Category Archives: Death Race

Used and Abused: The Essentials

My body hates me. There isn’t a day where I’m not nursing some type of sore muscle, blister, injury, or rash of some sort (yum). If you know me, you are quite familiar with the fact that I am a certifiable gearwhore. So it makes sense that I’m also a certifiable product-whore as well: if it could potentially make the pain go away, speed recovery, or prevent the pain in the first place, I’m on it. So when I pack my bag for, say, the Death Race, these are the essentials:*

Blister Pads: The nemesis of all ultra/endurance athletes. After 24 hours slugging through the Jersey mud at World’s Toughest Mudder, I had gouged holes in the backs of my heels deep enough to look like gunshot wounds. It was weeks before I could put on anything but flip-flops and backless shoes, and now, over 4 months later, I still have hot spots on the back of my heels prone to blistering and ripping. In terms of healing open wounds, Hydroarmor’s Pedinol Heel Dressings are magical. They contain silver to help speed healing, and they stay on for days (you can even wash them and restick them). Spenco 2nd skin is a pretty good sub and works well during races. I’ve been unimpressed with any other blister pad brands in terms of staying power throughout races.

Gold Bond & Vaseline: I have the man, the myth, and the legend, Johnny Waite, to thank for this tip. At about 22 hours into the Winter Death Race, my feet were toast. Incredibly waterlogged, and looking like prime candidates for some nasty maceration. As I stripped my wet boots and socks off in the hoop house to inspect the damage, Johnny tossed me his jumbo sized Gold Bond and Vaseline, told me to make a paste, and smear it all over my feet. No joke, I felt like a new woman, and they felt great for the next 10 hours. I totally get why men put this shit down their pants. It’s amazing. You could probably use Aquaphor + Vaseline as well, but Aquaphor tends to be harder to spread than Vaseline (and more expensive). This combo kept me so fresh and so clean for GRC Chicago, and I’m a firm believer now in doing this before every race.

Aquaphor: I have often been made fun of for my devotion to Aquaphor. I keep several tubes of it–at work, in my purse, in my gym bag, and a huge tub by my bed. I just must have severely chapped lips, because it’s the only thing that works where I don’t have to keep reapplying. But for races, it’s a god send. Not only is it the best thing I’ve found to fight chafing (even you, Bodyglide), it’s excellent protection against windburn. Windburn on the face SUCKS (a lesson Joel and I learned quite painfully after World’s Toughest Mudder). So while it may feel weird to lube up your face, it’s essential for the cold weather racing.

Diaper Cream: Same idea as the gold bond/vaseline/Aquaphor uses, but this stuff is great for chafing from the sports bra area and other more delicate places when you know you are going to be wet during a race. Also works well on the feet. And leaves you smelling like a baby’s bottom.

Athletic Tape: People sing the praises of KT Tape. I am not one of them. While it feels awesome and looks badass for the two seconds before the race, it’s only good for those two seconds it stays on until you sweat it off. I’ve tried everything to keep it on (rubbing alcohol, vigorous rubbing) and nothing seems to work. And it’s expensive as shit. Regular athletic tape, on the other hand, always seems to do the trick (while painful sometimes to get off). If you double it over, it’s a great way to protect open blisters on the hands, and as I learned at the Winter Death Race this year, it also makes an excellent makeshift splint for your very weak wrists (saved me a broken wrist coming down the mountain the last time)

Band-Aid Tough Strips: Hands down, the best sticky shit around. I carry some with me at all times during races.

Arnica Gel: Bengay/Icy Hot FEELS great for two seconds, but is totally worthless. Arnica, on the other hand, is some natural mumbo-jumbo stuff that is supposed to reduce swelling and ease pain. Well, I know it makes my fingers go a bit numb after I put it on, so I’m a fan. BioFreeze is also a godsend, but a bit more of a pain on the wallet.

Pepto/Immodium: When you are racing for 12, 16, 24+ hours, nature is going to call (despite boys believe that girls don’t ever go to the bathroom). Peeing is perfectly acceptable anywhere (and glorious in a wetsuit), but, sparing any details, it’s best not to have to stop for other business. A combo of Pepto/Immodium pre-race and during the race can save you embarrassing stops, precious time, and sore butts from using poison ivy to wipe. (just be careful–it dehydrates)

Contact solution/extra contacts: For those of us that are blind. No one wants me to chop wood with only one contact in. I’m dangerous enough as it is with 20/20 vision.

Epsom Salts: Name something that Epsom salts can’t fix. I dare you. Heel blisters? Sore muscles? Rough calluses? Shin splints? Constipation? (Never tried that last one, but it says on the box it can…ew). I buy it in bulk and use it on the regular.

Vodka: The ultimate multi-tasker. Not only is it great to numb the pain after 24+ hours on your feet carrying heavy shit, it doubles as an antiseptic. If someone is beating you during a race, throw it in their eyes (Kidding. Kind of). Always keep a flask, despite what the naysayers say.

Let’s be honest, though: I am a horrible packer. I will forget half of this crap at home for my next race and then lose the other half somewhere out on the course. Points to whoever returns my flask.

*I suppose I should probably say that I am in no way affiliated with any of these brands, nor was I paid for any of this crap. Totally unnecessary, given that like 5 people read my blog on a good day, but the attorney in me requires me to cover my own ass.


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.


These races should be everything I hate

T-minus one week til Winter Death Race. And I feel like I’m missing something. It’s this weird nagging feeling, that something isn’t exactly right.

