Spartan Death Race 2014 & Old Race Report June 2012
Death Race 2014 Updates Stream: http://www.peak.com/death-races/death-race-stream/
Death Race 2015 Registration: http://www.eventbrite.com/e/2015-death-race-tickets-12088173051
Spartan Races – The Death Race
60+ Hours & Too Many Miles
June 15th – June 18th 2012
The Event: The Death Race is as much a mental challenge as it is a physical beating. Hard, grueling terrain mixed with strenuous challenges and combined with a healthy dose of mind games make this event unique in the newly evolving world of obstacle races, and as far as I know it, it is unique in the more established adventure race world as well. Competitors don’t have any realistic idea about course length in miles or hours, and the only given is that they’ll have to chop wood somewhere along the line.
Getting There & Parking: The event was held in Pittsfield, Vermont. It is a small town and competitors were emailed locations to park along the main road, Rt 100, in town. The locations themselves were clearly marked with large signs, and there were signs approaching them letting you know they were coming up. Volunteers did a good job of directing traffic to the right spot once you pulled in. No charge for parking.
Check-in & Logistics: I’m tempted to give this a N/A rating because by the time you are checking in, I feel the race has already begun. I’ll go over it more in my race recap, but competitors had to find their way to cabin on top of a mountain to weigh in, then had to “check in” by handing in a pack contents list at the farm at the bottom of the mountain from the cabin, and then had to hike back to another farm where you already had 4 separate challenges to complete. This was all before handing in your keys and ID. It was a bit of clusterf%$k, but it was meant to be.
The Schwag: Finishers got a skull signifying that they finished. Top finishers got a skull kettlebell. Everybody else that made the brave attempt to start the race got some Peak Races gear (shirt and hat) as well as a 2012 Death Race hoodie. I would have loved to see a Death Race shirt or bib in here.
The Event: I don’t normally start my recaps with the parking lot, but that is really where this race started. We received an email about a day earlier going over the 3-part check-in process, but in reality it was to be a 4-part process. The first part was to be a weigh-in at the cabin at the top of the mountain from Riverside Farm that started at 1pm. The second part was to be a “registration” at Riverside Farm, the third part was to be a gear drop at Amee Farm, and the fourth part was to be a key and ID drop at the General Store. The race would then start back at Amee Farm at 6pm. Here’s what really happened.
I showed up early to Riverside Farm… all spots taken. I drive a couple miles to Amee Farm, and the place was already a beehive of activity, with volunteers directing racers, racers dropping gear, and people everywhere. I jumped into the beehive to drop my extra gear at the tent they had for it. It was already packed with gear. Funny. When I was on my way, I was worried that I’d be too early… After I dropped my gear, I parked my truck. I caught on with a few other racers that were getting a ride from our fellow racer Jeremy’s father back to Riverside for weigh-in. Jeremy’s father drove us a good distance up the mountain luckily, so we don’t have to hike too far. On the hike up, racers coming down were warning us against swearing. There were kids floating around the cabin, and if one heard you swear, it was a 40 burpee penalty. After a long wait in line where I chatted with folks I know from around the racing circuit and some I just met, I get weighed in. I was 208.5 with my pack. I’m usually around 170 without it, and I don’t think a 39 lbs pack is that bad.
I make my way down the mountain to Riverside Farm where registration is. Registration was fairly quick. You get your bib number. You hand in your pack contents list. A note on that was that you could have your pack searched at any time to make sure you had nothing that wasn’t in your contents list. I saw some folks with big, long itemized lists. I opted for the more generalized approach. Mine simply read “mandatory gear, water containers, food, medicine & supplements, survival & Death Race gear, money”. I suppose I could have gone even more general and just said “stuff”, but I figured I’d walk the line to be safe. Then you got your race day schwag. During this process you were asked if you wanted to quit for a full refund about 10 times. After registration you were told to hike back to Amee Farm following the marked route and to stitch your bib number in your black compression shirt (required item) with your needle and thread (required item) in 3” numbers.
