2012 Survival Trail II

The 2012 SURVIVAL TRIAL II as experienced by Team Combat Fitness Training Facility Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Last year I competed in and completed the Spartan Death Race. It was an awesome experience. Earlier this year I set my sites on a new type of adventure race being put on by a friend of mine from the Army, Jon Weiler of Professional Marksmen (also my partner from the 2011 Death Race). He created an “event” that collides an adventure race platform with a shooting competition and tumbles the entire thing into a reality based, scenario staged race at the N.R.A. Whittington Center in the “Bad Lands” of Raton, New Mexico. Just like the Death Race or any other race for that matter the first step is to take the deep breath and type in your credit card number, hit submit then say “Oh shit…” Now there is nothing left to do but train and prepare. Prepare mentally, physically and get all aspects of your life in order, to facilitate the amount of focus that is required to survive something like this.

Six months ago I set out to create the two man team. As with all things I had a team set with an alternate team in design and my main team mate pulled out for personal reasons. That threw Kinsley Dill into the prime spot. Kinsley has been an athlete at my FaciIity for almost two years. He came to me with no fitness back ground and was unable to participate in the weight lifting events. But he showed up day after day and never quit. He never became and still is not one of the better athletes in the gym…but he is one of the only ones to struggle, sweat and conquer a new challenge day in and day out. I believe he told one of the other athletes in the Facility, “I went from being on a secondary team that was attempting to finish the race to now being his partner and expected to shoot for the win.” Damn right, and at no time did I think he could not do it. The previous two years not only told me he could but it told me needed to.

Kinsley and I trained in the normal rotation of the CFTF cycles from April 2012 until June, and we would twice a week meet after hours in the Facility so that I could introduce him to the fundamentals of movement with his weapon in a tactical application versus how most people have simply “gone to the range” with their buddies. In June I had to pull away from our training and turned my focus to preparing for a Crossfit competition. Once that was over it left he and I 28 days to adjust our training to a full time “Survival Trial Prep Cycle” of which we kept a pretty good video blog. We conducted tactical styled-endurance training 5 to 6 days a week and on the 7th day we would rest by going to different places to practice our weapons skills. The 28 days flew by in an exhausting, mind boggling pace of running, rucking, lifting and dragging. 

Then the time came, training was finished and we were on a plane for New Mexico. We arrived three days before the race in order to acclimate to the altitude which would range from 6,000 to 8,000+ feet above sea level. The realities are that it takes a full week to consider yourself adjusted but we only had three days. I was consuming over 150 ounces of water each day and was still fighting of the feeling of thirst and chapped lips. We planned to conduct light workouts in the mornings and then registered for three days of pistol and rifle course being put on by Professional Marksmen. These range days were the perfect way to get out in the environment, get some trigger time and in essence we shot our nerves out with the nearly 500 rounds we went through. In the evenings we went to the local Denny’s and ate as healthy as we could with the limited options of this small town in the desert. We stayed at the “competitors housing” of the NRA center which was a cabin style of dormitory housing that had a common living area then 5 wings consisting of 5 rooms sharing a kitchen and bathroom. Thats where we would sit and prepare our gear/packs for the race weekend.

Eventually I hit a point in which I could stand no more training, no more preparing, no more hypothesizing and certainly no more nervous thoughts. I needed to race, and it was time. I laid down to sleep on Friday night with that old familiar feeling of knowing it would be the last pillow my head would lay on and the last warm blanket I would feel cover my body. When next I woke my mind would regain consciousness and leave the comfortable dream state, re-entering the awareness and understanding that it was Saturday, September 29th, 2012. I was in Raton, New Mexico and the next 30 hours of my life were going to be filled with a roller coaster of physical triumph and defeats with a manic-depressant state of mind in a race that will be added to my list of life events to tell my grandchildren as a bed time adventure story.

Kinsley and myself reported at 0600(am) to a location in which we signed a physical waiver and gave a video documented waiver streamed live over the internet. “I understand that I can be severely injured or killed and I do not hold liable” blah blah, so on and so on. We then returned to our rooms, ate breakfast and I told Kinsley, “go get dressed and get your gear. Next time we see each other we are Team Combat Fitness Training Facility and we are here to race.” 

At 0820(am) we boarded a shuttle van that drove us about 20 minutes out to the backside of a fairly large mountain range. I had a feeling that I would be returning to the NRA center and that it would not be a shuttle bus that got me back. I was right. We pulled over on the side of a road and were instructed to lay our gear out beside the 11 other two person teams and prepare for the “layout” of required items. One at a time the items were called out by Jon and his “evaluators” (a group of volunteers who selflessly stayed out there for the entire 24 hours grading us, protecting us and in general making the entire event possible) gave a thumbs up when they had inspected that each team member had each item that was required. If there was an infraction Jon indifferently handed them a large rock to be carried as a substitute for the item. Whines and protests were thrown his way and in a classic military fashion Jon replied, “The required items were posted on the website…Next item.” We then received the final “event brief”, were told good luck and handed our team packets which consisted of a list of 37 grid coordinates, a team grade sheet and a 1/50,000 map that turned out to be virtually useless in scale due to the fine and random dirt roads drawn on this large scale map with a line so thin that you needed a magnifying glass to see let alone be able to see in pitch black darkness under a head lamp.

All the months and hours of training came to a culmination with that….1030(am) Saturday, September 29th, 2012. The Survival Trial had just started.

Kinsley and I went of to a shady patch under a tree and began plotting the points. I wanted to invest extra time in the beginning to ensuring that our points were done correctly so for each one we verbally recited the coordinates to each other, plotted them two full times and then labeled them on the map as well as the list page. We then looked at the points on the map and designed our “attack plan” which was to sweep the points in the northern sector of the training area and then overnight and through the morning do a  blitzkrieg run to the south from west to east hitting points all the way to the finish line. Well just like any good combat plan they usually go to hell when the fighting begins.

We folded up the map and went to find our fist point. It became glaringly evident that the “start point” grid was in a strange place so I stopped and replotted for the third time confirming (at least to me and my protractor) that the “S.P.” was not where it showed on the map. Oh well, onto to the north to find a known point and adjust our bearings. We walked for about 20 minutes down a tame dirt road that was approaching two large ridge lines and choking us into a Valley. As we stopped to take our first “nutrition stop” (of which I will explain in detail later) we heard the sound of gun fire that was certainly not from any of the weapon systems we were carrying. We wandered up to find out that the first point we came to was a black powder target shoot worth 200 points. Each man had one shot with a 50 caliber black powder rifle at a target 100 meters out and then 6 shots with a .44 caliber black powder revolver on a 25 meter target. I went first and straight up missed the rifle target, then hit 5 of 6 with the revolver. Kinsley hit the rifle target and missed 3 of his pistol shots. It was a really cool, unique opportunity but the missed shots cost us valuable points that became a tiny little cut on our score sheet that would ultimately bleed us to death in the end.

We left that point and decided to back track about 300 meters and go up a “jeep trail” to find a point that had a task we could perform for points. What you need to understand is the “game” that this year’s Survival Trial played (and each year promises to be different) is that each point was worth a different value but you really did not know that value and its worth until you committed the time and energy to go for it. Maybe it would pay off and maybe it wouldn’t. We walked up this jeep trail for about 25 minutes, and the terrain became steeper and more undesirable with every step. I called for a stop and made the decision to scrap that plan and retrace our route, continuing onto other targets towards the east. With every step we retraced over the kilometer distance we had covered I had the sinking feeling that we had put ourselves far behind the greedy pack of competitors that had run off to gather up points in other areas like spoiled little kids at an Easter egg hunt…and I was right. My poor choice of a navigational decision making, placed us one hour behind the power curve.

The next point was a “guestimated” 5.5 kilometer walk down the same dirt road as the start and we were pinched in by two incredibly gorgeous and intimidating rock cliffs. Right away I noticed that Kinsley was walking slowly due to the fact that he had our precision .308 rifle strapped onto his rucksack and his “primary” 5.56 rifle in his hands. I took his carbine and strapped it onto my rucksack to free his arms up to assist in the “humping”. This did two terrible things to my situation. One that was glaringly evident and repairable, pulled the weight of my pack too low down my back. Our packs were barely filled with the light but annoying packing list causing severe discomfort on my upper traps. We stopped and fashioned a bungee cord lashing to keep them up high. But the second problem caused by this carrying configuration did not reveal itself until a later and critical time.

We “terrain associated” the gorge road and at one point I pointed to an orange curve high up on a mountain peak and said, “Kinsley I think thats a road! That looks horrible.” After about an hour of hiking we came across a road sign with a letter written in spanish and a pile of tires with each team’s name spray painted on them. We pulled out our required item of a spanish-english dictionary and translated that our task (if we chose) was to take the tire to “shooting scenario #6”. We decided to go the one kilometer down a side road to perform “shooting scenario #7” and return back for our tire. It took us an eternity to find this scenario 7 which is when I realized what was happening. This place was absolutely HUGE! What on a map in Alabama takes 20 minutes to walk, out here was taking an hour. I honestly have never navigated in a place that was simply put, this expansive.

We arrived at a sign that said “Stop.Make Noise. Do not go beyond this sign. The evaluator will come out to escort you in.” So we did. Huge mistake. After 28 minutes of us banging on metal and calling out, no one had arrived so I walked in. The point sitters were talking around a fire and I informed him of our presence and that we had been waiting for 30 minutes. He said, “what sign?” I learned a that moment that I was following no more rules and I would not wait on anyone for the remainder of that night. Between my navigation error at the start and that 28 minutes, we in essence lost 90 minutes of valuable sun light that would come back to bite us in the ass over the next 10 dark hours. We got our “scenario brief”:

“You enter a mall to hear the sound of gunfire and see a few armed men. You run back out to your car to retrieve your rifle and return to the mall entrance at which point you will engage two targets from behind available cover with your side arm 9mm pistol then retreat out into the parking lot to engage remaining targets with your rifle.” We received our ammo load that always left you running out of rounds in each magazine and forced “tactical magazine reloads” on the run (a great way to test your skills). 

Let me now note that these scenarios were all based in urban type of settings but were in prairie or wooded environment so they required a bit of imagination on the shooters parts. But for what we were using and racing in they were very well designed and caused you to really apply your weapons skills.

I entered the scenario and went up to my first piece of plywood wall cover, turned the corner and holy shit were the targets small! A 6 inch piece of diamond shaped steel right in the center of a silhouette where the heart would be. My pistol skills are already shady but this was requiring 100% kill shots or there was no points awarded. I hit target one, moved to target 2 and missed. Changed pistol mags and hit, turned to target three and missed, then hit. Pistol was empty. I transitioned to my primary weapons system of the 5.56(2.23) carbine rifle, ran to cover and turned to engage the far targets at about 75 meters (12inch steel plates painted red) when I discovered the second fateful occurrence of lashing our rifles together onto my ruck sack… My “safety selector switch” had broken off and I had to quickly shove my thumb nail into the slot and manually turn it to fire. I got a hit, a miss, and a final hit then ran out of ammo. Damn that threw me off. Kinsley went next and in the end we scored I believe 170 points out of a possible 200. Another case of leaving points on the table that would harm us later. We refilled our water and returned to the stack of tires to get ours and start rolling.

