Through your explorations into this world of obsession we know as obstacle racing, you may have come across the lore of an event called the Death Race. It is spoken of in a quiet roaring whisper carried by the winds of a challenge far greater than the one you may have just conquered in a Tough Mudder, a Spartan Race, or other child’s play.
“What is the Death Race?”
Countless hours of scouring and researching will only net you small patches of cryptic glimpses into one of the world’s most grueling physical and psychological tests… one that is answered by only the most resolute of individuals. How does one possibly endure 59+ consecutive hours of torture? Do you think you’re invincible enough to finish? This is my story from last year’s race that will hopefully shed yet another narrow beam of light on this weekend’s Death Race in Pittsfield, Vermont.
“Anyone who finishes the entire course in 36 hours will win $50,000.”
I remember my heart sinking with disappointment when I first read of this prize money announcement in the Death Race emails. No, it wasn’t that the prize was too small. Rather, it was absurdly large and I knew that Joe Desena, race creator and owner, did not intend to give any of it away. After my disappointing DNF last year I was dead set on finishing in 2012, but this was seriously unsettling news to me. Factor in say a 33% margin of safety and it seemed certain that the race directors were expecting the first finisher to crawl through that finish line in no less than 48 hours. Given that the longest I’d ever stayed awake for was perhaps 36 hours back in college when I was still young and sprightly, I knew I’d be testing uncharted waters again for certain.
I woke up in the back of my SUV around 11am on Friday June 15. I had driven in a few miles shy of Pittsfield, VT the night before , pulling off Rt. 107 and into a rural neighborhood where I found the perfect spot to park my car and sleep. I was exhausted after a day of frenzied packing and scrambling to pick up the last of my mandatory gear list items (like a Bonzai tree clipping). To add to the stress, I probably also came within 5 miles of running out of gas (Note to self: Do not rely on the damn gas stations to be open past 9pm in Vermont). Unlike my usual bouts of sleeplessness preceding a race of this significance, I was out like a baby and slept for no less than 9 solid hours. I woke up and I was good. Cool, calm, relaxed, confident.
For those who don’t know what the Death Race is all about, you should visit their website (www.youmaydie.com) to get yourself a bit more confused.
Or for more you can read my previous entry on last year’s event: http://tinyurl.com/2011DeathRace
Basically, all conventional rules that apply to your typical races go out the window in the Death Race. Start times, duration, tasks to be performed, your health, safety, sanity, life… these all become luxuries as you become subject to the totalitarian rule of Joe the Death Race dictator. Only the three race directors know the entire course and list of challenges from start to finish, and they are out there for the ENTIRE duration prodding at your wounds, in accordance with the loosest interpretation of the laws of the great state of Vermont, in their best efforts to make you quit. Generally what you should expect is the unexpected, although in taking place on a farm and its mountainous surroundings, you can also expect wood splitting, hauling heavy objects up and down the mountain, and other farm-related chores over the course of a day or two, or three. There has also been an evil upward trend in the difficulty of this event year-over-year as it has grown in international notoriety and the athletes have become tougher, stronger, wiser, and ever more stubborn to finish. To put this in perspective, in 2009, a pair of American and British Marines crossed the line together in just over 10 hours. To follow that up, Joe Decker, once recognized by Guinness as World’s Fittest Man Alive, would win this event back-to-back in 2010 and 2011, finishing in 28 hours and 42 hours, respectively. Between the years of 2009 and 2012, the number of starters has grown from 49 to 90 to 152 to 230. It should be noted that none of these people who show up are average human beings by any means. Many often specifically train year-round in preparation for this race. Not only are they mentally tough as nails, they are some of the most all-around fit specimens I’ve ever met and I would probably take any of them by my side in a real survival situation. No anchors here, just 100% not-from-concentrate productive juice. Each year has a theme and 2012 was to be the “Year of Betrayal”. Intentional or otherwise, I would feel the full gravity of this theme in the coming days.
