Race Report: NAARS Championships – A Badlands Sufferfest

NAARS Championships 2014 — North Dakota

Was this the best 1-2 day course ever designed? Possibly.

Was it the best 1-2 day course we have ever done? Without a doubt!

A simple race report will never be able to capture what we saw during ~26h of hammering through the badlands of North Dakota – but we will try. A ton of thanks are in order – I’ll get to that in the end – but I need to mention one right away, Legendary Randy Ericksen is responsible for all photos in this report. You can see all his photos from the race here.

The whole team studying the maps. This is going to be a big course!

The whole team studying the maps. This is going to be a big course!

The team is starting to behave like a well oiled machine before the race. Everyone has their own tasks — I worry about the race and count down the minutes until I can get the maps, Mikael and Eric take care of bikes, Whitney works out all the logistics. Once we finally got the maps at 4.00 pm everything was ready and we started pouring over the race course. Like any adventure race, it is a relief when you finally get to see the map, make your time estimates and see if you can stick to your pre-planned strategy. Here ours was to go fast, eat little, keep packs light and hammer as hard as we could to the dark zone. We went to bed surprisingly early and all had a “good” night’s sleep.

Night flaas over North Dakota's Badlands

Night falls over North Dakota’s Badlands

Morning rose over the Maah Daah Hey trail. The race started with 35 miles of single track on the trail. Our plan was to take it easy during the first third or so – just to see that everything was in working order and then make sure everyone was fit for fight. After that, the hammer fest began. The scenery was amazing. Luck wasn’t really on our side–we got two flats and dropped from first to third place both times. Rev3 with the Courain brothers (Aaron and John) and Julia Pollock and Journey Racing with AR legend, Danelle Ballengee, Fletcher Hamel, and Ian Hoag were always close behind and passed us during both our flats.

Briefly in the lead - on our way to our second flat, so we could drop down to third place again. Seriously - the landscape was amazing. Never experienced such a beautiful first leg of an AR race.

Briefly in the lead – on our way to our second flat, so we could drop down to third place again. Seriously – the landscape was amazing. Never experienced such a cool first leg of an AR race.

Towards the end of the section all three teams looked significantly tired and there was suffering all around. On the positive side – we had put a huge gap to the rest of the field and it would basically be a 3 team race from here on.

The next section was one of the coolest foot sections we have ever done. Ridges and canyons stretched out over the landscape and 95% of the travel was off trail. We headed out first on the section with Journey a couple of minutes behind. After checking the first CP we took a bearing towards CP 2 – it was a Class III ridge scramble down to it. While none of us lead 5.12 trad climbs, all of us are pretty comfortable in the mountains and thought we kept good speed down the ridge. To our surprise – Journey came flying down the same ridge and almost caught us. Very impressive speed from them in such a “high consequence area.”

It is a lot harder to keep your balance when you are so tired that you have problem standing up straight.

It is a lot harder to keep your balance when you are so tired that you have problem standing up straight.

The section continued and as we took the next couple of CPs our teams were never more than a couple of minutes apart. We both started climbing the same Class III reentrant together and both teams basically gave up on getting a gap during the section, so we start traveling together. We met Rev3, who were doing the section in reverse order, near our second to last CP — which was the last time we saw them during the race.

Yep - one CP was on each of the ridge lines. While navigation was pretty straight forward on this section route choice was critical. Descisions had o be made each minute of what would be the fastest. Scramble up/run around/minimize vertical. Brain was working constantly.

Yep – basically one CP on each of the ridge lines. While navigation was pretty straight forward on this section – route choice was critical. Decisions had to be made each minute of what would be the fastest. Scramble up/run around/minimize vertical. Brain was working constantly. Also anyone afraid of heights would not have done well here.

As we checked in to the TA we are told by race director Andy that the next 40 miles is mostly be on dirt roads. Great – quick miles is our first thought. I bet Andy would laugh really hard if he had seen us after an hour. Hiking our bikes over some sort of washed out trail, which was occasionally closed off with barb wire. Not what we expected, but that is why it is called adventure racing, right? After about 20 miles, the roads opened up and we started pushing toward the next TA. As night fell we saw Journey Racing’s headlamps behind us. Sometimes close, sometimes farther away. We overshot one CP a little and that allowed enough time for both teams to reunite again. We rode the last 10 miles towards the TA within a minute of each other. At this point, I hit my deepest bottom in adventure racing so far. My legs could hardly push down on the pedals. I handed my backpack over to Eric (who biked with two) and he and Mikael took turns pushing me up the hills. It was just something I had to work through — and now with hindsight it is funny to know that less than two hours later I would be the strongest person on the team.

