by Carrie Adams
“I wish folks would stop portraying the race as borderline insanity or stupidity. It may be hard for people to understand but I can assure you that it has nothing to do with masochism, self-flagellation or stupidity. It’s about self-mastery, learning patience, and understanding the perception of limits, which are the most sane things in the world.” – Patrick Walsh, 2011 Death Race finisher
The required gear list called for a hand drill. Carpenter Bryan Selm packed his hand drill as required but also included an electric version as optional gear. The rules allow for optional gear the racers want to bring, they just have to carry it throughout the course. Lightweight and stored in a dry bag, it was a wise addition. The drill made the task of drilling his number into his log a much faster process and his number “103″ was quickly inscribed on his 36 inch length of log.
Nearby, Nate Brown sized up his log and the small drill in his hands. “It looked good on Amazon” he laughed. It was clear, however; that his small drill would take hours to effectively complete the task at hand. Without hesitation, Selm handed over his electric drill to Brown to use, knowing it would slow down his transition to the next challenge. Two others used the drill before Selm ultimately set off up the mountain for Roger’s farm hike.
Selm’s generosity more than 12 hours into the Race was common among the Death Racers and their crews. People shared food and water, hot coffee, information, encouragement, and motivation throughout the 45 hours of the 2011 Spartan Death Race. During a particularly grueling water crossing, stronger swimmers naturally gravitated towards weaker ones giving reassurances to the cold and frightened racers that they had support. It’s truly a community of racers.
When you sign up for the Death Race you are signing up for a race like no other on the planet. You aren’t told when it begins, when it ends, or what you’ll experience. There’s no course map or list of challenges made available and no one knows how long it will last and what will be included. It changes each year and it’s designed to test you mentally, physically, and emotionally. It’s an opportunity for racers of all backgrounds to come and find out who they are when they square off against their ultimate opponent: themselves. It’s not about being insane or having an affinity for suffering, it’s actually about self-exploration without excuses in a primal backdrop that gives the participants two options: do or die. In this case “die” is a DNF, did not finish, and the sting of that for the 73% of the participants who did DNF this year is very real and very personal. Despite the dire circumstances, the race brings out the best in most people who take part.
This race is also something that racer’s train months for so that they are prepared for what the mountains (and race organizers) will throw at them.
“Hello Grim Reaper. It’s been a while since we last met and I cheated you. I can feel you hiding in the woods above me here in Vermont. We will see each other again soon. But you should know something… I have been training.” – Sean Dickson, 2011 Death Race Finisher
Joe DeSena and Andy Weinberg pull no punches when it comes to how the race is executed. They seek to mentally and physically break anyone who enters and there is enough media out there to substantiate those claims. Bottom line: racers know what they are getting themselves into and they welcome the experience.
Says Katy McCabe of team Glamazon, “I get to turn off my mind and let my body do work. That’s what this is for me.”
Racers probably put it best in their blogs, their recaps, their reflections of the race:
“I see it as as another one of those things I have done in life that many people would never even dream of and although it is a personal failure, I still see it as a success. It was miserable but it was awesome.” – John McEvoy, 2011 Death Racer
“I applaud all of the incredible human beings I encountered this weekend and the race itself which must have been a logistical nightmare spanning multiple mountain peaks, but which was executed with deft precision. I felt like I was in a parallel universe with people that weren’t human. I want to be that way.” – Junyong Pak, 2011 Death Racer
“I joined this race because ever since I left the Army I have had a strange feeling that I was a pussy, weak… I questioned myself if I was any longer tough enough to reach the brink and continue on. I did it! I was finished with the 2011 Death Race at 45 hours and 24 minutes… And I’m not done yet.” – Sean Dickson, 2011 Death Race finisher
“This weekend was definitely a life changing event for me. I knew you were an amazing athlete and a gorgeous woman you exceeded what I though a human could do! I am so thankful that I was able to be a part of this.” – Meghan Matta, crew for Grace Cuomo Durfee 4th place overall and 1st female
“Whether you told me “good luck!” in the months leading up to the race, listened to my endless talk about the event, were following along and supporting us virtually, standing in the rain waiting, saying a few motivational words, shoving food and drink in my face, or were crawling through mountains and rivers with me, you all played a big part in the adventure. The help, support, camaraderie and enthusiasm I saw and heard was infinitely more incredible than the race itself.” – Jack Cary, 2011 Death Race finisher
“So much information to process. Not just the race but what I’ve learned about myself and about people….It might take a while….or it might take a series…but I’ve got to document how I feel at this moment in time….I swear not finishing was a good thing….and the best thing that could have happened to me.” – Kevin Lowe, 2011 Death Racer
“45 hours, miles and miles, pounds upon pounds, a 60 [pound] ash log with me for the whole time dragged carried cried with no sleep, just keep moving… hallucinations like never before… hypothermia… I will post an update on my 45 hour journey in FINISHING the death race toughest thing I have ever done… it was an honor to have been in this race.” – Ray Morvan, 2011 Death Race finisher
“Death Race finished… out of 200 racers 34 made it the full 45 hours…congrats to all racers…it was an honor to compete with each and every one…my race ended 27 hours in with a fall coupled with hypothermia sending me to the ER…but I would do it all again…DR 2012….word.” – Michelle Roy, 2011 Death Racer
“…Essentially I was miserable, beaten and battered the entire time. Loved it.” – Josh Zitomar, 2011 Death Race Finisher
“Death Race 2011. Brilliantly sick, terrible, challenged beyond belief, humbled, proud, bruised, scraped, fortunate to have met so many amazing people. Quit at 33 hours. Death Race 2012: Signed up.” – Laura Svette, 2011 Death Racer Team Glamazon
“It [The Death Race] helps me answer the ultimate questions, “Who am I and What the hell am I really made of?!” It shakes ya down to your core. 99% of human beings I feel are afraid to have these questions answered…” – Joe Decker, 2010 and 2011 Death Race Winner
Again and again, racers, crew, and volunteers speak of the life-changing capacity of this event. Of new friends made and old friendships deepened. Forged in the woods of Vermont, these racers push themselves and test themselves in ways that so few of us are willing to pursue. So, if all that amounts to insanity, then please, call them all crazy.