Race walls we had dragged out onto trails the previous night and put them back in the truck. Of course we did, we spent hours dragging heavy walls into the snow and through trails and the dead of night. Only for them to sit there 24 hours and have nothing done with them, just so we could then drag the back to the farm and load them back onto the truck. That felt like the hardest task we had most likely because we knew it was the last.
Then we were done. It was over. 27 hours after we began, it was finished.
I immediately felt sad. I realized I didn’t want it to be over. I had loved being here. The corner of that greenhouse had become my little haven. My gear box felt like the center of my universe. I didn’t give up, that resonated with me a lot. We had no goals upon our arrival and we were one of the last people standing. I had, no wait let me correct that, I HAVE more fight in me then I ever thought possible. I am mentally stronger than I thought. I am able to just focus and zone in on the task I am doing and see it through. Nothing got the better of me.
However, that was just a training camp….
I can write about how much I learned about myself this weekend and how difficult it was, but in reality that was the tip of the iceberg. February 1st 2013 will be the real test. I expect the Winter Death Race to be twice as long and twice as hard. We’ll see if I break then.