Death Race 2019: Part2

Hero’s Journey

We lined up outside the brown barn and took out our blindfolds. Some people who had lost items were made to use their socks or insoles instead. We left shoes and gear outside the barn and brought in only water and our ear muffs. Don clearly explained to us that he was going to tell us a story, the details of which we would be tested on later. We had to listen very carefully. We put on our blindfolds and stood at attention.
There we were 2 days into the race, without a wink of sleep, blindfolded. In the beginning, Don spoke uninterrupted. Then there was a cough or 2. Then someone dragged a chair across the room. Then there were whispers. The staff did their best to distract us, and they did a  great job. Someone ran  across the barn. Someone’s cellphone rang. All the while Don kept telling his story. The distractions started off subtle and became progressively more impossible to ignore. I giggled at the nonsense I was being subjected to, but still tried as hard as I could to listen to Don’s voice above the distractions. Someone sprayed water in my face. Then someone was chewing chips in my ear. I smelled bacon under my nose and heard groans of yumm noises. Then a loud THUD. That one wasn’t planned.
I have learned since the race that apparently, standing at attention with locked knees can cause a blood pressure drop. Someone standing behind me had collapsed very suddenly to the ground. He was alright, and Don kept talking, but now the directors were whispering to us all to unlock our knees. A few minutes later John Chambers next to me cried out in pain. My instinct was to help him, but I knew I had to stay blindfolded. He simply had a bad cramp, and I quickly heard staff go to help him, allowing him to take off his blindfold and sit down.
So what was happening in this story behind all the shenanigans?
Don’s voice boomed as he told us the story of author Joseph Campbell’s Hero’s Journey. He broke down the stages and the meaning behind them. He repeated them over and over and painted a vivid picture, detailing examples of each that were both attention grabbing and, in my opinion, deeply moving. I can’t possibly recall the specific details of what he said, but I can tell you it was by far my favorite moment of the event. I’ll simply list the stages for you here.
1. Call to adventure 2. Refusal of the call. 3. Supernatural Aid 4. Resistance and commitment 5. Belly of the Whale 6. Road of trials 7. Meeting with the goddess 8. The temptress 9. Atonement with the father 10. Death and Rebirth.
In my research I have found that there are more stages, but this is all I recall from that day. I am unsure if we went over everything and my memory has failed me, or if this is where we stopped. But certainly for the point this was made to get across, these 10 were sufficient.
After he told his story, Don allowed questions. Someone asked who Don’s Hero was, and the moment took a very personal turn as Don told us of a friend he had lost. I won’t go into detail, but it was a very raw moment and I feel blessed to have heard it. I couldn’t contain my emotion and allowed tears to stream down my face under my blindfold. One of the staff placed a hand on my shoulder and handed me a tissue.
After a few more questions, our next activity was explained. We were to put on our earmuffs and sit in silence for 1 hour. We had to raise our hand when we thought the hour was over. With earmuffs and blindfolds on, this meant we had to count in our heads. I managed to count to 20 minutes before they played “Faithfully” and I felt myself doze off. When I snapped myself out of it, I knew it couldn’t have been for more than 5 minutes. But honestly, I had no way of being sure. I had to guess how much time it had been, so I rounded up to 30 and continued counting. This time the minutes weren’t so easy to keep track of. I was dozing in and out and knew I was miscounting. I heard footsteps and assumed people were leaving the barn. Someone’s alarm went off, I knew it was a trick so i kept waiting.
Ultimately, my nerves won, and I raised my hand. I thought it would be better to be under than have been sitting there too long.  Someone took my hand, stood me up, and walked me out of the barn. I heard the count “48 minutes” before they said I could take my blindfold off. I joined maybe 6 others outside as we waited for everyone else.
Once everyone had finished, we were all punished. No one had timed it correctly, though I think the closest was 58 minutes. We had to lie down and go uphill using only our arms, then downhill backwards using only our legs. I started kicking into a somersault, but Jason quickly put a stop to that. I was only using my legs. Kicking down proved to be difficult. I kept my head tucked up which caused a lot of pain in my neck, Dashee was next to me struggling with neck pain as well. We followed that exercise with some 8 count bodybuilders led by Barger, then headed back inside the barn to be quizzed on Don’s speech.
We laid on our bellies, spread far apart, and started our test. Don threatened to DNF anyone who got below an 80%, stating the importance of his speech.
List the steps of the hero’s journey. List examples of a hero. What is an anti- hero? How are you your own hero? Etc. I doubt anyone did well on the exam.
When we got back outside we were told to crawl through a pit of mud. They sprayed us with a hose as they made us roll around in it and over each other. Don demanded we line up in gaelic alphabetical order. None of us had a clue what that meant. He started shouting out the gaelic alphabet as we tried our best to scramble into order.
Then we realized one of each of our shoes and all of our packs were missing, and we went on a hunt to find our things. Our packs were found in a truck parked in front of the house, but it was up against a rock wall with only a small slit at the top open for entry. A few people went inside and we passed them out one by one. Still, our shoes were missing. We continued to run around spread out across the property. The river, the pond, the treeline, around the barns, the house, nothing.
Eventually Leyla found our shoes tied up in a giant ball in a tree. She climbed up and got it down for us. All the laces were knotted together. We failed trying to untangle them and were told we could have them back if we fisherman knotted all the laces of our remaining shoes together. I had solomon shoes that don’t have untieable laces, so i was unable to remove a lace from my shoe. Someone handed me an extra lace they had, and I helped tie the long string of laces. Once BJ was satisfied with our laces and we got the shoes untied, we were allowed to have them back.
Clouds rolled in in an instant and the heat of the day dissapeared as the temperature plummeted and the sky opened up into a downpour. Staff demanded we sit under the awning of the barn while we put our shoes on. I was thankful until i realized they meant at the edge of the awning, where the water was pouring down the most. We all sat on the muddy ground with water crashing down over us as we put on our shoes. We were all trembling within a minute. This was my second dark moment. I had forgotten to pack a windbreaker and was very much regretting it as I saw others putting on jackets. I was soaked and freezing and there was nothing I could do about it. I accepted my fate and vowed to push on.
They told us to get out our chopsticks and toothpick as they handed out packets of flax seeds. They told us Sefra’s method to planting seeds was to poke a hole in the soil with a toothpick, then carefullly pick the seeds out of the packet and place them in the hole with the chopsticks. Courtney De Sena wanted the whole field (our barb wire from last year) planted. We spread out in a line and worked ur way slowly accross the field. The rain was relentless and my whole body was shivering as I painstakingly repeated the process over and over again, on my knees in the field. Poke a hole, pickup seeds with chopsticks and place them in the hole. It was rediculous thinking back now. The ground was flooded, my toothpick holes weren’t visible, and the rain was turning the seed packets into mush as the paper disintigrated. Yet there we all were planting seeds.
After what felt like ages out there in the rain, Patrick noticed my body shivering and found me a garbage bag. I was so grateful for that bag. I was a couple degrees warmer and the rain was no longer soaking my skin.
Eventually, staff told everyone to go in the white barn, a moment of mercy likely brought on by concerned medics. They passed out chips and we shared hot chocolate as we huddled and our body heat warmed us up. Then Joe came and they passed out Spartan rain ponchos. Someone suggested we put our race bibs over the ponchos to keep them tight to us and keep body heat in. It was a brilliant idea. After 15 minutes or so we were ushered back outside.
We were told that none of us passed Don’s exam and we all had to surrender our bibs. I mentioned aloud that they were helping to keep our body heat in, hoping for more mercy. Jason was about to allow it, before Joe spoke up, “Oh don’t worry, we’ll warm you up.” He demanded we all start doing burpees nonstop.
That went on for a while, then he posed a question. “Who here feels physically strong?” Some hands went up, mine not among them. “Who here feels mentally strong?” I nodded, knowing my body was in rough shape, but my head was in the game. “Who here is completely drained?” No one moved. Then he demanded we split up into groups.
Everyone started moving and I suggested we all stay together in one large strong group, but the staff demanded we actually break into 3 teams. Physically strong, mentally strong, and weak. Sensing confusion in the group about where we belonged, the staff began telling us which team to go to. They placed me in the physically strong group.


Then they counted us off and made several teams of 3 people, 1 person from each ability group. I was paired with Ivette and Tom. Joe told us in order to earn our bibs back, we would have to complete the Denali challenge. We had until 8 am the following morning to complete 12 laps from the brown barn up to Shrek’s and back down.
We started our march up the mountain, and quickly fell to last place. Ivette was struggling, moving very slowly. Tom and I would get a bit ahead of her, then wait for her to come up. I could sense Tom’s frustration and I felt it too, but I shook it off. She is trying, this is her best, we are a team. I offered to take her gear, but she refused. Peter Borden caught up to us from the back and noticed we were spaced out far from the rest of the teams. He told me to take her things and I explained her refusal. After a pep talk with her, she agreed to give me her bucket, filled with some supplies, but not her pack. I took it and we continued up the mountain. Several teams passed us on the way down as we continued up. I was worried, but shook it off and kept moving. When we got to Shrek’s she sat down to powder her trench foot. I took the opportunity to eat my last rx bar, drink some water, and pop a tylenol. The next couple laps continued at a slow pace.
On one of the laps Francis and his team passed us, and he told me Don gave them the option of being tazed in order to knock off 1 lap and he decided for the team to take it without question. I was suprised at first, then understood the decision. As we continued up the mountain I actually began to look forward to the idea of being tazed. Thinking if there’s a time or place to experience that, it might as well be at the Death Race, and it might even help wake me up.
.. We were never actually given this chance.
Eventually, teams start to head up the mountain with objects. Some a log, one with a kayak. On our third lap we were told we had to carry a slosh pipe up the mountain, then Lap 4 would begin individual laps. We were still in last place as Tom and I picked up a 100 lb sand filled slosh pipe.  This movement was treacherous. Ivette was unable to carry the pipe, so it was just Tom and I the whole way. The ground was muddy and slippery and Tom is much taller than me. I took the front to try and even out the height. The pipe was heavy and awkward and we were moving VERY slowly, trying not to slip and fall. Ivette took our rucks to help with the weight, but she couldn’t carry all 3, so she began a sortve leapfrog. She would run 2 up the mountain a bit ahead of us, then go back for the 3rd.
The process was long and hard. When we tired, we would have to lower the pipe to the ground, but lowering only meant we would again have to deadlift it, then clean it to our shoulders, and it was very slippery PVC pipe covered in mud. We had no relief. My exhaustion was turning into hallucinations, and in a rest moment, I pointed out that I was seeing cartoons in the mud patterns on the pipe. Tom confirmed he was seeing them too and we had a moment of laughter as we rested. Andrew H. came over to us in that moment and asked who left a ruck on the trail. When we explained the leapfrog he stated “That’s actually very smart, but it was abandoned on the trail, so we brought it down to the farm. Go get it.” We sighed in frustration as Ivette ran down the mountain to claim the ruck.
When she returned, she told us she had explained our predicament to Jason Barnes, and he had told her when the first place team passes us on the way down, we were allowed to turn around and come back down. I was overwhelmed with relief. I couldn’t wrap my head around how we were going to be able to get the pipe up the mountain. When the team passed us, we started back down. I was frustrated that first place team had 3 strong men, and only a small log, but I ignored it.
We made it all the way back to the barn and as we went to set the pipe down, it slipped and cracked on a rock. Of course, it happened right in front of Don, who began screaming that we had broken a slosh pipe that had been on the farm for years and was like one of Peter’s children. In my heart I knew the speech was for show, but I knew we would still suffer for the break. Don asked if we had brought the pipe up to shrek’s and I spoke for the group, stating what Ivette had told us. Don screamed for Jason to come over, and Jason said he never said for us to bring the pipe back down.
I’m not sure if it was a miscommunication between Jason and Ivette or if Jason was lying now to get us punished, but I knew it didn’t matter. Ivette went silent for a while, then began apologizing to us for the miscommunication. I assured her it was ok. Don demanded we each grab 3 pieces of firewood and bring them up the mountain, then we could start our solo laps. By the time we headed up again, all of the teams had brought their items back down. They were all starting their 4th lap, the solo laps, as we repeated lap 3 as a team.
This lap seemed to be the slowest of them all. Ivette was apologizing to us for the penalty and I assured her we were going to be punished no matter what. I explained this is the Death Race and it doesn’t matter what we are doing, we just have to keep moving. Do one thing until they tell us to do something else. She couldn’t let go of the guilt feeling despite my assurance we were ok. I noticed her limping, and she mentioned she hurt her ankle. She would periodically need to sit down and rest, and we waited for her. She kept telling us to continue, but we knew we had to make it up and down together. She was upset and obviously in pain. When I asked how bad the ankle was, she said she thought it might be sprained. This time I stopped being encouraging and turned the focus to her health.
“We have no idea how much longer this race is going to last. We have to continue going up and down this mountain till 8 am. Who knows what tasks we will have to do after that. Do you think you are going to be able to continue?” She thought about it for a minute and finally answered, “You are right, I don’t know how much longer this will go on, I have to quit.” I double checked that she was sure, and when she was, Tom and I ran up to the top and called a medic. We weren’t far from the top and she was able to make it up, then I believe they called an ATV to get her down. From what I heard later, her ankle was in bad shape, and the decision to call it quits was the right one.
Tom and I finished our last lap back down together, then we were allowed to drop our rucks and start our solo laps. Some people were on lap 7 and 8 by the time we started 4. Rain picked up again and the mountain was covered in fog. It was hard to see more than a few feet ahead and as I tried to run, my headlamp thunked on the log-induced knot on my forehead. It was officially now every man for himself as we passed each other through the woods.
The first solo lap brought about some strange visions for me. I don’t know if it was because I wasn’t alone previously and didn’t notice, or if my increased speed and rapidly depleting energy sources were the cause, but I was hallucinating heavily on the 4th lap. Near the summit I saw a french bulldog come out of a bush to greet me on the trail up ahead, then retreated backwards as I came closer. Of course I knew he wasn’t there, but I definitely saw him. On the way back down a cabin that had appeared earlier appeared again, only to vanish as I got closer to it. I would see that cabin in the same spot for the remainder of the laps. That is one hallucination that has really stuck with me, as a friend told me a day after the race that she saw it too. It is the only hallucination that occurred multiple times.
I reached the summit on lap 5 around sunrise, I took a second to take in the view from Shrek’s, then realizing how much ground I had to cover by 8am, I headed right back down. Fog, slippery rocks, and rain were my obstacles. I checked in with Don at the bottom, who watched from the deck of the brown barn with Jason and Rob, then turned around back into the woods. I was nervous about the clock. I ran as fast as my legs would carry me up that mountain. I had a deep heart to heart with myself in my head, and possibly a bit out loud.
This is it. It’s crunch time. Control your breath. Run as fast as you can. Ignore that the rocks are wet. Ignore the uphill. Ignore your painful feet. RUN.
I checked in with Andrew at the top of lap 6, then turned around and immediately ran back down. All the while crunching numbers in my head. Approximate distance…approximate time…I’m so far behind…can I fit in another lap?
I passed Anthony on his way up as I came down and asked him for the time. When I asked if he thought I could squeeze in another lap he asked how far I was. When I said 6, he told me I had to keep going. He was on lap 10. I reached the bottom and checked in with Jason. He told me it was 7:08am. I asked him what would happen if I came back after 8 am. “You DNF.” I took  a split second to weigh the risk vs. what happens if I check in with only 6 laps, and I bolted back into the woods.
That lap took everything in me. Running at top speed, ignoring my pain, I thought back to a speech given to us earlier in the race about our amygdala or “lizard brain” and how it’s responsible for the fear response and keeping us safe. I was afraid of slipping on a rock  and spraining my ankle, but I repeated to myself, “Shut off your lizard brain.” In that moment, self preservation was the last thing on my mind. I remembered my training and my boyfriend asking me days before the race:
“Is it an option to come home without a skull?”
I ran that lap on adrenaline and willpower.
“It is NOT an option to come home without a skull. “
Running through the woods, there were a couple guys still out there, but most of them had banked laps and were resting at the barn waiting out the clock for these last ~40 mins. Most of us still out there were women. I passed by Ashley S, Ashley A, Jael, Dashee, Amanda. We all cheered each other on and moved as quickly as we could. It was a wonderful moment to be a part of. I can say in particular Jael was on fire and I have no idea how she was moving so quickly. I spotted Dylan at the top, waved to make sure he saw me, then bolted back down.
Still worried about the time, i was FLYING down the last few stairs and saw the rest of the group lined up in front of the barn. Don yelled at me for being late, then asked for a time check. Jason stated it was 7:56am. I had made it. Up and down in 48 minutes.  When I stopped moving, I suddenly realized I hadn’t had any water since I dropped my pack to start lap 4 several hours ago. My breath was rapid, I was dehydrated, and suddenly the pain I had ignored started to sink back into my feet.
I flexed and extended my feet as we awaited our next intructions. Ashley A. offered me a bottle of water she had on her when I told her I hadn’t had a drink in hours. Then we bear crawled over to the fence line in front of the white barn where we were told to do burpees. Non-stop. I think I reached 100 before I stopped counting. Don hosed us off with water as he declared it was Thursday and we still had a whole 24 hours left of the race. When someone opened their mouth to say it was Friday morning, he simply screamed louder “It’s THURSDAY! You haven’t earned Friday yet!”
The burpees continued as Don walked over to me and asked me, “What have you learned?!” After a brief pause I yelled “You have to be your own hero!” Don was pleased and moved on to the person next to me “What have you learned?!” He repeated, “You have to be your own hero!” That continued down the line till the last person. Then Don came back to me. “What else have you learned?” “You have to go through the devil’s anus to come out the other side!” He seemed very pleased with that response. The repetition of the phrase continued down the line again.
Don decided we had done enough burpees and allowed us to stand as Joe walked over. We stood at attention as Joe pointed out all of our bibs on the fence, stating that none of us had earned our bibs back. He demanded we recite The man in the Arena. Thinking it was another trick, I responded simply stating “The man in the arena.” That wasnt going to work this time. Don read it aloud line by line and asked us to recite it back in unison. Once we had completed that, he read off a list of numbers and told us to retrieve our bibs. Out of the group of about 25 (?) of us remaining, 7 had just been eliminated. I am still unsure of why.
They told us to run back to the brown barn, grab our gear,  and run around the perimeter of the farm to a truck in front of the house. As we started to run, the pain hit me full force. Sharp pains rain through my feet. I was hobbling, and halfway accross the farm, I started hyperventillating. Don screamed for us to run faster as I struggled to control my breath. “If the person in front of you is too slow, run OVER them!”
I was thankful when we finally stopped and were told to take a seat in front of the truck. Patrick Sweeney, a “fear expert” began lecturing us on fear as Joe threw a skull and Courtney De Sena shot at it with a shotgun. She missed the first two shots, and Patrick took the gun and shot the skulls where they laid on the ground. He told us how fear often holds people back from opportunity. Joe interjected that they were going to keep shooting skulls and take away  people’s opportunity to finish this race. A third skull went flying into the air. As it hit the ground, Joe asked “who’s skull is that?” I yelled “It’s mine,” and ran.
I was standing in the middle of the farm alone with a skull as Joe laughed. Unsure what to do next, I ran back towards the group. Right there, Joe spoke up “That’s it. The race is over. You win. ” He turned to the staff, “Pack it up, she’s the only one going home with a skull.” I froze, speechless, unsure of what had just happened. Joe said I took action and grabbed the first skull, that it took initiative and lack of fear, and I deserved the skull. Then I spoke up.
“I don’t deserve this skull more than anyone else. Everyone has been out here just as long and fighting just as hard. If there is only one skull, I’m not taking it.”
Don laughed and suggested I forfeit the skull, and we race to Chittenden to fight for the remaining ones. I hesitated, of course not wanting to run all the way to Chittenden, but ultimately decided one final race was the way to go to be fair, and agreed. Jason interjected “If you forfeit that skull and keep racing, whoever wins owes you that skull anyway.”
Then someone yelled, “Break it into pieces.” I’m not sure of who it was, but I looked at the group and asked “Do you want me to break it up, and we end the race here?” The consensus was yes. Someone handed me an axe and I swung hard into the skull. It shattered instantly. Somehow I hadn’t though about the fact it was plastic and I didn’t need to be swinging with all my might…my brain wasn’t operating at it’s highest function. I proceeded to make tiny chops and break the skull apart, tossing pieces into the group. I checked to make sure everyone had one.
Joe, in his final attempt to separate the group, asked who wanted a full skull. No one budged. Our pieces meant more to all of us than a full skull. Finally Joe told the group, whoever wants one, there are 7 skulls in the pond. Andrew and Anthony stood up and ran toward the pond, then a few more joined. Those remaining were happy with their skull fragments, and Joe handed me a full skull. I was relieved it was finally all over. It was somewhere around 10am on Friday, 70 hours after the race had began.
The first thing I did was pull my shoes and socks off. Within a minute there was a camera on my face. Joe was talking for facebook live. The look on my face in that video is vacant. I was exhausted and speechless. The only thing I could get out was how much my Spartan Endurance family means to me.
After a couple more interviews and photos, I picked up my shoes and hobbled over to the white barn to have a medic look at my feet. Trench foot is an understatement. Deep pruney lines, huge blisters, swollen ankles. All I could do was pop the blisters, coat my feet in powder and leave them out to dry. It must’ve been hot, but I wrapped myself in a mylar blanket and sat down. Jason Mozey greeted me, then ran to drop some people off at the house to shower, and brought me back a breakfast sandwich from the General Store.
Neil had his swollen purple ankle elevated as he ate an entire pizza. Anthony and Francis were comatose on cots in the barn. Ashley and I basked in the sun. A handful of people sat around for hours eating and talking. Somehow I still didn’t want to leave that place. I had the staff sign my bib, took a photo with Don and his bike, and eventually we left.
I have to say one thing about Don. Death Race Don is a force to be reckoned with, you do not want to be on his bad side. But after the race, the loveable, inspirational teddy bear is in full bloom. That man believes in people. He wants the best for everyone. And it shines through him. I hope to one day be half the badass he is, able to travel the country on a bicycle, all to raise money for charity. I’m hoping to compete in one of his events in the future. I made a point to tell him that his Hero’s Journey evolution in the barn was probably my favorite moment of the entire race. I asked him to sign my skull, and he wrote “You have done something. now go do something.”
Ashley, Francis, and I shared a room. We had dinner at the Clear River where we bumped into several racers for a welcomed reunion now that we were all clean and rested. The next morning we went to breakfast at Sugar & Spice where we again bumped into a large group of racers. After breakfast, it was finally time to head back home from Vermont.
So today is October 4th, 2019. I am officially the slowest blogger in the history of the universe, and I am sorry this took so long to complete. The fact is sometimes life gets busy and some things need to be pushed to the backburner for some time. I hope I did a decent job of telling this story as frankly as I can recall it, and I’ll let you decide what you think. Do I think I deserved to “win” that race? No. And I’m sure many people have said the same. However, the race isn’t fair, and that is something you have to understand when participating. Why were those final few eliminated? I have no idea.
I whole heartedly advocate for this race. If you are thinking about it, DO IT. But please understand the amount of grit and willpower it demands of you. Please understand, even if you give it your all, even if you make it to the very end, you can be eliminated. NOTHING is guaranteed, the rules can change at any moment, and it WILL hurt. As it stands, I don’t think I am going back next year. I would love to go every year, but there are a couple other multi-day races I have my eye on, and I certainly can’t take off work for all of them. Especially since one of them is just 2 weeks before Death Race. A lot can change in a year, and my mind might change as well, but for now, I have thought it over and over to no end, and I think this is the right decision.
A piece of my heart lives up in Pittsfield and it always will. Joe, Don, Jason, Rob, BJ, the entire DR staff are phenomenal and that event is unlike any other. It will show you parts of yourself you didn’t know existed. It will teach you how to dig deep and push beyond your limits. It will teach you how to be a better teammate, a better friend, and a better person. YOU are capable of whatever you set your mind to. You have to be your own hero.

