The Death Race is the king of all adventure racing. 10% or less of those who sign up every year actually make it to the finish line. The organizers goal is make this event ‘the toughest race on the planet’. Every year there is a different theme (this year was betrayal), the course is different, how long it takes, and what you have to do.
The confusion of the race is what makes it so unique to every other event I have participated. From the moment you arrive in VT no one really knows whats going on. You are emailed a gear list in advance – This year we were required to have an axe, needle + thread, bag of human hair, life jacket, pink swim hat, matches, 5 gallon bucket, and a pen and paper. Anything else you decided to bring was your own choice.
I attempted it last year and quit after 24hrs. This year I made it 27hrs. The winner this year completed it in 62hrs!!!!.
Below is my account of what happened over the course of those 27 hours.
I hope that this account can be somewhat helpful to those who are preparing for future races.
We got moving again and eventually arrived at some house next to a reservoir. We were instructed to put on our life jackets + pink swim hats and to swim out to a marker that was about 200m out + back. I was pleasantly surprised that the water was in the low 60’s and felt amazing after the hours of hiking we had just done.Pretty much 12 hours straight to get to this point. Everyone was in good spirits now and we joked about how all our cold showers leading up to the race had been in vain because the water turned out to be warm.
My Death Race experience
You can watch all the videos you like on the Internet, read every article, review and blog (including this one) about the Spartan Death Race but you will honestly have no idea what it’s like unless you actually experience it. Looking back on what I had to do over a 24hr period, it seems like a messed up dream or better yet a nightmare. I hope that anyone considering actually doing the Death Race in the future will find some value in this post and I hope that it will give some insight as to what is involved.
We (Sara, Annie and myself) arrived in Pittsfiled VT around 1:30pm. There were racers everywhere setting up their tents and getting their packs ready for the race. I just hung around for the couple of hours until 3pm when check in started. Joe (the mastermind) met me at the general store and immediately started fucking with me “Yeah, we’re hoping to have about 6 finishers this year……. How many people are on your support crew?” I told him I had 2 people with me, Sara and her Mom and he was quick to respond “yeah you need 6 or 7 so……”.
I knew he was just fucking with me so I didn’t really pay any attention to him because I know that’s just what he does. The best advice I could give to any racer is to just stay away from him as much as possible.
We each received a hoodie, baseball hat, a fish hook and a bib number. We were then told to go the Amiee farm to do our video wavier. Basically this guy sits you down and reads off a disclaimer, which is similar to the one we have at our gym. I was laughing the whole time he was reading it for some reason. He then asks you a bunch of questions like ‘why are you doing this’ etc. I said something to the effect of “you rarely get to test your limits like this in life and I want to find where mine are”.
While everyone was hanging around Andy then stepped up and announced that to participate in the race everyone would need to get a VT fishing license which costs $20. There was a lot of confusion and scrambling with everyone trying to fill in forms and decide weather or not to get a 1 day pass which was $20 or a 3 day pass which was $22 (we were told to bring $22 with us as part of the gear list). By the time I got to the front of the line there were no 1 days left but it turned out to be irrelevant anyways as we wouldn’t even need it. It was just a ploy to give the state of VT some money as there had been some bad blood created when a few weeks back we had been told to bring a live fish with us for the race but it got removed from the list as people complained to PETA.
It turned out all the organizers wanted to do was to make us put the fish into a tank and 12 hours later come back and point out our fish. They decided it wasn’t worth the hassle with PETA so they just removed it from the list.
Friday 24th – 6pm
We were all told to meet at the church at 6pm. When we got there I surprised that we were actually going into the church. Everyone was told to sit down and to leave their packs outside. I grabbed my camel pack out and hid it under my jacket as I had heard that last year they did a similar thing and when everyone came back their packs were gone and they had no food/water with them for hours.
When everyone was in the church the pastor gave us a list of different religions and their histories and a little info about each. A lot of us were taking notes as we knew it was things we could potentially be asked about later.
