Category Archives: Death Race

Willingness to Suffer

The typical interview question will go something like this: “So why do you think you are successful in obstacle racing?”

Might as well look good doing it
Might as well look good doing it

It’s a question that has given me pause, and has stumped me for as long as I’ve been hurdling over walls and throwing myself under barbed wire. I typically will stumble through it with some answer about a mixture of speed and strength, and how you need both in obstacle racing.

However, it took me a 2014 CrossFit Open workout for me to finally realize the answer to the question that’s been there all along:

I’m not the fastest, and I’m not the strongest, but I’m REALLY good at suffering.

Perhaps almost too good.*

The ultimate in suffering
The ultimate in suffering

By way of illustration, let’s take CrossFit. Putting aside all the arguments for and against it (NOT going there…just…not…step off that Rogue soapbox), it constitutes the bulk of my training for obstacle racing. And for the past two years, I’ve competed in the CrossFit Open (which, by the way, there is nothing that will make you feel like a more mediocre athlete than to measure yourself by a score against the world’s top CrossFitters…but I digress).

Anyway, just like with races, I shine at long, high rep, panic-inducing WODs. Give me short and heavy and I die. My Olympic lifting form is wonky, I have a unsteady right shoulder from years of softball and rotator cuff abuse that refuses to lock out in heavy overhead lifts, and I blame my puny squat numbers on extremely awkward and long femurs.

I am, by all measurements, an extremely mediocre Crossfitter (sorry – “CrossFit athlete”). But with two workouts in this year’s CrossFit Open – the first and the last, I excelled, even with a max snatch and a max thruster 50-75% of the most women CrossFit athletes out there. So what was it about those two?

14.5'ing it
14.5’ing it

In announcing 14.5 (an absolutely awful combo of thrusters and burpees), one of the CrossFit talking heads said something about the workout being about a willingness to go to a dark place: a willingness to suffer.

Bingo.

What we do in obstacle racing is so much more than being fleet of foot, or having raw strength. It’s enduring the bumps and the bruises, the utter fatigue of a mountainous sandbag carry, or raw and bloody appendages, sometimes on an almost-weekly basis. It’s facing the unexpected and the unknown, and it’s confronting a new course every time you race with different terrain and different obstacles. It’s the mental game that comes into play in longer races, the ability to push yourself into that dark place, and to come out on the other side. It’s about testing your limits, and mentally blocking out the chatter. And it’s the willingness to go back out there, again and again, even when your body is thrashed and exhausted.

Of course, this is all fine and dandy and good to tuck away as an “a-ha”, but listing “suffering” as a strength on an application isn’t going to win you any awards. Unfortunately, being good at suffering is not going to make me that much faster. I’ve got some former road-racing speedsters I need to chase down nowadays. But I suppose if I excel at suffering in CrossFit, I can learn to suffer through speedwork? (heh…heh…)

Likewise being willing to suffer is not going to save me as I fall magnificently on my face competing at the North Central CrossFit Regionals this week (Go Team Foundry!).** But for a girl without much of a stellar athletic past, I think I’ve been surprised how much the ability to suffer can make up for the lack of other, more marketable, skills (at least for the time being).

And yes, it totally explains the Death Races. And World’s Toughest Mudder.

I’ve heard people ask: “how do I get better at obstacle racing?” Or Death Racing, whatevs. Sure, you can give answers about training and nutrition, but from my perspective – it’s the mental side that everyone should hone. It’s the setting aside of boundaries, the mental grit to not just survive, but to compete.

Bloody knees Ex. A
Bloody knees Ex. A
Bloody knees Ex. B
Bloody knees Ex. B

So here’s to suffering: I think all obstacle racers, to some degree, excel in it. Some of us may even thrive in it.*** And it explains why I never feel those damned bloody knees.

*One could argue, for example, an ability to suffer led to ignoring injuries until too late…hence, my recent months on the DL.

** And I LITERALLY will be falling my face, epically, during the max handstand walk event. And the strict HSPUs. Oh dear. Humans were not made to walk on their hands – God gave us feet for a reason. Epic dismounts for everyone! Side note – damn you, gymnasts *shakes fists*

***Now, let me be clear – I’m not advocating that being good at suffering is a GOOD thing, or a “normal” thing. It’s probably not the wisest move in terms of the whole Darwinian natural selection thing. It’d behoove most people to stay away from disease infested waters and carrying axes for 72-hrs. There are plenty of us oddballs out there to take this masochistic abuse – someone smarter than myself should probably be responsible for the fate of the human race.

