What you’re about to read is a lengthy account of my grueling journey towards the 2018 Spartan Death Race. This is an event that I had discovered in 2012 and have classified every accomplishment along the way as a stepping stone to permit me to finally place my feet in Pittsfield Vermont for what would no doubt be the most challenging thing I had ever attempted. After failing “lesser” events such as the Ultrabeast (now rebranded merely as the Spartan Ultra) multiple times, I had finally achieved that victory in 2015. The moment I saw that inflatable “FINISH” over my head, I thought to myself “You finally did it. You now have permission to challenge yourself even more”. Before continuing, I highly recommend reading parts 1 through 4 of my Ultrabeast adventure for you to really get the perspective of not how I did all of this, but why. I understand that this is a long read, but I have to get this out there somehow. If there is a near-impossible dream that you’ve got in life, then this long read is for you.
Eight years of my life have led up to this moment.
This is my story.
After finishing six years of college and earning my degrees in Electrical Engineering (major) and I/O Communications (minor), I was three months into my career. Having gained the approval of my peers over the years in staying the common course, comfort was the mainstay of my life, especially now that I was making a job with some real money to enable me to further pursue the American dream of buying that house and having a family with 2.3 kids all cradled behind that symbolic white picket fence of conformity. I was taking little to no risks in life, to which I was swaddled in the approval of my peers for it.
Over these years in college however, one comfort had slowly ebbed away. It was a comfort that had been abused over the years just for the desire for instant gratification at the expense of my own body. Coming into college I weighed about 165 pounds – a really skinny frame for a 6 foot 3-inch body. I ate whatever I wanted and never ran in my entire life. I paid for college by competing in video game tournaments and then using that reputation to coach other players for money. The reality of this history had begun to become evident as daily tasks became tiresome and my energy levels had plummeted – even as I shambled towards the oldschool scale that was placed close to the cubicle farm that I sat at all day. I originally approached the scale as a curiosity, “last time I weighed myself was when I was a freshman in college” I thought to myself. “165 if I remember right”. The scale had those sliders in the 50lb increment, and another slider rack for the 1-50lb setting to get your final readout as the bar levels out under your own weight. I clanked the marker at the 150-200 range and begun to slide the smaller marker above to the right.
The bar didn’t budge.
In disbelief, I slid the big marker into the 200-250lb range. I gently tapped the top slider as I could feel my face redden with embarrassment and shame as the slider crept ever-so-damningly to the right. The bar finally began to tilt up as the top slider slid over the 215 marker. No wonder why I felt exhausted all the time… I had put on 50 pounds, and that sure as hell wasn’t muscle. I was absolutely mortified. I felt like a knife had been jabbed into my heart as the final readout didn’t waiver or generously shed a couple of pounds. Let me tell you… that was a pretty depressing drive home that day.
By sheer coincidence, that was literally the night that I saw an advertisement for a 5k obstacle run called “Warrior Dash”. I looked over at my wife that night and made the decision right then and there – I was going to dedicate my time into not only undoing the damage I had dealt to myself over the years, but I was going to become stronger than I had ever been before. I did not want to let the years waste away as the love of my life pretended to appreciate the ever expanding, ever decaying mess that had become my body. I have seen that in older couples way too often. Hell, I’ve seen marriages break up because of that. She deserved better than that. More importantly – I deserved better than that. I did not want to retire only to lack the physical capability to do the things that we both wanted to do. It was time to make a change.
The race was in January of 2011, so I had almost a year to train. That first attempt at running was horrible. I could not go ¼ mile without having to stop to catch my breath. It was a long and arduous process of training five days a week, but I managed to later on complete that Warrior Dash without having to stop to walk. As I recovered in the days after, I saw an ad for an even longer event called “Tough Mudder”. After training for months and completing that, I heard about an even more difficult event called “GORUCK” and “Spartan Race”. Later on I learned of the different levels of difficulty of a Spartan Race, but I learned about it after learning about a person who would play a pivotal role in giving me the confidence in even imagining setting foot at either the UltraBeast or the Death Race. Let’s fast forward to early 2012.
By 2012 I had become comfortable in completing a whole slew of local OCRs from the regular 5k to the occasional 10+ mile event. Through portion control and running I had dropped 35 pounds and put on some muscle as well. I felt great! American Mud Race had become a regular 5k obstacle course just minutes from my house that I grew fond of for its easy course and affordability. So comfortable had I become that I had confidently ran not two but three laps of this event, a whopping nine miles! Don’t laugh – it was a big deal back then, okay?
It was at this event where I had seen one particular runner out there all day running multiple laps of the course as well, but also while carrying a tire! I figured that he had the same bright idea that I had and cranked out three or maybe four laps as well. Good on him! It was only days later when I was scrolling through the event photos when I saw a post by the race director asking if anybody knew who this athlete was that had carried a tire through nine laps of the event.
Wait, what? Holy shit.
NINE laps?! With that tire?!
I had to find out who this weirdo was. Shortly after seeing the photo of this guy sliding down a slide with a tire, he had commented on the photo claiming that it was him and he did it to train for this crazy new event called the Spartan UltraBeast. The name of this amazing psycho I’m talking about? Matt Dolitsky. I immediately friended him and learned about the incredible training he had been undergoing to prepare for this impossible event.
I did a quick read on what exactly the UltraBeast was and discovered that it was the first event of its kind, held in the mountains of Killington, Vermont. You had to submit an essay depicting why they should let you race in this event, and they didn’t instill much confidence in any runner that they had any chance to finish. Having never gone out of state and still gradually removing the comforts that had cursed me in the past, I decided to watch others do this event from the comfort of my computer screen when the event finally happened in September of that year. My other friends Doug and Mike had also attempted the UB that year but only one person from Florida came home as an actual finisher of this inaugural event – Matt “Ultrabeast” Dolitsky. I felt like I had to pick up my jaw from the floor every time I read his account of the event, and even more insane was his description and desire to compete in an even crazier event in 2013 known as the Death Race. I heard about the event in 2012 as well but I had completely brushed it off as an event that only Olympic-caliber athletes would even attempt.
I followed his workouts in awe. Stacking stones for four hours, sledgehammer swings on a tire for hours, long rucks through the entire night. While he had his eyes set on the death race, I was still focused on the UltraBeast. Only after completing an UltraBeast would I give myself permission to even imagine doing anything harder in my life. Matt asked me if I wanted to register for the Ultra in 2013, and at first I was reluctant to commit until he responded with just four words – “If not now, when?”.