So as I’ve been fighting that, I’ve realized that it’s a theme that I’ve come back to time and time again: preparation.

Confession: I’m about as Type-A as they come.
Ha–that didn’t surprise any of you, did it? So I plan everything down to the last details: my workouts, my grocery lists, my social functions. And while I’ve fought it most of my life, I’m a certifiable control freak. WHAT YOU DO YOU MEAN I DON’T KNOW WHAT I AM GOING TO DO FOR THE NEXT 24 HOURS.

My closest friends and family are well aware that is my worst nightmare. I test, I plan, I do trial runs, I plot my running of tangents on the course map, I pack and repack. I NEVER “wing it.” And if you throw off my routine (especially my 4am gym time), you better be prepared to incur my wrath. So it’s rather odd that I have been drawn so magnetically to adventure races, and especially races like the Death Race, where anything goes. I’m not an “anything goes” type of gal.

You think I would be more suited to, say, marathons or triathlons, where you put in the mileage, you follow the regimented program, and you know exactly what you are getting.*

But (A) I’m petrified of going fast on bicycles (that will be a subject of another post sometime); and (B) running on concrete gives me stress fractures.**

More importantly than (A) and (B), road races are a snooze fest. Training looks like this: run in a straight line. Run faster in a straight line. Run slow for a bit and then run really fast in a straight line. Lather, rinse, repeat.

I also have an adverse reaction to timing myself. I’ve never owned a Garmin. I only learned last year what a “negative split” is. I’m still rather mystified as to what a “tempo” run is, and I giggle at the word “fartlek.” Don’t get me wrong–I love to run. In my mind, there is nothing better (ok, maybe a few things) than a pre-dawn 20-miler along Lake Michigan. But the pacing, timing, and pressure to finish in under “x” time takes all the fun out of the sport.

Enter obstacle/adventure races (can someone come up with a catch-all term?! please?!). Way more laid back, and way less stress. People go out there, kick ass, but also enjoy fun things like booze and red meat. I remember the first time someone asked whether anyone was using their Garmin for World’s Toughest Mudder. I just about fell over laughing (as did everyone else I believe). Seriously, dude? (1) You are going to destroy it; (2) what are you going to track? Negative splits between obstacles? Yes, there are winners for (some of) these races. But finishing is a big enough honor on its own.

Perhaps adventure racing has brought out another side of me. Perhaps I’m not as type-A, control freak as I thought. Or perhaps adventure racing is teaching me how NOT to be like that. I’m growing–growing as an athlete, growing as a professional***, and growing as a person.

So maybe what is really bothering me lately is that the unknown and lack of preparation…isn’t bothering me at all.

Pittsfield, I look forward to meeting you in a week. Let’s do this.

*”Yay, I got a 26.2 sticker. So has everyone else, including my 300-lb neighbor
**Yes, I AM doing the Chicago Marathon this year just to check it off the bucket list. I don’t really plan on “training.” Training is when injury happens.
***And by growing as a professional, I mean trying not to get fired for taking so many Fridays off and telling people I’ll be out of pocket and not able to answer my email for 24+ hours.


Adventures in Urban Training: Wood Chopping

The Winter Death Race is three weeks away.

I have never swung an axe.

Now would be about the time to panic, no? There is one thing, and only one thing, that you know you will be doing going into the Death Race or Winter Death Race: chopping wood. For a race where virtually EVERYTHING is unknown, you would think it would behoove me to train for the one thing that is. Yet I have fully neglected this critical skill, mostly because I live in the middle of freakin’ downtown Chicago where carrying an axe and chopping down the park trees is, I imagine, some type of crime.

This doesn’t sit well with me. You see, I am a planner–an overpreparer by nature. I make my lists, I triple-check them, and I come as trained and ready as I can be. I’m not comfortable with winging it (unlike some freaks of nature that I know). But work lately hasn’t allowed me to start preparations. Life lately hasn’t allowed me to either. So here I am, rather unprepared and it’s killing me.

But there are logistical problems with wood chopping. First, I don’t have a yard. I have a balcony 15 stories up in the air. Even if it was big enough to swing an axe, I’m quite positive neither the neighbors nor the pedestrians on the sidewalk below me would not appreciate any attempts to split wood on the balcony.

I do not have a sledgehammer nor do I have a tire (what you may think would the closest thing to chopping wood). I still mustering up the balls to pony up for closest Crossfit box ($250 a month? yeesh. But I want to be cool and WOD with y’all so badly!), but even there, they don’t have a sledgehammer and/or tire. I suppose I could buy a tire and a sledgehammer and bang away in my apartment. Again, neighbor problems.

I’m a klutz. A certified klutz. For example, I suck at running down mountains because, most of the time, I trip and go ass over teakettle and break things. Now imagine me with a very very sharp axe in my hands.

Most importantly, the city of Chicago doesn’t really like people chopping down their trees in, say, Lincoln Park. I haven’t attempted, but I’m fairly sure that it would be frowned upon. Otherwise, where do I get wood to chop? I mean, I can go BUY firewood, but it’s already chopped, and that kinda defeats the purpose. I feel like this is basic knowledge that I should have learned somewhere along the way, but I’m starting to realize this is where being a city girl for the past several years is starting to bite me in the ass.

So I suppose the only feasible option is to pack my shit up and drive out to a state park somewhere. Maybe I’ll start with the shrubbery. Again, I’m fairly certain state parks don’t want you chopping their trees, but at least there’s a smaller chance of being caught.

3 weeks. Let’s do this. (and Winter Death Racers–give me my room when I’m chopping. For your own safety)