The First DNF

Two years ago, the letters “DNF” meant nothing to me. Nor did the letters “DNS.” Despite running some road races, I’d never really heard the terms thrown around. I’d never known the stigma attached to them, or the feelings that come with it.

And I continued to not know, until this weekend.

I recognize that I’ve been extremely fortunate in my racing “career.” I started out finishing at the top of races and I continued that. Two World’s Toughest Mudders, two Death Races, all in the top two spots.

But at some point, we all stumble. We have a bad race. A race finds a weakness. A weakness finds you.

And of any race out there, the Death Race excels at doing this. It’s a game of Russian roulette that we play once or twice (or now three) times a year. It’s unlike any other race: for example, you do Ironmans, you know you are going to be swimming, bking and running. In that order. For a fixed amount of distance. With the Death Race, you never know what may be in store, and sometimes it may not seem like a “race” at all.

And that’s what draws it to us. And that’s how we discover things about ourselves. And that’s why we keep coming back. But that’s also what crushes us.

The WDR started out this year like the others: team exercises, strange PT (1200 air squats, anyone?), a couple hikes up the mountain (one zip-tied together), and some wood sawing and chopping (I’ll ignore the pass the frozen dead beaver game).

There had been whispers of Andy & Joe making us pull a 2000lb steel i beam out of the river, whispers that made me nervous. But given that we were only in the water for a minute last winter (a full submersion in the duck pond), I couldn’t foresee the repeated cold water immersions that would await us this year.

And if there’s one thing I hate, it’s cold water.

Odd, you say, coming from the girl that won World’s Toughest Mudder. So I’ll qualify: cold water immersions where you are NOT running 90 miles to keep your body temperature up. Instead, standing in the river, thigh deep, digging up silt to remove a steel ibeam. Or repeated river crossings. In and out. In and out.

And while my core temperature stayed ok, the fire in my feet did not. The pain did not. The inability to walk or breathe did not. And at some point, in my mind, I decided that risking frostbite and permanent damage to the feet wasn’t worth this game. And I broke down, mentally, emotionally, and physically. And 24 hours in, I DNF’ed. I simply couldn’t move through that river crossing quit gate anymore.

[Side note: let me clarify. I hate the term “med drop.” I think people use it as a crutch, and an excuse. Our resident medic Todd took a look at my feet and told me frostnip and that I could be risking permanent damage if I went on, but as always, it’s my decision. He would fight me if I wanted to continue, but no one was standing in my way. So yes, it was a conscious decision, however frazzled and painful at the time. And I take full responsibility for that, with no excuses.]

And after they carried me across the river and snowmobiled me back to the greenhouse (walking was not happening), the realization of this all set in as they spent next few hours warming my feet.

And the questions began. The self-doubt. The “what ifs.” The berating. The miserable, and foreign, feeling of failure. The Death Race had won–Mother Nature had broke me. And in a manner that I hated.

Because it wasn’t a testament to my athletic abilities. It wasn’t because I couldn’t meet time cut offs or I couldn’t get up and down the mountain quick enough. I got angry. In fact, I was destroying everything up until this point. I stayed on Andy’s heels up the mountain with my pack (and if you’ve hiked with Andy, you know this is a feat). I was feeling great. And I was left wondering what I could have done differently to possibly survive, and angry at what I saw was a cheap tactic solely to get high numbers of drop outs in a short period of time doing nothing that pertains to your athleticism.

But then I realized: that’s not what the DR is about. While being a fine athlete helps you at this race, the Death Race has never been about finding the top athletes or being in the best shape. It’s about enduring. And while I’ve always known this in the back of my mind, it crystallized in this experience.

It’s why, if you look at the DR vets who have done this race three or more times, every single one of them (save a few, including the superhuman Olof) has DNF’ed at least once. Because sooner or later, they are going to throw something at you that you can’t handle, though other people may.

And here’s what I have to repeat to myself: there’s no shame in that.

I am quick and light and fast. I love running up and down that mountain and I will crush you on it, and will do so for days at a time without tiring. Others may be able to hang out in the single digit temperatures in an icy creek for hours and be unaffected. And depending on the composition of the race that year, those strengths or weaknesses may be the deciding factor.

And there’s no shame in that.

