Sign Me Up!!

David Moye Contributor
AOL News (June 24) —

Think the Boston Marathon is tough? Ah, it’s for wimps. What about the Olympics? Strictly for softies. The Ironman Triathlon? Bunch of girly men, every last one of them.For folks who really wish to test their mettle, there’s no contest: The Death Race in Pittsfield, Vt., is the challenge that matters.Now in its fourth year, the event requires not only strength, stamina and physical endurance, but also an ability to solve difficult mental problems.Cronin Hill Photography This race makes marathons look easy. Competitors in the Death Race in Pittsfield, Vt., must navigate a 10-mile course while completing mental and physical challenges, like dragging bricks beneath barbed wire.The race takes place on a 10-mile course, and contestants are put through some bizarre paces.Last year, competitors were asked to crawl in mud under barbed wire and carry a bicycle for most of their journey (only to have to dive into a deep pond to retrieve their bike chain). Even more extreme: The racers had to scale a mountain, then memorize the names of 10 U.S. presidents in exact order and copy a tiny Lego sculpture after only glancing at it for a few moments.Last year’s co-winners — a former British Royal Marine and a U.S. Marine — finished the event in 11 hours 32 minutes, but organizer Joe Desena says anyone who finishes is “an extraordinary human being.”Even more extraordinary is how many people are willing to go through the misery of competing.This year’s Death Race takes place June 26, and 100 people are registered to do it, twice as many as last year. But these people aren’t expecting anything more than personal pride (and maybe a small trophy). As a result, the Death Race is something very few people are willing to try. No wonder that Andy Weinberg, the official race director, says the Death Race really sucks the life out of some people.”We get some great athletes who attempt it, and they might do good at the physical challenges but then get mentally frustrated because they can’t build a Lego structure,” he said.Cronin Hill Photography Not only did competitors in one Death Race have to push a wheelbarrow — they had to put it together themselves.The racers face other challenges that aren’t usually found in obstacle courses but fit in well with the Vermont setting.”We like to do challenges that break down the small muscles you’re not used to using — like chopping wood,” Weinberg said. “I remember once I spent a day chopping wood — and I loved it! I felt great. I woke up the next morning, and I could not use my body for four days straight.”According to Weinberg, by design, the race plays with people’s heads as well as their bodies.”You really can’t train for it,” he said. “We change the challenges every year. I supposed you could chop wood or practice crawling under barbed wire, but other exercises you can’t prepare for, like crawling in a culvert. That gets people really claustrophobic.”This year, the race will begin at 4 a.m. — officially.”Actually, we will be keeping the racers up all night so they will be in sleep deprivation mode before they even begin,” Weinberg said, with just the slightest tinge of glee in his voice.To make matters even more difficult, all contestants must carry the following on their race in order to deal with as-yet-unannounced challenges facing them: a 10-pound bag of onions, a 3-inch knife, $50 in pennies, a very large intensive Greek book and a post-hole digger.”We started out with 200 tasks and whittled them down to what we thought would be fun,” Weinberg said. “We decide what people should bring by thinking about how people lived 100 years ago. People are soft.”The current state of softness is serious business to Weinberg, a high school teacher as well as a swim coach at Middlebury College, and to Desena, a Wall Street trader who lives in Vermont. [Flash: iI-HrvBARSY&hl=en_US&fs=1&]Desena especially believes that what is called the Death Race in the 21st century would be child’s play to folks in the 19th century.”Human beings are wired to seek this authenticity,” he said. “It’s only in the last 100 years that we’ve graduated to cushy couches and temperature-controlled environments. I think that’s why there’s so much depression and drugs.”I breed dogs, and if I don’t let them out, they get all whacked out. They want to be out in the world. So while this race might be considered painful and abnormal, we would argue it’s actually more normal.”Desena’s comments make sense, until you remember that contestants have to carry around 5,000 pennies — which Weinberg says weigh about 27 pounds — and 10 pounds of onions.Weinberg says those pennies — and what people do with them — are very important for the first task.”We try to relate the race to life. Every year we have a different theme, and this year is money,” Weinberg said. “The first task, which should last around two to six hours, revolves around the pennies, and how you answer the questions about money — Do you need it? Do you donate it? What do you spend it on? — will affect how you do in the rest of the race.”Just like the racers can’t predict the race, Weinberg and Desena can’t predict who wins it. Last year’s co-winner, Richard Lee, despite having served in the British military, did not look to them like someone who could survive the Death Race.”He’s thin, lean and can barely swing an axe, but he did not flinch at our challenges where other people get flustered,” Weinberg said. “But he had already been hiking 30 miles a day on the Appalachian Trail. So he was able to build up a huge lead on the endurance portion so he could struggle on the tasks without losing first place.”Generally, the racers who do the best tend to have military backgrounds, while seasoned athletes don’t perform as well, according to Desena.”We’ve had some world-class athletes here, and not to take anything away from anyone who competes on, say, an Olympic level, but these people crumble on this race,” he noted.Despite that risk, the Death Race gets more and more people each year. However, Desena says there’s little chance of this race getting too big for its britches. For one thing, he and Weinberg have decided to cap the participation at 200 people and deal with any excess entries by holding training weekends and a series of events called the Spartan Race that will serve as qualifiers for the Death Race.Still, Weinberg admits that he doesn’t expect the Death Race to ever become a feel-good event of accomplishment like the Boston Marathon.”We’re trying to break people,” he said. “In every other race, we want them to succeed. Not here. Last year, 18 people finished, and that showed us the course may have been too easy.”


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