The Death Race begins the moment we are born.

Death Race 2019: The Journey. Part 1.

The Journey

It’s Friday August 2, 2019, 3 weeks after the Death Race as I start writing. I was advised after the race to take some time to “contemplate and process” the events that took place, but unfortunately work and various responsibilities left me a busy bee upon returning home from Vermont.
“You have just undergone a traumatic experience, take time to recover.”
I took time in my own way. I went internal a bit. I didn’t check any notifications until 2 days after. Then I answered the DM’s, the FB notifications, and the emails, but I shyed away from posting on social media.
There were so many congratulatory messages. So many people asking for tips. Emails about interviews and podcasts. It was all very overwhelming, it still is. Who am I? I am a regular person. I am not particularly strong or fast. I have a decent amount of grit and a strong will, but I am not superhuman. Yet it happened. I finished my second Death Race, and I was somehow crowned the winner. Not just the winner, the first female overall winner in the history of the Death Race.
People are looking at me differently. Do I deserve it? I don’t particularly think so. I feel strange about the whole thing. I was standing there, 70 hours in, with 17 others next to me that had made it that far. I knew I couldn’t run the furthest or lift the heaviest, but I was still in the game. I acted on impulse, grabbed a skull, and in that moment, Joe decided the race was over.
Here’s one thing you have to realize about the Death Race, everything is very arbitrary. There are no rules; The rules that exist can be changed at any time; You don’t know when it will end. So I am going to tell my story, as honestly as I can recall it, and I am going to let you form your own opinions about what does or doesn’t make sense. There is only one thing you can count on at an event like this: It will not be fair.


September 30th, 2018 I signed up for my second Death Race. In December, they announced partners would be mandatory. I partnered up with Charlie Denny, an elite Spartan Racer who I had met at my first 12 hour Hurricane Heat in July of 2017, and had become a good friend. Over the next several months Charlie proved to be a wonderful supporter and motivator. We live a couple hundred miles from each other and rarely got to see each other, but we made good partners even at a distance. The first month of our partnership he had me doing 200 burpees a day, on top of my planned workout. We shared our workouts daily and kept each other accountable. Our styles influenced each other.  When I was feeling weak he would call me and give me a pep talk. We started sharing day to day struggles and triumphs and became closer friends because of it. We both had very busy schedules, but we knew no matter what we had to carve out the time to train. Personally, I knew I couldn’t let him down. It wasn’t just about my finish anymore, it was about the team.
In 2018 I had let all the emails from Peak and warnings of “quit now” from the race directors into my head. I was worried and anxious for months leading up to the race. This year, I made a conscious decision to ignore the idea of the race entirely until it was go time.
Peak races decided to release our gear list in the form of several videos, each containing only 2-4 items. There were probably 12 videos, with 1 or 2 released a week. Most were released in the middle of the work day and I couldn’t pay much attention to them. I ignored them for a while. It wasn’t till maybe 3 weeks before the race that I decided to go back and watch them all and jotted down the items in my phone notes.
Mandatory Gear:
1 Dart, 10 balloons, 2oz Bag Balm, Whistle, 1 yard Floral pattern cloth, sewing kit, duct tape NOT SILVER, blindfold, construction ear muffs, chem lights (3 red, 3 green), a well lubricated and foldable limb saw, axe, sound proof foam ears plugs (preffereably pink), a hefty handful of 11″ zip ties, compass, 100ft paracord, water sanitizer, 2 feet of tinfoil with no wrinkles or creases, a shovel, 1 9″x12″ manilla envelope with the letters tau theta written on it, ability to carry 2L of liquid, children’s safety scissors, 1 crisp $20 bill, 2 canned goods, chop sticks, a firestarter (non electronic or compressed fuel), and a toothpick.
The videos also suggested we learn about edible mushrooms in Vermont, and several videos had journey songs playing in the background. I spent 2 weeks trying to memorize a handful of Journey’s greatest hits, and then a photo was posted of an exam which appeared to be Journey trivia.  I learned a couple stand out facts about them and decided not to stress it too much.
Charlie and I sent each other lists of the mandatory items we were bringing to cross check each other. I ordered most things on Amazon, and we split the bulk items we only needed a few of. Thanks to the genius of Francis Genarelli, my best friend Ashley Alarcon’s partner and another elite Spartan athlete, we found a method to keep our aluminum foil uncreased. He learned an old army trick to wrap the foil around PVC pipe and encapsulate it inside another PVC which was capped by rubber at the ends, enabling the foil to stay uncreased and dry through whatever they decided to throw at us.
The week before the race, the nerves came in full force. Everything I had been ignoring took over my mind in the blink of an eye. Self doubt creeped in. Maybe I didn’t train hard enough. Maybe I’m missing a list item. Maybe I don’t know Journey well enough. Oh my God, am I really going to try and do this again?

Welcome back to Pittsfield

On Monday, July 8th, Ashley and I carpooled up to Pittsfield. We were splitting a room at the Clear River Inn with Charlie and Francis. Shortly after we arrived we met up with some other racers for dinner at our hotel, and bumped into other friends also staying there. It was finally setting in, I was back. I was thrilled to see everyone and my joy wiped away any bit of nerves. It was just gonna be a few days in the woods with my friends, challenging ourselves, becoming stronger. The outcome didn’t matter, I was in it for the adventure.
The race directors posted that we should all come to the farm that night. They had made a documentary about the Death Race and were inviting us to watch the uncut version for the first time.  I was super excited about it, but over dinner, several racers suggested it was a trap. The group was split with half wanting to go, and half having made up their minds that if we went now, our race would begin early. Some spoke of a time years ago when they were invited to dinner at the farm and showed up in neat dinner attire only to be made to do farm work in their nice clothing. I spoke to Charlie about it and he strongly felt that it was a setup. I had a feeling it wasn’t and suggested we bring our gear in the car just incase, and he agreed.
Charlie, Ashley, Anthony and I were about to head over to the farm when we bumped into some more friends in the parking lot of our hotel and got chatty. By the time we got in the car it was 7:55pm and the post had said movie promptly at 8pm. Despite really wanting to go, we agreed it would be dangerous to show up late, and got out of the car, opting to take a walk around town instead. Patrick, Ronald, Ashley Seeger and Jael drove by us on the road, honked and waved hello. As the sun started to set, we headed back to our rooms, for our last night of sleep for the foreseeable future.
We awoke around 8 am, did last minute gear checks, and headed to breakfast at The General Store. Francis opened the door, and none other than Joe De Sena was on the other side on his way out. “Oh hey, you guys racing? Are you all DNF’s?” We responded with a confident absolutely not as we walked passed him inside. We bumped into a few racers who said the movie was amazing and they couldn’t wait for it to be released. A few people told me I was in a chunk of it. I was suprised, happy, and now all the more eager to watch it, wondering when or if I would even get the chance to. We ordered breakfast and sat down with the group for our last real meal. Matt B. Davis with Obsacle Racing media was there and shot a couple short videos of us for their IG stories before wishing us good luck. We quickly went back to the room to pack away all our stuff, and then Charlie, Francis, Ashley and myself got into my car and headed to Riverside Farm at about 11:40am.