This tire was like a nice moment of irony because I train with tires a lot and I make my athletes drag, pull and flip them. We have even rolled them down trails in the woods but this damn tire was so small and insignificant that it caused us to lean forward with our semi-heavy packs to get our hands on it to roll. We took a route to go up and over a mountain that turned out to be the worst road of my life (and 13 hours later I learned there was a better route that Im sure a better map would have allowed me to see). This road was a logging road and would have made a roller coaster engineer excited. Up and left, right, back down then back up twice as steep. One hour turned into two then three. We took turns roll-pushing the tire with two hands, then left hand, then right hand and switched every few minutes because the steep climb in altitude was leaving us abnormally winded and feeling a stinging lactic acid burn. At one point we made a sharp right turn and Kinsley said, “Hey man look back. I think this is that road you pointed out from down in the valley.” He was right..damn this was sucking. We reached the 8 hour point in the race and it was time for us to have our protein shake in the “nutrition plan”.

I will take this moment to explain this plan in detail; I concocted the idea that the weight  of carrying enough food to sustain us for the full time period would be unreasonably heavy as well as slow us down with the need to consume it. I researched a brand called “CarboPro” and with the help of their designer, created a “protocol” of hourly nutrition stops. 

Calories= we used a powder called “CarboPro” and back at our lodging the day before I boiled water and poured in a carefully measured amount. I stirred it into an intensely concentrated liquid that contained 200 calories  per 2 ounces of water. We created one 32oz Nalgene bottle and a second 10oz bottle that provided approximately 4,500 calories titrated out over the 24 hours.

Protein= we used a product called “Interphase Hypertrophy Matrix” every 8th hour to provide 34 grams of protein in 204 calories. (consumed by pouring water out of our camel backs and a small zip lock back of the powder into a small shaker bottle carried in our packs.

Dietary Fat= We carried packets of natural peanut butter to be consumed every second hour for long term energy usage as well as to give our stomachs something to digest and keep it occupied.

The “Pill Pack”= using little crack baggies I made an hourly pill pack that contained two MetaSalt tablets / two VO2 max tablets / three Amino Acid Recovery tablets / 1/2 serving of Juice Plus tablets (then every 4th hour we would take two Motivator tablets that contained gaurana for caffeine.

Hydration= every 5 minutes or as needed we took a mouth full of plain water out of our camel backs.

All totaled we alternated a 200 calorie hour, then a 380 calorie hour, and every 8th hour we got 404 calories. 

Final calorie total over the 24 hours= consumed- 7,192 per man (calories burned estimated at 24,000).

We were consuming approximately 100 ounces of water every 3-4 hours.

This plan worked amazingly and we felt completely energized the entire time and not once did we feel dehydrated or as if a single muscle cramp was in the near future. All we had to do was reach into the outside pockets of our ruck, drink one measured gulp of our carb fluid and swallow a handful of pills and we were back on the move in an average of 3 minutes. In fact it allowed us to make a push for the finish line with full confidence in our physical ability, that I will describe in detail later. Now back to that damn tire….

We finally reached the top of this logging road and came to a Y. I looked at the map, determined where I thought we were and we set off towards what we thought would be the turn in point for the tire. I terrain associated and was identifying hill tops, saddles and the correct turns in the trail with the map…but it was the time traveled that seemed all wrong. We cached the tire for the first time and went scouting to find a definable point for location. As we crested a rise in the road we saw a truck and a camp fire. We walked towards two ladies stoking the fire and one of them said “Welcome to the Samaritan point”, Kinsley and I immediately repeated her words back to her with shock and confusion. That location on our map was a full 4 grid squares away from where we thought we were and we had no idea how we got there. The strangest thing was that I was using actual terrain features that were matching the map…Im telling you this part of the back country was almost impossible to navigate. Well at least we now had a full confirmation of our location. I went back and got the tire while Kinsley refilled our water. There was another team there, the “Zombie Response Team” and I was pleased to see them boiling water to cook their camp food of which took them a full 20 minutes to prepare and consume. I asked them one question, “how is this map working out for you?” to which they replied “It is not”. The ladies manning the Samaritan point were just as nice as you could ask for at first dark, lost in the mountains. In fact they reminded me of my mother. They were gentle yet self relying women that loved the outdoors, guns and the freedom of being American. They were kind enough to show me a map they had that was much more “zoomed in” to the training area and I confirmed that many of the roads we were walking on were not depicted on the map we were issued. 

I created my new attack plan for the night. We would cache the damn tire there and base ourselves out of this point, take the off shooting roads down into the two valleys from that mountain top then returning back at sun rise to get the damn tire and make a second attempt at finding “shooting scenario #6” to turn it in for 300 points.. We would hit a total of 3 points that were down there, but first I wanted to take a small trail on the top ridge line to get “point of interest #19” for some supplementary points. The Samaritan volunteer told me she thought that trail was closed but I replotted the point and it showed to be down there so off we went. Sure enough after the exactly right amount of walking time and distance we came to a trail intersection that was taped off as closed. I for the third time replotted the grid and it was certainly down there… Son of a bitch! Back up to samaritan. The moon light was (for the moment) full and provided plenty of illumination so we turned off our headlamps and pacingly trudged back up the rocky trail to the hill top. Jon made an awesome strategical call to coordinate this event with a full moon and for the hours that there weren’t intense lightening storms it was a great help and advantage.

We returned and walked past the samaritan ladies smiling and saying hi, acknowledging that we were literally wandering around this mountain top. There was another team there called some greek word for “Come and Take Them” made up of two financial advisors from the bank USAA which I love. The two guys were also in our lodging and there were really cool. I noticed that they were looking at their own map, the same one the samaritan ladies had so I asked them where they got it. They said at the NRA main store. Part of me wants to call bullshit on being able to bring in your own maps. Yes I could have also. But I arrived to this race under the intentions of racing with what ever the race organizer gave me, especially since we were told no phones or any device with mapping or GPS navigating abilities. But it is what it is.

We took a lower road down into “Plambago Canyon” to go after “shooting scenario #4” then wind over into McDougal Canyon and pick up “shooting scenario #3” on the way back up to the Samaritan point at sunrise. As we walked Plumbago Canyon road it was a very steep down hill descent consisting of thick muddy clay that happened as a result of an afternoon storm that hit some of the competitors with torrential rain and even hail. We slipped and squished on down passing a couple of small bear prints and some eery bones from some type of predator’s kill whether it be animal or human hunter. That sent us into a semi delirious stage of laughing and making jokes about wandering pointlessly down a road in the back country of New Mexico that had bears and mountain lions in it. At one point Kinsley bumped the rifle on his pack into mine and he spun around saying, “what the fuck was that!?” I explained to him that it was far to early to be freaking out and hallucinating then started mocking him. We laughed on down this mountain road. Along the way we had heard of these “golden baskets” that were worth a very valuable reward to who ever brought it into the finish line. Kinsley became obsessed with finding one and spent hours feverishly traversing his head lamp nauseously from left to right hoping to see a flash gold in the woods. Damned if we didn’t walk right up on one sitting on this lonely road. Kinsley was giddy like a school child and ran up to grab it. The damn thing was a solid 35lbs of lead spray painted gold. I cautioned him that we did not need to add that type of weight to our packs but he was so happy about finding it that I couldn’t stop him from throwing his pack down in the mud to put the thing in and carry it for the remaining 13 hours of the race. We lovingly began referring to it as the golden dildo and as the race wore on we talked about who’s ass we would be shoving it up. Mostly it was going to be Jon’s. We fantasized what the reward would be and I was hoping for a bonus of 400 points because by this time I was in full awareness of how far behind we likely were in the points standings due to how many hours we walked with out doing any scenarios.

Some how the puzzle pieces all began to fall into place for me during these early morning hours and the mountain range began to make perfect sense. I no longer felt the need to use the map and a few times considered throwing it away. I don’t know if the rust had finally fallen off my navigational skills that had not been used in that manner since 2004 or what, but I now had a full scale plan that I knew would work. We titled it the “Survival Trial Hail Mary” and it was going to be a 700 point morning to the finish line for the win.

Just like clock work we arrived at the base of the canyon and took a south westerly road to find a shooting scenario. Boom, after just 30 minutes we walked right up on it. The terrain was starting to compute to me. The evaluator of this point was a guy who had been a medic in my unit in the 82nd Airborne and went to Iraq to care for us in 2003. It was really good to see him but just like professional soldiers we were all business. Standards briefed and standards adhered to. We received our next scenario brief;

“A large hurricane has struck your city. You decided not to evacuate and are present when looting breaks out. Some of the looters are using violent force to steal and you run into them on your street.”

We received our tiny load of ammunition and I let Kinsley go first. While he was shooting and I was listening for the sweet ringing “ping” of bullet hitting steel rewarding us with points. I took that moment to stretch and realized that at some point my left clavicle (collar bone) seemed semi subluxed (dislocated) and I grabbed a tree branch, hung my weight back and clunked it back into place. It felt really good. My turn to shoot. I moved to the start line in the darkness, heard the 2 minute timer buzz and begin counting down. First set of targets were within 15 feet and I engaged with pistol to get my two hits. I moved through a small depression in the prairie grass and approached a make shift wall to locate apparently three targets in the wood line. I could see one and hit it but the other two were simply not visible to me. I finally stood up and walked out with my “tac-light” to illuminate the entire area and found the second one to shoot. I never found the third one and time ran out costing me yet another set of valuable points. Oh well, I found combat to be similar. I never could really tell where the hell the bad guys were. Another awesome shooting scenario on the score card. We talked for a bit to the camera crew and loaded up to search for the next station.

By this time we were both starting to feel the accumulation of almost 13 hours of movement. Our feet were throbbing for one minute then burning for the next. My upper back was screaming at me to stop carrying the pack. But Kinsley was starting to really show the wear and tear. This was truly his first major event. He honestly has never gone to the brink of full body shut down and ignored it to carry on. I was simply drawing on experience and recognizing the signs and symptoms as they presented themselves then dealing with them. As we walked Kinsley began slightly falling back but he did an incredible job of staying with in a small distance behind me to remain at the pace I had earlier explained to him would be necessary to accomplish our goals. A trooper was in the making.

We trekked on and had another couple of “nutrition stops”. Along the way we came across Team Redbud, a husband and wife team that ultimately won the race. They looked remarkable fresh and un affected by the race unlike every other team we passed by (including us) did.

As we approached the next shooting scenario right on schedule I saw another sign that said “Stop. Make Noise. Wait for the…” bullshit, not doing that again. I walked right on in announcing myself. The point sitter was a really cool guy from Orlando, Fl. He let us refill our water then walked us up a grass hill to the start point and brief:

“Rioting has broken out in your city and two armed groups have gotten into a firefight at the end of the street. An innocent bystander has been shot and is lying in the street in between the two groups. You may choose to engage the armed people and extract the casualty, return to cover and treat the wounds”. Kinsley looked a little exhausted so I went first giving him a chance to regroup. I loaded my 8 rounds of rifle into the required two magazines and my 6 rounds of pistol into the two. Cover position one, I cant see a thing. He says that about 200 meters down the hill in the darkness are three steel plates painted red and spread out by about 50 meters each. Nope, cant see them. No problem I move to the next covered position and locate two of the three. Shot one, hit. Shot two miss. Shot three, miss. Shot four hit, then I never could find the third target. I abort it and move down to the road for the pistol engagement. Shot one hit, shot two miss..change mags. Two misses and finally a hit but all rounds have been used. I move forward to grab the casualty which was a human body made out of sections of logs put together with articulating hinged joints. An ingenuous way to make a heavy, hard to manage casualty. I maneuvered it up into a “fireman’s carry” and am informed I have 90 seconds to run him up the 200 meters to my first covered position. I do what I do,,carry weight. I laid the casualty down and begin my trauma assessment; Treat life threatening bleeds of which I see a penetrating chest trauma. I use the zip lock bag my map was in to occlude the sucking chest wound and begin searching for an exit wound on the back or sides and then conduct my blood sweeps down the remainder of the body looking for secondary wounds. I then move into the “ABC’s” (Airway, Breathing and circulation). Address all necessary interventions and taped off the occlusive chest dressing. Scenario done. Damn that was fun! Until I am informed there were no points to be awarded for rescuing the casualty. Well shit…another example of how I was not playing the “game” well. Nah I would have done it anyway. Thats why I came to the Survival Trial. To do hard objectives and test myself.

