Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Death Race Recap - Zombie Apocalypse in Pittsfield

Ripped, filthy clothing.  Drooling bipedal things.  Inarticulate gruntings and flailing hand gestures. Bleeding creatures struggling to their feat from the mud.  They keep falling on their face as they are without coordination - and they struggle to rise again and again.  

The Zombie Apocalypse.

But as you watch these particular zombies there are striking irregularities from our fabled zombie-lore .

Questions arise.  One is forced to ask, why are these zombies all wearing backpacks?  And why are they carrying logs?  Doesn’t that slow them down when chasing humans with their maddened, flesh-eating hunger?  

These undead do have axes (which are very useful in murdering humans) but do zombies kill with axes? No, death by teeth and claws are the standard.

But these zombies ARE convincing.  They don’t think to walk where one is supposed to, namely, a road or trail.  The zombies haunting Pittsfield stagger up and down rapid-laden rivers.  Or they go up and down mountains over primitively bushwhacked ravines.  This while perfectly good snowmobile trails abound.

Zombies?  Yes.  Also known as Death Racers.

25 hours into the Death Race one such zombie emerges from the woods by Roger’s Cabin.  He is shaking and howling.  The 30 lbs log on his shoulder plus the 40 lbs backpack strapped to him have evidently caused this non-dead walker much distress.  This zombie was shivering and not making much sense. 

(Of course zombies never do, do they?)

I was this zombie.  This Death Racer.  And I was about to pull out of the race.


I loathed my backpack from the start of the Death Race.  I was wearing it as we picked up a heavy rock, pulled it to our chest, and put it back down again.  100s and 100s of times.  5-6 hours worth actually.  Rocks up to what I can only estimate as being 30-40 lbs.  For we switched rocks.

Yes, another heavy object with a different shape.  How f'ing exciting.  5-6 hours!

For the readers that don't know:  I hate stuff like this.  Picking up heavy objects and putting them back down is how I’ve always described the ritual practiced within gyms across America, where people punctuated this ritual of picking up and putting down heavy objects, only to gaze at the size of his or her biceps in the floor to ceiling mirrors. 

I loathe such activities.

Well with a 40 lbs backpack, I’m starting my Death Race by doing everything in my power to forever traumatize my muscular structure.  Three day later my body feels each lift.  This is for me a nightmare.  A 6-hour upper body gym routine laden with a weighted backpack.

I know cyclists who bitch about a 6-hour bike ride. 

STFU.  That will be my response from now on.  With all good humor and mirth – and maybe an air of Death Race enlightenment.  Not that this is harder than cycling.  No, cycling 6 hours at tempo can be grueling.  

BUT, cycling is much more scenic.


After rock picking up and rock putting back down I took my backpack on a 2-mile walk upstream against a staggering current.  And then as I swam across a spring fed pond perpetually at 40 degrees 7 times – my swims only punctuated by carrying a candle around a field praying it doesn’t go out.

Zombies started to slow here, almost frozen.  Stuck to sides of the river bank scared to move forward fearing they might slip backward into the ice water.  Humans saving zombies soon ensued.

Then my backpack followed me over a mountain to do some wood chopping.

Did I mention that is was on again off again pouring rain?

How about the hypothermic shakes?

Or, I can’t cut wood to save my life? 

I was demonstrating this very fact as I stood there while Hobie Call caught up to me and passed me.  He did the whole task at this station while I tried to split 3 logs in to 24 pieces.

Here, while humping the backpack around I had to hoist a tree stump that was probably 30% of my body weight up the mountain and then down the mountain.  Midway I had to memorize a verse from the Bible. 

Try remembering your name at this point.  You're trying to remember why the hell you signed up for this!  You see, to play out Rocky IV montages in your brain:  YOU HAVE TO REMEMBER THEM.

At this point in the race things got messy.  The shit hit the fan.  

I remember looking at a nearby tree covered in vines, surrounded by epics of ferns and saying, “Shit just got real!”  The tree nodded in response. 

Kneeling I rolled my stump as best I could.  I flipped it end over end.  Maybe I cried a little bit. 

Finally, you realize that you either go home or do what you have to do.  With the full prospects of a double hernia and no health insurance before me I threw that stump on my shoulder and went screaming through the woods, up the mountain and down – spittle and grumbles falling from my lips.

A zombie was born.  But one who just had faced failure and did not bow out…the first time.

That time would come.


