What a difference a year makes. I went into this years race calm and knowing it would take a lot to make me quit – the main worry being an injured back from events in the preceding months. What I didn’t know yet was how much fun I was going to have, how much I was going to smile and how much beaver there would be… don’t worry its not what you think.
Friday started out with breakfast In Manchester with my two good friends Melody Hazi and Amelia Boone. My house looked like an army surplus store had crashed into an REI for the mandatory “unpack everything and repack” in preparation for the race.
A gorgeous 90 minute drive from home and (as always) arriving in Pittsfield to register was a reunion of sorts. So many familiar faces were around the General Store. I was there a while ago on a random weekend and it seemed weird not to have it filled with familiar faces as per usual. Registration over (I was bib #004) Amelia and I set off to get our gear into the ‘greenhouse’ before returning to the store for food, water and conversation with old friends – it was purely a happy accident we missed the early yelling and assignment of tasks ;). I also decided to try and tweet as the race happened…a difficult task given how quickly the cold killed my battery.
We had been told that the race started at 7pm, but started to hear rumblings that stated if you weren’t at Amee Farm within a certain timeframe you were out. The games had already begun – lets DO this :). A quick change into the gear, a drive back to the farm and the hustle and bustle began. I was immediately ordered over to a large pile of logs to cut them (hand saw was on the required gear list) into 18” segments, then split and stack. Only a half dozen racers had started when I showed up but more quickly surrounded the wood pile.
A few people had small saws that were as useful as a butter knife and it was hilarious to watch. As always my aggressive toothed Stanley handsaw was the perfect tool for the job. Once Olof and Amelia joined my ranks the double entendres started up. I lucked out on one cut where the hidden part of the log had already been attacked by a chainsaw – I pretended it was beast mode but really I only had to cut through 1/4” on a 14” diameter log.
At this point I may have the order of events mixed up a little. The beauty of this race is it doesn’t even start out as a race. You are purely being led through tasks designed to get you physically tired and sleep deprived. Anyway, I think it was at this point that we were led on a short hike towards Riverside Farm and into a barn at the back of the property. Here we all stripped (some of us nervous enough about someone messing with our stuff that we stashed our clothes and gear in some hidden locations) to the bare minimum and were led into 2 to 3 hours of PT while individuals were filmed for a condensed workout – apparently for Maxim. I partnered with Melody to hopefully provide something a little different. The PT itself consisted of a LOT of planks, squats, pushups, burpees, situps etc. Lots of taunting from volunteers and race directors happened.
Tweet: 1 Feb ‘13 8:02pm “Countless burpees, squats, planks and a Maxim shoot. Moving out for more shenanigans #wdr #pittsfield #vermont @ameliaboone”
At some point back at the farm we were all placed in a circle facing out and shoulder to shoulder. Johnny Waite unveiled a dead beaver that had been frozen for months. We played various games of pass the beaver. All squatting and passing in front from person to person, standing and passing overhead, bending over and passing through the legs like a football. This fun activity probably saved motivation for a lot of people and was in my opinion a bit of a mistake. From this point on, the race was filled with jokes from me directed towards Don about his frigid beaver or his sexy beaver.
It was dark by now and we were given a new direction. After splitting to two groups, the first (mine) was sent to a horse barn 1/4 mile away to clean all the hay out of the stables… halfway through this it was back to the wood pile to move the stacked wood to another location… then back to the horse stables. My favorite part was Don insisting we clean the barn to the concrete (it had a mud floor). And Don getting emotional. Then angry. Then reflective. Such a diva!
Sometime after this we were led on another hike around to Joe’s mountain in groups of 10-15 zip-tied together ‘following’ Jack. Quotes because he disappeared instantly and we kept taking wrong turns. Turning around a group of folks zip-tied together to a rope was entertaining at best. Also the 3 of us at the front seemed to be constantly pulling up the people from the back. Tiring, frustrating, inevitable.
Tweet: 2 Feb ‘13 3:53am “Latest death race tasks: Game of pass the beaver, long walks with 900lb hay bales and a 7mile tethered hike #wdr @SwScholarship”
After a turnaround at the top of the mountain, we headed back down to the rope bridge to meet Norm’s evil smiling face. He cut our zip ties and we reconvened at Amee Farm I think.