We set off to make the 5.3 mile climb up “McDougal Canyon” and return to the Samaritan point by 0400(am). We just took steps and climbed. A couple of times we paused to take our nutrition stops or to take a piss (we were extremely well hydrated). A couple of hours into it we saw headlights coming up the trail. It was Jon. He and the other race organizer Wayne, worked tirelessly all night roving around checking on teams, looking for teams that had gone missing and just generally running this huge production. I talked to Jon and told him of the “Survival Trial Hail Mary” and in typical Jon fashion he spoke only enough words to leave me wondering if I was heading the wrong way and making another huge mistake. That had become the theme of the Survival Trial; Make a decision, second guess your decision, choose to remain steadfast in your decision and see how it turned out. Sure enough about an hour later we walked right up on the backside of Samaritan point. By this time Kinsley was starting to suffer. He was feeling queazy from the overload of supplements (of which I am used to) and I think he was just learning to deal with that horrible moment in any over night endurance event when everything in your existence is telling you to stop but your determination and pride refuse to give in. The ladies of the Samaritan point had beaded down in their tents for the night and when I heard them stirring I whispered, “stay in your tents and stay warm. Its just Team Combat Fitness still wandering around in the dark.”  I could hear her smile and she said in a sleepy tone, “Ok, you take care tonight”. Man those ladies were nice! We changed our socks to the dry spare pair, switched headlamps for the fresh batteries and refilled our water again. We retrieved that damn tire that I had stashed in the woods and gave each other the pep talk that our Hail Mary plan was going to work and we reconfirmed ourselves with the useless map.

We rolled the damn tire backtracking a few mistaken kilometers form earlier in the evening. I now understood where we had gone wrong in the map..We took a road that simply was not on it. Thats the beauty of a real and grueling adventure race in real and grueling back country. Sometimes things change. Deal with it sucker.

We came to a spot that the “shooting scenario #6” was supposed to be located. However our navigation was working so effectively that we arrived about one hour early. We had been told at the start of the race that scenario 6 and 2 would be closed from dusk till dawn. That let me know that they were likely the long range shots. Unfortunately we had invested so much time in this damn tire that we HAD to get the credit in points and we were to far from any other points to risk making a last minute dash for them. This left us a total of 45 minutes to stall out waiting on sunrise. Thats sucked! Make the best of it. We loaded up on nutrition, put on some warm clothes and spent a few minutes stretching out our stiff skeletons. At about 0535(am) I told Kinsley to lay down and I would set my alarm for 20 minutes later. He was in a “rucksack flop” in the tree line and just stayed there. I laid down on the side of the dirt road putting my head against the damn tire. I figured if the truck delivering the point sitter came up the road it would stir me and give me a location of where exactly the point was. I fell immediately asleep and had full scale dreams. My alarm went off and I came to the realization that I was freezing and staring at the dark sky…shit Im in the Survival Trial. Get up! Lets finish this plan! We needed about 5 minutes of pacing back and forth on the road to get our joints unfrozen. We put on the packs and headed down the road looking for the point to turn in that damn tire. Once again the actual location on the ground was not at all where our points plotted out to be. But with some common sense reckoning we wandered down a road rolling the  damn tire until we came around a bend and onto a beautiful point overlooking a huge valley. There was a cabin there and I walked towards and yelled “Its morning on the mountain” and out came the evaluator. He was a gnarly looking mountain type of man with a radical mustache. He accepted that damn tire and finally after a total of 5.5 accumulated hours of rolling that thing around we received our precious 300 points. We then were briefed on “shooting scenario #6”:

“You are out hunting to survive and across a valley you see a few elk. You have 5 minutes to estimate the range and engage the targets.” I was not interested in wasting the time to honestly wing a few shots across the valley. At that time all I wanted was the 100 point credit for navigating to a location and to move on..but the view up there was incredible. I could see a set of 14 thousand foot peaks over in Colorado and I got carried away in the “life opportunity” and thought, “when the hell else am I going to be able to shoot from one mountain across to another. Plus Kinsley never has and likely never again will.” So I said screw it lets shoot. This turned out to  be another fateful set of minutes that would be needed later. Kinsley laid down behind our Remington-700 precision .308 rifle and attempted to do the calculation for the range..

target height in “Mils” divided by 27.7 

I was going to just use his calculation to save time and repeat or adjust from his hits or misses. I heard him take 3 shots and he had three misses. My turn. I asked him for the sheet that he did his calculations on. He handed me the funniest and most useless scribbling I could have ever expected to get. I knew at that moment that his mind had shut off and his body was on auto-pilot. It was comical. I laid down behind the scope, looked at my targets across the valley and guestimated that they were about 800 meters. I took one shot and saw the round impact on the cliff wall about 15 feet low. I took two more shots and must have been sending them just a bit high. Scenario over. The evaluator asked me what range I was shooting for. I said “Kentucky windage at 800”, to which he said its 920.. Damn that was close. Ok enough time wasted we need to boogy!

Its time to enact our final leg of the “Survival Trial Hail Mary”. This is the moment where our fitness was going to pay off and propel us. We had collected the 400 points at the very top of the most northwestern section of the training area. We now had 2.5 hours to navigate the 15 kilometers down “Willow Canyon” and out into the open desert terrain to make the finish line, worth 300 points to complete the 700 point morning and hopefully take the lead.

I told Kinsley that there was a term in the military called a “forced march”. That means there is nothing happening but speed to cover distance. It is not pleasant and you can not stop. He nodded his head and we were off. We covered the top ridge line quickly, picked up the trail to cut east and began a down hill trail that is best described as walking down a flight of stone stairs in which the stone mason did not fasten a single step. I felt the future in my right knee telling me that I can have my fun now but in about a decade I will be having major work done on it. We halted about 45 minutes in to take our final nutrition point and dump any unneeded weight. I took my last hit of CarboPro, took my last pill pack and threw the batteries out of my headlamps, dumped my water down to 32 ounces and threw out my pens, paper and chem-lights. We attacked the descent of that canyon as if it was the first and only hike we had to do. I knew at about half way we would pass a final shooting scenario and when we got to it I figured that since we had technically navigated to it I should get the evaluator to sign off on our 100 points. Kinsley had run out of water so we paused just long enough for him to grab about 30 ounces and we waved to the volunteer and took off. By this time all the distance had taken its toll on us and both of our feet were aching. The rocky terrain made it feel like the bones in our feet were cracking and my thighs had rubbed together for so long that it was like fire down there. 

Any hiker, military person or I guess just fat person for that matter knows the terms “Monkey butt” “baboon balls” or simply chaffing. Terribly painful.

I had already applied GoldBond Powder to my inner thighs a couple of times over the previous night but there was not time to stop now. I had to focus hard on keeping my mind off it just as Kinsley was trying to ignore the fact that his right calve had taken enough steps and was refusing to push forward anymore. We broke out of the valley and into the wide open terrain of first the foothills prairie and then into the wide open New Mexico land. I looked back and Kinsley was finally unable to keep up with the pace and I knew it was the golden dildo weighing him down. We took a huge gamble in staying out on the course this long and would only make the finish if we maintained this pace. I stopped and took off my pack. Opened it up and threw out the required pair of spare pants and the translation dictionary. I took the golden dildo from Kinsley as well as his “drop leg” magazine pouch that was likely hindering his leg movement. Kinsley was not happy about me having to carry almost all of our weight but I reassured him that in every military movement on any given day someone can be suffering abnormally. What we did as a team that made us successful and cohesive is take up the slack for another in his time of distress or inadvertent inability to continue. Everyone has their breaking point and he had reached his. I estimated that we had 3 miles left and 50 minutes to make it. We can do this! 

I set out on a “ruck run” pace that looks more like a cross country skier. Think of it as the place in between speed walking and open jogging. We ran down a dirt road and I could begin hearing gunfire so I knew that we were about to round the bend and see the Whittington Center and I knew exactly how far down the main roads I would need to run to make the finish. I was intently looking at my watch and we were set to make it with 15-20 minutes to spare. Kinsley was doing his best to stay right beside me and everything looked to be falling right into place….Until I saw a sign in the distance. It had an ominous feeling and as I approached it was like I had read my own death sentence, “Shooting match going on. Do no pass this point. Survival Trial racers stay to the right and detour.” Mother F*&er!!! I looked and there were yellow ribbons leading off into the distance of another prairie and off over the horizon. It was actually taking me away from the finish line!!!

I shook my head, turned right and started running. After about 300 meters I saw that it was guiding me to a road that ran between two large rifle ranges. F-that! I told Kinsley, “we are cutting across the range” as we approached the back side of a berm. I prayed no one was shooting and I popped my head up to look down the range. It was closed! We jumped up and ran about 500 meters to the end of the range parking lot and onto the very section of road that Kinsley and I had conducted one of our “acclimation runs” just two mornings ago. I looked at him and said, “We have 45 minutes to make it 4 miles. This will be the hardest run of your life and its going to involve intense moments of pain. You can not stop running. We need these points and one day we can tell our children about this. Keep up!” We began running down the main dirt road of the NRA Whittington center. It was awful. You have never truly experienced the term a “country mile” until you have had to run one under stress. The heavy pack now over 50lbs was crushing my shoulders, my legs burned and my eyes stung with the pouring sweat yet I knew I could make this run. We covered the first mile and I knew there was a nasty set of three hills that would cover the next half of a mile. During our training run, these three hills had winded us and that was under ideal conditions. We hit the base of the first hill and I was forced to come out of the ruck run pace and take up a power walk to summit the crest. It was an intense and powerful push. Once we hit the top, the ruck run resumed. All the while I was repeating out loud in between breaths every motivational and determined thought that came into my mind, “I am CFTF and we do hills”, “I can make this run, its what I do” on and on. There were hunters and regular people passing us on their way out to target shoot that were honking their horns and pumping their fists in the air. Not because they knew what we were doing but because they could see that something special and rare was taking place. I felt a liquid running into my nose and I went to blow a snot rocket and all that came out was a bloody mixture. Im bleeding, fuck it, I can stop it later. Hill number two conquered and hill number three was almost to much to take but we crested it and made the right hand turn onto the final long road. I looked at my watch and we had just fallen below 20 minutes until the 1030(am) cut off time and not being awarded the 300 points for navigating to the finish point. I had put us in an all or nothing situation and our backs were against the wall. My water was all gone as was Kinsley’s. We ran. I could hear Kinsley battling with himself. The old Kinsley from two years ago was begging him to take the easy way out, the lazy way out and quit. But the new Kinsley had turned into a weight lifting, gun shooting endurance maniac and had won the argument. On he ran right beside me. There were moans and even sounds of sheer pain. I yelled that we “would not stop until we hit the finish line or passed out and when we woke up, if there was time left we would try again to make it.” The finish point came into site and it had to be 1,000 meters away. We had less than 8 minutes on my watch and I knew following the road wasn’t going to work. We broke a rule and cut across an open field to shoot a straight line distance. I did not care, I was in full race mode and nothing else mattered. 6 minutes, still running, 4 minutes still running, 3 minutes. I knew I could make it if I could drop the 50lb pack but that was not an option. 3,2,1 time is up. We stood 400 meters from the finish line and all hope was gone.