The pastor gave us a nice little speech on success that was pretty motivating at the end.
Joe and Andy then stepped up and each gave a little welcome and went over some of the logistics for the weekend. It was all pretty basic things like; make sure to check in at each checkpoint and if you decide to drop out to make sure you tell someone. Joe told us that every year, people get so pissed off with him that they just jump in their car and leave without telling anyone and they assume that the person is still on the course somewhere. I smiled at this when he first said it but a few hours later I began to realize what he meant.
Friday 24th – 8:30pm
There was a lot of scrambling and confusion until 8pm when we were all spilt into groups of 13 and each group was assigned a bail of hay, a 7ft x1ft length of PVC which was filled with water and capped off and 16 rocks of various sizes and weight. I estimate that the lightest one in our group was 15lbs and the heaviest one was maybe 40lbs but I can’t be sure. We made a circle of 13 rocks, one person standing at each, with the rest of the stuff in the middle.
No one knew what we were doing until Joe called me out in front of all the racers and asked me to show everyone was a clean was. I cleaned the stone a couple of times (wasn’t embarrassing at all) then went back to my group. I gave them all a few tips on how to do it most efficiently as a lot of them were bending over trying to pick them up with their backs.
The task was as follows: Everyone is standing in their circle, each person cleans the rock in front of them then puts it back on the ground. Everyone steps to the stone on the left and repeats.
1 full lap = 13reps per person.
We were told we had to perform 150 laps which would work out to be 1,950 reps.
Also after each lap everyone had to step into the centre of the circle and lift the remaining objects off the floor together -3 rocks, pvc pipe + bails of hay. We had to do all this while wearing our packs which weighed about 30lbs or so.
This got annoying very quickly. I didn’t even find it difficult, just annoying. I honestly could have stayed there all night doing it. I could tell after a few hours that some of the guys in my group were starting to break down. I tried to keep reminding them on form but its evitable that as people fatigue their form deteriorates.
It took us 30mins to do our first lap so I estimated that to do 150 it was going to take us 7.5 hours assuming we could maintain the pace we started with (unlikely). One guy on our team dropped out after 2 hours because he dropped one of the rocks on his foot and broke it. He struggled with it for a while before deciding to quit but I think he made the right decision. The whole time there were people waking around shouting out things like ‘you can quit anytime you like and come sit and the fire’ and things of that nature. We all just tried to focus on the task at hand and not pay attention to them. Joe actually came over at one point and shouted “You can all thank John Mc Evoy from CrossFit Craic for this one. He likes putting up videos of himself doing things with good form, everyone say thanks Johnny”. That was pretty funny and I appreciated the shout out for my gym
We decided as a group that we would take quick water breaks every lap. It was working well but I don’t think that the organizers had planned it would take so long as they pulled the plug at around 12:30am. My group had reached 82 laps so 1,066 reps personally as well as 82 reps lifting the other objects as a group.
Saturday 25th 12:30am ish
We were all instructed to break into groups of 2 or 3 and go down and get into the river and hike up to the riverside farm, which was about a mile away. I managed to bump into Michele who I did my overnight hike with a few weeks back and we decided to stay together.
The water was extremely cold when I first got in but after about 10mins or so my legs went numb and it wasn’t so bad. We were battling against a really strong current the whole way so everyone was staying to the side and clinging to the bushes to try and get grip. After about 20mins or so I went through a phase of thinking how awesome it was. I looked back every so often and all I could see was little spots of light (everyone’s headlamps) scattered as far back as I could see. It was a cool experience, as I would never in a million years even think of doing something like that by choice. Every step had to be carefully placed, as the rocks underneath were really slippery.
It took us at least an hour to get to an inlet where everyone assembled. I was no.31 out of the water. We stood around waiting for everyone else for almost another hour before getting back into the water. I think part of this was to just get everyone even more cold. I tried to keep eating and moving as much as possible but some people took the opportunity to try and sleep a little. I don’t know if in the moment that it was a good idea or a bad one.
