Saturday, November 30, 2013

10 Things I Want My Children to Understand About Exercise, Health and Body Image

What is a perfect body anyway?

Every day, we all receive conflicting messages. Messages on how we should dress, what we should eat, even messages on how we should look on the outside and feel on the inside. As a parent, helping our kids sift through the minefield of messages they take in at school, through the media and even unwitting family and friends is down right overwhelming. As I watch my kids receive these cues about their bodies, exercise and health and from these external sources, I feel more and more compelled to give them a little advice.

Here are the 10 things that I hope that my children will remember that I have taught them about fitness, health and their bodies:

1) Don't allow someone else to define what your perfect body is.
Who do you allow to determine what your perfect body should look like? Glamour Magazine? Marketing agencies? I am sure if you asked many professionals who use their bodies as their livelihood, they would not agree on what a perfect body is. Even amongst elite athletes, I would guess there would be disagreement. An Olympic sprinter and an Olympic gymnast have very different needs for their body, thus different ideals. What do you want your body to do for you? Complete a marathon? Take you to the summit of every mountaintop in your state? Backpack through Europe? Your body is your vehicle in life. If you want it to take you through life to neat places and do neat things, your ideal body is one that is prepared to do so. If you don't mind spending life on the couch with a litany of medications to get through the day, there is a perfect body for that too.

Where do you want your body to take you?

2)  I know you are watching me.
I know you watch me when I work out. I know you watch what I eat. I know you watch me everyday and learn from my behavior. I want you to know that I love myself, with all of my imperfections and talents. I want the same for you.
The kids having a crack at the traverse wall at a Spartan Race. Turns out, they want to be like me.

Spartan Fenway race
3) Know the difference between real food and junk food.
You are what you eat. Just like any machine, if you fuel your body with junk on a regular basis, what you will get from it will be junk. Know that real food does't come in packages.

4) Avoid self-deprecating conversations.
I have never understood the custom, but it is seems as though there is an expectation for reciprocity of self-criticism, often with near strangers. The conversation often begins with "oh, how I dislike my...(insert body part)". The second person responds with a criticism of themselves, often harsher than the opening comment. I have seen this escalate, or to be resolved with reassuring commentary from each party toward the other. I have no idea what social role this behavior plays. There is no good time or place for self-loathing. Don't waste your life worrying about some silly little imperfections that bear no role in your health. Every time we say something negative about ourselves, we are one step closer to believing it. If this type of conversation is the only way to make friends, find different people to hang out with.

5) You will only be given one body.
Your body is a privilege. The sole responsibility of taking care of it lies on you and only you. Don't expect that it is someone else's job to decide what is right for you. Take ownership.

6) I don't go to the gym because I ate cheesecake.
Working out isn't a one-time event. I don't workout because I think I am fat. Fitness is part of me: a habit that I do everyday because it makes me feel good. It is as simple as that. Enjoy the piece of cheesecake. Enjoy the run. Enjoy the journey.

Do what you love. Love what you do.

7) Don't be afraid to push yourself.
Life should be about fun, but sometimes fun is a result of hard work and sweat. Nothing is impossible: no dream is silly. The best of life is always worth working for and is not always found on the path of least resistance.

8) No one defines your limits but you.
It is ok to determine where your own boundaries are, but they should never be defined by anyone else.

9) Train to your weaknesses, but don't obsess about your imperfections.
The best way to improve at something is to take on what we are naturally weakest at. If you are long distance runner and short distances are your kryptonite, engage in more sprint work during training. With that said, a long run can be therapeutic and should always be part of your training regimen for no other reason that it feels good. When you feel strong, you are strong.

10) Don't be a bystander.
Death racing is not crazy. Neither are having Olympic dreams or wanting to run 100 miles. Dream the biggest stage you can imagine and then go for it. I hope you find something in life that you love and choose to go for it.

"...And when you get the choice to sit it out or dance, I hope you dance."- L Womack
...and never stay on the dock when you can jump into the ocean.

