Contestants arrive at a wet and muddy farm in the Vermont Hills at 8pm. They register and weigh in at 11pm and have little chance to sleep before the race starts at 3am. They set off with a bike frame on their backs and rucksacks filled with hatchets, shovels, handsaws, duct tape, and pruners. They will need every one of these as they negotiate an obstacle course designed to test mind, body, and spirit. The first test is to dig up a well buried tree stump and drag it a mile upriver. Then they must push a bucket through a water-filled culvert and haul a sack of sand under a pit of barbed wire. There is a 2,000-foot (600m) climb to a mountain peak, where contestants must memorize a list of American presidents before descending and repeating the list to a steward. Then there is a pile of logs to be split before crawling through a mud tunnel, at the end of which is a Lego cube that must be noted and reconstructed again at the bottom of the trail. Fail to get the colored blocks exactly right and the runners must crawl up the mud tunnel again, all the while carrying an egg that must be cooked on a fire ignited in the rain. Then each participant must haul 20% of their body weight in rocks up another mountain. Then a wheel barrow is supplied to push cement across a sloping field. They then arrive at a river where their bicycle chains are thrown into a deep pond and must be retrieved.
Sleep deprivation, mind games, physical torture, and freezing cold are just par for the course at the Death Race in Pittsfield, 150 miles (242km) south of Burlington. The 10-mile (6.2km) race usually has 40 participants who must complete the circuit in 24 hours. Only 20% do so as they dig, dive, run, and crawl through obstacles designed by a sadist. It is the most absurd form of abuse thought up by two running veterans who grew bored with marathons. The New York Times described it as “Survivor meets Jackass” as the mud covered entrants pit their wits against the most devious of obstacles and often find the most mundane task such as log splitting the most difficult. The grand prize for such herculean effort is $2,000, with two Marines crossing the finish line in 2009 in tandem to share the spoils. They completed the course in a mere 12 hours, which shocked the organizers into thinking it was way too easy. Heaven knows what tricky impediments they’re now devising for an annual trial that is attracting more and more pain seekers. A miner’s hat is an essential part of the equipment, as are a pen and paper to tackle the Lego conundrum. Life jackets are optional, and sanity is best left at home. —CO’M
When to Go: June.
Burlington (84 miles/135km).
$$ Hampton Inn Rutland, 47 Farrell Road, Rutland ( 802/773-9066; www.rutland.hamptoninn.com). $$ Red Roof Inn Rutland, 401 U.S. Rte. 7 S., Rutland ( 802/775-4303; www.redroof.com).