Another year would pass before mustering up the courage to actually attempt the UltraBeast myself. Every year after that I would attempt an UltraBeast at least once a year, finally succeeding in 2015 and then striving to improve upon that accomplishment every year after that. After the UltraBeast came the Georgia Death Race (not affiliated with the Spartan one). Of course the GDR was an event that I had watched Matt complete the year prior, and after going 75 miles through 40,000ft elevation change over 23 hours I too had completed the event. This event was special in that upon crossing the finish line the first thought that crossed my mind was that I just might have what it takes to complete that other death race… had it not been discontinued in 2015.
You see, there had been a bitter break-up in the ownership of Peak Races between founders Joe and Andy, and with that squabble came the cessation of the Death Race in 2015 which aptly ended in the seven official finishers holding tombstones in their finisher photo instead of the iconic skull. Only months after that final Death Race came the first UltraBeast I actually finished, so it was too late for me to even think about doing it. Now after completing a death race of a different brand I felt something horrible for the first time in my life – regret.
Matt had previously told me that I should really sign up for the 2015 event, and that it may be the last one to be held. Foolishly I ignored him and vowed to not attempt anything crazy until I had finally completed that UltraBeast. Now that I had finished the UB and was ready to move forward, the Death Race no longer existed. No longer can this ultimate goal that I had set for myself even be possible. No longer will I ever get to know if I even had what it took to do such an amazing feat. I watched all of my peers attempt and accomplish this, and here I was left out. It was devastating. Although I went on to complete my first GORUCK Heavy and the Georgia Death Race and a whole slew of other extreme events, I still could never reach that logarithmic peak to my ultimate goal. Maybe I wasn’t good enough, anyhow… The athletes that I saw competing in the Death Race were absolute giants with a laundry list of accomplishments that completely eclipsed mine. This was going to be the ultimate unknown in my life, I had conceded. That was… until early 2018 came around.
My phone vibrates with a notification. “Matt Dolitsky has posted in Team Regiment – Group Page”. “Awesome!”, I thought. “Let’s see what crazy thing he’s got to show us now!”. What I saw was indeed crazy but the only thing I actually felt was pure shock and disbelief.
Immediately my heart raced in my chest similar to how I felt at the starting line of the 2013 UltraBeast. The Death Race was coming back for 2018! After three years of regretfully thinking back to what I could/should have done in 2015 melted away as a second chance was shown right before me. Here it was, staring back at me with a big red button that said “REGISTER”, as if designed specifically for me to get off my ass and finally do this thing. Without any second thought I registered and immediately followed the directions in emailing Peak Races to essentially beg to be let in to the event since I had not met any of the other race qualifications to be considered. After confirming that they were for real and actually bringing back the Death Race, I was told to create a video begging to be let in and to explain why they should even consider my entry:
I didn’t feel dread, doubt or any apprehension at the time. I knew that this chance may never come back and if they didn’t accept me in this time, then at least I stepped forward and had the balls to throw my hat into the ring. So I waited for that fateful response from Peak Races.
By now I had made the Georgia Death Race an annual pilgrimage. This year was my turn to volunteer and support-run for my fellow teammates which guaranteed me an entry into next year’s race. Standing in line with my teammates at Amicalola falls lodge I was talking to my friends about a similarly-named Death Race that I was eagerly hoping that I’d be accepted as one of the 100 people who’d be allowed entry into the race this year. I couldn’t make this up… but just then my phone vibrated in my pocket with a Gmail notification. When the subject said “Peak Races” in it, my heart immediately jumped to my throat. I frantically opened the app to read the email, and this is what I saw while standing in line at the Georgia Death Race just after talking about wanting to get into the Spartan Death Race:
People in line near me could have sworn I had just won the lottery. Eight years of doubt, fear, regret and a journey paved by the simple desire to get stronger every day had led to this email which validated all that I had accomplished up to this point. What came next would be the most stressful months consisting of preparation and a whirlwind of emotions that followed me everywhere I went. Strangely enough I had felt okay with this, knowing that this may be the final vestiges of that cloak of comfort that I had willingly placed over myself less than a decade ago, screaming its last bouts of resistance in the hopes of me doubting myself one last time. I was done running from my demons, instead I preferred to get to know them on a first-name basis by this point. Could I even complete the Death Race? The fact that I didn’t know the answer to this question is what spurred me on with determination to figure it out. No matter what I knew that I was going to return home from this event forever a changed man, with or without the cheap plastic finisher skull that likely cost them less than five dollars to purchase.
The months leading up to this event were stressful indeed. Robin (one of the race directors) latched on to almost every social media post I made, chiming in with a taunt to attempt to seed doubt into my mind. This special attention didn’t really phase me, despite the warnings from my peers about what that’ll mean when I finally step foot out there. These taunts only helped to erase the remaining doubt in my mind. If my eight years of hard work and determination were the chisel that sculpted my final form, the negativity and doubt of my peers were the brush that cleaned off the dust to give me that final polish I needed. Ready or not, here I come…
By now the start time of this race had moved from Thursday at 7am to Wednesday 10pm. These kinds of shifts in schedule were intentional, and people were already dropping from the race at the slightest change of anything. This approach ensured that those who do actually show up to the event wouldn’t quit at the slightest hint of inconvenience to their ordered life. To follow this idea of disruption, Peak Races finally sent us the mandatory gear list one week before go time – on independence day.
The day that was supposed to mark an easy day out with friends on the boat sipping some beers and eating some BBQ were derailed for most folks, including myself. I couldn’t help but think of the event in the back of my mind like some constant static that enveloped every thought. Despite the turmoil, this felt right. This is what I asked for when I made that commitment to becoming stronger every day when the scale read 215 almost a decade ago. No amount of last-minute changes and taunts could steer me off the course I had forged for myself.
Getting out to Vermont was almost second nature by now. My annual pilgrimage normalized my usual flight to Albany followed by the scenic drive to the Killington area. My teammate Leo and I flew and drove together, which I was very grateful for. Had I driven alone I’m sure the nervousness would have taken a much stronger hold over my mind, so having somebody to talk to along the way really helped. By now we were expecting some last-minute changes, which sure enough came just days before the event.
We stayed in Rutland the night before to assemble our final gear and to go for a hike to clear our heads. Matt Dolitsky suggested we do a short hour long hike that diverted off the Appalachian Trail to a beautiful overlook of Killington and Pico mountains, which loosened us up and got us out of the hotel room where we weren’t moping around thinking of what awaited us. After a short bite to eat and some last minute gear purchases we were ready to start the next day knowing full well that the next rest may not happen for a very, very long time from then. Leo and I spent that Wednesday in Killington, where I visited the exact site where I had my timing chip pulled in 2013. I had to go there just so I could reflect on the journey I had taken so far to get where I currently was, and it helped set my mind right for what was going to happen later that night. Failing that event five years ago was the absolute best thing that had ever happened to me.