We filially arrived at our destination at around 2:30am where Sara and her mom were waiting for me. It was good to see them but there was no down time, we were straight up to a pond for the next task. We had to go back into the water up to waist depth and stand there for 5mins before getting out.
After all that I was sure there would be a little downtime to eat etc but it was very short-lived. I walked up a hill where there was a fire with everyone huddled around it. I managed to get a minute or two at it but it was time to get onto the next one.
Back down the hill to another pond. There were 2 lengths of rope lying across the pond, which was about 40yards or so long. On the other side there was a very steep mud bank, which went back up to where the fire was.
The task was to get into the water with our packs on and either pull ourselves across or swim to the other side. I have no idea how deep the water was but I couldn’t touch bottom. When we made it across, we had to climb up the hill and at the top we were handed a lit candle, which we then had to walk around a field holding it and if it went out we had to start again. When we returned the lit candle to the race staff that was 1 lap. We had to do 7. After my second lap I noticed that some racers were standing at the fire for a couple of minutes before heading back down so I followed suit. Each time I went back in the water didn’t seem so cold but each time the water hit me I got crazy cramps in the calves and mentally it started getting extremely difficult. Each time I got to the top of the hill Sara put a towel around me + my rain jacket, which helped a lot.
When I finished my 7th lap I noticed that a lot of other racers had already left. There were about 30 or so of us who were instructed to sit by the edge of the pond. Joe was pissed that people were stopping at the fire so he decided to take all of our shoes, dip them in oil and throw them into the woods.
There were also 2 guys who had only done 1 lap and we had to stay and wait for them to finish. They were actually pulled out of the race after the 7th lap because of hypothermia.
I’m not sure on how long that ordeal took but it was pure torture. I have never experienced anything like it in my life. I thought that what I had to do during the Tough Mudder was cold but this race made that look like a warm up.
By now it was getting bright outside so everyone started to feel a little better and it was off to the next task.
Saturday 25th -5:30am ish
We arrived in a big field and were instructed to chop 3 logs of wood into 8 pieces then stack them up. I quickly found out that I am not very good at chopping wood and I also found out that the axe I had was a piece of shit. It kept getting stuck in my log which added to my frustration.
One guy that was finished was nice enough to let me use his splitting maul when he was done so that helped me a little more.
After the wood chop we had to carry another big log to the top of a hill, navigating hills and fallen trees as well as electrical wires and other various objects. This part I actually found quite easy. “Pick this up and move it” – that’s my kind of event. I passed out at least 10 people on my way up the hill. At the top there was a bible passage, which we had to memorize. I was lucky to have seen people being quizzed when they returned so I brought my notebook with me.
The passage was:
Stand firm in the faith
Act like men,
I passed out another couple of people on the way back down and managed to recite the passage straight away. I saw several people get it wrong and they were sent back up to do it again. I heard one guy had to go up 3 times! I’m not sure how far up or down it was but the round trip took about an hour.
I then had to chop the log I had just carried into 4 pieces and stack them. I spent almost a half hour this time and started getting extremely frustrated. It was pissing rain and I was getting nowhere. Of course I happened to have picked a log which had a lot of knots in it which made the task a a lot harder apparently. One of the race staff took pity on me I guess and let me pick out a different log to chop, which I did in about 5 mins and I was on the road again, or should I say in the river.
Michele finished her log chop about the same time as me and we were instructed to get back into the river and hike back to the farm. There were 4 of us in a group. We got about 5 mins or so down river and Jason (a guy I met at the Spartan retreat back in Feb) realized that he forgot his climbing rope. I went back with him to get it as I knew he wouldn’t be allowed finish the race without it. What’s another few mins in the river right?
We got the rope and went back into the river. It was about 11:30am by the time we got back to base camp.