The mandatory gear list:
- Bag of human hair, axe, needle, thread, black compression shirt, pink swim cap, 5 gallon bucket, life jacket, pen, paper
Additional mandatory gear, due to my misreading (lack of reading) of the final Death Race email:
- Bonsai tree clipping, saw, matches, dress shoes, bandages
I arrived on the scene late as usual and immediately was not feeling good about not having read that final email. I was relying on some sort of internet connection or cell phone coverage but there was not one to be found anywhere (Note to self: Do not expect to receive normal 21st century conveniences when in Vermont). I discovered that they had changed the instructions last-minute to instill yet some more confusion and the first pre-race task was to head up to Joe’s mountain from Riverside Farm to get weighed in with all our gear. Due to my lateness, a volunteer suggested I drive up Tweed River Dr as far as I could go and hike the rest of the way. I saved myself a lot of walking but it still ended up being a light haul. I got to the mountain top and was cheerfully waiting in line with the others when the daughter of one of the race directors (Andy) called me out for saying the word “hell”. Apparently “hell” is a curse word and you weren’t allowed to curse at the mountaintop so it was 40 military burpees for me. I did them as sloppily as I could in a show of disapproval, and also to save my legs (damn you, Andy!!!). I weighed in at 168 lbs, which is about 25 lbs heavier than I am normally.
Back down the mountain it had gotten pretty late and the feeling of anxiety started to set in as I rushed to mix my protein drinks. It was about 3pm by the time I unloaded all of my gear at the Amee Farm. I happened to see Joe and he told me to move quickly because the race was about to start. It was about this time I was wishing I hadn’t declined those offers for crew support. It’s just I really hate burdening others with favors and I fully understood how much of a drag this could become for someone if I went the distance. But man it would have been so nice. So I rushed back to Riverside Farm to park and registered at the boat house, where I learned instead of getting a bib number, this year we had to sew our numbers onto our black compression shirts. Clever. A real pain in the ass, but clever. I then hiked the 1.5 miles along Tweed River back to Amee Farm. Along the way, there were quotes and cryptic images revolving around the whole betrayal theme.
I scrambled to transcribe the first few before realizing there were so damn many of them and I was seriously running out of time. So I took mental notes and ran the rest of the way (this would become a recurring theme). At the Amee Farm I rushed to establish my setup, sewed my number “582” on my shirt, and knocked out the 3 mandatory pre-race tasks: 1) crawl through a narrow rain culvert running under Rt 100, 2) take a swim test around the pond with the life vest and pink swim cap, and 3) chop some wood.
There was a flurry of activity everywhere and the atmosphere was that of frenzy. I really didn’t know what the heck was going on but before I knew it we were standing under kayaks and 12” slosh pipes, holding them up. Then Sargent Screamer barked orders at us to carry our objects over to the duck pond across the road. Then with our life vests and pink swim caps on we found ourselves wading in the water as Andy “The Undertaker” dumped a box full of numbered ping pong balls into the pond. I couldn’t imagine what it must have looked like for a spectator with all 230 of us in pink caps flailing for a ball and everyone holding up numbers , shouting out simultaneously to find others in the same group.
I was a member of team 4 and we would start out carrying a 3-person kayak which I’m guessing weighed about 100 lbs. Several other teams also had the kayak and others had 12” x 7’ slosh pipes partially filled with water each weighing perhaps 60 lbs. One team was assigned a huge tractor tire. The idea of 16 people carrying one kayak is not so bad until you inject panic and disorder into the mix. First, we had no idea that we would be carrying these objects for as long as we did. Secondly, they kept rushing us threatening to disqualify the last team through checkpoints. And as a result, we wouldn’t settle down long enough to figure out the best way to hold this thing for a while.
