by Carrie Adams
Jack Cary ran his first 5K a little over three years ago. He hadn’t done anything other than martial arts growing up. The Software Engineer from Colchester, Vermont is now regularly running ultra distance races and making his fourth Death Race appearance as a competitor. He’s participated in two winter Death Races and one Summer event. “It’s easy for people to understand a marathon.” he laughs, “It’s hard for people to understand these things and why you want to go be in something where you do anything that people tell you do.”
The endurance athlete says everything is his life has been effected by his choices to continue pushing his limits. “I need to do things like this to feel alive and it doesn’t have to be every day, but knowing that there is a date in the future where I’ll push past perceived limits is something that inspires me.”
The Death Race veteran has an admitted love/hate relationship with the infamous race. The race is known to be painful and mentally tough. It’s not just endurance and mental capacity, the sleep deprivation alongside the physical and mental strain creates some significant wear and tear on the body – even for someone like Cary who’s been through it so many times.
“Overall, every race I have learned about myself and pushed myself past places where I thought I had to stop. That’s empowering. Andy Weinberg and Joe DeSena, two of the original race creators don’t make it easy or comfortable for the competitors when things get hard. Says Cary, “They are constantly offering suggestions to quit and making rational and appealing reasons for it and that can be a dark area of your mind to be in after 20 or 30 hours.”
No two Death Races are the same and this time around Cary intends on seeing what he’s capable of if he chooses not to stop, regardless of what happens around him but with a smile this time. Last summer, Cary finished the grueling challenge in 35 hours and 20 minutes and an impressive 8th place but he was most moved by the racers who were still smiling. “I was amazed by their ability to smile at times when I was unable to smile! I worry about what it will take to finish and do it with a positive attitude.”
To prepare, Cary does a lot of running that last 12 or 13 hours at a time and he spends a lot of time out hiking. “One weekend a few weeks ago I did a normal hiking trail up to Camel’s hump but my friend and I did it five times in a row. Over 20,000 feet of vert. 12 hours of challenge.” He puts in the time in addition to his job and everyday life to get himself to where he feels physically prepared.
He stays very focused and centered when he talks about the event that so few understand. “A lot of people have asked me “why?” “Why not?” is my answer. Because I can.” He knows that his body is capable now of withstanding the punishment and that won’t always be the case. “At some point I won’t be able to do crazy things for whatever reason. Whether it’s a race or just life when you push yourself to your limits you become a different and better person.”
Like so many racers, Cary believes in living life outside of constraints and limitation. “I feel like there are no limits. If someone asked me if I could run 1,000 miles I would say “yes” I’d have to figure it out, but that’s one thing that has changed since the Death Race.” He also says his mindset has changed over the past three years since his 5K. Doing the Death Race isn’t a bucket list challenge or a pinnacle. “I need to do it again to see if I can. I don’t know if I can. I’m not satisfied until I know I can do it again.”
For a man like Cary to feel that way about the event and has seen the race more than once, speaks to the ever-changing nature of the race. He isn’t comforted by his past encounters with the Death Race and the mountains of Pittsfield where it’s held. “I’m honest with myself. It scares me. I have less anxiety and am getting used to the idea of the unknown but I think I can finish and I’d like to see them try to stop me.”
The race, designed to be primal, takes participants to uncharted parts of themselves that are raw and can be emotional. “It’s survival.” But inside the surviving it gives the athlete the opportunity to make a choice for themselves and find out what they can do.
“I know that I will be faced with something I don’t know that I can do and I will have two choices: change who I am and become someone who can do the task… or quit.” he pauses, “And for so many things I don’t know…I do know I won’t quit.”
Charity Note: Jack Cary and his girlfriend Kristin Lundy are raising money for the The Leukemia & Lymphoma Society (LLS) to help fight cancer. Lundy is running the Dublin Marathon this fall as a member of the LLS Team in Training.