" One final paragraph of advice: do not burn yourselves out. Be as I am - a reluctant enthusiast... a part-time crusader, a half-hearted fanatic. Save the other half of yourselves and your lives for pleasure and adventure. It is not enough to fight for the land; it is even more important to enjoy it. While you can. While its still here. So get out there and hunt and fish and mess around with your friends, ramble out yonder and explore the forests, climb the mountains, bag the peaks, run the rivers, breathe deep of that yet sweet and lucid air, sit quietly for a while and contemplate the precious stillness, the lovely, mysterious and awesome space. Enjoy yourselves, keep your brain in your head and your head firmly attached to the body, the body active and alive, and I promise you this much; I promise you this one sweet victory over our enemies, over those desk-bound men and women with their hearts in a safe deposit box, and their eyes hypnotized by desk calculators. I promise you this; you will outlive the bastards."- Edward Abbey

live on the edge a little...

Sunday, November 17, 2013

Fenway Sprint- How do we measure success anyway? Also another chance for you to win free US Spartan race!

Dad and Yaz. As a kid, I never could pronounce his name.
"Do not go gentle into that good night. Rage, rage against the dying of the light." Dylan Thomas.

Rather than braving the World's Toughest Mudder this year- a race that promised to be cold, miserable, and grueling- I opted to return from my injury at the Fenway Park Spartan Sprint. Just two weeks after the Red Sox World Series win, this was guaranteed to be a more pleasant return to the sport of self-inflicted punishment that I have missed so much for the last 2.5 months.
yeah, that is the World Series trophy. Bummed I missed that.

What I love so much about the Fenway race is the energy. Rex Sox fans and huge masses of people flooding into Fenway Park from the city of Boston (over 8,000 competitors in one day) guarantee a day of people-watching like no other. Men in Superman thongs,

While it might appear that the dude on the left is... well.. inappropriate- 
I am pretty sure this is a case of a misplaced, synthetic Red Sox beard. Photo Laura Messner
bearded ladies, superhero outfits and disguised superstars
(Andy Weinberg's daughter
 caught up with  Red Sox 3rd baseman
in his Spartan debut disguised in
body paint- Photo Sloan Weinberg) 
all guarantee that the day can never be boring. The race is FAST. Up stadium stairs jumping over dozens and dozens of rows of bungy cords suspended 12 inches off the floor, dozens of plyometric exercises squeezed between traditional Spartan monkey bars, rope climbs, sandbag carrys and wall ascents provide a high intensity frenzy that takes the athlete over every inch of the stadium in under an hour.

Additionally, this year was something special for me. My dad, who had planned to come to the World Championships in Vermont back in September before I had to bag out, finally got a chance to tag along with me to witness the madness. To add to the coolness of it all, dad has been a huge Red Sox fan as long as I can remember but has not been to Fenway Park in over 30 years. This event was one for the history books as far as I was concerned.

The race was as perfect as I had hoped. Even though I am still recovering from my injury, I made up for any lack in fitness with determination. After ball slams, water carries, stairs, walls, and more stadium stairs... I nailed the erg (rowing machine) that plagued me last year. Last year, this obstacle seemed unsurmountable to me. What I have learned since then is that simply rowing back and forth quickly does nothing to make the machine "row" faster. To row faster, you have to pull harder. Forcibly. While I suspect I was probably pretty close to the 2 minute/500 meters limit, I'll never know as I did not receive the 30 burpee penalty at this obstacle. I did miss the spear throw, but somehow I have come to expect that. Self-fulfilling prophecy, I suppose.

I finished the race feeling great. A perfect end to a perfect day. Oh, wait, it was still before 8am. But a perfect ending anyway... until I made the only mistake I made all day. I checked the results before I left.

When I entered my name and bib number hoping for a top-10 finish, the computer screen came back with a placing of 18th elite female. Eighteenth? How could this be? I replayed my race in my head. I ran as fast as I could. I nailed every obstacle save the spear toss. I executed each of the plyometric exercises with precision and strong form. Eighteenth place? This was my worst placing EVER in a Spartan Race. For a moment, I felt like the day had been a failure.