What I liked most about these kinds of events was the nerves and excitement that coursed through my every thought. I’m a pretty stoic and emotionless person, which may have been a defensive mechanism for some of the things I’ve dealt with in the past. Some people would seek therapy in dealing with this apathy, but I found the most effective therapy to be these events. In the midst of it all, I felt whole. I felt like I could open up to people in ways that I normally would just clam up and shy away from in any other situation. One more sleep awaited this therapy session, and I was finally ready to do this.
Instructions were very clear – be at a particular address no earlier than 10pm, and if you’re not out of your car and waiting in line between 10 and 10:30, you’re as good as dead. We drove up to the church and I was greeted by Jason Barnes, who told me to park my car, get all my gear out that I’m bringing to the event in addition to my ID and car keys and to not say a single word. I heard soft, nervous muttering from other participants as we slowly shuffled our gear out of our vehicles, but I made sure I didn’t say a single word as I thought back to the silent challenge that eliminated so many people from the race back in 2014. I had met Matt in line and the look of approval and pride on his face when he saw me was absolutely heartwarming. In a sense it was awesome that we couldn’t speak a word at that time because none were really needed between us. In many events before this I suffered from what you could call bystander syndrome. I always felt like I was standing among giants and that my place among them wasn’t justified. The nod and pat on the back Matt gave me marked the end of that doubt – I was one of those giants now! I was going to be a Death Racer, and nothing was going to stop me.
I was told to drop my pack and sandbag for now and go to the registration table where I had to turn in my keys, ID and the required $100, $5 and 148 pennies. After signing the waiver and getting a quick interview by medical staff, I was given my bib; number 091, and then told to speak to Don Devaney for further instruction. As I nervously stepped out of the church it finally dawned on me. This was it. I had finally crossed all the barriers that I had foolishly put in my way over the years and the Death Race had officially begun! I couldn’t help but smile as I took those steps to Don – something that very few people were seen doing.
My first instructions were to grab my axe and start chopping logs while still not uttering a single word. Matt was given the same instructions so we spent the next two hours chopping next to each other, silently competing against each other’s axe-splitting abilities (he won) as the honeymoon phase of the Death Race was in full swing. Leo was assigned to using a hand saw to cut logs and we’d occasionally silently give a nod of approval as we continued through what would be a long night. Afterwards we were instructed to all meet up in the church for some words from various staff and to leave our packs outside. I had set my mind to the worst outcome in every situation to keep my expectations reasonable, so I expected them to steal our packs and give us a timehack to reassemble our gear while they talk to us indoors.
With that on the back of my mind, I sat quietly as Joe, Robin, Neely and a few others gave some words about the event and the things happening outside of it. Robin spoke of the closeness of the community, and how a boating accident led to the tragic loss of limb by one of their townsfolk – a loss that was curbed by the revelation that ALL of our total mandatory cash was going towards a recovery fund for this victim. Joe stated that the $100k prize would be nearly impossible to attain (no big surprise there), and that the rules of this event are strict but at certain times they may loosen up to make something easier but never harder. I forget the other words spoken, but the next task given to us was to grab our axes once again and line up in two rows outside of the church to await further instruction.
Fortunately, our packs weren’t strewn apart, but I would have preferred that over the next challenge given to us. We were told to hold our chopping axes in front of us at shoulder height, and that the first ten people who lower their arms will be told to put on one of the four “Apparently I wasn’t ready” tags (more on that later) that we had to bring to the event. My nagging rotator cuff injury from years ago kept stabbing my shoulder during the exercise as my entire arms trembled in the ever-growing weight of the axe. One by one people around me lowered their axes and walked away to get tagged until we needed just one more person to give up for the challenge to be over. After what felt like an eternity, somebody finally relented and lowered their axe. After rushing to our packs to secure our gear our next challenge was right in front of us – the “ark”.
The Ark was a massive setup that consisted of a generator on one platform tethered to a giant red timer that was fused to a tree and a steel beam. Both platforms had to be tethered at all times and were both held up by heavy steel pipes that intersected them. Even more agonizing was the 55-pound sandbag that would become my companion for what was to become the longest and hardest night we were all about to endure for this event! Eventually our group formed a haphazard rotation of people to relieve those trying to carry the Ark, though there were many moments where we had to set the massive thing down to reorder some of the steel bars while trying to massage out our already destroyed back and shoulders. Our trek inched slowly but surely at an ever-increasing uphill grade that could be felt with every step. My shoulders knotted up and I was constantly riding the razors edge of putting just enough effort into my stride to avoid having my back seize up in a torrent of crippling, game-ending spasms. After what felt like an eternity, our instructions changed from bringing the Ark through the trails to merely dropping it in the road for disassembly. It was clear that the 70 folks who showed up (250+ registered by the way) were not sufficient to carry the Ark through the planned route.
Nevertheless, our route continued towards the trail that led to Bloodroot. I stayed at the front of the pack with Robin as best as I could despite the feeling that the 55lb sandbag was magically gaining weight with every step. The walkie-talkie at Robin’s side kept beeping with chatter from the back of the pack, “We’ve got a medical drop, bib number X”, “This is Don, we’ve got another person dropping and is in the truck”, “Bib number Y is out. Awaiting dropoff in the truck”. I did my best to keep quiet around Robin for now, preferring to hear the pitter patter of his bare feet hitting the trail over any kind of dialogue he’d try to bring up with me. Maybe he didn’t know that I was the guy that he spent the last couple months taunting online, and I wasn’t about to go figure that out! “Don’t be first, but don’t be last” was the advice I remember Matt telling me prior to the race. Sticking to that idea, I let the 2-3 more ambitious candidates walk beside Robin and converse with him while I kept a couple paces behind them. I would only speak when spoken to, and I appreciated every minute of a break that we’d be given to sit down every 2-3 miles while the back of the pack caught up. Every break brought more exhausted faces from the back up to the front, and I couldn’t imagine the intimidating dialogue that was given to them by Don! I remember lying down and stretching my shoulders while taking a moment to look up at the perfectly clear night sky that was absolutely littered with stars. I even noticed the faint cloudy figure of the Milky Way painted across the sky. That’s one thing I love about endurance sports – the gorgeous scenes that nature gave to us were only possible by paying our dues! As soon as we reached the start of the Bloodroot trail, I decided to conserve energy and stay with the middle of the pack as our ascent became more treacherous and technical.
