Tuesday, June 28, 2011

The Cole's Notes, for now ...

It is Tuesday night. I arrived home from The Death Race in Vermont last night at 2am. I had great intentions of writing a spectacular race report today ... but am still absolutely fried. So, I am going to give a bare bones version tonight and get back to it soon. So, buckle up for some stream-of-consciousness bullet-point style info (with lots of details missing and some simplified) ...

Race started Friday at 6pm. Almost entire event was run under severe thunderstorms. Everyone seemed to believe their race would be between 30 and 40 hours. From the outset, and throughout the whole event, we were actively encouraged to quit, with many checkpoints placed such that this was a very seductive option. Also, at each checkpoint, we were informed that the leaders were still not finished! 36+ hours in that gets discouraging. Ultimately, there really was no finish line - the hidden objective was to push everyone as far as they could, with absurdly difficult challenges, seeing who would hang in for a full 45 hours.

No matter where you were on the course Sunday afternoon, you were to get back to the farm to check-in before a mandatory 3pm meeting, leaving your gear to resume racing after. At this point, Andy (race director) told us each, in graphic detail, what was still to come (amounting to a couple more DAYS of racing) and asked each if we were in or out. Several people opted out. I had already figured out by now that I was probably on course until Tuesday, so had made arrangements for Jack to ride home with James and was prepared to finish the course with no support crew. So, I told Andy, "F***ing right I am in!"

I had come off the trail at 2:41pm ... looking like this.

... James was waiting with a lawn chair and a hose to clean me off. He also had his slacks, shirt, shoes and tie from his Montreal business trip, so only ten minutes later I looked like this!

The 3pm meeting took place in a church, where they asked for a show of hands for who was still in the race. 230 people had signed up. 75 then hadn't even shown up. Another 120 had dropped out along the course. So there were 35 of us left. It was at this point that the race was declared over, with those 35 having finished the full 45 hours, and then ranked by distance covered.I believe the distance was about 45 miles but that is somewhat irrelevant, as it there was much less time spent running than crawling, climbing, falling, wading, swimming, scrambling, chopping, carrying, dragging, pushing, pulling and standing there swearing.

Describing the actual race to you could not possibly capture the difficulty or the mayhem, so I will just list the challenges, in order, here with minimal commentary for now ...

  • individually squat-cleaning a 50lb boulder 1,360 times, all while wearing all of our gear - 40lb pack, axe, etc. Yes, you read that right - 90 sets of 14 (the guy beside me dropped one of his, crushing his foot and ending his race). We were told we'd be doing 150 sets, to make it seem even more impossible, before stopping us at 90 - after about 5 hours - and saying the rest would be at the end of the race
  • 1 mile hike through forest
  • trudge upstream, in the dark,  for a few MILES in thigh to chest deep rapids on slippery rocks
  • stand still, up to your waist in very cold water, for 5 full minutes 
  • swim across a deep 50 yard pond, spring fed so only 48F, with all your gear, pack, axe/maul, then scramble up a muddy 50 degree bank, walk slowly around a 400 yard loop in a field with a candle in hand that had to remain lit ... and REPEAT WHOLE THING SEVEN times (lots of dropouts here from hypothermia, with people unable/unwilling to go back in the water again and again)
  • hike another mile through forest (now early morning Saturday)
  • chop a bunch of wood
  • carry a very heavy, huge log up a 1mile hill, some under electric fencing, memorize a bible verse, go to the bottom of the hill and repeat it perfectly - or repeat the whole loop until you can.
  • chop more wood
  • hike miles downstream in the river
  • march up a hill, saw off a 3 foot section of log, weighing about 50 lbs
  • carry the log down and drill bib number into it. This 50 lb log would now be carried the rest of the race.
  • do a brutal 5 hour hike through ridiculously steep forest, with pack and log. Trails marked only by orange tape, and getting quickly washed out by torrential downpours and hundred of boots. The last 2 hours was basically a mudslide down
  • Now, at Rogers Cabin, it was about and hour to throw log in lake, stack wood, do 90 pushups, retrieve log (now even heavier), reload and head out. It was at this checkpoint, most people about 24 hours in, that about 50% of the field dropped out. The hike back up seemed nearly impossible, and this was one of the few spots on the course accessible by car. One radio call and you were ten minutes back to camp.
  • Hike back up the same awful, seemingly impassable route - often on hands and knees, pulling self up by roots and small trees. Full blown thunderstorm most of the way.
  • Finally back at Colton Cabin - do 100 burpees in the rain, then head back down to the barn
  • At the barn, thrown your log into the pond, run across the road, climb into a culvert and crawl, pushing/pulling your pack and log under the highway back to the pond. Dive in and retrieve your log.
  • (Now very early Sunday morning for me) with the log now even heavier and on your back again, set out on a 10 mile hike to the top of Joe's Mt and back. But this hike is like no other. Much of it is straight up a waterfall - yes, in the river, climbing into the flow, up slippery rocks, still with a full, waterlogged pack and log. The reward for completing this is to then crawl 1/4 mile, uphill, in a creek, under barbed wire that is strung back and forth on or just above the ground. Every body length of progress required lifting the barbed wire, sliding under, pulling pack, pulling log and starting all over a again.
  • The last stretch to the top was nearly vertical, heavily wooded, and muddy as hell. And my legs were a wee bit tired by now. This was all scrambling, pulling, climbing for another 1/4 mile or so.
  • Then a 90 minute full-speed hike back down the mountain to the barn (I had returned from this JUST in time for the 3pm meeting)
  • The most elite competitors had also gone on to chop a ridiculous amount of wood before hiking up to Colton Cabin again, dropping their log and grabbing a 5 gallon bucket. Back down to the farm. Fill the bucket to the very lip and head back up to Colton. If they did not lose more than 2" of water they could pick their log back up and carry on to Rogers AGAIN. This time, they got to leave the log there and then hike back with just their pack. Next was a written test, based on the religious symbols we had memorized, and a hike to present it at the top of Joe's Mountain again. There were seven people who actually got through all of that just under the 45 hour mark, including "world's fittest man" Joe Decker (repeat champion) and Grace Duffee Cuomo (women's champ).
I am leaving out the most important stuff ... the extraordinary help I got from an incredible crew. James, Mike, Amanda, Jackie, Bill, Jack, Daisy and Zoe will be properly credited in the long version. Many people commented to me that I had the best crew of the whole race!

Also, the many people who donated to POGO ... the video thank-you is coming! We could not get any on course footage as it never stopped raining!! So, they are being done post-race. But your support kept me moving forward many times when I wasn't sure I could. And, together, we raised $5,000 to help kids living with cancer!!

And a grateful nod to the race organizers, volunteers and fellow racers. Truly an unbelievable event!!

Here are some links to stories about it...

Thanks to Cousin David for capturing this timely screen-shot!

BTW ... No cash prizes for anyone. Just a fun, plastic skull for the finishers that is better than any other trophy I have ever won.

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