That day life kicked our asses. We fought but the battle could not be won. I looked back at Kinsley and said, “Walk right beside me. We are going to cross this finish line anyway. Hold your head up. We are both in pain and we are both upset. It does not matter. We are Combat Fitness Training Facility and we will be seen finishing correctly.” 

We walked into the finish as the camera crew came out to record us. It was fair that they did so. The footage will likely be raw and real. I dropped my pack and went to my knees. Kinsley began dry heaving and neither of us could effectively speak. Other people and other racers may see that footage and not understand why we looked so broken. But it doesn’t matter. We each fight our own battles in a race like the Survival Trial. Ours was a battle of making choices, living with them and fighting back from the increasing pile of missed points and minutes. We came up with a plan to not only stay alive but still try to win. It all culminated in a 5 mile run that was by all reasoning not possible. We pushed for the impossible and almost made it. 

In the end we placed 5th in points. We beat some very good teams and those who placed ahead of us deserved it however they strategized to achieve it. After the award ceremony I was informed that had we made the finish point in time we would have been second place. I knew that run was worth attempting. 

The Survival Trial turned out to be many things. It was fun and exciting. It was aggravating and fulfilling. It was unique and unorthodox, beautiful and ugly. It gave myself and Kinsley something to strive for and let us face the harsh realities of overcoming the odds. It was not perfect but nothing is. Jon dreamed up something that has never been done before and something that I believe is the next evolution in racing. This was only the third time the Survival Trial has been run and each time it has gotten more elaborate and the competitors have gotten more skilled. I am proud to have done it while we can still be considered the “pioneers” of what may become the next big thing. I am often asked, if I will I do the Death Race again? No I will not. But for anyone wondering if I will ever do the Survival Trial again.. I promised my wife that I would take one year off from competing in order to focus on strengthening my training facility, my marriage and caring for my first child to be born in March. One year from now is September 2013. Just in time for the 6th Survival Trial. One that is said to be all new and will be the first 36 hour version. I have already begun designing the training cycle that will begin 6 months out. I have begun recruiting some of my athletes to hopefully form 2-3 teams and I have told my friend Noah Galloway, a double amputee from the 101st Airborne that he will be my team mate. 

I cant think of a better way to return from a one year retirement than to step right back into the very race that kicked my ass. 

See you in one year New Mexico.
-Sean Dickson, owner and operator of Combat Fitness Training Facility, 

and 1/2 of Team CFTF

Food/Supplement Layout for Event

“The Golden Dildo”


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Understanding A Gym Based Stamina Session

Understanding a Gym-based Stamina Session

There are many misconceptions as to what the phrase “Gym-Based Stamina” means. In fact there are many misconceptions as to what stamina or stamina training means and pertails to.

The concept is actually simple (as most training practices should be) and the title is actually self explanatory. 

GYM-BASED (meaning in the gym), STAMINA (meaning the ability to sustain a level of performance for a drawn out duration).OK, lets lose the overly analytical approach and go back to the knuckle dragger way of looking at this. I want to prepare my athletes for the upcoming race season. We spent the summer working on strength training with Olympic lifting and then applied that strength into a month long “Crossfit” fomrat that allowed us to speed up using a “met-con” prescription. But fall is approaching and the 5K’s and 10K’s are coming (for some of us the 42K/50Milers). How do we train to be successful at them. Many times people think that they must stop going to their gym and download some lame ass program from the internet that lays out a running plan that has them go jogging down the side of the street with increasing time and intervals each day, monotonously over and over drawn out like this run on sentence Im typing. For some people that may work and if a lame ass running program fits you then please dont take offense. But where the mistake is commonly made is in the purpose… The purpose of that program was simply to get you running. To make you proefficient at being a runner. But I train athletes. Well rounded humans who can perform at far above average levels in almost any scenario, sport or event with little to no modifications in their training and nutrition. I want my atheltes to excel on race day and still return to the gym with muscular strength and squat snatch an Olympic bar bell the very next day. Another mistake of these running programs is that due to the monotonous pounding and repetition to the runners body many “average” people find themselves with a nagging repetitive stress injury long before they even reach the race. (I personally have experienced this in years past).That is when I began to think about the ability to simulate the necessities of training required to succeed at a longer distance event such as a 10K or above..but be able to do so without being stuck in a “monostructural” movement like jogging. What are the necessary aspects for this training? Simple: Cardio-Vascular strength-endurance, Pulmonary strength-endurance and experience of the feeling both psychologically and metabolically from sustained activity in the 60 minutes or above realm. This can all be simulated in the training facility and then once every 7-10 days you hit the road or trails and familiarize yourself with the actual act of distance running.The cardio vascular strength-endurance can be achieved by designing a training session that has exercises in sets that elevate the heart rate to about 75% and minimize the ability to take rest breaks (just as you will experience while in the race).The pulmonary strength-endurance aligns almost hand in hand with the cardio vascular side and exercises intervals such as short runs and rowing can ensure that the atheltes lungs are being forced to pull in maximum amounts of air and process as effieciently as possible.The psychological training comes in just having the balls to take the sets of the prescribed exercises and make them in quantities that would freak out the average gym go-er. In other words if you are tryig to compete in a half marathon then you need to be conditioning your mind to work with and anylize your bodies reactions to a 90-120 minute session.The metabolic training comes into play by needing to provide the proper amount of fuel before, during and after training to allow the body to continue to function and then repair through out the duration of training. Eventually through experience, trial and error you and your body will acclimate to the requirements. Here is an example.. Today I trained my athletes at a 10K length format but made it a sort of worst case scenario 10K.They first conducted 10 rounds:17″ Tire Step Up X25 each Foot / 250 Mtr run on a fairly steep hill / sit up X10(this gave them the simulation of climbing a sudden hill then stepping back out into their run pace for short sustainable durations..the sit ups allowed them to maintain the heavy breathing rate and build core strength which will help them maintain their posture and hold their lung cavity open while running later.)They were alotted 40 minutes to accomplish this at which time, no matter where they were in the workout, they were ushered in to a downward scaling repetition prescriptioin of: 12 down to 1Back Squat / Push up /D.B. Row / Kettle Bell Swing. Final totals: 8,500 vertical feet climbed / 2,500mtrs of hill run / 120 sit ups / 312 weightlifting repsTime cap required: 60 minutes or less. I.E. a nasty 10K duration.To cap this up lets be clear. If you are a dedicated runner and all you want to do is run….then run. But My athletes like to to go to the races and have a good time then go back to the gym, jack steel and sling bumper plates without fighting back to their pre-race season strength levels.And its just a simple fact, We always get weird looks standing at the start weighing in at 190lbs, but those looks usually change when the top three of each age brackets is swamped with our team shirts. 

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2012 Rumble By the River Crossfit Competition

2012 RUMBLE BY THE RIVER SUMMARY: Day after, Sunday 19AUG12.

I know we went on a little bit of a “media-blackout” if you will, yesterday during the event. Normally I will use my phone to update as the day goes by. Our focus yesterday was different. We were light and jovial but there was an air of seriousness surrounding us. Because of that there weren’t many pics posted and all of our CFTF fans know little about what took place. I will explain it in detail here. (This is the point where you can get off the train if you aren’t in for a long ride).

The team met and traveled down Friday and we want to thank you for allowing us to close the Facility and let us get in the zone. We checked into the skeezy hotel, went for a team jog and then ate dinner. We woke up early on Saturday and got our tent set up and let the nerves settle in. For me it was fun watching some of the team experience their first competition. As the competitors arrived they seemed to be getting “bigger and bigger” and it has a way of making you feel a bit small and unprepared. I have learned that all that goes away when we are equalized with the lung burning lactic acid soon to come.


Event 1: .76 mile run for time.

3-2-1 Go! Dozens of runners sprinting into the choke points of sidewalks and narrow paths. Greg and myself held firm to the lead pack and let them burn out a little. The route was too short to pace or hold back a pass move so we had to just motor. Greg made a strong move as we once again choked into a single path sidewalk squeezed by metal handrails. We broke out onto the street and began the 300 meter dash to the finish line. Greg moved strongly up into 3rd place and I passed two guys that were obviously out of gas (from a local “box” that will remain nameless) taking 7th out of 40. Rhona and Jeff both took 3rd in their heats, and Noah even scared a few people as they heard the snapping sound of his fiberglass blade taking steps closer and closer to them… Kat… well we love our Kat..but Kat hates the run.


Event 2: Dead lift X5 + Burpee over Barbell X10: 5 Rounds for Time

The RX men (myself and Greg) got the short end of the stick by being called to WOD2 literally 15 minutes after crossing the finish line of WOD 1. No need to warm up for the dead lifts I was still sweating. The weight was 275lb and it was just heavy enough to slow you down. The requirement for the burpee was a little strange in that they wanted your hips fully opened before crossing over the bar and we quickly found out that each judge had a different opinion of what that meant. I myself lost about 10 seconds to “no-reps” until I figured out the judge wanted my head to be straight up before he considered my body fully upright. It is what it is. While this was going on Rhona, and Kat were already warming up for what was to be the worst WOD of the entire day… the hill.

Noah got to shake off the nerves with his first ever competitive CF WOD. I had called the event organizers about three weeks ago and designed how we would alter his exercises to allow him to compete result for result with the scaled men (some people were not aware that I would not allow them to put him in a “handicapped” bracket). He had to conduct pistols with a 70lb kettle bell to simulate the 225lb dead lift that his competitors were doing. Then he would drop down to do a 1 armed push up and scramble his way back up to do a one legged hop simulating a burpee or what we have coined the “Nurpee” (Noah’s Burpee… and they are hard! I tried a few). He pushed hard and left nothing behind but was “timed out” anyhow. I said to him, “this aint like the Warrior Dash now is it”.


Event 3: “Afghan Fran” 21-15-9 Thruster / KB. Swing (with a steep flight of stairs and hill sprint between each # sequence).

This event should have been called the “Ouija Board” because it called out your soul to float around you as you struggled. Somewhat similar to my rapid turn around from the run event, Kat and Rhona got called very quickly to this one. They powered through the thrusters at 75lbs and then did their short “sprint” over to the 45lb kettle bell for swings. Moved to the stairs and attacked what I swear must be the steepest hill on the eastern coast. I watched them slow and slow and I knew exactly why…I had run that damn hill last year at this event. Its terrible. Kat fought on and Rhona finished fairly well holding a good firm top 10 placement.

As the girls were recovering from their event Jeff and Noah’s categories were up bringing them into their third WOD before lunch. (Greg and I had a 2 hour break before WOD 3). Jeff takes off on his thrusters and got a few “no reps” for improper range of motion but quickly made the necessary adjustments. He did well but was a bit smoked and fell back a few placings. I lost sight of him on his last round and realized he must be done when I saw him stumbling like a zombie across the grass field (and those of you who know Jeff understand how odd of a sight that his). 

Noah got set up with his 45lb DB to replace the barbell thrusters. He almost knocked out the first 21 unbroken. Moving onto the KB swing he heaved it into the air and got pulled forward stumbling, the way a true 2Pood KB will do to you, much less being on uneven grass and missing a leg. He finished up the reps and shuffled off to the stairs to hop down them on an already exhausted leg. Here came the hill… and the fight begans. He hopped, stepped and scrambled his way to the top as a crowd of supporters formed holding their Iphones streaming to Youtube and Twitter.. “Climb! Climb!” is all you could hear, and climb is all he did. Round 1, turned into round 2. He re-approached the hill with 1 minute left before time ran out. I climbed half way down the hill and yelled to him that he only had one minute to summit. He clawed at the dirt and drove his leg using the prosthetic blade like an ice ax. TIME!… Once again my three team mates to so far attack the hill had left it all out on the field. Now they can finally take a couple of hours rest before their final WOD. 