The honeymoon phase was fading away quickly as people got quieter in unison with the ever-increasing misery that bored down on our backs and shoulders. To those of you who are looking for a comparison, I equated this trek as doing the Killington death march with a sandbag for hours on end. The sky slowly changed its hue to a dark blue, presaging the day of insanity that awaited us all while we finally stepped foot at the top of Bloodroot. Our peaceful break was shattered with the booming echo of Don’s voice – the 10pm quiet hour enforcement was now lifted and Don now had full permission to turn into the equivalent of Gary Busey off his meds. The Death Race had now begun.
“CRAWL DOWN THIS MOUNTAIN WITH ALL YOUR GEAR…. NOW!”
“IF YOURE NOT CRAWLING, I’M TAKING YOUR BIB”.
We franticly shuffled around and started our way down the mountain as Don’s booming voice still echoed down the mountainside. I discovered that crawling backwards was most efficient despite the occasional rock that would jut up into my kneecap. I dragged my sandbag down with me, feeling its weight increase with every drag that scooped up the morning dew into the sand inside. “Don’t be first, but don’t be last”, I kept repeating as only a few people were ahead of me. Some of the volunteers started showing up along the side of the trail to make sure that people were truly crawling down the mountain. A few got caught standing on some occasions and paid the price – having to carry a heavy rock in addition to their normal gear until we reach Riverside Farm! I can’t recall how long we were crawling down this mountain but I’m sure it took a couple of hours. There were a couple of walking breaks down some of the rockier/technical parts of the trail until we reached a bridge. To my left I noticed a group of those who already reached the checkpoint sitting and lined up in the river barefoot. I saw this setup before at the SISU Iron – the Devaney Dam! Our instructions were to get six inches of water over a nearby rock in the river, and so we all bunched up closely as the water slowly crept around us.
Leo had a disappointed look on his face, “Justin dropped out already” he told me. Though I wasn’t happy to hear this, I didn’t have the time to worry about it. My only concern by that point was if he still had some food that he could give us. My race was still going on, and I still had plenty of friends at my side that were focused on succeeding this monumental challenge. It sounds brutal, but “Pillage the quitters” is a common occurrence at this race. The present challenge was mulled over for a little longer before one clever guy asked for challenge instructions once more – “I need six inches of water on top of this rock!” I could see the lightbulb turn on over his head as he ran to his pack and grabbed a camelback bladder and essentially teabagged the rock, putting six inches of water over the rock! With the challenge complete, Don shouted at us to hurry as fast as we can to get our gear assembled and ready to move or he’ll start pulling off bibs. Remembering Mark Webb’s GORUCK Selection AAR, I tended to my feet first by drying them off and applying some gold bond powder to them. Don started pacing ever closer to me, as if commanding my heart rate to increase with every inch he closed in on me. With my feet taken care of I raced to the river and filled up just one of my two Nalgene bottles and sprinted back to the pack. There were only a couple people behind me when I caught up to the group walking back up bloodroot when I heard in the distance “GIMMIE YOUR BIB!” Ouch… looks like somebody was too slow to get ready.
Instructions to then halt were bellowed out to us by Don as he told us that we were going to hike back up bloodroot, still with our sandbags and all of our gear, and that if anybody wanted to drop right now this was their best chance to get picked up by the truck at the bridge or else they’ll have to carry everything back down the mountain anyways. Nobody gave in, and with that decision final Don directed us back down to the bridge and to start moving forward. Nice fake-out, Don!
The next couple of miles were done on a service road, still with our sandbags in tow while occasionally taking 2 minute breaks to let the slow people catch up. Those breaks were crucial to me. I’d always take care of the following things in order of importance:
Securing loose gear
It was clear that the instructors knew the importance of our feet, because once they noticed that most people were done tending their feet, that’s when we typically started moving. Those who prioritized other things later on appeared to have foot problems. Lucky for me, my Osprey pack had hip pouches for me to add gels and easy snacks into!
Our next challenge was one that got some groans out of a lot of people. Our instructions were to low crawl in the rocky river with all of our gear. Those who didn’t secure their gear were especially struggling by this point. Our knees were already sore from crawling through Bloodroot, so every rock colliding with our knees sent shockwaves of pain mixed with the cold embrace of the river. After getting out of the river we then had to remove our shoes, which was something that Robin no doubt had planned! Fortunately for me, I had spent the months leading up to this event doing most of my training barefoot. We carefully chose our way down the road nevertheless, avoiding the gravel that Robin so effortlessly had been walking over the entire time.
More of the same kept happening, hike long distances, try to not have your back and shoulders explode, cherish the small rest you got, and repeat. Eventually the service road led to some familiar areas that the Death Race veterans started to notice, which was the passageway to the ultimate venue of misery…
That mood slowly ebbed into gloom as we realized that we were slowly approaching Joe’s territory. We crossed the road and under the wooden tunnel that opened up to Joe, Neely and a myriad of other race staff that were accompanied by cameras. Fortunately, water was provided right away – a surprise seeing that our original rule was that there wouldn’t be any water provided for 24 hours. This was another example of the rules being relaxed to make things easier, it appeared. We lined up in three rows and were told that we had to get to the beaver pond and arrange ourselves in stadium seating – and get there fast! Don helped with that ‘fast’ part, as we all were running simply to avoid being the last person in the group to be the recipient of Don’s unhinged rage. Once we sat down around the pond, we engaged in dialogue while facing somebody who had been standing waist deep in the pond for the last hour.
Apparently this person had quit during the first couple hours of the race and he wanted to get back in. I already knew what Joe wanted to do by this point. He wanted to sow discord in our ranks by seeing who else wanted to quit, and to incite argument to disrupt team cohesion. Sure enough, he asked if anybody wanted to quit, and that we’d bring the person in the pond back on the team in their place. As expected, somebody stood up and started to remove their bib. Then Joe offered if anybody wanted to quit to bring that person back in, he’d allow the same deal to swap them back in. This continued on for about twenty minutes as people’s moods continued to fray and doubt their willingness to continue, but I saw right through Joe’s sorry attempt to embarrass and disrupt us. I kept my mouth shut and awaited further instructions, distancing myself from the brewing pocket of drama that kept trying to rotate its way around the team.
After that was over we got into the center of the pond and deposited our sandbags to retrieve later. Joe claimed that we’d be back there in 70 hours, but I didn’t believe that for a second. “Let’s make sure you know where all your bags are. You’ve got one minute to jump back in there and get your sandbags back out of the water and over your heads” said Joe. We formed a human chain and pulled the bags out of the water an on to the shore, not caring whose sandbag is over whose head. Of course we failed the activity a couple of times until we finally got it right. In the back of my mind I knew that this entire activity served as a time sink so that the rest of the staff can go hide our packs and throw them in the river… and sure enough, that’s exactly what had happened. We left our sandbags in the pond and continued back to where our packs once were, only to discover the obvious had occurred. “You’ve got FIVE minutes to go find all of your gear and be back in your original formations! GO!”