The way back to Amee Farm was an easy hike, but along the way there were pictures and quotes about betrayal strewn about the path. People crowded around each one to copy down the quotes and do God knows what for the pictures. I started snapping pics with my camera phone figuring I’d transfer them to my notepad when I got back to the farm. This is the Death Race after all. You may need to know some of this stuff. After passing the twentieth one, I realized there was no way we had to know all of it, and I figured it was just a ploy to make us already paranoid racers even more paranoid and slow us down. I’m a slow learner. That should have been obvious from the start.
Amee Farm’s beehive of activity was a stirred up hornet’s nest by the time I got back. Megaphone’s blaring… people yelling… wood chopping… people running all over the place. “You have FIVE minutes to get your shirts stitched or you’re getting punished!” I’ll admit it. I panicked a little at first. Quickly I got a hold of myself and made my way to the Team Sisu tent with my friend and fellow racer Lisa. We took our time stitching our shirts and just kind of shrugged our shoulders at people screaming at us to hurry up. I won’t say that I really dogged it here, but I wasn’t in any rush to finish my shirt just to be put to work. When you finished your shirt, you had to complete three challenges: the strength challenge (chopping wood and bringing it up to the lodge), the bravery challenge (crawl through a long, pitch black culver), and the swim challenge (don your life vest and pink swim cap *both required items* and swim maybe a 15 yards down and back). I have to admit that I had a millisecond of panic in that culver when things went dark. I mean it’s not everyday you’re in a water-filled pipe underground.
All of us are looking around confused. “Did you sign a waiver?” “Yeah me either.” “Have you turned in your ID and keys yet?” As if on queue, Joe gets on the megaphone and tells us to drop our ID’s and keys with a volunteer at some picnic tables. I guess we aren’t going to the General Store, which means I’m not going to be able to splurge on food and hydration supplies like I had planned. Things really aren’t starting well. Next thing I know we’re packed into groups holding kayaks or a huge tractor tire high above our heads and making our way towards the pond. After setting our items down, we’re told to get into our life vests and swim caps and get in the pond. A lot of people a lot smarter than me take their shoes and socks off. I think “we’ll be back here in 10 hours. Wet shoes and socks aren’t a big deal for that long.”
After a speech from Andy, they dump ping pong balls into the water with numbers on them. Whatever number you get is your team. We break off into our teams… Now I don’t know what happened here, but my team disintegrated from 22 to 14 relatively quickly, and that’s including a couple people from team 6 that we picked up somehow. I imagine people broke off to be with their friends when they saw balls weren’t being checked (ping pong balls… there wasn’t a physical). I decided to stay loyal to team #1 despite not knowing anybody on it. We hoisted our kayak and made off into the woods in a long procession with all the other teams. Somewhere along the line, one of my teammates got the idea to rig the kayak with parachord. To be completely honest, I thought it was a dumb idea. I figured the parachord would be murder on our hands, and it’d be easier to shoulder carry anyway.
I’m glad we’ve already established the fact that I in fact do not know everything. The parachord turned out to be an awesome idea. Mixed in here somewhere was Joe and others on megaphones screaming for teams to pass each other or face punishment. This is where the madness began. The paths at this point were pretty wide open, so passing wasn’t horribly hard or dangerous. That changed though. I’m unsure how long we were out on these paths, but eventually you had people barrel assing down steep trails stampeding each other with kayaks and pipes. It got ugly.
There were a couple times I shot to the front “crowd-side” of our kayak just to slow us down from trampling people. Sorry, but blasting people in the back with a kayak at a run just to escape some imaginary burpees doesn’t sit well with me. I tried passing this on to my team, but I’m not sure if it was lost in the chaos or they didn’t believe/agree with me. I doubted we’d be punished for not passing a solid wall of people. I could picture Joe and Andy on their hands and knees laughing their asses off at all of us killing each other just to jockey up 10 feet in position. Then you had the hardo factor. At one point, we dropped our kayak and some guy was stepping on it from another team. One of our girls said “stop stepping on our kayak”. “I step where I fucking want” lol Ok, hero.
