This is a recap that I wrote after competing in the 2011 Death Race. The writing is definitely rough but I think you can see where certain aspects of my personality have come from, been shaped by, and why I enjoy embracing the suck.
This race happened one week before I did my first level one cert and about 12 days before my son was born.
The other day he was drawing pictures of people at the gym and I asked him to draw one of me in the way he sees me. Despite the ominous dead writing, I loved it. He tried writing dad and spelled ded, when I told him it needs an a and not an e he squeezed the a in. Anyway, I hope you enjoy the recap.
If I had to describe the Death Race to someone in only one word it would be painful but the second word would be awesome! It has definitely been the single greatest exercise experience of my life and one of the best moments in my life. As Andy told us in church when we finished “The race broke all of you physically but you just pushed through it.”
Now on to the race: upon arriving at the General Store in Pittsfield I was greeted by plenty of lovely people and I had to grab a fish hook, which they said that we would need to have with us at all times. Walking out I was stopped by Andy Weinberg, one of the race directors, he offered me on the spot $500 to drop out of the race. I laughed it off and told him that I would be at the finish. In hindsight he probably hears that from every person but that was my attitude from the very beginning that finishing was the only option for this event. Andy also informed me that the race would be beginning at 6:00pm. I told him I was ready to go. Prior to the 6:00pm start of the race there was a fishing license that we were all required to purchase and the video consent that had to be done before the race basically stating we could literally die!
Getting to the start of the race at 6:00pm on Friday I had my pack with me which included all of the mandatory gear including an axe, saw, hand drill, measuring tape, 10′ climbing rope, goggles, Dixon-Ticonderoga #2 pencils, Carabiner, 2 one dollar bills, and a 20 dollar bill. I also had with me a good amount of optional gear including duct tape, lifting straps, extra pack straps, first aid kit, amongst other items as well all in all my pack probably weighed 35 pounds. We go into church to begin the race. The priest talks to us about world religions as that is the theme of this years race and many people were feverishly writing down everything that the priest was saying and a couple of people were using sharpie markers to write the notes all over each other. I sat and listened intently hoping to pick up whatever I could to help me during the race. Then a lady came up and spoke a phrase in Greek that would supposedly be helpful later in the race. I immediately got a call put out to my friend Nina who is my Greek Translator. Joe and Andy came up next and told us that out of the 230+ people to sign up there would be only 154 people starting the race. We were also told that there would be 30 tasks. We were also told that no matter where we were in the race that we would have to be back at church at 3:00p.m. on Sunday or we would be disqualified. There were two drop outs that day from one guy taking a bale of hay up the mountain and the other because of injury. With all that being said we headed back up to Amee Farm.
At the farm we were formed in to groups of 13 by our race numbers. Our group only had 12 racers so one of our people must have been one of the ones who had dropped. Once in our group we were instructed to take a pile of rocks, a bale of hay, and a 12″ wide 5′ long slosh pipe filled half way with water and to place the rocks around the pipe and hay bale. Our group had about 17 rocks; so there was the circle of 12 rocks with the bale of hay, slosh pipe, and the remaining five rocks inside the circle of 12 rocks. Once all of the groups were formed and ready to go we were informed of the first task; we would all stand around the circle in unison we would all clean the stone to our shoulders and then place the weight back down not drop it. Then we would rotate to the right and repeat. We were to complete one full rotation and then every one would go into the center and we would have to lift everything at once to chest height. We had to do this all with our packs on. That would complete one set. We were told that we would have to do this for a total of 150 sets! That works out to be over 1900 reps. The rocks ranged from 10-80 pounds and most were right in the middle.
We began our task and started banging out cleans. We were going for about an hour when they started switching groups to different areas. I think we switched spots three or four times but I am not too sure. We were constantly being told that we needed to lift the rocks higher, to keep moving, to not take a rest. After about 70 sets we heard that whatever team was last would be eliminated from the race, so we pressed on. I was wearing these supposedly super tough gloves that had ripped through in about 5 or 6 spots, needless to say I was disappointed in the gloves! Somewhere during this task we started getting yelled at if we dropped the rocks because someone had broken their foot from dropping the rock on it. Our group had great spirits we talked back and forth to take our mind off the tediousness of the task making small but funny conversation. In my group there were some tremendous athletes, a marine, trainers, an ER nurse, people who had completed multiple ironman’s, one guy did a triple ironman!