We all fanned out into the perimeter of the farm. One by one we found our packs – some in the brush, others completely drenched in the river. Loose gear got the same treatment as well, with so many bottles and buckets strewn across the grounds of Riverside any passersby would be rational to think some kind of yard sale was happening! I’m sure we took longer than five minutes, but the staff didn’t seem to care. Our next task was right behind us in the form of two massive stones each easily weighing three to four thousand pounds. Our task was to swap these two boulders without causing any damage to Joe’s precious lawn, and to have it done within an hour!
As any Death Race task starts, we were all frantically scrambling around for the right supplies to get the job done. Some ran off to get steel pipes while another group (my group) went to go get logs. The plan was to create a track to set the logs on after levering the boulders on to the logs and simply roll them along the track. The Death Race attracts many type-A personalities, so everybody wanted to have their big idea heard and nobody wanted to listen. After the good idea fairy did her rounds through the group, we eventually got our stuff in order, and those who weren’t actively contributing to the efforts were pulled aside to do various forms of bodyweight PT to help speed up the sympathetic process of those who were trying to move the boulders. After an agonizing time doing planks, flutter kicks, pushups, tunnels of love and so much more, we finally managed to get the boulders moved! I would also like to note that Don weighs about a ton, and when he rolls over you in the plank position it sucks.
After lining up in our formations once more, there was some kind of condescending talk given to us to break morale, and we were told to run back to the pond (with our gear on) to retrieve our sandbags and to get ready to move afterwards. Sure enough, Don was right behind us yelling at the slow folks!
By now I knew something wasn’t quite right with my pack. It had taken on an insane amount of weight and I knew that my sandbag wasn’t that much heavier. We were prompted to stage our sandbags on the ground near a massive quarter mile track that was lined with barbed wire and rocks. I took a quick moment to look into my bag and my heart turned to ice – all of my food and dry clothing that was inside of my two drybags were absolutely inundated with water. My gear had failed me! Before I could deal with it I had to run to the track and our entire team did one low crawl around the track to familiarize ourselves with the terrain. Little did I know at the time that we’d be seeing that track a lot more in the future.
Needless to say, we failed the ten minute timehack we had been given to low crawl a quarter mile. It was a quick discovery that the rocks and barbed wire were not going to be nice to us, especially folks like me who were tall and snagged just about every wire. We ran back to our packs and got to leave our sandbags behind – FINALLY. Our direction now pointed towards Joe’s neck of the woods, which meant we were going straight up a mountain again.
I still felt like I was hauling two massive water balloons in my pack, so I ran to the front of the group to afford me some time to set my pack down and dump the contents of it all out into my bucket. With my failed drybags now empty (I guess we can just call them bags now), I had a heavy bucket sloshing behind me. Nevertheless, as I walked I took one piece of wet clothing out at a time and ringed them out. Yep… I was doing laundry while marching in the Death Race, and it worked! My gear weight slowly but happily went down as the last of my clothes were drained of the bulk of their moisture. About half of my food had been destroyed or inundated with lake water, but if push came to shove I’d be more than happy to eat it anyways. That old sense of dread over fouled gear had finally subsided, which was important for me to understand. Nobody was going to fix my gear for me, and these gear failures become easy ways out for those who were planning on quitting anyways. Proud of my work, I approached a shack where I was told to sit down with the rest of the team and await further instructions. I took the time to wring out my gear a little more, change socks and apply more trailtoes/goldbond combination. Once feet were squared away I managed to scarf down some waterlogged sourpatch kids and clif bars. It wasted like crap, but hey… calories are calories.
The next couple of tasks involved our buckets, and it wasn’t going to be easy since Joe and his kids were supervising it. At first we filled some buckets with water and lined up next to each other. We would first lie down into an ab-crunching “V” formation while passing the buckets to the next person overhead, where the person at the end would get up and move to the opposite side of the line. We did this until two people were holding buckets side by side of each other, in which they’d have to dump the water over themselves. It really wasn’t a hard task, so I took this time to go a little slow and recoup my strength. No Joe task is easy, and the next challenge certainly wasn’t the exception. Joe led us to a part of the trail where we were to upend as many rocks as possible and eventually fill every bucket we brought to the brim with those stones. I guess it wouldn’t be a Spartan race without any kind of carry, right?
Lucky for me, I brought carabineers and my pack had a wide waist strap! After filling my bucket to the brim I simply latched the handle of the bucket to the chest strap of my pack and rested the bottom of the bucket on to the waist strap. All my arms had to do was prevent the bucket from tipping forward too far and spilling. Although that setup was nicer than most people’s situations, I was still moving uphill with a massive amount of weight on my body. Steps became slow and laborious as it gradually became clear that we were going to spend the next 1-2 hours bucket carrying up a mountain where the famous Shrek’s Cabin awaited us at the top. During the carry, half of the group got diverted to go chop trees down while the group I was in continued directly to the top. As I approached the top I was finally given the order to dump the rocks out of my bucket over a stream, where I can only assume they’d be used as pretty landscaping stones in the future. On that note, it was about time for us to begin the community service portion of the Death Race!
At the top at Shrek’s Cabin, Neely instructed us to take out our work gloves, hand saw, axe and pruning shears. For the next three hours we had to clear all the small trees and brush around the cabin. The whole point of the activity was to get people bored, tired and pissed off. Our hands fumbled on the many thorny branches of the brush throughout the challenge and anybody without good gloves on definitely spent some time removing thorns from their already worn out hands. Although it was a slow and boring process, it was still hard not to love being out there. The view from the cabin was astounding! Nevertheless, the sun was starting to slowly dip down behind the mountains, and the mood for the rest of the race was about to dip into a very, very dark place as well.
One of the biggest pieces of advice I remember hearing from other DR finishers was to never quit at night. Nighttime has a way of getting into people’s heads, and I even felt the despair of night during the first 12 hours of the race. Needless to say I was a little apprehensive about the second night, especially since we were now standing before Joe awaiting our next challenge. He started with a blunt, yet honest request. “Who here is feeling mostly at 100%?” commanded the man who seemingly ushered in the night. I raised my hand and walked towards the group that was going to be known as the strong group. Even though I was hurting (surprise, everyone was), I knew that it would be foolish to show any weakness whatsoever. Doing so would be essentially showing them your exact weak point for them to target and exploit, and I wasn’t going to start doing that. Once we were separated into our self-perceived groups of strength we were given our very simple, yet agonizing task.