There is nothing wrong with a DNF unless you make something wrong with it. As Melody, a finisher told me, “You have nothing to prove to anyone.” She’s right. I’ve always said that the DR is about proving things to yourself, and testings your limits. There are certain limits I’m willing to stretch, but potential frostbite wasn’t something I was willing to toe the line for. (if you think I’m miserable right now trying to process this, imagine how I would feel if I did permanent damage, or god forbid, was unable to continue to race and compete).

And there’s no shame in that.

So while I may be licking my wounds, I’m also thankful for this: I’ve learned more about myself from a single DNF than I have from all of my victories combined. And I’m taking a step back to reevaluate why I do these races, why I push myself, and whether I’m started to lose the “fun” in all of this amongst the disturbingly increasing need inside of me to win, amongst the growing pressure that I put on myself to perform up to some stranger on the web’s “expectations” of me.

And there’s no shame in that.

Cheers to the first DNF. It likely won’t be the last.

And there’s no shame in that.

Coming Back as a Veteran

The racing season hasn’t exactly started off with a bang. After missing the Spartan SoCal due to weather and air traffic control (thanks Philly!), I’m now faced with an unpleasantly cold Winter Death Race.

Well, that’s what I signed up for, right? Fair point. Last year the Winter Death Race was held a month later–beginning of March, and it was a particularly balmy weekend (need I remind you of the sports bra burpee pics? No. Thank God. Because I can’t get over those either). I went in scared out of my mind, with no idea what to expect.

So this year should be easier, yes? Having finished two Death Races, it should be old hat to me by now. Yet the butterflies are still there, the unknown still lingers, and my biggest foe–the cold–is alive and kicking.*

I don’t doubt my ability to finish a Death Race. And I don’t doubt my ability to finish this Death Race. What I doubt is my body’s ability to last outside in single digit weather for 24+ hours. What I start to fear is giving in because I can no longer control my body, I can no longer feel anything, and I can no longer move my toes. Perhaps because I’ve seen so many people go down from hypothermia, but despite never being a victim, I have an irrational fear of it.

Hands and feet. Hands and feet. Hands and feet. That’s what it all comes down to–that’s what it always comes down to in the cold.

But is this fear any different than my pre-race fears in the past? Isn’t that what drove me to tears and a breakdown before World’s Toughest Mudder this past year? Didn’t I say the exact same thing preparing for the Winter Death Race last year?

While I’ve always said that the Death Race attracts a special group of people, let it be known that the Winter Death Race attracts an EXTRA special set of people. Current registration for this summer’s DR is 382 people; for the Winter Death Race – 74 (and I know a good number of those are already DNS’s). In this respect, it makes the WDR all the more special – it feels like a family event, albeit extremely dysfunctional. Very few people want to hang out in the woods and hike up and down a mountain in the dead of winter in Vermont.

And that’s the reason that keeps me coming back, despite the frigid temps, despite the long travel and time required off from work.

And despite the very real fear that, just because you’ve finished all the previous ones, it doesn’t mean that you are going to finish this one.

Being a veteran is a double-edged sword: while you have experience and know generally what to expect, you also (or at least I do) put expectations on yourself. As a newbs, all you can do is give it your best shot.

But lest I forget, we are doing this all for our own personal pride and enjoyment. There’s no monetary gain. There’s no glory. There are no fancy pictures or merchandise for sale. There’s a single plastic skull, and a feeling of satisfaction. And hopefully a hell of a lot of fun and amazing memories along the way.

And a breakfast sandwich at Pittsfield General Store.

See you soon, Pittsfield. It’s been too long.

(Can we get some bikram in this joint this year?!)

*Hi Andy & Joe! You wanted to know my weaknesses??

A Racing Year in Review: The Tippity Top

So the world didn’t end today, though judging by the looks of the weather outside here in Chicago, it may still choose to do so. I guess that means that we’ll make it to 2013 and another year of racing will commence. The end of the year is always littered with the “best of”, “year in review” or the “top 10” lists from various outlets, my favorite being this one from The Onion. So if a lemur can have its place in a year in review list, I sure as hell can write my own about my racing year. Right? Right? Obviously, all of these highlights will involve yours truly, so call me self-important or egotistical, but I certainly can’t write about it if I wasn’t there, so deal with it. Without further ado, the inaugural 2012 “Amelia’s Top 16 Moments in Obstacle/Adventure Racing”* (and challenges, to encompass GoRuck and S.E.R.E.)

[*Because Top 10 lists are so cliche.]