We started this task a little after 8p.m. and we had reached somewhere around 107 rotations through by 1:30am. This is when we were informed that we were going to slow and that we were going to go for a Shinto cleanse in the water. As a penalty for going so slow we had to perform 60 more rounds upon our arrival back at camp. At this point 5 people had dropped out.
Still wearing our packs we began hiking down a footpath toward the entrance of the river. I was talking with a guy from our group named Mark (I can’t remember for sure). He was extremely nice and we had good conversation walking the river. It was very tough. The water was always knee deep and multiple times it was above my waist. The current was really strong as well. I saw this one guy fall and it was pulled so hard it took five people to stop him from continuing down the river.
There were many sharp rocks and down trees that made a difficult task even harder. It rained so much over the past few days that it really made the water pretty high. After somewhere in the 1-2 miles of hiking in this river we made our way out, followed a short path, and were directed to stand in a pond. We had to stand in the pond at least waist deep for a total of five minutes. The person in charge of this event kept yelling at some guy because he wasn’t seeing enough balls in the water. It was pretty funny.
After that we were all told to line up in two lines. I did and I ended up right in front, Joe Decker last years champ was right behind me. This next event we were told that we were to cross this nice and chilly pond (43 degrees) using the guide rope, hike a nearly vertical hill, it was more of a crawl up, and then take a lit candle around a coned out course, we had to complete this seven times. I was nervous being the first person to go because I had no idea how deep the water was going to be. When they started us off I just kicked as hard as I could and pulled myself across trying to not let my head or pack go below water. I crossed the pond and started to make the ascent using trees to help me up on my way. I found a nice way up through the middle. At the top I got my candle, if the candle went out you had to go back and get it relit and redo the candle route. At this point I was in second. I was able to keep the candle low and close to my body, which allowed me to move fairly quickly. Once I got back down there were still people going on their first lap so I had to wait. This is where the cold caught up with me as I began to shiver so I just kept moving around. On the subsequent laps I just had a good plan and I was able to maintain a lead through the event as we pressed on through the seven laps, which they were now telling us was going to be 75 laps. Upon completing the 7 laps we had to sit and wait. We huddled closely together to share body heat as we waited for instructions.
Next we took a hike to the Borden’s home. It was a short hike/jog about 10 minutes. Upon arriving there we were told to chop up three logs and then pile them. Next we were to take a log, in the range of 40-60 pounds and go up a path, memorize a bible passage and then come down and recite it. The hike was not horrible but the log was. There was a group of five of us that were out front together including the Tire Guys, Joe Decker, and one person that was with him from California. After hiking under an electric fence and up the mountain we found the phrase. It was from Corinthians 16:13- Be watchful, stand firm in the faith, act like men, be strong. Each of us in the group took a part of the phrase and we kept repeating it in order as we went down. We all got to the bottom together and I messed up one word and had to repeat the hill. They continued on as I went through a second time. I was going to write it down. I was a little tired so when I wrote it down I wrote part of it twice but I could tell that it was a mistake. I pushed through back down the mountain, said my phrase and then was on to the task of splitting my log into 8 pieces.
Upon finishing we had to wait in a group until we had at least seven people to hike all the way back down the river we came up to get back to Amee Farm. I asked my support crew what time it was and they said 7 and I asked “P.M?”. It is only A.M. So I waited about five minutes for the group to form and we went. I was now in the high twenties to mid thirties in my position. It really sent me back but the mistake was more aggravation then anything because I knew it right and just said it wrong the first time. We hiked back down the river which was easier because of the daylight but harder too because we were going with the current and trying hard to not get swept up. Upon getting back to the farm I checked in and gathered more supplies, ate some food, and changed.
Upon arriving back we had to do a video interview but the bathroom was calling and I had to take care of business first. My crew told me that they confused my number with someone else and thought I might have dropped out but I was there and it was no big deal. The pond apparently took away a good deal of people.