The river walk back was extremely challenging and I honestly thought it was never going to end. Jason suggested early on that we should all link arms and just let the river take us down. Looking back now it would have been a good decision but in the moment when I was cold and miserable I looked at it as a last resort.
Saturday 25th -12pm
I was so relieved to hear that the next task did not involve water. There were several times during the water hikes that I thought it was it for me but I managed to stay in the moment. Its easy to get caught up thinking what do I have to do tomorrow or I can’t believe I have to do this for x hours. I thought several times to myself “nothing exists except this moment”. I was reminded that by one of my members the day before the race and it was very helpful (thanks CW)
Anyone who happens to read this and considers doing the race in the future, that is the best advice I could possibly give you.
After an omelet and a cup of coffee I received my next task. Walk up a hill, measure a log and cut it into a 36” piece, then using our hand drill we had to engrave our race number into it. This was the only part of the race I considered to be a little bit of down time and I was able to relax a bit.
Saturday 25th -1:30pm
After having my engraving approved I was told to go up a new mountain with the log and that I would be gone for a couple of hours. I lighted my load a little as the log was another 40lbs or so. I took the bare min amount of food I thought I would need (big mistake) and set off up the mountain. When I was about 30mins in I started bumping into people on their way back. I got to a camp and saw people doing Burpees and thought I had reached where I needed to be. It turned out they were people on their way back from where I was headed. It was here I started trying to make my log carrying a little more efficient. The race staff told me that hydration and fueling were critical at this point as the hike was very steep and very muddy. It was at this point I noticed that my hand saw had managed to rip a hole in my camel pak and I only had a tiny ½ pint of water with me. I started thinking to myself ‘I’m fucked’ , I think this was the start of my mental breakdown.
The race official then told me where to go, to be careful and that it would take me and hour or maybe an hour and a half. I thought it shouldn’t be a problem and set out. This hike was brutal. It was steep, extremely muddy and was made up of extremely thick bush. After the initial entrance there was no real trail, there were just ribbons every so often making the way. I passed several people on their way back, I asked some of them how much further it was after I was 1hour 40mins in and they told me it was about another hour and 20mins or so. All this time I was thinking about having no water and that by the time I got to where I was going and completed the tasks there that it would be dark and I would have to try and find my way back through the bush in the middle of the night.
The terrain went up and down and side-to-side and there was no way of knowing really what direction I was headed in. I managed to catch up to 2 guys who I saw on the trial several times and I just stayed behind them.
I bumped into Tom (the other person I did the overnight hike with) at one point and he was on his way back from where I was headed. He said that he left 1hr and 2mins ago. He was timing it as he said that several people had lied to him on route about how far it was. He gave me a sip of his water, which was very helpful at that point as I had been almost 2 hours without any.
This was where my mind gradually started quitting on me. I was having pretty bad knee pain every descent I went down which has been a little bit of an issue for a few months which I’ve been ignoring. Every step became challenging and I went through all the mantras and gave my self as much motivational self talk as I could, you can do this, you’re almost there, just keep moving.
Every step began to get harder and harder and by the time I got to Rogers (where I was headed) I was almost broken. There were a lot of other racers hanging out there who were all saying that they felt much better after a rest so I hoped the same. Before I did anything I filled my tiny water bottle and downed it several times.
Then I got the tasks out of the way – put your log into a pond, do 90 push ups, stack more wood, retrieve your log from the pond then crave into it -1RO. No idea what it meant.
At this point I was fucked. Several people at this check point were dropping out and the voice in my head was now screaming at me to do the same. Then there was a thunder storm and it started pissing rain again which was the nail in the coffin for me.
Saturday 25th 6pm
I called it a day exactly at the 24hr mark. I was talking to several people who did the race in recent years and each of them said that there is a point where you just stop caring and just don’t want it anymore.
I definitely reached that point. The thought of going back into the woods in the dark and rain was unimaginable. It took me 4 hours to make it through in the semi sunny day light so I can’t even fathom going back through it in the dark.
