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SMHS Alum Tries to Conquer the Impossible 'Death Race'

A former SMHS wrestling coach and his SMHS alum buddies have trained for months to prepare for a race that bills itself as the most difficult in the world.

As former wrestling coach Daren de Heras reads this sentence, he is surely relieved that he won't have to shave off his eyebrows.

One of the kooky requirements of the so-called "Death Race," which de Heras plans to run in June, is that he be written about in the local media. If he failed to attract coverage, he'd have to quit, carry a bale of hay up a mountain, or shave his entire body--head-to-toe.

Such is the life of a participant in the whimsical yet unbelievably grueling Death Race, an endurance event in Vermont open to just 200 people that tests the ability of world-class athletes to handle whatever bizarre and often hilarious challenges are thrown at them. Constestants must complete a punishing two-day obstacle course in the event, which bills itself as the world championships of endurance sports.

The name of the race's website says it all: youmaydie.com.

"It's not really designed for speed or time, it's designed to see if you can finish," de Heras said. "The whole design is just to break you."

The organizers, in fact, do not want contestants to finish, de Heras said. Only about 15 percent of people who've tried it actually cross the finish line and organizers want to keep it that way, he said. The lucky few who make it through do so after competing non-stop, without sleep, for 48 hours or longer.

De Heras has been training in with Yesel Arvizu, a special education teachers aide at , for the last several months. The two qualified for the Death Race and plan to run it under the guidance of Tom McFadden, a teacher at .

All three have extensive experience running triathlons and marathons and they are no strangers to endurance sports. But de Heras admits that the contestants who tend to actually finish the race are often even more qualified.

"The people who seem to finish and do really well are the special forces guys," de Heras said.

De Heras has also enlisted the help of former SMHS wrestling teammates like Spencer Beidelman (Class of '90), who will be on the support team, and Garrik Kumjian and Jamie Bass (Class of '93) who will help de Heras train for the race. 

The two-day race comes with a kicker, too. All of the most strenuous and unusual tasks that must be performed are kept secret until a week before the race. So contestants must train for limitless scenarios in an effort to be ready for anything.

"Every year evertything's held secret and you have no idea what you’re in store for or how to prepare for it," de Heras said.

If last year's challenges are any indication, de Heras and Arvizu will have a taxing and strange set of circumstances in store for them. Before the 2010 race, contestants were notified a week in advance to bring 10 pounds of onions, $50 in pennies, an English to Greek dictionary, and an axe.

During the course of the race, contestants had to chop down a wooden stump and carry it with them for the duration of the event while also chewing on onions and lugging around all the spare change to be used to buy their way out of certain tasks. At one point, they had to stand in freezing cold water and translate sentences from English to Greek before being allowed to progress.

Another year, racers had to climb a mountain, memorize 10 presidents names, then come back down and recite them.

"Get 'em wrong, start all over again," de Heras said.

Weird tasks abound before the race too, as the media attention requirement de Heras had to satisfy came from just one of many "cryptic messages" that race promoters send out before the race begins.

And the beginning of the race is even in question. Last year, racers were told to bring their equipment to a pre-race meeting six hours before the official start time, but the race started right then and there.

Arvizu and de Heras have been trying to prepare for the worst by working out in the worst conditions. They lug logs up and down hillls in Canyon Park, jump rope in saunas, do push-ups between rocks, run laps while hauling a sledgehammer, and push around a wheelbarrow full of rocks. Each spend 3 to 5 hours in the gym daily and go for long runs weekly.

"You have to try and train in the most miserable environment you can get to," de Heras said. "Our favorite days are when it rains because it just makes it more miserable, more muddy, more tough."

The race kicks off June 25, and both Arvizu and de Heras plan to compete in Monrovia's Fountain to the Falls run in May as part of their training, they said.

Though she believes she's ready for the physical toll that the race will take on her body, Arvizu said passing the tests of mental toughness will be key.

"From what I’ve read, they really try to trick you and play with your mind and if you’re physically exhausted, you won’t be able to think straight," she said.

Arvizu said she's tried to learn as little as possible about the race so she won't be intimidated, admitting that nervousness has recently started creeping in.

"I don’t know if I’ll be able to complete it or not," she said. "I’m just hoping to finish it. I don’t care if it takes three days, I just want to finish it."

Check back later today for a photo gallery showing the crazy training methods of Arvizu and de Heras.

Thomas Pierre April 02, 2011 at 04:08 AM
Oh Mr. Daren, what torture will you put yourself through next, if not being a wrestling coach is not bad enough. Pierre

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