We left the farm at 6pm on Friday. We wouldn’t return for 30 hours. Death Race: 1, Junyong: 0
Into the woods and up the mountainside we raced like idiots with our heavy objects over our heads. We hiked and ran aimlessly for hours before arriving at a clearing, where we spun the kayaks in a circle and swallowed an adult serving of burpees (~275 by my count) before trudging back into the wilderness. Then it was more hiking to another clearing, more burpees (~150 perhaps?) while we regrouped. I’ve disciplined myself to take a lot of food and water on the run so I was well nourished and hydrated. The problem was we were maybe 5 hours into the night and I was already out of fluids and down to my last few gels. Thankfully, I packed a water filtration system and iodine tabs, but in an amateur miscalculation, I tried cutting weight by carrying only a few hours’ worth of calories at a time which I planned on replenishing whenever we swung by the farm again. But seriously, how fast could we possibly move as a group of 230 such that a few extra pounds would affect my ability to keep up? I had done myself in really good. My dozen gels, single energy bar, and Gatorade would provide perhaps 1600 calories and I had already consumed almost all of it. But thankfully my team was awesome. One of my teammates, Dennis, had a giant bag of trail mix and he was almost too generous to share this with me and the others. I credit any of my success to him because I seriously would not have survived the night with only what I brought. And to return the favor I stopped wherever possible to fill up hydration packs for others with my filtration system. Not exactly sure why but it was at this stop that our team switched from having to carry the kayak to two slosh pipes. We carried those pipes all through the night for dozens of miserable miles through an extremely windy, narrow, and technical section called the Bloodroot Trail and then ultimately onto the Long Trail.
Blood Root Trail.
By about 20 miles in I was long exhausted of food and left with only my thoughts which were overridden with doubt. But then the sun finally came up over the new day and that brought with it an immediate boost in everyone’s morale. We reached a fork in the road and didn’t know which way to go so I stupidly ran scout in one direction, which would end up being the wrong way, and tacked on yet another 1.5 to 2 miles of running to catch back up to my team.
A few miles later we finally ended up at somebody’s house on the absolutely stunning Chittenden Reservoir, truly a sight for sore eyes.
Here we had to do a 200m swim, a challenge that completely backfired on the race directors because the water was so nice with the sun shining brilliantly across a perfect sky and it just ended up being an extremely welcome and reinvigorating treat for us. Then we were assigned the task of hauling 8 full buckets of gravel down the quarter mile long driveway to the beach. Others chose to shuttle 10 shorter trips of aggregate to pave the driveway (should have done this instead). I only made 6 or so buckets hauling ass before we were told we needed to start moving again. At this point a good number of people started dropping out, including one teammate who I couldn’t convince to keep going but who would unload the remainder of his food on me (I forget your name, kind sir, but thank you).
Returning from Chittenden with Olof and Todd.
Thankfully we ditched the kayaks and slosh pipes at the reservoir, but after another long 6-8 miles of hiking and another round of 150+ burpees, we arrived at Roger’s house around 1pm for a written exam. We were already 24 hours into the race at this point and whatever food rations that were shared with me were once again long gone. Now this exam, it was so ridiculously, laughably impossible. In 2 hours, they expected us, starved and sleep-deprived, to write an exactly 100-word essay explaining why we were going to quit and answer 250 highly technical multiple-choice questions pertaining to biology, cell division, chemistry, math problems, phobias, diseases, survival, Death Race and race director trivia, etc. The caveat was the answers had to be written above the corresponding question number on answer sheet A, which had all the question numbers scrambled all over the sheet. And in order to count, each answer then had to be transcribed over to answer sheet B which had the question numbers scrambled in yet a different order. Each page of the test had to have your name, birthday, # of hours you were into the Death Race. You had to put a triangle around each answer with a C, a square around each D, count the total number of something and put in on sheet B. There was even an extra credit problem which I irresistibly went straight for. Failure to meet certain grades meant there would be penalties to pay at the end. Nobody got through more than probably 50 questions before giving up but of course my OCD kicked in and I managed to get myself thoroughly worked up over it. At the end of a short 2 hours which culminated in a panic-driving countdown and me frantically scribbling “C’s” everywhere, we put our tests into a manila envelope and stacked them in a wheelbarrow, which probably was dumped directly into a fire pit.