Night falls over the race course. Biking past oil fileds breathing fire out into the night was a memory we will never forget.

Night falls over the race course. Biking past oil fields breathing fire out into the night was a memory we will never forget.

One of the things I love about racing with NYARA is that all pride is left at the door. If you are tired you hand your backpack over to the strongest racer. This is not something that is ever argued about or even discussed. It is what we do and it helps to maximize our speed. Often that means that I carry two backpacks at some point during a race. This time it meant that my teammates took my backpack and towed me. Since I started racing with Whitney I have said that this moment will come “at some race at some point I will be the weak one and you will have to take care of me.” Well, it happened and it was amazing to see how quickly and seamlessly the rest of the team helped me through it. It is truly an amazing experience to be the weak one because afterwards you know you couldn’t have done it without the rest of the team. We rolled in to the TA after about 12 hours of racing. During those 12 hours the difference between us and Journey had never been more than 5 minutes. It started being comical – we joked that they had a secret teleporter because as soon as we thought we had gotten them out of sight they managed to pop back up.

Eric getting ready for the night trek. Fast TAs are a key to our success.

Eric getting ready for the night trek. Fast TAs are a key to our success.

Mikael and myself working together to shave off a couple of more seconds of our TA time. We are still unaware of how much determination and pain will be required to get through the next couple of hours.

Mikael and myself working together to shave off a couple of more seconds of our TA time. We are still unaware of how much determination and pain will be required to get through the next couple of hours.

The next section was a night foot-o rogaine, with some interesting night scrambles and a lot of route choices — we knew from early on this would be the crux of the race. We headed out first, but both we and Journey overshot the first CP,  so we were back together again. Going over how many times the lead shifted during this section would be impossible and boring. It was a night of despair (when we thought we had lost them in front of us), hope (when we thought we had lost them behind us), speed (running close to 6-7 minute miles after 12h of racing on trails), complete tiredness and as we approached CP 4, more self inflicted fear than we have ever experienced in an adventure race.

So by the time we hit CP 4 – there were only two CP’s left. We approached the CP and and saw an enormous ridge shooting up out of the landscape. As we shined our lights on the ridge (which at some points is a knife edge) we saw Journey Racing (who is now in the lead) looking like three small fireflies clinging to the side of the ridge. We climbed after them and noticed that the ridge wall is close to vertical. I got up to the lowest part of the ridge and threw one leg over. Sitting with one leg on each side of the wall I shined my light trying to find the CP. I realized it must be higher. I climbed after Journey higher up the ridge and screamed to my team to follow. About 300 feet higher up the ridge we found the CP and I got up there just as Journey punched and headed out to pick up the last two CPs. We were not more than a couple of minutes behind. The rest of the team gets up to the CP after the somewhat terrifying scramble and everyone looked at each other. Eric spoke first, “I almost died!” Turns out he climbed the east side of ridge, instead of the easier west side. His side was basically Class V climbing on crumbling sand stone. Whitney had moved along the knife edge basically hugging it – with one leg and one arm on each side before semi-intentionally sliding down the less steep side. All of it Insane.

With two CPs to go and Journey a couple of minutes ahead there was no time to stand around and share stories of how frightened we all had been. Journey had taken a direct route over another ridge to the second to last CP – we decided to run around instead. After we climbed down, we took out the tow ropes and ran faster than we ever have during night navigation. As we hit the CP we didn’t see any headlamps ahead of us and then had only one CP left between us and the dark zone. As we headed off for the last one, we saw Journey coming over the ridge about 5 min behind us. We pushed, tore our clothes, screamed, pushed some more and battled our way towards the TA and the dark zone. Finally, I could payback my team for their help while I was dead — it was my turn to carry two backpacks. We ran and powerhiked the last 3 miles to the dark zone knowing that every minute counted. It was intense. When we checked in at the dark zone we all fell down lying in the cold night with heartrates towards 180 bpm — unable to do anything other than scream out our joy over being first (well, I guess I was the only one who screamed, but we were all beyond relieved). We had three and a half hours of rest off the clock until we needed to get going again. Every minute Journey wasn’t there was one minute they needed to beat us with after the rest.