No, I didn’t mistakenly add in a zero to that number, that’s three thousand burpees. “If you finish early you can sleep” said Joe. “I’ll be back here at 6:45am and you all had better get 3,000 burpees done!”. The revelation of that challenge immediately caused two people to quit and take the ATV ride down the mountain. Deep down a part of me knew that there was no way that we would actually have to do the full amount, and that Joe would come the next morning and simply say he changed the rules to accommodate whatever amount of burpees we did manage to do and give a tip of the ol’ hat to the easement-of-rules speech he gave at the beginning of the race. Shrouded in disbelief, I nevertheless fell in line with the strong group led by the woman who would become the absolute superstar of the night – Amy.
Amy didn’t mess around. Immediately she set a pace for our burpees that she would lead through the entire night. “Down! Up! Jump!” would be the cadence we’d be hearing for a very, very long time. The setup we made was simple. We’d do ten burpees and take a ten second break. At 100 burpees we’d take a 3 to 5 minute break to get water and food. This worked well at first, but it was clear that many of the members in the strong group were not going to be able to keep up the pace. One by one folks would walk over to the “weak” group, where they were given the same task of 3,000 burpees, only that they’d be starting at whatever number the weak group was on (which was hundreds less). Whenever I’d walk over to my gear to grab some food I’d take a glance at them and it was clear that there was no way that they were going to reach 3,000. Knowing that we were approaching the 48 hour mark of the race soon, eliminations and DNFs were going to ramp up drastically. I didn’t want to slow down and risk being put into the weak group because I thought it meant certain DNF, so I ran straight back to the strong group to get ready for our next set of 100. I never let go of the math in my head, though. If burpees burn around 9-12 calories per minute, and we’re going to be at this for hours….
That’s a lot of freaking calories burnt.
Also, our water was about empty. Being drenched in sweat I knew that I was going to need to rehydrate constantly. This was the point where we were only 200 burpees in, by the way. Dread had started to fill our heads. What if we run out of food/water? What if we can’t get 3,000 burpees done? What if we can’t keep this insane pace up? What if-
The doubtful part of my mind was struggling to escape the door that I had shut it behind at the start of the race. Foolishly I had let the door open just a crack and I could feel that part of my mind desperately clamoring for validation of its snuffed-out existence. I remembered what I asked myself when I was training for this race. “Can you do a burpee? Yes? Then you can do any amount possible”. I felt the heavy door slowly close again at the same moment that I saw other people’s doors spill open as they hung their bibs up on the side of Shrek’s Cabin in defeat. A warm fire awaited those who quit, and the “quitter cart” ATV would make stops throughout the night to bring them back to Riverside where snacks, a warm blanket and a place to sleep awaited them. I rationalized my decision to stay simply by saying to myself “I’ve got all of those things to enjoy when this event is over. It’s just a weekend of pain for a lifetime of glory”.
The burpee count hit 500, and we gave ourselves even more time to rest this time. I broke open a MetRX bar with a side of lakewater-infused shot blocks. Compliments to the chef! There were some 5 gallon buckets filled with river water that we dipped our bottles in as well, slurping the cool water through a lifestraw wasn’t that bad at all actually. I noticed a lot of people keeping their heads down, so I made it a point to keep mine up. I spoke to people, asking why they were here and if they needed anything from me. Despite struggling on my own, reaching out to other people instilled a strength in me that welded that door of doubt completely shut in my mind. With our break ending it was time to get back to the grind – 2,500 burpees remaining and Amy was still leading fiercely. Then I started walking to our strong group my heart instantly sank at what I saw next.
Matt Dolitsky had quit.
I looked at him in disbelief, literally lifting his shirt up to see if he was joking but sure enough his bib was not there. He was perfectly content with his decision, and to be fair I completely understood. This was his fifth death race, and he had a handful of finisher skulls already in his possession. He had nothing extra to prove and he only signed up since the event was $4.31 and a 30 minute drive from his house. It was clear that his body and mind were still able to easily crush the event, but his heart had long since taken another route. I gave him a hug and wished him the best, and that’s all I could do.
In the back of my mind I was astonished at how far I had gone, and that I could actually say that I made it further than him for this specific event. It wasn’t in my interests to compare myself with anybody else however. The best thing I could do for myself is to continue on, he was rooting for me now, and I was going to carry the torch for him.
The next 500 burpees went by at the same pace as the previous 500, knocking out one more person into the weak group in the process. The 100 burpee breaks were nice, though. I remember laying down on the cold dew laden grass and just looking up at the milky way and the millions of stars that were splattered across the night sky. I’ll never forget seeing that and then quickly nodding off to sleep in quick 5 minute intervals. Hitting 1,000 burpees was a milestone in itself, but it became clear that there wasn’t going to be any rescue or easement of the rules. Joe or any other staff weren’t going to magically intervene and tell us that we’ve done enough. We were committed to 3,000 burpees no matter what! By then the medics had gotten fresh water up the mountain for us to refill our packs and I managed to get some extra food off of somebody who had quit. Despite the burpee count increasing, the situation was getting better. That was basically the entire night – a series of ups and downs. The next downer came when my friend Leo had to bow out. His knee was pretty much shot and he was starting to vomit, so it was just myself left from Team Regiment now. Sure, my triceps and abs were cramping and I was entering REM sleep during the short ten second breaks, but I was fully capable of finishing this thing. 1,000 burpees turned to 2,000 and our pace actually increased! We shortened the long breaks and some intervals went to 20 burpees now instead of 10. We did however put a short break at the 50 burpee mark, which translated into a one-minute nap for everyone.
Daylight started to break and we were only a couple hundred burpees away from 3,000! We had a nice system in place and our pace was constantly increasing as we came closer and closer to the prize. The sooner we hit 3,000, the sooner we can take that break! Our break times shortened even more, but I still had time to run over to my pack and constantly shovel food in my mouth. I knew that endurance events are eating contests, and those who forget tend to learn the hard way. While rummaging through my food I noticed people in the other groups were only in the low 1,000s for their burpee count and they weren’t even doing a full burpee. One person was literally just jumping, hunching over for a second and then jumping again. As frustrating as it was to see, I knew that somebody would be noticing, and that Joe would be turning a corner any minute now to DNF those who failed to reach 3,000. I focused back on myself and got the remainder of our 3,000 burpees done:
We only had about ten minutes of a break before Joe arrived, which wasn’t a big surprise. As it turns out, Joe was very surprised that some people actually got to the 3,000 mark. How about that? I surprised Joe! The goal he had set for us that night was lofty, but we crushed it! As for the others who didn’t do their full burpees, it didn’t matter. He just wanted everyone to spend the entire night at Shrek’s Cabin doing burpees. It sucked to know that some of us did our required amount while those who did less got a nice rest, but that’s the Death Race for you. Parts of it will be unfair and it’s up to you to cope with it however you like. I chose to move on and await my next challenge instead of get frustrated at those who didn’t pull their own weight. I turned around and noticed rows upon rows of bibs strewn across the cabin of those who quit that night. Happy that number 091 wasn’t part of that row, I kept up with Joe as he literally ran down the mountain while ignoring the trails. He instructed me to sound off on attendance and it turns out that there were only 30 Death Racers remaining. The night had claimed many!