It seemed imminent that the group hazing was about to end and the individual race about to begin. Despite the lack of sleep and food, I was raring to go. I made sure to keep myself at the front of that lead group pack to capitalize on the opportunity to tear away when it presented itself. Somewhere on the hike back over to Riverside Farm via Lower Michigan a teammate with a GPS unit told me we had already covered 41 miles. Insane, considering most of those miles were realized carrying a heavy object going slower than 1 mph over some truly terrible trails.
And then it happened, the real race looked like it was going to start. After regrouping at Riverside, we were lined up at the base of Tweed River Dr and it would be a footrace to get up to the cabin at the base of Joe’s peak, 1.5 miles up a moderate incline. I ran the flats and walked the hills maintaining control as I watched some overzealous individuals literally race until I could barely see them anymore. At the top we were once again grouped into teams of 4 and given a team card. A young volunteer gave us very basic instructions to fill and carry a bucket full of gravel/hard pack up to the peak, find a flag and wooden stake corresponding to our team number (#44), deposit the gravel there, and bring the flag back down. We were also informed that this was going to be the last group task before being released into the individual race. Before we even summited the peak, the first team had already dropped off their gravel and was headed back down so naturally we were all thinking to ourselves, “How hard could this possibly be?” But after searching all over that goddamn peak… no flags. Not even another team’s. Thirty minutes later, none of the 30 or so other teams had found theirs either. So I frantically raced back down to get clarification only to learn the flags were out there, but not all of them necessarily where we would expect, some hidden away on windy little side trails. Sure enough a couple of teams started to find theirs as I grew ever more impatient and frustrated. We searched for perhaps 2 hours and still nothing. I was so angry I went back down to ask for another number because ours was nowhere to be found. It made me angrier that one volunteer started making analogies about me giving up in life and kept spouting that I just had to keep looking harder. I told them how I had looked just about everywhere when they finally clarified that the flags could be anywhere between there and the river, basically describing a boundary that would correspond to one or two square miles of land. I couldn’t tell if they were just messing with me or telling the truth, but that’s about when I lost it. I stormed off throwing and kicking my bucket (which is probably how I injured my big toe).
I found Andy and started complaining to him about how this challenge was impossible and completely disproportionate from team to team, and that I might as well just quit. And what if people were sabotaging ribbons? He just told me I had to keep looking because they were all out there and if I wanted to quit I could quit. And I wanted to quit so badly. My mind was starting to fill with rage. I could be there all night in the dark and I’d already been starving for the last 10 hours? The leaders had already mounted a 2-hour lead and it was looking near impossible to catch them at this point anyway. But I knew I couldn’t let myself down like that, especially when I wasn’t even close to my threshold. So I channeled that rage into a newfound determination and tore back into the mountain. I found a teammate who volunteered to watch our team’s bags as we went off in search. I ran in a frenzy for another hour and a half covering some 3.5 miles before it started getting dark and I was forced to head back down. When I got there, I found my bag abandoned without a note and it appeared everyone else somehow magically found their ribbon except for me. The rules were that you had to check out collectively with your team so I checked with the card-keeper and he didn’t have our card so presumably my team was still out there. I called out for my team but no response. Believing I had no other option I was forced to make one more ascent to the top and sweep the mountain, but still no sign of my team. I checked with the card-keeper again and he told me I should check with the other card-keeper, and sure enough, Team 44 had already checked out at 7:20pm with only 3 members. I had been abandoned and betrayed. Almost 4 hours back of the leaders, I had resigned at this point from chasing a podium finish, to just finishing. The individual race was on but there was no race left for me. And so I moved on.
The next challenge was to cut off a section of log from a large piece of timber, cut that in half, then split into 6 pieces each for 12 total pieces which we could then finally carry over the mountain and back to Amee Farm. I like splitting wood so aside from the fact that I brought a significantly undersized splitting axe for this task, I enjoyed it. I even spent some good time chatting with Dennis, the teammate who kept me nourished with his trail mix along the way, and helped chop some others’ logs. Dennis ended up deciding to quit at this point and I couldn’t convince him to stay. And once again this awesome fellow ended up giving me the rest of what he had (if you’re reading this, thank you Dennis). I linked up with a fellow named Dan and we devised a pretty impressive sled to drag our 24 pieces of wood. We moved it about 50 feet before realizing that it was going to be impossible to get over the rugged mountain and he was starting to fade really badly from a lack of nourishment. So we unpacked it and carried what we could in our buckets, bags and arms. I’ll confess it was less than 12 pieces, but still a lot.
