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ADAM HIMMELSBACH: Endurance race bests Orton’sbody, not his spirit
HAVE YOU EVER logged on to youmaydie.com?
Don’t worry, it has nothing to do with your mortality, even though the Web address does, at its core, speak a universal truth.
But this site is not a proclamation as much as it is a warning. It’s a caution for anyone thinking about competing in The Spartan Death Race, which is just as intense as it sounds.
Adam Orton, a 20-year-old Riverbend graduate who now serves in the Air Force, was not scared off by the ominous URL or the race itself.
Last weekend, he traveled to Pittsfield, Vt., to join 260 others in this three-day event that took competitors up and down mountainsides, completing arduous tasks as they went.
Orton had finished a few Spartan races before, usually joined by friends on the 5- or 10-mile jaunts.
But this one was different. The Death Race comes with no preannounced route, distance or plan. Participants simply understand that it will be long and difficult, and that they will probably not finish. The only known, really, is the unknown.
All of that was enough to scare off Orton’s friends. But Orton was determined to try.
To prepare for—well, he didn’t really know what he was preparing for—Orton completed an intense two-month weightlifting program.
He also woke up at 4 a.m. several times a week and chopped wood for several hours. Sometimes he carried piles of logs on long walks down his street. (A neighbor reading this is probably thinking: “Well that explains that!”)
Orton also ate up to six meals a day to store plenty of fuel.
And these weren’t six of those snack-and-graze meals that nutritionists recommend these days. We’re talking four to five pounds of chicken a day.
“I tried everything from sautéing to grilling to stirfry,” Orton said. “After a while I just had to switch it up and have fish.”
Finally, Orton showed up at the foot of a mountain in Vermont last Friday morning, ready for anything.
He said 340 people registered for the event, but only 260 showed up—the rest apparently getting cold feet about getting, well, cold feet.
First, Orton had to complete a weigh-in—on a scale that was placed six miles up a mountain.
He weighed in at 165 pounds, and then he was draped with 50 pounds of supplies for the rest of his sojourn in the mountains.
Some of the supplies were necessary, but most were simply excess baggage, like the random, 5-gallon bucket.
When Orton reached the bottom of the mountain, he had to find the sewing kit in his pack and sew his race number onto his shorts.
“It was funny watching all these guys trying to figure out how to sew,” he said.
After the numbers were attached, the competitors had to chop wood for several hours.
Then Orton and nine others had to carry a 300-pound kayak 10 miles along a mountain.
Do your legs hurt from reading this yet? Mine hurt from writing it.
As the group headed back down the mountain, it had to stop and complete 700 burpees. Now, that sounds like something a baby might do, doesn’t it?
Well, burpees might make you cry like a baby, but that’s where the similarities end. A burpee is a push-up/squat-thrust hybrid.
Seven-hundred burpees later, the race continued.
This time, Orton and some fellow racers had to carry a PVC pipe that weighed 250 pounds because it was filled with water.
By 11 p.m. Friday night, 12 hours into the race, the field had been whittled from 260 to 190. But Orton pressed on, hiking along the Appalachian Trail through the night and into the morning.
When he ran out of water, he was relegated to sterilizing stream water by dropping iodine pills into it.
The ground was wet throughout the race, and Orton’s feet were quickly soaked.
“It felt like I was walking on needles,” he said.
By Saturday afternoon, the pain in his feet was so great that he removed his shoes and went barefoot.
He reached the top of another summit, where he had to take a test. It wasn’t a carry-this-rock-across-that-field kind of test. No, this was a take-out-your-pencil-and-get-to-work kind of test.
There were 275 mundane questions, and the test itself was irrelevant. Its purpose was to make the competitors’ muscles freeze up so it would be difficult for them to continue.
And, in Orton’s case, it worked. He dropped out soon after dropping off his exam. There were 104 people left when he stopped.
In all, he had traveled about 50 miles over more than 30 hours.
He walked down one more mountain and fell asleep on a farm for an hour. Then he devoured a 22-inch submarine sandwich.
He needed someone to help him lift his legs into a car, and he said he is still recovering one week later.
And, believe it or not, he is looking forward to doing it all again someday.
“The people you meet are so inspirational,” Orton said. “But next time, I’m going to toughen up the bottoms of my feet first.”
Adam Himmelsbach: 540/374-5442