It took Journey 18 more minutes than us to complete the “first day.” This was the biggest gap we had all day – but it was nowhere near enough time to make us comfortable. In AR 18 minutes can disappear with one wrong look at the map.

Feeling like we just had gone to war and come back home alive we dragged our sleeping bags out of our TA box and set the alarm clock for 5.00 am – over 2h of sleep in a 34h race – and it was the best feeling in the world.

The next morning we woke and got ready to leave when the dark zone would open at 6.00 am. No other team was in yet – so it was clear that the two team race would continue with at least 3.5h down to third place. Six miles downhill on gravel and asphalt roads brought us to the paddle put in. Journey hit the TA right behind us. Our plan was to continue to race aggressively, be first on the water and control the race from there. A silly fast TA gave us a 3-5 min gap at the put in. Then we started an amazing, and amazingly cold paddle. Well it was amazingly cold for me, because I jumped out of the canoe into the water a couple of times – once to save a paddle, and others to drag the canoe out of sand bars.

Sun rises over little missouri river.

Sun rises over little missouri river.

Let me tell you - the water is not super warm when you get in it.

Let me tell you – the water is not super warm when you get in it – and those sand bars are not as easy to see when it is pitch black.

As the sun slowly rose, I stopped shivering. Our spirits rose as we seemed to put time on Journey – and by the time we reached the only CP on the 18 mile paddle (which was up on a hill) we had about 7-10 minutes on them.  Mikael our master paddler, directed the team and for the last part on Lake Sakakawea we put our heads down, pushed hard and tried to ignore our aching bodies.

Finishing up the paddle

Finishing up the paddle

Fighting faces.

Fighting faces.

The last 20 miles of biking was more a formality. It started out with a huge climb up from the river/lake – but being so close that we could taste the win put a smile on every one’s face.

No one behind us, as we are climbing up the last hill!

No one behind us, as we are climbing up the last big hill!

I don't know if we have ever done a 2 mile climb with so tired bodies - and it has felt so easy. Probably because we allowed ourselves to slow down for the first time in the race.

I don’t know if we have ever done a 2 mile climb with such tired bodies – and it felt so easy. Probably because we allowed ourselves to slow down for the first time in the race :-).

Almost all smiles.

Almost all smiles.

As the climb mellowed out – it was just 18 miles “rolling” terrain home – all on roads. Sometimes 18 miles of biking feels long – but compared to the rest of this course, it sounded like a Sunday morning picnic.

Wind in our backs and the climb behind us!

Wind in our backs and the climb behind us!

We put up a pace line but couldn’t muster the energy for an all out effort. Instead it was all high fives, smiles and stories.

Approaching the finish line. We are giving out high fives like they are free.

Approaching the finish line. We are giving out high fives like they are free.

Crossing the finish line was so incredibly wonderful. We have never had a better race and even better, the finish was completely a team effort.

2014 NAARS Champions ! It's a dirty job but someone gotta do it.

2014 NAARS Champions ! It’s a dirty job, but someone’s gotta do it.

A true team effort

A true team effort

What we all have been thinking of over the last 26h - The finish line!

What we all have been thinking of over the last 26h – The finish line!

Securing the NAARS trophy was the perfect ending on our first season with NYARA.

Sweetest trophy ever!

Sweetest trophy ever!

First of all we want to thank Andy Magness and ENDRacing for making the race course unbelievable. It was a true race – with sections of complete hammer fest. It was also a true adventure – where you sometime doubted if the outcome would be success or a short trip to the hospital. Not only did you put “Adventure” race in Adventure Racing – you also put “Race” into it. An amazing accomplishment.
Second – Doug Crytzer and NAARS – your energy and effort to grow the sport and bring it back to where it belongs is amazing. Team NYARA is trying to do everything we can to help you in that task.
Third – All the volunteers. Nothing but smiles the entire race. Clear communications and directives. Thank you for all your time and positive energy!
Last – NYARA as an organization (and Denise Mast), who supports us racing – without you none of this would be possible!

Looking forward to 2015!!!!

