Sunday, November 18, 2012

JFK 50 - A Day To Remember

Yesterday was the 50th running of the JFK 50 Mile Ultramarathon, and my 5th time at the race that I love so much. The opportunity to spend the day on a beautiful trail, with lots of interesting like-minded people, and the accomplishment of crossing that finish line once again; what’s a little temporary pain? For the most part, this blog posting is not going to be about my race. I’ll give a brief report, but then I want to tell you about a truly, inspiring person that circumstance had me cross paths with.

I should tell you that I did not know I would be in the race until Monday, five days ago at race time. I received a call that I had a spot if I wanted it. It took me about ten seconds to so ok. I texted Nicole to get her thoughts, she texted back “Go ahead, you deserve it”. Little did I know that this would have a double meaning. My long run recently had been 8 miles. Fifty miles? No problem. Hah!

The weather was perfect, couldn’t have asked for better. At pre-race, I connected with my Team RWB teammates and we posed for a couple of photos. The first part of the race is on the Appalachian Trail, hilly and rocky. It is actually my favorite part of the course. I was running with a teammate, a Green Beret soldier from Missouri. We pushed each other and chatted. We were doing a fantastic good pace and I was already thinking about the Guinness I would have later that evening. That is when I found myself flat on the ground. I had hit a rock wrong, heard and felt snaps in my ankle, and hit the ground hard. A small crowd had quickly gathered around me to offer help. Pain was shooting up my leg but I told them, and my friend, to please continue on, that I would be ok. I lied but I did not want to slow anyone down. The aid station was about a mile away so I got up and ran/walked to it. The next aid station after that was seven miles away. I decided to push forward, maybe the ankle would loosen up. It did not.

About two miles in to this section I needed to lean against a tree to take the weight off my foot. It hurt like hell and was swelling up fast. I felt a hand on my shoulder. “You ok buddy?” It was a fellow Team RWB’er. I told him yes. He looked at me and suggested we walk for a while. I told him to go ahead and that I would be fine but he insisted. We introduced ourselves and set out to run/walk/hobble. His name was Jim W. and his story is one of the most inspiring I have ever heard.

Jim is a wounded veteran. He is a true warrior. In 2003 he was a combat platoon leader operating in the southern section of the Sunni Triangle. A difficult assignment.  In September 2003 he was hit by an IED and later struck by a grenade. Upon his return to the states, his physical and mental health were spiraling out of control. He became his own worst enemy. One morning, a nurse even told him, “We did not think you were going to make it through the night”.
He has a traumatic brain injury, a constant state of migraine, sporadic sight loss (his left eye had gone dark while we were running), and loses the function of his left arm from time to time. Jim has suffered through PTSD, depression, and has been suicidal several times. He was told that the life he lives today would never be possible.

But, as I said, Jim is a warrior. He has a wife and two little boys that he adores. He made the decision that his life was worth fighting for and that is just what he did. He decided that nothing was going to stand in the way of him just being him. When he asked, his doctor told him he should not compete in a triathlon, he went rogue and did it anyway. In fact, in the last year, Jim competed in numerous Ironmans, a triple Ironman, several marathons, and here he was in a 50 mile ultramarathon. In fact, he had been in Europe for work and had flown in the night before for the race. One of Jim’s missions is to help people that need it. That is what he did for me.

Here I was struggling with a boo-boo on my ankle and this man had been through hell and back and now was trying to get my sorry ass moving. Thinking that there are a lot of people who could benefit from his story, I asked him if he was doing any speaking. He humbly said that it was not time for that yet. I hope someday he will.

My ankle was steadily getting worse and it was getting harder and harder to even walk. As much as I appreciated Jim’s company, I desperately wanted to make sure he finished the race. It was way more important. He left but made me promise to finish. We both knew that I lied.

I finally made it to the next checkpoint and did the math. Thirty-four miles to go, eight hours to do it in, an ankle I could not put weight on. I knew that I would not even make the next time cutoff so I bowed out and caught a ride back to my car.

Quitting sucks but sometimes you walk away with some valuable experiences. The day was great, I was doing something I thoroughly enjoyed, and I met an amazing person who brought some perspective to life.  You really can’t ask for more than that.

Last thought. In the words of Mike Erwin, founder and fearless leader of Team RWB: Jim, you fire me up!

Last last word: Just had xrays done. Fractured fibula. Bummer.