After this we started out with Andy on a long hike up some pretty steep terrain ending up at the top of Joe’s mountain. It was really steep terrain. A few folks were lagging, so we were sent to go after them. A few of us were mumbling about it being unfair for those that performed, only to realize it was really a ruse to ensure that our bags were unattended such that they could get distributed elsewhere at the peak. It took a while before I found mine.
Tweet: 2 Feb ‘13 6:29am “Well that was a bitch of a climb #wdr @SpartanRace @SwScholarship”
Tweet: 2 Feb ‘13 8:12am “Wow, the steep hike up was worth that fast run downhill, ended by a refreshing river crossing #wdr”
Next task, as a group we had to extract a 2500lb I-beam from the river – a remnant of a bridge washed away during Irene. This meant we spent a lot of time knee to waist deep in a freezing river with the outside temp at around 15-20F. I actually loved this part and I’ve never really felt pain from the cold. Keith Glass (picked on constantly by Don) was already in the water trying to break up an island that had formed at one end of the beam, so I stripped down to ranger panties and race bib and went to join him. I have no idea how long we were all in and out of the water – maybe a couple of hours – but things went south quickly. Lots of people started to drop, with feet or entire bodies breaking down from the cold. At one point I helped stretcher one racer back to Amee Farm, a welcome opportunity to grab an MRE before rushing back to the river. Beam out (a phenomenal feat), the race proper started. Across the bridge, 100 burpees, through the water, rinse and repeat 10 times for 1000 burpees total. After one of the river crossings, poor Amelia succumbed to the cold. 2 other racers and I carried her back across the water so she could be transported to the warmth of the farm. It was really sad to see her leave the race – but burpees called and I had to get back to it. At this point I got frustrated because not all burpees seemed equal – the nature of the beast I suppose. I was adamant from the beginning to do everything asked legitimately, and all my burpees were legit until the last 100 when I reverted to the squat thrusts that everyone was doing. Partially this was to avoid the intense pain welling up in my left elbow (which I tried to hide – weaknesses will be pounced upon). At one point I asked Jack to do a bit of Burpee QC so he did. To me. Dammit!
Tweet: 2 Feb ‘13 8:33pm “Winter Death Race : still in, the cold water has dropped a lot of people. #wdr @SpartanRace”
Tweet: 2 Feb ‘13 8:35pm “Still going. Heavy loops up Joes mountain and apparently Bikram in the morning…”
Olof was first to finish and he ran off to Amee Farm for the first task. I wasn’t too far behind, 20 minutes perhaps. As it was getting dark soon, we were asked to pair up for the first task. I ended up with my old friend Jeff Foster and a new friend Souvalion Andranik. Task 1, grab a log (probably 60lbs ish), take it to the top of Joes mountain and take instructions there. Some people tied rope to their log and dragged it or attempted to use a sled. Others cut it and tried to carry parts in their ruck. I decided to simply strap the entire thing to my ruck and go. This felt great until I got to the rope bridge… at one point one end caught under the guide rope so I had to twist and contort to get across… a little worrying. Once across I set off ahead of Jeff and Andy while their adjusted their setup.
Taking the hill alone was peaceful although I did take a weird turn and almost got lost. Fortunately I bumped into Joe Desena and son (who was also carrying an armful of branches – cute as hell) and continued up the mountain. Another racer caught up without log, and told me Joe had told him he could drop his log and suggested I do the same. Fortunately I followed my gut instinct and continued on with it because he had misheard and that mistake likely cost him a finish.
Once at the top, the first task was to cut and split the log. Easy. As I was wrapping this up, Jeff and Andy had arrived at the top. The actually split their wood further down the trail to help load balancing. Second task was to build two snow piles, using only each shoe for each pile to touch the snow. A great way to ice the feet up after a sweaty uphill hike. This had to be a certain height. Finally 6 tangram puzzles needed to be solved. I excelled at this, and Jeff seemed to be happy that we had met back up. A quick warm up in the hut and we ran back down to the farm. At this point cut-off times were being enforced. We were informed to do two more loops exactly as before, and cut off times were being enforced. If you hadn’t left for the mountain at a certain time for 2 and 3 you were out. This hit some racers hard but others ignored this to eventually become unofficial finishers.
