by Maurya Scanlon

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We at Spartan Race are obsessed with the Death Race. Obviously.  What makes this race so special to us is not that the race coordinators, directors and designers pull out all the stops and blur the line between awesome and freaking insane, but that there are people that take this opportunity to show to themselves and to the world what each of them is capable of.  We’ve said it before, and I’m going to say it again: The Death Race isn’t about Death.  It’s about Life.  It’s about acquiring extraordinary self-knowledge and living your life with the ability to say, “Yes I can, and I did.”  You’ve heard us profile and interview Grace Cuomo Durfee, first female finisher, but there is another incredible Death Race Finisher that I’d like to introduce to you all, Megan Mays.

On a muggy, humid, and generally miserable Saturday morning (noontime) in Brooklyn, NY, I peeled myself off of my bed to prepare for the phone interview.  I poured an enormous and very necessary mug of coffee, took a sip, gave my useless Blackberry a pep-talk and dialed her number hoping that my phone wouldn’t crap out on me while I was asking very deep and impressive questions.  After only two rings, the cheeriest and kindest voice picked up the phone.  I immediately thought to myself, “Okay, Maurya, you have to match this woman’s happy. Drink up!”  I admitted to her that I was not properly caffeinated, and she admitted to me the same.  We giggled and then with absolutely no segue dove right into the interview.

Megan told me that her athletic background basically didn’t exist.  “Interesting,” I thought.  She went on to explain, “I was a fat kid.  My childhood had nothing to do with athletics.  I got into running in high school, but didn’t get serious about it until 3 or 4 years ago.”  I can’t even begin to explain to you how refreshing it was to hear that.  At the heart of Spartan Chicked is the sentiment that all women can become the most incredible versions of themselves, and on the other end of my slightly staticy phone line was someone who embodied that idea.  To combat her issues with weight, she “did a boot camp, and got into a running group with someone from there.”  Boot camp lead to a running group, which then lead to triathlons.  Megan went on to explain, “I ended up loving Triathlons.  Once I got into shape, I started placing, and got addicted to going longer, and it got more and more extreme from there.  And it all ended up at the Death Race.”  Megan, I couldn’t have written a better segue if I tried. Thank you.

Megan admitted that she heard about the Death Race from Google.  As a social media person, this was music to my ears.  She explained, “I was doing personal training with a guy who was in the Death Race with me: Ricky Weiss.  I was trying to get him into triathlons, and he kept saying, ‘We need to find something more hardcore than that, like a Death Race.’ I went home and Googled Death Race, found that one actually existed and told him about it.  He responded with ‘I’m signed up.’ He pressured me for a month to sign up.  He peer pressured me into it.”

We present the Death Race as not only a physical challenge but also a mental one.  Megan admitted that she experienced both kinds.  Her hardest physical challenge, she recalled, was the one “when [she] had to truck the huge log up the hill to read the passage that had to be memorized.”

Megan went on, “I was in the very back of the pack. There were three logs with W’s on them left, and they were all huge. [Carrying the log] on my back was very painful.”

When I asked her what the hardest mental challenge was, she responded coolly, “Right in the beginning, lifting rocks, I freaked out.  All these huge guys looked like they can do [it] for hours…I thought ‘O man I’m not going to make it through this.’  But [after that,] keeping myself motivated wasn’t that difficult…  Though, I had one on Joe’s mountain, where I broke down completely.”

We continued talking about her highest and lowest moments in the race.  She prefaced the story of her highest moment by sharing that she has a crazy fear of drowning.  She continued, “My highest point was coming out of the second river walk.  I almost died.  I was holding onto a guy’s hand, and I totally bit it. The water was trying to pull me away.  He went down and another guy, my hero, swung both of us around and got me out of the river. I loved that I wasn’t drowning in the river.  The highest point was not drowning.”

I’m inclined to agree. She went on, “My lowest point was Sunday morning, when I got lost on the mountain. My knees were hurting really bad. I was taking little, tiny baby steps.  I kept thinking, ‘My body wont let me, but I want to.’  That was a struggle.  My support, Anita, kept saying, ‘You can do this, and you’re going to finish, and I believe in you.’  I couldn’t have done it without her at that point.”

Because my questions were so deep and impressive, I wanted to lighten the mood a little, so I asked her for a funny anecdote from the race.  She all too gladly told me the story of the skirt.  Through what I believe was a half smile, Megan said, “On Joe’s Mountain, my pants were baggy and heavy, so they were rubbing my thighs raw.  I was walking like a penguin, and Anita said to me, ‘I think you should wear my skirt.’ I’m like, ‘I can barely stand up right now, and you want me to take my pants off?’ Finally, she gave me her shirt, and I came down the mountain in a jean skirt. You have to improvise in the Death Race; you know, just go with the flow.”

Note to future Death Racers, men included: bring a denim skirt.

Megan recalled the finish, “Honestly, I thought they were joking when we were in the church. I thought they were trying to trick us into quitting. I was preparing myself for what was next. When it [finally] sunk in, [I felt] relief, because I didn’t have to go back up another mountain. I was astonished at myself. Even though I wanted to finish, I kept thinking ‘Is it really possible?’ I was pretty impressed with myself.”

When I asked Megan what it was like competing in the Death Race as a woman, she smiled AGAIN and said, “I didn’t feel different from the men at all… I felt like a racer. I liked that about it.”

I asked Megan to share some advice with women getting back into training or considering training for the first time as a means of becoming their own legends.  She hesitated, and finally said, “The first step is the hardest step.  When I first started running, getting out the door was harder than the running. Just do it, no matter if it’s 5 minutes of running or 10 minutes of biking. Anything will help you get to your goal.  We all start out at some point. I came from barely being able to run half a mile without passing out to doing triathlons.  Set aside that time and do something that’ll make you feel good. So many women put someone else’s needs ahead of their own. It’ll feel good spending time doing something for [you].”

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