Riverside Farm

I pulled into the parking lot and saw everyone lined up and their rucks in a giant pile. The staff  pulled everyone out of my car before I could even park. Once I got out I was given a number and asked to put my ruck into the pile. A minute later Don Devaney started screaming asking “Who brought me this small bucket?” He held up a red 2 gallon bucket belonging to Francis. Francis declared it his and Don demanded he run down to the river to build him a sand castle. I giggled in my head because buckets weren’t even on the gear list, and here he was being punished for bringing a small one. A minute later, BJ Pierce stated that Ashley and myself had small buckets also. Don looked at me and said “You go build a sand castle too,” then looked at Ashley and said “follow her.”
We ran down to the river, not seeing Francis anywhere. The river banks were mostly rocks, but there was some sand. We had a quick talk and decided that I would fill my bucket with sand, and Ashley would fill hers with water, and we would run back and build the castle in front of Don. We carefully scooped handfuls of sand into the bucket, packing it down with water every so often to keep it together. When we got back Don questioned why Ashley’s bucket didn’t have sand in it and I quickly answered, “To help pack the castle so it doesn’t fall apart.” I tipped my bucket upside down and slowly started wiggling the bucket upwards. Ashley was on top of packing in the sides with her water as I slowly lifted the bucket off, worried with each movement that it might collapse. Thankfully, it held together, Don declared it satisfactory, and told us to line up for registration. We ran off towards the white barn and got in the back of the line.
One by one each participant turned in their crisp $20 and canned goods, received their Death Race Bibs, took a photo, and said a short statement to the cameras with their partners. I said my hellos to BJ and Jason Barnes, and even got a hug from Don before he stated “Ok, that’s the last of that,” and switched back into director mode. Charlie smiled at me and said “that’s the 3rd director who has acknowledged you.” He seemed to think me being a finisher last year might be helpful this year. I thought it meant I had a target on my back.
Minutes ticked by with no Francis in sight and we were all starting to worry. As we got closer to check-in I looked at Ashley and told her she had to find him. “I don’t think it’s a good idea for you to register without your partner.” She disappeared off to find him and a few minutes later I heard Don say “We have to get a camera over here.”
When Francis returned he told us that he had stayed down by the river and built an entire village and fortress of sand castles. Multiple castles with a moat and everything. He said he wasn’t told to come back, so he just kept building, and was fully prepared to simply sit by the river building sand castles for as long as was necessary. I thought it was hysterical, and in that moment knew for sure he was ready for whatever heinous nonsense we had in store for us over the next couple of days.
We all checked in, then went inside the barn to grab merch, a DR t-shirt and hoodie. While in line, Don approached me and asked “Are you claustrophobic?” I answered that it wasn’t an issue I had addressed yet and I wasn’t sure. “Well you will,” he responded, as he proceeded down the line asking others. I saw several people in the parking lot putting their gear in their cars, so I collected all our stuff and ran it back to the car.
We were told to do a “romanian chair,” or as I liked to call it, a backwards butt scoot from the white barn down to the tree line. There we put on our blindfolds and were gear checked for a handful of items we had to pull out of our rucks while blindfolded. Jason yelled for anyone who didn’t have their shirt and hoodie to step forward. Roughly half the group stepped forward. He exclaimed that we were never told we were allowed to go back to our cars and we would be punished for doing so. Anyone in the group who had done so without their partner was given a new partner, then we were told to go back to our cars and retrieve the clothing. As punishment, we were sent off into the woods to chop up down trees for firewood. This didn’t last very long before we were sent to race up the mountain.
Charlie was much faster than me and got a little ahead, but would then wait. Eventually he got too far ahead of me, and I saw a group of 7 who were carrying a table up the mountain. I stayed with them to help rotate on and off the table. Once we reached the top we had to grab logs to carry back down. Euan hit me in the forehead with a log and was apologetic, but i assured him it was likely my own clutziness of bending down to grab the next log before he was cleared out of the way that led to my head injury. That lump on my head would prove to be an annoyance throughout the Journey as it was directly where my headlamp sat.
When we got back down the mountain we lined the logs in front of the white barn and lined up along the fence line, with our butts downhill, and our legs stretched straight uphill out in front of us. Don told us our money would go to the foundation he had been raising money for all year. Don is currently on a cycling trip around the country raising money for the One Step Ahead Foundation. He said some very moving words about his journey and I think we all got a little teary eyed.
Then he told us to get out our floral cloth, cut our bib numbers and sew it to our bibs. I started pulling out my sewing kit as a volunteer came over and told Charlie and I to put on our blindfolds and we would be gear checked for all of our items. Thankfully I knew well where I had everything stashed, and we got through gear check relatively quickly. Blindfold back off, we started to sew our numbers on. I was struggling, clearly not very good with a needle and thread. Don became agitated and said we were moving too slowly. When he called time I only had 1 number sewn on.
We were told to low crawl to the pond with our gear and we sang “Don’t stop Believing” at the top of our lungs as we crawled. Once we all got in the pond and our gear was waterlogged, we were told to get 2 down trees out of the pond. As we were trying to organize ourselves, Don began loudly screaming “Peanut Butter Jelly” to add to the noise and chaos.
We split into 2 teams and carried the rather long trees out of the pond and over to the far side of the farm where we were told to get down into a squat with the tree. I was next to Eric Hutterer, last year’s DR winner, and quickly noticed he had a 40lb kettlebell in tow. “Im guessing you can’t let that hit the floor?” I asked. “A little present from Joe,” Eric replied as he placed the KB on top of the tree. Once they decided we had squatted long enough, we were told to chop the trees up into fire wood and stack it. The trees were thick and this was the first time I realized my light axe wasn’t quite hacking it with thick logs. It took me quite some time and effort to break down the wood. Mental note to get a sturdier axe for whatever events I may partake in the future.
We were then split into 3 groups, 1 group was to clean the wood chips out  of the field, one to head up the mountain to clean the stairs, and one to head back to the pond and make it look like shangra la. I went with the group up the mountain, led by Yancy, tasked with cleaning and stabilizing the stairs. For anyone who is unaware, the “stairs” are on a trail going up Joe’s mountain from the farm to Shrek’s cabin. They are large flat rocks that were placed there years ago during another Death Race. We made sure they were stable, got rid of any loose or cracked stairs, and cleaned out loose weeds and leaves. It was a tedious task and we were slow moving up the mountain. Yancy asked us all to run up to the top for a group photo and work our way back down, but a couple of people began moving slowly and we had our first med drop of the event, Tracy, a guy I had met in Fayetville at a Hurricane Heat in ’17 who was feeling dizzy.
When we got back down to the farm, the group cleaning wood chips off the grass was still working, so we all joined in to help. Joe threatened 100 burpees for every minute longer it took us, and I got horrible flashbacks from the pain of last year’s 3,000 burpee night. Directors then decided they didn’t like where our firewood was stacked, and we had to run it across the field to a cabin and stack it there instead. After several rounds of running back and forth, and with the sun going down, we were told to get into a line and do a penalty in unsion.
We had to do lunges across the field and the backwards somersaults, while our arms were intertwined. Charlie was next to me, and we pep talked each other through it. Every backwards roll hurt. Inevitably we were over extending our necks, being kicked by a neighbor, or landing oddly on our legs. We repeated the somersaults over and over for some time. Then we were told to get in 2 lines facing our partners. We were moved 2 down and told we were now facing our new partners. I was facing Ashley Seeger. I had met Ashley last year and I knew she was strong, plus we were about the same height, so I was grateful  for that when they told us to ziptie our hands together.
We were then all given raw eggs and told to keep them safe. If our eggs broke at any point in time, our race was over. Ashley used her blindfold as a cushion and stuffed her egg into her nalgene bottle. I put mine inside my noise cancelling earphones and wrapped it tightly shut with my blindfold, then hung it from my sternum strap so I could keep it close and safe.
The last light left the sky as we were led into the woods by Andrew Hostetler. We walked in mindless circles for hours, backtracking periodically and turning down different trails. We had no apaprent direction and it seemed the circling was meant to confuse us. Go down this trail, about face, go the other way, turn around, turn the other way. Eventually we were lead to Miguel’s cabin, where the task of the first night awaited us.

Riddles at Miguel’s

We had to bear crawl up the mountain to a tree with some sort of puzzle or riddle, then crab walk back down to the cabin and give our answer to Dylan. If our answer was correct, we could proceed to question 2 which was on a tree higher up the mountain, if it was wrong, we had to go back to read 1 and come back with our new answer. This process would repeat until all the questions were answered. I don’t think any of us realized just how many puzzles there were. We spent the whole night doing bear crawls and crab walks and romanian chairs and low crawls, up and down. Suicide drills, the crawl version. Each puzzle on a tree higher and higher up the mountain, each time we had to go all the way down to give our answer. Truthfully after a while, when we were so high up the mountain we knew no one could see, people were standing and walking. Some people even cut their zip ties, knowing they had backups to replace it so no one would see. Some people stopped to eat or nap. Ashley and I stayed tied together the whole time. It proved difficult when we had to get something out of our rucks, or had to use the bathroom, but we made it work.
The puzzles greatly varied. 1 was a sequence of patterns and you had to guess what was next in the sequence. 1 was a picture of moon phases and you had to name which phase was in the middle. 1 was a code. 1 was a math problem. Some were riddles.
What number is on the opposite side of the die?
I am everything when on my side, and nothing when cut in half.
A symbol that is the number of bones in the skull divided by the number of orifices.
Luckily enough it seemed that Ashley knew the answers to the ones I didn’t and vice versa. There were 2 or 3 neither of us knew, and fellow racers helped us out, as we did for others.
When we got down to the bottom after question 11, we were told to hold high plank and wait till everyone else was down. We didn’t get the chance to answer it, but it turned out the few people who made it to question 12, the final one, had a code they had to decipher which translated to “a bucket filled with water.” That one was particularly difficult as the codex needed to decipher it was located in the window of the cabin. Apparently only 1 or 2 teams figured it out, but the directors said since no one returned to the cabin with a bucket filled with water, we had all failed.

Land Nav

Race directors walked us back towards the farm and we arrived at the brown barn where we had to take off our shoes and go inside.  We were VERY smelly. We split into 4 teams and were given maps with checkpoints worth point value. At each location there was a unique hole puncher which we would have to punch our map with to prove we had been there. We had to accumulate at least 180 points. Our team quickly noticed that the top of Bloodroot was worth 120 points, the most on the map as it was the furthest away at roughly 14 miles. Heading there would take a long time and we would need to hit other locations to accumulate more points. The directors told us that there was a poem there, and if we could return having memorized it perfectly, we would gain another 70 points. That decided it, we were heading to Bloodroot.
Before they sent us on our way the directors told us that from here on out, every challenge would eliminate half of the group and that it would work in our favor to come in early. On the way out of the cabin I confirmed with Jason that only 1 map had to be punched, not the entire teams. I knew that this meant once we were out of sight of the directors, we could sent out a fast runner to go collect the punch. The directors said we had to be back at a bridge on Upper Michigan Rd by 8 am with our maps to check in our points.
We headed out on Lower Michigan Road as the sun came up on Wednesday morning. When we reached the Iron Mine, the only other check point on the way to Bloodroot, 2 other teams were sitting on the side of the road resting. I searched for Charlie but he wasn’t there, his team must’ve gone another way.
Ashley S. volunteered to run down to collect the punch and told us to wait for her on the main road. Another team caught on quickly and sent Andrew and Jael, their fastest runners, down the road also. We took the time to drop our rucks and eat  as we waited. Just as Ashley reappeared, a pickup truck with Don and some camera guys rolled up on us.
Don got out of the car and screamed that we were all resting and none of us were taking the race seriously. We brushed him off knowing he was just trying to get into our heads. Ashley took off with the map up Bloodroot to get the next checkpoint.
“None of you are going to finish, she is in the lead,” He yelled pointing up at Ashley. Again I brushed it off, knowing Ashley was on my team and she was the only one who needed to get that map punched. Those were the rules. Suddenly Don turned his eyes to me. “Why are you just standing here? You will NOT repeat.” He was threatening my skull. He had said earlier I couldn’t do it again. That time it got under my skin. With him still yelling at me, I took off down the road.
My team ran after me and we headed up as Don’s voice continued to boom behind us. Ashley had left her ruck behind, so we carried it. 2 other members of our team decided to go with her to help with memorizing the poem, so we took their rucks as well. Our remaining team was myself, John Chambers, Dashee Vavrova, Clay Speakman, and Ronald Tortola.  We continued up Bloodroot at a steady pace, carrying 3 extra rucks, 2 of which were absurdly heavy. A we passed the bridge checkpoint we would later return to, Jason made us all grab a rock out of the river to carry as well.
Time passed slowly and with no sign of Ashley returning, I started to worry. What if they held them at the top? What if Don was yelling for a reason? I vocalized my concerns to the group and Clay tried to calm me saying they stated the rules and we were following them. Only 1 person had to punch their map, and we should conserve our energy. But Don’s words started to echo in my head “You will NOT repeat.” I argued with Clay. “Yes, they told us that. But this is the Death Race, it isn’t fair. What if they’re waiting for us ALL to get up there and here we are taking our time. We can move faster. We have to stop resting.” We bickered for a bit and ultimately the team agreed to move faster. I acknowledged I was being stubborn and apologized, but I didn’t want to risk the race being unsure.
Shortly after, Ashley and our other teammates appeared heading toward us back down the mountain, followed shortly by Jael, Andrew, and Frank. I apologized to my team again for being wrong and stubborn, but they understood my concern.
Ashley read the poem and we were all assigned a line to memorize. Once we had our lines, we headed back towards the bridge as a team. When we got there Don asked us to recite the poem. Only 1 person on our team messed up a single word, but he corrected it before he finished his line. Don said since he fixed it, our punishment was only 200 burpees. When we finished, we were told to drop the rocks and sit down in the river. Jason stood on the bridge and asked us 3 journey trivia questions. We got the first one right,  but when we got the second one wrong, he made us lay down in the freezing river. When we got the third one right, we were allowed to get up. Our team was the first ones allowed to continue. As we were sent back to the top of Bloodroot, we were told we were no longer a team.
2 guys got out in front, then Ronald and Ashley, then myself, with Dashee, John and Clay behind me. For a long while I was alone on the trail. I realized then why Ashley had taken so long. I had forgotten how long Bloodroot was. It was a long windy uphill grind through the woods. I became paranoid someone was going to pop out of a bush and kidnap me. Don’s question from check-in repeated in my mind “Are you claustrophobic?” I was sure I was gonna be grabbed and thrown into a box somewhere. I was on high alert and ready to knock out anyone who appeared.
Eventually, I heard voices and reached the top of the mountain. I was grateful to not be alone anymore and I felt great knowing I was the 5th person there. A group stood by a fire at the summit and I was asked a question. “What temperature is it in Celsius?” Crap, I thought. Now I have to guess what the temperature is, then convert it to Celsius. “I know there’s a formula, I just don’t remember it right now.” The response was “Yes, there is a formula, but often nature will give us the answer.” I immediately started to look to the trees, and a bit off to the side, I found a tree with a thermometer. I reported back the temperature and when I was given the Ok, I was then told I had to find one of three mushrooms in the woods and bring it back. The mushrooms were Chaga, Chanterelle, and Reishi. As I stepped off I was told I could chose to continue carrying my egg or eat it now, shell and all. I told them I would think about it as I started to search the trees for mushrooms. A minute later I decided I didn’t want to carry the egg anymore, and as I went back to them, Clay John and Andrew reached the summit and decide to eat their eggs as well. We all cheers and popped the eggs into our mouths
I continued to search around for mushrooms and was told I was more likely to find mushrooms back down the trail, not at the top. I took the advice and headed back down bloodroot. As I headed down I passed many making their way up. I searched forever and could find nothing. I kept making my way back down bloodroot and I found myself wandering into the woods, over down trees, feeling more and more hopeless with each step. I swore I was gonna end up with poison ivy because I started to completely disregard my surroundings.
I saw people who had reached the top well after me heading back down to the next checkpoint. Ashley A. told me there was a bunch of Chaga near the top and my frustration grew as that was the first place I had tried to look before someone told me not to. I started on my way back up the mountain. Realizing I was now one of the last few people still there, I reported to Debbie, “I am less enthused than when you saw me last.” She responded “Maybe there’s mushrooms near the fire.” I looked and there were Chanterelle’s sitting right next to the fire. I asked if it was ok and she gave me a head nod. I picked up the mushrooms and headed down the mountain. Iron mine was our next checkpoint.
We had been told that there were 32 participants remaining and that only 16 would get to continue after the next cutoff. I ran as fast as I could, frustrated beyond belief. I was the 5th person up and now one of the last ones down. Luckily I knew it was a long road down and I had some time to make up the distance. The faster I moved the more I felt my thighs chaffing. I had been wearing shorts this entire time. I stopped to slather some trail toes between my thighs, then continued running. The trail toes werent helping. I stopped again and changed into capris, then cranked up my speed. I managed to put atleast 6 people behind me before I felt ok slowing down a bit. I caught up to Ashley S. and Jael and they assured me we had put enough people behind us to be safe before the next cutoff.
As we approached the iron mine, Jael bolted. I chased after her attempting to keep her in my sights. I knew there was a fork in the road before the mine, but never having been there before, I didn’t know which way to go. Luckily i was able to keep up and made the right turn at the fork. I approached a creek where I saw a couple of people in the water, and more people off to the side sitting in the damp rocks. Rob told us we had to build a fire and make tea with our mushrooms. I asked him how many people had come down all ready. “Less than 16.” I went over to the stream and put some water in my Sawyer bladder to filter, then I took out my fire starter kit and filled a small tin with water to boil.
I took out my ferro rod and fatwood sticks and started to look for tinder. Everything was wet. I found a couple dry twigs and leaves and made a small pile of tinder. A minute later someone walked by and stepped on my tin, causing a leak and soaking the tinder. The tin was now useless as a boiling pot. I scrambled to make another small pile as 1 by 1 people started to get up, there fires done, and walk over to get in the creek for whatever was next. Jael and Ashley S. had predicted this and carried dried birch down from bloodroot, so their fires caught easily.
I looked to my left and saw Dashee make a bowl out of her aluminum foil, so I did the same. Slightly worried about creasing the foil, but in the moment unbothered. She had a roaring fire and I couldn’t seem to get mine started. I’d get small embers but they just wouldn’t catch. I heard Rob sound off every time someone got fire, and each time I became more frantic.
Finally, Rob called stop. 16 people had successfully made fire. He asked for us to give him our bibs. My heart sank. I looked at him and said “No, use your walkie talkie. Joe needs farm work done or something.” He responded saying it was possible for Joe to decide there would be a buy back option, and stated that half the group we started with, who hadn’t chosen to go to bloodroot, was at the farm right now trying to buy their way back in. But, he said, “per the current rules, I have to take away the bibs of anyone but the first 16.” I asked him if Charlie was still in the game, and he said he hadn’t heard anything. I looked up at Ashley A. and Francis also sitting on the sidelines and we all hung our heads in sadness, fearing the worst.
Was it possibly that Wednesday afternoon, just 24 hours after we had started, we were out of the race?
Rob took our bibs and said  “MAYBE, this is just a break for you to rest and get some snacks.” I immediately pulled a pizza MRE out of my bag and tried to stay positive as I enviously watched the 16 in the creek doing PT.  After 15 mins or so Rob walked us over to the side of the bridge over the creek. The 16 finished up their PT and BJ looked at me and said “I’m sorry.” My eyes welled up with tears as he gave me a hug.
As we were about to move out back to the farm, I looked at the 16 and smiled, remembering how supportive some of them were for me last year when I was in the final 12 and they were out. I looked at my friend Andrew, and said “Go get that skull,” then smiled at a few others as they lined up to move out. My group fell in line behind them as we headed back. Francis looked at me and said, if we can get back in this thing, will you? I responded hell yes, even though truthfully my body wouldn’t have minded calling it quits. Ashley looked spaced out and beaten up as well, but agreed she would stay if she could. We all limped our way back, already pretty beaten up.
We stopped at Peter’s house on the way back to build a dam to help him catch fish. BJ told us all to get in the water, including those of us without bibs. I smiled at the opportunity to join the shennanigans, and 2 dogs on the property revived my spirit. We all got in the water and started passing rocks to build up the dam. The rocks were huge and heavy, and moving them was dangerous, but it was great recovery time for my legs and the dogs bouncing in the water next to us kept my smile on.
The next thing I knew Joe was standing on the edge of the water and said “Whoever wants their bib back come follow me.” I jumped out of the creek and fell in line. I’d say about half of those eliminated decided to call it quits right there. The 16 remained in the water, the quitters sat in the grass, and our little group followed Joe back to the farm.

