Testing the Will, Getting Out of the Comfort Zone

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Front Page / May. 8, 2014 11:08am EDT

Preparing for the Uncertainty of Pittsfield’s ‘Death Race’
By Rebecca Schubert


Rebecca Schubert crawls under barbed wire during a 24-hour preparation camp for the Peak Death Race in Pittsfield. (Provided) Rebecca Schubert crawls under barbed wire during a 24-hour preparation camp for the Peak Death Race in Pittsfield. (Provided) If you’ve never heard of the Peak Death Race the name of the website might just give you an idea as to what it’s all about. It’s “youmaydie.com.”

The race is promoted as the “ultimate challenge, designed to present you with the unexpected and the completely insane! Nothing else on earth will challenge you like The Death Race, both mentally and physically.”

Why would anyone want to sign up for a race like this … a race that’s almost impossible to train for because you have no idea what it will consist of and a race that last year lasted for the better part of three days?

For me the answer is simple—to get out of my comfort zone. For me, life begins at the end of your comfort zone. To give me an idea of what I’ve gotten myself into I decided to attend a training camp put on by the event organizers over the weekend of April 25.


Rebecca Schubert of Royalton will compete in this year’s Death Race in Pittsfield on June 27. (Herald / Bob Eddy) Rebecca Schubert of Royalton will compete in this year’s Death Race in Pittsfield on June 27. (Herald / Bob Eddy) The purpose of the camp was to foster camaraderie amongst race participants, teach skills which may be used during the race, expose participants to dealing with the unknown, and help them determine technical issues such as type of pack to carry and types and amounts of food, water, clothing and footwear needed.

The theme for the 2014 Summer Death Race is the “Year of the Explorer,” which means I can probably expect to use a compass and map to navigate, but unfortunately I have no experience with this.

Certain Uncertainty

The only certainty one can count on in the Death Race is uncertainty, so it was very fitting that over the days leading up to the camp, three different emails were sent out--each noting a different start time. Just as in life, being able to accept uncertainty and not let it get the best of you is essential to surviving the death race.

The camp was advertised as a 24-hour event. To think that I’d be on the go for this long was especially overwhelming since I’d done virtually no endurance and/or distance training since last September, when I completed the 32-mile Spartan Ultra Beast race at Killington. Needless to say, I didn’t think I was really prepared for what this camp had in store, but I had made up my mind to do the race and I needed all the experience I could get.

We started 2 p.m. on Friday afternoon by fetching our numbered bibs from an icy cold creek. The only thing I detest more than being cold is being cold and wet. Cold weather is like my Cryptonite, so this was a perfect way to start.

Most people jumped in fully clothed, but I did not want to start the race with wet clothes, so in front of about 30 strangers, I stripped down to a t-shirt and my underwear and jumped in. I had bigger things to worry about than 29 men and one woman seeing me in my underwear.

Out of the Creek

I quickly found my bib, got my cold, wet self out of the creek, and got going.

Over the next 26 hours, we split and stacked wood and hiked up and down 2000 foot peaks so steep there were stairs built into the side of the hill, all the while wearing 40-pound backpacks. It is rumored that we covered 30 miles.

We carried picnic tables, logs, 10- foot long 8x8 wooden beams up those peaks, did hours of calisthenics including burpees, push-ups, squats, lunges, bear crawls as well as heavy rock and log tosses. We had a time trial up that 2000-foot peak while wearing our packs. Come to think of it we kept those packs on for most of the entire time.

There was a quick stop consisting of memorizing a quote, and then crawling with our fully-loaded bags through a 24- inch diameter pipe. From here we were instructed to carry a the 10-foot beams and two large metal Spartan emblems (about 40 pounds each) to our next destination, about a mile and a half down the road. I got to carry the Spartan emblem on top of my 40-pound back.

We learned about map reading, calculating distance, using a compass and navigating in the woods, which was incredibly helpful but also helped me see that I need to do a lot more practice before the actual race in eight weeks.

