Everyday I’m Shufflin’

I posed the question this past weekend: “Which is harder to describe, the Death Race or a GoRuck Challenge?”

Obviously, to the average person, both seem certifiably insane:
The Death Race: you basically do whatever they tell you to do for 48ish hours, which likely involves chopping wood, running up and down a mountain, and carrying heavy and awkward shit.
GoRuck: you run through a city at night for 12ish hours with a backpack full of bricks and stop and do push-ups, bear crawls, crab walks, and any other stupid exercise you can possibly think of (see, e.g., monkeyfuckers; little man in the woods)

After giving it some thought (ok, WAY too much thought), I think I’m going to go with GoRuck being harder to explain. Why?

It’s not a race.

And people don’t get that. I couldn’t tell them “yeah, so I was the only female to finish,” or “I placed 5th” or “the finish rate was 1%.” It simply was running around the city with a team of 30 people for 12+ hours, doing PT and completing missions. The goal was finishing, and finishing as a team.

And for Chicago GoRuck Class 129, we finished as a team: 28 in, 28 out.

But therein lies the rub for me. It’s no secret that I’m a competitive person. And the hardest part of the GRC was shelving this competitiveness, and reminding myself constantly “it’s not a race.” It’s working hard for the good of the team. Not for my finish time, not for my own glory, but for the camaraderie and the mission at hand.

And dammit, I suck at it. I really, really do. There was a reason that I hated group projects in school. A reason that I chose (and still choose) to work alone at any opportunity I can get. There, I was only accountable to myself. There, every decision I made was the right decision. There, I chose the speed, I chose the course, and I chose how I got it done.

So over the course of Class 129, one of my major flaws came to light: I have the patience of a 2-year old. And sometimes empathy that would rival a 2-year old’s as well. For example, I probably said out loud about a dozen times during the night “can’t we run any faster? This isn’t even a shuffle. I walk faster than this.”* In other words, my utter lack of patience and my inability to go at my own pace and make my own decisions catapulted me into complete inner bitch mode (though you wouldn’t know that considering I was consistently singing LMFAO with a bit of Kanye thrown in for good measure).

And that’s not what GoRuck is about. It’s about team-building, problem-solving, and camaraderie. And laughing while doing some ridiculous things. Oh, and carrying heavy shit. But slowly, as the hours progressed, I began to put aside my inner impatient 2-year-old self and instead focused on enjoying the company of my fellow classmates, our hilarious and awesome cadre Dave (“ass as hard as a woodpecker’s lips”), and the fantastic Death Race training that carrying an awkward sandbag or shamrock on my shoulders provided. And beers. I began to enjoy beers, which made all the difference.

Because, for me, it was the mental, not the physical, that made GoRuck challenging. I had to get over myself, and start playing nice with others. I had to realize that my finishing time didn’t matter, because we were all finishing together. And I had to drill it into my head, over and over, that this is not a competition, and this is not a race.

So why is GoRuck harder to explain? Because there’s no concrete victory, and there’s no idea of winning. You don’t do a GoRuck to beat the living hell out of your fellow competitors: you do it to learn about yourself. So smile, enjoy the company of your classmates, and grab a couple beers.

*Because the goal of GRC is to get everyone to finish, it unfortunately (or fortunately?) means that you are only as fast as your slowest person, and only as strong as your weakest person. I suppose this is a metaphor for teams and for life, but it sometimes means carrying people or crossloading weights, and can sometimes result in excess frustration.

Winter Death Race: FAQ’s

Post-Winter Death Race, I’ve received tons of questions about the race, my experience, and life in general. I do not claim any special DR knowledge–hell, I’m still a rookie myself. However, I love a good FAQ section, so I thought I’d recreate that here, Death Race-style.

(1) Did you really do 3000 burpees? God, that’s dumb.

Yes, all finishers were required to do 3000 burpees. And yes, it’s totally dumb. But that’s the point. Their goal was to break you mentally (well, and physically). 3000 burpees is utterly stupid, but you do them and you move on. That’s the Death Race for you–some things are going to suck. Or all.

(2) Can you give a play-by-play of the race?

Nope. Not my blog style, and I find it rather boring to tell it like that. But at the end of the race, the finishers had done 3000 burpees, 3 mountain loops (25+miles with some other running), chopped and stacked wood, completed two bikram yoga classes, carried and rolled logs, carried snow, carried buckets of river water, and done a water submersion in a frozen pond. The rest you can figure out–it’s part of the Death Race mystique.

(3) Why are you in just a sports bra in all the pictures?

Those pics were taken in a 10 minute period of time, and I was really hot from doing thousands of burpees. For 99% of the 33 hours, I was fully clothed. I’m not a whore nor am I trying to draw attention to myself. And yes, I do have some pit hair showing. That happens when you are 30 hours into a race and sweaty and unshowered. Deal with it.

(4) Which was harder, World’s Toughest Mudder or the Winter Death Race?

Lawyer answer: it depends. They are two entirely different races so it’s impossible to compare. Both were hard in their own ways, but I found the Winter Death Race way more physically and mentally challenging (and satisfying).

(5) Did girls have different standards in the WDR than boys?

Nope. I did the same exact tasks as all the men. Technically, I think women only had to split 50 pieces of wood instead of 70, but I didn’t know which piles had how many, so I grabbed any of them. And with the bucket carry, I could lose up to 4 inches of water instead of 2 inches. But I only lost an inch, so it didn’t matter anyway.

(6) How was Joe D. as a bikram instructor?