Get Your Bib Back

We lined up at the white barn where we had left the logs we carried down earlier. I looked across the farm to see a large group sitting by the medic tent, the group we had split with on the land nav challenge. I searched for Charlie, and saw him standing in clean clothes talking to a camera crew. My heart sank again. He was out. I saw Eric Hutterer also, and wondered what the hell had happened to eliminate such strong guys.
One of the guys in our bibless group wrested Don as we all watched and Joe was cracking up. Don told the guy to grab a log and head up the stairs to Shrek’s, then go back down and meetup at Miguel’s. He headed off and next was Frank, then  Jenny, me, Ashley, Brandon, Will, and Evette.
We all spread out pretty quickly. I wasn’t very far up the mountain when I came across Frank, with a VERY bloody nose. “Did you hit yourself in the face?” “Yup,” he replied as he continued to FLIP his log up the mountain. It was too heavy for him to carry and he had made up his mind to flip it end over end all the way up. I admired his dedication and wished him luck as I passed him. I turned the corner to find Jenny trotting along with her log. She was in good spirits and our pace was similar. We leapfrogged each other and talked as we moved. Eventually, Charlie appeared behind me carrying a log, with Ashley A. behind him. I was ecstatic to see him.
“Oh my god, what happened?” He told me right away that he was out. His team had decided to hit the wrong locations on the map and didn’t acquire enough points. When they were eliminated they were allowed to eat, change and hang at the barn. He said Joe had  given him a buy back option afterward, but it didn’t seem right to him having been allowed to eat real food and rest.
He had decided to come up the mountain with us to help Ashley with her log, but then he was going to leave. I admire him so much. He is an extraordinary athlete, but still always so selfless. The same can be said about Eric, who I asked him about next. Charlie told me Joe had given him a really hard time and made him work harder than everyone else. I won’t go into detail because I wasn’t present for it, but ultimately Eric was also eliminated.
When we reached Shrek’s Charlie said his goodbyes and Ashley thanked him for his help. It was now Ashley, Jenny and myself at the top. Ashley turned to go back down the mountain when I stopped her and reminded her we had to go to Miguel’s. She looked at me stunned and confused. “Miguel’s is on the other side of the mountain, we can’t go there.” I stated again “Don told us to go up the stairs to Shrek’s, then down to Miguel’s.” She protested, “That’s too far, I don’t even know how to get there.” I repeated, “That’s where he told us to go, we have to go.”
I pointed to a trail on the other side of Shrek’s. “I think this is it.” I wasn’t positive, but I had a feeling. Ashley protested again “NO, that trail goes to crack shack.” We asked a medic sitting at Shrek’s, but he didn’t know. Jenny decided she was gonna head down to the farm and call it quits. I bargained with her. I told her she was doing great and asked her if she would be happy with herself if she quit. She thought it over and decided to stay. Brandon reached the summit and stated he knew the trail. (Atleast that’s what I thought he said, but later on this didn’t seem to be the case.) The 4 of us headed down the trail next to the stairs as the sun started to set on the second night.
We soon realized we had gone down the wrong trail. I don’t know where we were, but we were on a mountain bike trail, and it was all switchbacks. Jenny and I stayed in the front, with Brandon and Ashley in the rear. We were slow moving, but we stayed together. Log to the left shoulder, log to the right shoulder, log to the ground and rest. Over and over. Ashley asked how I was moving so quickly, I showed her my shoulder switch method and she gasped. When I asked what was up she told me that she had been holding the log the whole time. Not resting it on her shoulder, HOLDING IT above her shoulder. When I asked her why she would do that, she said it was the only way she knew how to carry it. I don’t know if it was delirium from exhaustion or what, but I couldn’t fathom carrying the log that way for all that time. Her pace picked up a bit once she realized how to carry.
We wandered deeper into the woods with no clue where we were going, trying to cut down switchbacks and giving each other pep talks. Brandon periodically had to stop. He told us he was having a hard time controlling his breathing and he needed breaks. We all stopped as a team. Eventually we heard yelling in the woods. I felt relieved.
“Where are you guys going?” echoed from the distance.” “Trying to find Miguel’s,” we replied. Eventually Andrew Hoestetler appeared. We told him we were coming down from Shrek’s and trying to find Miguel’s and got lost in the switchbacks. He told us in fact, we were the closest group to Miguel’s and no one else was even close yet. I breathed an even bigger sigh of relief. We followed him for a couple of minutes as he moved us onto a different trail. “Here is the trail you need. Follow these flags.” He pointed to a series of checkered flags tied to the trees, then bolted off into the woods.
We started down the trail and a few minutes later Brandon was on the ground saying he was struggling to breathe. We waited and then he told us he had asthma and his medicine was in his ruck back at the farm. I hadn’t realized before, but he had taken his ruck off and left it there because he had horrible chaffing inside his arms. He needed his pump now. I told the girls to stay with him, then dropped my ruck and bolted down the trail towards Miguel’s. As I was running I realized I should’ve asked one of the girls to come with me to be safe incase I got lost, but it was too late now. I was flying down the trails. When I arrived I told Andrew what was happening, and he took off to get a medic, telling me to proceed with the next challenge.
The guy at the cabin told me I was the first one to arrive. I had 20 seconds to memorize a lego puzzle and then I would have to run back up to Shrek’s and rebuild the puzzle. On the table were 2 red solo cups and a pen, he told me to choose a cup. I picked the cup and as he lifted it he started the timer. I quickly scribbled words on my hand stacked on stop of each other in a weird pyramid fashion. BLUE WHITE BLACK RED. Time’s up. My weird diagram didn’t make a whole lot of sense. Whatever. Head back up the mountain towards Shrek’s. I started walking trying to remember the blocks in my head.
Suddenly I realized I could no longer see the checkered flags. I tried to backtrack, but still found none. I went forward again and found myself on a ridge and the trail seemed to disappear into a brush front of me. I backtracked. Still nothing. Go back toward the ridge and into the brush. This is wrong. Run down a trail, it has to lead somewhere. I felt like I was going in circles. Suddenly I was deep in the woods and saw no lights around me.
Where was Miguel’s? Where was Shrek’s?
I was alone on Joe’s mountain.
I felt myself panicking. I had no idea where I was. It felt like an eternity had passed. I made up my mind to pick one trail and follow it. Every bush rustling hyped up my adrenaline. My nerves had skyrocketed. I talked to myself, worst case scenario eventually the sun will rise and you will figure it out. Try to breathe.
I kept wandering till I looked up and saw headlamps. THANK GOD. I ditched my trail and cut straight up through the trees towards the light.
When I got in line with the group I was practically delirious. I heard someone ask where I had just come from and then heard someone else say “She just walked out of the bushes.” Patrick asked me if I knew how to get to Miguel’s and I told him I had just come from there but that I had gotten very lost and would be of no help.
My breathing was rapid and someone else asked if I was ok. “I was panicking, not 100% ok, but I just need a minute.” I fell in line as the group wandered and I gathered myself.
I saw Ashley and asked her if she had my ruck. “Andrew made us leave it there,” she said. I was pissed off. “Great, so I ran to get someone medical help and they made you guys abandon my ruck in the woods.” I was frustrated and honestly afraid to leave the group to look for it. Ashley assured me it was just around the corner, so I ran off to see if I could find it. After maybe 3 minutes of being away from the group and losing sight of them, I ran back. I was not about to run off into the darkness alone again.
“It’s not around the corner, and I’m not running off into the woods alone again. I don’t care, I’m leaving it there.” Amanda Priest Oliver came to my side and volunteered to help me look. We ran off together and after several windy turns, still no ruck. Then I heard screaming off in the distance. “Athena! It’s over here!” The screams were coming from somewhere far off in the darkness. After my name being called again, I realized it was Jenny. I looked at Amanda, thanked her, and told her to head back to the rest of the group, then I continued on into the woods following Jenny’s voice. I found her and my ruck safely.
I must’ve looked out of sorts, because she asked me if I needed a hug, which I gladly accepted. I told her I had gotten lost and felt very anxious and uncomfortable. She reassured me the trails were poorly marked and hard to follow, but she seemed confident continuing on just the 2 of us alone. We were heading back up towards Shrek’s. When I asked how she was so confident, she told me she had done the Peak Ultra races a few times and was used to the trails on the mountain. I asked her if she was local, and she said she was from Massachusetts. We chatted a while and she kept my mind distracted to calm me on the way back up the mountain. She lived with her husband and their dogs in a van and owned a gym. I was grateful to have her there. I commented that I was happy I didn’t let her quit earlier, and now she was helping me to continue. She told me she felt much better than she had earlier and was glad she stayed.
We reached Shrek’s to be greeted by Dylan and Rob. When I asked if I could attempt the legos, Dylan said “Sure, but first you have to run to the farm and bring back 3 pieces of wood each. While you’re down there, grab your bibs, they are on the fence.” I was relived we were finally officially being allowed back in. We asked if there was any water available because we had been dry for a very long time (the last time I filled was in the creek at the iron mine) and he told us we could refill at the white barn. So we headed back down the stairs toward the farm.
The trip back down was light and easy. We passed Frank on his way up, with his bib back on, I cheered for him. Then we grabbed water, put on our bibs, filled our buckets with wood, and headed back up. The trip back up was not so easy.
I don’t know how long it took us, but it felt like hours. A camera crew stopped us on the way up, “Tell us what you are doing.” I explained we had to bring wood up before we would be allowed to attempt the lego puzzle. I’m not sure how well I formed those sentences, but I felt groggy. Jenny and I tried to keep up the conversation to keep each other mentally present. Every so often we would set the buckets down and take a break for a minute, then get back up and continue. Only once did we take a longer, maybe 10 minute break, in which we both nearly fell asleep and agreed not to do that again.
On a rock near the top, I fell asleep and tripped over my feet. I was able to keep balance, but the first foot that landed kicked a rock, hard. I stubbed my right big toe and instantly went to the ground in pain. I knew it was bad. “I’m gonna lose that toenail.” I took a couple minutes to rest and then we got back up and continued, but my toe was very painful.


By the time we were back at Shrek’s the others were there. Everyone was trying to solve the lego puzzle. The penalty for failing was 200 burpees, then back down to Miguel’s to try to memorize it again. All we had was my shitty diagram on my hand, which by now was mostly rubbed off from sweat. And my memory failed me since it had been hours at this point since I had looked at the puzzle for 20 seconds… needless to say, we failed and started cranking out burpees.
Jenny did a few and was struggling, so I suggested we rotate and do them 10 at a time so we have a break to rest. After a few rounds, she told me she was blacking out for a second every time she did a burpee. NOT good. I asked her if she needed medical and she reluctantly accepted. The medic came over, asked her a few questions, and then offered to get an atv to give her a ride down to the farm to the medic tent. She looked at me and told me she didn’t want to leave me alone. I was floored by her selflessness. I said her health was the priority and I would be ok by myself, but that she needed to get checked out. She thought it over for a moment, and agreed to the ride. I waited with her till the atv came. I found out later that her race did in fact end there, and going to medical was the right choice.
After she left, I started down the trail towards Miguel’s by myself. I wasn’t far before I panicked, and turned around. I was somehow traumatized. I couldn’t bear the thought of going down alone. I asked the first person I found alone if I could travel with him, and he agreed. I am terribly sorry I can’t recall his name. He pulled out a notepad in which he had drawn a grid of boxes and explained how he was charting the 2 different puzzles and adding to his diagram each time he went up and down. He let me copy down his chart and then we headed down together.
The first trip back up together, we failed. On the second trip, the sun started to rise. It was Thursday morning, about 42 hours into the race. That next trip up the trail felt exceedingly long. I think we were both sleep walking. Luckily, this trail was mostly dirt and not as treacherous as the rocky stairs. I felt like I was in the twilight zone, drifting in and out of sleep, hallucinations creeping in, following the long windy path.
This time when we got back to the top, we solved the puzzle. I breathed a sigh of relief as I thanked my partner for his help, and we were allowed to rest by the fire. I took off my shoes and socks and left them at the fire’s edge to dry. I coated my feet in powder, laid down and elevated my feet on a rock. I was tempted to close my eyes, but knew better. The directors allowed us to rest there maybe 20 or 30 minutes while those who had failed the puzzle were tasked with pulling up weeds around the property. Then we all lined up to head back toward the farm together. be continued..

Go Ruck Ascent: Part 2/2


The next morning, back in ranks early, Cadre John told us we would be heading to Red Rocks open space. Half the group would start the day rock climbing, while the other half did the Manitou Incline, then we’d switch. We broke off into our carpools and headed out. By the time we all met up at Red Rocks a couple hours later, the plan had changed. John said the other group would go to the Garden of the Gods instead of the Incline. He said they were “taking it easy on us after our rough hike yesterday.”  I was more than a little disappointed. I didn’t come on this trip to take it easy. I felt jipped yesterday missing Torey’s and now again today, missing the Incline.
Garden of the God’s was pretty though. Mostly large rock formations that people were climbing on. We spotted a bear hiding in the bushes which was definitely the highlight for me. It didn’t take us long to walk around, and then we found a hole in the wall Mexican place where I ate the biggest burrito I’ve ever had in my life for about $5. Score. Nice and stuffed, we headed back to Red Rocks to do our own climbing.

Back at Red Rocks, I laid in the grass as I watched everyone take their turn. I’m not ashamed to admit I used some of my cbd chapstick to take the edge off a little. One by one I watched teams pair up, one to climb, and one to belay. Vito was at the top of the formation taking photos. I was safely on the ground hanging out with Ripley.


Amanda, seeing me sitting there wallowing in my nerves and avoiding my turn, took initiative and offered me her harness. No turning back now. I put on the harness, and I started to climb. My breath was shallow, and my hands were shaky, but I started up the wall.


Halfway up, I felt like I ran out of options. I couldn’t find a place to get a grip and move upward. I started to panic, and I asked for help. Cadre John guided me from the bottom. I moved up one more step, then decided I couldn’t do it, and started to lower myself.

A few steps back down, I said screw that, and started up again. I will NOT let my fear win. I am going to the top. I remained determined, and I made it up.


This was why I came to Colorado. To conquer my fear of heights. And while I most certainly was not over my fear, it was a huge step.

When I got back down I decided to explore a bit instead of just lying there waiting for everyone else to go. I hiked up the backside of the rocks and sat on the highest point I could reach. The view was astonishing. I could see to the Garden, I could see the Incline, and I could see for miles in every direction. I took some pictures and videos, then called my boyfriend. After we talked, I said a prayer for Eric, his friends and family, then I sat and meditated for a few minutes before I heard a rustle. Vito had hiked up as well. He had a bag of ashes in his hand. When I asked who it was he told me it was his father. We discussed him briefly, he spread the ashes, and then we both headed back down.

Suddenly, it was time for the Rappel portion of the day. We had to start at the top of the rock and make our way down. There was terror in my heart. I sat on the side where I had a view of the rock wall and watched. I started to get jitters. I hiked up to the top and looked briefly over the edge. Holy shit. We were high, and I couldn’t imagine lowering myself over the edge of the wall. For a second, I decided I couldn’t do it. I would have to sit this part out.

No Athena. This is why you are here. This fear will hold you back from every big mountain you want to climb in your life. DO NOT LET IT. The Cadre will guide you. This is the safest way to learn. YOU CAN DO THIS.
I put on the harness, and walked over to Cadre John. Jason, straddling the top of the rock, said “Athena, is this your first time repelling? That’s sick!” I replied, “If you mean sick, like I’m going to vomit, then yeah.” I told Cadre I was terrified, and he calmly talked me through it. “Hold onto the rope, pull the knot toward your belt to lower yourself, if you don’t pull, you won’t move.” I asked him to repeat it like 2 more times as I turned to lower myself over the wall. FUCKFUCKFUCK. Deep breaths, and I was clutching the wall, I couldn’t let go of it. “Stick your legs out, you want to sit in an L shape.” I heard, but I wasn’t processing. Still scared to push off, I scraped my shin on the wall. I slowly pulled the knot toward me, and started to lower myself, then straightened by legs. “Let go of the rope.” “NUH-UH,” I replied. I kept lowering inch by inch, freaking out.


Realizing it was my knot pulling that was lowering me, I finally recognized I had control of the situation. I took a deep breath, and let go of the rope. Nothing happened. I didn’t move. Feeling secure finally, a wave of relief rushed over me. I felt confident, smiled, and repelled the rest of the way.


Shawn, the one in our group with the most climbing experience, who I had vented about my fear to earlier, congratulated me when I got down. After we had all finished, he showed off by rappeling, face forward. I was in awe of his confidence.


I kept glancing off into the distance and could see the Incline. I asked around if people wanted to do it tomorrow after ENDEX, and a couple agreed. Then we headed off to a local BBQ spot for a smorgasbord of food and beers. I talked to John about his mountaineering experience. He travels a lot to climb and I got some great info out of him. Then we all heard stories about Alpha groups trecherous climb the previous day, they had went off trail near Evans and encountered some sketchy ridges. I was somewhat sad I hadnt made it to Alpha, but also relieved knowing I might’ve been petrified out on the ridge.

Family in the woods.