By the time we got back to Amee Farm, it was midnight and I had covered a total of about 60 miles. It was 30 hours since I had last seen my food and I ripped into it like a famished predator upon its prey. After gorging myself, it was time to stand in the cold duck pond for 45 minutes.
Chillin’ out in the duck pond.
The sky was so clear you could see the bands of the Milky Way. The refueling gave me a big second wind and I was ready to go again, armed heavily with nutrition this time. A group of 8 of us, including Dan and Lisa Madden, headed back out into the wilderness around 2:30am. The second wind was short-lived as I started wobbling my way up the mountain (digestion perhaps?). Others must have felt a similar effect because we all ended up sitting down for a few minutes. I rested my head for a moment and was instantly asleep if only for 30 seconds. We got lost a few times but finally arrived at the peak just as the new day was breaking over a beautiful valley covered in a shallow layer of fog. This was effectively the third sunrise for all of us today and once again it brought a renewed sense of hope.
Then it was back down the mountain across Rt 100 under the covered bridge through the water and over to Peter’s house where we had to split and stack 10 logs. And then we would receive our most interesting challenge yet. There, awaiting us was a giant log that weighed probably close to 100 lbs. Attached with 4 staples on one side was a single sheet of paper. We had to carry this log without damaging the paper up a 1.5 mile loop trail that ascended 300 ft where at the top we had to learn how to make an origami crane from a vague set of incomplete instructions. Then further up we had to remember a simple verse which I already forgot… something about plastic and having a nice day. That log was a beast to carry. It wouldn’t come even close to fitting in my bag so I tried attaching it from the outside with tie down straps but it was so heavy the shoulder straps dug straight into my shoulders and the only way I could maintain equilibrium was by completely hunching over on my knees, which did not work. I even tried crafting a sled but it was too steep and bumpy so that also proved useless. I had to buck up. The only way that thing was getting up the mountain was by brute force. So I mustered up all of my 142-lb strength and lifted that knobby little bastard onto my shoulders and hauled ass as much as possible. I’m not a weightlifter by any means so it’s something of a miracle I didn’t break my back lifting it over my head and up to my shoulders. And to boot we were still required to carry our pack so that was another 20 lbs. I noticed a lot of people at this particular challenge taking shortcuts, ditching their logs part way and running up, or going down the same way they came up. At first it made me a little disgusted that so many people were cheating themselves of a legitimate finish but in a weird way I understood. Things were getting to that tipping point and what they were doing wasn’t unlike stealing to feed a family. Everybody knew it was wrong but it was the only way they were going to make it to the next day. At the origami instructions I found a small group trying to figure it out together. The instructions were missing the key first steps so it made absolutely no sense to me at all but thankfully someone there was able to show me the start and I was able to decipher the rest of it. I wasn’t in any sort of rush so I sat down and explained to the others how to finish it. I then continued up to memorize the passage and finished the loop trail back down to Peter’s. Apparently some of the folks I helped out along the way said some nice things about me because I was greeted and pulled aside by the DR staff and told that I wouldn’t have to build my crane or split my log. Whoever that was, thank you.
