Last Updated on September 28, 2019 by Heather Hart, ACSM EP, CSCS
It has been one week and five hours since the 2013 Death Race began. And though I wasn’t an athlete, I participated in the 72+ hour chaos as half of the volunteer coordinator dynamic duo. And though I didn’t tackle bloodroot, nor chop any wood, one week and five hours later, I’m still trying to recover from my own Death Race haze. Since a lot of my friends and readers have asked, I will attempt to write some sort of recap.
Attempt, because there are no words to truly do the Death Race justice.
|photo credit: Obstacle Racing Media|
Thursday night, Geoff and I drove up to Pittsfield, Vermont. If you have never been there, you should add it to your “to do” list. A quintessential Vermont town on the very outskirts of Killington Mountain, that is so small you will totally miss if you blink your eyes. A general store, a few farms, and a beautiful bed and breakfast…not much more. Well that isn’t entirely true, if you know where to look, you will also find miles upon miles of mountain biking and hiking trails, gorgeous homes hidden deep within the mountains, and the original headquarters of both the Spartan Race and Peak Races.
We were provided absolutely amazing accommodations from Peak Races, and tried to get some rest before the weekend began. Of course, I couldn’t sleep. Be it excitement or just one of those situations where you *know* how important that particular night of sleep will be towards the next few days, thus, your brain panics and you simply can’t fall asleep. Either way, I obtained a grand total of maybe 2.5 hours of sleep, before the alarm went off at 4:15 am.
And then it began.
6:00 am registration, Friday morning. Racers began filing in, both excited and terrified, most some sort of combination between the two. My weekend of being glued to a walky-talky radio, directing volunteers, manning the DNF list, keeping track of racer’s collateral (basically keys and ID’s), ensuring the staff was fed, people were parking where they were supposed to, and answering one-gajillion questions that I was asked by support crew and spectators had officially started (and yes, one-gajillion is truly a number, and also the number of times I answered the question of “where are the racers right now” with “somewhere in the woods”.)
|Some of my key volunteers (and baby Death Race!) hanging out at our post under the tent|
The Death Race is never the same race twice. Hell, it isn’t even a “race” per-se, but that is another story. Last year was the year of Betrayal, and therefore, no one ever knew truth from lies. That included the things I and other staff told other volunteers, racers, and spectators. THIS year, however, the theme was “Gambler”. The race was nothing like last year, except of course, for wood chopping, sleepless nights, and hikes over bloodroot. I did not tell one single lie to anyone, not even a half truth. But after last year, not a damn person believed anyone on staff. That of course, made for an adventure in itself, when a concerned mom/wife/father/crew member would ask me a question, and then glare at me saying “how do I even know if you are telling me the truth?”
|Photo credit: Obstacle Racing Media|
I wish I could give you a play by play of what happened. I can’t. Mostly because I don’t remember, partially because I have no idea of exactly what went down, as I was often stationed in alternate locations. (Here is the official Peak Death Race press release, that does give some more details, and THIS VIDEO for a visual) I can tell you this: there was the building of a one mile stone staircase. There was wood chopping. Swimming. Hiking. Shoveling. Mud. Burpees. Cartwheels (seriously). Tears, laughter, smiles, and frustration. I witnessed kick ass athletes like nothing I’ve ever seen before (well, not since last year’s race). There was Zico Water everywhere you turned, ridiculous heat, and cold rain. There were some amazing volunteers who went above and beyond the call of duty. There was a lot of shuttling delirious racers who had dropped out to and from locations during the middle of the night, “mothering” them as they fell asleep passed out from sheer exhaustion under my tent at 3 am under nothing but a space blanket, and consoling athletes who made the painful decision to call it quits. Long overnight shifts manning the DNF list, and telling stories with great people.
194 athletes started. Only 41 officially finished. In tuxedos, none the less.
|Photo Credit: Courtney DeSena & Peak Races Facebook page|
I slept another 3 hours Friday night, about 2.5 Saturday night, and a whopping 4 hours on Sunday night. Exhausting, absolutely, but like a weekend at a spa compared to what the racers did.
The highlight of my entire weekend was simply the fact that these athletes, who hadn’t slept a wink for days, who were dirty, feet destroyed, carrying heavy backpacks, logs, and rocks, were the first to constantly thank me and my volunteers. They were physically and emotionally beat, and they kept saying thank you. I love these people. I love this race.
|Trench foot, anyone? Photo credit: Obstacle Racing Media|
Despite the chaos, the sleep deprivation, and the broken radios, there is no place I would have rather been last weekend. I am honored to have been a part of this race, and cannot wait to be back in 2014.
All of that said, there was a lot of initial backlash this year.
Mainly from those who don’t understand…especially those who were sitting behind their computer screens, and were not in Pittsfield witnessing the race and the incredible feats and determination of these athletes. You see, the Death Race is often referred to as the “Spartan Death Race”. While created by two of the founders of the Spartan Race series, the Death Race is actually a part of Peak Races. However, with the rapid growth in popularity of the Spartan Race series, it appeared that the Death Race attracted the attention of a number of people who had never heard of it before…and had no idea what it was truly about.
The Death Race is not a Spartan Race.
The Death Race is unfair, unpredictable, and sometimes downright cruel. Yet for some, the Death Race is one of the most fantastic, amazing accomplishments on the face of the earth. The Death Race means so much to so many, including me, and I’ve never competed. And it pained me to hear the complaints, the negativity, from those who didn’t get it.
And to be honest, since I have not (yet??) participated as a racer, even I don’t fully get it. Again, I feel as though I’ve written this post in vain, because I simply cannot describe the experience of the Death Race. So to sum up this blog post, it is my honor to share with you the following two posts, from two guys who DO get it.
See you next June, Pittsfield.