So on and on this kayak carrying went for a long time. I picked up a couple healthy sized bruises on the side of each knee from the kayak repeatedly smashing into it during the dashes. It did mellow out after a while though. We eventually reached a clearing where we were told to form a circle and pass our objects around the circle. The pipes and tire lent themselves to this, but we opted for the “hands of the clock” method for passing the kayak. Then we were told to put our objects down and bang out 100 burpees as a group. Boom. 100 burpees done. “Nope. It’s 200” Boom. 200 done. “300!” I’m not sure how many it ended up being, but I think it was 400. Up the kayak goes once again, and we’re off. The terrain starts getting steeper and steeper, and people start taking longer and longer breaks from the kayak. All except one: Josh, a GRT who’s name I’d seen in the GRT group. That dude was constantly on the kayak. I tried to keep up, but I ended up needing more time off than he did. The dude was a machine.
It’s pitch dark now, so headlamps come out. We pause for a break where we all woof down food. They bring out a trash bag and ask for our bags of human hair (required item). It was a little anticlimactic. We were all wondering what this human hair was going to be for… well it was for dumping into a trash bag. I’m just happy I didn’t have to eat it or sew it into anything. Up the kayak goes again, and further up we go. We come to another clearing, and it’s burpee time. I don’t know about anybody else, but I dogged it for a few moments on these burpees to grab some much needed chow. I turned my headlamp off, so I’d be harder to track, I grabbed some food, and I chowed down as quick as I could before jumping back in the burpee festival. I think the tally from that clearing was another 200 or 300 burpees, but I’m unsure. You could see people really lagging now, and they were already quitting.
Here we’re told to switch items with another team. There was a team next to us with what we thought was a pipe, so we switch with them. Oops. Turned out the had two pipes. Bummer. Off we go with pipes on shoulders. The pipes weren’t really that bad, but the terrain got a lot worse. By worse, I mean steep as hell. Some of the trails were causing us to gasp just in our rucks alone nevermind carrying the extra weight of the pipe. It got pretty sketchy too with team members disappearing and not answering any calls for relief off the pipe. Maybe I’m the sucker for sticking with it. Along the way one of our pipes got dropped cracking off an end cap. That lightened the load significantly when the water burst out, but there was still a big log and gravel in there.
I have zero idea how long it took us to reach the next rest stop, but my lungs were burning when we got there. My team was out in front by a healthy margin, and we were told to go back and look for people that needed help. No way did I want to make that climb again even without a pack or pipe, so I slowly descended talking to people coming up as I went. I got to spend some time with racing buddies Dan and Ryan that I know from around, and one of the DR volunteers volunteered some water and snacks. (see what i did there?) Before long, everybody was resting, so we made our way back up to find our teams. Most people have zero water at this point, but we were told that the surrounding streams are all beaver contaminated. None of us wanted giardia, so we just went thirsty.
I barely have time to sit when Andy announces we are taking off. I see some teammates scurry forward with a pipe, so I rush to catch up. That would be the last time I saw any of my team but these four. Luckily it was the water-free pipe, but with only four of us to carry it, it wore on you. We always had one teammate up ahead with Andy, which I didn’t quite understand. It was “to watch him”, and I wasn’t sure what they were watching, but I was tired and had no idea how long this would last, so I didn’t make waves. This actually wasn’t that bad of a part of the night. The hiking wasn’t too bad beyond being rocky and rooty single-track, and we were way out in front of everybody else. We kept talking about how happy we were not to have a kayak or the tractor tire for this stretch of the night. We figured most of the other teams were stuck behind one or the other. Eventually another team caught up and passed us, but they were 20 strong on one pipe, so I’m ok with that.
Suddenly we stumble into a clearing where that other team and Andy are taking a break. Andy asks how far the closest team to us is, and we reply that the only other team we’ve ever heard was the team he was with. With a shoulder shrug, he tells us to take a break. Some folks build a fire, and a teammate takes out a big mylar blanket that we huddle under for warmth. Now that we’re stopped, we start to feel the cold on our sweat-drenched bodies. This could be my favorite moment from the race. I was just laying there under a blanket next to a fire looking up at all the stars in the clear night sky. It was peaceful. All too soon, dawn crept in and so did Joe. He said the other teams would be there any minute except for the tire team. I guess the tire team was way behind everybody else. I was bummed to hear that because I knew some people on that team.