It was Greg and my own time at the hill. I entered this one with a three thought process. 1) Determination to go until I finished or lost consciousness. 2) Trepidation in knowing that the loss of consciousness was likely, having experienced this hill last year. 3) Damn are my legs already tired! 

Unlike my second WOD on this one I drew a cool judge who was descriptively vocal with “suggestions” on how to please him and receive rep credits. My intentions were to break up the thrusters into manageable amounts. Once we got started I went back to my belief that thrusters suck so badly that you should ALWAYS get them over with unbroken as to come out from under the bar. I could hear Greg having some rep trouble behind and he had to re-do quite a few reps. I moved onto the 70lb KB swings and got to it. Turning to move towards the stairs it happened…NOTHING! Everything in my mind said run and my body even took the form of a runner but a grandma on a Rascal scooter could have passed me.. Forward motion no matter what. On the stairs I heard footsteps coming up and I thought, “what asshole is about to pass me?” It was Greg catching up so I was at least happy that it was one of my own assholes going to pass. I could see a competitor named Brian Kost ahead of me by a few seconds and I was glad to have sight of him as he is rated as one of the pound for pound strongest males in this side of the country. Little did I know that I was about to pass him and (at least for that workout, finish way ahead of him). The hill was as awful as I remember and I chose to power walk it in place of expending the energy to attempt a sprint. The 15 round was much of the same,,awful. This time when I took off to run I leaned forward hoping to propel and I actually almost fell onto my face. Nothing left to do but fight. The 9 round is always bitter sweet because on one hand its almost over and you can just get to it..but on the other hand you are completely spent and have nothing left to give. Finally I was done with the swings and moved off for the final “run”. I dug in and made a decent show of it coming back up to the top of the hill stopping time and crawling away to find shade like a fatally wounded animal running from the hunter who shot it. I placed in the top 10 of this workout but was out of the overall top 10 at this point by 6 seconds.


Final Event, WOD 4: “Heavy Grace” Clean and Press X30 Reps (155lb, 135lb, 105lb)

By this point we were all spent but that is the beauty of a real competition. Anyone can have a good day in their “box” and call time placing at the top of the white board against the same members they exercise with everyday. But who can do it multiple times a day, not on your own time tables and exposed to the elements of heat, UV sunlight and dehydration…. and still answer the call when its time. Simple answer…not many people at all.

Jeff was up first and man did he get after it. He started conducting reps and just didn’t stop.. He made up a lot of the time he had lost in the middle two WODs. I walked in front of him to cheer for him and saw blood running out of his mouth and down his chin (he split his lip with the barbell). He fought, lifted, struggled and spit blood to finish his day in a VERY respectable 7th place over all.

Next up was Noah. His replacement for the bar bell was a 45lb KB. He suffered a good bit by simply having smoked his one leg and shoulder with all the other WODs so even though his time was pretty decent he personally was a bit unsatisfied.. He finished his first Crossfit competition in 25th out of 32 scaled men…But hold on, lets quantify this. A double amputee trained and performed so intensely that there were 7!!!!!! able bodied men who finished behind him… My slogan is “Struggle. Sweat. Conquer.” and his is “Train like a machine.” Either way it worked.

Time for Greg and myself. On my first rep I had a crushing realization of just how tired I was. The 155lb felt like the time I attempted Grace at 225.. very heavy. The cruel fate of the competition gods landed on me as I “control dropped” the barbell and it went bouncing all over the place. I had a crazy bar and found myself chasing it literally in circles throughout the 30 reps. My plates wobbled loose from the clamps and I later learned one even broke in half leaving my bar uneven. Needless to say I had a fight on my hands and fell approximately 22 seconds behind my goal…but it was over and just a few seconds after me, Greg came to the final rep of his first competition.

Rhona powered through her 105lb bar knocking out an unbroken 14 reps-14 reps and finishing up with two strong reps to secure her 9th place overall finish among a pretty impressive bracket of RX women. Kat fought onto the end and even though her favorite workout is Grace, as us men already know sometimes even your favorite woman can turn on you. 

The day was done. All of my team mates did well. We trained hard and disciplined. We put in the necessary time and laid it all out on the field of competition. That in itself is the victory. Most people never even feel the strength stealing ache of pre-comp nerves and the complete vulnerability of taking yourself to the brink, exercising in front of strangers.  Just as last year, I really enjoyed the Rumble by the River put on by our friends at Crossfit Inception. They too are run by former military and we identify together much better than other competitions we have attended. The atmosphere was energizing, competitive and full of community. The competitors were talented, humble and friendly. Thank you to all the judges who voluntarily stood in the hot sun to allow me to showcase my team and our talents. Thank you to Penny and Sandy for being the team support and always making sure we had a cold water or to point us in the direction of our chairs when we were wandering around dangerously in a blinding met-con daze. Thank you to Carol and Jeff’s son Bronson for coming down to see us and taking lots of pictures and videos that we will get consolidated and posted as soon as we can. And of course thank you to all my CFTF athletes for giving us a community of dedication and providing a high level of energy to train around.


RX Men:
Sean= 13th out of 40
Greg= 19th out of 40

RX Women:
Rhona= 9th out of 23
Kat= 18th out of 23

Scaled Men:
Noah= 25th out of 32

Masters Men RX:
Jeff= 7th out of 13


“See you at the top of the hill”

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2011 Death Race

“I am a man who once was a soldier.” -2011 Death Race. Pittsfield, VT. 24-27JUN11

When I look back at our journey it began very appropriately for what one would expect when attempting a race called the “Death Race”. Our flight out of Birmingham was delayed then cancelled due to storms, leaving Penny and I no choice but to rent a car and set off on an all night drive to Charlotte to board the only flight the wonderful attendant (Myrtle) at the Birmingham counter could find. As we drove north, Penny got on the phone and found us an early morning flight out of Atlanta. We checked into a hotel room and caught 5 hours of sleep. 

Driving into Pittsfield Vermont, I realized something that made common sense yet I had neglected to research about the area. It was mountainous! Every direction we looked had lush green mountains. To the eye it was beautiful but to my trained knowledge it meant thick vegetation that could be impossible to navigate through. I knew immediately that my legs (especially the “4 days post surgery” left calve muscle) were going to be tested. The town was small and peaceful with farms, cabins, and ski resorts. The weather on the other hand was terrible. Rain and from the looks of it there had been lots. According to the weekend forecast it wouldn’t change. Perfect conditions for a suck-fest.

Jon had arrived before and checked into our room at the Amee Farms Bed and Breakfast, a five star hotel located at the race site. I highly recommend to anyone dragging their loved ones to this race (as I did Penny) to stay here. It was a large, newly renovated farm house that was spectacular. Huge front porch with a view of the mountains, open basement space for us to lay out all our race gear, modern bathrooms and comfortable beds. 

Jon and I got right to laying out our race gear for a military style equipment check, packing and a chance to talk to racers as they too arrived. We immediately met a man named Ray who had done 5 Death Races and finished two. I quickly adapted a saying, “WWRD (what would Ray do)”, as the time table guess work and mind games of the weekend began to play out. If he got dressed, I got dressed, if he laid back and ignored a “time hack” I did as well.

On Thursday night we got our packs prepped and went up into our room to get our last night’s sleep and visit with an old Army friend who I rarely get to talk to in person. During the night the rain became so intense that it woke me up and I could hear the creek outside our window turn into a torrent of rapids. I thought about the people who decided to camp at the race and how shitty of a start that would be.

Friday morning, my eyes open and the reality of the day sets in as my mind whirls. What has been a theory and an idea for months is now here. It felt just like waking up the day I left for Basic Training, Ranger School and my combat deployments. In my head I resigned to the fact that it was a Death Race and I was prepared to go to any level to accomplish this goal. I got out of bed and said good bye to that comfort in my head. I showered for the last time and made myself forget that warm water existed. 

In years past the race organizers had played tricks by making the racers show up to “meetings” only to take them out into the woods for hours, unprepared clothing and gear wise until the moment the race really began. As they sent out messages on Facebook telling us to be at a “parachute packing” class at noon and the at the General  Store for race check-in at 3, I was skeptical. I decided to dress race ready from morning on and be ready to go at any moment. I also used my military experience to guess the “bullshit” they were trying to feed us to waste our time and I was right (which continued throughout the weekend). I guessed they were going to try and get us out of our rooms and chasing fake meetings and timelines to waste our energy and rob us of a valuable last chance for a nap. I went down to the location of the parachute packing class just in case and the building was locked. Dozens of racers were standing in the rain and it was blatantly obvious my thoughts were correct so we hustled back to the room. I saw Ray standing in the hall and with a smile he said, “learn all about packing chutes did ya?” I was amazed to look out the window and see the others stand there and then walk from building to building never catching onto the joke. At three we went down to check-in, again expecting to be whisked away on an early start time but it was normal. Sign in, get your bib number and my Death Race sweat shirt which Penny quickly called “dibs!”. We were told to be at the local church at six for the race brief and start. Again we laid in the room resting. My nerves began to try and bother me as hour after hour of waiting went on. That was my first experience with what is the beauty of the Death Race. Without us even taking the first step it was playing with our minds and causing us to metabolize valuable energy.  

It was finally time. We went across the street to Amee Farm to record our “video waiver” where they went through the usual gamut of agreeing to dark cold, dangerous, confined spaces and harmful activities. Been there done that. What was noteworthy about this video session was something that reminded me of some training events I went through in my Special Forces training. We were sent into a room that was normally the bathroom of Amee farms. We were told to sit on the toilet right next to a wall urinal and face the mirror of which there was a small space that had a camera showing through. A voice from behind the mirror asked all the waiver questions then said, “Have a good race”. Jon and I took our ruks down to the church and ushered inside for the briefing. We piled into the pews with our large packs. There was a buzz of nerves in everyone and the place rang with the chorus of introductions and listings of how we each trained and what our past accomplishments had been. We also were all making jokes about the horrifying possibilities that were about to play out. Would they burn the church with us inside and see who made it out alive? The race organizers entered the church ( I recognize them from YouTube) and began telling everyone there wasn’t enough room for our bags and that they needed to be taken outside and put in the grass. As everyone began shuffling out with their bags myself and Jon recalled all the tricks the Drill Sergeants would play in basic training with “unsecured” gear and weren’t about to separate ourselves from our gear, hydration and nutrition. We squished them in between our legs and draped our jackets over them. At the same time I saw two girls doing the same thing and later learned they were former Marines who were in a team that they had named the “Glamazons” because they were large muscular, incredibly attractive females. A preacher walked to the pulpit and started the event with a prayer and a story about honesty and integrity and a run down of the world’s religions which we feverishly took notes of for future questioning. Then Joe Desena (the race organizer and a man more sadistic than myself) began the brief. He informed us the race had officially begun and that we needed to file by the back of the church and partake in the communion wine and memorize the taste for a later test. We filed out and I skipped the wine in fear of a cruel Death Race joke of it being laced with Ex-Lax or Epicac. We all walked the one mile down the road taking our final sips of water and replaying our game plan in our head. We were headed to Amee Farm to begin the event. 