Motivating, though he could work on his zen-like presence. I believe his phrase for hands-to-feet pose was “Grab your heels. Now pull–pull like a motherf*cker!!” And we did awkward pose for 60+ seconds. That’s got to be a new record.

(7) Did you sleep?

Well, we had forced “naptime” for an hour or so where we were told to lie down in the hoop house on the dirt floor and make no noise. That’s a Death Race first, apparently. I was too petrified (and too amped and ready to go) to sleep during that time, but there was definitely some snoring going on.

(8) I thought the race was only supposed to be 24 hours.

First lesson of the Death Race: there are no rules. There are no expectations, and you can never count on anything. I’m fully expecting the Summer Death Race, which says “up to 48 hours” to go 60-72+. I’m definitely not booking my flight back to Chicago the day after I think it should be done (lessons learned).

(9) So you finished in 32 hours, 21 minutes. How did you know when you were done?

Joe and Andy said “congratulations, you finished.”

Well, I came down off the mountain from my third loop, fully expecting to have to get back in the frozen pond and move on to the next task. So it was a nice little surprise to hear that I was done. I suppose I was quite sure how to react–in fact, I offered to do more burpees. Whee!

(10) How did you know how to train for this?

I didn’t. That’s the beauty of these races.

(11) Did you get tired?

To be honest, not really. The lack of sleep didn’t really affect me considering we were moving and engaged at all times. Well, except for that last climb up the mountain in the dark. I thought I saw a witch and screamed. Turned out it was a tree stump. So apparently hallucinations do kick in at about 30 hours.

(11) Was the water submersion cold?

Well, it was March 3rd and the pond was frozen over. You do the math. There’s some great video of some of the submersions–I can’t watch it’s so painful.

(12) How did you keep up your spirits?

There were actually very few moments when I WASN’T having fun. I had a blast. Perhaps that’s because I was singing to myself for a good portion of it (Kanye was the artist of choice, though Jay-Z & Swizz Beats “On to the Next One” was my personal anthem), which hopefully didn’t annoy my fellow racers too much (though most rebuked my attempts to get them to join in a singalong).

In all honesty, my fellow racers kept my spirit up. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: the adventure/obstacle racing world is a crew of stand-up, incredible people. We even managed to have fun during burpees (See Exhibit A, though Bryan didn’t look like he was having too much fun).

(13) So should I do a lot of burpees to prepare for the Summer Death Race?

Do what you want, but it will do you no good. You could also get really good at pig wrestling. Or Pogo-sticking. That might also do you no good.

(14) That looks awesome. Should I do the Death Race?

Absolutely not.

(15) Any tips for finishing?

Yes. Don’t stop until they tell you that you are finished.

32 hours and 21 minutes

A stump almost broke me.

I was finished chopping my wood and stacking it, except for this bastard of a stump about 3 feet in diameter, knotted to hell, and frozen solid. The thought entered my mind “there’s no way I can chop this up. There is absolutely no way.”

And at that moment, I knew I had to snap out of it. Because that’s exactly what they want: once they have you mentally defeated, you are toast. Might as well throw in the towel and call it quits.

And snap out of it, I did. We were only 12ish hours into the race, and a piece of wood wasn’t going to break me. I would get it done. So on the advice of a wise DR veteran, I started hacking around the outside. Slowly, over the next half hour, the stump came apart.

From that point on, I knew that nothing would break me. Throw at me your worst, Andy & Joe, and I’ll do it. I will go until you tell me to stop. Because what I learned from the Winter Death Race, above all else, is that your attitude determines your success. But I had it easy.

Over the course of the 32+ hour race, I witnessed attitudes that ran the gamut from my fellow racers. While there were a few minor exceptions, I was continually impressed by the spirit and the resilience of my fellow racers, especially those racers that weren’t leading the pack, but continued to stick it out. Those racers are the true inspiration, and are the ones for whom I have the utmost respect.

Think about it. It’s “easy” being in the lead, or at least towards the front. You don’t really know what is ahead of you, so you do things as Joe & Andy tell you to do it. I hung towards the front of the pack for most of the race, but was never out in front. So while I knew certain things coming to me (say, another run up the mountain or another 1000 burpees), it was never an overwhelming amount.

For those racers that fell behind initially, the list of what is ahead of you grows…exponentially. And to know that, for instance, you have 2000 more burpees, 2 more mountain loops, a dip in the pond, and more wood to chop, can be mentally devastating. Moreover, knowing how hard it would be to catch the leaders, or even go fast enough to finish, is enough to make any sane person want to call it quits.

Take, for example, the lovely and badass Jessica Pineault. She had the unfortunate occurrence of having to roll a log that had split in two, which forced her way behind the pack. As several of us were working on our 3rd set of 1000 burpees about 24 hours into the race, she was working on her 2nd set, knowing that she still had an additional mountain loop and a dip in the pond before she even made it to her 3rd set. But she soldiered on, laughing and joking with us as we all did burpees together on the frozen ground. “Burpee drunk,” she said. And unwavering, with a smile on her face, she continued on.

It’s times like this that show your true character. And I’m honored to race with those that embody that spirit, and inspired to conduct myself in the same way. I only hope, that the day when I’m faced with that feeling of hopelessness, that I can carry myself with as much integrity and respect that I saw out there this weekend.

Everyone congratulates the winners and the finishers. I’m proud of what I accomplished by finishing in those 32+ hours, and I’m proud of how I got there. But we had it easy–the unknown gave us a mental advantage, one that wasn’t shared by all the racers.

So fellow Death Racers and future Death Racers: soldier on. Don’t let them break you. And realize that sometimes the greatest source of inspiration comes from those that may not finish at all.