Back at camp, Cadre broke out the beers. We all gathered around the fire sharing stories. Cadre John told us he was currently homeless and traveling the world climbing. His next destination was South America for a while, and then he was going to apply to school at Harvard. People started affectionately calling him Cadre Homeless Jesus, as he had a very impressive beard and long hair. He was sad he would have to shave and look presentable for his interview. I was impressed by his brains and free spiritedness.
I was eager to chew off Melinda’s ear about her ultra running experiences, and she was happy to oblige. She told me about a couple 100 milers she had done, the Barkley fall classic, and how she had affectionately been given the nickname “Catnip Blackbile.” I would explain, but I’m sure you can infer how an ultra runner might get a black bile nickname, and it aint pretty. I really love the endurance community of weirdos, the rare few who would appreciate and even boast a disgusting nickname.
Cadre Edge told us about his personal training group, 18-Alpha fitness and his plans for the future. Overall, it was a great night. We got way too drunk, stayed up wayy too late, and really solidified our bond as the Ascent class of 2018.

Our class was really unique. If you know about Ascent history, you know it’s typically led by Cadre Chris Way. The ONLY go ruck cadre who isn’t SF. All I know about him is he finished Selection, and is an excellent climber. When I registered for this event, I had anticipated him leading the class as always, and I had spoken to several people who had done Ascent in the past and spoke very highly of their experience. Chris recently took leave, I have heard to focus on himself and further his knowledge and experience. It has been said he quit the company, but I am not 100% sure of this. Cadre Mickey who has also been on this event in the past, did officially recently leave the company. I had heard that Cleve and DS were supposed to be on this event also, but somewhere along the line, that changed. To sum up, NONE of the original cadre were on this event. Our class got a totally different experience than we had anticipated, and many were upset by it. On the fly, Cadre were hired to work it last minute, and many people think it compromised the intergrity of the event.
I am not saying I didn’t appreciate the cadre we had. I think they did the best they could at a moments notice, and I appreciate their effort. They simply didn’t have any experience with this event or the way it was run in the past. As such, I am going to address something many GRT’s have been asking lately. I have heard numerous people say that this was the last Ascent class. I cannot confirm or deny if that is true, but if it is, it’s likely because the men who were involved in starting it are no longer a part of it. I think if attention is given to it, it can continue in the future, but that is not up to us to decide. I know all of us there will share a bond forever and I am truly grateful to have been there.
Ascent was unlike any event I had done before. It was not a Challenge where we are just getting a 12 hour beat down, it was a bunch of weirdo GRT’s just spending time together in the mountains. It was a wonderful event I am happy I got to experience. I got to spend  time with like minded people doing things that we love. I gained so much knowledge from my new found friends and I got a chance to learn a lot about the cadre.



The next morning, we were all lined up in ranks before sunrise. The cadre spoke, patched us, and then told us we could stick around if we wanted for more survival classes which would start in an hour.

I was getting my boots on by my tent when Vito ran by me, quickly whispered “Wanna see the sunrise?” then ran off. I jumped up and chased after him. He swung by a couple other tents, and the others did the same. It was a perfect light-hearted moment in the early morning, all of us prancing after Vito onto the mountainside like excited little children. We hiked out onto an outcropping of rock and sat in silence, staring in awe as the sun rose over the mountains. Troy shared a biblical quote that I wish I could remember, and we all felt unified and at peace. We took a few photos and soaked in the moment, then slowly headed back to camp.


We all hugged each other tightly and promised to stay in touch. Most who had agreed to do the incline backed out, but Justin stuck by me. We quickly showered, grabbed breakfast, and headed back to Colorado Springs.

The Incline

The Manitou Incline is next to Pike’s peak. It is a staircase built into the side of a mountain, with a very steep grade. The trail starts above 6,000ft and it climbs 2,000ft in less than a mile. There are no guard rails and no flat points. Just UP for 2,774 steps.


We started up with a decent pep in our step and quickly passed many who started before us. But by the time we reached about 1/4 of the way, I was winded and need to stop occasionally for a minute or 2. Justin was obviously fresh and I told him he could head up ahead of me. He assured me he could use a break as well and waited, but I’m sure it was out of consideration for me. The stairs were numbered every 100 or so, which was kind of cool in the beginning, less so as we went on and the air became thinner, and the grade became steeper.

My fear of heights got the best of me about halfway up and I started to panic. Suddenly I couldn’t look down, and I eventually started bear crawling, afraid to let go of the floor. I had to occasionally stop and sit, not from exhaustion, but from fear. I was overwhelming myself. I found comfort clutching the metal wire that connected the stairs together. “Look, I found a handrail,” I joked as I clutched the ground. I apologized profusely to Justin, telling him to go ahead without me as I was sure I was holding him back and potentially ruining what was probably an amazing experience, but he remained understanding and upbeat. “I dont blame you, it’s scary up here.” I took a deep breath and continued on, scrambling up as fast as I could. Justin actually applauded how fast I was moving and commented jokingly that I was getting a full body workout by bear crawling.

I dont understand my fear, I never could. I know its completely irrational, especially in that moment when we were walking up a flight of stairs, but somehow in my brain it seems plausible that I could just slip off the mountain. I know that I have this fear, and I always warn my friends when we do something steep, but I will continue working on exposure therapy and hope I can cope with it someday. I am obsessed with mountains. I hope one day to be able to trek the Himalayas, but I know this will be the fear that holds me back from achieving my goals if I don’t work on it. My legs work; I have trained them enough to cope with treacherous terrain for hours and days on end. It’s my brain that doesn’t cooperate. I panic, I take short breaths, I get winded, and it slows me down where I shouldn’t. I’m working on it as best I can.
When we finally reached the summit, several strangers cheered for us and reached out for high-fives. I felt a wave of relief rush over me. It was done. The people took a photo for us, and I took one of the ruck, and then I was finally able to admire the view from the top. It was amazing. We gathered ourselves and walked over to the side to relax.





We sat there for a while, chatting on the top of the incline. I was astonished not many people were around, and it felt like we had our own isolated space on the top of the mountain. I was finally able to breathe and take in the appreciation for all that had happened that week. I was grateful for the experience, and I was grateful to Justin for being so supportive and understanding of what an emotional disaster I was. After a while, we headed down a trail on the other side of the mountain, stopping occasionally to take in the view and for photo ops.



It started to rain and I was overwhelmed by emotion again. I love the rain. Justin noticed my energy change and asked if I needed a moment alone. I said yes and he ran down the trail a bit ahead of me. I took another moment to meditate and say a prayer, and when I heard people behind me, I ran down the trail to catch up with Justin. We jogged the rest of the way down, as the decline grade made it easy, and the rain was starting to feel cold.



Once back at the bottom we got a quick bite, then headed towards Denver. Justin asked if I was gonna go back to my friends house. I knew I wasn’t, but I told him I didn’t know. I didnt’t really want to think about it. Justin had a 9pm flight and I dropped him off at the airport, then pulled into a gas station to figure out where I was going to stay for the night. I debated sleeping in the car till the morning, but realized I deserved a warm bed, and got a hotel room. When I got there I was exhausted, but when I saw they had a pool, I decided I needed a cleansing swim to cap off the week. It was empty, and was exactly what I needed. When some people showed up, I took a moment in the hot tub, then headed back to the room.
Sleeping in big puffy sheets felt amazing, and I was only out for maybe 6 hours before I had to get up to catch my flight. I slept on the plane in comfy sweats, and came home to an 80 degree day. Not in Colorado anymore. I checked in on Anthony as soon as I got back, but he was busy. Being home again was strange. I went to work, and when I got off I went to Eric’s crash site. I stared at the fence he went through for a while, seeing the cement ripped out of the ground, the bushes battered. I could picture it in my mind. I sat on the ground in front of all the photos and candles and flowers for a while by myself, then headed home.
I sent a message to Justin thanking him for being there for me all week. I don’t know anyway that I can convey how important his presence was. A bunch of us posted in the ascent group all week, sharing photos and thanking each other, but there are only 2 I have kept in touch with since. It is now 5 weeks later.

Life since has been interesting. I had the 9/11 memorial Heavy and the Killington Spartan Race since, each of which I could write an entire blog post about, but I wont.  My busy schedule coupled with my depression and general laziness to do things lately isn’t exactly conducive to me pumping out blog posts. We shall see where this goes. I’ve always been very introspective, but communicating my thoughts and feelings outwardly has always been something I’ve struggled with.

Right now I am mostly focused on trying to be a better person, and taking care of my friends. I think that’s what I need most right now.



Go Ruck Ascent: Part 1/2

The vacation I no longer wanted.

Monday, August 20. It was my last day at work before heading to Colorado for Go Ruck Ascent. I had most of my gear packed but needed to throw in the last-minute items and double check everything. Ascent was going to be 3-ish days, but I was heading out a couple days early to spend time with a friend who lived near Denver. Or at least I had planned to.
My friend RJ had visited NY a couple weeks prior and notified me he was going to do an internship and wouldn’t be able to spend time with me. Since I had booked my flight early to hang with him, I was more than a little upset by the news. I felt tossed to the side. I understood the need for him to focus on his internship, but I couldn’t help but be annoyed at the extra time taken off work for no reason and the extra money I’d have to spend on food and rental car away from home. I was already strapped for cash, an issue I didn’t mind if it meant I could see my friend, but this situation wasn’t helping. We had also been talking almost a year about climbing a 14-er together, something I had been really looking forward to doing with him, but knew was no longer going to happen.
We had a couple surgeries scheduled that Monday afternoon. My shift was 11-9, so I started prepping the OR as soon as I got in. For anyone who isn’t aware, I am a Veterinary Technician. A few hours later the patients were recovering from surgery and I went to the office to take a quick break. About 4pm I was sitting on my phone catching up on messages as I ate my lunch. The surgical Veterinarian for the day started mentioning medications to me to be dispensed for the patients; There’s never a true lunch break for a tech. I read a message from my phone and froze, disoriented. The Vet continued to dictate medication doses and I asked “what?” as I scribbled something probably illegible on a piece of paper. She asked me if I was ok, and I said no as I dropped my pen. The words barely made it out of my mouth. “My friend died in a motorcycle accident yesterday.” I’m sure the words didn’t come out that clearly, but I heard her ask me if I needed a minute and I said yes as I grabbed my phone and ran outside. I was shaking as I collapsed onto the ground and re read the messages on my phone, hoping I was mistaken somehow.
The messages were from Kristina, a girl I went to crossfit with years ago, who happened to know a bunch of my friends from the neighborhood. I had messaged her about a gluten free pizza in her IG story earlier in the day and her response was “you heard about Eric, right?” “No, which Eric?” “The EMT from Bellerose, he was killed in a motorcycle accident last night and Anthony was with him. I know you are friends with them all.” I re read the messages two more times and burst into tears.
Anthony is one of my best friends. I have known him about 7 years and in that time, he’s been by my side through every hardship. Eric is Anthony’s best friend. They’ve known each other since they were kids. The two of them joined a bike club about a year ago and have been attending events across the country with their club ever since. Anthony had just invited me a month prior to go to a party with the club. I deeply regret not going.
Eric was an FDNY EMT. When I first met him, I didn’t take that well to him initially, cuz he was loud and a little obnoxious and I was very sensitive. He would crack jokes and I would take offense, and he would laugh. Nothing he said was that serious, he was just playing around. I came to realize that over the years. He was a jokester, but it was all coming from a good place. He had fun, no matter what he did. Over time I started to really appreciate his loud bubbly persona. He had the wildest laugh you ever heard, and it was infectious. He never hesitated to allow me into his home, pick me up in his van, or hand me a beer. He was the kind of guy who just wanted to make sure everyone was having a good time. The last time I saw him, we were drinking at my friend Melissa’s house and I was teaching him how to do headstands in the living room. No, strike that, It was my best friend Nicole’s birthday and we were playing ping pong. The last time I spoke to him was a couple days prior, when he asked me for advice on the Keto diet, which I had just done for 4 months to prep for an event. The last thing I sent him was a recipe for keto pancakes. So trivial.


*The last photo I have with him, he’s standing behind me with his face covered, oddly.


I picked up my phone and called Anthony, as I sat on the ground outside my job with my hands shaking. He answered bewildered, saying his phone was in his hand and he was just about to dial my number. The conversation is foggy in my mind, but his mom was driving him home and I told him I would come over when I left work. As I hung up my coworker Lisa came outside with a cup of water. I was hysterically crying. She said she hated to see me that way and went back inside, I don’t think I got any words out. When I finally gathered myself together and went back inside, the doctors told me I could go home. Lisa was going to cover my shift. I thanked them and headed home.
I called Nicole on the way and told her what happened. Then I stopped at my boyfriend’s house and succumbed to a cigarette before I was able to gather myself enough to go home and change for the drive upstate to Anthony’s house. I packed my gear for the trip in under an hour, not caring very much if I had missed anything, and left, stopping to grab a bottle of Jameson before I reached his house at about 7pm. I had a flight the next morning at 8am, but it didn’t matter.
Anthony threw his arms around me in the street and laughed that I was there because Star Wars was on tv. I had made him binge watch the movies years ago after he had told me he never watched them. He cracked the bottle and poured us shots the second we walked in the door. The story of the night prior came out of him immediately. I won’t share it here because it’s not my story to tell, but Eric had died in his best friends’ arms. Anthony was obviously beside himself, but was holding up his tough exterior. My heart broke for the devastation I knew my friend was feeling, and the knowledge there was nothing I could do. I stayed with him the whole night taking shots, exchanging stories, and listening to music. We eventually passed out together on the couch. I woke up around 3am and headed home to grab my gear and make my way to the airport.
I had an aisle seat, but by some magic, the woman sitting at the window moved to the middle because she wanted to put her things in the seat back and we were behind the exit row. I asked if it would be ok for me to sit there since she wasn’t, and my long legs could use the extra room. She obliged, but asked that I leave the window open. I said no problem, knowing my hangover would allow me to sleep anyway once i could lean my head on the wall. I tried to stay awake till the plane took off and I could say goodbye to New York from the window, but within minutes, I was asleep.
The light periodically woke me up, but each time only long enough for me to picture Eric’s face as he was passing (or my imagination of what it looked like) for a moment, and then to fall back to sleep. That happened about 3 times. When we finally landed and I couldn’t fall back asleep, I cried silently as the plane taxed to the gate. I didn’t want to be in Colorado, not even a little bit. I belonged home with my friends, not in a state where I felt unwanted and out of place. I texted RJ that I had landed, knowing he wouldn’t be home for several hours. I grabbed my bag, a donut and a coffee, and hopped on the shuttle to the rental place. The Alamo salesman convinced me my compact sized vehicle wouldn’t hack it in the mountains, and convinced me to opt for the $90 upgrade to full sized. I drove out of the lot in a Dodge Charger, so despite the extra fee, I was ok with my decision.

A rainy day in Denver

Next stop, REI, and I stopped at a Q’Doba on the way. It started to rain as I got back into the car with my burrito. At REI, I grabbed some last-minute essentials: a hydration bladder, some fire starting cubes for my pocket stove, and sunblock. Also a pair of Sorel sandals on sale which are now pretty much my favorite pair of shoes, and I was glad I had them out there. That Denver REI is like heaven. As if I wasn’t obsessed with that store enough, this one had 3 floors and a rock wall. It took everything in me not to go on a shopping spree. It also had an enormous parking lot, which I left my car in to go explore the neighborhood.
As I took a stroll down the riverwalk, the rain got heavier. I actually love the rain, particularly when I’m feeling down, it feels soul cleansing. I had no choice but to make the best of this week ahead of me. I checked out all the local shops and walked down the strip till I reached the end, the Denver Brewing Company, then walked back to my car. RJ texted he had just gotten out of his internship and I suggested he meet me somewhere to grab dinner and drinks together. He said he would be about 40 mins with the rush hour traffic, so I decided to meet him at his house so we could save time and go out together.
We met up and he shared some liquid goodies before we headed out to a local brewery. On the way out of his complex, we ran into his roommate, who he invited to come out with us. Somewhere between there and the brewery his friend decided he was hungry, he didn’t want to go to the brewery, and he wanted to bring food back to the apartment. I was peeved, but I didn’t say anything. I figured my presence was already being ignored, I might as well not make the situation worse by complaining. Night 1 in Colorado, and I spent it on a couch in front of the TV, watching Ted and eating bad Mexican takeout, which I had already had for lunch. The week was off to a great start. We were all in bed by no later than 10 and of course, he had to be up and out of the house early the next day.
He woke me up in the morning before he left to say goodbye, I hugged him and he said sorry, then left. I showered and drove into Denver to grab breakfast at Fork and Spoon. I had a delicious breakfast burrito with sweet potato fries and a cup of coffee that was refilled probably 3 times. The breakfast would’ve been the first nice part of my trip had it not been for constantly texting my friends back home checking on everyone. My friend Justin, who had decided just a week prior to register for Ascent, texted me that his flight had just landed. I told him I would come get him after I got my check. Naturally, a group of about 20 walked in the restaurant at that moment and it was a struggle to get the waitresses’ attention. I arrived at the airport about 40 minutes after he landed.
Driving in, I noticed for the first time a giant blue horse that seemed to be guarding the airport. It had red eyes and looked rather demonic, and I found it odd that this demon horse would be welcoming people to Denver. I mentioned it to Justin and he seemed to think it was a Bronco, which would’ve made sense. Later in the trip, I looked it up online and discovered that the horse is referred to as Bluecifer, and he is a fiberglass Mustang. His story gets more interesting. The horse killed its creator, when a piece of it fell and severed an artery in the sculptor’s leg. Apparently, some groups protested the sculpture being put there, but obviously, they lost.