So I was back on the road, under the covered bridge and through the river, over to Joe’s peak again, then back down to Amee Farm. I had caught up to Lisa and gang again but this time they changed the blazings on the trail and redirected us down the Fusters trail. It might as well have been called Flusters because that bastard switched back and forth so many times and just would not descend. Finally I got totally flustered and just bushwhacked my way down, cutting out a number of switchbacks but separating myself from the group. That was a bad move as I ended up getting totally lost. I found a trail but was unable to determine if I was upstream or downstream of the farm. I was concerned that the group I was with would get back to the farm and report me missing after being gone for so long so I picked a direction and started running and I ultimately picked up a pink trail blaze again. Unfortunately as it would turn out this was part of an old set of blazes for a previous Peak race. When I reached the river, I was pretty certain I was downstream of the farm (by about 1.5 miles) and decided the best thing to do was to cross the river and pick up Rt. 100 back. After crossing the river I scrambled up some scree up to someone’s backyard. I was more than a little concerned about my presentation in Vermont country (are there even any gun laws?) donning an axe sticking out of my backpack and a 5 gallon bucket hanging off it. I was about to cross over from the backyard of this house to the frontyard and driveway when I saw a woman going to her car. My immediate reaction: hide like a fugitive so as not to get the Death Race in trouble (ok I was at least an hour lost, severely sleep-deprived, exhausted, and not thinking super rationally). After the woman went back in her house, I switched to Mission Impossible stealth mode (or at least as stealth as I could get with a bucket banging against my axe handle) as I sprinted for the driveway. Damn those Vermont driveways are long. I was back in civilization on Rt. 100 and after asking a resident how far to Amee Farm (who told me about ½ mile, although it was more like a mile), I was back on track too. I shamefully trudged back to the farm where I confessed to Joe what I had done as he unsympathetically laughed at my plight. I was 48 hours and perhaps 80 miles into the race at this point.
The next task was to unload 15 bales of hay from the truck and bring them up to the loft of the barn.
As I was underway, Joe came on the radio and instructed the volunteer to tell me I had to unload ALL of the bales of hay from one of the trucks for being a “criminal”. I was more than ok with the task of moving all that hay as it was easier than just about anything we had already been doing, but I took exception to the fact that I was being associated with the “criminals”. The genesis of the “criminals” label came about from the flag search challenge when apparently most of the teams could not find their flags so they started taking random flags, renumbering them with a Sharpie marker and calling it their own. They would all be called out on it later as the race directors knew where they hid the real ones. Even though I searched as hard as anyone for my team’s flag, and was betrayed and abandoned by my team, and then given permission by the card-keeper to proceed, I would still be lumped into this classification. I told Joe to create a new classification for me. After unloading about 50 hay bales Joe gave me the ok to move onto the next task: carrying a 60-lb bag of cement to the top of the mountain. Not sure what got into me but the engine was roaring again… another second wind. I packed the cement into my bag and chugged away into the mountain. I ascended in about an hour and caught up to the Lisa gang again. Then it was back down to the farm. By this time the sun was getting ready to set on another day and it was looking more and more like Joe and Andy’s claims that the race would carry on until Monday were beginning to show some credibility.
At 7:30pm Joe instructed us to head back to Riverside Farm. A group of us asked no further questions and decided to interpret that in the most literal sense, setting off on the most direct route via the trail along the river. When we arrived, there was a most unusual challenge awaiting us, manned by Jack Cary, the Death-Racer-turned-to-the-dark-side. Before us was an open field of grass flattened down into a 300 meter out-and-back loop and around this loop we had to roll on our sides. No standing up, no crawling. On the far side was a bucket filled with this extremely foul-smelling slurry of rotting cow intestines and entrails. Each time we passed this bucket we had to stir the contents with the stick 10 times before proceeding. At the end of each loop, we had to correctly answer a trivia question in order for the lap to count (For me it was always “What sense is most closely associated to memory?”. And put on repeat for a total of 6 times.
Introducing… the rolling challenge.
Some even managed to roll themselves to sleep.
A VERY disgruntled Kevin Lowe.
A lot of important things began to transpire here. I was maybe around 25th place at this point when I heard that the top 3 leaders who were probably 6 hours ahead, all simultaneously quit. I heard the new leader was only 3 hours ahead and I saw the new second place guy just finishing up his last lap as I was about to start. It was 9pm, we were 55 hours in, but I was just starting to hit my stride again. I was told the top guys were averaging 25-30 minutes per lap and that everybody had been throwing up at least once. So with that kind of encouragement, targets within reach, and rolling being my forte… I unleashed the most furious Death Race kick there ever was. I clicked off 12-15 minute laps and was done by 10:30pm, zero vomit. The next task was to check in at Joe’s peak and then head down to Amee Farm for further instructions. I was about to take off running when some girl told me I could get there by any means possible as she explained that everyone else had been getting a ride. And without even asking Johnny Waite immediately offered up his help. After confirming with Jack, I guiltily accepted the ride as Johnny raced his car up Tweed River Dr for me (thank you Johnny!).