Check out the results with splits HERE

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NAARS Championship in North Dakota

Team NYARA is at again. This time Olof and Whitney Hedberg along with Eric Caravella and Mikael Mattsson are headed to North Dakota to race. The team is currently pretty spread out — Mikael is in Sweden, Eric is in New Jersey and the Hedbergs are in Breckenridge. Needless to say, there have been nearly endless emails in preparation.

This team is super excited for this race — which features the famous Maah Daah Hey mountain bike trail. We thought it might be fun to take a peak into their preparations…and they seem organized, sort of. 🙂

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Good luck Team NYARA!!

Race Report: “Bustin’ my a** for NYARA at the USARA National Championships”

Amy from Team NYARA Master’s has their race report from USARA Nationals. They took 3rd in the Masters division — AWESOME! We are super excited to share their story — its pretty epic. Here’s Amy:

This year’s USARA’s National Championships started with a brisk hike/run uphill followed by 3 requisite laps on a whitewater course with a child’s boogie board and no fins. Little did we know at the time, this would be the only running we would do the entire race.

Bruce Swanson volunteered to do at least two of the three laps, with Rodney doing one. Bruce set out on the first lap and it took him a little longer than expected. But we finally saw him coming out of the water and after a quick transition, Rodney set off. As we were waiting for Rodney, Bruce told me about getting caught in the last eddy and briefly mentioned whacking his tailbone as he had initially heeded the race director’s advice about going down the course “feet first” – in retrospect, not a good move.   Rodney completed his lap quickly, Bruce completed the final lap and we started heading back downhill to transition to our bikes. It was on the way down the hill that Bruce mentioned that he was in a good amount of pain and really couldn’t run.

If you know Bruce, you would know that he is as tough as nails – actually, tougher, and unbelievably fit. He is the one who is usually carrying my pack (and his own) while towing me and still urging me to run faster (in a nice way). Before the race, we heard all of his stories about his win at the Team Death Race just the weekend before. Just listening to the stories made me cringe, while you could tell that he reveled in the pain and suffering. For Bruce to say that he couldn’t run, I knew something was really wrong and I was worried.

So, what did we do – we continued on. We biked, paddled and walked the rest of the race (over 29 hours) while Bruce took ibuprofen every 6. Rodney’s nav was spot on (except for one minor detour up the wrong mountain, which was the only nav error of our entire race and really only cost us about 30 minutes due to Rodney and Bruce quickly solving the problem.)

As the morning came, I was not feeling so strong on the bike. Bruce offered to tow me and continued to do so for hours up every big hill. I still do not know how he did this! (Turns out, I had the start of a cold, which I’ve now had all week – I just couldn’t figure out why my nose kept running like a faucet…) He also literally dragged me up the ski hill to get one last foot point at the end – truly inbelievable!

In the end, we got 38 checkpoints in 29 hours and 33 minutes – good enough for 3rd in the Master’s Division. I have never been so proud of a 3rd place finish or of my team.

After waiting a few days to get a doctor appointment, it turns out, Bruce fractured his tailbone. I am not surprised, but completely in awe (and proud). If a broken tailbone is not enough, here is a pic of his wetsuit. Ouch!

Bruce wetsuit

Good teammates are everything.

-Amy B

Thanks Amy and great job Team NYARA Masters! You all killed it! Bruce is an animal 🙂

Race Report: USARA National Championships

USARA National Championships recently took place in the great state of Maryland. Team NYARA was there in full force with two teams — one in the Master’s division (Rodney, Amy and Bruce) and one in the elite co-ed division (Brice, Cara and Mikal). Both teams did an AWESOME job. We are excited to share the race report from Team NYARA (elite coed division).

From Cara:

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We arrived in McHenry, MD on Thursday to discover beautiful rolling hills and fall foliage in full effect. We checked in and got some pretty nice swag including Darn Tough socks, a USARA baseball cap, warming gel, and a race t-shirt.

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After settling in and checking out the white water rafting paddle board course, we headed to the pre-race meeting. It was during this meeting that we realized that we were missing a paddle! Mikal frantically called some local outfitters, and explained that we had an emergency and needed a paddle “STAT!” The guys at High Mountain Sports were kind enough to stay open late and provide us with our missing gear.