Our next task was to go up a short hill and saw a 36″ length of log from any of the piled wood. I found what appeared to be one of the narrower pieces and pulled out my saw and made quick work of it. I took my log back down to the farm where I had to use my drill and then drill my number into the log. I then sought the approval of my check in person. I was then instructed that I had to go up the mountain to Coulton and then on to Rogers house, which was the onion shack last year. I was also given a passport that had 20 squares to get punched. I knew this was a mind trick. I saw Andy at this point and he asked how I was I said great and asked him with my best effort when the race was going to start. I made it a point in my head to never show them any weakness or tiredness, at least verbally. I probably looked like death but I kept my spirits high, I was having a great deal of fun. The log was now mandatory gear until we were told otherwise. It went wherever we went.
I began my long hike up the hill. I made it to Coulton with my spirits still high, I was 37th to arrive, but was getting low on water. I debated refilling but I didn’t. Every time I left I had 180 ounces of liquid with me. My 100oz camel bak was full of Endura, one 40oz Nalgene was full of Surge Workout Fuel with extra Leucine, and the other Nalgene was full of water. I was also taking my regular vitamins and I was also taking Acute Phase, which is like a natural anti-inflammatory. I left Coulton and went up to Rogers and had yet to see anyone come back down. This trail was tough. I did the Grouse grind in Vancouver and this was just as bad but made worse by the now 75-90lbs on my back. I trudged on, taking breaks, as I needed to in order to catch my breath. I met a gentleman who was resting that was also local. He told me the hill is going to suck, then level out a little, then suck, then level, then suck, then level, and then suck. He also told me to just have patience. That was some great advice, to just have the patience. Patience made everything easier so did knowing that this was all temporary, that no matter how hard it got everything was temporary.
I made it past the top of the mountain and was on the downward end of the hike when I saw Joe still in the lead, and then the Tire Guys, and slowly few more people. I was keeping rough count in my head and I had not seen many people. After another hour or so of hiking I made it to Rogers and was told to take my log and put it in the pond, after doing that I came back and was told to move fifty pieces of wood and do fifty push ups, not so bad. Upon finishing that task I had to go back and get my log. I then had to carve into the log 1 RO. I used my Leatherman to get that done and also got a punch on my passport. So I left and had to make the same hike back. I had no idea what time it was I think they said 1:00? I knew I had light and just had to keep moving forward. I passed some people and a good deal of people dropped at this point as well. I had no clue how many people were left but I knew the number were dwindling down.
On my hike back I ran into James my sister’s boyfriend and he said I was doing good and making good pace. I got back to Coulton and was told to do 100 burpees; I busted them out in sets of ten but did the last 20 all at once. I then continued back down the mountain. I got back down, checked in and refueled all my liquids and ate some food. I did not eat a ton during the race but I was ingesting a good amount of calories through all of my liquids and was getting plenty of electrolytes. I heard at this point over 70 racers have dropped out. It is around the 24-hour mark at this point.
My next task was to throw my log in the Amee pond and then crawl through a 50-yard culvert with the rest of my gear. I saw last year they had a deep water crossing and that having the bags soaked would be tough so I purchased a 65 gallon waterproof bag in case, it was a wise choice. I packed my bag into the waterproof bag and kept my axe out. I shoved my bag and axe in first and started on my way. It was a run off pipe that went under the road. I fit inside but it was a tight squeeze. I got about halfway through and the metal pipe was rusted through and that cut up my clothes and me a bit. I made it through in about five minutes. Many people freaked over the size of the tube but I think I was too tired to care. My mind set was doing whatever they say and keep going. After getting my bag up and by the pond I had to retrieve my watered down log out of the pond. Then I rested a little and ate some more. It seemed I couldn’t get enough salt. I was drinking soup broth and eating beef jerky along with my other supplements but it wasn’t enough. At the rate I was going, the lack of sleep, the extra load on my body I was burning between 600-800 calories an hour every hour. I was pouring sweat most of the time and if I sat down at any point I would just start shivering uncontrollably. I am sure I was experiencing some degree of hypothermia. At this point we were near the 24 hour mark and I have heard of many people dropping out, going to the ER, complete exhaustion, many of them very accomplished athletes, Marines, very tough people, I put my head down and kept going.