It was clear that we were running down to Riverside Farm. Leo had gotten word from the staff that we had a twelve-hour low crawl through the barbed wire track we visited earlier, in which I was pretty sure wasn’t BS after having spent the entire night doing burpees. The theme of this death race was starting to become very clear. All tasks done are going to be simple, yet agonizingly long and mind-crushing. Sadly, I was spot-on in my assessment.
Sure enough we were led to the open field near the barbed wire track. After falling in line around the track there were a line of spectators (including Matt) behind us. None of those spectators were cheerful, and it became clear that they were aware of what was about to happen to us this day. After moving some supplies in the middle of the field and moving a standing desk over to the side of the track it was clear that we were gearing up to spend a long, long time in the field. Leo was right, it seemed. Before we got started on the low crawl we were told to take out our dry fly and to roll across the field. After that they raced us over to the pond where we had 30 minutes to have a fish in Robin’s hand with the lure in it. Those who brought fishing line went to one side of the pond while the others who just had the lure sat on the side of the lake trying not to disturb the water too much (everybody was required to get in the water). Ten minutes passed… then twenty. Then one minute remained. Still no fish. You could hear the excitement growing in Robin’s voice as we got closer and closer to failure. Ten… nine…eight…seven…This isn’t good.
And then, at the very last second somebody rushed up to Robin and handed him something. He threw his hands up and laughed, “Challenge completed! Good job!”. It turns out that somebody had handed him a bit of tuna from a pouch and stuck the lure into it, which met the simple requirements of needing a fish in his hand that had the lure in it! Later on, I spoke to Robin about the challenge and if we had failed it, we would have had to do iron throne exercises until at least two or four people were eliminated from the race. Good thing some of us were thinking outside the box! Between outfoxing Don’s Dam and now Robin’s fishing we were feeling pretty good!
Having been satisfied with the fishing challenge, Robin brought us over to the track where we all knew what was due to happen by that point. We all laid down and were given the rules:
No standing (unless getting water)
We went through one lap of the track where we were told to lie down again. “I need ten of you who are feeling the strongest right now!” said Joe. This time I did not raise my hand. Ten people quickly opted into what would place them on the outer cordoned off section of track that would be an effort to set a world record of distance low crawled in twelve hours. Everybody else had to simply be out on the track crawling all day long and not breaking any of the rules. Those that did break the rules had to ziptie another one of those orange “Apparently I wasn’t ready” cards onto their bib. Those who had four cards on their bib were in deep trouble! If they were called on an infraction and they couldn’t produce a card, they were eliminated from the race. The only chance they had at producing a card was to have somebody else give them one of theirs and they also had to do 50 burpees to top off their act of kindness.
By this point in the day it was clear that it was going to be a scorcher. The heat index felt well into the upper 90s and one dry dusty side of the course was directly exposed to the sun. Thankfully race staff were aware of this and let the medics have more control over this portion of the event. Various snacks were given to us (a DR first) and if we showed signs of heat exhaustion, we were given mandatory breaks in the shade and some were even put into an air conditioned room to bring down their core temps. Others were not so lucky and were immediately pulled from the race on medical grounds. Despite these concessions, every hour ushered in more and more DNFs. Some DNFs were medical, others were done in fits of rage directed at the race staff for devising this simple but sinister challenge, including the person we brought back from the DNF realm earlier at the pond. I was pulled aside a few times by medical because I wasn’t peeing clear or that I was showing other concerning signs, but for the most part I kept a very slow and steady crawl of about one lap every 50 minutes. Despite this, I was carded a couple of times. Two of the instances were when one of the staff began talking to me to check on how I was doing. Whenever I’d stop (keyword stop) to converse with them, I’d get carded for stopping. The other time I was falsely stopped by Robin, and when I explained that I have been moving the entire time, Peter chimed in “He’s right, Robin. I was pointing at that guy over there. But Neil isn’t moving right now, isn’t he?”
Son of a bitch. Ya got me.
At around nine hours into the low crawl I had three cards hanging from my bib. This was not good. It was clear that at this point the race directors were trying to whittle down the number of participants. Other people were starting to get eliminated by these cards. The final card for many were due to gear inspections. Our lists of mandatory and non-mandatory gear were pulled out and cross-checked with our real gear. Sure enough, I got called for a random inspection! I thought I had everything perfectly in order. I had inventoried my items including the case that carried them, and even the caveat that food/water/wrappers “varied in quantity based upon consumption and proper disposal” just in case they wanted to ding me on not having specific food items listed. Much to Peter’s delight, the insoles that came with my shoe were not listed. Despite them not being a separate line item in an invoice (much like shoelaces), I got carded on it. Every one of the four cards flapped against my face as I low crawled through the increasingly agonizing course, taunting me for my closeness to failure. Despite this setback, Peter quietly told me that if I stay as strong as I currently am that he has no doubt that I will be finishing this race. That brought back the smiles!
As the hours droned on, Leo was out on the course encouraging everybody and providing water. With his role changing from contestant to volunteer, he was a welcome sight along the course. As the sun began to set and the temperature became reasonable, break times were reduced to five minutes only. By then my knees, hips, hands and elbows were tenderized hamburger meat from the unrelenting abuse and my back had become a scratching post. Every inch forward was agony, but so long as I kept moving forward, I should have no trouble remaining in the race. People were passing me all throughout the day as they brought themselves under the barbed wire with no issues whatsoever. Being one of the tallest folks in the race had its downsides at this point, but like I said before – this is not supposed to be a fair race.
