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

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:
More gear to manage

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