Unexpected friends.

Justin needed to stop at REI too, so we went there before swinging by a dispensary, a must-do stop in Colorado. I am not a big lover of mary jane nowadays (though I was in high school), but given the way I was feeling and where we were, I gave in. I walked out of that store with some brownie squares, chapstick, a transdermal patch, a packet of sunflower seeds, and a toffee. I put them away for safe keeping and didn’t think about them for a while. Then we headed over to Denver Brewing company where we both had a flight, got more than a little buzzed, and shared a lot more about ourselves with each other than we ever had.
I had met Justin at a Go Ruck Light in February of 2017, my first event. I don’t recall speaking to him much that night. Since then we have done several other events together, and he also ended up briefly dating a very good friend of mine, but we never really spoke about anything other than endurance events. Thanks to several beers and a rough time in both our lives, a lot came out at DBC. I was very thankful he was on this trip with me, and I think I can say the feeling was mutual. Over the course of the trip I came to find we are similar people, and I appreciated having someone who understood me. He was wonderful emotional support out there so far from home. Once our beers were emptied, I had a couple glasses of water and he spent the time photographing dogs that walked by, then we started the drive to Camp Tahosa, where we would sleep for the next few days.
As we pulled up to the entrance, Justin was quick to spot a group of GRT’s by someone’s Challenge pants. We hopped out of the car and were greeted by Vito, Troy, Melinda, Corey, and Max. The bunch of them were sitting at the welcome sign and informed us the camp owners had no idea where we were supposed to set up camp. After about an hour of waiting around, we eventually made up our minds to head deeper into the campground and set up wherever we felt like it, since no one was telling us where to go. Max, an 18-year-old kid from NC, pulled out his American flag and hoisted it up on the flagpole at our chosen site. We had all set up our tents by the time Go Ruck photographer Nick Schrein pulled up and told us we were at the wrong campsite. I was happy to see Nick had brought his dog, a 2 year old German Shepard named Ripley. I was thrilled to know we had a dog on the trip with us. The sun was setting and we figured no one else was going to show up where we were at now, so we left our stuff where it was, deciding to move camp in the morning. Then we headed into town as a group for one last real dinner. Corey, a very sweet guy from Texas who’s presence felt very familiar to me, as if I’d known him forever, drove us down into town.
We rolled into a cute little pizzeria/restaurant in Nederland, and everyone ordered a custom pie but Justin, who ordered a ginger ale. He was feeling some sort of altitude sickness I think, as our camp was above 9,000 ft. I also realized he hadn’t eaten all day and we had been drinking. I snuck off to the bathroom for a while to talk to my best friend about the funeral arrangements and make sure everyone at home was ok. When I got back to the table Justin had left to go lie down in the car. The rest of us ate dinner with a drink or 2 and got to know each other a bit. I took quickly to Melinda, who was the only other woman in the group so far. She was my mothers age, a mom to 2 military boys, an ultra-runner and a long time Rucker. When we got back to camp we all went straight to bed, as it was already after 10 and we had to move our stuff in the morning, eat breakfast, and be in formation to begin the official Go Ruck event at 9am.


We were all up around 7 am. I sat on the bench eating a bagel with peanut butter as Justin fired up his jet boil to make us some coffee. Melinda strolled over and sat with us, eating her bowl of oatmeal which she noted wasn’t very tasty. We got to talking and she mentioned that she signed up for Ascent for free, on an event credit given to her by Go Ruck after the Ft. Bragg Heavy. Justin had done the same.

I’m sure most of you are going to need some background here. Go Ruck’s Fort Bragg Heavy is the hardest Heavy of the year. It takes place in February and is a memorial event for Major Joe Warner, a former Go Ruck Cadre. The 24 -hour endurance event is led by several Cadre, including the president of Go Ruck himself, Jason McCarthy. I had briefly debating signing up for this event during the black Friday sale at the end of last year, but decided firmly against it for fear of too much pain. A few people I know went to Bragg. Go Ruck live streams updates on their FB page because of all the interest. I was glued to updates the entire first night, then I went to bed. When I woke up in the morning and checked, there was no update. I thought it was odd, but went about my day to my morning yoga class. When I got back in my car after yoga, I checked the page again. This time there was a letter.

Screenshot_20180928-132543 (2)


I re read it multiple times.

I was introduced to Jerome by my friend Steve at the 9/11 Tough last year. He was very good friends with Steve and my good friend Hairon. I had done a few rucks with Jerome, and had messaged him to say good luck a couple days prior to the Heavy. His last facebook post said how nervous he was, and ended with the hashtag #dieliving.

I sat in my car crying trying to get a grip on the situation for a while, then I messaged Hairon to ask if he had seen the Tough page. When he said no, I called him. I was crying when I told him the news. It was heartbreaking to hear him cry. The call was short, he thanked me and I hung up. I must’ve sat in the car staring at my phone for another hour before I drove home.

The outpouring of support from the Go Ruck community was tremendous. People made die living patches, shirts were made, a memorial workout was set up, and all the money was sent the money to his wife and children. The funeral home was filled to the brim with people, and the VP of Go Ruck showed up to personally give his condolences to the family. For Paddy’s day, we all wore our Jerome shirts (it was his first event last year), for Bataan we carried his ruck (he was registered for the HTL). And I made a promise to myself to go to Bragg next year for him, even though I know I’m not ready for it. There are rumors it will be a double heavy in 2019, one for Joe, and one for Jerome.


*Jerome standing on my right during the 9/11 Tough

So Melinda and Justin started talking about Bragg, and I sat in silence as they spoke. When Melinda stated that she was next to him when it happened, and started getting into details, I broke down. “I’m sorry, but I can’t handle this conversation.” My voice cracked as my eyes welled up. Melinda apologized and asked if I knew him as she gently rubbed my back. Justin nodded with me and I wiped tears off my cheek as I answered her, adding that I had also just lost a friend on Sunday and was likely going to be an emotional disaster the whole weekend. I excused myself from the table for a moment and when I came back we started breaking down our tents.

Day 1

We moved all our things to the new campsite, higher up on the grounds. It was much prettier there. We seemed to be on the edge of a mountain, with a valley below us. There was sparse tree cover so we could see well into the distance.


Now that we were all together, Cadre John asked us to move our cars down the mountain as it wasn’t safe for us all to have our vehicles so deep in the woods. We all moved whatever gear we had left in our cars into our tents and one by one moved down. I was backing my car up when a van pulled in behind me to drop off someone. The van hit a very large rock in the ground, which took off the entire side panel of the vehicle, and left my car stuck between that car and a tree. Justin, the cadre and I, spent some time trying to direct the car backwards out of the camp site. When it was finally time for me to back out, I was paranoid and moving slowly. Cadre John jumped in front of my car and started guiding me out of the spot with some wild hand gestures I had never seen before, but somehow was able to comprehend perfectly. As the last ones down the mountain, Justin and I were the last ones back. We joined the rest of the GRT’s and lined up in 4 ranks at 9am. I was pleasantly suprised to find 2 other women in the ranks, Madison, Nick’s girlfriend, and Amanda, who was wearing a OCRWC hoodie.
Cadre John B introduced himself, followed by Cadre Edge and Cadre Monty. They selected the 4 people at the ends of the ranks to be rank leader responsible for their group for the duration of the event. I was the lead on rank 3. Edge asked us all to close our eyes and raise our hands if we were offended by foul language. Being GRT’S who are used to cussing and dirty jokes to get us through tough events, we all laughed. I’m sure no one raised their hand, but he wasn’t wrong to ask. I don’t think I’ve ever heard more cursing come out of a man’s mouth than I did from his. But I was oddly impressed by the sentences that spewed out of his mouth over the course of the trip. Most notably “God damn motha fuckin booger eatin motha fuckas.” I do not recall what that was in reference to, but it flowed out of his mouth so seamlessly I cannot forget it. My response was a mix between a head scratch and a giggle. The cadre told us today we would be doing a performance test, then classes. The performance test was a 6 mile run. I groaned. John heard me and told me he enjoyed running. I said I didn’t, and added, “ One of Go Ruck’s motto’s is ‘Running Sucks.’” He laughed and said that was true, but we are running anyway.
A short hike down the road and we lined up at a trailhead where Edge led us in some dynamic stretching and mobility exercises. He practices and teaches form of yoga called Kinstretch. After the warmup he had us all sit down and he told us he studied under Wim Hof, an athlete known for his breathing techniches, who is worth researching if you’ve never heard of him. Edge led us in a breathing exercise that probably lasted 20 minutes. It was a great meditation, made even greater for me when Ripley decided to run up and boop her wet nose on my chin while my eyes were closed, a pleasant puppy suprise that I greatly appreciated. Now that our heads were in the game, we took off on our run.
I was slow in the beginning. Uphill running at altitude is certainly not my strong suit. Among this group of athletes, I felt weak. 25 minutes in, the first guy was already running back downhill. I couldnt believe how fast he was. Someone later told me he lived in CO and was used to the altitude, but his time was still impressive. By the time we reached the top of the trail, I was basically power- hiking. Luckily, I’m decent at running downhill. On the way back I managed to put 10 people behind me, but it still wasn’t fast enough. I finished in 58 minutes, and learned later from someone who had tracked the run, that it was probably closer to 5 miles. I was dissapointed in myself, but I shook it off. We were split up into different performance groups based on our time, and I was in the last group. Alpha team was to head to Mt. Evans the next morning, while Bravo and Charlie would head to Gray’s Peak. I was relieved B & C group stuck together.
The rest of the day was classes. The first was map and compass reading and land navigation coupled with pacing. Then we learned knots and rock climbing. The night ended with a trip to town to pick up sandwiches and then it was off to bed. We had an early wakeup call for the mountains, roll call at 4am.



The 14ers

At 4 am the next morning, everyone was still scrambling to get ready. I was annoyed and eager to get on the move, so I was almost excited when Cadre John got fed up and yelled “Front leaning rest!” All of us in ranks fell right into high plank, and those still at their tents suddenly ran over. Next thing I know he’s calling out count and we’re all doing burpees. That part I wasn’t so excited about. In case you were wondering, burpees at 9,000ft. aint fun. Luckily, he only counted to 11 before he told us to recover, and then we moved down to the parking lot. We all carpooled to the mountain, but as it was a while away and we stopped for gas and bathrooms, we didn’t arrive till about 7 am. The road up to the mountain was narrow and rocky, so half the group had to leave their cars in the lot at the bottom, while those with SUV’s shuttled everyone up the mountain. I was in the first group up, so I took the opportunity to stretch out my hips, and advised others to do the same. By the time we set out on foot, it was 8am.


I was anxious. Had I planned a 14-er on my own, I wouldve started at 5 am. Now it was terribly late and my stress had kicked in full on. They had told us 11 am turnaround time, which only gave us 3 hours to get up there. Edge was keeping the lead pace, and Monty was keeping the slow pace. John had gone with Alpha group to Evans. I started with Edge and tried to keep up, but my lungs werent cooperating and I fell to the middle of the pack. Luckily, we all kept a reasonable pace overall. The scenery was beautiful, the weather was nice, and Ripley kept running up and down the line checking on all of us.


We made our way steadily up the mountain and of course, the higher we got, the harder it was to breathe. Eventually, I found myself stopping every 15 minutes or so to rest.

At one point I noticed it was all switchbacks, and I thought I could save some energy by scrambling up the middle. Bad idea. The ground in between the trails was loose, and if I didnt continue quickly, I lost my footing. I made a significant gain in elevation, but by the time I crossed the trail again, I was very winded. I sat on a rock and struggled to catch my breath. I heard Joseph ask “What did you do that for?” and I replied that I thought cutting up the middle would be shorter. “Shorter doesn’t mean easier.” I laughed and rejoined the group at a steady pace when they caught up to me.


We all stopped together just below the final summit bid to have some snacks and take pictures. Edge advised us all to meet back at that spot on the way back down.



We all headed up Grey’s, snapped some photos, shared some congratulations, and turned back around.

There was Torey’s right next to Grey’s which I had my eyes and heart set on, but Edge declared we didn’t have enough time to make it, and my heart sank. It was right there, I could see it. So close…

Realistically, the climb up was steep, and it probably wouldve added another couple hours onto our trip. But I still was sad for not going up it.

Edge gave us repetetive words of wisdom “Breathe Mothafucka, Breathe.” The way down was much easier. We were all happier and chattier. We shared stories and experiences and took a nice group photo at the bottom, after we collapsed into a discombobulated pile on the floor.



We headed down the mountain again piling as many people into the cars as we could. Cadre Montey hitched a ride on the outside of Nick’s Jeep.

We went out to a local restaurant, then headed back to camp. I was starting to get a horrendous migraine on the drive back, so when we hit camp, I popped a couple of excedrin, changed into comfy clothes, and collapsed into my sleeping bag. I was only lying down for about 5 minutes before I heard Edge yell for us to get up. He wanted us to go for an icy recovery dip in the lake. You’ve GOT to be kidding me, I thought. Every part of me didnt want to get up, but I did anyway.

Barefoot and in my silkies and a sports bra, I headed down to the lake. He wanted us in there up to our necks for 3 minutes. It was COLD. No one was making much chatter and it was getting worse, so I started singing baby shark to get a couple laughs. People started showering in the lake. When he dismissed us I ran to the showers on the campground, which we all had just learned existed. After nearly 3 full days without a shower, it felt amazing.

Melinda and I walked back up the road to our camp as the sun started to set.
Back at camp, Nick taught us how to throw a tomahawk and we had some target practice. Then Shawn taught us how to start a fire and we practiced that for a while. We chatted, shared some beers, and maybe some edibles, and suddenly we were just a bunch of GRT’s goofing off in the woods. It was the best night I had there. The moon was full and shining through the trees, and suddenly I felt at peace.


Eventually, I crawled back into my tent. We had another early wakeup call the following morning for rock climbing. Alpha group was still out, and I was envious of them. We had come back down so early. We definitely had time for Torrey’s if Alpha was still out hiking or whatever they were doing. Incapable of changing my circumstance, I shook it off and went to bed.

I was awoken in the middle of the night by the sound of howling. A pack of coyote obviously nearby, who were very excited about something. I got out of the tent to see if I could see them, but they were probably further than I thought and their voices were carrying up the valley. They kept me up for about 15 minutes before I drifted off to sleep.


Death Race Resurrection (Part 2/2)


Once back at the farm, we took another trip over to the pond. Robin told us we had 10 minutes to put a fish in his hand or we would be in trouble. I quickly pulled out my Adams fly and fishing line, and spent a few minutes cutting some line for others. Only me and a handful of people spread out around the pond and tried to fish while everyone else waited eagerly. The minutes ticked by without a bite. Robin warned us we only had a minute left.  I was praying for a miracle. Robin’s final count “10, 9, 8….” We were told to get back to our packs. Robin told us thanks to a clever teammate, we were all saved. When I asked what happened, Yvette told me she took some tuna fish she had in her pack, stuck the fly in it, and put it in Robin’s hand. Genius. Apparently she had saved us from a couple hours of PT.

As we walked back away from the pond, one of the female medics told me her and a couple others were talking, and they were sure I was going to finish. I was suprised by her statement. I saw this particular medic watching me from around the fire as I was struggling through my burpees. I had a hard time believing she had that much faith in me. Still, her confidence lifted my spirits.

Back at the barb wire crawl, there were a decent group of spectators including former participants, all of the staff, and a camera crew. There was also a desk with a computer and another giant digital clock set up next to the crawl. The rumors were definitely true.


We lined up at the start line as we were briefed on what was to come. Joe told us the world record for longest distance crawled in 12 hours is a 10k, or 6.2miles. He wanted us to break the record. Furthermore, in order to be eligible for the $100,000.00 cash prize advertised before the death race, we must do a full marathon. Some quick calculations in my mind and I realized that goal was damn near impossible. My goal became simply to keep crawling for 12 hours. It felt very daunting, but I was committed to it.

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He introduced the Guinness employee who would be monitoring us, and she gave us the rules. We must CRAWL only, no rolling. Joe added a rule that we cannot at any point stop moving while in the barb wire. 10 people were asked to volunteer to have their names entered for the record attempt. They were given a different color death race bib to differentiate them and were told to crawl on the outside edge of the track, which was marked with flags. The people who felt strongest volunteered and moved over. We were all allowed to rest if we deemed it necessary, at the end of a lap. We had to check-in with our bib number given to Emily, the woman sitting at the computer, after each lap. Joe threw 4 egg sandwiches into our group as we lied in the dirt. We all took a single bite and passed the sandwich. At approximately 9:20 am, we began the crawl.