Loop 2 was much the same except I split my wood at the bottom and stuffed it in and on my ruck for a much easier ascent. I did, however, find it really hard to dump heat and kept slowing down. Jeff and Andy forged ahead this time with me currently in 7th place. At the top, same deal, except Don was there and we kept bouncing sexual jokes back and forth. It was hard to be demotivated when such fun people are running the show. At one point Don joked that if we finished a puzzle using only our tongue to move the pieces we only needed to solve 2 the next time around instead of 6. Deal!! I used my tongue to more jokes and laughter. Puzzle solved, we hit the descent the 3 of us back together. Third loop we made great time and hit the ascent just as the first 4 people (Olof, Josh, Melody and Nele) were completing puzzles. Once they left, we had completed our wood stacking and snow structures and blasted out the two puzzle solutions in minutes. The tension was obvious – if we hauled ass down the mountain the 3 of us had a chance of overtaking the lead 4. I am surprised neither of us fell and got hurt as we FELL rather than ran downhill. We had hoped we took a different route so the leaders didn’t even know we took them, but alas we caught them all.
Overtaking Olof, he said something like “Go for it. I don’t need the win and I am going to hang back with Melody”. Josh, Nele and Melody seemed surprised to see the 3 of us barreling past them and a little pissed too. A few minutes later and Olof’s tall frame overtook me to the words “I changed my mind. Lets race” heralding the start of an all out sprint for the last mile or so to the farm. I ended up running out of wind first out of the guys and slowed up past the rope bridge letting them get ahead – I was now in 5th ahead of the girls. Once across the bridge I decided to conserve energy and prevent being chased for 5th place I would turn off my headlamp so Nele seemingly had nothing to chase, and jogged back to the farm.
After 36hrs of racing (I think) it was literally a race between the only 7 official finishers, and was absolutely thrilling.
Tweet : 3 Feb ‘13 3:58am “Still going. Awesome race back to Amee lodge for the last task. 7 of us (5 men, 2 women) racing and arriving in close succession. #wdr”
For us though, the race wasn’t over. 5:30 we needed to meet at Bikram. We were all excited for a great yoga session, but instead were informed to “pack all your food and enough clothes for a 20 mile hike through bloodroot. Be prepared to be gone for 24 hrs”. We all looked dejected but nobody remaining had any quit in them. We got our stuff together, ate lots of food, rehydrated, changed socks and set off. We all anticipated that the finish would be at Bikram, but we weren’t. The hike started and Jack and Andy took off in a run. “Screw that” said the 11 of us that showed for the hike as we fast strode it out. The further we went the more likely it was in our minds that this 20 mile hike was going to be legit, only betrayed by Andy’s highly inconsistent stories along the way. An hour or so in, we rounded a corner to meet Andy to the words “Congratulations, you’ve finished”. Some of us didn’t believe it, some of us were relieved, I was mostly hungry 🙂
Tweet: 3 Feb ‘13 7:21am “Winter Death Race is over. I came 5th of 11th official finishers. Around $700 raised for @SwScholarship fund #wdr #lovethecold”
We hung around for a while taking pictures, hugging it out, shaking hands of the amazing race staff and grabbing our skulls before taking a ride back into Pittsfield for FOOD!!!
So that was the what. The weird thing about this race for me is that while everything was challenging, it didn’t seem as hard as the previous year but that is more a testament to the amount of suffering and training I have done in between. The emotion at the end of GR Selection 000 was far greater than the emotion here. I know Summer Death Race will be a different story altogether, but for Winter there was something familiar about it. Almost a deja vu. I relished the second mornings hallucinations on the “bloodroot hike”, seeing tunnels and houses where there were none. I relished the ice box around the feet,reminiscent of the great bootcamps ran by Jeff and Bruce Foster last winter. I relished the burpees knowing the first 100 were the worst. For me the stars aligned for this race and what last year for me was boredom and pain mixed in with the jokes (3000 burpees is retarded no matter how you look at it) turned this year into a feeling of comfort, like pulling on a pair of slippers and a robe.
I also ran this race as an athlete for the Silent Warrior Scholarship Fund, a great charity providing college opportunities to family members of Marine Recons. For WDR2013 I raised $700, and have a goal of raising $5000 for my Summer Death Race bid. If you enjoyed this article please consider giving even if just a few bucks. Click the image right to donate :
What a difference a year makes.
Andy, Joe, Jack, Don, Norm and everyone else with evil inclinations? See you in June.
Links to other articles
- Jane Coffey’s article from a volunteer viewpoint
- Amelia did a great piece reflecting on her DNF
- Edgar Landa also reflected on his DNF
- Nele (female winner) has her thoughts
- Tribute to Ernerst Shackleton, compilation from WDR athletes