Oops... I signed up for another Death Race.
It was four years since my last DR. Four years since Mark Jenkins described me in this article for Outside Magazine as the gal “practically skipping behind her wheelbarrow, turd-flecked blond hair bouncing.” He even continued to go on to refer to me as “some kind of superhero.” Flattered is an understatement.
In 2010, I set the bar high. I entered a new world of racing that made me test all limits of physical strength and mental toughness. The DR took me to the outer limits of exhaustion, to hell and back if you will. Maybe some called me “crazy” – but it made me feel more like me than ever before, and I saw a new potential in myself.
And then shortly after this article published, I disappeared from the endurance world, and from myself.
Four years later. Four years, and that indescribable intensity swelled to where I could no longer ignore it.
This is my story.
I was gearing up for the Peak Snowshoe Half Marathon in Pittsfield, Vermont; I never did anything like it before and a snowshoe race sounded pretty freaking awesome. My main objective was not the race actually. I wanted to scope out the location and terrain of the area with the intention of attempting my first DR that June, after having a friend recommend that I go for it. A week out from the event, I received an email from the Peak Race directors – Joe DeSena and Andy Weinberg – asking for 10 volunteers to compete in the Snowshoe Death Division – a mini Death Race.
It all seemed so serendipitous. But was I really ready for this? My plan was to train over the next 3 months; could I be ready in 7 days to do this Snowshoe Death Division – the beta version of the Winter Death Race? I went back and forth, but just a few emails later, I accepted the challenge.
Friday rolled around and I found myself speeding up I-87, trying to make it to the WDR beta on time. I arrived in Pittsfield within 15 minutes of the start, as a mix of my usual bubbly blonde self and a frazzled mess from my journey. (I only heard after the race was over, there was talk among the racers at my entrance that I would last 2, maybe 3 hours.) 18 hours later, after seemingly endless tasks of splitting wood, shooting a 9mm, wrestling an Olympian, memorizing a sequence of 21 numbers – 409 67 89 804 72 167 198 616 – and more, only 3 racers completed the event. I was one of them.
(**As a side note, in true DR fashion, we never used our snowshoes.)
Regardless of a hypothermia stint after having to drink a gallon of milk in the Amee Farm Lodge pond and trying to self-induce vomiting in front of a horrified group of snowshoers, I was hooked. The adrenaline high was like nothing I ever experienced. It was just the beginning of how life would change drastically in the upcoming weeks.
I accepted an out-of-the-blue job offer from somebody I connected with at the WDR beta. It was a great opportunity and I will always be thankful to that person for the offer. Shortly after I began this job, I completed my first summer Death Race, tied for 6th place overall and was the first female finisher.
My life was progressing in a great direction... And then I lost myself.
Not even a few months after the summer race, I found myself training sporadically, staying out late and not dedicating myself to something that was always one of the most important things to me, as well as something that defined me. I continued to enter races; I picked races of interest and completed them within a decent time (great to most), but never anything close to what reflected my actual abilities if I applied even a little focus. I allowed NYC to infect my life in a negative way. I like to tell people to imagine me putting the energy I now put into training and racing into my social life. Scary. It was all my choice... and a big lesson. I accumulated and re-aggravated injuries with every athletic feat I managed to pull through. (I finally got over a gnarly bout of plantar fasciitis that developed in 2012 mostly because I winged... yes, winged... an Ironman.) My mood was all over the place; there was zero consistency in what I did in life in general, yet I had the fear that if I redirected my lifestyle towards focusing on athletics that I would lose friends and miss out on life... Yup, a life that didn't make me happy anyway.
How can you give anything or anybody your all, when you're giving yourself nothing?
I felt an obligation to the people around me and to their interests rather than to myself first and foremost. I was blind to the fact that in any healthy and successful friendship or relationship, there is mutual support of each other's passions, and that my true friends would always be there for me. I have a wonderful group of friends who have and continue to support me and all of my endeavors.
2011... 2012... 2013
Every spring I received an invite from Andy to come back to Pittsfield. I would look at it, strongly think about it, and politely decline. Usually there was some underlying injury that made my response easier to form into words... “in PT again for a torn meniscus”... “plantar faciitis”... All in all, it was my mind that was my greatest obstacle. Kind of ironic, considering the mental aspect of the DR, and that I enjoy that part of it greatly.
I would read race reports and look at photos... my heart would sink... time would move on and I would eventually forget the pain.
A culmination of negative events over the years and feeling like a caged animal, I reached my breaking point of city life... and the overall empty “life” I led. I left my NYC downtown apartment, moved 20 miles away to surrounded myself with a little more nature, and focused on beginning the transition into doing what I truly love. It's just a matter of time before I venture off into the mountains.
Once again, I was blessed to receive the annual invite to the Death Race, and after reading some Facebook posts, especially the words of Ray Morvan, who I bonded with during the WDR beta, I pulled the trigger. I missed racing and I wanted to yet again be part of this wonderful community that expanded over the years.
Going back to a race I once knew so well was quite frightening. My mind was on overdrive, nervous excitement filled me more than calmness. Four years passed. Was I going to make it through as strong as the last 2 times? How would I explain where I disappeared to all of these years? I put a lot of pressure on myself. The magic of Pittsfield prevailed and it didn't take long to go from what felt like being a stranger in a strange land to being welcomed back into this community. I reunited with old friends and made many new ones. The energy of these people was, and continues to be infectious, in a positively invigorating way.
Cue to the actual race... I was horribly sick for the majority of the race, but only let a handful of people know. I think it was heat exhaustion, but I'll spare the details. I was one step from turning around on the mountain on day 2 and calling it quits. Credit goes to two new friends, who became more like teammates – Mark Jones & Dallas D'Aoust - who kept me moving and hydrated, and to my “race mom” – Jane Boudreau Coffey – for hooking it up some delicious medicine. With their help, combined with the overall vibe of everybody racing and supporting, I passed the point of defeat and convinced myself that the only way I was going to quit was if I was dragged off the course.
65 hours later, it was over. Or was it just the beginning? It was a culmination of the past 4 years of my life. I was in shock, it was surreal and most importantly... my soul was awakened.
Over the years, I noticed people continuously tell me I inspire them. I cannot say it enough; it is the most sincere form of flattery I can imagine. I love every opportunity to guide and watch people work towards athletic success, like my best friend, nervous about her first triathlon, be there to witness her not only rock her race, but cross the finish line with a smile on her face (Go Mel!)... or hearing that my coworker signed up for his first 50km because sitting next to me for a few months influenced him to do so.
Inspiration travels in a full circle. Helping inspire others inspires me. And it is why I am writing this today.
Challenges come on all levels. They are relative to who we are and what goals we want to achieve. You set attainable goals (it doesn't even have to be a race), step or leap out of your comfort zone to tackle them, boost your confidence and then you move onto higher ones. You conquer and then you strive for more greatness. You discover how the physical and mental aspects are closely intertwined and then take your experience and apply it to everyday life.
Most importantly... YOU HAVE FUN DOING IT.
I hope that by sharing my journey, my successes and my struggles, the fun and the misery... and the fun misery too... that you find the motivation to go after your ambitions. 2015 is lining up to be one extraordinary adventure...