Monday, June 18, 2012

Bruce’s Death Race Adventure – The Sequel – BETRAYAL

I am sitting at home now writing this race report battered, bruised, with my tail between my legs, and much sooner than I had once again hoped. Short answer, I made it as far as I could in this beast of a race, but not far enough. I enjoyed every last bit of my time in Vermont, but in the end, just like most of my co-competitors, was chewed up and spit out.

My training this year had been tough and spot-on. My friend Bill and I spent Sundays crawling through sewer pipes with 50 pound sand bags, dragged big logs up and down ravines, hiked with full backpacks through waist high frigid water for miles, carried 50 gallon buckets of water on winding trails, did pushups in streams, split wood for hours, and of course, 1,000 burpee sets, and so on. Going into race week I felt stronger and fitter than I ever had, confident in my abilities, and extremely calm, which is extremely important. My only concern was the condition of my feet. They were in bad shape and in pain, and I knew they were going to be a problem.

The theme for this year’s race was Betrayal. That is all any of us knew, Betrayal. Would Andy and Joe (The Undertakers) betray us? Would fellow competitors betray us? Or would our own bodies, minds and emotions betray us? The thoughts lingered.

An unofficial theme for every Death Race is “This is the Death Race”. This is not a 5K. This is not a triathlon. Or a marathon. This is the Death Race, one of the hardest races on the planet. You hear these words when Joe is displeased with the speed of your burpees. “This is the Death Race, pick it up). You mutter these words when you are in pain, tired and hungry in the middle of the night, “This is the Death Race”. And you laugh these words when you slip off the trail and are lying flat on your back with you backpack weighing you down so that you can’t get up, “This is the Death Race”.

Although we had been told that there was not going to be a required equipment list, in the week leading up to the race three different lists were sent to us, each one a little different. This was designed to f#ck with our brains. In the end, the list was an axe, certified life jacket, pink swim cap, needle and thread, five gallon bucket, a bag of human hair, saw, pen, paper, and a black compression shirt. Additionally, we should bring anything we thought we would need to survive in the wilderness for one week. Anything we brought would stay in our backpacks for the entire duration of the race. We were even required to submit a list of our items. Food, water and clothing could be stashed at the Aimee Farm, our base camp. There would be no outside assistance from our support people away from Aimee Farm.

The drive up was beautiful, much better than the torrential rains of last year. Nicole and I arrived in Pittsfield and pulled into the Inn we had reserved. We finally found a person that worked there. He told us he would be with us in a little while, as soon as he finished de-lousing our room. The may be the Death race but we got in our car and drove up the road as fast as we could.

We lucked out and got a room at the Swiss Miss Inn, a cute B&B directly across from the Aimee Farm. We were met by the innkeeper, Whalen, and extremely nice guy who cooks awesome pancakes. Standing outside the inn for a moment, I looked up at the beauty of the Green Mountains and suddenly had the gut feeling that they were laughing at me and what I was about to go through.

Shortly after checking in, we met Bruce and Melissa Harris from Pensacola, Florida. Bruce was a Marine drill instructor for 20 years and is now a K-9 police officer and trainer. He is an intimidating block of human muscle but as it turns out has a heart of gold. The thing about Death Race is that new friends become fast friends, and quickly become old friends. It is the commonality of what we are going through and what got us here that glues us together. As the day went on we ran into other Death Race friends Johnny Waite, Kevin Lowe, and Yitzy Sondag. It was great to finally meet fellow Team RWB athletes Marcus Franzen and Marc Dibernardo, Army Special Ops guys from Fort Campbell. We had a nice dinner that evening and relaxed.

Friday at 1230, our first task was upon us. We were to hike up a steep mountain trail with our gear to be weighed in at the top. Nicole hiked it with me. The view at the top was spectacular. We entered a cabin one at a time, told to look straight ahead and step on the scale. Do not say a word. We were given some rabbit pellets and told to keep them dry the entire race. The games had begun. Back down the mountain we went.

Next we went to Riverside Farm for “official” registration. Our pack list was turned in, we received our race numbers, and new instruction. Hike back to the Aimee Farm along the river trail, when we get to the farm, sew our numbers on our black compression shirts in 3” block letters that will last the entire race. Nicole and I went our separate ways. Along the trail there were signs, about 40 in all, with quotations, symbols and pictures, all having to do with betrayal. I wrote down every one of them, as did everyone else, not know if we would need them later.

My understanding is that Death Race received over 8,000 applications for the race, accepted about 300, of which 56 dropped out for various reasons before ever reaching Pittsfield. It is a comical sight to see 250 incredible athletes sitting on the ground sewing. I think we should form a quilting club.