I had to put my log back on my pack and headed out at 6:00pm. My next task was to hike up the other mountain. As I headed out I saw another person and caught up to him, Ian James, Ian and I decided to stay together for at least this hike. He was very cool just like everyone else that was part of the race. We were trying to get to the very top of this hike. We were getting nervous because there were thunderstorms coming in. We were hiking up the path and came to a turn where we had to head up the river. This was extremely challenging. It was like the race directors looked at the mountain and said which way is the hardest and that was the way they went. I think this hike was around 4 or 5 miles, but it was so treacherous. I was following Ian up the water with the use of walking sticks, they were extremely helpful. It was hard going up but I was already thinking how bad going down was going to be. The rumbles of thunder were drawing nearer and we were trudging along the best we could. Ian was having some knee issues and I was having some bad chaffing on my thighs. We kept pushing each other and doing pretty well. We talked about stories we were hearing. We heard some guy was standing by the fire trying to warm up and he was there too long so they took his shoes and filled them with vegetable oil and threw them in the field. How we heard people being offered $1000 to quit or offering steak and lobster dinners. They were continuously trying to get people to break. We said to each other that we would not quit no matter what. The thunderstorms rolled in and we still were working up. We had saw some of the top people coming back down and got some info that we had to keep heading up and then take a service road down then back up another steep climb. We made it to the service road and saw Grace. She looked beat but she was still kicking ass, her friend looked more tired than her, she said Grace ran a part of a marathon with her and she was in turn helping Grace (I think Grace got the better part of the deal). We went on through the downpour and it was getting dark. We made it to the bottom of the service road and now were on our way back up. We had only seen around 6 or 7 people ahead of us. As we were heading back up it was getting darker and darker and we were in autopilot, it was only one step at a time.
Once it was completely dark we made it up to the Gaza Strip, which was 300 yards of barbed wire. That sucked. Pulling everything through the wire was not fun. Once we got through it was an even steeper climb, it seemed like it was straight up, it wasn’t really a trail, and it was completely dark so we spent a good deal of time looking for flags and footprints on the ground. It was a tough go and we just kept moving. Eventually we made it up to the top of the mountain and there was this little cabin. The door was opened and we met Chris Mitchell. There were three other guys sitting in the cabin getting warmed up. Here we were completing some made up religious ritual. We took half a peanut shell and had to keep it with us. Ian and I sat for a few minutes and I was zoning out so I knew I couldn’t sit still for too long. We added another to our group I think he was a Mark also. We went down the exact same way we came up and it was not fun in the dark.
Over 8 hours after we started this task we made it back to Amee Farm and this was my lowest point. I had hoped to be told I was done or to that the finishers were done but I was not and all I wanted to do was to rest. I had been going for over 30 hours straight and the end was not in sight. If I didn’t have my crew carrying on it would have been tough. My next task was to go up to Amee Farm and to split and stack roughly 3 cords of wood. I wanted to rest for a little bit but I was also told that if they ran out of wood I was going to have to go into the woods cut down a tree, saw it up and bring it out. So I went up and began chopping. I finished that after some struggling but I was starting to pick back up.
I was thinking in my head that if I quit no one I knew would ever let me live it down. No one I told about the race, no family, no friends, no one. That motivated me to keep pressing on. I went back down to the farm and was told to chop three more big piles of wood. It was starting to get lighter in the sky and as the sky was becoming lighter I was becoming more invigorated. I was chopping wood next to Hobie Call; he was having a tough time with the wood. I came down to chop and he was on his second pile. I ended up finishing before him. I ended up finishing as the sun was coming up and was getting ready for the next challenge.
Up next was to hike back up to Coulton and to retrieve a five gallon bucket and to come back down to Amee Farm. I was joined on this hike by my two sisters. They made the hike much easier telling me to keep going. It was tough because it just kept on feeling longer and longer. On my way up I saw Joe and the Tire Guys coming down. They looked good as well. I made it up and retrieved my bucket and headed back down to the farm. My next task was to fill my bucket with water from the pond and head back up to Coulton. If my bucket was filled high enough I would leave the bucket there and head up to Roger’s and get to drop my log off there. My crew told me there were still people that were on the Barbed wire mountain and some people were lost up there. I saw some people waiting around and they looked extremely worried for their racers.
