Monday, June 20, 2011

How long is a week?

"The kind of person who signs up for the Race is someone who has no limits. They are just basically a lunatic. The kind of person who finishes is truly an extraordinary person." Joe DeSena

I just realized that in one week I WILL HAVE FINISHED THE DEATH RACE. Granted, I am making some big assumptions there - it is predicted that only 1 in 7 racers will finish, with the other 180+ competitors quitting at various points in the event. 

While organizers do not actually tell us when the race will start, it looks like it will be be 6pm Friday, at the mandatory meeting. I am told to expect anything, however, with race veterans cautioning me that it could start early with no warning. I am arriving Thursday afternoon to be safe. As for how long the race will be, we don't know that either, but here is what Andy Weinberg said in the most recent email ...
 We don't anticipate anyone finishing before Sunday afternoon or even early evening.  We haven't set any cut offs yet but we're prepared to do so if we have a safety concern.  We anticipate people being on the course until Tuesday or Wednesday as some of you are very stubborn.  The majority of you will quit well before then for various reasons: mental failure, physical failure, emotional failure, or you'll be injured, you'll be upset with race staff, you'll be upset with yourself, you'll have medical reasons, etc.  This is fine and we understand.  We still think you are great people.  You'll have to deal with telling your friends and family why you quit, we won't. 
It is becoming very clear that this challenge is every bit as much mental as it is physical. Over the past month, we have been given one item at a time for our required gear list, requiring us all to scramble finding obscure items ... #2 Dixon Ticonderago pencil, hand drill, live fish. There was much back and forth online between racers, advising, helping, even some bemoaning. Then, Saturday, we received a new message telling us that everything had changed. Forget the fish, "hold" on the rest, an entirely new list would be issued Wednesday. Two days before the start of the race. With many of the competitors in transit at that point.

There has already been some griping. I am finding huge entertainment value in one rookie's posts; complaining about the dearth of information, not completing the first mandatory task of having a news article published, and demanding that organizers make sure all equipment is readily available for purchase nearby. I believe that he is flying across the country for the race, but it does not sound like he is going to enjoy it much!

On the other hand, I love the attitude of race veterans! Ray Morvan is eating it up ... "Tick Tock" is his answer to almost everything, as he just can't wait to get started. When someone was worrying about the dicey weather forecast (cold and rainy), Jack Cary answered "I hope it rains AND snows!!". And Paul Roarke posted this during his trip north from Florida ... "I'm now less than 100 miles from the farm. Spent all day running hills, splitting wood and digging out a monster stump. Capped it off with a dip in a seriously cold ass pool. Life is good :)"

One thing I know going into the weekend is that I have THE BEST SUPPORT CREW!! 

  • Starting with my son Jack, who at 12 years old is taking some time off school to come down and cheer his old man on. Sounds like lots of others have their kids coming as well, so hopefully Jack spends most of his timing running around and having adventures of his own!
  • Mike Kitchen, my high school wrestling teammate. Police officer. MMA fighter. One of the nicest, toughest people I know. Unbreakable. Driving down Thursday with Jack and me.
  • Brother James - my logistics genius. He is running the base camp and coordinating everything, as well as posting updates on this blog. My biggest booster from the minute I registered. Detouring from a business trip in Montreal to be there.
  • Bill McGill - my lifelong best friend. Also heading down from meetings in Montreal to spend the weekend supporting me on the trail. It was Bill who encouraged me to fundraise for POGO - which has resulted in over $4,200 being donated so far to that awesome organization helping kids deal with cancer.
  • Amanda Woodman - my awesome training partner. The very hardest workouts I have done in the past several months, Amanda is the only one who signed on for them all. Carrying bags of salt around a golf course in knee-deep snow, doing hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of burpees at a time, intervals to the point of puking. She is driving down Friday night to help out on the trail.
  • Jackie Mussel - enthusiastic adventure racer, coming down for the weekend to "do whatever I can to help". Jackie ran yesterday's Spartan Race in Milton, and is in great shape!
  • Carrie Adams - not just on my support team, but there to support all of the Mud Mafia, as well as her many friends around the Spartan Race crew.

