Warm-up: Leg Swings, Arm Circles; 2 Rounds – 10 Pull-ups, 10 KB Power Swings, 10 Walking Lunges, 5 Pass Throughs
Squat: 3×5 @ 60%
Row: Form check
Row: 2k @ 80%
Finisher: 10x15sec Hollow Rock; LAX ball calves, Achilles, and bottom of foot
“It is a tale/Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury,/Signifying nothing.” – Macbeth in Macbeth
Just like The Two Towers by Tolkien, this middle part of the series does not stand on its own very well. I suggest you read Part 1 and Part 2 before you delve in to this part of the story, just as you would read The Fellowship of the Ring before discovering Isengard’s treachery in Tolkien’s second book. With that said, let us rejoin our protagonist right in the thick of things.
Backpacking is a very introspective time for me. Even though most of my trips are with good friends, there is always a lot of time where I am just walking in silence lost in my own thoughts. There was plenty of introspection going on during the Death Race. There were long stretches of time spent alone, and I was on such a stretch now with my 70lb log, 30lb pack, and my thoughts.
If you reference your notes of my journey thus far, you will recall I have just drilled my number, 77, in to the end of my log. With my log and equipment I have set off on what will be a 9 hour tour – thrice that of Gilligan! And so it is here we pick up our tale again.
I cross the road from the farm to the lodge and begin my gradual climb up an easy slope. The log is sitting on top of my shoulders with my one-inch nylon webbing tied to either end and then wrapped up in my hands several times. I see no one in front or behind me and resign to just keep walking. Soon enough I chance upon voices coming from in front of me. It ends up being two gentlemen from my stone lifting group, Sean and John. Don’t worry, we made the clothes line reference to them many times as well.
By this time we had moved out of the single track hiking trail in the forest and were on a lightly graveled road cutting its way up a mountain. I ended up walking behind them for close to half a mile before finally overtaking them when they stopped to drop their logs. It was at this point I decided not to set my log down until I reached our intended target for this task. A volunteer had told me we would come to a backcountry cabin “a ways in and up.” And so I plodded inward and upward.
One of the first very disheartening moments of the Death Race happened soon after passing SeanJohn. I saw coming towards me a different Sean. This was a guy who had never done the Death Race before and decided to reach out to another random Death Racer months before our trip. I was that lucky racer. We chatted via Facebook and phone several times in the build up to the race. We would discuss training, gear, fuel, and psychology. I was impressed with his training regimen, and he was always pointing out issues with gear and clothing that I overlooked. I thought for sure he was going to be a finisher, but it was not to be. As he approached he simply said something about how the race broke him and for me to keep at it. I was crestfallen.
I pushed on with the resolve to keep setting small goals that would be challenging but well within reach. After an hour’s stroll I ended up making the cabin without setting my log down. That was a huge boost for me. I had been awake for 30+ hours and racing for almost 18. Once I was at the cabin I set my pack down to rest and eat. I was also able to gather intel on where I stood in the race thanks to a poster board the volunteers had there and were updating. I was in 51st place out of 230 racers. I was also fortunate enough to talk to both race organizers, Andy and Joe, as they were coming down the trail to the cabin. Joe informed me that,” This next section of trail will be the hardest task you will have done so far.” It was only walking though, right?
Sure enough, the next 4 miles of trail were horrendous. I have done a lot of backpacking, mountaineering, and trail jogging. I thought I had seen it all. But the combination of the monsoon and the fact they blazed a random trail zigzagging up and down the mountain was outlandish. Immediately leaving the cabin I climbed up some of the steepest trail I have ever had the good fortune of hiking. The incline and pack weight made the going very, very slow. Imagine the 400m at Ktown taking you 20 minutes. That was me. My personal goals now became me picking a tree 50m away and telling myself not to stop until I reached it. I did this over and over and made slow, steady progress up the mountain.
I can still close my eyes and visualize sections of that trail with hallucinational lucidity. I remember all too well the different rest poses I tried to take some of the pressure off of my legs, back, shoulders, and everything else that suffered the weight. None of them really worked, and the best of them compelled me to stay on a bit longer from sheer inertia. But I always came back to the same phrase, “It’s only walking.”
There would be no acme to this climb though. The trail bent left and skirted down around the mountain before I reached the summit. It really is a great psychological game to play with the racers, you know? Send them up a near vertical slope with no switchbacks only to have them turn and head down and away from the culmination of their hard work. But I was a slave to the orange tape markings. They were the only trail I knew, and so I followed them.
Anyone who has done a fair amount of heavy pack carrying will agree with this sentiment: going uphill is hard work, but going downhill just plain sucks. For one, you have to decelerate your whole body and heavy pack with every step you take. For two, when the trail (if you could call this a trail) is in poor shape one misstep can end the happiness of a lifetime (a bit sensational, I know, but very true). Once you get yourself and the 100lbs on your back moving, it takes a lot of stop you. But then again, “It’s only walking.”
Several racers passed me going the other direction, and I could tell from their faces the trail was getting no better. It was this stretch of trail that I saw more people sitting on their logs than carrying them. Most racers were still chipper though. We would chat each other up with the few seconds afforded us as we made our passes. Most everyone was in good spirits. But there were some poor, unfortunate souls as well. More than once I passed a racer who, had it not been for their synthetic clothing and other anachronisms, could have easily passed for the ill-fated lots that walked to camps in Germany never to be seen again.