Chore #1: 7pm, Friday. 50 degrees and drizzling. We were broken down into 13 person (co-ed) teams of which the “Glamazons” were on. Our instructions were simple. Retrieve one large stone per member (averaging 45lbs), one bail of hay and one 100LB Slosh Pipe (PVC pipe filled with water). Put them in a circle. Going in a counter-clock wise direction each team member will Olympic lift clean the rock then step to the next rock. After one full rotation the bail of hay and the slosh pipe will be raised up with each team member touching it in some way. This was to be done 150 Rounds while wearing our packs! Round one made it glaringly evident that this was to suck. But then the Glamazons kicked in and the entertainment began. Their energy was met by Jon’s and my own as we got games started like “ask personal questions”, “name your favorite movie, book and song” etc. Rounds crept slowly by and the monotony was contrasted by the slow grueling fatigue in the legs and back. The race organizers intended for this to cause people to quit early but their mistake was allowing us to talk. They would walk around and yell demotivating statements and threaten us with time penalties. They lied and said people were quitting but as we passed the 2nd, 3rd and into the 4th hour I could tell their plan had back fired. No one was quitting. This years competitors were of a higher caliber than in years past and full of former military personnel who had played mind games before. 

Around 1:30 AM we were on round 87 (approximately 1,232 stone lift reps) and I honestly had grown weary of the routine. They called for us to gather up our gear and line up in front of a trail that led down to the river. I quickly put on my head lamp and  tightened up the trash bag inside my pack to keep my gear dry because I knew my ass was about to get wet.

Chore #2: 1:45am, Saturday. Water temperature 47 degrees. The 154 competitors (of the 200 registered) walked down to a dark river bank. I could hear the rapids and Ray said to me, “Its a lot higher than I have ever seen it.” As I took my first step into the river and felt the 47 degree chill I turned to a media camera man standing on the bank and said “How are you on this cold night?”  Anyone who has ever river walked before knows how treacherous the steps are. Slick rocks of assorted size cause your feet to bang and bend and the current pulls your legs away from you as the weight of your pack makes balance almost impossible. The temperature was breath taking and as we trudged on in a line of head lamps it got deeper. In the army I judged levels of wetness by body parts. As long as its only my feet and legs submersed I don’t consider that wet, but once my balls and ass touch the water it officially becomes wet. That happened right away. Down the river we walked in a line of head lamps. People stumbled and some fell completely in. I passed one man sitting on the bank shivering and said “don’t sit there to long, hypothermia will set in”. He responded simply by saying, “I lost my shoes” so I said goodbye to him. He was finished. About one hour in were told that we had to take the fish hook issued to us at check in and catch a fish. Ridiculously people began fashioning poles and using string to tie the hook and waded out to try and catch a fish. Jon and I laughed at how gullible people were and why someone would think they could catch a fish in a river that a hundred plus people were standing, so he and I went onto shore and took off our shoes and wrung out our socks and took the chance to eat a snack (Gu-Gel). Less than five minutes later a voice yelled, “Continue walking!” We got back in and moved down the river for another mile and Jon and I continued to talk and entertain those around us. I got hung up behind an annoying girl who could not balance and moved slowly. We came to an intersection and were told to cross and go up a tributary. This girl turned to me and said “It will be safer if we hold each others shoulder straps and cross together.” I said sorry you are falling on your own, Im crossing without you and we hustled around her. From up behind us came team Glamazon. Just about the time I thought they were moving dangerously fast, one of them slipped and fell. She got caught in the rapids and washed out. She tumbled onto her back and then rolled over desperately scrambling to cling to a rock. Just as she was about to go under the medic in me kicked in and I went out, grabbed the ax handle sticking up off her pack and put her up on a rock. The tributary turned out to be more difficult to walk in than the actual river but luckily it was  only 100 yards before we were called up onto a trail leading up a hill. I saw the same camera man from before and I said to him, “earlier you said you were having a good night. How is it now?” He only looked at me with confusion. We were guided up a trail and quickly passed a fire and told to go down a hill and wade into a pond to waist level and stand for 5 minutes. Jon and I waded in and it was frigid! As we stood there I began to feel a deep freezing pain in my testicles as they froze. I looked up on shore and saw my fiance Penny standing there. I smiled at the sight of something familiar and pretty. It became the first of many times that her face would pull me out of feeling sorry for myself. She became like an angel of light in the middle of a dark place. I smiled and waved to her and asked her how she was. Five minutes passed and were told to go to the other side of the pond.

Chore #3: 3:45am, Saturday. Water temperature 47 degrees. We were told to enter the water, use the rope to pull or swim across the 200 foot pond with our packs on and exit the other side. Climb up a severely steep, 100ft muddy bank and go into the field. We were given a lit candle and told to walk around a 100 yard field without letting the candle burn out (if it did you had to run back to the start to get yours re-lit, which happened to me in round 1). We had to complete this 7 times. I entered the water and the “gasp reflex” that cold water causes hit me immediately. The water was well over our heads and I clung to the rope with one hand and swam with the other desperately trying to keep my head above water while wearing the 35 pound pack. We quickly moved through all the rounds trying to beat inevitable hypothermia. I began to shiver so bad that I bit my tongue twice. This event caused the first large group of people to quit, approximately 20. As we finished the sun began to rise. In the army I learned that humans are solar powered. When we come out of a long dark night and see sun light we get a strange awakening of energy and a positive attitude. It was a welcome sight. We were instructed to walk up a trail and take our instructions from the man at the end.


Chore #4: 6:30 am Saturday. Rain/50 degrees. After a two mile hike we began to hear the sounds of wood chopping. In the yard of some house a man told us to go pick a tree log. We were to split it into 8 pieces and show it to the judge. Jon looked at me and said “I have never swung an ax.” He learned very fast as usual. By this time the rain had picked up and was very cold. Penny was there and wearing her rain coat. She looked on worried about how long we had been wet and cold but she also had never seen us in “Army mode” and didn’t know that we were perfectly fine. After chopping our wood we were instructed to pick another tree trunk (of which they were all huge) and carry it up a one mile trail to the top of a hill and read a note. Then return back down, recite the note or face going back up to re-read it, then chop our trunk into another 8 pieces. Jon and I formulated our plan. I had made my ruk frame a traveling hardware store with wrapped lengths of rope, duct tape, string, and lashing. We unwrapped the lashing and tied it around the log then fashioning two loops for shoulder straps. It would be terribly uncomfortable but having a 100lb log on your back is much better than trying to carry it in your arms for two miles. We struggled to our feet and began up the hill as our frozen wet leg muscles rejected the idea. Every 100ft or so we had to stop and lean forward with our hands on our knees to rest. That technique became know as the “stiff legged bend over” and was the main rest technique that got us through the race. Half way up the hill there was a short length of barbed wire trench we had to crawl under with our logs that served more of an annoyance purpose than anything. At the top of the hill there was a sign on a tree. “Corinthians 16:13. Stand firm, walk in faith, be strong “ I wrote it down on a piece of paper and we began the terrible journey back down the hill. It was at this point that I had my first session with feeling sorry for myself. I didn’t want to walk my shoulders were crushing under the weight of the log and my energy levels were empty. I kept telling Jon I needed to rest. Resting with a log on your back is hard, the technique I used was to find a section of the ground that was inclining up and I would flop back and let the log meet the earth above me. There is no way to do this without falling quickly and every time I did the bark would scrape the skin on my back. As I walked it would rub the skin on my lower back so I would place my hands in between myself and the log but the weight was bruising the muscles in my hands and I was worried I would need them to carry something later. I was damned either way I tried. At one point I sensed something bad was about to happen and I told Jon we needed to rest. Just as he turned around to look at me the left arm strap I had tied came undone and the log flew to my right side. The strap slipped off my right shoulder and skinned its way down my arm. When it reached the elbow it caught traction and flipped me over just like a judo toss. Somehow I landed on the ground unhurt. I was simply astonished at the ass kicking I was taking. During one of the rest periods I saw a man that I recognized from YouTube videos and remembered that he was attempting his 4th Death Race. I said to him as he walked past, “What advice do you have for a young first timer to the Death Race?” His answer was simple, “Is there anything that you cant do for 5 minutes?” I said no there isn’t. Then he said, “the Death Race is just a whole bunch of 5 minute increments.” He walked on down the trail carrying a 100lb log over his shoulder. We returned down the hill and recited our Bible verse correctly, chopped up that damn tree stump and took a minute to eat a snack ( I used the Gatorade Prime Bars and Gu-Gel for carbs). As we sipped Accelorade electrolyte water out of our camel backs I watched a female racer strike her first tree stump uselessly. She was simply to small to even chip away at it and her support person (her husband) looked on helplessly and encouraged her to keep trying. I felt so bad for her that I walked over and split her log and said “Good luck in the race” Her husband thanked me and I never saw her again.


Chore #5: 9:30am, Saturday. Water temperature 47 degrees. We were told to walk the two miles back down the river to Amee Farm where we had began the night before. I didn’t really care about this but it apparently demoralized some and we had more people drop out of the race. As we walked the rain poured and we got soaked from both sides above and below. At the end of the river we walked up the trail and into the farm to check in. We were ushered back into the “video session bathroom”, but this time in groups of three. It was Jon, myself and Eric (the man who gave me the 5 minute advice). Jon and I perched onto a bucket and Eric sat on the toilet. It was a strange tight fit with three of us still wearing packs. This time they asked specific questions about the race for us to that point and how we were doing. The voice asked what we were afraid of and what made us think we had prepared properly. Jon and I answered questions but I noticed that Eric simply sat on the commode and repacked his ruk without saying a word. Upon exiting the video session we were given instructions for our next “chore”.

Chore #6: 1045am, Saturday. Steady rain /  Air Temperature 52 degrees. We were told to walk up to the top of a short hill. Pick out a tree log and cut it into a 36 inch section. I knew this meant we would be carrying it so we chose our log carefully. I picked a log at the bottom of the pile that was about 6 inches in diameter and we measured and cut it into two 36 inch sections. We returned down the hill and were told to use the hand drill and mark our race number into the log. Only requirement was that it must be readable. I  chose to put the number 66 on the end of the log. Next would be one of the nastiest portions of the Death Race.