From sewing, I was to crawl through a 30” culvert pipe that runs approximately 50’ or so under the road. There was some water flowing through and it was dark but I had done a lot of this in training so it was no big deal. Not everyone felt the same way. I guess I was chatting with the guy in front of me so much that someone behind me told me to shut up. Oops. Nerves.

Upon exiting the pipe, we were to put on our pink swim cap and life jacket for a “swim test” in the duck pond. The girls monitoring this activity were sure to tell us that all of the animal waste from the pasture uphill ran into this pond and we were sure to get sick. Regardless, the water felt great as the temperatures were heating up. I’m glad to report that I did not get sick.

Now it was time to do Joe’s chores. We split wood, carried wood, stacked wood, re-stacked wood when they felt like we did a poor job, and weeded garden plots. Just like home. Some people feel that Death Race is really to help Joe get stuff done around the farm. After a while, we were told to hurry back to the other side of the farm and make sure we had turned our identification to a women at the table and get in line. I ran over to the table but did not have any identification on me. I quickly took out my chapstick, wrote my name and race number on it. The woman laughed when I gave it to her and said “Well, this is Death Race!” I was kind of bummed. I really liked that chapstick.

With backpacks back on, we loosely organized ourselves into groups and were told to either pick up a 12’ kayak or 5’ PVC tube filled with water. I remember the tubes from last year – heavy and awkward. I ended up under a kayak. Group by group we hiked back over to the pond. We put the kayaks and backpacks on the ground, put our swim caps and lifejackets back on, and all piled into the pond. This was where we were to have our pre-race meeting, floating in a stinky duck pond with 250 of our new bestest friends, most of whom were probably peeing. Andy and Joe appeared and instructions began. The mood was very light with lots of laughing and joking going on. You could tell everyone was pumped to really get going. We were also introduced to a man named Chris who was part of the race staff. Chris has just lost an immense amount of weight and was working on losing more. I suspected that Joe and Andy were helping him with this. Besides being sick, psychotic bastards, they are really great guys that go out of their way to help people, just not in Death Race. It was inspiring to see everyone cheer for Chris. Andy went to the other side of the pond and dumped in several hundred numbered ping pong balls. The number was your group for the next challenge.

Group by group, with packs on again, we lifted our kayaks or pipes and headed up a trail. Here is the thing, we had people on each side of the kayak lifting it, plus the width of the kayak. The trail was steep, winding, rocky, and single track. You were not walking on the trail. You were walking beside it, through brush, around trees and on awkward angles. It was tough going to say the least, and we had just begun. Eventually, this section of trail opened up onto a fire/gravel road. Races ensued to not be near the end of the groups. Running with full pack, other people, up and down mountain roads, with a kayak above you…fun. After several hours we came to a wider clearing. Here our groups formed a circle and we passed the kayak hand to hand like a clock. Joe was displeased with our effort so it was burpee time. First he told us we were doing 100, then it became 200, 300 etc. I like to do burpees (I know I am strange but consider the race I am in) so this was no big deal. Chris, the guy who had lost all the weight, came by to each group and did a burpee with us. We all shook his hand and congratulated him.

Off on the trail again. It was beginning to get dark so headlamps were put on. If I remember correctly, this portion got rougher. In fact we had two people in our group go down because of blown ankles and blown knees. I waited with each them until a race staff member could take over. Their race was over. I felt for them knowing how much effort I had put in, they probably did the same. This is the Death Race.

A few more hours later, another clearing, more burpees. We actually named this place Burpeeville. Strange things happen in the Vermont wilderness. We were told that from here on, there was no turning back. This was the last chance to exit. People that were struggling, injured or not feeling well were encouraged to drop out. I’m not sure what time it was, but we had been going since 1230. Fatique was naturally setting in. It creeps into your mind that maybe you should get out. Many people did. Groups that had kayaks were now carrying two tubes and vice versa.

On we went. The hills got steeper, the terrain got uglier. There were big rocks and roots to climb over. Streams and puddles to go through. For most of the time, the left side of the trail was a drop-off. Twice I fell off the trail tumbling until I could grab something. With a backpack on, you have little balance to stop momentum. I ended up in a plant that caused a burning sensation on my skin for about twenty minutes (wild parsnip someone said). By now, my feet were a serious issue. Every step was torture. It really pissed me off.