Once the sun had finally come down the world record track was coming to an end. Eric and Amy had accomplished a whopping 7+ miles on the track! The rest of us were told that we have another three hours on the track which I didn’t believe at all. As nice as it would be to reward the record attempters with three hours of rest while the rest of us grinded out more laps, that would have been too nice of a thing to happen at the Death Race! Sure enough, the remaining racers were lined up at the starting line of the track, and here is what went down:
(If the above video isn’t playing, here is the direct FB live link)
To those who can’t watch it, we were told that there was one lap remaining on the track. The first twelve that pass through the finish line get to move on. Everybody else was going to be eliminated. Sitting in the back row with someone’s foot in my face, I realized that this challenge was going to be a big, big problem. I forced myself to remain calm and keep my head in the game. I didn’t come all the way out here to just give up. I have forged incredible bonds with the people to my left and my right, but right now they were my opponent and I wasn’t going to give them any mercy whatsoever. The dust and flecks of dirt splattered our faces the moment that we heard “GO”! Immediately behind me I heard a couple people standing up and quitting right on the spot. Are you freaking kidding me? You went this far and the thought of doing this is too much? I ignored their plight as I desperately clamored onwards, ignoring the barbed wire whipping back into my face and letting the wire rip and tear into my back. The shoulder of my bib was quick to rip off as every rock that ground against my pain receptors were muted in my desperate attempt to simply get through as fast as possible. I didn’t care if I needed surgery after, I just needed to get through this one thing! I heard one person ahead of me get removed for standing, which brought me one person closer to that final twelve. I knew that I had no shot at getting into the first half, those guys were the perfect height for this and I needed to keep myself ahead of those behind me with the hopes of spending the last 100 meters of the course going all out. I heard somebody shriek in pain as a barb caught them below the eye. I then passed under a massive chunk of hair stuck on the wire that apparently got ripped out of somebody’s head. I was about 250-300 meters into the course when a headlamp shined on me.
“Get up, it’s over”.
I learned that Death Race staff will lie that you’re done in attempts to make you quit, so I completely ignored him and kept crawling. Only when they physically stop you from taking another step forward is when you’re truly dropped from the race, I’ve been told. So I kept moving on.
“Get THE FUCK UP 091 ITS OVER!”.
He’s still not blocking my path, so I kept moving while glancing behind me to make sure that my competitor’s headlamps were far behind. It is that moment when I saw others being told the same thing behind me as they removed their bibs and walked back towards the starting line. When I looked back forward I saw two legs standing in my way, physically blocking me from moving further.
Dumbfounded, I shambled up. With my knees barely holding me up and a rope of drool falling from my face I was physically unable to move my arms to take the bib off. As he removed the bib I ran towards the starting line where everyone else was, still moving with a purpose with the hope of there being some kind of caveat to those who supposedly got dropped. With my heartbeat synchronizing with spikes of hot pain on about half of my body, I got a hug from Don and Robin with consoling expressions on their face. The reality of the situation then hit me. At hour 48, I was removed from the Death Race.
Failure had been commonplace for me before. Had this been my first brush with failure I would have taken the situation much worse, but oddly enough I still had that same smile plastered on to my face. Yes, the last challenge was reckless, brutal and downright one-sided but I was in no position to feel sorry for myself. I had performed well beyond what I ever expected of myself and I still had plenty of gas left in the tank, and I wasn’t about to start a pity party about how others didn’t pull their weight or how some challenge didn’t turn out the way I had wanted it to be. Joe later on spoke on this and gave massive credit to those who made it to the drag race and didn’t stand up and quit. As I said to him later, ultras were like scratch-off tickets. Despite hoping for the best, the results may not always yield what you wanted. I immediately said to Don and Robin that I will register for 2019 the moment it opens up. If I can make it this far and still feel this good, I was going to have no trouble in finishing next year’s challenge!
As the twelve remaining contestants got ready for a walk into the woods, my task shifted from towing the line to getting checked out by medical. I was able to walk just fine, but putting my gear on proved to be a major burden. Lucky for me, Leo was more than willing to help with that. After getting my barbed wire scratches disinfected and eating some dry food, Leo and I walked to one of the barns where we found comfort in sleeping on the hardwood floor. I remember waking up in the middle of the night barely able to move an inch without wincing in pain as my body was in full blown recovery mode. I stacked some padded chairs in a line and were able to lay across those and the next thing I remember was the sun starting to rise.
Waking from a refreshing 10 hour sleep, I wanted to stay on site to watch the remainder of my classmates crush this thing. I heard commotion outside and were met with many of the others who had also DNF’ed the race as well. As it turns out, the only task that the remaining contestants encountered that night was a non-stop rope climbing workout that lasted ten hours.
The 26.2 theme of this race was quite clear. Although there weren’t many challenges at this race, and there weren’t any major separations of the group into individual challenges, the long and arduous strain of these tasks were evident as I watched the twelve zombies entering Riverside farm after having finished their rope climbs. They were given a short five minute nap before they were directed to an open field to do a PT smoke session that signaled the endex of the event.
The team was understandably beaten down to their core, but they were still told that they were partaking in an elimination challenge and that they had to give it their 100%. Of course this was a lie and nobody was eliminated from any of the rolls, crawls and other assorted punishment PT as the group was then directed to stand in line in front of Neely. Some more PT was administered until it was visibly clear that most people were at their wits end and physically unable to continue on, where in front of each person lie a box. In that box were their skulls, but it wasn’t over yet. After having been awake for 60 hours, they had to assemble their smashed skulls with superglue for their final task. Although some assembled their finisher skulls faster than others, no single person was deemed the “winner” of the event, but moreover the entire group of twelve were celebrated as the winners. This was a major departure from previous years, but a welcome one. Seeing the finishers of races that I failed used to instill a sense of jealousy or sadness in me, but not this time. I far exceeded my personal expectations and I knew that when I step foot in this land again one year from now, I will be one of the few who will be holding a skull, and that the friendships and bonds forged with everybody there (finisher or not) was something I will treasure until the day I die. That day I earned my spot among those giants at the starting line that I used to separate myself from. No longer was my heart filled with that doubt that tried but eventually failed to wrap me in the figurative bubble-wrap of comfort and conformity. The death race did accomplish its namesake, in that a part of me did die out there in Vermont, but that was only to make way for a better, stronger version of myself. This event didn’t define me, but more realistically refined me. I don’t exactly think of it as an accomplishment, but as a reward and a celebration for everything I have done up to this point. All throughout this event I felt genuinely human – like I had a real connection with people through our experiences we shared together, and through that I learned to open up to others more and be more genuine outside of endurance events. In short, the Death Race fixed a part of me that had been broken for so long.
So now I turn this over to you. Yeah, you. You’ve made it to the end of this personal account of DR2018, so I’ll leave you with a couple questions to ponder. What’s been holding you back? What doubt still creates those false barriers to your dreams? If you can hone in on those barriers and smash them like I did, then I look forward to standing at your side in July of 2019 in the rugged landscape of Pittsfield, Vermont.
Whether you think you can or cannot… you’re right.