We get up a little more well rested and push on. Andy says the reservoir is close now and somebody quips “8 miles?”. All through the night, Andy kept saying we just had 8 miles more. 12 hours later, we’re still trucking along… no water and little food. Andy even double mind f’ed us when he told us earlier, “We don’t have anywhere near 8 miles to go. I was just saying that to get people to quit.” Ha! It started sinking in that we’d likely not be back at the farm anytime soon. Here we all are, and most of barely packed enough food or supplies to be away from camp for 8 hours. I had to silently applaud that one.
The trip to the reservoir was uneventful. Somewhere along the way, we lost the log and gravel from the pipe, so it was just an empty PVC pipe. I’m not complaining. At the reservoir, we had to once again don our vests and swim caps for a swim test. The test wasn’t that far. I’m guessing it was maybe 100 yards. No big deal. The water was fabulously warmer than the early morning air as well, so it was only cold when you got out, but there was a fire to warm up by. All in all, it was pretty refreshing, and I was feeling great. I also took this opportunity to change into dry socks. My feet were holding up well at this point, and I was in great spirits.
Our next task was to fill our 5 gallon buckets (girls could have 2/3rds full) with either the crushed stone dust or gravel about 1/8th of a mile down the road and dump it in our designated area. Being an unlucky son of a bitch, my team got gravel and had to dump it the farthest away of any other groups on the beach of the reservoir. The later a group got there, the closer to the rock piles they got to dump, so some groups that got there a good 30-60 minutes after my group finished before us. Oh well. Them’s the breaks. I was shoulder carrying my full bucket, which wasn’t too bad beyond the sharp edges of the bucket digging into my skin. Some people made these cool chest-mounted carriers out of webbing and others could actually fit their buckets in their packs, which seemed the best approach of all.
I had finished my buckets, and I had gone back to help a girl on my team with her last bucket. Right as I dump it Andy announces, “Three more buckets each!”. Damn it all! Three buckets later, and everybody is gearing to head back to town. One of the guys I had come with said his GPS had us at nearly 30 miles so far for the duration of the race. I was surprised, but I was still feeling pretty good. I filled my water bladder straight from the reservoir, and off I went.
I ended up hitching in with my friend Leyla, so we were talking as we hiked back the way he had come. The mass of racers spread out as some shot forward and some lagged behind. We apparently took a wrong turn along the way, We weren’t the only ones though. There was a contingent of about 20 or 30 of us all along this trail. A couple guys with a GPS said it looked like if we kept following this trail that it’d take us back to Pittsfield. We were already 45 minutes into the wrong turn, so we could hike 45 minutes back to make it an hour and half long error, or we could press on. I have to say that this wrong turn started my undoing.
I got a bit anxious since being lost in the woods with no food and little water after already being awake for over a day while being miles and miles from help and nobody even knows where you are just wasn’t an appealing thought to me. I made a lot of mistakes over the course of this race and prepping for it, and not bringing a topographic trail map of the area was a huge one. IALWAYS do that whenever I do any hiking regardless of the area. If I could figure out exactly where I was and where I was going, I wouldn’t have been nearly as anxious and thus wouldn’t have pushed so hard. It was this hard push that was ultimately my undoing. At this time, you had a lot of folks complaining about feet and aches and pains. I said it more than once to more than one person, “Nobody knows where we are and they can’t get vehicles to us. You are walking out one way or another. Just keep pushing forward step by step.”
I lagged behind with some hurting friends for a while letting the trail setters with GPS’s get further and further ahead. Finally a bit anxious that they were getting too far ahead, and we’d miss a turn at a trail split, I took off to try to catch up. I think it was maybe 30 or 45 minutes that I was pushing hard, but I did finally catch up. There were only two turns that were questionable, but I drew arrows in the dirt at each one for the people following behind me. Hopefully they didn’t need them, and if they did, hopefully they helped. We finally emerged from the woods, and as luck would have it, it was the same exact exit point for the racers that stayed on trail. We just took a longer, more meandering route there. A generous home owner at the trailhead was letting racers fill up with water off his garden hose, and I eagerly took advantage of that.
