Saturday, June 16, 2012

Death Race Chronicles - Day 1 - Afternoon/Evening

Saturday, June 17th - 7:00am
posted by James Waite

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It was a busy Friday afternoon of almost non-stop activity, although none of it particularly gruelling.  There was a mandatory weigh-in at the top of the mountain between 1pm and 2pm, which required a hike of 15-20 minutes from the top of Tweed River Road, which was accessible by car.

As Johnny neared the top, those on the way down suggested not to rush as the line up was very long.  He was also warned not to curse, as there were several of the organizer's kids - each sporting a DR Volunteer shirt - milling around, and the penalty for cursing around them was burpees.

Shortly after summitting, a by-now-familiar and exhuberant "Johnny!" was called out by a fellow Death Racer from last year.  He informed Johnny that alumni were given preferential treatment and he was to move to the front of the line.  The weigh-in was done in secret, with Johnny reemerging a few moments later to begin the hike/drive back down to the Registration.

Registration took place between 2pm and 4pm, and Johnny arrived at 2:15 to a long line up.  After a brief scramble to rewrite the contents of his pack on an index card (original misplaced somehow), Johnny was processed and given the following instructions:
  • Sew your participant number (651) into the black compression shirt you were told to bring as mandatory gear, with letters at least 3" high
  • Hike towards the shed with the silver roof, then follow the trail until you reach Aimee Farm
  • Be at Aimee Farm by 6pm - the official start time of the 2012 Death Race

Shorlty into the trail, signs were posted on trees, with no explanation as to why, what their significance was or how they might (or might not) come into play throughout the race.  Not surprisingly, racers paused to write down, note, sketch, etc. the various instructions, sayings and pictures they encountered.  In total, there were close to 30 of them, some of which were clearly meant to instill fear ("Swim Test Ahead") or confusion ("Must Have Ticket").

A little over an hour later, the trail emptied out at Aimee Farm, to a beehive of activity.  On entering the base camp, racers were instructed that they needed to complete three tests: a Strength Test, a Fear Test and a Swimming Test.
  • Strength Test:  Split 10 logs into quarters (or more) and haul 0.5 km uphill to stack at the Aimee Lodge
  • Fear Test: Traverse a 30m culvert under the Interstate Highway (at any given point, 10-12 racers were in the culvert at the same time
  • Swimming Test: Swim a 20m round-trip in a cold mountain-fed pond

On completion of the tests, racers were instructed to "cut this", "move this", "tidy this", "trim this", etc.  Basically, they were berated if standing still in any way at all.

Shortly before 6 o'clock, all racers were called to gather at an area where several large ocean kayaks, lengths of very thick PVC pipe and a huge tire had been sitting the entire time.  Told to arrange themselves into roughly equal groups near one of these objects, they were then instructed to lift them - as a group - above their heads.  During the 10 minutes of standing with these objects held above them, race organizers and volunteers moved throughout and inspected the groups to make sure
that their item was fully aloft - not resting on their shoulders, on their head, etc.  At one point, Joe Desena introduced Chris Long, to a chorus of cheers when Joe announced that Chris was down to 312 lbs from his highest weight of over 700 lbs.  He then revealed that there are 39 tasks in this year's race, but that no-one was allowed to or considered finished until Chris' weight was 300 lbs or lower.

All the while, the racers continued to support the weight above their heads, and it was becoming clear that the physical toll on the arms was significant.  However, with not much else going on, the question that was naturally forming in many spectators' minds was "How long are they going to have to stand there like that?"  Standing there like that?  Not long.  Doing other things like that?  Well...using a megaphone, Joe Desena announced the plan for the racers:
Keeping your item above your head, you have to move as a group across the road to the pond, where you will set the kayaks/pipe/tire down.  At that point you will all get back into the pond (where the swim test had been done) and retrieve one of the hundreds of ping pong balls that will be floating.  Each has a number, and that will be your group number.  Once you are assigned a group, you will get back out of the pond, gear up, and once again lift a kayak/pipe/tire above your head.  We are then headed out on a 25 mile hike through the woods, during which time those items cannot touch the ground.  There will be additional challenges.  You will do many burpees.  Most of you will quit.

The group then moved en masse across the interstate, with traffic stopped several times to allow the different groups to cross.  Once the items were set down, all racers sprinted back across the road to gather their gear and return to re-enter the frigid pond, which Andy pointed out was absolutely disgusting and likely festering with e-Coli given the amount of ducks, birds and other animals on the farm that used the pond.  Andy then officially welcomed the racers to the 2012 Death Race, reminding everyone of the Peak Races slogan: People Inspiring People.  When the microphone was handed over to Joe, who reiterated the rules of race (do as instructed), Chris and the target weight of 300 lbs, Andy walkd around to the far side of the pond to dump in a bucket of ping pong balls.  Pandemonium broke out as the racers began swimming over to retrieve a number and then called out loudly to try and form up into groups, as instructed by Joe.

Once re-formed into groups and team numbers verified, Joe then called each group out of the pond one by one and assigned them an item.  After the kayaks, pipes and tire were once again hoisted high, Andy led the way up the steep service road that served as the entrance to a series of roads, switchbacks, trails and paths that form a 25 mile loop which would punish the racers for the next 12-14 hours.

UPDATE @ 4:45am
  • Peter, a race organizer, gave a brief update to some of the support crew that were awake and gathering around the fresh coffee pots
  • The group is several hours behind the projected pace
  • Racers are still hiking with the gear above their heads
  • The first task, at Chittondon Reservoir, will be to re-gravel and grade a very long driveway, using the 5-gallon buckets on the mandatory gear list
  • After that, it is expected that cold water swimming or kayaking will be required
  • Given how far behind they are, they might leave the gear so they can jog out (8-10 miles)
  • He suggested support crew go to sleep, then enjoy the area attractions and maybe go golfing, as they wouldn't be seeing the racers for another 8-10 hours
Reports from DQ'ed Racers
  • 40-50 people have dropped out, most because their water supply ran out
  • No provisions/restocking along the way, despite assurances that "water is available at the next checkpoint" - each checkpoint has simply been a random order drop all the gear and do burpees until ordered to resume the hike under load
  • Those who dropped out had to hike themselves out 5-6 hours back to camp (no guides, no rides), including one guy who dislocated his shoulder when he slipped backwards in muck as the group stumbled and dropped the pipe they'd been carrying - directly onto his shoulder
  • Lee, a race veteran, tore his ACL before midnight and lay waiting for several hours until two people could drive as near as possible and then hike in to get him and carry him out
  • At least one racer has been taken to the hospital - recovering ok

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