I shook it off and dad and I went about our business of being tourists. Pictures on the Red Sox dugout. Dad imitating Yaz outside of Fenway Park. Being with one of my favorite people on our own adventure together unlike any we had had in years quickly brought me back to my happiest place and we enjoyed our day together as if I had won. But I didn't want to think about the race.
Red Sox fans out in full force

But didn't I win? I mean, I ran my best, nailed the strength part of the contest, and kept my focus in an all-out-sprint effort, which is always my kryptonite. I was SEVEN minutes faster than I was last year (in which I placed 7th place in the event). It may be that this year's course was shorter? Likely, it was. However, my effort was nearly 2 1/2 minutes faster per mile than last year, so clearly, I HAD improved (last year I took two penalties since I failed the erg challenge). In comparison, the winner of last year's event was only about 2.5 minutes faster or 40 sec/mile faster this year. Clearly, my impression that I had improved was not totally misguided.

But why did I allow myself to determine my own success relative to the competition? Is being beaten a failure if you have improved? This begs the question, would I rather win a race because the competition never made it to the starting line or have a PR and be beaten? Which progresses me more as an athlete?

Well, I wasn't prepared to answer that myself until the following day. One of my favorite OCR friends and 2X reigning World's Toughest Mudder, Junyong Pak, was beaten for the first time in 3 years at his title event. He didn't fall short, in fact, he went further than he ever had on a course that was arguably harder. He simply was bettered by someone who either had better training, a better plan, or was just better for the day. It was as simple as that.

Do I respect Junyong less because someone out there beat him? Absolutely not. His athletic endeavor is no less impressive to me than if he had been untouchable.  I know him well enough to know that his concessions to the winner after the event are genuine and honest. His sportsmanship, however, is one that may be unmatched in the sport and for that I am in awe.
Junyong, conceding the win.

So, it looks like if I am going to be in the top 10, I am going to need to step up my game as more athletes rise to the challenge. But really, I have no one to answer to but me.

And I killed it this weekend.

So, if you haven't raced a Spartan Race, or are totally hooked already, don't miss the airing of the World Championships on NBC Dec 7 from 4-5 pm. Also, enter here for my free giveaway for any US Spartan Race in 2013 or 2014 @

Spartan Race giveaway raffle

Giveaway ends Sat Nov 23, 2013.

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Spartan Ultrabeast: Waiting for the fog to lift.

For each new morning with its light,
For rest and shelter of the night,
For health and food, for love and friends,
For everything Thy goodness sends.
~ Ralph Waldo Emerson
(- photo taken from the Stratton Brook Pond hut at sunrise)

The only thing I hate more than failing is not trying. In fact, I have little tolerance for excuses. I know most people are well-intentioned, but find it infinitely frustrating when people feign passion for something but flake out on game day. "I don't have time to train." "I have an injury that I don't want to aggravate." "I don't have the money." What all of these things have in common is that they indicate a failure to commit: an unwillingness to be vulnerable to the possibility of failure.

One thing I have learned about myself is that I am a little stubborn and tend to swim upstream. While most people fear vulnerability, exhaustion and failure, I embrace it. When most people consider quitting, I push through. While others wonder why someone would want to suffer needlessly, I seek ways to push a little harder. And I love it. I care very little about boundaries. Boundaries are only set by those who want an excuse to quit. I worry less about what I can't do and focus more on what I can.

Going into this fall's Spartan World Championship Ultrabeast, I felt confident. I had trained hard over the summer and knew I was well-prepared. Having completed the event in 2012 successfully, I knew where I needed to be stronger and how to improve my stamina for the 10-11 hour effort that surely would be required for the event. My dad and I planned the details of our trip to Vermont together, which would be the first time he had watched me race since college. I was beyond excited.

Then, in an instant, things changed.

Two weeks before the event, a simple unsuspecting hit in a strong hydraulic on a rafting trip led to a collision with two other helmets: one to the front of my bright yellow helmet and the other to the back. In the immediate aftermath of the collision, I didn't  feel all that bad: a little angry at the tactics of the guide, but otherwise OK. It wasn't until hours later when I arrived at home that I knew that I had taken more than just a little hit and that something was very wrong.

