As we began the 6hr drive back to Philly from Vermont, I broke out my legal pad and a pen and began to list all the tasks we completed in the 2012 Death Race. Despite having just spent 60 hours out in the woods of Pittsfield, VT, even then I had trouble recalling the sequence of events. And these past few days, my mind has been constantly churning over things that I think happened, things that I wish had happened, and things that I wish I had changed. Meanwhile, I’m still trying to come to terms with how I FEEL about my Death Race experience, and what it is that I’m taking away from it. This will probably end up being several posts as I distill the events over the next few days and weeks.
After the Winter Death Race, I wrote a post about how its easy and fun to be in the lead at the Death Race; the real test of strength and self, however, is when you have fallen (or feel like you’ve fallen) helplessly behind the leaders. Given my success at the WDR and CMC and other recent races, it’s a feeling that was foreign to me, and one that I could only talk about in the abstract.
For the first time, late Saturday night and the wee hours of Sunday morning, I experienced what it felt like to be at the bottom of the pack. In last place. And in that position where you start to question whether you are going to make it through because there is SO MUCH ahead, and people are SO FAR ahead of you.
It’s crushing, yet incredibly humbling. The funny thing is, for the first 24, 26, 28 hours of the race, it wasn’t that way. I had the fortune of randomly getting a kick ass team (holler #7s!!) that carried that kayak and slosh pipe with such speed and grace that we took a nice rest with Andy up on Bloodroot waiting for the other teams, made it first down to Chittenden Reservoir for our leisurely swim, and arrived first back at Roger’s for our exam. Things were going swimmingly. I was strong, I was quick, and I knew as long as I stayed out ahead and kept a quick pace, there was nothing that was going to hold me back.
But as all Death Racers know (and I learned), things turn on a dime. And for me, it was the unfortunate choice to play into the Betrayal theme when it came to the stake task. Our team of 3 searched for an hour on that mountain to find our #13 stake, and it was nowhere to be found. What we did find, however, was a different stake. After calling around for that hour looking for the owners of the stake, we made the decision (as did 90% of the other teams), to change the number on the stake and call it our own. We were convinced that Joe and Andy had intentionally screwed us that there were no stakes with our numbers on it. Granted, a few teams (perhaps 2 or 3) actually found their stake, but everyone else was frustrated and at wits end.*
So we turned in our stake with no problems, and set out to chop our wood, still in the lead. My wood was split and I was ready to haul it over the mountain back over to Amee, when Peter Borden, a race director, called out all the cheaters and asked for us to fess up if we had done so. As many of you know, I race with Bryan Selm, who is perhaps the most honest and stand-up Death Racer I know. So we looked at each other and knew immediately that we needed to confess.
Told to leave our packs and our wood, we were forced to trek back over the mountain and get in the duck pond at Amee as a punishment. And there we stayed for over an hour while others made up precious time. Once released, we had to make the trek back over to Tweed to get our wood and then head back over to Amee.**
Back at Tweed, the reality of how much time I had lost started to set in. Bryan and I made the strategic decision to carry all 12 logs in one trip back over the mountain to try and make up time. This meant, however, extreme slow going. So as the sun rose on the third day, we passed by racer after racer coming the opposite direction, already done with their wood and heading onto the next task (or the task after that). Inside, the feeling of defeat started to build. I was hours and hours behind. In fact, I believe Bryan and I were dead last.
It was a position I’m not used to being in, and one that I brought on myself. I suppose I had set expectations for myself: I’m a competitive girl, and I was in it to win it. As I sat there on the mountain crying, I was reminded that I was being a stupid brat. No, seriously, a stupid brat and a crybaby. And I was. I was pouting, I was whining, and I was self-righteous for no good reason. I was disgusted with myself. And I was told that I could quit, or I could nut up, change my attitude, and move on. I couldn’t change what happened, but I could control how I behaved the rest of the race. And at that moment, I let go. As soon as I let go of the idea that I HAD to win this thing, and accepted the fact that all I could hope for is to finish it, the proverbial weight lifted off my shoulders. Hours behind, and with nothing to lose, I decided that finishing was the only goal, even if it meant finishing in last place. (still a finish, eh?)
From there on out, I hauled ass as much as possible, making time up where I could, but generally focused on moving through the tasks and ignoring the laundry list of things that lay ahead of me. It killed me to see other racers so far ahead of me, to pass by them and figure out what they were on to next, and how many more tasks I had to go. But in that battered emotional state, I learned how strong I could be. It would be easy to give up at that point, to throw in the towel, to say eff it and go have a beer, given the long road that stretched ahead. The thought never crossed my mind. I stepped forward with a new humility, and a new outlook on the race.
So when I finished the roll at 60 hours and some change, and Joe told me I took 2nd place in women, I must have looked at him like he had 3 heads. “Impossible,” I thought, “I was SO far behind.” But, as I said earlier, things in this race change on the drop of a dime, and in the end, perseverance will pay off. So I could care less about the kettlebell and the place — what I am proud of is finishing despite feeling like the odds were stacked against me.*** Finishing despite creating a hole so deep I felt like I couldn’t dig out of it. And finishing despite that voice inside my head yelling at me for being so far behind for so long.
It’s a lesson I needed to learn. And a humility that I needed to experience. And I’ll carry it with me to the next race and beyond.
*Side note: as we were changing the stake number, another racer came up and threatened to rat us out unless we gave him half the stake. Call it hunger and exhaustion, but at that point, the race had turned nasty and I didn’t like it. Perhaps the closest I’ve ever come to blows with someone, but we gave him half. Unclean hands all around, I suppose
**Other cheaters had hauled their wood back over the mountain BEFORE confessing to cheating. So while they had to endure the duck pond, they already had their wood back at the farm and didn’t lose that much time. So, let’s be honest, there was no incentive to confess as early as we did. It’s something that I’m still mulling over in my head, but something that I do not regret.
***Self-created, I suppose.