(1) The Burpee Board at the Winter Death Race: It’s a thing of beauty right? And very precise and scientific. But after 3000 burpees, you’d lose count, too. Some of us lost count repeatedly, but that happens after 30+ hours awake. And some of us had WAAAAY too much fun doing burpees (I’m looking at you, Mark Webb burpee-sandwich).

(2) Acquiring Weapons as Prizes: Top Team at S.E.R.E Chicago received KA-bars, which I have now used for everything from opening cans to a using as a steak knife to cutting through wrapping paper. And first-place prize at the Super Spartan Midwest was a 2-ft sword, which I have used for…nothing. It’s still sitting on my living room floor until I figure out what to do with it. And a smattering of kettlebells could technically be considered weapons–have you ever dropped one of those suckers?

(3) Carrying the concrete bag at the Death Race. There were very few times this past year at races where I didn’t think I was going to make it. At 50+ hours into the Death Race, after being handed a 60lb bag of concrete to add to my 35+lbs of gear and being told to carry it to the top of Joe’s mountain (without breaking it, mind you), I was fairly certain I couldn’t make it. And was praying for them to call the race. I’d never carried close to 100lbs on my back, which is about 3/4 of my body weight. But slowly, surely, step by step, I made it up that mountain. 10 steps at a time, I told myself, as I fought being pulled backwards and falling over due to the enormous weight on my back. I hugged my bucket as a counterbalance, and leaned forward almost in a crawl position. I don’t know how long it took me to get up that mountain, but you best be believing I’d never been so happy in my life when that cabin at the top came into view. (and then I flipped out on Olof–sorry dude. You rock)

(4) Successfully making it across the rings and monkey bars multiple times at WTM. While this may not seem like a huge feat for a lot of you, I had struggled with these obstacles for the longest time. I’m going to go ahead and thank the cult of Crossfit for my success at this one (hello grip strength!). And I’m no longer frightened of these.

(5) Finishing GoRuck Class 129 on an 80 degree day St. Patty’s Day in Chicago. The picture says it all.

(6) Nearly dying from eating a Larabar at S.E.R.E. Beta. I am VERY allergic to certain trees nuts, particularly cashews. I am also apparently VERY bad at reading labels, as I found out when I stuffed a Larabar into my mouth at 3am at SERE Beta in D.C., and immediately went into allergic shock. Thanks to some speedy classmates (and an injured Joel Gat who managed to run like the wind), some liquid Benadryl saved me. And after some puking on the street in Georgetown with Petrizzo rubbing my back and then giving me a Honey Stinger waffle, I made it and completed the challenge. And now Deavilla will ALWAYS volunteer to give me CPR when there are cashews around. You guys were the best.

(7) Todd’s sled at the Winter Death Race. We all laughed with Sedlak rolled up with a plastic sled strapped to his pack at the WDR, particularly because the rules made clear that anything you brought with you had to be carried with you at all times. In typical Todd fashion, he made fantastic use of that sled, nearly killing himself sledding down the mountain several times. So think outside the box on your gear lists, Death Racers. (though his wheeled shopping cart at the Summer Death Race didn’t work so well)

(8) This picture at the Midwest Super Spartan:

I’d highly recommend volunteering, particularly to hand out medals, after you finish. Most fun you’ll have congratulating a bunch of muddy people.

(9) The hills at the Ultrabeast. You will never see me get more excited about something at a race than when there are massive hills/mountains involved. I could have run up and down (nb: I hate the down part, so really, just up) those things all day long. And I did. And I loved every second of it. To me, that course was perfection.

(10) Winning first overall (for men and women) at Civilian Military Combine. For all the talk of what happened at WTM and people finding it incredible that I could be that close to catching J.Pak, I had to remind myself that I already beat all the boys once this year. At CMC at Camelbak Mtn, PA, I took first place overall. And there I also met Alyssa and Carrie (in person) for the first time, and they are now two of my favorite people out there. So I’d call that a victory in itself.

(11) Having TSA open up my sandpills for inspection. Ha! Fooled you, suckers. #notcocaine

(12) Breakfast sandwiches at the Pittsfield General Store post-Winter Death Race. Or really, just the Pittsfield General Store in general. Because after finishing at 3am, sleeping on the floor of the barn for 3 hours, and then getting up and heading to the general store with fellow Death Racers, there is NOTHING better than the General Store. Really, just Death Racers in general deserve their own “moment.” Obstacle racers are cool and all, but there is something special about, and a strong camaraderie among, those that have finished a Death Race.