This is a life-changing event.
If you’d done your research, you’d have known what you were up against. Everyone out there was up against two guys that are desperately trying to teach us all what it means to live. To accomplish tasks you never thought you could. To take a punch straight to the chin and not let it effect you. To live.
Life has no level playing field and neither does the Death Race…and I thank god for that. I’ve completed 3 death races, 2 double ironmans, 2 triple ironmans, several 48 hour adventure races and several ultrmarathons and guess what…they bore me to a certain degree. The main thing I learn is that I can train to do something for months and then do it. So what…of course I can. That’s what our bodies were designed to do. Physiologically adapt as a means of survival.
|Josh Zitomer, right in white calf sleeves. Photo credit: Peak Races|
I want to be challenged in every aspect. I want to be punched on the chin repeatedly and see if I can adapt physically AND mentally.
I don’t care what place you came in compared to me. I don’t care if I was given two more tasks than you. I don’t care if you cheat. It’s MY seventy hours to dive into who I am. It’s MY seventy hours to hurt. It’s MY seventy hours to learn to adapt to anything life throws at me. It’s MY seventy hours to live.
Life has no level playing field and neither does the Death Race…and I’d want it no other way. Most of us are not handed what we want on a silver platter. If you are, good for you. If you’re like me and fight for a lot of what we have then the death race is for you. It mimics real life and teaches each of us how to adapt in non-traditional ways. That guy that lied about how many logs he split…who cares!? The guy that tossed his rock halfway up bloodroot…who cares!? You split your share and you carried your rock. You win.
I’d like to believe I’m not hearing people complain about helping make a town a better place (aka Joe’s plan for free manual labor) but unfortunately I’ve read several posts with exactly that as the subject.
My rookie year I realized right away that we were chopping wood for the entire town…and stacking it for them! After a moment of wondering why, I smiled. I smiled for two reasons; 1-because I realized very quickly that there would be complaints and some piss poor attitudes about it. What’s the easiest way to fail at the death race? Take on a crap attitude. Well played Andy and Joe. And 2; because I already knew that Pittsfield was a pretty special town and I’d gladly chop their wood for them.
I trekked 10 miles over a mountain in the middle of the night to help them clean up after hurricane Irene. It’s a special town and they deserve so much more than some chopped wood. They deserve an absolutely kicka** set of stairs going straight up a mountain! Countless parents and their kids…and their kids…and their kids will enjoy those stairs for years to come. True Death Racers don’t whine about helping people.
Life has no level playing field and neither does the Death Race…and I love it that way.
Thanks Andy and Joe for your genius event.
|photo credit: New England Spahtens|
It is one week since I began the Death Race. One week ago I was chomping at the bit to get started but I had to wait till 8 I had to wait. (for those not in the know; there’s rarely a good reason to be early in the DR) I suppose at this point I was at the Original General Store, contemplating the unfathomable. In the last week I have definitely gone through many stages of PTSD. And although self inflicted it is debilitating all the same.
There’s physical pain, mental anguish, and survivor’s guilt. I’ve questioned the significance of what I’ve done, the absurdity of it all. I questioned why I have a skull when others don’t and I believe they deserve it. I still can’t walk correctly. But it is the Death Race.
It’s a game based so close to life itself that the participants actually exchange reality for the microcosm of the race. In the race the skull is all there is. You’re playing for a skull, which represents all you want, all your desires. Everything in the “microcosm” of the race becomes that skull. You will lie, cheat, steal. You will bargain, you will ignore pain, and sleep. You will for go eating, peeing, thinking. You will become a machine. You will press on as your body falls apart. You will walk in the face of all opposition. You will push your body beyond its limits and still have more to push with. Even in the face of all evidence to the contrary. You will look at other racers for help but pray they drop before you do. Anything, anything is a blessing. A goo, a water, a moment to put down your pack. A 3-mile swim is a joyful respite from walking and carrying that pack. When you exchange different forms of punishment, you find comfort in it as a break from the monotony of a previous task.
The Death Race is within us all. Every day we decide to continue on our present task or we chose not to. Some times it isn’t for us to continue. Other times we just don’t have a choice. When you reach the back side of Bloodroot in your life, you know. You know that backward is no relief to go forward. If you know you can only go forward, why stop when you get there? And that is the difference. I never stopped when I got where I was going. I just accepted that I needed to go on to the next place. I was so slow I never got any breaks. I barely refueled or rehydrated. When I got to the reservoir I was so dehydrated that I couldn’t swallow. A gift from an Angel of a clif bar caused me to wretch but if I threw up I would lose what I did have. So I drank lake water as I swam. “You have a 100% chance of dying of dehydration. Getting ill from bad water is at worst 50/50 chance.” ~ Todd Sedlack.
But this is the Death Race. And this is what Death Racers do. If you think about what’s ahead of you your already dead. If you simply do what is in front of you, getting to a lake, a farm, a house, or a tree 200ft ahead, you will survive. You have to make small goals.. You have to be aware of your present situation only. Anyway that’s how I got my skull. Call it bullshit. Call me what you want. But I finished. And my way worked. At least this time.
Heather Hart is an ACSM certified Exercise Physiologist, NSCA Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist (CSCS), UESCA certified Ultrarunning Coach, RRCA certified Running Coach, co-founder of Hart Strength and Endurance Coaching, and creator of this site, Relentless Forward Commotion. She is a mom of two teen boys, and has been running and racing distances of 5K to 100+ miles for over a decade. Heather has been writing and encouraging others to find a love for fitness and movement since 2009.
Jennifer Pug Pug
I mean, wow.
This sounds absolutely insane and awesome and terrifying all at once! Even from a volunteering standpoint. Thank you so much for sharing your perspective, and congratulations to all the finishers!