Calling it quits was an extremely difficult thing for me to do and I was quite emotional when I did. It’s one thing to be able to say you found your limit but its not a case of saying ‘ok that’s it for me’. It took me a long time to get there – 24 hours with no rest and constant self talking trying to keep myself going. Sara and her mom were extremely helpful throughout the race but with something like this you are largely by yourself.
Getting comfortable being uncomfortable is one of the many mantras floating around the CrossFit world but this phrase now has a new meaning to me. There is literally no comparison to what I did this weekend to anything I have ever done.
I wanted to prove to myself and to others that to make it through something like this you could simply do CrossFit and show up and finish it. I now realize that you can’t.
-You need to be able to have covered long distances on your legs to be able to understand the mileage and know what it feels like.
-You need to be mentally tougher than I am. I thought that I had good mental toughness and in general I would consider myself to be very resilient but this is a whole new animal. I have a lot of people come into my gym who seem to have natural mental toughness, mainly firefighters and military guys. They all seem to have that little something extra in them. I feel that mental toughness is something I have had to try and learn through exposure to uncomfortable environments. In the gym everything is largely controlled even when your workouts might be unknown. In the woods, there is no one watching, no one to console you and no one to help you. It’s incomparable to anything I’ve done in the past.
-You need to be very well prepared. I def didn’t bring enough clothes with me and I feel that in general I was just a little under prepared.
IF and that’s a very big if I decide to ever attempt this race again I would def have a more specific approach.
All in all I am happy I did it and having never done any kind of endurance events or training other than 2 half marathons and one overnight hike I think I did pretty well.
I will likely still give myself a hard time for a while thinking about this but I see it as as another one of those things I have done in life that many people would never even dream of and although it is a personal failure, I still see it as a success.
It was miserable but it was awesome
I set off on my first overnight hike yesterday evening with Michelle and Tom. I met both of them just a couple of hours before we set off. I’ve been in touch with Michele back and forth for a couple of months and we’ve been trying to arrange something but schedule has been an issue.
We first drove to NH to Tom’s house and got a little bit of background on each other and how we came across the Death Race. When we got to Tom’s house I weighed my backpack which came in at 62lbs….. awesome. Tom was in the same boat as me so it shaping up to be a good night.
We went for dinner in a little local place near Tom’s house before setting off.
The mountain which we decided to climb was Mt Monadnock. We set off at 9pm sharp and began our accent. The first 30mins or so seemed extremely long while I got a sweat up and my heart rate adjusted. I was wearing full compression leggings and a top, mainly to keep the bugs off but it got very hot quickly. The terrain varied a lot from dirt to wood piles to big rocks which was really challenging at points.
Michele was acting as our guide as she has hiked the mountain several times. When we were about a half a mile from the summit the mist was so thick that you could barely see your own hand in front of your face even with our head lamps. Michele made the decision to turn back. I had no idea really what I was doing or where we were for that matter so I just followed the orders :).
We arrived back at the car at 12:30am and Tom and I decided to dump our heavy packs and just grab food and water for the remainder of the night. We set off again in a different direction and pretty much just walked/hiked around the woods until 5:30am.
At one point we thought we ran into a Bear! Michele and I heard a loud growl which stopped us in our tracks for several minutes. I didn’t realize how out of my element I actually was until that happened.
It was a really cool experience and regardless of what I end up doing in life this night is something I will remember forever.
Looking at my watch at 4:14am knowing that I was in the middle of nowhere in the middle of the night was a really cool feeling.
On the hike back (after 6 or 7 hours on my feet) my legs were extremely tired and taking steps started getting harder and harder. There was never any question in my head of stopping but I was definitely feeling fatigued by the end.
I’m not sure what specific training I can do for more preparation in the coming weeks for this race. I honestly feel like I am ready. Michele and Tom were both telling me that I should grab a weight vest whenever I can and just walk for a few miles. I know that this is good advice and that it would be in my best interest to do it but I don’t know how realistic it is for me to make the time.
