Winter Death Race – The Year of the Burpee
The Winter Death Race, in many ways the little sibling to the Summer Death Race but not one to be taken lightly. After having spent over twenty one hours helping out at the 2011 Summer Death Race I thought I knew the drill. This is the genius of the Death Race and Joe Desena and Andy Weinberg no two races are ever the same. So where to start, I guess the beginning.
My first encounter with one of the Death Racers was in the General Store, I finally got to meet the one and only Johnny Waite. After a great conversation with him at breakfast I headed out to snowshoe. It was Friday morning and the Death Race was to start Friday night. As I finished my first lap racers were appearing; Leyla, Ray, Pete, Dan and others were filing in and unloading stuff into the hoop house designated for them. A year earlier it had been filled with chickens. I paid little attention to them as another race was more important on my mind. It was not until that evening that I started to get into the Winter Death Race. This years race can best be described as the Year of the Burpee
Before I go any further I must say these individuals were all amazing and their effort over what would be the next two days was valiant. At 6:00pm the racers were assembled packs loaded ready for the unknown. All they were told they needed was an axe or maul and jumprope the rest was up to them. Joe and Andy instructed they were do a little warm-up before they got started to the tune of 1000 burpees they had two hours to complete these burpees. They had to put their packs away into the hoop house, each had just lost their comfort blanket. Then I watched, watched as they went up and down and up and down. Still focused on the snowshoe but fascinated by the group.
This is the interesting thing I now know many of these competitors well so watching this race was different. It was not a collection of strangers I met the night before. These were my friends, but they were also just racers and I reminded myself of that later in the race.
As the two hour mark loomed many were close to done others had hundreds to go. All were instructed to stop and they would come back and finish later. They walked down the road as a group to the yoga studio where Liz, local yoga instructor, led almost 50 people in a tiny studio in a 90 minute Bikram Yoga session. We guessed it was probably 120 degrees when it was over.
At this point the race had been pretty straight forward. Do the tasks and not much else. People were in great spirits until they came out of the yoga studio. All had been instructed to leave their gear outside while they did yoga. A large pile lay on the porch as they entered the studio. As they exited, the racers found their gear had been moved for them to the snowbank. All their clothing had been chilling for them. The racers exited hot, sweaty, glistening by the light of a headlamp oh and also barefoot into the snowy parking lot. I left as they struggled to find their clothing. Apparently, some yelled so just laughed and blamed themselves for leaving it out in the open. One man, Todd, had hidden his clothing and was happy as can be.
They were given a scenic walk back to the farm through some locals yards and I believe through some water. I watched as they came down off the hill behind Amee Farm. It was a line of headlamps coming towards me. The time not was probably about eleven pm and the race hadn’t even started. Back at the farm, the racers started to move wood.
Each man had to have a pile with 70 logs in it and each woman had to have 50 logs in her pile. I watched as they carried, kicked, rolled, lugged and pushed logs into piles. The thing with the Death Race is tasks take hours to complete. This years group worked as a team to make the piles quickly, don’t count on that this summer. When all the logs were stacked they were given a rest, all were instructed not to talk, no headlamps, nothing but lay in the hoop house. Two hours had been allotted for them however, due to two racers updating Facebook instead of sleeping they were woken up early.
The group was instructed to come out of the hoop house with an axe that was not theirs and get in a line. After standing for a few minutes not knowing what was happening we instructed them to hold the axe over their heads, it would only be a few minutes. Thirty-five minutes later they were still holding the axe above their heads. It was about four am at this point. I went home to grab two hours of sleep. As I left the group was instructed to finish out their burpees and then find the largest log in their pile.
While I was sleeping they brought the logs down to the river and created a ramp for the snowshoe race which was to begin in the morning. It’s a half mile to the water. In the morning when I returned some racers were rolling logs back to the farm. I guessed the ramp had been built. I then had to go to work and left with the racers beginning to chop wood and stack it. This would take most of the day. When I returned around 4:00pm the wood was just about all chopped and racers were doing Burpees again. This time another couple thousand to equal out 3000 all together. I believe that had done a lap or two on the snowshoe course as well during the daylight. Still only one or two people had dropped.
It was night all over again and they were still racing. Burpees, Burpees, Burpees, all around. As the racers finished up their 3000 burpees they were rewarded with a refreshing dip in the Amee Farm pond. The ice had been broken in one spot and the racers had to submerge themselves for 60 seconds. Until the 60 seconds were over they had to remain in the water. Some it took up to nine minutes to accomplish others did it in under three. It was about now that the field had thinned about twenty remained. After the racers were submerged they were instructed to go by the fire to warm then get dressed they had another task coming.
With about twenty still going a few choice logs were chosen and the remaining racers were broken up into groups. The time was now around 8:00pm on Saturday night and they had been going for over 24 hours. They carried these logs back to the yoga studio for round two of Bikram. This time however it was not Liz running the class but Joe himself! During yoga another dropped. At the end of yoga the racers were given a relaxing nap in the hot studio, only to be awoken fifteen minutes later by an air horn.
When the group got back to the farm they were instructed all tasks must be completed by 4:00am or they would be disqualified. This new time restriction made severals drop. Others went back to finishing burpees. The leaders set out to do another lap on the course and bring a bucket of water from the river back to the farm in a five gallon bucket. It had to be full when they returned to the farm.
At this point in the race it was down to about eleven or twelve racers. The time was about 1:30am then the first racers were told they were done with their race. In true Death Race fashion after each finished they were instructed to head to the barn out of site of other competitors so none knew it was over until it as truly over.
Overall, another great experience. I enjoyed being able to help out and do what I could during the race to help make it happen. For those that like crazy numbers In 44 hours I slept 2, coached skiing for 6 hours and snowshoed a half marathon. But the weekend wasn’t about me, it was about the racers. The snowshoers who finished the 100 miler and the Death Racers who endured all the hours in the elements.
It is a special breed of people who toe the line at these races and I hope when it’s my turn in the spring I can have half of the tenacity. To the finishers of this years Winter Death Race congratulations you truly achieved greatness. To those that are thinking of this race, it’s one task at a time and step by step.