The days that followed are a bit of a blur. I slept for hours upon hours, fumbled through the workday taking naps whenever I could sneak away. I avoided lights, loud spaces, TV's and computers. After 4 or 5 days, holding out hope that I would be able to return to play in time for the World Championships, I began to take short walks in the afternoons. It was not until the 7th day that I was forced to wrestle with a decision where I would have to consider the possibility of what seemed unthinkable: quitting the race.

Completely paralyzed by the notion of quitting something I knew I was fully capable of, I began to panic. I considered racing with 1/2 effort (after all, I had been injured before and always found a way to work around it). I considered putting off the decision longer allowing for a possible recovery in the final days before the race. In the end, I was not capable of making the decision. Instead, I turned to a friend with a lot of experience coaching elite-level athletes. I pretended that I needed his advice. As I knew he probably would, he reminded me of the seriousness of a brain injury and helped me to put into perspective the gravity of taking a risk with my brain. He was also the first in 7 days to tell me that I looked like shit. I know now what he knew then: what I needed was permission to be weak. He let me off the hook. I needed permission to quit.

In the weeks that followed, I stayed home while the races went on without me. I watched the fall go by while I disconnected from my family, work and the community of obstacle racers that had become a regular part of my daily life. Six full weeks went by without a workout, hike, or run. Suffice to say, I have had some
I make a mean salsa. Who knew?
time on my hands to reflect without the distractions of 
computers, TV, phones, or even friends. In these 6 weeks, I have finally realized the qualities that I admire in others. I am so indebted to the kindness, selflessness, and love that those around me have shown me. I have learned the real meaning of gratitude and humility and that my unwillingness to step back on my own accord showed a lack of either.

For so many days after this accident I felt unlucky. Wrong place, wrong time I told myself. Today, I realize how lucky I am that I will recover from my accident while so many other people don't. I have now returned to my workouts with renewed vigor and enthusiasm simply for the love of sport and a lifestyle of fitness.
Although there are many reasons I am drawn to endurance obstacle racing, probably the most profound is that I learn something new from each race I do. The Ultrabeast was no exception, just delivered in a different way. I know now that I am even strong enough to quit.

Stan, always grateful for a good walk.

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Amesbury Sprint- Triumph and Camaraderie

"People fail to get along because they fear each other; they fear each other because they don't know each other; they don't know each other because they have not communicated with each other." - Martin Luther King Jr.

Carrabassett Valley Academy kids representing at the Amesbury Spartan sprint.
This weekend's Amesbury Spartan Sprint was more than just another race for me. It was a memorable event filled with challenges, surprises and great people. I came with hopes of a little more practice on Spartan obstacles for some of the upcoming endurance challenges and left with a new sense of renewed energy for the sport of obstacle racing.

My day started at 5 am with a wakeup on an amazingly comfortable featherbed couch at my aunt and uncle's  house in Gorham, Maine, about 1 1/2 hours from the venue in Amesbury (I should add that the featherbed couch is worthy of an entirely separate post). I shook off the urge to stay in bed and made my way south while sun made it's way over the horizon as a thick layer of fog hung on to the lowlands and rivers. As the sun's rays blanketed the August landscape, I began to feel the energy of what would be an exciting day.

I arrived at Amesbury just in time for a quick warm up and visit with some of my Spartan friends. My first heat of the day, the elite heat, went off at 8 am as planned. While I enjoy the shorter obstacle racing distances, my long distance training has certainly taken its toll on my short game. My personal goal for the day was simply to focus on being uncomfortable. The idea of a sprint distance, after all, isn't to feel like I can maintain the effort all day. This would not be easy for me.

For the most part, mission accomplished. Despite the temptation to ease into my familiar comfortable pace, I made a deliberate effort to push my pace harder with the knowledge that the effort would likely last less than an hour. Where I continue to struggle is slowing my heart rate quickly for focus on the obstacles. This is responsible for the vast majority of my spear throw misses, and delivered as usual on this day. Part poor technique, part failure to bring myself down fast enough to focus, I have missed this obstacle on all efforts save one. This was no exception, but thankfully, the only obstacle that would give me any trouble.
Me, emerging from the mud at the end of the elite heat.