Chore #7: 11:30am. Light rain / Temperature 55 degrees. Our instructions were that we would be carrying our log up a trail that we could see went towards a very large and steep mountain. Something told me that I wasn’t coming back until at earliest that night so Jon and I took a moment to do some maintenance on ourselves and our food/gear. We sat in the rain and put Goldbond powder on our nether regions to prevent the inevitable “monkey butt” (chaffing) and put on on dry socks and boots (of which we soon realized was an act of futility in this environment). Penny fueled us up with a cup of warm coffee and a turkey sandwich she had gotten from the General Store. It was like a new lease on life. I also took one of the many timed out packets of pills I preset into my food bags (Aleve, Vitamin and Juice Plus capsules). We both decided to lash our logs across the top of our rucks the same way we would a machine gun or anti-tank rocket in the Army. This took my pack up to a shitty 70-80 pounds.  I said goodbye to Penny and told her I would see her that night and we set off on the first steps of what was to be a miserable time in the mountains. We climbed up a winding trail for about 4 miles coming to a little cabin called “Colt Inn”. We checked in and were told we were in 61st place (I personally didn’t care). We used this break to stretch and eat another snack of Cliff Bar and water. Then we were pointed to another trail and told to follow the orange ribbons hanging from the trees to a place called “Rogers Onion Shop”. I really hoped they weren’t repeating an event from last year in which you had to answer a question or face the penalty of eating one pound of raw onions. Off we set up yet another steep climbing trail. Just a few minutes in the two race organizers came running down the trail saying the leaders were approaching (who were 3 hours ahead of us for the record). I was interested to to see what they would look like because Jon and I were moving in small steps that climbed no more than six inches each time and resting every few minutes. I looked up the hill and a man named Joe Decker came down at a pace that might as well have been jogging and had a smile on his face!!!!! We hollered “goo job Joe” and he took the time to give us high fives as he ran by. I could only stand there in amazement, then turn back up the mountain and continue moving at what now seemed like a slugs pace. During this first hour of climbing to “Rogers” I fell back into my second period of weakness. Every step was hard, my lungs burned for air and my energy levels just felt shitty. By this time I had been on the move for 18 hours and was at that point of having to “break a barrier.” My body and mind were trying to convince me to stop and go back to my comfort zones and my heart and soul were calling on my experiences from Ranger School to drive on and never give up. Step after step we climbed as the muddy trail beneath our feet slid away making us fall and slip and cling to trees for help. We crested a ridge and the orange ribbons continued down the other side and into the trees. There would be no more trail for a couple of hours. We pushed through branches and hopped over logs following these ribbons that were obviously placed at intervals difficult to find and follow. The terrain was so wet and steep that even a sure footed patch of earth would betray you and land you on your ass sliding painfully down. I slipped a few times and instinctively but incorrectly reached my hand out landing it on sharp sticks and branches and scolded myself each time knowing that a vicious cut to the hand in this situation could put me out of the race. This hike passed the feeling of hard and long and began the “where the hell are we going” phase. Every now and again we would come along some one on their way back from our destination and they would all say a different time and distance that we still had to go. We heard everything from “almost there” to “one and a half hours away”. This simply sucked. After about four hours since we began the hike we finally came across a girl who told us it was nearby and pointed to a visible cabin letting me know she wasn’t full of shit. We walked up hoping to get a moment to put our packs down and rest.


Chore #8: Sunny (finally) / Temperature 70 degrees. Our instructions were to remove our logs from our packs and throw them in the pond at the bottom of the hill then return for more instructions. I walked down and set our logs barely off the shore wedged into some reeds to prevent it from floating away because I wasn’t about to swim in the cold water again unless they specifically told me to. Our next assignment was to take a wheel barrow and load one log into it from a wood pile, walk it across a lawn and put it neatly into a stack of firewood we were apparently creating for the owner of the cabin. We had to do this 10 times. Then we were told to perform 90 push ups. I thought those would suck as fatigued as I was but they were a welcome change from the heavy hiking we had been doing and gave me a chance to move my blood around. Now we had to go retrieve our logs that were now water logged adding at least 5 pounds to them and carve “1RO” into it. I wanted to relax during this task so we removed our wet shirts and shoes and enjoyed the only sunshine I would see during the entire race. Easy and done. But the obvious next task didn’t even need to be said. Reload the log and walk back to Amee Farms. We used this time to freshen up our “powdered areas”, refill our Camel backs with water (that we were surprised to see provided by the race) and eat a power snack while we talked to a nice old lady who built that cabin with her husband Roger over 20 years prior. As we set off we knew we needed to hustle because we had a huge uphill portion through brush and and hard to find trail markers and were getting dangerously close to sun set. Trying to follow this path under a head lamp would have been terrible at best. Off we set talking and making jokes as usual. I made fun of Jon for liking the singer Adelle and he rebutted by attacking me watching American Idol. Along the way we picked up a “tag along” racer who followed us up the mountain and we listened to a thunder storm building in the distance. I prayed that it would stay away because I didn’t want to be on the top of a mountain during lightening strikes and the stormy skies would shorten our day light by a solid hour. By this time Jon and I had created a system that kept us very steady, we would flop down and rest two minutes every 20, then at the top of each hour we would remove our packs and rest 5 minutes and have a snack. This gave us 9 minutes of rest and 51 minutes of work per hour (but the “stiff legged lean forward with hands on knees rest” could be called at any time one of us was suffering). Remarkably we made it to the top of the mountain and began the large down hill slope that we originally had to climb hours before still in natural light. It was storming pretty hard but we were in very high spirits especially watching our tag along fall over and over trying to stay with us. All through this hike we had randomly passed signs tacked to trees with different religious symbols on them (this years race theme was religion). As we passed back by them on the way home Jon said “We should probably remember these for a future test that could keep us from paying a penalty like another long hike” but with us being “knuckle dragger” infantrymen we laughed and said “nah, I’ll take the hike” and ignored all of them. As we arrived back to “Colt Inn” we were required to do 100 Burpees before we could return to Amee Farms which was the source of Penny, food and a moment to take the packs off. We broke this task down into 33 sets of 3 Burpees plus one and knocked it out in about 20 minutes, stretched again and rucked up for the final 4 mile hike home. All in all this chore was approximately 16 miles and simply sucked. 

As we came walking down the hill into sight of Amee Farms we could see figures standing on the porch waiting for racers to appear. I waived knowing one of them was Penny and I saw her go running down the stairs and out into the rain. I could see she had a bag in her hands and I was excited knowing it was probably food. She gave us the now normal “intel update” on other racers and the race itself and gave us a heads up on the next chore of which the leader Joe was already finished with and gone. It was to have us hiking up to the top of a mountain that was currently covered from sight by thunderstorm clouds so I knew this was to be a long night and my head needed to be screwed on straight. We ate another sandwich, repacked our bags, put on some clothes that Penny hung up to dry while we were gone and got everything in place for movement in pitch black mountain darkness. We spoke briefly to racers who had quit and were wishing us well and said goodbye. I told Penny to go to bed and sleep well that I would not be back until morning. We moved down to the headquarters and got our assignment from Joe Desena himself. Now I was informed earlier by Ray to never believe anything Joe says, that he lies constantly so our briefing was useless. He said, “You are going on a 9 hour hike to the top of a mountain to meet a guy named Chris and eat a peanut.” I asked what trail will I take. “His answer was, “It will be hard to see because it is marked with non-reflective markings” and he pointed in the general direction of a mountain miles away. Thanks asshole.


Chore #8: 8:00pm, Saturday. Dark, rainy / Temperature 50 degrees. We walked down the only trail leading from the farm towards the river. I hoped it wasn’t putting us back in the water but I was prepared for anything. We had no idea what we were looking for and Jon suggested we say a prayer for the nights task. When he was done I turned on my headlamp and it shined directly onto a reflective piece of tape hanging in a tree. There were no orange markers like we had followed earlier anywhere to be seen. I said to Jon, “the theme of this year is religion. Satan is a constant liar and Joe Desena right now is Satan. He said there would be non reflective markings and the first thing we see is reflective. This is what we will follow.” It was a huge leap of faith but we took it. We walked up hills and down hills sometimes seeing reflectors and many times seeing nothing. We stayed on our hike/rest routine and several times simply stopped and questioned if we were on the right path or not. Hours past and we kept playing over possible wrong turns as doubt rumbled all through our minds. What bothered me most was that we heard there were 40 other racers already on this course and yet we could feel the sense of being alone in the woods. After a few hours we randomly heard voices coming out from the woods into a field that we were standing lost in. It was two race volunteers who were moving quickly somewhere. We asked them for better instructions and they were not very helpful. But they did confirm the reflector theory and said we should be on the top of the mountain, then disappeared quickly back into the trees. We continued on and and followed reflectors and “terrain associated” our way up. A little past midnight we heard voices and saw a large number of headlamps coming down from a ridge line. I am still very institutionalized from the military and I quickly turned off my headlamp and told Jon to do the same because I think everything in the night is an enemy and needs to be ambushed. He reminded me that we were in a race and they were likely other racers and we should go try to get information from them. But as it turns out they wanted the same from us. They were lost and looking terrible. It was a large group and we recognized some of them. The Glamazons were there and they yelled out “is that team Sean Jon?” (that we unknowingly had been named by other racers). They told us they had been wandering in the dark for hours. They all looked terrible and plopped down. Their group was like a cancer cell that metastasized. One lost racer linked onto another then more and more until they were just a group of lost, negative energy wandering through the woods. Jon and I wanted to get far away from them as we could sense they wanted to latch onto our positive energy and obvious sense of direction. One of the members of the Glamazons was sitting with her head in her hands and I told her to get up and stand with me. Without even looking up she said “I don’t want to”. That was the last time I ever saw her as Jon and I made up an excuse to get away from them. We told them we would go check another possible trail and one of the stronger members of their group went to check a different direction. We dropped down the hill a little and went “blacked out” turning off our head lamps and watching them. After a bit they all staggered to their feet and wandered on down the same trail they were sitting on. I had a feeling they were wandering off to find a place to quit. When the coast was clear Jon and I re-emerged and headed down what we guessed was a good trail. Sure enough as had happened all night the reflectors just kept popping up right about the time we thought we were on the wrong path. Up, up and up, as the hours past on. Finally we came across a severely steep muddy creek running down the side of the mountain and there was barbed wire strung across it that went up much farther than our head lamps could illuminate. I knew that meant we would be as well. Packs off, bodies down. I chose the technique of pushing the pack under each strand of barbed wire and then would crawl under to meet it. The water was cold and the mud was getting all over us. I estimate this went on for about the length of a football field, pretty much straight up. We came out at the end and saw another few racers returning from the top. They told us it was “WAY UP the hill!” Shit…. On we climbed. The race designers created a path up in the worst case scenario. Mud, vegetation, roots and rocks. No step was confident and when you did slip and fall you were punished with sharp hard objects impacting your body parts not to mention the weight shifting of the log slamming you onto the ground. This was getting ridiculously funny. After about 45 minutes of mud crawling we saw a little wood cabin on the horizon, literally at the top of the mountain. I walked inside and the two volunteers we had talked to earlier in the evening were sitting on a bench inside. We checked in and he asked us a few “safety administrative questions.” Are you hurt? Are you delirious? Do you want to continue? After we said of course we do he told us to “listen carefully, as it could help us buy our way out of a bad situation later.” So out came the pen and paper. “My name is Anthony Kessler. I have 6 brothers and sisters. My parents names are Angela and John. I was born in PA. When I was 6 I was attacked by a bear and I like peanuts.” He then told us to go back the way we had come from. We ate a small snack, powdered the chafed areas, took a piss and put on our packs. The walk back down was faster than coming up but just as punishing. I slipped a lot and several times took a sharp stick to my hands. We tumbled down the steep mountain side and picked up the trail just as the man who gave me the “5-minute advice” did as well. It was now time to walk back to Amee Farms and see what chore the sunrise would have for us. 