I jumped out of the car and started running. I quickly caught 6, 5, and then 4 & 3, who were hiking together with their crew. They detected my sense of urgency as I ran by them and they immediately started to take chase. By the way, running on those trails in the dark with a headlamp low on battery is not a great idea. Not only did I get lost pretty badly about 3 times, but I also twisted my ankle a few times. The chase pack was surprisingly hard to shake and they caused me to make a lot of mistakes going back down the mountain. At one point I was actually on the trail along the river headed back to Riverside again. But I could sense the end was near so I kicked it into high gear and caught them back up again on the final stretch just before Amee Farm. I was hoping to reach Joe and have him tell me it was finally over but instead he gave us our next challenge: fill up our buckets with rocks from the river and carry them up to the top of Joe’s peak. It was almost like he was just making crap up at this point. But I sensed the end was near and I was feeling indestructible. Without hesitation, I took off running again back down to the river. I filled up my bucket then dumped the rocks into my back pack. My chase pack had just arrived at the river as I was about to leave so I knew there was no way they were catching me if I didn’t get lost. I also knew there was a lot more on the line now and I wasn’t going to tolerate cheating at this stage if it should happen. So I kept a sharp eye out for suspicious activity and chugged my way up the mountain harder than ever. Then I spotted a figure up ahead and I was closing fast. They were clearly struggling to get up the mountain like they were carrying something heavy, like river rocks. I knew there was a distinct possibility that someone might try carrying a partial load of river rocks and picking up the rest closer to the top as there was no way to distinguish between them. So as I reeled him in my focus was on his hands. And at 50m out, sure enough a hand reached down to pick up a rock.
“HEY!!!!!!! DON’T YOU #@!*$^#$% MOVE!!!”
As I pulled up I peered into a shallow bucket of rocks. He explained how he had more in his pack. I asked him if he wasn’t cheating and he didn’t deny it so I just shook my head and let him stew in his own guilt.
When I got to the top I finally heard the ever-elusive words come over the radio that the race was finally over for me. I was so elated I actually continued running all the way back down the mountain to Riverside, faster than ever. And when I got down, it was 1am Monday morning and 59 hours had passed since we started at 2pm Friday afternoon. By my estimates I had personally covered 95 miles.
A very small sample of the area we covered. Note the Chittenden Reservoir in the background.
As I sat by the fire with the 2012 winter and summer Death Race winner, Olof Dallner, both of us sipping a victory beer and eating Chef Boyardee out of the can, about to pass out with a mouthful, there was no greater satisfaction than in knowing I did not succumb to my moments of weakness and doubt and allow them to overcome my strength. That would have been all too easy. I’m still trying to process all the events of that looooong day. I was up for 64 hours in all. The last guy rolled through the finish of his race in 67 hours. It seemed so incredibly impossible but we did it, 59 out of 230 of us in fact. How is that even statistically possible? The only explanation is that those who made it are statistical anomalies of nature.
The final challenge of the night was to pack up my things from the tent area and drive to my special camp site. On my drive, I saw the most vivid (and my only ever) hallucination in the form of a giant black cat in the middle of the road. I swerved a little to avoid it but it wisped away into a black smoke like that smoke monster in Lost. Crazy.
Thank you Joe and Andy (and Jack) for setting the stage for us at the expense of your own health and sanity, and a special thanks to Johnny Waite, Dennis-the-feeder, and everyone else who played a role in my success. Congrats to anyone who even showed up, including the volunteers and crew support teams. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, Death Racers are a breed like no other. And finally I get to stand proudly amongst them.