In the end, the result was my best sprint distance yet. I was greeted at the finish line with hugs from the amazing Chris Davis and Andi Hardy, which made the finish just a little more special. With an age group win and 6th overall female finish, I am thrilled to see my shorter distance effort pay off. While I can't say that I finished feeling like dropping to the ground, I am happy to say that I was grateful that my next heat wouldn't begin until noon.

Maria, Me, Sam, Sean, Briggs, Matt and Max before the race.

The second heat of the day was the one I that would prove to transform the day from great to amazing. Six of my students from Carrabassett Valley Academy had decided to join in the fun for a day of Spartan racing. For today's race, the kids would compete in the Open event, meaning that they would compete against the field of over 4,600 finishers and 821 teams. We started the morning with some fun in the Air National Guard pull up challenge a little warm up on the turf. My original plan was to run with the kids in their heat and provide assistance and support along the way. It was evident early on, however, that I was gassed enough from round 1 of the day that I would be rendered useless to our kids, as they are all talented athletes. As the gun went off and all six kids disappeared over the first hill, I decided that my adventure would be a little different than the one I had planned.

Although I have done a half-dozen or so Spartan style obstacle races, this was the first time I had run with no plan: no companion, no agenda, and with no regard to time or placement. I was free to cover the course on a whim, take my time when I wanted to, and stop to chat or help as I pleased. Always having some kind of distraction or focus, I never before realized what I have missed in all of these races:  a chance to glimpse the worlds of the thousands of other people on the course, each on their own journey on that day. Along the way, I made new friends. I had the privilege of helping others when they needed a hand and heard the stories of what brought them out to a Spartan Race. I pulled two people out of waist deep, black mud. I got to help Steve-o Opie Bones (whom I had met at a Death Race) encourage one of his teammates who had taken several nasty falls on the slippery wally to give it one more shot after she had decided to quit: she made it with two more attempts. I came across Nele
Nele and Reload Fitness getting ready for their heat.
Schulz, a fellow Death Racer, with her team Reload Fitness. Despite a suspected stress fracture, Nele was part of a team showing an unwavering commitment to help a disabled friend and teammate complete the entire course. The group dynamic was powerful and made me proud to be amongst the family of Spartans who don't leave people behind. I helped a dozen people complete the inclined wall obstacle and waited with an injured athlete for EMS to arrive. I watched a fellow Spartan fall from the top of the rope climb and emerge from the swampy water with a smile on his face. I convinced two guys to let a woman help them over the 8-foot wall after they had made several unsuccessful attempts on their own. On this lap, I witnessed courage, leadership, fear, composure, triumph and humility. Some of these people I know, some were strangers. All were part of making this day remarkable. I am pleased to say that I finally slowed down to take in all that I have missed.

I arrived in the festival area to the sight of 6 mud caked smiling familiar faces, all of whom blew my
Matt and Briggs celebrating a great race.
socks off with an effort of true Spartans. Each of them had their own stories of success on the course (2   of them hit the spear throw that continues to plague me), failures and burpees, and stories of how they
were empowered by others around them on the course. The final results revealed that all of the kids finished in the top 10% of the entire field of Open competitors and the Carrabassett Valley Academy team represented with a finish of 18th out of 821 teams. I couldn't be more proud of these guys and look forward to doing it all over again when given the chance.

So for this one, I say thanks to everyone for giving me the privilege of sharing your day and stories. Next time, I'll be sure to pay more attention.

Happy trails.

Thursday, August 8, 2013

Spartans on NBC & Free Spartan Race Giveaway!

In the world of obstacle racing, today was a pretty big day. Reebok Spartan race has managed to do what no other obstacle racing organizing has been able to do thus far: bring  mainstream obstacle racing to TV. Spartan Race has partnered with NBC Sports to bring obstacle racing to television. While this is certainly not a new idea, Reebok Spartan race has succeeded where others have failed. NBC will be filming 8 professional ahtletes and 4 everyday Spartans at the Spartan Race World Championships in Killington, VT on September 21 for a 90 minuteTV special to air October 19, 2013. 

In addition, Spartan Race has launched a Get On TV campaign in which people will submit their story about how training and racing in Spartan Race has transformed their life for a chance to be featured on their special. For those of you who have exciting stories, here is your chance to get in on the fun. CLick on the casting link below to learn how to get started.

