Hiking for hours up a snowy mountain with a 70 pound pack, doing 3,000 burpees, chopping wood until your hands bleed and spending hours doing yoga in a 105 degree studio is not something most people would voluntarily subject themselves to. Then again, those who sign up for the race that entails such extreme tasks are not like most people. Like the name suggests, the Death Race is only for those who do not fear, and in fact welcome, radical challenge.
Even the race’s website,YouMayDie.com, is enough to scare off most competitors. Part of what gives the race its reputation is its unpredictability. There are no start and end times because race organizers make that call when the spirit moves them, which can be anywhere from several hours to more than a day, and they keep everyone on their toes by constantly throwing curve balls, each in the form of some outlandish, agonizing mission. Those who finish the race are few and far between. Last year only 35 out of 200 people finished the annual race in Vermont. This year’s race will be June 15 and hopefuls include two men currently working towards their M.D.s at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine.
“Crazy physical activity has pretty much always been part of my life,” said Brown, who spent nearly six years in the U.S. Navy, and in 2003 was part of the Naval Special Warfare Unit in Iraq. The change of pace once starting medical school has left him itching for some serious physical excursion. “Right now it’s a lot of sitting around studying books. When I learned about the Death Race, it immediately appealed to me.”
Death Race also appealed to Schaerer, who is also attending medical school at Albert Einstein College of Medicine in New York. Schaerer was a discus thrower at Stanford University, and then competed internationally as part of the Swiss national track and field team.
“He’s definitely got that drive and competitive edge which I think will help a lot for this race,” Brown said.
Brown said he thinks he and his race buddy will do well, considering they all share a characteristic critical for making it to the end: “You have to have something in you that makes you not want to quit anything, ever,” he said. “If you have to convince someone to do this race, they shouldn’t be doing it. You have to really want it. This race is all about pushing yourself to new limits and seeing just how much you can take, and what you’re really capable of.”
Brown and Schaerer are no rookies to the Death Race scene. Both have competed multiple times before. Both racers finished the 2011 Winter Death Race, a smaller version of the summer race that takes place in the ice cold hills of vermont. When they returned that summer however, neither were able to finish due to injury and time constraints. "I had to be in the clinic working on Monday morning and so I set a cut off time of Sunday morning at 10a.m." says Schaerer. When that time came, Schaerer bowed out of the race but vowed to return and finish. Since then he placed 7th in the 2012 Winter Death Race with a time of 33 hours and 46minutes, one of only a few who finished.
“That experience has given me a good sense for the overall tone of the race,” he said. “I don’t know that you’re ever completely ready for something like this, but I think I’m as ready as I’m going to be.”
Currently the racers are busy gathering their mandatory gear including an axe, dress shoes, a life jacket and knitting needles.