Race morning came and we got our maps and began plotting the points. While Brice and Mikal were off somewhere acting like a bunch of goofballs, I came up with this BRILLIANT plan to bypass the paddle section. You see, none of the points were mandatory, and you can do the legs in any order, as well as double back to pick up checkpoints from a previous leg as long as you use a means of equal or lesser travel. This would save us several hours on a cold and windy paddle, and we would only lose 3 CP’s. We got confirmation from the race director that it was legal, and so it was set. I guess we weren’t going to need that paddle after all!

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The race started with a trek up to the top of the ski mountain where Mikal did 3 rounds of the white water paddle course while Brice and I looked over the maps. Mikal did a spectacular job and got faster with each trip. Most other racers were coming out of there exhausted, refusing to go another round, but Mikal did it three times like a champ!!!

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We were one of the first few teams to finish and head back down the mountain to start the mtn bike leg. We had a bit of miscommunication which cost us some time in the mtn bike leg, as I was giving Brice the clue for CP 4 when we were in fact looking for CP 5. This was, of course, a learning experience which we quickly remedied with better communication throughout the remainder of the race.

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Following the mountain bike leg, we ran with our bikes to the canoe put-in to get the CP, then started the bike section. We rode to CP 10 (which we would not receive credit for) and set out to collect the foot O points as well as 2 mtn bike points on foot. Our plan was working out very nicely. We then proceeded to do the course in reverse order.

We were the first ones to arrive at the score-O where we received a new map and had to accumulate 100 points total. This is where the real fun started. The elevation was unbelievable and had your calves screaming almost immediately. Luckily after climbing a few of the mtns, you just got numb and it started to get easier. It began pouring off and on, but it was actually quite refreshing, it just made things a bit more slippery.

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Brice’s navigation was spot on, literally having us walking right up on CP’s. Unfortunately, there was a recent story in the news of a hiker on the east coast who was killed by a bear. I had been warned about a large population of bears where we were and we heard a very close by camper yelling at a bear to go away. Well, this combined with a little too much caffeine, and I got myself pretty paranoid. Luckily Brice and Mikal knew the right things to say to alleviate my worries and we spent most of the night trying to make as much noise as possible. Some of the noises were just plain comical and it ended up providing some amusement and helped to pass the time.

Aside from climbing one extra mountain, the O-section went pretty well. As we made our way back to the TA, it was about 3:30 am and we were lucky enough to have my husband Gregg and Derek Lawrence waiting for us 🙂 It was so uplifting to see friends and family at this point in a race! (I think most racers would agree the 3-6am time frame is usually the toughest). It was just what we needed as we fueled up and transitioned into to our biking gear.

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We started to get more and more pumped to finish strong. We then headed out onto a 7-9hr bike leg. We had some long climbs ahead of us, but we kept a tight pace line and were religious about refueling and staying hydrated. Everything was going great until in an attempt to take a shortcut we came upon a really spooky old abandoned house and a broken down trailer in the middle of nowhere. It reminded me of something out of Texas Chainsaw Massacre and I couldn’t get out of there fast enough! This led us into an unbelievably thick never ending bike whack. It was such a relief when we finally saw another team and eventually got the CP.

After one more mtn bike section, we had a long windy road ride back to the Wisp resort. The sun was up by now, however the temps remained in the 30’s with an occasional drizzle. It was during this leg that we had the pleasure of being chased by an angry little dog. It was trying to bite my foot as I attempted to sprint away (uphill) when Brice started calling him towards him. I thought “is he crazy?” but little did I know he had a plan. When the dog began chasing him, he proceeded to squirt him with his water bottle and the dog ran away! It worked like a charm!!! We arrived back at the resort with enough time to head back up the ski mountain to get 1 more CP, after which we ran to the finish! 🙂

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Overall this was a very fun and challenging race. I believe that our strategy to skip the paddle section helped us very much as some teams spent several hours on the water only to gain 1-3 more CP’s. It was also great to see everything we have learned as a team this season really come together. In the end, we finished in 11th place!!! I’d like to give a big thanks to Mikal and Brice for being such enjoyable and hard working teammates and to Gregg Guilfoyle, Kevin Marx, and Derek Lawrence for coming out to show your support!!! I can’t wait until next season!!