Click here to learn more about NBC's casting call.

In addition to creating a new opportunity to increase participation and viewership of an emerging sport, this announcement is also exciting as it is the next step in creating a standardized, legitimate competitive sport. Look out world, here we come! 

What do you think about this announcement? Do you think this will benefit the athletes in obstacle racing? Will it be interesting to the general viewing public? Share your thoughts!

In light of this announcement, it seems like a good time to invite you to get off your couch. I am giving away a FREE ENTRY to any upcoming SPARTAN RACE- click on the link below to enter. 

Hope to see you there!

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Get out of the gym! Try this fun workout that you can do outside with no gym equipment.

Get out for your workout. Find a campground, a park, a trail or even your backyard to enjoy beautiful summer and fall workouts outside!
"I went into the woods because I wished to live deliberately" - Henry David Thoreau.

On those beautiful summer days, there is no reason to be stuck in a hot, dingy gym when you can get your workout done outside. Here is the second installment in alternative workouts that can be done anywhere. All you need for this one is a rock (or other object with some heft to it). I recommend choosing a rock that you can squat-to-overhead-press about 15 times before feeling fatigued. This will likely range from about 10 lbs to 35 lbs depending on your age, size, gender, fitness, etc. If you start out with the wrong size, you can always adjust the weight appropriately.

Start out with an easy warm up jog- about 15 minutes.

1) 100 meter forward rock throw. Starting with the rock at your chest, squat down and jump upward while pushing the rock (and release) forward. Jog to rock, repeat. Remember to bend down and pick up the rock using your legs to lift, not your back. After several reps, improper lifting can put strain on your back.
**Advanced- complete the rock throw uphill.
Jog back to start after 100m and take a 2 minute rest.

2) 30m burpee broad jump. These are just what they sound like. Complete a burpee (with full pushup) and then complete a broad jump forward. I find generally 30 m is about 11 or 12 cycles.
A modification to make this a little easier would be to eliminate the push up (instead completing a squat thrust in place of the full burpee).
2 minute rest

3) 100 bodyweight squats. Try to complete as many as possible without resting. Minimize rest between reps when rest is needed.
Feet should be shoulder width (or even a little more) apart.  

4) 20 reverse rock throws. Starting at chest height (palms up), throw the rock overhead behind you and release. Tighten your abdominal muscles to ensure you are engaging your core muscles to do this. If you are concerned that you might cluck yourself in the head with the rock, choose a lighter rock.
2 min rest.

5) 30 clean and press with rock. Start with rock just above the ground in squatting position. As you move to standing, bring rock up through chest and finish with arms extended overhead as you come to a full standing position.

6) 50 bodyweight squats (again, not a typo). Try to complete as many as possible without resting within set, otherwise, minimize rest between reps when rest is needed.
* If you feel you need a little more challenge, grab your rock!
1 minute rest.

7) 50 Step ups with rock. Use a bench, stable log, or rock and step up with one leg at a time finishing each rep with full extension and both feet on top of object at the top of the step-up (without locking out knee). 25 reps with each leg.

2 minutes rest.

Repeat cycle 2-5 times.

Train Hard. Play hard. Be awesome. Happy trails.

Summer is fleeting. Don't let it pass you by.

Friday, June 28, 2013

2013 Death Race recap. Part III (of 3): Leave It to Me To Be The First To Almost Actually Die At The Death Race

Reservoir punishment. Photo Pittsfield General Store.

