Chris Fern ’09 was rounding the final turn of an eight-mile leg in this year’s Spartan Death Race when, to his horror, a khaki-colored blur—more accurately, the race’s director, Jack Cary—flew past him. Cary was the one person Fern had to beat to the next checkpoint in order to remain in the running and keep alive his dream of finishing the Death Race, a multiday competition of physical and mental challenges.
“With everything I had, every muscle and my last ounce of energy, I pushed for the summit,” said Fern. “The fibers of my thighs burning, the balls of my worn feet throbbing, knees creaking, hips seizing, I pushed for that checkpoint.”
In the end, Fern was too spent physically and emotionally to regain his lead of Cary. He staggered to the checkpoint behind the director, his race over at the 27th hour.
The Spartan Death Race, held each year in Pittsfield, VT, is an endurance challenge designed to test the physical strength and mental resolve of even the most well-conditioned athletes. If the event’s name doesn’t provide some inkling of just how treacherous the competition can be, the URL for the event website should: www.youmaydie.com.
“The allure of the race is that it exists within a gray zone—between an actual race and psychological torture,” Fern explained. “Athletes are kept in a constant state of confusion and deprived of food, water, and sleep.”
Before his race ended, Fern carried kayaks and pipes up and down a mountain, performed several hundred burpees, and even graveled a driveway. All of that was done while hiking from checkpoint to checkpoint, never knowing what new stipulation would be announced that could lead to his disqualification.
Only 51 of the 256 entrants completed this year’s race, which, at 67 hours, was the longest in Death Race history, according to Fern. Those finishers represent a select group that Fern aspires to be a part of next year, when he returns to Pittsfield to attempt to “redeem himself,” first in the 2013 winter Death Race in February and then in the summer Death Race in June.
“Having learned from my mistakes, returning in 2013 will be an opportunity to prove to myself that I am capable of pushing my body beyond its threshold for pain,” Fern said. “Breaking those physical and psychological limitations is what Death Race represents. That will be my redemption.”