One of my big mistakes last year was not eating enough. I set my watch to eat every 45 minutes. It really helped. One of the big problems we faced was that everyone was running out of water and getting dehydrated. The hours between two and four a.m. seemed to take forever. Time and distance just seem to stand still in the pitch black dark. People were working together but there was starting to be some edginess. Tired, wet feet, thirsty. Maybe we were going to betray each other. After three hours with no water we came to a stream. Everyone filled their bottles and camelbacks. Some people had filters, others, like me, had iodine tablets. Once the water was safe to drink and everyone was re-hydrated, the mood seemed to get better. Dawn was beginning to break, it was a new day. Saturday.

At approximately 6 am we arrived at a house next to a reservoir. We dropped the tubes and collapsed for a short rest. We had hiked 25 miles over 15 hours carrying a 12’ kayak or 5’ tubes filled with water over rough mountain trails. I had heard the 60-100 people had already dropped out. Rumors tend to circulate so I don’t know if it was true or not.

The condition of my feet had only worsened. Even sitting down they were excruciatingly painful. I was trying to think of anything I could do to make them better but I had no ideas. Andy was there to greet us. He told us there was pizza, coffee and donuts in the house and we were welcome to it…if we dropped out. Or we could continue on and go for a nice swim out to a yellow buoy and back. Everyone was required to wear a life jacket but Andy said I didn’t need to because of my swimming. I had been hiking with a guy named Chris who was also an ironman. We debated a swim race but opted for a nice slow float with the life jackets on. The water was awesome. I flexed my legs and feet as much as I could to try and loosen them up. It helped some. Hopefully enough.

We got out of the water. Ate more food, drank more water, stretched. Our next task was to take our 5 gallon buckets, march a half mile up a dirt driveway, fill them to the top with gravel, bring them back down, and pave the road. We were required to do this eight time. A five gallon bucket filled with gravel weighs about 80 pounds and is awkward at best. Every trip back down the drive became torture. Agonizing. Some old guy that was watching us saw me struggling and came over to talk to me. He introduced himself and began asking me about my faith. I know this is not going to sound too great, but if ever I wanted to kill someone, it was right there and then. I picked up my bucket and walked away thinking that maybe this was part of the betrayal, or just some quack in the woods.

I sat down and considered the situation. I knew that we were to hike back towards. Someone told me it would be 12 miles (it was actually 18 I later learned). I was out of food. I couldn’t walk. I was out. Done. Finished. My body betrayed me.

This sucked. I sat on the ground and starred off across the water of the reservoir. It was beautiful. I thought about 9 months of training coming to an end because my feet betrayed me. I think I now understood the theme. I looked down at my watch. I made it 24 hours. I was proud of that. I wanted more but it wasn’t going to be. I know everyone had pain to deal with, but I couldn't push through mine this time. Someone told me I could walk up to a road and catch a ride back to Pittsfield. The ride took forty minutes, plenty of time with my thoughts and to come to grips. There were 11 other drop outs along for the ride.

Back at base, I found Nicole and I had a cheeseburger that may have been the best one I ever had. My feet we still killing me but I felt great. Still felt strong and wide awake. I learned of some friends that had dropped out before me and tried to find out about those that we still in.

This was my last attempt at Death Race. I had decided that long ago. I want to find some new challenges. I know that most people don’t get this whole Death Race thing. The looks I get from people when they hear about it or see me working out are usually just blank stares and then questions about my sanity and life insurance policy. I understand that it is not normal. Andy, Joe and Death Race literally chew you up, spit you out and you stand up a better person for trying. How many opportunities in life are there to just dig to the depths that you didn’t think you had? There is an understanding that only comes from doing it.

Finally, I am indebted to Nicole who should probably be sainted. Even though we grew up only a few miles apart, we met and fell in love while I was a rugby player. She should have run. She didn’t. Nicole has always encouraged me to push further and train harder. Maybe it’s the life insurance, maybe not. I couldn’t do any of this stuff without her alongside me. The best part of the weekend was spending time with her.

Postscript: The race finally ended this morning, Monday June 18th (It started on June 15) after 62 hours and 38 minutes. Eleven finishers.

Monday, March 26, 2012

That "Egg" Ain't Gonna Move Itself

Bill in the Rock Garden

Leon doing one of many Burpees
Carrying my "egg" up the mountain, one step at a time

The forecast for today called for rain showers. I was looking forward to this as it would add a difficult dimension to the training that Bill had planned. It never did rain but the workout proved difficult none the less.

Bill’s goal was to simulate the hills of Vermont as much as possible, not an easy task to do in Maryland. We met at Gambrill, a state park in the mountains west of Frederick. A thick fog hugged the ground which gave an eerie feeling. We were told to bring our backpacks, our 50 pound sand “eggs” from previous workouts, nutrition and hydration.