(13) A sub-8min Helen, a 4 and a half Fran, and a 3:45 Grace. Oh wait, that’s not obstacle racing. But I’d like to think that obstacle racing got me into Crossfit, so I’m going to call it tangentially related. I’m marginally passable at Crossfit–never going to compete with the big girls. But now I can be super cool and measure my self-worth in workouts named after girls and the number of times I rip my calluses, and then talk to everyone nonstop about it.

(14) Bikram Joe-ga at the Winter Death Race. Because nothing is more motivation than a second 90-minute session of bikram where Joe yells at you “grab your heels and PULL like a motherfucker!” during standing-head-to-knee pose.

(15) Having legs that always look like this:

And going to summer weddings like that.

(16) And finally, how I felt at this moment:

It’s been real, folks. See you next season.

DR Recovery: At Sea

A funny thing happened over the past few weeks. I’ve had post after post started concerning the Death Race, yet I couldn’t finish any of them. There were things I wanted to talk about: the concrete bag, the ravine (dear God, the ravine), yet it all seemed too forced, too fake. And I had no desire to write a book recapping the entire 60 hours.

In other words, I’m on Death Race burn out. And I’m over talking about it, or thinking about. Or even worse, thinking about the 2013 Death Race. There are already over 200 people signed up for it (what. the. hell.), and the chatter about the “Year of the Gambler” has already started with a vengeance on the Death Race FB group.

Meh. mehmehmehmehmeh.

Don’t get me wrong, I love the Death Race. I do. And perhaps I’m grieving the year long wait until the next one, but these past few weeks I’ve been all out of sorts. I feel like I’m spinning without a purpose. And readjusting back to “normal” life (sans DR-prep) has been tedious.

Physically, I’m fine. I got back into the Crossfit box two days after the race, the feet are healed (aside from an unrelated toe injury suffered while intoxicated this past weekend), and I’m feeling as strong as ever. The DR failed to beat me physically (eat it, Andy & Joe). But mentally, I’m still not all there.

I suppose I’m in a different situation than a lot of my fellow obstacle racers that have a summer chock full of races. For me, the DR was the “end” of my season: the culmination of a busy winter/spring that started with World’s Toughest Mudder in December and hit SERE(x2), the WDR, GoRuck, Tough Mudder, and Civilian Military Combine along the way. Granted, it’s been a hell of a ride: 2nd female at WTM, 1st female and 3rd overall at WDR, 1st female and 1st overall at CMC, and 2nd female at the Death Race. And now I face down the summer without any races scheduled in the foreseeable future. In place of races are a string of weddings.

And I hate it. I mean, post-DR I said I was relieved, and excited to get back to “normalcy”: a life without a race every other weekend, without constant gear-whoring, without constant chatter about race prep, without a crazy training schedule hauling packs of bricks up 40 flights of stairs.

I lied. I totally lied. Because I’m lost as hell, and looking for the next thing.

Yes, I know there are plenty of races out there this summer/fall. Unfortunately, friends aren’t too keen on me skipping their weddings to go run through mud. Conflicts abound, and I hate it. Every race I want to attend (including the glorious Ultra Beast that I get depressed thinking about missing) has a dear friend pledging their eternal love to some poor schmuck (kidding! love you guys) on that same weekend.*

So yes, it’s a contradiction: I’m burnt out on DR-stuff, but I’m yearning to jump back into that world at the same time (acknowledging, of course, that standard Spartan Races and Tough Mudders are apples and oranges to the DR).

So what do I do? I wake up, I go to Crossfit, I go to work, I hang out, I play volleyball at the beach. But I’m trying to find that passion that drove me all winter/spring long. Without something to train for, I’m spinning my wheels.

Perhaps it will become clear in time. Perhaps I need this break. Perhaps I will drive myself loony. But for the time being, I suppose I should try to be “normal.”

*Weddings are blessed events, I swear. To my friends getting married, there’s nowhere I’d rather be than getting wasted at your wedding, inappropriately hitting on your younger brother/cousin/sister in law/priest, and making a fool of myself on the dance floor. It’s just shitty luck in terms of scheduling.

DR 2012: Cheaters (and Brats) Never Prosper

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.

Until now.

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.

