To DNF is Human – Winter Death Race 2013

The Northeast is currently being clobbered by a record-setting blizzard.  Boston recorded 25 inches of snow last night, placing the storm in that city’s five-worst on record.  Good thing the 2013 Winter Death Race in Vermont took place last weekend!  I think.  Maybe not.  Maybe this weekend would have made for an even more epic and challenging event.  That’s how my sick mind works.  More snow?  Sure, bring it on!  Colder temperatures? Why not!  Harsher conditions?  Absolutely.  Higher possibility of failing?  Yup.

WDR2013 - Matesi Photos (7)

Burpees in our future.

And I did fail.  I DNF’d (Did Not Finish).  I dropped out.  I quit.  I did not collect my second Death Race finisher’s skull.

I was not a “med drop” even though I overheard race director Andy “The Undertaker” Weinberg telling a staffer to list me as such.  I would have dropped out sooner than later.  Fellow racer Amelia Boone calls the term “med drop” a crutch and an excuse.  I agree.  Are there legitimate medical drops due to serious injury?  Absolutely.  But those are far and few between.

[Read Amelia’s excellent write-up of her Winter Death experience on her blog Race Ipsa Loquitur]

My feet felt like they were blocks of ice from the near-freezing cold water crossings and my previously warm boots were completely soaked.  Not knowing what lay ahead other than a second night in below 0-degree weather made me think carefully about safety.  Still, no excuses.  It was MY decision to quit 19 hours into the race.

WDR2013 - Matesi Photos (4)

Stepping into the river for the first time. Having James Bond #007 did not help me in the least bit.

WDR2013 - Matesi Photos (6)

Sitting at Amee farm base camp in the warm(ish) greenhouse later I began to second guess myself as I watched other racers (including fellow Californians and Team SISU members Daren Deheras and Yesel Arvizu) continue on through pain and cold.  I was jealous of the “fun” I was missing and I was bummed about the small, dollar-store, plastic skull I would not be collecting.

WDR2013 - Matesi Photos (13)

Crossing the river on the rope bridge followed by 100 burpees and back across the river in the water. Repeat 10 times.

WDR2013 - Alexander Photos (5)

Materials for building a bridge.

WDR2013 - Alexander Photos (2)

Crossing the river yet again. #001 is Nele Schultz the female winner.

But, ultimately,the Death Race is about learning who you are and what you are made of whether you finish or not.  I could sit in the greenhouse green with envy and beat myself up over the DNF or I could learn something from it.  I chose to learn.  So, rather than detail the minutiae of the race I thought I would list some thought and observations.

WDR 2013 - Other Photos (3)

Squats…followed by more burpees.

First, some facts:

  • It was fucking cold.  This California boy shivers when the Socal temps drop into the low 60’s.  The high was around 20 degrees during day the day and dropped below zero at night.
  • We split wood, cleaned a stable, and carried (not rolled) multiple hay rolls that I estimate weighed over 500lbs.
  • I don’t like carrying a watch during races but we must have done at least 3-4 hours of body weight exercises (1000’s of squats, push-ups, sit-ups, planks, jumping jacks and burpees.  TONS of fucking burpees.) while each of us in turn recorded a 1-minute exercise video lesson for the Spartan Race website.
  • Burpees.  Always burpees.  1000’s of burpees.
  • Race directors Andy “The Undertaker” Weinberg, Joe “The Grim Reaper” Desena and Don “The Taskmaster” Devaney took us on an overnight “nature walk” to the top of Joe’s Mountain.
  • Did I mention the fuck-ton of burpees we did?
  • Our required gear list included: An axe (although if you come do a Death Race you should expect to have your axe with you whether it is on the required gear list or not.  Do your research, people!), 3 feet of string and an egg.  I DNF’d before I found out if the string and egg were ever used.
  • There were almost 60 racers that began the race on Friday.  By Saturday morning there were about 30 left.  The water immersions knocked out another  12 or so.  17 continued into the second night.  11 finished  on Sunday morning – 7 official finishers and 4 unofficial finishers (they did 2 of the 3 laps to the top of Joe’s Mountain the second night).  These are my estimated numbers except for the finishers.
  • Racers dug out and pulled a huge I-beam from the river.  We were waist deep in the frigid waters
  • I had to do a full-body immersion swim across the river…about 25 yards…in order not to be “disqualified” for failing to get back in the water fast enough!  The ear to ear grin on Joe Desena’s face alone was worth the DNF.
  • I did mention the burpees, right?
  • The rope bridge across the river was awesome…and more slippery as the day wore on.
WDR2013 - Matesi Photos (19)

Getting some assistance.

WDR2013 - Matesi Photos (12)

Heading out into the night.

WDR2013 - Matesi Photos (10)

We did lots of push-ups. Followed by burpees.