Our day started with dead lifts of the eggs. We didn’t do a lot of them but it was enough to get our blood pumping. Next, we loaded the eggs into our backpacks and headed off into the forest, opting to bushwhack rather than take trails. We had parked near the top of the mountain so our route took us straight downhill. Along the way, we stopped every fifteen minutes for burpees, push-up or crunches. The first part of our hike was made difficult just by the need to duck under limbs, going through underbrush, and climbing over fallen logs. Soon we came to an area we called the "rock garden". The area was littered with granite rock outcroppings that were covered with lichen, moss and wet leaves. The lichen and moss were actually quite pretty. This portion was treacherous as the rocks were very slippery and many of them were loose. The weight in our backpacks added to the difficulty of staying upright. As we stepped over each rock, I am sure Leon and Bill were thinking back to the sign back at the parking area warning about Timber Rattlesnakes, as was I. After about a mile of making our way through the rock garden, we climbed into a stream and waded our way down the rest of the mountain. The water was cold but refreshing.

Near the bottom of the mountain, the stream began to parallel a private drive where we came across a couple of people chatting by a pickup truck. They turned towards us and gave us the now familiar “what in the hell are you doing?” When we told them we were training, the grouchy old lady told us to leave her property. Realizing we had wandered out of the park, we ever so politely apologized and turned around to head back up the mountain. This time, we opted for the private drive and then bush whacking again when we reached the end of it. This route was even more steep than the way we came down. Every step strained at our quads. The steep slope caused us to take small steps which only made the trek longer. I actually began to look forward to the calisthenics as a way to take a break from the climb. Eventually we made it back to the parking area. Leon had to leave early for a family event. Bill and I jumped into our cars for a short ride over to the Frederick Watershed Area for the next part of our workout.

We left one car at the top of this mountain, loaded our eggs into the other car, and headed three miles down the mountain. This road was one of the steepest and most winding roads I have ever been on. Our task was obvious, carry the eggs back up to the top, no backpacks. We moved way slower than either of us thought we would. To be honest, it was painful but I knew it would pay off in Vermont. Every so often we would need to put the eggs down and rest. When it was time to get moving again, our mantra became, “These eggs ain't gonna to move themselves”. Finally, the top of the mountain was in sight and our workout was over, for this day at least.

Sunday, March 18, 2012

Back to Black Rock

The Seneca Creek looking upstream

Bill either contemplating life or taking a dump
Leon laughing in the face of pain
Today’s workout was at the Black Rock Mill west of Darnestown. I’ve always been drawn to the mill, there is something spiritual about the place. Maybe that is what the band OAR felt too since they wrote a song about it. The girls and I have hiked here many times and the trails are some of my favorite.

My new friend Leon Nasar joined Bill Benoit and me this week and hopefully will for other workouts. I was introduced to Leon by some mutual friends who said he had completed some marathons and was interested in Death Race. I’ll be honest; I did not know much about Leon or how much outdoor experience he had so I wasn’t quite sure what to expect. He proved to be tough and hung right in there with us.

The required equipment for the day was a backpack, a 50 lb bag of sand, duct tape, a 5 gallon bucket, and an ax. I had re-claimed Bill’s and mine duct taped bags of sand from the Tunnels of Doom workout. We met at Black Rock at 7am, just before first light.

After introductions, Leon put together his sand bag and duct tape egg. We loaded them into our backpacks along with our axes and headed off on our “hike”. Bill and Leon headed for the Seneca Greenway Trail. I stopped them to inform them that we were not taking the trail, we were taking the creek, just like last summer at Death Race.

The Seneca Creek at this point is about twenty feet across, ranges from shin deep to shoulder deep and can have a decent current. The water temperature was about 50 degrees, not quite what we experienced in Vermont but a good taste of it just the same. We trudged our way upstream getting used to our 50 pound packs. Each of  us slipped from time to time on slippery rocks but Bill seemed to be getting through this the 
Billy once again challenging gravity.
Will he ever learn?
best. Every so often, we would stop at a sandy area for pushups, leaving our water soaked backpacks on our backs. The biggest thing we all noticed during the "hike"was the strain on our outer hip abductors. That, and he fact that the backpacks got heavier as the sandbags got wetter.

After an hour and a half, we reach Germantown Road and exited the stream. I had scouted the area a few days ahead of time and knew there were some good log rounds that “needed” splitting. We proceeded to split the logs when a Department of Natural Resources ranger truck came to a screeching halt on the road above us. The ranger drew his gun and shouted down “What in the hell do you boys think you are doing?” 