Finally! Now it’s on to Amee Farm for some much needed foot care and food! My feet were on absolute fire from that portion I really hussled. I could feel the fluid moving around in multiple blisters every time I stepped. This was new to me because I rarely blister. We come out on Lower Michigan Road, and I think, “Yes. We’ll come out right by the General Store! I’m definitely grabbing some food and something cold to drink.” Then the guy I’m with sees an arrow for Death Racers pointing to the left of a steep connector street. I’m still not discouraged at this point. I’m thinking, “OK. We’ll come out around Upper Michigan, and the farm is right there.” As we walk along Upper Michigan we come to more arrows pointing up yet another steep road to the left. I turn the corner and look up the road thinking, “Shit”. On and on and up and up we go. I start lagging behind at this point due to my feet and get passed by a handful or two of other racers.
Some people that passed me while looking for their lost dog told me to go to their house. They had left out fruit, saltines, and a water hose for Death Racers. How can I pass that up? I head over there and gorge for a bit on the fruit and saltines and then just take a load off while talking to some other racers. The climb up had been brutal on my busted up feet, and the heat hadn’t helped. My life had become miserable moments in the sun split up with pleasant moments in the shadow of some trees. That’s what I love about events like this. You really learn to appreciate the little things.
Rest time over, I head on out to continue the climb to Roger’s with my rest buddy Craig. There is a group of dropping racers at the end of his driveway. They tell us that we’re too late and that if we continue, it will be as unofficial racers. I chuckled. We continue down the driveway lined with people on both sides writing on paper. This should be interesting. We find Joe about halfway down this long driveway. “You guys are too late. If you want to continue, you won’t be official finishers unless you can convince 2 racers to drop.” I didn’t believe it for a second. I think that was one of those things that people needing an excuse to bail latched onto in order to do it. He gave us tests and said we had an hour and a half to finish. Now this test was beyond ridiculous.
There were instructions to go with it. You had to write your name, bib #, and date on the top of every page of the test. You had to write the total hours you had been racing in the bottom left. You had to answer all the questions on answer sheet A by writing the answer above the corresponding number and drawing a triangle around it. You had to transpose those answers to answer sheet B where you wrote your answer below the corresponding number. I’ll pause here to let you know that these answers sheets weren’t traditionally numbered in order. The numbers were scattered all over the sheets in random location and different sizes. It made it hell trying to find each one. You had to count the number of C & D answers and put that on the top of answer sheet C. On top of that, there was a 100 word essay on why you should be a Death Racer (or something like that) and a bonus question that you had to decrypt. The scoring ranges went like this: 200-250 Skip a challenge; 150-200 Congrats you’re a Death Racer; 100-150 2 hour penalty at a challenge; <100 DQ’ed.
I answered about 10 questions until it hit me. There was no way on God’s green earth that they could grade all these tests. This whole exercise was just to muddle our minds and stiffen our bodies by forcing us to sit and lie down for a couple hours. After that, I answered everything B, and then just tried to keep my limbs moving so as not to stiffen. After what seemed like half the day, they say the test is over and to follow Joe to the next challenge. As I stand up, a woman comes over to me and tells me I just volunteered to collect logs from the pond. YAY! Happy clap. I stand up stiff as hell on feet that feel like I’m walking on water balloons from all the blisters. I head down to the pond and walk aimlessly around it for a while until the woman reappears to show me exactly where it was. Ah yes. Right in front of me.
I bring the wood up to Roger’s like Gimpy the Clown (I’m trademarking that), dump it, throw my pack on to chase down the rest of the racers. I make it about 25 yards, and I make the decision to pull myself out. I can give a million reasons why I dropped. My feet were covered in blisters, but most people’s were. My body was aching and stiff, but again most people’s were. I hadn’t had enough food to keep me going, but yet again most of us hadn’t. Ultimately my heart just wasn’t in it. I’ve felt some event burnout lately, and I almost didn’t even make the trip to Pittsfield. I hadn’t bought supplies until days before leaving and didn’t even make lodging plans. I figured I’d head up, see how things went, and take it from there. I had amazing time while I was in the race, but if your heart isn’t in it, you are basically torturing yourself to torture yourself.
Other tasks that more competent Death Racers hit included wood chopping, hay bail stacking, hiking wood all over the place, folding an origami animal, hiking a 60 lbs bag of concrete up to the weigh in cabin, and the absolute killer “rolling” task. People essentially had to roll a mile and half. It sounds simple, but go outside and try it. Your world will be spinning like you just killed a handle of Jack Daniels, and many racer’s stomachs reacted as if they had done just that. At that point, you really don’t care if you’re rolling on puke. Hell by the time I quit, I really didn’t care if I had rolled on puke. There was some pond time mixed in there for a number of racers that “cheated”.
