Warm-up: 2 Rounds – 10 Air Squats, 10 DB Power Cleans, 10 DB Push Jerks, Hip Opener
Speed Squat: 12×2 @ 65%
MetCon –3 Rounds for Time:
10 SDHP (95/65lbs)
20 Mountain Climbers
You know it’s been a good weekend when you eclipse the hardest thing you’ve ever done in your life multiple times in quick succession.
It all begins with the knowledge of the known. You know that last year’s Death Race was a little less than 30 hours. You know it involved carrying heavy stuff, getting wet in a pond and a river, mental tasks like deciphering Greek with a textbook, and many other out of the ordinary tasks. You understand that you will not sleep for 2 straight nights, you will eat very little, and there will be no comfort afforded you during this test.
Then there is the knowledge of the unknown. There will be tasks laid before you that you will be unprepared for because you cannot prepare for everything. There will come a time when you will want to quit, your spirit will say it can take no more; your body broken and your will eroding with every task, you realize from the outset you must push onward. These nebulous impediments are sometimes the hardest to deal with for they are hardest to train.
Your decisions will be derided and your sanity denounced. There will be many people telling you, “You can’t.” But there will also be far many more telling you, “It is possible.” For those that think races and other tests of fitness, will, and determination like this are foolish, I turn you to William Blake. “If the fool would persist in his folly he would become wise.” So on to becoming wise…
I woke before my alarm the morning of the actual race. I had a few items on the docket including breakfast with my CrossFit friend from Huntsville, Kevin Lowe. I did some last minute packing and then we headed to breakfast. The General Store in Pittsfield, VT, the setting of my future trials and tribulations, was a dream of a store. They brewed fresh Green Mountain coffee, had a smattering of eggs, sausage, and bacon offerings in as many combinations as one could imagine, and the place was built in the 1700s. So Dad (Larry), Sister (Genna), and I breakfasted with Kevin and his wife, Angela. We discussed last minute strategy, lamented on the items we had left at home, and chatted about the horrible weather that would be the canvas the Death Race would be painted over.
There was a parachute packing course at noon that the race organizers suggested everyone attend. I knew (thought?) we wouldn’t be jumping out of a plane, but figured it wouldn’t hurt to go anyway and see if I could learn a thing or two. This seemed to be everyone’s thought on the meeting, but no one could find said meeting. It turns out the race organizers, Andy and Joe, just wanted everyone up on their feet in the, what could only have been unforeseeable, rain and cold. Well, it worked. Most of the 230 racers were up and moving around the Amee Barn, Amee Lodge across the street, or the General Store in downtown Pittsfield. Genna and Dad were back at the hotel while I resigned myself to the underside of an overhang next to the barn. I stood for a good hour just watching everyone else walk around in blithe confusion.
Once we were all finished looking like dummies, we made a joint decision that no racer would attend the 2PM Free Masons meeting so we would all be on the same page, even if it turned out to be a blank one. I went back to the hotel and repacked my backpack while watching the US play in the U-17 World Cup. We looked uninspired, as is often the case, but I decided I would not let it get me down. I headed back to the General Store for registration at 4:00PM where they gave us each a very small fish hook with explicit instructions not to lose it. I also got some cool swag in the form of a Death Race hat and hooded sweatshirt.
After handing my new clothes off to my support crew I stood in line for my video interview. Each racer had to do a video interview that also comprised the waiver. This took a lot longer than was expected and so the race start time was pushed back slightly. Once we finally kicked off it was 7PM Friday evening. And so the madness begins.
Our very first task was to break in to teams of 13 based on our bib number. I was lucky number 77 and was, therefore, put in to the group of 65-78. Each group was led to a circle of stones varying in weight from 20-70lbs. So there were 13 racers and there were 13 stones arranged in a circle. Inside that circle were one bale of hay, one slosh pipe weighing in around 100lbs, and 4 or 5 bigger stones ranging in weight from 70-100lbs. Each racer stood at a stone, power cleaned it up to their shoulders, and then set it back down in a controlled fashion. We then rotated one stone to the right and repeated until we made it all the way back to our original stone. That’s 13 stone lifts to shoulder height for those counting. After we completed one rotation we moved to the middle and, all at once, picked everything up that was in the middle. That was one round. We had to complete 150 rounds. This was going to be a long night.
My group was pretty cool though. We had a good mix of personalities and were able to keep up a pretty good conversation ranging from our professions, hobbies, favorite movies, books, and television shows, and just about everything else you might discuss in a 90’s era chat room. Like any long AMRAP, we kept controlled, steady pace with a 5 minute break every 1 hour. But even working at this pace people were suffering. A guy to my immediate right threw up twice in the 6 hours that we lifted stones. He was becoming a little to haphazard with his setting down of the stone, as well. One guy in another group was already out of the race thanks to a broken foot (self-inflicted or not, I do not know), and I did not want to have the same happen to me. I kept my distance.