Brainteasers supplied by my loving (and sadistic)
wife and daughter
All right, I’m just messing with you. But a ranger did show up and tell us we were not allowed to split wood on park land. He actually said, "Think of the visual. If other people see you doing this, they may want to do it too”. I am not making this part up! He really said this. Hold back the mob! We packed our backpacks, left the area disappointed, and headed onto the Seneca Greenway Trail.

Around ¾ of the way back to Black Rock I told the others to drop their packs. I pointed to a steep slope covered with underbrush. Our next task was to scramble up the slope and then back down. After this was completed I handed out three sealed envelopes from my pack. Nicole and   
Penalty for wrong answers: burpees
Nellie had prepared the envelopes as well as a forth one with an answer key. We had 15  minutes to correctly solve as many of the enclosed brainteasers as possible, paying a penalty for wrong answers and blanks. My concern here was the evil laughs I had heard from Nicole and Nellie when they prepared the test. We began, and, we failed. I had to do 200 burpees and hold a front plank and side plank each for four minutes. Bill and Leon had to do fewer burpees and the planks. Burpees suck.

When we got back to Black Rock we finally got to the backpacks off our backs. We grabbed our 5 gallon buckets. I led us down to the creek where we filled the buckets to the brim with water. Our next task 
Calculating how many stream push-ups
will be required
was to hike the Seneca Ridge Trail to a place called Three Skulls while spilling as little water as possible. Every inch of water missing from the buckets when we got to Three Skulls would result in 25 push-ups per inch, in the creek. A 5 gallon bucket of water weighs 40 pounds and is awkward to carry. Plenty of water was spilling out of the buckets as we went up and down the hills of the trail. I know we were each calculating how many push-up we would be doing. Along the way many mountain bikers passed us, each giving us their version of the “What the F” look. We hiked on and arrived at Three Skulls only to find that someone had stolen the three deer skulls that were usually on the log there. I was disappointed by this as people usually put little hats on them (see Mud, 
Leon taking the easy way out

Sweat and More Mud for a photo) and wanted to share this with my friends.

At this point we calculated the water loss and headed back towards Black Rock. We stopped at a stream for our push up penalty. I had to do 125, face in the water every time. More mountain bikers passed, more “What the F” looks. It was a great workout today. We were all soaked to the bone and covered in mud. What could be better?

PS  N.C. State beat Georgetown! Go Pack!  

Sunday, March 11, 2012

The Adventures of Fluffy

A Beautiful Day For A Ride
Today was Bill’s workout. I was told to be at Shaeffer Farm in Germantown at 7am. Shaeffer Farm is the mountain biking park in the area so I assumed that we would be doing some mountain biking. I don’t have a mountain bike so I was pleased to see that Bill brought one for me. We did a little over an hour on the trails stopping periodically for burpees, of course. The trail was beautiful and it became a gorgeous day. I have not done much mountain biking but I really enjoyed it. The big lesson I came away with was that running into trees is considered bad form.

Dragging Fluffy Through The Woods
Tight Squeeze
After we stowed the bikes away, Bill handed me a length of climbing rope and took one as well. We headed back into the woods, this time staying off the trail. We found two decent size logs, tied the ropes to them and dragged them through the woods. I named my log Fluffy. We spent a few hours going up and down the steep slopes on either side of a small valley, always dragging Fluffy behind me. There were plenty of thickets and obstacles to make the trips difficult. When we got to either the top or the bottom of the slope we did 25 push-ups, crunches or other calisthenics. We made the push-up more challenging by keeping our feet on the stream bank, our hands in the water, and requiring our faces to go in the water each time down. The one rule we had while pulling the logs was that if there was an opportunity to go under a fallen log, we went under rather than over. There were quite a few tight squeezes.
Can't Go Over It, Must Go Under

Before long, we came to a turn in the creek. Here Bill wanted to build a dam in the stream. We collected rocks and did a decent job. This was simply a test in accomplishing something that was just tedious and made no sense at all, similar to some of the tasks in Death Race.

We went back to dragging our logs again which was good because I don’t think Fluffy enjoyed dam building. We came to another turn in the creek. Here Bill pulled out two math problems that Irene had created. They involved calculating the percentageof calories supplied by the protein in an energy bar (Irene is a nutritionist). Sad to say, we both got the problem wrong. More face-in-the creek pushups. 