Nighttime, not Bedtime

Getting through the night was one of the hardest parts of the event since my usual bedtime is eight p.m. The evening and overnight proved to be as difficult as I had expected, not only due to fatigue but also because of the cold rain that fell. I was prepared for rain, but even with a good rain suit the cold and damp permeated; I got cold quickly. I would stay that way for the most of the next 18 hours and it was going to take a lot to keep the cold from beating me.

The late night/early morning was the first time I considered quitting. From 5 a.m. until 8 a.m. our mission was to make a promotional video for Spartan Race. This felt like the longest three hours of my life, since it took so many takes to get it right. Ten steps forward, five steps back, over and over and over again until the videographer was satisfied. There was a lot of standing around, which was actually worse than moving because my muscles seized up and the cold and rain chilled me to the bone.

At about 7 a.m., I was ready to call it quits and go home, but somehow I was able to remind myself that nothing lasts forever. I just had to stay in the moment and know that things would get better. Disaster averted.

Almost Done?

When we arrived back at Riverside Farm, I thought it was over. I was ecstatic and in disbelief that I had made it. I don’t think I’ve ever wanted hot food and warm dry clothes as badly as I did then. It was so close, or so I thought.

How wrong I was.

Instead, it was time for backwards rolls across a long field. WHAT? Doing one backwards roll isn’t so hard, but doing about 100 takes it to a whole different level. It wasn’t long before I was dizzy and pretty nauseous. I wasn’t the only one, because before we finished a few other participants were vomiting.

This was also the first point at which a couple of participants decided they couldn’t go on. Death Race is all about exposing people’s weaknesses, and sometimes even the most experienced athletes have trouble with what seems like a pretty easy challenge.

As for me, I was still feeling good and I was ready for the next challenge.

We were asked by one of the race organizers to recite a quote we were told to memorize during one of the earlier challenges. I remember standing there looking around, and many of the participants had the same look of dread on their faces as I must have had. We knew we couldn’t recite the quote and now there was going to be a penalty.

I thought there was no way I could go on any longer but again I was wrong. I completed the penalty and the last thing standing in my way of warm food and clothes was a four a half mile jog back to my car. At 25 hours in I could not believe I was able to jog but I did it.

What She Learned

I learned a lot in those 26 hours, and I can honestly say that this training camp was a life-changing event for me. It let me see that I am capable of so much more than I thought I was. Before this weekend, the longest event I had ever done was fourteen hours and to know now that I’m capable of going at least 24 hours opened up a world of possibilities to me. It inspired me to register for the Peak Races 50- mile trail race at the end of May. For someone who is not a runner this should be interesting.

Only a fraction of the competitors who enter the Death Race actually finish. Before this weekend I was under the impression that the organizers of the race want to expose competitors’ weaknesses and get them to quit, but their objective is actually very different. They do want to expose your weaknesses but what they really want is to see the competitors push past these weaknesses.

I know what my weakness is—accepting uncertainty (and tight spaces). I’m someone who is most comfortable with routine. When things don’t go as planned I become anxious and agitated. I recognize that I cannot always control everything that happens but I can always control my attitude and reaction. Putting this into practice is easier said than done, but this weekend really gave me an opportunity to breathe and practice staying mindful in the present moment.

As Pema Chodron said, “It isn’t the things that happen to us in our lives that cause us to suffer, it’s how we relate to the things that happen to us that causes us to suffer.” If I keep this in mind I may just have a chance of beating death at the 2014 summer Death Race.

NOTE TO READERS

Rebecca Schubert wrote the accompanying article for The Herald because the Death Race organizers told her to.

She and other participants were told that they had to get their stories published or suffer the consequences. In this case, the consequences would be hours of exhausting exercises called burpees.

Normally, The Herald would refuse to cooperate with such a scheme, but the Death Race is a newsworthy event that we have been trying to figure out how to cover in a meaningful way. So, in this instance the interests of the Death Race organizers and The Herald coincide; furthermore Schubert turns out to be a good writer. Thus, we’re happy to publish this description of last month’s trial, and we’ve asked Schubert to write us after the race to tell us how it all came out.

—M. D. Drysdale, Publisher

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