I am a huge believer in the fact that is something is important to you then you will MAKE time to do it. I always tell my friends, family and clients this but I think there is a difference in me saying ‘come into the gym, it’s only an hour’ vs being able to go and walk around the woods for a few hours.
I have one weekend where I might be able to fit in some time on feet over the next month.
Overall I managed to stay awake for 27hours with no sleep. I’m pretty happy with this and I’m confident that I will finish the Death Race on June 24th.
They can make me do the most ridiculous tasks imaginable and they can make me more uncomfortable that I have ever been in my entire life but they cannot control how I feel or the way I react to certain situations. I am the only one who has control over that and that is why I am going to finish this race.
I actually felt pretty good today. A little sore but that’s to be expected. I had the urge to workout but I tweaked my knee a little yesterday so I thought it would be good to give my body some rest.
I just got an email from one of the ladies who will be suffering with me during the Death Race about what she did this past weekend. What she had to do made yesterday look like a warmup.
The Death Race is about 6 ½ weeks out and now that I have the open out of the way and the Tough Mudder I’m going to start doing some weird shit (for lack of a better term). I’ve been advised to do everything with a weight vest on and to do things like filling contractor buckets with rocks and just hike.
I feel as though my strength and conditioning is at a good level but over the next few weeks I need to adapt to the specifics of what I’ll have to go through on June 24th.
I’m probably not going to stray too far away from my current training regimen, which is pretty varied as it is. I just plan on having at least one LONG workout a week and I’ll need to start gradually getting used to functioning without sleep.
I will also need to expose myself to cold water more as I know that will likely be a part of the race.
The blizzard hit with full force as promised today and I ended up making the decision to cancel all classes for the day at the box.
I did not let this effect my training for the day, if anything the storm facilitated it. I looked at today as being my first session in preparation for the Death Race in June.
I have so much going on at the moment and so many things to train for its hard not to loose sight of the big picture. My main goal at the moment is to qualify for regionals. The sectional qualifiers begin in about 5 weeks as is my snowshoe half marathon.
The snowshoe half is one of those things that I am simply doing to complete it. I know that the Death Race will be 100 times harder than it so I need to get myself used to being in situations that I don’t want to be in. In the words of OPT – I need to:
‘get comfortable being uncomfortable’
For the sectionals I plan on just continuing along the same path I am on now with my workouts. Starting tomorrow I will be going to CrossFit New England every Thursday for their competitors classes to try and get used to that environment. I am definitely making progress training alone for the most part but having people to chase is always good. I will also continue to do the Again Faster WODs weekly.
In tandem with the above I plan on doing 1 long-ish running workout a week. Sometimes I will make myself carry something and sometimes it will just be ‘normal’. I also want to work in 1 WOD/week which has either running involved in it or carrying objects for certain distances.
For the next 5 weeks that will be the focus. Gradually working in running, the AF WODs and training at CFNE. My own workouts will revolve around my own strength work sprinkled with some influence from CrossFit.com Sealfit.com and Crossfitendurance.com
The main thing to keep in mind is the fundamentals of CrossFit – Constantly Varied – Functional Movement – High Intensity
When the sectional events are over in April my goals will then shift towards regionals and the tough mudder.
Anyways today I ventured out to the park behind my apartment and created a few little tasks for me to play around with.
The first thing I did was
run up + down the hill
5 snatches L+R
This was a nice little warmup and it actually felt really cool being out in the snow working out.
I’m not sure on what my time was, I could have checked the camera when I was uploading it but I didn’t really care about the time today, that was not the purpose of the workout.
I then hiked around the hills (KB in hand) and through the playground areas and came up with the second WOD which was
jump the wall between each set
This was a cool one as well and it def got me pretty tired.
If I wasn’t going to CFNE tomorrow I would probably have stayed out a little longer today (total time – 1 hr) but I want to feel good about the WODs tomorrow and I want to preform well.
good snow day