Pushing 400 lb Log Up A Big Hill
Bill looked around, pointed to an 18’ log and said we were going to try and get the log up the slope. I corrected him and said we were going to get that log up the slope. There is no try, just do. I released Fluffy back into the wild and we slowly moved the big log across the stream and started up the hill. We guestimated that it weighed 400 pounds. Slowly, foot by foot, we made our way up the slope, going around trees, slipping on the leaf humus, and just holding on for dear life lest the log roll back down the hill, flattening us in the process. This was no easy task but after an hour and a half, we succeeded.

Satisfaction At The Top
After resting for a few minutes, we headed back through the woods. On our way, we both picked up new logs to carry the couple of miles back to the trailhead. No Death Race workout is complete without carrying logs. 

Sunday, March 4, 2012

Mud, Sweat and...More Mud

Deer Skulls Wearing Sombreros! You never know
you will see on a trail.
This week’s Death Race training was running in the Seneca Greenway Trail 50K, which is actually 34 miles, not 32. I wanted to do this race because I did not train for it. In fact, my longest run leading up to it was just 14 miles, a week ago. I didn’t even sign up until Tuesday. My thought was that making it through the pain and suffering that was obviously going to occur, it would help me get through the pain and suffering of Death Race.

Tom the Creek Troll
The weather the day and night before was heavy rain. This trail has very wet sections even during dry periods. I knew we were in for a mudder and was not disappointed. My friend Aaron Stanley, who I ran a large portion of the JFK 50 miler with in November, was coming down from Pittsburgh for the race and I was looking forward to running with him again.

A tame section of the muddy trail
I arrived at the Riley’s Lock earlier than expected. This is a point to point race ending at the lock. They bus you up to the trail head at Damascus for the start. There were only a few other racers there at this time plus Ed Schwartz, the race director. Ed asked if we wanted a ride to the start so we all jumped in. Once there, me and another guy (I can’t remember his name so I will call him Fast Guy) decided that we were bored waiting for the start. Since we were both doing the race as training days, we asked Ed if he minded if we started early. Ed shrugged his shoulders so off we went. Fast Guy looked to be very fast so when we got to the trail head I told him to not let me hold him back so off he went. 

At around mile 5 I was met by Tom the Creek Troll at the creek crossing. The water here is about thigh deep, it was cold but felt refreshing. For the next 2 ½ hours I was in second place of an ultramarathon (yes, I know I left an hour before anyone else but let me have this fantasy please)! To pass the time, I sang Garth Brooks and OAR songs. As the true leaders came flying through I was in awe of their speed and ability. They all wished me well and I did the same. Trail runners are a friendly lot.

After many hours, I started to get some chafing in a couple of very awkward places (use your imagination). It was becoming very uncomfortable. At the time, I was running with a bunch of guys. The pain was becoming excruciating so I blurted out, “Does anyone have any vasaline or lube?” I was met with an awkward silence realizing that asking a bunch of guys for such things in the middle of the woods may not have been the best strategy. I decided that my options were to grin and bear it at the risk of losing a testicle or drop out. I kept running. If Lance Armstrong can live with one nut, so I can I. Odd decisions one makes when in distress. (I am happy to report that “righty” is doing just fine).

A majority of the trail was under water or very muddy. This presented challenges but nothing that couldn’t be overcome. The day turned quite beautiful. I even took off my long sleeve shirt around noon and opted for the short sleeves. There were tons of extremely nice and cheery runners and the aide station volunteers were fantastic. I never did get to run with Aaron but after the race he and his friends Pat and Mike (also from Pittsburgh) came over to the house for showers and beer. Later it was off to Kelly and Tom’s for a goodbye party.

Sunday, February 19, 2012

Tunnels of Doom

Tunnels of Doom – February 19, 2012

Things that may appear normal to most people turn into training opportunities for people that are training for Death Race. Earlier in the week I had spied a construction site that had a lot of site work going on. An workout was created.
I told Bill to meet me at a four story parking garage near the Rio complex in Gaithersburg. We were each to bring a 50lb bag of sand and a roll of duct tape. 

We began the day by running up the ramps of the garage; doing push-up, crunches or burpees at the top; running down and then up the stairs, more push-up, crunches, or burpees and the top; and then running back down the ramps. Repeat several times. After a good warm up, we returned to our cars.

We took out the bags of sand and wrapped them completely in the duct tape. They looked like gray eggs. With a Sharpee, I wrote “I May Die” (the Death Race disclaimer) to which we both signed our names. Of we went on a hike with our “eggs”. We soon entered the construction site, went up and over large dirt mounds, through storm water management gullies and soon arrived at our playground, an area filled with concrete sewer pipes of various diameters awaiting installation. Our mission, to go through the sewer pipes carrying, pushing or pulling our 50lb eggs.