I filled the bucket to the top and then used a garbage bag and duct tape to seal the top. There was some that would leak out through the sides of the bucket so I was a little afraid that I would have to go back so I brought a Nalgene bottle full of water as well in case I lost too much. While doing this I saw Joe Decker get into a car without his pack and some plants. I also saw the Tire guys just hanging around. I knew the end was nearing. I knew that no matter what I would finish the Death Race. I decided to start by using my climbing rope to attach it to me. That did not work out so well, it was really painful on my collarbones. I took off the bucket and decided I would use the lifting straps that I brought. I tried to use both hands but it was too difficult to walk. When holding the bucket in one hand I had some pain with the chaffing on my legs. I had to keep alternating hands and resting in between sets but I just looked at it like it was just another part of the workout and I just had to get it done. With this bucket I had between 110-130 pounds that I was carrying directly uphill. I made it to Coulton and they told me my bucket was good to go and I could head up to Roger’s.
I made the hike the best I could. I had a great pace going and was passing some people. I tried dragging, throwing, carrying, and just keeping my log attached to my pack. I was sick of my log and I could not wait to get rid of it. I made it up to Roger’s in about 1.5 hours. Once I got to Roger’s I had to Saw my log in half and the quarter it with my ax. There were two people that had got there ahead of me and the one was still chopping his wood when I arrived. I struggled to get my log out of the bag, my hands were pretty swollen and it was tough to use my hands for the fine motor control but I did my best to get it out. I sawed my log pretty quickly and chopped up my log. The guy next to me was still going at it but he had a bad axe. I let him borrow mine to finish up. We were told that we could go down the mountain anyway we wanted but we had to check in at Coulton first. I got lost here by going off path but I found the road that got me to Coulton. I checked in and headed back down. I got to the bottom expecting to be done or having something small left to complete.
I was given a test of 166 multiple-choice questions and told I had to complete the test. I was told after finishing the test I would have to go to Riverside Farm plant some cucumber plants, then I would have to come back down the river with a life vest and if I wanted to a tire. Then I would have to take my test up to the top of the mountain get my test graded and then come back down any way I wanted to and then I would be finished. At this time it was about 1:00. I started my test. I wasn’t allowed to write on the test so I began to write the question numbers on a separate piece of paper and when I was doing so I started falling asleep while writing. I had to keep being told to keep writing. I finished about 15 questions of the test and decided I should get ready for church and finish up the rest after. I took a shower and then I got dressed for the rest of the race. My wife helped me get dressed and I fell asleep as she was helping me put my clothes on.
We got everything together, brought my test and then went down to the church. I was the first person at the church and started waiting. I saw one of the other racers come in that I talked to a few times and he looked done. I know his wife was having a tough time as well. I went over to talk to him, asked him where he was and what he had left. I told him to just press on and get it done. I also told him I think they will tell us we all finished but I wasn’t sure. I tried to be as encouraging as possible because I knew he needed it. After, I sat back down and waited. Around 3:00 the priest stood up and began to give his sermon. I tried my best to stay awake but I kept dozing off. I had been going in the race for 45 hours straight and felt bad for the priest because I was right in front and could not keep my eyes open. After his sermon Joe Desena got up to talk to us about the rest of the race. Andy was not there because someone was still on the race course and he was trying to get him. Long story short on this part we were told that we had finished. I was so happy that I began to cry from relief. I could let my guard down and relax. It was a feeling of complete elation.
I was mentally prepared to finish those tasks if need be, to be honest they weren’t as bad as anything else we had done and it would have been light out. I was sore as hell and tired but I could have pressed on. Andy and Joe were awesome. They made an amazing race, truly remarkable and difficult. They are opposites in the way they address racers but they compliment each other in that regard. The race staff and volunteers were completely amazing and they made it all possible.
I do not know what place I finished in but it doesn’t really matter. I finished and that is all that matters. Everyone who participated in this race learned about themselves and were able to press on.
A few things I forgot to mention, I was definitely was seeing things in the woods on the second night (Saturday) and third day (Sunday). I saw small objects at first but during my last hike up Coulton I saw an extremely large wooden statue of a cat, kind of like those cat clocks on a wall with the big eyes that move, it had to have been 40 feet tall. I knew it wasn’t real only because I had been there before but I thought I kept seeing things. I saw other items that I could make out but when I would touch them they would turn back into the wood they were or just disappear.
On the drive back home I slept the entire way but my wife said she asked me something and my response was what do I have to do next? Even in my sleep I was still racing. I heard that one racer had taken their shoes off and was wandering in the woods talking to himself.
There were some amazing people out there and they had some amazing accomplishments. My hat is off to all my fellow death racers! Thanks again to everyone who helped me along the way, it helped me so much!