One of the bravest acts I witnessed were the support crews who were hiking right alongside their racers. Some support crews were carrying the extra food, water, and clothing their racer would need right there with them. It was a spectacle!
I arrived at my intended destination after many trying hours on that mountain. The house I came upon was used in last year’s race as the area for the task of cooking up and eating 1lb of the 10lb worth of onions each racer was carrying. This year’s task was much different though, thank God.
I ambled in to the checkpoint and dropped my pack and log. The race volunteer informed me I needed to take my log down to the pond and throw it in and then report back to him. I carried Faunus, as I had by this time named my log, down to the pond and gently set it down in the water but very near the shoreline. I was not about to get soaking wet again. (Did I mention that it had not rained a drop on us since 9AM? It was well after noon by this time!)
Upon reporting back to the race volunteer I learned I must move 10 pieces of wood, one at a time, with a wheelbarrow from one stack to another. I also needed to accrue 90 push-ups. So I set up a 10 rounds not for time MetCon of load one piece of wood in to wheelbarrow, push down to far stack, unload and return wheelbarrow, 9 push-ups. I never thought I would look forward to 90 push-ups as much as I did then. This task breezed by and I was soon asking the volunteer what I needed to do next. He informed me I needed to retrieve my log, carve RO1 in to it somewhere, and then head back to the cabin I came from with pack and log. And so I did.
Before setting out I refilled my water, ate 3 Paleo Kits, and downed some Gu. I also took the time to cut and clean two birch walking sticks. I knew the 15 minutes I would spend making them would be reaped twice over on the upcoming hike back. Overall, I made short work of this checkpoint. I arrived after several others and was able to get away before them. This excited me and put a little more energy in my step.
The trail on the way back to the cabin seemed much shorter with my two walking sticks. I was making great time and passing several racers on the hike back. I figured I would be in the top 30 by the time I reached the original cabin. I was talking to myself, singing songs, and overall just having a grand time by myself. I can get on pretty well alone.
That I could have timed both my trip from cabin one to cabin two and the trip back and known just how much faster I was on the way back makes me to this day moan in frustration. Suffice to say, I smoked the hike back like cheap crack. My happiness had me floating, but my mirth was soon pulled right out from underneath me. I arrived back at cabin one and went straight to the poster board to check my progress. What did I see but people that I left at cabin two that did not pass me on the trail had already made it to this cabin, completed their task, and moved on back to the farm. I was beset with many emotions.
A support crew member to a guy I had hiked with told me what happened. A large group of racers arrived at the cabin from an odd direction and so he asked them where they came from in hopes of locating his racer. They told him they chose to take a dirt road that someone said would lead them back to the cabin. This dirt road had no elevation change. It was an as the crow flies route that skirted the base of the mountain. And so even in all of this suffering people still find ways to cheat. It was sad to hear, but it is not that uncommon in adventure races with set trails. I picked myself up and decided I would catch them if they took a thousand short cuts.
My task at this cabin was to do 100 burpees in the gravel. I broke them in to sets of 10 and went to work. If I were asked to stop and do 100 burpees at any other point in my life, I would have been more than unhappy. On the contrary, these burpees were refreshing! The Death Race put a lot of things in perspective, and one of them is that 100 burpees is really not something to get worked up over. So the next time you are mid-MetCon and about to do some burpees, think back to your Coach G dropping for 100 in the gravel after 24 hours of racing and no sleep in 36 hours.
Burpee debt fulfilled, log and pack loaded on my back, and a new outlook on catching the group ahead of me, I set out for Amee Farm. The walk back was gradual downhill, which is not nearly as bad as its steeper cousin. I made it back down the same stretch without setting my log down again. That is not to say my walk down was uneventful. Lightning and thunder rolled in as the dusk was settling its pink glow on the surrounding hills. Lightning was flashing and thunder was vibrating my whole being with very little lag time between the two. I was right in the middle of an electrostatic war zone. I knew it was only a matter of time before the rain would start pouring.
I made it down to the lodge and, after crossing the road, arrived back at the farm. The clouds were still withholding their rains while I checked in with the main table and received my orders from race organizer Joe DeSena himself. He told me I could not go out on the next task, which would take the entire night he said, without at least one other racer with me. Luckily, my hard work getting down that mountain paid off with me catching the main pack of racers (roughly spots 20-40) and with them my old friend, Kevin.
Just as I was headed over to Kevin the sky let loose. This was a rain we had not yet experienced, and we were terribly experienced with rains by now. It was windless and the rain dropped straight down in massive drops. Lakes were forming underneath people’s tents. Miniature rivers were forming and wreaking havoc around the support crew tent city. It wasn’t madness, it was Death Race. But even though we were here for the suffering and uncomfortable circumstances, Kevin and I decided we would wait the storm out. We figured a rain of such intensity could not sustain itself long. So we sat under an eve that Dad and I had staked out early on Friday and ate and drank. I also changed clothes in to what was my last dry set.
It is twilight of Saturday at this point. I have been racing for 27 hours. I have gone through more than 30 packets of Gu, 4 protein shakes, 8 jars of sweet potato baby food, half a dozen Paleo Kits, and more turkey sandwiches from the General Store than I care to recall. Night is falling fast and my body is asking me if it will get to sleep tonight, much unlike last night. While my body is tired, my spirits are still high. I have been reunited with Kevin. I have made it further than half of the racers already. There is no end in sight, but I am still having fun.
Something wicked this way comes,