And now, some random thoughts and observations:

  • I LOVE Death Racing even while hating it.
  • The people who Death Race are a unique group of men and women.
  • Everything tastes better after Death Racing.
  • After two Death Races I need to learn the trail system leading up to Joe’s Cabin better.  I can’t afford to get lost up there at night this coming summer so I plan on arriving several days early and going on some exploratory hikes.  I got lost last summer and it sucked.
  • I quit too early.  I was still strong but my feet were in trouble and my mind gave up.  The cold got to me.  It will not happen again next winter.
  • Joe, Andy, the Death Race staff and volunteers put on a great event!
  • I am part of a great “family” of people and that makes me happy.  It was great to see familiar faces and to make new friends.  Looking forward to seeing many of these same people this coming summer!
  • Finishing one Death Race is not a guarantee of finishing again.  DNF’ing is humbling but, ultimately, makes me stronger.  I’m not a sore loser but I AM determined to get another skull this summer.  Joe and Andy will have to drag my dead body of the course before I quit again.
  • Eric Wyler crewed Daren, Yesel, Ricky and I.  He was awesome covering as much mileage as most racers while supporting and encouraging us.
  • The Pittsfield General Store is a great place to hang out before and after the race. And they make a tasty burger and sweet chicken BBQ pizza!
WDR 2013 - Other Photos (2)

Daren Deheras and Todd Sedlak are planking with a 40lb bag on their backs – punishment for being chatty Kathy’s.

WDR2013 - Mad Motion (4)

Daren Deheras and I trying to stay warm and thaw out our feet by the tiny fire.

WDR2013 - Mad Motion (2)

My frozen Hobbit feet.

WDR2013 - Mad Motion (1)

I took a dip in the river. Not as bad as I thought it would be. My feet were not happy though.

So now I’m home…warm and toasty in Southern California’s mid-60s temperatures while New England gets pummeled by winter storm Nemo.  My feet have temporary nerve damage but in time will make a full recovery.  I walk with my head high because I am willing to step outside my comfort zone.  Might there be failure again?  Sure.  But what fun would it be if success was guaranteed?

Dear Death Race:

I look forward to seeing you in June 2013 – The Year of the Gambler.  Deal the cards.  Place your bets.  I’m going all in!

Congrats to all the Winter Death Racers and an extra tip of the hat to the finishers!

WDR Finishers – AFTER 39 HOURS

1 – Olof Dallner
1 – Joshua Grant
3 – Jeff Foster
4 – Souvalion Andranik
5 – Mark Webb
6 – Nele Schultz
7 – Melody Hazi
Tied for last place (2 mountain summits vs. 3 on day two)
John Sweeney
Ted Coffin
Dan Grodinsky
Peter St. John

And extra shout out to my Team SISU buddies Ricky Ignacio, Yesel Arvizu and Daren Deheras (Yesel and Daren lasted about 32 hours)!

WDR2013 - The Last Supper

The night before the race…is there a traitor among us? Ha!

WDR2013 - Team SISU

L-R: Yesel Arvizu, Daren Deheras, Me, Ricky Ignacio

WDR2013 - Team SISU Death Racers

Bibbed up and ready to go!

More pictures can be found at the following links:

Mad Motion Photography: Peak/Spartan Death Race 2013

Caitlin Alexander: Winter Death (By Freezing) Race 2013

Anthony Joseph Matesi: WDR 2013 Photo Album

Ruck On. Stay Muddy.


6 thoughts on “To DNF is Human – Winter Death Race 2013

  1. Pingback: Meet the Death Racers

  2. Pingback: Winter Death Race 2013 « Fitness Overload

  3. That was well put brother… We are human but DNF is a failure for me. Looking back I could have got off my lazy cold ass and finished. When Joe told me that I weas out because I could not go back into that river, I took that as a way out, he put that doubt in all our heads and it worked at least for me. Well it wont happen ever again. There will never be another Peak Race, Death Race or Spartan Race that I will not finish. For me the pain of not finishing the Winter Death Camp and the Winter Death Race is to great to re live ever again. I can’t do it again, I won’t do it again, ever…

    Spartan Hurricane

    • Hey Mark,
      Thanks for reading, brother! Yeah, it is failure but I don’t think it is failure to be ashamed of at all. It is failure to motivate us even more. Like you, I think I could have kept going but the cold got to me and I had a way out. Like you, it won’t happen again. I’m gunning for my second skull in June and Joe and Andy will have to drag my dead body off the course before I quit. I learned some things about myself at the WDR…and I had FUN even with the DNF. Keep at it. You have set your mind on the task and it sounds like you are mentally toughening up for the summer hell that awaits us 🙂 See ya in June!

      • Are you doing any of the other Peak Races like snowshoe shallenge or ultra marathon? If not, See ya in June brother…

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