You May Die in Pittsfield

The Only Known in the Death Race is Excruciation. So How Do Participants Prepare?

Photos by Caleb Kenna

Andy Butterfield plans to participate in this year’s Death Race, and he intends to finish.

Deathrace in Pittsfield, Vermont.
Photo by Caleb Kenna

There are, however,some unknowns. For example, he doesn’t know the race distance, how long the race will last, or what activities he will be required to do.

It’s hard to really be ‘prepared’ for this race,” he says.

You may wonder what exactly do participants know? Short answer: not much. The brainchild of ultrarunners Joe Desena and Andy Weinberg, Death Racers do know the event takes place at Pittsfield’s Amee Farm on June 25. And that Desena and Weinberg, who named their website, and who pride themselves on a lowly 20 percent finishing rate, want their event to be the world’s toughest race.

If participants are having fun,” Desena says, “we’re not doing our job.”

Participants can, of course, refer to Death Race history. Past participants have hiked with unwieldy loads, run, biked, split wood, crawled under barbed wire, hauled manure, dived in frigid ponds, completed mind games and puzzles, counted pennies, eaten raw onions, and translated Greek. To complete—or even just compete—one needs to be in peak physical condition and possess a unique mental toughness and resilience.

How does one prepare for a Death Race? Jack Cary finished 2010’s Death Race in 35 hours and 20 minutes (including the all-night pre-race “meeting” during which participants were made to haul wooden boardwalks and gravel over a mountain). He has included a 50-mile trail race, marathons, and bicycling time trials in his training regimen this year. He also practices visualization exercises.

I actually close my eyes and see myself making impossible things possible,” he says.

Andy Butterfield runs 40 miles per week, lifts weights three days per week, practices Bikram yoga three days per week, stretches, and gets plenty of sleep. And he plays soccer.

Soccer, you say—for a Death Race? Butterfield doesn’t play on just any coed, rec-league soccer team; rather, he plays on a co-ed, rec-league team with seven teammates who have registered for 2011’s Death Race. Long hours on distant, unmarked trails during the race—and even the long months of training leading up to the event—are that much less lonely when one knows his or her teammates are suffering the same tribulations.

Each teammate approaches training somewhat differently. For example, Emily Harwood trains by rock climbing, while Jason Charest and Kristy Hart swear by Tony Horton’s P90X workout series. Lionel Welch concentrates on building endurance, Neil Preston hikes after dark, carrying heavy loads, and Bryon Keiser wrestles with his dog. All take solace in the knowledge that their friends are experience the same pain.

Seven of the eight soccer players have prior Death Race experience, but none has finished. Butterfield, however, believes that knowledge gained from last year’s attempts will help. By design, the Death Race is not an event that leaves participants or supporters feeling warm and fuzzy. It is muddy, bloody, and discouraging, and most entrants drop out.

Still, part of entering is to find out what one is made of. Last year’s finisher, Cary, approached the race as an experiment.

I wanted to see what would happen if I kept moving forward no matter what happened,” he says. He views this year’s follow-up as another experiment.

As he puts it, “I want to try to do it with a smile.”

2011 Death Race
Date: June 25
Location: Amee Farm, Pittsfield
Registration: By June 1; limited to 200
Cost: $400 to $900, depending on registration date
More info:

Mark Aiken

Mark Aiken is a ski instructor at Stowe and a freelance writer. He is a recreational marathoner and triathlete.

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