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From Mikal:

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Team NYARA had a very successful race at this year’s National Championships. It was a gorgeous venue and my teammates were, as always, great company for 30 hours of racing. We put together our best race yet at the biggest race of the season, which was awesome. I am very proud of the improvement we made over a short period of time and that it resulted in an 11th place finish! Cara gave a great overview of the race, so I won’t repeat all that. I do, however, have to clear the air: the brilliant strategy was my idea, not hers. She must still be a little tired from the race and not remembering correctly. When we got our maps, both Brice and Cara were stoked about the paddle and talking about how that was the leg where we would pass everyone and make up some serious time. I politely interjected that it might be a good idea to skip the whole thing, since there were only 3 points and the paddle was at least 6 hrs of cold, wet kayaking into a headwind (both ways). They were both hesitant, but I eventually explained the whole strategy and convinced them. Turns out it worked perfectly, just like I had planned! Brice was great with the Nav, Cara had her strongest race of the season and when you combine those two ingredients with my strategy, you get one hell of a race! I can’t forget mentioning the MVP of Team NYARA, Gregg, who infused energy into our team at the perfect moments and was constantly finding us on the course to encourage us. Thanks Gregg and thanks to Cara and Brice for a great season of racing and a fantastic finish at Nationals!

From Brice:

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I’m ecstatic about our performance at the 2014 Nationals, taking 11th place among a large field of the best adventure racing teams in the country. Among all the things we did well, there’s one that really stands out: skipping the entire paddle section. I’m usually pretty humble and prefer to give other people credit for ideas that were developed as a group. In this case, however, it was no team effort. Put simply, this was my idea. However, as the race progressed and it became obvious that the strategy was a good move, Cara and Mikal started saying it was their idea. Thirty hours later, they each had completely rewritten history. Unbelievable. I can assure you this was my idea, and you should greatly discount anything Cara or Mikal write or say. At this point, they have brainwashed themselves and I think they each actually believe that it was their idea.

In addition to my remarkable idea of skipping the paddle, here were some other highlights for me:
· Gregg’s support. It was awesome seeing Cara’s husband so much during the race. Being an experienced adventure racer himself, he knew exactly what our next challenges were at each point during the race. He did an excellent job keeping us motivated all the way to the finish line.
· Making noises for bears but not spooking Cara. Whenever Mikal or I made some noise so that animals would hear us, Cara would think we saw a bear or something. Eventually, we figured out some noises that worked, but this was more difficult than you’d think. Every time Mikal did his “wwwwwwhoa!” I would laugh so hard I could barely stay upright. This was pure comedy.
· Improving on things as a team. This was our third race together. After each race, we discuss how we can improve for our next race. At this race, we made meaningful improvements on a variety of issues because we had talked about them. This was a great success for us as a team.

So we took 11th place as Team NYARA in the Coed Division, while our NYARA Masters team (Rodney, Amy & Bruce) took 3rd in the Masters division! Great showing for NYARA at Nationals!

Race Report: 2014 Team Death Race

Team NYARA members Chris Rice and Bruce Swanson recently WON! He Team Death Race. Chris breaks this crazy race down for us here. Would any of you readers out there consider doing a race like this?

