Death Race a unique test

PITTSFIELD — At 6 p.m. on Friday evenings, many of us are just leaving work and starting to look forward to a relaxing weekend.

At that time last Friday, Middlebury resident Don Devaney was just beginning the Spartan Death Race, a one-of-a-kind ultra endurance race that lasts almost two full days and combines grueling physical obstacles with challenging mental tasks.

Devaney arrived at the Amee Farm on a mountainside in Pittsfield for the fifth annual race after spending months in preparation for the competition, which was founded by Joe Desena and Middlebury resident Andy Weinberg. The unique complexion of the race — its overall goal is to break its competitors physically, mentally and emotionally — was born out of a desire to buck the trend of endurance races that tell racers exactly what to expect, whether it’s 5K or 50 miles.

Devaney lasted 35 hours on the mountain in cold, rainy conditions, but finally withdrew from the contest Saturday night after watching a 40-pound log rush down a freezing cold river he had been ascending in the pouring rain.

Like the other competitors, he had been carrying around his log for more than 24 hours, drilling various meaningful numbers into it.

“I quit thinking,” said Devaney on Monday. In retrospect, he said, he wishes he had simply cut a new log and continued the race.

Devaney is already signed up for next year, and, barring injury, is confident that he will cross the finish line in his second attempt.

“I cycled through every emotion,” said Devaney, of his mindset following the race. More than anything, he has arrived at a renewed sense of determination to conquer the punishing competition.

Weinberg spoke highly of Devaney, whom he had personally encouraged to enter the race.

“Don was amazing,” Weinberg said. “He pushed himself beyond his limits mentally, physically and emotionally.”

Devaney was by no means the only racer not to cross the finish line. Out of 155 participants, only 35 were left standing at the 45-hour mark, when the race officially concluded. Only six completed all the required tasks in that time.

Joe Decker of San Diego became the first ever two-time Death Race winner, finishing in 40 hours. Bruce and Jeff Foster, brothers from Rhode Island, finished second and third, respectively. Grace Cuomo-Durfee of Fair Haven was fourth and was one of four women to complete the race.

Four other Vermonters finished the race. They were Travis Buttle of Bennington, Eric Ashley of Essex Junction, Robin Crossman of North Chittenden, and Ray Morvan of Springfield.

Except for the annual mainstays of river running, wood chopping and crawling under barbed wire, the array of challenges in this year’s race was brand new. And the challenges remained true to their reputation for being backbreakingly difficult.

The race began with racers in teams of 13, dead-lifting rocks for six hours. They set up in a circle, rotating to the next rock after each lift. When they made it back to their original rock, that counted as one repetition. By the end of the six hours, they had completed 150 reps — dead-lifting a total of 100,000 pounds each.

That was just the first task.

Over the next two days, competitors hiked through chilly 45-degree rivers; carried a lit candle for a quarter of a mile, returning to the beginning if the flame went out; carried a 50-pound stump up a two-and-a-half-mile trail; memorized Bible verses at the top of the mountain, and went back as many times as it took to recite them word-for-word at the bottom; carried 10-gallon buckets over two miles of trail without spilling a drop; and took a 200-question test about information given to them throughout the race.

Desena said the difficulty of the race speaks volumes about the athletes who are able to finish.

“We are humbled and inspired by these … remarkable human beings that took on the Spartan Death Race and persevered through mental and physical challenges that would break the will of 99 percent of people,” said Desena in a press release. “The fact that these people endured for 45 hours to see what they are made of is just remarkable and awe-inspiring.”

The race drew athletes from 32 states and five countries and brought in $25,000 for charity organizations.

Vermont is hosting one more competition in the Spartan Race series. It will take place Aug. 6 at the Killington Resort. Devaney is putting together a team to run that race in support of research into ALS. The neurodegenerative disease, more commonly known as Lou Gehrig’s Disease, became Devaney’s inspiration for entering last weekend’s Death Race when his best friend Frank was diagnosed a year ago.

Devaney reflected on his friend’s real death race, and used it as motivation for pushing himself past his limits.

“It truly shows you that you live for the day,” said Devaney. “You have no power over what happened yesterday, and no knowledge of what’s going to come in the future.”

Reporter Ian Trombulak is at [email protected].

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