"Life begins at the end of your comfort zone." 
-Neale Donald Walsch
The swim was a 1 mile loop that went nearly across the reservoir and back. Lifejackets were mandatory for all racers, which turned out to be an epic source of chafe for many of us. Personally, I enjoyed the swim. Being able to move in the water made it seem much less frigid, despite the fact that my body temperature had dropped significantly before the swim commenced. After a second mile loop, each racer spun a wheel to determine their fate: another swimming lap, permission to head back to Pittsfield, or a DSQ. I was fortunate enough to be able to return to Pittsfield without a third mile- at this time I was also informed that my punishment had still not been served: I would have to return the long way back over Bloodroot Mountain. After changing into dry clothes, I knew Stacie would soon be handed the same fate, so after she changed and packed up we were off to Bloodroot. It was at this point in the race that I had real doubt that I could finish the race. The last I had heard, the next cutoff would be in Pittsfield at 2 pm. Nearly 8am already, I doubted this would be possible. The first few hours of this hike were the most difficult for me: not physically, but wrestling with the idea that I had taken myself out of the event when we took that wrong turn the night before. I know many people like to say that that the Death Race is unfair. Sometimes, it isn’t fair. But this was my own fault. I shouldn’t have lost sight of the group. I had no one else to blame. I tried not to let negative thoughts take over, but they were there. After covering a few of the miles fighting our own self doubt, Stacie and I decided that our only option was to hustle. As we covered the miles through some of the sloppiest, muddy, buggy terrain, our spirits lifted and we both felt confident that the unknown was not to be feared.

Bloodroot Mountain took its toll on many racer's feet.
Photo matt Davis.
We would cover the 20+ miles back to Pittsfield through knee-deep shoe sucking mud, over Bloodroot mountain in the baking sun with 40ish pound packs and swarms of tiny black flies feeding off of us in just about 6.5 hours. The only times we stopped were to access food in our packs and to take care of our feet. Stopping for proper foot care along the trail would pay back huge dividends later in the day when continuous thunderstorms would plague us once again. Afraid of a 2 pm time cutoff, I covered the last 5 miles in a light jog- this would be where Stacie and I would cover the remainder of the race separately. I had no doubt that she would make it without me. 

When we arrived at the next challenge, I learned that the cutoff time was actually 6 pm. Having made the cutoff at only 2:30, things were pretty comfortable. Our challenge was to begin by retrieving 8 logs from a wood pile and split and stack them. The catch: log retrieval required a full submersion through a mud and fertilizer pit under a wall.

That mud was really effective at messing with contact lenses.
Photo Peak Races
After splitting the wood, our ankles would be lashed together and we would have to hop up a steep hill about 1/3 mile to a memorization task that would require correct answered at the bottom. Failure to answer the question correctly meant another trip up the mountain with ankles lashed. Breaking the ankle straps meant beginning back at the wood task. It took a surprisingly long time to hop up the mountain. My calves were shot requiring frequent rest breaks. When I arrived at the top, my contact lenses were so caked in mud that I had to wait for other racers to move away from the board so I could see the tiny writing. I studied the board carefully the "Bones Dice Game”- memorizing every detail from the type of plastic used to hold the notecard and it’s dimensions. On my way back down the mountain, I nearly became the first racer to ever die in the Death Race: certainly not the way I had envisioned my day ending.
More wood splitting. This time I forgot my gloves.
Photo Valerie  Moreno-Hardison.

I must not have noticed the approach of the epic thunderstorm that was about to swallow up the little town of Pittsfield, but when it hit, it was something I will never forget. The winds blew in without warning and the tops of the 125-150 ft. tall pines began violently swaying above me, cracking as they were tossed about by the storm that raged above. With my ankles lashed together, I surveyed the area to see where to go in the event of some kind of trouble. No obvious safe haven jumped out at me. The rains poured down and the wind became more intense until finally I heard the unmistakable crack of a tree somewhere above me that was going to come down. Another racer just above me on the trail yelled for me to get out of the way, but with the driving rain and grit in my eyes I could not distinguish which tree was the biggest danger or in which direction it would soon fall. I dropped one of my walking sticks and scrambled to
Solo still smiling in one of the downpours.
Photo Matt Davis
the downhill side of the largest tree I could find. I hoped that if the tree came down on this one it would be strong enough to remain standing anyway. Within seconds, a large tree above me broke about 50 feet from the ground creating a widowmaker across the trail. A few moments later, the other racer that was with me (I wish I knew his name, but I was too frazzled), started down the trail in the driving rain and wind. I begged him to stay with me for just a few more moments until the storm had passed and the danger was gone. He somewhat reluctantly agreed, if nothing more than to humor me. No more than 10 seconds later, the tree broke a second time and smashed across the trail about 15 feet below us, ironically on top of the walking stick I had abandoned just moments before. 