Several people dropped from this first task alone. We lifted stones from 7PM-1AM, a total of 6 hours. My group made a total of 95 rotations. The end could not have come sooner as my shoulders and upper back were getting smoked. Did I mention we had to have our packs on the whole time? That was an extra 30lbs worth of food, water, and gear on our backs during this whole event – not to mention the very dangerous handles of all our axes sticking out well above head level on our packs.
Joe then got everyone’s attention. We were to follow him down a trail that led to the river. There has always been some river walking involved in Death Race. This year was to be no different. However, the state of Vermont was unhappy with Joe and Andy sending hundreds of people out in to the rivers so everyone had to purchase a 3 day state of Vermont fishing license from the onsite game warden. The only other difference in this year’s river walk is that it had been pouring rain the previous days so the river was swollen (aka beast mode was engaged), and the temperature that night was an uncomfortable 50 degrees. It’s about to get very uncomfortable.
Along the way were signs with names of religions and their unique symbol. I did my best to memorize each one with a memory system I’ve used for a long time. I felt pretty comfortable if I needed to match religion to symbol, but if I needed to draw the symbol for each religion I would be in trouble.
Once we got to the river, Kevin and I were in the front pack with Joe Decker (henceforth referred to as Decker), last year and soon to be 2011 Death Race winner. He took straight to the water and began heading up stream in a flow that came up to his waist and sometimes chest. Kevin and I followed suit and hopped in hugging the left bank. The water was very cold, but I treated it like a mandatory ice bath after a long day of lifting. Sadly, not 10 steps up the river my left foot slipped off whatever it was perched on and my knee crashed in to a submerged rock. Immediately I knew I was in trouble. I took a second to regain my footing and then let out a warrior’s yelp to the sky. I hadn’t driven 2 days north to Vermont to quit after 7 hours. I figured the icy cold water would keep swelling down (which, thankfully, it did for a long time) enough for me to keep moving.
Kevin and I remained together for the first 2 miles of the river walk with water constantly above our waists. The flow was quick and would punish you severely for a misstep. We remained calm and focused and made it to our first checkpoint, a gravel and sand bank where Joe was waiting on us. Kevin and I were on the opposite side of the river from where the race director and a small handful of racers were waiting. There would be no easy crossing, so we just waded out until the current took our feet from underneath us. We swam hard with the current at an angle and ended up only losing 30 or so meters which we quickly walked to gain the shore.
It was at this point we realized we were going to be punished for being in the lead pack. Because the river was flowing violently and the water was so cold, Joe and Andy wanted all racers to remain as close together as possible to help each other. And so the waiting began. Kevin and I were 7th and 8th up to the gravel sandbar. We had to wait for another 150 or so racers to catch up to us. It would turn out that several dropped because they could not swim, were afraid of the rapids in their weakened condition, and/or were hypothermic. For an hour we stood around shivering, did air squats, push-ups, arm and leg swings, anything to keep warm. At long last we were released back in to the river to the next checkpoint.
At this point we were on the right side of the river and would come to a fork. At said fork we would need to cross both incoming rapids and gain the far left bank on the far (left) fork. This is where I lost Kevin as his 250lbs of pack and bodyweight helped him crash right through the rapids. My weighty 180lbs was just not the same. Nevertheless, I caught back up to him at the pond. Upon arriving to the cheers and applause of many spectators (at 3AM!), I was told to get in to the pond up to my waist and wait for 5 minutes. “Ha, I just spent the better part of 2 hours in the river, this will be cake,” was my initial reaction. As is often the case, I was wrong.
Being able to move and pump blood through the legs turned out to not only keep the whole body a little bit warmer, but it also kept leg cramps at bay. Standing stationary in the pond I began cramping in my calves and hamstrings. I stood as still as possible to keep from cramping. Finally my time was up and I got out of the pond only to wait for everyone to catch up and do the same. By the time everyone caught up and did their time in the pond, we were 8 or 9 hours in to the madness that is Death Race. I was freezing, shivering uncontrollably, and stammering when I spoke. I did everything I could to warm up before the next task. I ate voraciously, drank greedily, and did bodyweight movements the whole time.
At this point, dear reader, we are not even one third through the ordeal. There will be heavy logs to be carried up mountains, other logs to be split, hallucinations, more shivering, and over 2 inches of hard rain. I will begin the next installment with what may have been the hardest task on the basis of sheer toughness.
Are you having fun yet,
“You never know what is enough unless you know what is more than enough.” – William Blake (What can I say, the guy knows how to pump you up for a Death Race.)