The sizes ranged from 30” down to 24”. The larger ones you could crouch down and carry the egg through. It was uncomfortable but do-able. Unfortunately, there were not many of these. Most were the smaller sizes, which you had to belly crawl through moving yourself forward on your elbows and toes, pushing the egg ahead of you. I was surprised at how much core strength this took and would have loved to have heard the comments from the people driving by watching us.

After several hours of this we had made it through 82 pipes. Bill followed me over to a small area where I pulled two bags out of my camelback. Each one had a 100 piece puzzle in it. We had 30 minutes to put the puzzles together. However many pieces were left un-attached after the time would result in 5 pushup penalty each. I started the watch and we began. After just a few minutes, I noticed muscles tightening up big time. I was struggling to put the pieces together on the dirt ground. At the conclusion of 30 minutes we counted the un-attached pieces. I owed 290 push-up, Bill owed 400. Puzzles suck.

When we finished the push-up penalty, we headed back through the site towards the garage. We decided to leave the puzzles on the ground thinking some construction workers may want to take a break and finish them for us. At the garage, one more run up and down the ramps and stairs for old time’s sake.

Puzzles suck.


Hay Bale Hell

Hay Bale Hell – February 12, 2012

I have continued this blog so that I can remember the fun and pain of getting ready for my second attempt at Death Race. My good friend Bill Benoit, whom I have been through Ironman and many triathlons with, has decided, for whatever twisted reason, to join me in the training. I have been doing triathlon training during the week, with Death Race training taking place on Sundays, 4-5 hour long sessions at this point. We have decided to take turns creating the workouts, leaving the other person in the blind as to what to expect much like Andy and Joe do to us in Vermont. This week is Bill’s turn.

Big Task Ahead
Bill Tries The Superman Approach
Gravity Sucks - Won't Be Trying That Again
 I was told to be at his dad’s farm in Brookeville at 7am with a posthole digger, knife and calculator. A cold front had come in the night before and it was 4 degree wind chill when we started. There was an inch or so of snow on the ground and it was windy. Our workout began with a 3-4 mile hike through the Tridelphia Reservoir. It was cold, but very pretty. Soon we came to a field that his family hunted geese on and we went to one of the blinds. Bill pulled out two sealed envelopes that his girlfriend had prepared. We were to memorize a list of 5 romantic gestures that should be considered for Valentines (which was in a few days). After gagging on the sappiness of the list, I set out to memorize it. We exchanged envelopes in order to be tested later and set out again. I went to take a drink of water from my camelback, only to find that it frozen. Could be problem later.

This time we came to a field that had large 6’ round hay bales in it. Bill said that he did not know how many there were, but that we were going up and over every single one. I walked up to the first one not quite sure how to approach this task. After several failed attempts that resulting in landing on my ass, I managed to get up and over. This was going to take a long time. There was snow on top of most of them, and when there wasn’t snow, there was goose crap. Lovely. We got into a rhythm and were moving along fairly well. After a while though, my gloves were wet and my hands were beginning to be very painful from the cold. We got to what appeared to be the last one in the field (50 in all). Feeling good about the accomplishment, I looked around and spotted one more up on a slope to the left. Not being one to leave anything undone, we trudged up there to finish this part of the workout only to find another section of the field filled with hay bales. My heart sank with gloom for a moment. This is just the kind of mind games we will face in Vermont. After a few more hours, the total count was 91 bales of hay.

Bill pointed us towards a wooded area where we began reciting our lists from earlier. The rule was 50 pushups for every wrong answer. I got all of mine correct (I had been going over them in my head as we did the hay bales). Bill got two wrong (sorry Irene, hope you had a good V Day anyways) – 100 push up. Before he started them, he handed me a can of soup and some matches. My task was to cook the soup. Feeling extremely confident (I’ve been an outdoorsman all my life, an Eagle Scout and have been through survival training) and looking forward to warming up, I set about to light a fire. I failed miserably. I could not get a fire started to save my life. Embarrassed and with my tail between my legs, we set off to leave the field. I was glad to be rid of hay bales.

We hiked over to a large pile of logs. No Death Race workout is complete without carrying logs so we each picked out logs that looked to weigh around 50 lbs. We retraced our path back to his dad’s farm feeling good overall about the workout, but hungry for chicken soup.