I quickly noticed the bandage around my knee was cutting into the back of my leg. I felt the chaffe and it was painful. I asked if anyone around me had a multitool, and Nelson Diaz answered me. He passed me the tool and I struggled to open it as we continued to crawl, remembering we were not allowed to stop moving. I finally managed to cut the bandage off my knee while crawling- day off to a great start already. I had some knee sleeves I brought with me (rehband-for lifting) and I pulled them up to protect my knee as we continued. The padding wasnt much, but I was grateful for it as I looked around and noticed a couple people wearing shorts, with knees completely exposed.
It became clear right away who was going for the record. Amy Winters and Eric Hutterer took the lead quickly. Eric is a 20- something chiseled guy from Canada, and I’ve already mentioned Amy. Both remarkable human beings, I had done a 12 hour hurricane heat with Eric before and I knew he was strong. Amy has an unyielding drive and a spirit of positivity that never quits. She is hands down one of the strongest women I have ever met in my life and I am better for having spent 3 days in the woods with her.
The first few hours into the crawl, I was pacing maybe a 40 minute lap. I checked with my peers, and we all seemed to be going about the same pace. Eric and Amy however, were doubling our lap counts. By the time I hit 4, Amy was at 10, with Eric close behind at 8. As the hours ticked by, the gap between us and them continued to widen. Every time they passed me, my eyes welled up with tears, in awe of their determination and strength.

It was a very hot day, somewhere around 90 degrees, and there was not a sliver of shade as we crawled in endless circles. The course was rocky, my knees were swelling, my wrists were sore, and every so often my pants would get caught on the wire and leave me with a fresh hole. The staff started cooking burgers for us to eat, which we could stop and grab after a lap. No doubt this was thanks to Guinness and wouldn’t have otherwise been allowed at the Death Race. I was grateful for the courtesy. They put water coolers at 2 points on the crawl and made it mandatory for us to stop and have a cup of water every time we passed them.

I heard the man from the pond earlier, the one who came back in after he quit, try to quit again. Joe refused to let him and sent Jack, a kid he was mentoring, out into the crawl to keep him company. A short while later I heard him screaming, then he stood up and walked out of the crawl. His words were something along the lines of “Fuck this, I’m done with this shit. It fucking hurts. I’m not doing this anymore. Fuck all of you.” Amy spoke up saying that wasn’t necessary and to calm down, but he kept cursing as he walked away.

We were all in pain, we were just dealing in our own ways. Everyone out there had mixed emotions, and you could definitely feel it. Some of us were determined. Some were exhausted. Some were angry, and others refused to quit even when they should have. Over the course of the day, many were medical pulled, despite their protests. Most agreed a few hours later that the pull was necessary. Still, many of us stayed cheerful, with smiles on our faces.


At one point, I heard singing and I turned to look as I crawled. Sure enough, it was Sephra, wearing a one piece bathing suit with denim shorts and barefoot, bounding through the barb wire crawl happy as a kid in a sandbox. She did multiple laps that day, and made it look effortless. Later on, she came by with a camera taking photos, cheering us on and making small talk. She told me she worked for a company that stores seeds from plants all over the world, so we have the ability to replant them in the event of a natural disaster. She told me about how she met Joe, and how he let her build a cabin in his woods and live there. It was a lovely story in the middle of a very chaotic day. I was grateful she was there. She took my photo and went on her way


As I neared the end of my 5th lap, a medic jumped in the crawl and demanded I sit up on my knees. He walked over to me, rubbed my head, and said “You’re dry, medical DNF.” I became frantic and begged him to change his mind. “I feel fine, there’s nothing wrong with me. I’m not done here.” He said “It’s 90 degrees, you’re crawling in the sun, and not producing sweat.” He was worried about heat stroke. He told me to stand up and step out of the barb wire. As I stood up, I burst into tears. “I FEEL FINE! Can I grab some water and sit on the sidelines for 10 minutes then jump back in?!” He said maybe.

A female medic walked over to ask if everything was ok. I was hysterically crying as I told her he was trying to DNF me for not sweating. The woman hugged me and told me it was going to be OK. She promised to return me to the crawl after cooling me off. “Are you sure?- he said he was gonna pull me from the race.” The woman reassured me and told me to jump on her atv. She drove to the white barn, stuck me in an air conditioned room and told me to drink 2 bottles of water. I downed both water bottles within 10 minutes. While I had the time, I used the bathroom. Normal amount of urine, normal color. I clung to that. I was fine. The woman took me back to the crawl, and I sighed in relief. As I hopped off the atv she told me to take a couple minutes before going back out. I began stretching my legs as Cookie (Steffen Cook- Spartan Endurance Krypteia) walked over to me with his phone on facebook live on the Spartan Endurance page. He asked me about my danger of being medically pulled, and I told the camera I felt good as I smiled and gave a thumbs up.

As he walked away I felt frustrated that my happy groove of crawling was interrupted by sadness, but quickly made up my mind to get my head back in the game and stay positive. I started out on my 6th lap, chugged a cup of water at both water stations, and by the time I finished lap 6 my bladder was about to explode. I hit the port-a -potty twice before starting lap 7. I exclaimed to the medic that my bladder was now uncontrollable and he seemed pleased. I started obsessively checking myself for sweat at least twice a lap after he told me if he caught me dry again, he was pulling me from the race.

I saw Ashley Seeger taking off her shoes to let them dry, and I realized what a brilliant idea that was. I quickly followed suit, taking off my socks and sneakers and lying them out to dry. I knew it would be beneficial to have dry shoes later, and I discovered it was actually very comfortable crawling barefoot. It also gave my pruned feet time to dry, which would allow for less blisters later on. My next lap went smoothly.

As I sat drinking water after my next lap, I noticed Amy asking for assistance. I heard a staff member saying he couldn’t help her, and I jumped up to ask what she needed. Amy’s back was badly bleeding from numerous barb wire cuts, and she needed a shield to cover her back. I grabbed my multi tool and ran across the field to find a bucket. My friend Andrew Blair who was watching from the sidelines came over to ask what I needed. I explained that Amy was in bad shape and I wanted to cut a bucket and duct tape the plastic to her back. Andrew took my multi tool, said he would get it to her, and told me to get back in the race. I was thankful for him as I started again.

It’s worth mentioning that Leyla DiCori, who had dropped from the race earlier, was supporting Eric. She stood at his side for hours on the sidelines of the barbwire, cheering him on, getting him water, and playing music from her phone. This gesture of kindness quickly formed a bond between the pair, who had just met at the start of the Death Race. The power of teamwork between the two of them was felt by everyone. I couldn’t help but feel bad for Amy, his competitor, who was going at it alone. I knew Eric had the leg up. I could see Amy sinking into her mind when she realized Eric was catching up to her. I tried to talk to her and cheer her on every time she passed me, but I could tell I was not helping her.
After lap 8 my adrenaline must’ve worn off, because I started to notice pain. stinging pain in my bikini region and underarms. I’m sure some people would leave this stuff out of their blogs, but I want to tell my whole story, even the ugly parts. I ran to the port-a-potty and found chaffing lacerations on my bikini line. Every time moved a leg in the crawl, my pantyline was cutting into my skin. When I touched it, it stung like hell. I ripped off some Leukotape I had on me and covered the spots so they wouldn’t get worse. I had no choice but to remove my underwear and pray that the barb wire which had already put several holes in my butt region, wouldn’t completely rip open my pants to reveal my naked ass. I also noticed chaffing spots on my bra line, which were getting deeper. I ran out of the bathroom to grab my multi tool, and a fellow racer cut my bra for me where it was chaffing and applied some trail toes. Now I was also praying my bra didn’t pop off. Whatever, I wasn’t in pain anymore. Back into the crawl.
Many fellow racers had worse issues than me. A couple had badly ripped up knees, lacerations on the backs of their knees from their make shift duct-tape knee pads, and lots of cut up bloody backs. Amy and Eric had completely torn apart their race bibs and skin.
BJ Pierce, a racer who had dropped during burpees, had stayed around to help us. For hours he was handing out water along the side of the crawl. Upbeat attitude, cheering us all on. As I stopped for water toward the end of the day, he asked me if he could help me. “Is there anything you need?” I thought about it. I was getting tired, and I knew night wasn’t far off. “Caffeine,” I replied. He assured me he would do his best. A short while later, he passed me a 5 hour energy. I stored it away inside my bra, worried about a pack search and it not being on my gear list. I thanked him and continued.
A short while later, Eric lapped Amy to claim the Guiness World Record. He had lapped her again before we finished, securing his hold on the title.

Around 830 pm, I finished my 10th lap. Knowing we had less than an hour left, I decided to use the bathroom, grab a snack, and fix my feet before we began whatever fresh hell was in store for us. On my way to the bathroom, Jason stopped me and told me everyone needed to be out of the area by 9pm. Realizing that was only 30 minutes away, I started running around the crawl, warning all the racers we only had 30 minutes to finish and move out. Everyone thanked me and started moving more quickly. I ran back to my gear and started taping and lubing my toes as the last bit of light left the sky. Robin walked over and asked me what the hell I was doing. I explained Jason told me we needed to leave in 30 minutes. Robin said Jason didn’t know what he was talking about. He told me the record attempt was almost over, but that we were supposed to crawl for 15 hours total. The man next to me decided if he had to continue to crawl, he was done, and he turned in his bib. Robin looked at me and told me to get back out there unless I was giving up my bib too, and so back out I went. On my way out I passed Yvette, who looked incoherent. I explained to her what Robin had just told me and she simply nodded her head. I asked her to verbally confirm that she understood me and she said she didn’t. A race participant who had dropped, William Chamblee, told me he would take care of her, and to go. At 9 pm, I started out on my 11th lap with my headlamp on.
I was halfway through the lap, with Randy slightly ahead, as I looked behind me to notice only Eric was behind us. Him, Leyla, the Guinness team and cameras caught up to us quickly. People cheered as the final seconds of the 12 hours ticked down and Eric’s final distance was logged. Shortly after, staff told me and Randy to get back to the start line. I passed the medic and joked with him about trying to pull me earlier, telling him I felt fantastic and still had plenty of energy in me. He gave me a high five and told me I needed to move quickly for the next portion. I nodded, wondering what was coming.

Staff told us all to line up again at the start of the crawl. I tried to line up in the front, but staff put a 2nd line of people in front of me. As the 21 people remaining lied there in the dirt, they told us we were to race through the crawl, and only first 12 people to cross the finish line and pop a balloon at the end were going to be allowed to continue.

FB_IMG_1533412172005FB_IMG_15334121942113, 2, 1..GO.
I knew the course by heart now. After 12 hours I knew where the hills were, where the deep mud was, I knew where I had to crawl really low, and I knew where I could gain a little speed. I don’t know how much of that really mattered. Once we started, the only thought on my mind was MOVE LIKE HELL. I managed to get around someone in the front line and then i bolted as fast as i could. I must’ve caught my hair on the barb wire 5 times, each time simply ripping the wire off my head and continuing. I know I left chunks of hair out there. Doesn’t matter, MOVE. I felt a light from a phone standing over me, the live feed. I heard Rob count as his light passed my head “Eleven.” Only halfway through the crawl, I began to worry someone might pass me, and I somehow picked up speed. I felt like i grew extra legs, like a spider manipulating my way over the jagged rocks and under the barbs overhead. I was FLYING. Nearing the last quarter I heard someone say, “You’ve got it, you have plenty of space.” I turned around to see 12’s headlamp pretty far off in the distance. I calmed a bit and slowed my pace. I crossed the finish line and POP the balloon. SAFE.


I was told to go over to the line of people at the side in front of the cameras, and I continued to crawl. I heard someone say twice “You can get up,” before it registered. I sat in line with the other finishers collapsed into a forward fold over my legs, finally able to stretch and relax for a second. When I sat up, I must’ve spaced out for a second, as a sudden “Hey” from an inch to the right of my ear startled me. No clue anyone was there. I turned my head to see Rob. “Remember when you tried to quit last night?” I replied, “Yea, thanks for not letting me do that.” A minute or 2 went by before the final finisher, Ryan Robeson lined up next to me. It finally hit me. I am in the final 12 at the Death Race.



We sang happy birthday to staff member Peter and took a photo. Joe stopped our celebration saying none of us will continue unless someone can recite The Man in the Arena in Mandarin. There was silence for a second, then I said aloud “The Man in the Arena in Mandarin.” There were some chuckles and Joe said “Alright, you got it.” I tip my hat to Rob for that, I’m sure it’s thanks to him I think that way. He complimented me on it later.
We were given 15 mintues to do whatever. I cut open my knee sleeves, which were cutting off circulation to my legs because of how badly swollen my legs were. (3 days after the event I still had dents in my legs). As I got up to go change, Randy pulled me to the side. Pep talk time. He told me they’re going to play mind games with us and to stay strong. “It will be over tomorrow. You have this. Don’t let them play with your mind.” I thanked and hugged him, then ran off to change in the brown barn. I threw on shorts and a new shirt, put my dry socks and shoes on, and fell back in with the group. The racer who tapped out when Robin said we had to keep crawling gave me all his remaining MRE’s. I took cheese and meatballs and passed out the rest to the group. Neely yelled to get in line as I suck the last meatball out of the package.
We got a head count “1,2,3….11.” I said, “Where is Yvette?” and in all the mob and commotion between staff and racers, I heard someone say “She is here,” and took their word for it. Count again “1,2,3…11.” Next time Rob said it, “Yvette is missing.” I took a quick scan around the field for her and she was nowhere to be found. Rob disapeared for a second and returned saying she was in the barn. I dropped my pack and bolted. She was behind a closed door, so I knocked and asked permission to come in. I heard, “Yes, please,” and opened the door to find her on the floor, with no shoes on, and the contents of her pack all over the room. I told her everyone was in line waiting for her and we needed to move out. She looked at me with sad distant eyes and said “I need help.” I told her to get her shoes on and get in line as I packed her gear. We ran back over and I pulled her to the front with me, right behind Neely. Yvette told me she wasn’t sure if she could keep up with everyone, she had used all her energy in the crawl. I reassured her we were at the front of the pack, I was next to her, and we just needed to keep putting one foot in front of the other. She nodeded and we started a brisk pace back up Joe’s mountain.
We stopped for a moment halfway up, noticing some of the group fell behind. Large droplets of sweat hit the rocks beneath us. We were on the stairs up to shreks, put in place by a Death Race years ago. The makeshift stairs were much thankfully much easier to hike up than the dirt next to them. Once we were all together, we finished the trek to the cabin. I heard a dog barking at us as we figured out a couple was staying at the cabin. “Is this the death race?” the woman asked. Neely said yes and radio-ed to Rob at the back of the line that we were moving out down the other side of the mountain.


After a short while, we arrived at another small cabin, and a few steps further, a metal rig was setup in the woods. The ropeflex.

We were told to put our gear down and grab enough water and snacks for 12 hours.  The guy next to me stood at the rig with nothing. Neely yelled for him to get water. He walked away and came back with tomato juice. Neely yelled again. “You are going to stand here for 12 hours. YOU NEED TO GET WATER.” The guy silently stumbled away again. Don predicted he was too far gone, and wouldn’t finish. We had to stand at the rig pulling, and break the world record of 30,000 meters. We couldn’t be away from the rig at any point for more than 60 seconds, or the machine would reset to zero. The rules were we had to tell the staff member in charge of our side (3 people) every time we hit 1,000, and the clock resets every 10,000. Someone noted that the machine measures in feet, not meters. I asked what the conversion was, but no one answered. We started pulling. It was somewhere around midnight on the 3rd night of the Death Race.

Pulling the rope seemed easy initially. The resistance wasn’t terrible and we were standing in one place. The only annoyance was the rope kept picking up dust from the ground and spitting it into the air. It was a constant dust shower. I had to step further back from the rig to avoid getting dust in my eyes. It wasn’t long before my water bottle was coated in a thick layer of dirt. Every 1,000 feet I told Rob to come check and he marked me off in his little notebook. The repetitive motion of the rope pull started to put me into a trance. I told Rob how the rope coiling at my feet was starting to look like snakes and he laughed. In the days prior to the race, he had joked about me having hallucinations. A little while later I heard someone else mention the snakes too.

Staff members were sitting in chairs off to the side of the rig. Jack, Joe’s young sidekick, was among them. I looked over and saw him tilting over in his chair. I couldn’t get any words out before he collapsed over to the side out of the chair and hit the floor. Everyone was laughing. The camera guys even caught it on video. A short while later Don was snoring at the top of his lungs. We all shared a laugh over that as one of the staff recorded it on his phone.

I looked over at Yvette periodically and saw her nodding off. 2 or 3 times I ran over to her to wake her up, give her a pep talk, and immediately ran back over to my rope. I realized she had a good handle on it. Even when I saw her falling asleep, she used her head to lean into the rope and pull it down. Funny looking technique, but she kept moving. I decided I could stay at my rope. The rope that cant be left for more than 60 seconds. It became like a game. I had to pee. pull the rope and run, quick squat, run back and pull. strange game.

Eventually I felt myself nodding off. But I was still pulling. I made sure I kept pulling. It is so peculiar how I was completely checked out of my brain, but still pulling the rope. I heard people having conversations. I chimed in every now and then. I was not entirely conscious, but I was aware of it. Things started to blur, I was somewhere between dreaming and awake.

Around 3 am, I realized I never got an answer about the meters to feet conversion. I brought it up to Rob and he looked it up in his phone. He told me 77,000 ft. I realize now that math is wrong, but in the moment, I took it for fact. I told everyone in the group take whatever number they’re at now and multiply it by 4. If it doesn’t add up to 77,000, we’re fucked. I was nowhere near the number, and started to pull faster. We all started using different techniques, teaching each other what keeps the meter running longer with less effort. Grab at the top, walk all the way back, give it a good yank before you move back in, the meter keeps running. No more hand over hand. It was getting tiring anyway. I started noticing blisters on my fingers. I periodically took my work gloves off to let my hands breathe.