Many of you know what kind of athlete I am.  But for you that don’t, let me in brief illuminate the ridiculousness of Jason Jaksetic being in the Death Race. 

Barn Beast or not, this scene is not for the likes of a former Ironman speedsters.

Within the first 5 hours of the Death Race I had done more ‘lifting’ than I had in the past 5 years.  

When I came to VT I came to get burly.  I managed about 10-15 pounds of burley and it didn’t translate into as much power as I hoped.

This put me at quite rough odds against the bigger zombies strolling around who were 235 lbs of sheer muscle mass.  They were using the stumps that killed me as tooth picks.

I knew that unless a 100-mile run without our backpacks was ahead, my race would soon be over against these guys.


Around the 20-hour mark I was carrying my second log up another mountain:  Rogers.  The ‘trail’ was a mixture of mudslides and pieces of lush forest somebody pretended to machete.  

(They maybe waved scissors around while they pushed themselves through the brush and fallen trees to mark the ‘course’ with ribbons.)

Heading up to Rogers I had to make up the time that I lost playing with the rocks and tree stumps.  I had to find Hobie.

I passed about 20 zombies on the way up.  

Dangerously tired zombies laying on the side of the course face in hands.  Sad zombies.

Others could only laugh.  Laughing zombies.

Most just raised a hand in half salute and I nodded and grunted in response.  Communicative zombies.

The rain had caused some serious deterioration of the ‘trails’.  I slipped once and slid a dozen feet down a hill beneath my backpack and my log.  (My bald scalp still shows bumps and scratches).

Certain things were becoming evident.

1) I was freezing cold.  I had started at the bottom of the mountain sweating and down to a t-shirt.  Now it was raining and I was chilling to the bone.

2) I couldn’t move my arms.  My shoulder blades were bruised and bleeding from humping logs about on them.  I couldn’t make a fist as my forearms were completely fatigued from all the clasping.  I was loosing motor skills fast.

3) I was MABYE 1/3 or way through race.  And there was a fuck load of wood chopping and lugging still heavier things up and down muddy hills.


So I mentioned earlier in this recounting that I burst forth from the woods at Roger’s cabin.  A zombie if ever there was any.  And there I saw the zombie bus stop.

Six zombies of the Death Race apocalypse were waiting in line for rides down the mountain.  They were out of the race. 

There was no talk.  Just acceptance.  Eyes read:

I gave all I could and I have nothing more to give.

I understood completely.  I looked down the mountain.  It was almost 6.30pm and it would be dark soon.  A huge thunderstorm of cold, cold rain was beginning to deluge.

I foresaw me unable to carry my log (but too stubborn to abandon it) lost on the side of the trail, unable to move or stay awake, freezing to death without shelter of even a rain coat.

I saw the rest of my season ruined with nagging injuries.  I saw that I didn’t have health insurance.  I started trying to guess what a helicopter evacuation would cost.

I pulled the plug.  I quit.


Why is the Death Race truly like a zombie apocalypse, aside from obvious appearances?

Because the Death Race is like beating down a brick wall with your forehead – something zombies can do.  There are three possible outcomes though:

1) Your neck muscles lock up and you can’t continue.

2) You knock yourself out cold and can’t continue.

3) You knock the wall down!  You are a finisher – one of the ten percent.

I realized I was #1.  This wasn’t a matter of ‘pushing through’ or ‘being tough’.  This was a matter of knowing that:

1) I was beaten.

2) I was underprepared.

3) I was not strong enough.

This is what makes you quit.  The Death Race is for the elite of the elite.  And a special elite. 

My Kona Ironman credentials do NOT figure in.  My age group record setting ultra cycling does NOT figure in.  My ultra-marathoning does NOT figure in.

I was a green ass-rookie who got his ass handed to him.  Bad ass endurance racer can equal miserably weak Death Racer.


And I can live with this with my chin up.  Why?

Because I gave it all while stepping to the plate.  I’m 50% on finishing my crazy endurance races this season.

What does this mean?  This means that I am pushing my boundaries.  This means I’m right where I should be.  I need to find failure to know I'm on the edge...the boundary.

So regarding the Death Race?  The Zombie Apocalypse?  I didn’t survive.

What a pleasure, though.  What an amazing event.  What testament to humanities' drive to push.  Push until you are half alive.  Till you are half dead.

Till you are truly living in a half-life that is more than most will ever touch from the safety of being a spectator.