Death Race by the Numbers

Total time to finish: 60 hours, 23 minutes
Place: 2nd female

Total approximate distance covered: 50-70 miles (depending on who you talk to)
Clif bars consumed: 8
Trees cut down to make a splint and stretcher: 3
Burpees completed: 575
Fires built: 1
Times we caught Andy sleeping on the trail: 2
Elapsed time spent in duck pond for cheating punishment: 54 minutes
Episodes of South Park watched: 1 (while in duck pond)
PB&J sandwiches consumed: 3
Pounds of concrete carried to top of mountain: 60
Times up and down the ravine: 3
Trips between Amee & Tweed over the mountain: 7
Minutes spent figuring out an origami crane: 45
Kanye songs sung: 3
Kayaks carried: 4
Times hit in head with slosh pipe: 5
Ping pong team number: 7
Times I threatened to quit: 3
Times I actually meant it: 1
Questions on the exam: 250
Exam questions that actually had legitimate answers: nowhere close to 250
5hr energy consumed: 5
Crying fits: 6? 7?
Bales of hay stacked: 15
Times I almost punched a child: 2
Hallucinations: 5
Laps rolled: 6
Logs carried: 23
Buckets of gravel carried: 13
Poptarts consumed: 5
Sock changes: 7
Bottles of Gold Bond used: 3
Times I uttered “this is the most retarded thing I’ve ever done”: 100+
Swear words used: ad infinitum
Death Race finishes: 2

[NOTE: My mind is still spinning and I’m trying to get a handle on everything that happened this past weekend, so a full post is forthcoming once I make sense of things]

The Betrayal Has Begun

When I signed up for the Death Race back in December, I remember talking to a previous Death Race finisher and asking about the race.

“What is it?” I inquired.

“A complete mindfuck,” he said.

Fast forward to today. Death Race 2012: The Year of Betrayal, is barreling towards us with a Friday start time of…noon? 9am? 10am? 6pm? Oh RIGHT. WE DON’T KNOW WHEN IT STARTS.

We also don’t know when it finishes, but that’s a given. (hence why my flight back to Chicago isn’t until Tuesday. I’m gearing up for 60 hours of goodness–anything less will be extra post-race nap and beer time)

As of now, we don’t even know the gear list. Pink bathing cap? Bonsai tree clipping? Axe? Knitting needles? Or is it chopsticks and just a regular needle and thread? I believe there’s a life jacket and maybe dress shoes in there as well.

My apartment currently looks like a war zone: covered with packs and clothes and gear and food and tools. 5 pairs of shoes/boots. Clothes ranging from heat gear tanks to winter gloves to various levels of compression tights for various temperatures. A smattering of wetsuits. Neoprene socks and gloves. Vaseline. Paracord. Gold bond. Waterproof matches. Cases of handwarmers, cases of Clif bars, and enough 5-hr energy to give Jabba the Hut a heart attack. Varying sizes of Camelbaks and bladders. A leatherman that I’m still figuring out how to use. Swim goggles. And a very confused Amelia trying to fit this all into suitcases to fly halfway across the country.

And in the back of your mind, you ask yourself the question over and over again “why am I paying to do this?” In fact, it’s a question that we asked repeatedly during the Winter Death Race, and I’m sure I’ll utter dozens of times this upcoming weekend.

But, when it comes down to it, we do it because it’s “fun.” As one of my favs, M. Petrizzo has on his Twitter handle, “my idea of fun is not your idea of fun.” Right on, sir. Our idea of fun is pushing ourselves to the limits: mentally, physically and emotionally. And it’s everything I expect the Death Race to do.

It’s easy to get bogged down in the minutiae. In the mind games and the drama and the rumors leading up the race. Will we be carrying logs up a mountain? or rocks? Do we have to swim with our rucks? Does “Sunday at midnight” mean Sunday night or Monday night? The more you agonize over these things, the more Joe and Andy (hi guys!!) are already winning the game.

It’s a race: there are winners. And I’m a competitive (as I’ve been not-so-gently reminded before, sometimes way TOO competitive-to-a-fault) person. But I need to remind myself that when you lose the fun from the Death Race, there’s really no point in doing it. We aren’t professional athletes: we are a bunch of idiots with a warped idea of fun going out to Vermont to climb some mountains, chop some wood, and have a good time with our fellow crazies. I need to remind myself to ignore the bullshit, stay out of my head, and run my race.

So bring the cryptic emails, ciphered codes, changing gears lists and all the mind games you want. It’s game time, and things are about to get REALLY fun. Can’t wait to see you soon, Pittsfield. xoxo

Et tu, Brute?