Team members:
Chris Rice (me), Bruce Swanson, Mike Shaddow, Billy Richards

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I will do my best to get the order of this stuff right, but I could have some things off….I was tired and sweaty for much of the weekend…..
This team was thrown together in a bit of a rush due to schedule changes and conflicts with the first team members (originally team peak). Bruce and Billy were signed up for the Spartan race that Sunday, so they were OK to bump up to the death race. I had another team member drop Monday night and Mike agreed on Tuesday to step in for the race…with two days to prep…..
Due to work/family conflicts, Bruce, Mike and I all drove up Friday morning. Billy headed up Thursday so he could get to the 6:00am meeting Friday. While in the car, Billy sent us a note that our “plush toy” had to be 60 lbs. We were able to stop at a hardware store and buy a 60lb bag of sand, which was a good thing as long as we could keep it dry. We arrived last to the location, at about 10:45 with a start of 12:00, and found that we had already missed out on PT and that we would have to wait until the race started to make it up. Although this kind of sucked, we had 48 hours to make up the gap (which turned out to be over an hour).
Everybody got introduced to Billy and we quickly got ready for the race. We were parked at the top of Tweed River Rd, but the race would start and be managed out of Joe’s cabin on the top of the mountain. So, we had to drag all of our gear, our new 60 lb toy (which was now a bag of sand with a stuffed snake taped to it), 4 twelve ft 2×6 boards, a blue barrel (we used a large trash can for this), 4 tools, and a ton of rope up to the top of the mountain. Quick weigh-in….If your toy didn’t weigh at least 60 lbs, you got 1000 burpees for the team….(only one team had this).
The race started with probably 40 minutes of meditation, thinking/talking about death and life, Johnny Waite (race director) was planting seeds that we would come back to many times throughout the race. Joe D also made his only appearance here….Once the meditation was done, we were told that we would have to “stretcher” our toy around a roughly 5 mile loop on our 12 foot boards. This was the first of our engineering challenges and Bruce and Mike would do very well in these every time one came up. We set up our stretcher and started down the trail, but had to do our PT test, so this gave us about an hour delay behind everyone else (there were two other teams that had missed as well). Mike does a lot of crossfit stuff, so he did the PT (and killed it). We slogged around the loop, trying to make up time, but the weight and the awkward nature of the boards in the trail made it difficult.
When we returned to the cabin, we began our memorization challenges. We would get a passage from a poem or book and have to memorize and then recite this back in order to progress. Our plan was for me to do the memorization and then have Mike and Bruce plan out the solution for the next leg of the race. This strategy allowed us to get through transitions pretty fast.
Next challenge would be the biggest pain in the butt of the race. We were told that we had to create “skis” out of the boards, tie ourselves together at the ankles, and reverse the 5 mile loop we just did. We started with tape, which came off, then we moved to rope, which would slip off, and we kept stepping on the ropes between us. I was in the back of the line with the 60lb toy and complained, yelled, cursed a lot during this section. I was, without a doubt, the weak link here. Even though I was a loser and cry baby in this section, we did make steady progress and got past a couple more teams…making our way into the middle of the pack.
Next challenge was for three of us to hike the green arrows trail and for one person to stay behind for a mental challenge. Me, Bruce, and Billy went out on foot and Mike stayed back. The green arrows were almost non-existent and we only found three of them out on the trails, so we were back in about two hours. Mike never caught up to us, which he thought was mandatory, so we ended up waiting at the cabin for an hour for him to return. This section reshuffled the deck and we lost a lot of the ground we had made up.
Next we were told that we had to go down to the General Store in town and get a picture of our toy in one of the rocking chairs on the front porch. Problem was that we didn’t have a camera, so we tried to catch one of the teams in front of us….no luck….we ended up waiting at the store for a half hour for the team behind us to come and let us use their camera for a pic (very nice of them).
We came back to the cabin and were told that we had to collect “at least” 50 lbs of firewood and that anything below would mean 1000 burpees. We were also tied to a single board while gathering wood, which made it difficult. Two trips out and back with our barrel and we were done….we covered this pretty well.
Once back with the wood, we were told to head back out onto the 5 mile loop and hike it with our hands still tied to the board and our 60lb toy with us (having this toy with us meant that we could almost never actually run). We did well here as we were efficient and moving the pack between the group and we got back to the top of the mountain back in the lead.
When we returned, we were told that we would have to climb up either of two trees about 30 feet and tie a lace on a branch. All 4 people had to do this. This was right up our alley….Mike climbed one tree with a rope and I climbed the other one. He looped the rope on a higher branch and then we harnessed Bill and Bruce and they both climbed quickly. This took us only about 15 minutes and we were off to the next section.
We next ran down to the general store for a dozen eggs. Since we didn’t have any cash, we got one of the medics to give us 20 bucks, but we had to get some breakfast sandwiches made for them….