I have no illusions about this race. I fully expect it to be the worst experience of my life so far. I also expect it to be the best. I am starting with significant foot injuries and an elbow requiring surgery this fall. While it was never going to be easy, this ups the pain quotient significantly. But it is just pain. The Buddha said "Pain is inevitable. Suffering is optional." Or as the equally wise Jason Jaksetic (my Mud Mafia teammate) says in this extraordinary video of him immersing himself in freezing water before going on a run, "It hurts and it's cold. But that doesn't mean anything other than the fact that it hurts and it's cold."

I am told that the hardest moments in the race come late at night, especially the second or third night, with no sleep, the body pushed well past its pre-imagined limits, when presented with mental challenges that at first seem impossible. So, what will get me through those moments of crisis? I have told my crew to expect that anytime things get very bad, whether due to physical pain or mental anguish, I am going to sit down wherever I am and close my eyes for 15 minutes. In silence. Their job is to make sure no one interrupts me and to let me know when the 15 minutes is up. During that time I will be thinking about these things ...

  • the hundreds of people who have encouraged me over the past several months
  • Heidi Hayes and her family who bravely faced her cancer for three long years, and won!
  • my kids telling their friends that their dad finished the Death Race, not that he signed up for it but quit when it got hard
  • the people who took time from their own busy lives to come down and support me
  • the 50+ people who donated to POGO on my behalf - each of whom is getting their own video thank you LIVE from the Death Race!
  • the countless people I can inspire by getting up and pressing on
  • my parents and the extraordinary gifts they have given me by way of genetics, upbringing, opportunities, attitude and unconditional love and support
  • the amazing Death Race friends I have made already and the feeling of being amongst the extraordinary few who have finished
  • and all of the time I HAVE quit things in the past ... businesses, campaigns, my marriage ... and my commitment that this Death Race is a line in the sand. I just turned 43. My life is realistically halfway over. I have been incredibly blessed so far, and have every opportunity to make the next 43 years even better for me and for the people around me. And the first thing I am going to do with this second half of my life is FINISH THE DEATH RACE.

Then I will stand up (or crawl if need be) and keep moving toward the finish line, wherever it may be.


This will be my last blog post before the race. (Okay, I might knock out one quick one when I get to Pittsfield). The next few days will be ridiculously busy; touching base with all of my clients and having everything well organized for my absence (Mark Rousseau, a great Realtor and friend, is covering for me while I am gone), a couple of wrestling practices, last minute chiropractic care, and prepping everything for the trip to Vermont.

As mentioned, James will be updating this blog during the race - hopefully with photos and video from the trail, the base camps, and all things Death Race! It is set-up to also automatically update my Facebook page at the same time, so you can follow there if you'd rather (though you will have to click through from there to the blog for the multimedia elements).

One last thing ... if you have not yet read about why I am fundraising for POGO (Pediatric Oncology Group of Ontario), please do at these two links ...
... and then click on this link to donate



  1. "Don't die." ;)

    Knock'em dead, you crazy bastard.

  2. Johnny - you are more of an inspiration than you know. You will finish the race - I have no doubt about that. Wish JT and I could be there to support you too... we will absolutely be cheering you on from Ohio and stalking your blog and facebook to see how you're doing!!!


  3. Heather and I will be cheering you on from Ohio. I really wanted to make the trip over to Vermont to cheer you on in person but our financial situation doesn't permit that at present. I hope your injuries stay in check, at least until after the race.

    No matter how the race goes, know that you are an inspiration to us and one of the single biggest reasons I've been so motivated and committed to changing my life over these last few months. Thank you.

  4. To the 43 year old man from a 42 year old man:

    Life is like a roll of toilet paper. The closer it gets to the end,
    the faster it goes.

    Give 'em hell John!!!

    Shawn W.