The walk down was easier but the fact that we were approaching 35 hours into the race at this point the hallucinations were starting to set in. At one point I looked at a tree, and the bark illuminated in my head lamp registered in my eyes as the face of satan. Both Jon and I were hearing voices and our conversations were becoming a little less coherent. When we would stop to take our two minute rest periods I had to keep cutting them short because we were dozing off. I would listen to Jon’s breathing and when it became rhythmic I knew he was asleep and I would say loudly “Ruk up!” knowing that the disciplined soldier in both if us would immediately jump to our feet following orders. On we trudged. As we descended the mountain the sky began to grow lighter and sound of the river grew louder. We finally reached the bottom and were a few hundred feet above the Tweed River. As we peered through the trees in the darkness we could see what we thought were cars on a road. It was strange, they were moving so fast and there were so many of them as if the little town of Pittsfield had turned into a major metropolis with a rush hour on Sunday!? This made no sense and confused us severely. As we got closer we realized it was the white water of the rapids and that our mind was hallucinating again. Man we need the full sun rise to save us now. About one mile from the farm we needed just one more chance to rest. As I dug a snack out of my pack I could hear someones car stereo playing loud music. I commented to Jon that it was very rude of them to do that at 5am, keeping people awake. It didn’t make sense to be hearing it but it was clearly music with a bass rhythm and lyrics. As we leaned against our ruks resting Jon began talking about Joe Decker the leader. Next thing I realized I was talking about a major league baseball pitcher and how it wasn’t fair of the race organizers to expect us to be able to hit one of his pitches. It dawned on me that I was sleeping and then I heard Jon ask, “what are we talking about? I was asleep.” We had actually both fallen asleep and had a conversation together about two randomly separate subject. I said,”Jon we have to get up and move. This is getting bad.” As we walked on I could still hear the music and it was coming right from a little creek beside us. It was clear as day music, but it wasn’t at all. It was the flowing of water crashing against rocks and my brain just interpreted it as music. I hadn’t felt this since my days in Ranger School but luckily I knew what was happening and I also expected it to happen. Its just always shocking when it finally does. On we walked and we popped up from the trail into Amee Farm to a small group of people clapping for us because apparently not a lot of people returned successfully from that night.

We were immediately approached by one of the race organizers, Andy. He said “You tough mother fuckers just wont quit will you!?” He was referencing all of the 20 or so people who came in form the darkness not just Jon and myself. I answered, “You asked for the toughest athletes in the country. We came.” He pointed us to a large pile of wood and told us to chop it.


Chore #9: 5:00am. Cloudy sunrise skies / Temperature 50 degrees. Our pile was one of the last remaining ones so it was of course the shittiest selection of wood to chop. It was water soaked, large and full of wood like birch and other crap that makes your maul bounce like a rubber mallet. Because it had now become obvious to everyone that Jon and I would never separate, when we would be assigned our individual tasks they would just give us a huge portion equalling two peoples worth. We just started swinging. I took 5 swings and Jon took 5. This was a tough morning for me. My energy was low and I kept having to rest my hands on my knees and gasp for air like a fish out of water. Eventually the pile got smaller. Jon started talking about the coffee Penny could bring him and I was simply interested in some more energy bars, a 5-hour energy and an Aleve. After we finished with our wood pile we were then sent to move 10 large rocks from a pile into a line along a driveway. In essence our final chores of the race were for us all to put the farm back into working order after the destruction of the week. About this time Jon was asking if I thought Penny was awake and I had to laugh because he was “jonesing” for some warm coffee. We walked up to the yard of the Bed and Breakfast where Penny was staying and waited like some starving lost puppies, staring up into the building we were unauthorized to enter. Right on cue my wonderful fiance came bounding out of the door apologizing for over sleeping and had coffee in her hands for Jon. She was upset about not being there in the dark when we returned from the night and acted like not being up before 6am was over sleeping. I was amazed she had even gotten up by then after the exhausting long hours she had pulled taking care of us to that point. Penny got me fresh socks, some yummy supplements and caffeine. I was rejuvenated and ready to do some more chores. 

Our next assignment was to go cut down enough trees to equal 60 feet in length and bring it back to the wood pile, then saw it into 2 foot sections (firewood). They didn’t say they had to be big trees so I chose some little saplings and sawed right through them. While we were making the sections there was a young racer who was working on his pile. He truly had the worst pile I had ever seen. As part of our required items list we could either bring and ax or a maul. The decision came down to an ax being lighter but a maul having the ability to split large logs. This kid chose an ax to travel lightly and was now paying severely for it. It looked like he was using a chisel to split large logs. He was never going to finish his pile and the “race volunteer” saw me looking at him. His parents were standing by watching their some refuse to give up but fighting an impossible battle. The race volunteer said, “Fuck this, this is ridiculous. If you all three work on this pile of wood you can be done and move on.” We jumped up and grabbed our mauls and started helping this kid chop his pile. It fucking sucked! I had one tree stump that I cut on for an hour. Finally it was all gone and Jon and and I quickly grabbed our gear and ran away from the wood area in fear of them assigning us more. We reported to the check in point and were assigned our next chore.


Chore #10: 10:00am, Sunday. Cloudy skies / Temperature 55 degrees. Upon listening to this chore briefed it sounded horrible. We would put on all our gear (including the log we had hoped would be removed by this point) and walk 4 miles back up to “Colt Inn” where we had been yesterday. There we would be given an empty 5 gallon bucket and we would then return back to Amee Farm. Fill the bucket up to an unspecified amount and walk it back to “Colt Inn” There they would measure it and if we brought the “secret amount” correctly we would be released to travel the grueling 6 more miles to Rogers Onion Shop to drop of our log and return the 10 miles to Amee Farm. 

I simply thought “shit”. My feet by this point were raw. The skin had become so water logged that it was nearing the point of whats called “slothing” in which large pieces of skin just simply let go and fall off. Its very painful. My inner thighs and the accompanying anatomy of that area were chaffed to the point that GoldBond powder wasn’t helping anymore. My legs and shoulders were screaming with soreness and my fatigue level was very high. This was the time in which my training was going to have to carry me on. We say something in the military and at my gym, “Embrace the Suck.” I had to commit my mind to walk through all moments of pain and discomfort and be committed to finish. I said to myself that I would walk step after step until they told me to stop or I fall over dead. We put our packs on and began the painful 4 miles up the mountain. We talked a lot to keep our minds off the pain and we even had about a 30 minute session in which we mimicked Joe and Andy the two race organizers. It was cruel but endearing. We retrieved our buckets and headed back to the Farm. 

During the Friday night race briefing at the church they had told us that all racers must be back in the church at 3pm sharp on Sunday or be removed from the race. This was strange and left many ideas and theories in our head but we weren’t about to risk missing the time hack. The problem this presented us was that we would not have time to complete this task and make it there. Our required church time was less than 4 hours away and we had a hike ahead of us that was at least 8 hours in duration. My plan was to go back to the farm. Fill our buckets to the very top just to be on the safe side to avoid being sent back down the mountain to try again. We created a spill proof lid using garbage bag and duct tape, a great idea that we had gotten from some racers we saw ahead of us. While we did this a CNN news crew interviewed us. This only left two hours before the required church meeting. What would have to happen is that immediately following the meeting we would return to our gear. Say goodbye to everyone and disappear up the mountain not to return until the next morning. We got our gear prepped for night time travel. Fresh batteries in the headlamps, food accessible without looking and filled up CamelBacks. Then we laid down on the ground and used this opportunity to take our fist nap in almost 43 hours. It began to sprinkle so I draped my rain jacket over me and Jon crawled inside the garbage bag that had become his trademark “poor mans rain coat”. We fell asleep instantly and it was like I was at home in bed. I woke up after about 45 minutes and my body was more stiff and sore than ever. It took me 15 minutes of stumbling around to get loose enough to walk. Also this nap caused my brain to give up and when I woke up I didn’t want to continue this race. I had to walk off to a place where no one was around me and have a “come to Jesus meeting’ with myself. When I emerged I was more determined than at any point in this entire race. I woke Jon up and told him that we had a race to finish. His eyes had a moment of staring at me in which I knew nobody was home. But then just like the Jon I know he appeared, rose to his feet and started working. We got everything prepped. Put a clean wind breaker jacket over our race clothing and put on fresh tennis shoes to go to church (we were instructed not to dishonor the church by showing up muddy). As we piled into the pews there was a much smaller crowd this time. On Friday night there were 154 racers. Now there was less then 30 sitting. All the “characters” of the race began to appear. Everyone of the volunteers were there. All the people from the check points. It reminded me of the day I was “released” from SERE School. All the characters that had cause my misery were standing along side us symbolizing the end of training. This felt similar but I didn’t want to release that poison into my mind. I wasn’t finished with all the tasks they assigned me and I had work to do. Joe Desena arrived and informed us that they were sending someone to rescue Ray off the mountain that Jon and I had been on the night before. Ray was found walking around shoeless and in circles. That is a major symptom of delirium and hypothermia and I thank God they found him because he would not have stopped trying until he died. Ray is too cool to die just yet, but with his determination I feel confident he will be found dead on the side of some mountain some day with a fistful of mud that he clung to in one last effort to continue forward.  When they brought him into the church he had returned to consciousness and Joe began talking. “We have 4 people who have completed all the tasks required of them. If you still have to leave this church and go back up the mountain raise your hand.” Our hands went up and he counted 21 hands. He then turned to Ray and said, “Are you quitting or are you still in this race?” Ray said “If you will let me go back up I have a race to finish.” We all nodded our heads in agreement. Joe responded, “The race is finished. If your hand is in the air your have finished the 2011 Death Race. It went longer than we ever intended. The conditions were worse than we knew they would be. We kept adding tasks trying to get you to quit but you just wont. You just wont quit. Congratulations, you are finished.” 

An applause erupted and my throat choked up with pride the same way it did when I stood on the graduation field of Ranger School and the Special Forces course. I joined this race because ever since I left the Army I have had a strange feeling that I was a pussy, weak and that I ran from a war that wasn’t finished. I questioned myself if I was any longer tough enough to reach the brink and continue on. I did it! I had every intention of walking until they told me I had to go home and thats exactly what happened. I was finished with the 2011 Death Race at 45 hours and 24 minutes and I did it with a friend that I rarely get to see anymore. I did it on the week that I will turn 33. I at 33 years old, performed to the caliber that I did when I was 23 years old. And Im not done yet.

I prepared for this race intensely. I trained for months, I competed in multiple races and CrossFit competitions but in the end it couldn’t have been done with out some very important people helping me. The week before the competition in one of my last training sessions I had an accident and a large piece of metal fragmented off a maul I was working with. Pieces lodged into my chest, shoulder and left calve muscle. I retrieved the ones from my upper body myself at home but had to turn to Brad Gosdin and Debbie Hayes of the Shelby County Memorial Hospital to help me. They got me in touch with two generous and skilled surgeons named Dr. Woods and Dr. Scoffield. Those two doctors worked me into their busy schedule that very day and I had a minor surgery just 4 days before the race removing a piece of metal from beneath my left calve muscle. It was lodged against a nerve and had taken away my ability to bear weight on that leg. The next day Traci Smith, one of my favorite people on this earth, began an intense two day therapy routine that left me severely bruised and unable to walk. She worked tirelessly for a total of 4 hours of her personal time to force my clave muscle to release and pass through the trauma stage. When I arrived at Amee Farm I was hobbling up the stairs of the hotel just 12 hours from the race start. Once the race began I never once had pain, or hesitation in a leg that just 3 days previous was crippled. It wouldn’t have happened with out the care of the friends I have made at my Training Facility. Thank you.

Most importantly is my beautiful Fiance Penny. She stood by me as I trained for hours and talked incessantly about this race. She stood in the rain and stayed awake all night making sure I had everything I needed to succeed. I love her, she is the best. I don’t know if I could have broken through the walls I hit along the way if I hadn’t had Jon there with me. He gave me a distraction from the discomfort and he also gave me confidence because I knew he was a witness to the soldier version of myself that I was trying to see if I could still harness and unleash.

The 2011 Death Race was a success because I had great people backing me up and pushing me towards success. That is why I have decided next year to run this race again. But this time I will take it one step further. I will travel and compete alone. No partner, no support. Just myself and my thoughts. I will go into the Green Mountains of Vermont once again to battle my demons and fight to return from the darkness triumphant. Training begins very soon.

“See you at the top of the hill.” 

- Sean Dickson

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