I clung to the tree for what seemed like a long time before venturing on down the hill. Despite an uncontrollable shake in my left arm, I composed myself long enough to correctly answer the memorization task, gather my gear and head for another 5 mile round trip up to the summit of Joe’s mountain. At the summit of the mountain in Shrek’s (Joe's) cabin was a stove.

We would later be asked questions about the stove to ensure that we had actually made the trip. Despite the monsoon that had now completely overtaken Pittsfield, I snapped a few photos of the stove and returned through a torrent of water as it washed out many of the beautiful landscaped stone stairs we had worked on during the first day and night of the event. I then headed up the road to the iron mine to collect my final set of poker chips- a round trip hike of an additional 6 miles.
View from inside the iron Mine. Photo Peak Races.
I believe there was another time cutoff here at the mine at 10 pm. I arrived around 8 pm or so, but felt good and continued to move at a steady slow jog regardless. 

The final task of the day was to return to Riverside farm where we would endure poker PT. Poker PT required each athlete to select a card from a deck of cards and then complete the exercise indicated by the number on the playing card. For example, and Ace was 100 cartwheels (I remember that clearly because I got that one twice), other exercises included a 5 minute plank, 100 squats, 50 flip-flops, 50 Turkish get-ups, 100 bent knee sit v-ups, a bear crawl, a swim in a cold pond, 500 jumping jacks, hill repeats, and others that I can’t possibly recall. A PT session was concluded when 13 cards had been drawn and exercises completed. I am not sure how long this all took, probably nearly 1.5-2 hours or so. 
Amelia and I after finishing up the final challenge. Four women in the top 10 finishers, proud to represent the ladies! Photo Matt Davis

At 10:30(ish) I completed my PT session and was told to return in the morning at 6 am to the casino with my tuxedo for poker. This was about 62 hours from when my journey had begun and I was ready for bed. Ironically, I had felt great until the second set of cartwheels, somewhere in the middle of my PT session. Somehow, the cartwheel managed to hurt everywhere: from my hands to my toes. At the hotel, I attempted to shower, but found no hot water in the shower at the hotel, so I slept anyway. I felt kinda horrible about what the pillow looked like in the morning when I got up. Oops.
My apologies to housekeeping at the Swiss Farm Inn.

The casino was a bit of a circus. Those of us who had collected poker chips at every challenge were sent into the casino one by one first to play a game of hi-lo against the dealer. After losing 5
Waiting outside the casino to see what was to come next.
 Photo Courtney DeSena
consecutive games of hi-lo at the the barbed wire crawl, I was pretty sure this one was rigged too. While I lost my first chip (my yellow chip from the swim) to dealer Chris Davis on my first try, I beat him handedly in an all or nothing second round to collect my finishers skull. 

In the days since the race I have heard all sorts of confusion about what went on in that casino. Evidently, there were some dirty dealers. I don’t know. What I do know is that this weekend delivered all that was promised. Once again, Spartan Death Race, you forced me to look beyond what I see everyday and into the depths of the human condition. Well played, sirs.

Gotta love Amelia's tux. The top hat was a nice touch.

I conclude this post with another from fellow Death Racer Will Bowden.

Life changes...evolves. I was reminded of this concept several times during the race. It comes to, and all situations therein, are as simplistic or complicated as we allow or want them to be. We can stop, pause or break...or we can decide to push on, when circumstances appear unbearable and impossible. For, there is always a way...if we want it. 

But, there is no shame in coming face to face with a boundary and choosing not to cross it. Showing up is amazing all in itself. 

This race was the epitome of life. For life, is not smooth, nor planned. it is how we respond that tells all. There are those who will understand, those who will eventually learn and those who (unfortunately) will never get it. 

This race was a game changer for me. Any situation that brings you to your mental or physical boundaries (or both) and allows you to decide if you want to hold short or cross them and create a new boundary will always change the core of your being. The Death Race did just that. 

Life is awesome...always. I will always remember the power of a smile as I continue this journey. 

"I'm pretty tired... I think I'll go home now."- Forrest Gump

Ready for a nap. Who could ask for a better crew? Photo Christian Hrab