I noticed the sky starting to lighten, the 3rd morning. I told myself I just needed a 5 minute nap before the sun was up and they could see me. I allowed myself to nod off. I KNOW I was still pulling. It must’ve been 1 minute before I was awoken by Rob singing some nursery rhyme or something in my ear. I jumped, startled. He laughed. I gave him a pouty face and he smiled back at me. There was no way in hell was he letting my close my eyes. A few minutes later everyone must’ve been nodding off, because Rob took something metal and started clanging on the rig. Loud jolting echoing banging sounds started to ring out in the forest. We were all awake.

Around 5am, after 5 hours of pulling, Rob stopped us. He logged everyones numbers and gave us a quick run down. The top person had 15k ft, the lowest had 8k, and most were hovering around 10-11k. I had 10,800. I had slowed down significantly nodding off in the last hour. Rob gave us a speech about how some people seem to be happy doing the bare minimum. He told us we needed to prove how much we want this.

“There are 6 skulls. There are 12 of you.
Only the top finishers will get a skull. We are going to give you another 2 hours.
How bad do you want it?
Prove it.

We all pulled harder and faster than we had all night. The only sound was our heavy breathing and the gravel beneath our feet. I was quickly winded. It didn’t matter.




We were exhausted. It didn’t matter.

Run in, grab the top, run back.
Pull with your whole body, into a squat.
The skull is on the line. PULL.

After a while, Joe showed up. He told us to listen as we pulled. He introduced us to Dr. Frank Bicci and Dr. Campbell who are experts on plant based diets. They started talking about their clients and the drastic health improvements they’ve seen when people switch to a plant based diet. Joe told us to repeat what they were saying back to him. In unison.

The first sentence was “I’ve seen clients recover from cancer after switching to a plant based diet.”
We repeated it back.

Then he says, “Clients have more endurance and quicker recovery on a plant based diet.”
We tried to repeat both lines back, but it got sloppy.

We were all still pulling, winded, trying to repeat sentences in unison. We couldn’t remember, we couldn’t catch our breath, we stumbled over our words as if we were intoxicated. We tried, but all that came out were disorganized mumbles.

“You can reduce chronic disease on a plant based diet. You can reverse type 2 diabetes on a plant based diet.”

We were a mess. an absolute jumbled mumbly mess.  Joe suggested we make a song. We made the rhythm to The Farmer in the Dell.

“Diet change alone…diet change alone…”

Eric and I managed to catch on quickly to the lines and memorize them while everyone else was stumbling. We came up with a system. Chris Rice did a countdown, we all said our new chorus in unison, I started the first 2 lines, Eric started the last 2 lines, and everyone tried to follow.

“Diet change alone, diet change alone..
Clients recover from cancer based on diet change alone
Diet change alone, diet change alone
More endurance and quicker recovery with diet change alone
Diet change alone, diet change alone
Reduce chronic disease based on diet change alone.
Diet change alone, diet change alone
Reverse type 2 diabetes with diet change alone
Diet change alone, diet change alone…….”

over and over and over again.

Joe started filming a video with the doctors, with us in the background, pulling ropes and singing this odd exhausted mindless chant. I heard Cookie arrive and say he was already sick of the song.

My gloves were ripping. There were blisters on my pinkies. My hands were sore.
I looked at the meter and realized I passed 10k ft and the meter had reset.
How many times did my meter reset? I never told anyone my number. Will I be jipped of feet? Will I be eliminated?

Then I thought harder. I was so exhausted I didnt realize. No one’s numbers had been checked. half the group’s meters must have reset.
It didn’t matter. They weren’t checking.
We were all moving forward, I hoped.

Just keep pulling.


The staff told us to get off the rope in pairs of 2, people next to us must continue to pull our ropes along with there’s, while we talked to the doctors about our diets. Me and Euan Campbell walked over to talk together. Ironically, both of us switched to Keto a few months prior, in preparation for the DR. We both love its affects on our energy and stamina. We ended up in a mini debate about the benefits of keto and plant based diets. It was informative. As we walked back to the ropes, Euan and I continued our discussion about how keto has been working for us. Then my name was called along with Matthew Moortgat and we were told to leave our ropes and go do burpees behind the rig. Joe filmed another video while we did our burpees together in the background.

A short while later, we were told to stop. After about 7 hours of pulling rope, we lined up at our packs, take another photo, and head out on another hike. Back down the mountain.


Joe was in the lead, with Jack next to him. We headed straight down the middle of a bunch of switchbacks. It was slippery with loose dirt, leaves, and unstable ground. It was difficult to maintain footing, and we all got spaced out. Joe had us keep a head count. We periodically yelled numbers into the woods, as most of us could no longer see each other. I saw “8” in front of me, I yelled “9” and listen carefully for 10 off in the distance behind me.

When we finally got back together, Amy and I made our way to the front. I chatted her up as we continued to move quickly down the mountain. Where are you from? What do you do? You are so strong. How do you train? Ironically she lives in Hicksville, about 30 minutes from where I live, Queens NY. We talked a while about lots of things, I wont get into details, but she is a phenomenal woman. Strong as hell in every way. At the front, Joe was trying to convince Jack to come to Mongolia Agoge. He told me Jack comes from an affluent family, and he wanted to break him. Amy and I gave him 100 reasons why he should go, and Jack rebutted us with excuses. Joe decided no one was finishing Death Race until he agreed to go. Reluctantly, Jack agreed in order to spare the group. I personally couldn’t fathom how anyone could turn down Joe DeSena on an offer to take a trip to Mongolia.

We continued down quickly. I was bouncing off rocks. I slipped and took a pretty hard fall, but I shook it off and keep going. I recall telling Amy I was starting to see shadows in my peripheral vision, like people standing next to me, but no one was there. She told me hallucinations are normal with sleep deprivation. I told her I felt like I wasn’t speaking. I knew I was talking to her, but it felt sort of like I was outside myself, watching me speak. She responded as if it was normal. The whole experience was very interesting to me.

 Broken skulls

As the farm came into view, Joe yelled, “Run over to the tree, get in a line, lie down, and SLEEP.” Mandatory rest. My eyes closed, and I relaxed, knowing it was likely not going to last long. In the bright sunshine, I saw white behind my eyelids. Despite the light, i drifted into the endless brightness. I heard a snore, and Amy next to me giggled and asked if someone actually fell asleep. I heard staff in front of us on live feeds, but I couldn’t make out their words. I was genuinely napping, in whatever sense it was possible in that moment.



Maybe 3 minutes went by before we were told to get up quickly and run over to the brown barn. I stood and felt noticeably more tired. I assume that was the point of our faux naptime. On the way we passed the sandbags we had fetched from the lake earlier. We were told to pickup our sandbags and line up at the barn. I frantically searched for my bag, but couldn’t find it. Jason told me to grab someone else’s sandbag.

As we approached the barn I heard people clapping and my name being called. I looked up and for a minute, I had facial blindness. I saw a row of people, but recognized no one. I kept hearing my name but couldn’t figure out who it was coming from. Then someone waved an arm as they said my name, and I recognized Mike Raedy. I smiled and suddenly everyone else’s face came into focus. Dashee, Ashley, Abe, Andrew…several others. A moment later we were told to take off our packs and sit down. We were told to somersault across the farm to the fence near the white barn. It’s a race. On the fence were all the bibs of those not longer in the race. Another reminder we could lose our bibs at any moment.


“There are 6 skulls, go earn it.” We rolled as fast as we could. It was far, we were dizzy, it HURT. Every time I rolled my knees hit the ground on my landing. My raw swollen knees. I tried to place my palms over my knees to cushion the fall, but it didn’t help much. I was in pain. I heard Rachael hysterically crying. I had seen earlier, her knees were badly injured. They were cut up and bleeding. I knew she had it much worse than me, I kept rolling.

Dont think about the pain. You have come too far. Get. that. skull.

I stood up at the fence. Jason was on the live feed, he told me Mark Mckennet said “Athena, Option B, GO GET THAT SKULL.” I nodded in a daze and thumbs up to the camera. My friends were watching.


We somersaulted back backwards. We grabbed our sandbags, we rolled to the fence, we rolled back. We got on our packs, we rolled. It felt like forever. The whole time Don was screaming, “We are gonna do this all day, you better get used to it.” I ignored him.
Tune it out. It’s not true. It’s a mind game.

Staff was standing over us mumbling on the live feeds. I heard someone comment on how streamlined I was with my pack. I was thankful for the recognition. Early on in the race some were poking fun at me for only bringing a 21 Liter Rucker, while most had 50 or 60 liter Osprey’s. They were regretting them now. I was glad I packed light. Keep rolling. They finally stopped us at the fence. I looked to my left and Yvette was collapsed on her ruck next to me. Cookie walked over and took her photo.


I heard Robin yelling towards a group he had separated out, Amy, Ryan, Euan and Rachael. Ryan was protesting. Robin yelled “SAY YOU EARNED THAT GROUP.” Ryan responded finally,  “I earned this group.” Robin said something about taking their bibs. I started to tear up. He turned to my group and said “TELL THEM THEY EARNED THAT GROUP.” I didn’t want to say it. He repeated himself. We reluctantly said “They earned that group.”

Don told us to run over to the white barn and line up. He told Ryan’s group to follow after we got there, and stay separated. He told us all to get into plank. I fall immediately into high plank, some others took their time. Some were on their forearms. Don yelled “HIGH PLANK.” I was shaking by the time everyone was in proper plank. I turned my hands and shoulders out to lessen the load, Don was all over it. “HANDS FORWARD, SHOULDERS TURNED IN.” I obey and he moves down the line. “BUTTOCKS DOWN,” he yelled repeatedly. I knew it hadn’t been long, but it felt like forever. I was shaking.

Neely told us all to stand up. She talked about how they buried Death Race in 2015, and how we were resurrecting it. She placed boxes in front of us. All 12 of us. She said our skulls were broken and we must piece them back together.


In silence, like phantoms, we all sat down, opened our boxes, and pulled out the skulls. They were in pieces, and there was glue in the box. We start piecing our skulls back together. There was no celebration, no smiles, only silence as we complete our final task. The cameras were all over us, but we were focused. Fix the broken skull.


I heard a staff member comment on how badly my hands were shaking. Yvette was next to me and said how she cant stop gluing her fingers together. I laughed at what a mess my glue job was too, and said how we’ll always remember how disheveled we were because of the state of our skulls. We giggled, then started to cry. I heard a staff member ask “Why are you crying? You just finished the Death Race.” I laughed, then it’s like a switch went off in my brain. I stopped gluing, looked up at Yvette, and said “Yvette, you’re holding a skull.” She responded “You’re holding a skull too.” I started crying more as I told her how proud I was of her, and we hugged each other. Suddenly the medic woman was taking my blood pressure. I didn’t even notice she was there. “Oh, hi.”  I thanked her for believing in me. I told her I was doubting myself for a long time. She said “I know,” and smiled. She confirmed my pressure was good and moved down the line.
I finished gluing my skull and it read “Death Race Ressurection 2018.” I stood up. Rob was standing there and congratulated me. I asked him for a photo and he made a stereotypical goofy Rob face. I told him how thankful I am for him.


Cookie asked me to take a finisher photo. I smiled with skull in hand and then tried to go and find my sandbag. I was quickly stopped by a staff member and told I wasn’t allowed to leave the barn. I reluctantly turned around. Jason gave me a shirt, hat, and hoodie. I carefully folded up my Death Race bib, put it in the box with my skull, and put on the hoodie, thankful to be warm and cozy. I looked at my watch. 11:30 am, July 14th. 61 hours had passed from when we lined up at the church July 11th at 10pm. It was finally over.


Hugs and smiles all around. A chocolate sheet cake with a skull and barbed wire. A group photo, and we were finally released. Yvette asked me to walk with her back to barbed wire to find her headband. We started to walk over and were stopped by film crew. We went into the barn to be interviewed. I was a tad emotional, of course. I told the camera about how much I love the endurance community, how I’v met my best friends through racing, how much it’s changed my life. The camera man asked if I will be back. I thought on it for a second, and said yes. The cameraman thanked me and sent me on my way.



All the former participants came over and congratulated me. Mike Raedy told me he was heading to Palmerton PA for the Hurricane Heat with Abe and William. I asked if I could come, excited to be able to make it to Palmerton, a race I had deffered for DR. 20 minutes later I made the rational choice and decided not to go.
We all got cleaned up, took naps, and got some food. Before long we were all sitting around the farm drinking beers and sharing stories. I looked around me amazed at the position I was in, surrounded by Spartan Staff, the people I look up to. I was on Joe’s farm, the creator of this wonderful company that has changed me in so many ways. Cookie was showing me youtube videos, Ashley was trying to convince me to do Go Ruck Selection, Joe’s wife Courtney congratulated me. I couldn’t be happier. In the serene beauty of Riverside Farm, the sun set. Jason invited us all to hike Killington with him in the morning and we said our goodnights.
Th next morning we all went out for breakfast at the Original General Store. Afterward, everyone headed out for the hike, but Ronald Tortola and I opted to relax at the house. We sat together watching all the live feed videos and basking in the glory of our soreness. Eventually Cookie came over and offered me a ride back to the church to pickup my car, and I headed home.
Sooo many people reached out to me after the race. When I turned on my phone, the notifications exploded and my phone dropped to 50% battery. I answered the texts, and ignored the instagram and facebook messages. I wanted to respond to people close to me, I was too overwhelmed to look at anything else. In the time since, I have responded to everyone. I felt slightly burdened initially by all the people looking to me for advice. I still feel like a novice myself, who am I to be a mentor? What right do I have to guide others?

In the time since, I have had a few deep convos with close friends, and they have assured me of my power. I always tend to devalue myself. I’m insecure, i’m anxious, I feel inadequate. No more. My close friend Nathaniel said to me “I don’t want to hear you say ever again that you can’t do something.” I promised him I wouldn’t.
Don has said in the past “The Death Race will change you on a cellular level.” I know now that is true. As I type these last few sentences, it is 2 weeks after the Race. It took me this long to process my experience and write it all. It has changed me.
I have a rejuvenated sense of purpose and a new outlook on life. I am happier.

Coincidentally, some things have changed in my personal life over the past week, and I am rolling with the punches like a champ. My stress levels are down, my ambition is up, and I only see things getting better from here. I will be back for Death Race 2019, and I will do more. I will have new experiences. I will welcome change. I will believe in myself and my power. Because I am capable, I am worthy, I am amazing. And I am finally realizing that.
The first 7 months of 2018 were horrible for me. I fell into a deep pit of depression I felt I was never going to recover from. Somehow, that feeling of hopelessness is just gone. I symbolically died, and I was spiritually reborn.
I thank God everyday now. I am thankful for my body, and it’s ability to withstand extremely strenuous activity. I am thankful for my family, and their pride in everything I do. I am thankful for my friends, and their encouragement through every circumstance. I am thankful for my boyfriend, and his remarkable faith in my ability and endless support. And I am thankful for my mind, and it’s ability to bounce back from a seemingly hopeless depression.
Endurance events have completely changed me at my core. They are my passion, they are my drive. They have introduced me to remarkable humans and given me remarkable courage.
I’ve decided to start blogging regularly, so I can share my experiences with everyone. I can’t promise it will be great; this isn’t something I have experience with. But I will do my best. Because if I can give even 1 person the motivation I have received from this life, I will have succeeded. Thanks for reading, I know it was long, but I hope that it was worth it.


A little about me

I’m Athena. I am a 28 year old Veterinary Technician from Queens, NY. I fell in love with fitness at 23 years old after doing a Spartan Sprint in Killington, VT. 5 years later, I am getting into the endurance side of things, long strenuous events that really bring me to the edge of what I think I can do. I created this blog after finishing the 2018 Death Race, thanks to prompts from a couple of friends, and questions from people all over. I hope to use this site to help me better evaluate myself and to educate anyone out there who might be interested in my experiences. Ultimately, my goal is to help others on their own journey. I promise to be as blatantly honest on here as I possibly can. And thus, I’m going to start by sharing a bit about myself.

Communication has been difficult for me my whole life, but I’m devoted to working on it now. I have suffered from anxiety and depression for most of my life. My mother first put me in therapy when i was 15 after she discovered I had been self mutilating for a few years. Throughout my teens I found comfort from my mental issues through substance abuse: alcohol, cigarettes, drugs, you name it. I was friends with the wrong people, I dated people who abused me. I was in bad shape. Spartan Race helped me change my life. I started going to a gym, then I joined crossfit, then started doing yoga, cycling, hiking, anything to keep me goal oriented and moving forward in life. I quit my bad habits and started becoming a pretty decent athlete. When I tried my first endurance event in February 2017, a Go Ruck Light, that really sealed the deal.

I hope to enlighten you all by passing on my knowledge, what I have learned through hardship, and how much it has changed my outlook on life. I went from someone who was barely alive, to thoroughly enjoying life. I have amazing friends, a wonderful boyfriend, and I look forward to everyday, most of the time. I still struggle with my mental health issues, but I have learned good coping skills, and I have a  group of phenomenal people in my life to lean on when I am struggling.

That was my quick synopsis, it’s difficult to sum myself up in just a few short paragraphs, but I hope to open up more as time passes. I hope you all enjoy the journey.