Check out the blog http://badassenabler.com/ They did a great job of following the race and detailing race tasks.
The Verdict: This was a very challenging event and well-run considering its length both in miles and hours. The betrayal theme of this year was executed perfectly when racers thought they wouldn’t be away from crew, spare gear, and supplies for more than 8 hours or so. By the time I dropped, which I think was around 28 hours, we still hadn’t gotten back to our spare gear. The lack of food and water really did a good job of smacking you right in the mouth. Speaking of lack of water and betrayal, the streams we were told not to drink out of due to giardia… yeah, perfectly fine to drink from.
The Death Race is a unique event that will challenge you physically, mentally, and emotionally. If you’re brave enough to show up for one, you’ll likely learn a lot about yourself and come away with some real valuable lessons. There is what can be described as a different type of person that shows up for an event like this as competitors as well as volunteers and crew, so you get to meet some really interesting people along the way. Much of the town seems to rally around the racers as well and are eager to help you in whatever way they can. It’s a really cool experience. I’m laying off a lot of my racing plans to cool down my burn out, and I’ll be out for Death race 2013. To sign up for the 2013 Death Race, goto: http://www.youmaydie.com/
In closing, I’d like to leave you with the words of fellow Death Racer Josh Zitomer describing what the Death Race means to him.
THERE IS NO FINISH LINE
This is my take on what attempting the Death Race really means…I’d like to think I’m right, but I guess only Joe and Andy will know for sure.
I’ve been re-reading many of the posts from the entire week and on a few occasions I’ve bumped into a theme that I find slightly disheartening. Who finished? Who didn’t? Who quit? Who won? Who did more than me? Excuses. Etc. The most disheartening though is hearing about racers coming down hard on themselves for quitting.
Are we missing the point?
In my book THERE IS NO FINISH LINE and there is no first place, second place, third place, fourth place, etc. Every single person out there won. Being a death racer isn’t about making it 45 hours or 60 hours or 67 hours. It’s about figuring out how to accomplish tasks when your entire being is telling you to quit. The Death race isn’t looking for the best athletes…they’re a dime a dozen. The death race is looking for the type of person that gives and gives and gives. Everything they’ve got. 100%. No excuses. Until they just happen to cross a “finish line” or they drop with the biggest smile of accomplishment on their faces. This race (in my humble opinion) has nothing to do with placing. It has nothing to do with being at the front of the pack. It has nothing to do with competing against the guy/girl next to you. It has everything to do with finding out who you are. Digging deep into the recesses of your soul to attempt to grab a hold of the true you. The you that comes out when you’re suffering. The you that emerges when you’re doing your best to simply take just one more step with that swollen blister filled foot…and then another one…and then another one…give give give.
THERE IS NO FINISH LINE. If you start it, whether you make it 20 hours or 67 hours, the Death Race is now engrained in your psyche. It is a part of you. You will never forget the feeling of bonking on Bloodroot Mountain. You will never forget the feeling of crawling through a dark culvert. You will never forget the feeling of toeing the line between dropping and taking one more step. You will never forget the feeling of a fellow racer giving you half of their last power bar. These experiences are what will make you a stonger person mentally and physically. Every day. Whether you “finished” the race or not. So you crossed an imaginary line that the Race Organizers said was where the DR ended*. So what. The question is; what did you learn? How many other athletes did you meet? Did you smile at all? Did you share your last Powerbar? Did you figure out the real reason you’re involved in such craziness?
The racers that quit with a big ‘ol fat smile on their faces are the ones I look up to. You guys got beat up on, kicked around, and took every single thump with a smile. THAT is harder than finishing.
The Death Race has no finish line because it has changed you FOREVER and allowed you to see the world and yourself in a different light. Every. Single Day.
Congratulations to everyone and it was an honor to share the course and suffer with you
*I’m pretty certain the only reason they have a “finish line” is so that us moronic Death Racers know when to go home…otherwise we’d be out there for weeks. If not months.