Back up the mountain with a bunch of eggs. We had a eat one raw then put an egg in our mouth without breaking it and do 20 min of squats. We were supposed to memorize something here, but we were screwing around too much (laughing a lot) and forgot the line. So, we next had to do 4 min plank with the egg in our mouth….then we got the memorization correct. Then we had to eat the egg. This section was actually fun, we laughed a lot and interacted with the volunteers and medics, which was cool.
We were next told to head down the mountain and to meet someone at the covered bridge. Turned out we would be under the covered bridge….in the river. The river was low 40s and it was windy, so we knew that this was going to suck. We did 20 min of stuff in and out of the water, totally submerged, and in the sand and rocks on the bank (including putting sand and rocks into our pants). Once we got through this, we had to hike about 1.5 miles in the river. This was tough because the rocks were slippery and, like always, we had the 60 lb toy. We met up with a couple more volunteers (they were awesome) in the river and had to do another set of water exercises.
Next, we had to make our way back to the cabin but were not allowed to go by the farms, so it was right up the mountain. Since I had done the winter race, I remembered a way to go quickly up the steep part of the mountain and get our blood flowing again. Problem for me here…..my feet….carrying the toy in the river and then up the mountain with wet/sandy shoes gave me pretty good blisters. This actually didn’t cause as much of an issue as I thought it would, but it was stuck in my brain now.
When we got back to the top of the mountain, we changed into warm/dry clothes and got something to eat, knowing that we had made it through the “misery” section of the race and we were still going strong.
Next challenge was PT at the stump dump with Mark Jones. Hiked down there and had some light left, which was nice. Here is what we had to do:
Get 4 pallets and 4 stacks of 10 pieces of wood.
Do the “stump dump challenge”. This was tough…..here is what it was made up of:
Large Tire Flip (75m out and back)
2.) Large Stone Carry (75m out and back)
3.) Small Tire Flip (75m out and back)
4.) Small Stone Carry (75m out and back)
5.) Tire Drag (100m out and back / around waist / no hands)
6.) Large Stone Carry (75m out and back)
7.) Overhead Tire Carry (75m out and back / arms straight
8.) Pipe Drag (100m out and back)
9.) Rock Box / 5 Rocks varying sizes (75m out and back)
10.) Small Stone Carry (75m out and back
We had to do this 4 times between us. Billy and Mike were awesome here….able to complete solo and then as a pair with me and Bruce.
Do a “like piece” challenge with large wood sections.
Throw large concrete 400 times
Move/stack 20+ large tires
Move a ton of pipes (this sucked)
Do squat thrusts with a beam that was probably 200lbs or so and 30 feet long, but felt larger.
This section took us probably 4 hours, but was also pretty fun. Was cool to be working with Mark and the volunteers and the challenges were definitely hard.
We cruised back up the mountain to the cabin and were told we had to hike back down the mountain and up Lower Michigan, but we had to do so in a “ladder” that we had to make out of the boards we had left and that we had to carry all of our gear. This would be logistically our most difficult structure to build. We ended up putting most of the weight and wood into the barrel and tying that into the ladder in the middle. We ran the wood through the straps of our packs, allowing the weight to distribute across us. While this likely made the carrying more even, it meant that we were in this structure until completion. This sucked for a lot of reasons….One, it took 5 hours and we moved slowly both down and up the mountain. Two, I am probably 5 inches taller than everyone else on the team, meaning that the weight (200+ lbs) was moving around. Three, every movement had to be coordinated…..which was OK on the road, but difficult on trails with loose ground.
We finally made it to the top of the mountain and we had a finally literary challenge.
Write some final words in retrospect of the race, on death and dying.
What would you do in 6 months that would literally change your life?
We turned these in and Johnny presented us with our skulls, roughly 42 hours after starting. It was cool that we had won, but as I saw the pictures of everyone else getting their skulls in the morning, I thought that it would have been cool to get them with the group.
Here are the people I want to thank:
Johnny Waite – kept us thinking….not only about the race but about life, things we hold important, and the level of control we have over our own destiny.
Mark, Anthony, Ellie – and everyone else that helped out. Given all of the weekend activity, I know it was tough to volunteer, but we appreciated it.
Every other racer out there, regardless of whether you finished or not – there was a lot of helping out there, a lot of camaraderie, and loads of laughing. It was a great group to be a part of.
Bruce Swanson – I have done adventure races with Bruce for probably 10 years, it was awesome that he could dabble in a new sport with me.
Billy Richards – signed up for this without knowing anyone in the group, the gear he would need, or what would be expected of him. Kept a really positive outlook throughout the entire event and never gave up.
Mike Shaddow – jumped on the team with two days notice, after having already crewed for me at Badwater….two huge favors in a short span of time. And this is a guy with 4 kids and a tough job….very grateful.

Comparing this to other events:
Winter Death Race 2014 – this race had more construction in it and more weight to move around…the winter race was more of a foot race.
WTM – WTM is a pure foot race, no mental work at all.
Badwater – similar pain and foot issue management, but other than that very different.
Adventure Racing – I have had more miserable moments in adventure racing (Appalachian Extreme and Florida Coast-to-Coast) but I have done more of those. I still find multi-day adventure racing more challenging for two reasons:
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More gear to manage