In the mud running sport we are constantly pushing ourselves to new limits in order to see what we are made of. Normally it starts with a 5k and then it builds to a 10k and the next thing you know you’re finding yourself wanting more. You crave the excitement of pushing yourself beyond what you thought you could do. If you’re anything like me, it changes your life and you train for it mentally and physically. You research food, nutrition, and equipment looking for ways to improve upon yourself and to find new limits. Then you hit the level of endurance racing. Spartan Beast at Vermont was fun and you need something to challenge you even more. I found The Gauntlet.
The Gauntlet is not just your backyard endurance race created by a some crazy guy at a motorsport complex. The crew that first came up with the idea contain 9 death race skulls between them. Matthew Waller, the race director has many talents aside from being an experienced Death Racer. Being on the Georgia Athletic and Entertainment Commission, he is no stranger to putting on events. This event definitely showed that. The other part of the dynamic duo was Tanya Bickham, who was onsite helping direct us through the tasks and keeping an eye on everyone’s health. Her position as an RN helped calm any worries about getting injured during the physical limits we would be pushing. Several of the helpers are also nurses and there was even an EMT on site. We were in good hands!
Now about the event itself. there was a lot of secrecy about what to expect. Very few emails came out with just the required packing list. There were practically no clues for us to determine how to prepare. Check-in time was between 5-7PM on Friday night. I started around 6PM and was directed to take everything out of mypack and line it up in the field. I was asked a question about one of the few clues in an email which would remove some of the 500 burpees that were required to begin. I only had to do 300 ( I got two answers correct). It had gotten dark while doing the burpees, and the next task was go down the road by the barrels and choose a stone and bring it back. “Choose wisely” we were told. The stones were concrete molds created from 5 gallon buckets. There were two sizes and I knew if I took the smaller, I would suffer more. I picked the larger and made my way back to the field. “Good choice”, if I had taken the smaller he would have made me go back and get the bigger! Now I was told to go back down the road with the stone and look for the trail on the left. It would wind through the woods and bring me back to the field. Carrying that stone for the mile long trek was very torturous. My arms were screaming by the time I got back.
Now I was told that I had until midnight to make as many laps as I could around a mile long super-cross track. Each lap would give a point towards the final score. The track had many hills and some were extremely steep. It was muddy and difficult to navigate on foot. I cranked out 9 laps and then prepared for the next task. We were arranged on a platform in rows of two while Matt gave an inspirational speech. He told us we were there because we wanted to find out what we were capable of. He was proud of us for showing up not knowing what we were getting into. He filled us with confidence and turned us over to his nephew who would give us some first aid tips. It was hard to focus as the platform was hard on my butt and it was cold out. After the speech, we were given a team task, to go back around the pond to the entrance where we would find a tractor tire, weighing between 240-260 pounds. As a team we were to bring it back to the field. When we got to the field, Tanya told us to take the tire down the road past where we found our stones to where we would find Matt. The tire was heavy and difficult to carry, but we got there only to find out we had to carry it for 10 laps around another dirt track. This seemed like too much, but we were still fresh in the game and knew it was going to happen. After the laps, we had to take the tire back to the field.
Once the other team returned and we had a chance to get some nutrition and hydration, we were told the next set of tasks would be a race. We were to sprint over to the super-cross track and find John who would instruct us what to do there. John was at the top of the steepest hill on the track. He had us do leg blasters – 20 squats, 20 air squats, 20 lunges per leg and 20 air lunges per leg. Then we were to go back to the field. At the field, Tanya told us to put everything in our pack and head down the road to find Matt. It was now somewhere between 2-3AM and all of our stuff had condensation all over it. It was all wet! When we found Matt, he challenged us to a mental task based on a sign we had seen while climbing a hill just before reaching him. I passed the test and didn’t have to do the penalty burpees. I still had to do leg blasters. After that he directed me to find a concrete block and tie the 3/4 inch rope to it and drag it back. The holes in the block was filled with concrete, making it a solid concrete block. After I got it back to him, he told me to leave the pack there and drag it all the way back to John who was waiting on top of that steep hill on the motor-cross track. After what seemed like an eternity of dragging the block, through mud, up hills to the top of that hill, I looked at John and said “leg blasters”? He agreed and I did another set. then I had to drag the block all the way back to Matt. When I got back to Matt, he quizzed me again on the mental task, which I remembered the answer from before. Again, no burpees, but I had to do another set of leg blasters. Then he told me to put on the pack and drag the block back to the field. Daylight was breaking on the way back and this brought excitement that it would soon be getting warmer!
When I got back to the field, I was given a quiz on the first aid lecture we received at midnight. Now I had some time to put on dry clothes, get nutrition and warm up by the fire until the other racers finished. At this point three people had dropped and there were nine of us left. We then had to take our packs and hike a few miles down the road to carry rocks. First, we had to find the rock pile in the woods and then bring them back to the recovery site. It was called a “search and rescue mission”, but I know it was just slave labor! We carried rocks up hills, across dry water runoff beds in a quarry type of environment, through thickets of bristle patches until Matt finally told us to stop and head back to basecamp. He was nice enough to let us put the 25lb tube of sand (part of the required list for men) in the back of his truck. the trip back was so much more pleasant!
Next was the sledgehammer circle. We were required to bring sledgehammers, but there was no size listed. I brought a 10 pounder, most brought 8 pounders and two unfortunate souls brought little 3 pounders. We stood in a circle and held the hammer above our head for three minutes. We were given a 30 second break, moved to the right and then repeated with the next hammer. Each of us had to hold each persons hammer at least once. After nine rotations, we were told to head back down the entrance road and around the pond to where we would find him on the other side. As we arrived we were told to line up, take off our packs, look forward, do not look back, and do not talk. One of the racers curiosity got the best of her and was given a 100 burpee penalty for turning around. When she finished her burpees, Matt took Devin who was on my left and walked to the ponds edge. We couldn’t see or hear anything until there was a big kersplash. Apparently, Matt had thrown the hammer into the lake and Devin had to go get it. I was next and having the big hammer came in helpful. He didn’t get it too far and I was able to retrieve it with ease! Radi, who was next in line had one of the smaller 3 pound hammers. It’s still somewhere in the middle of that pond! She was given 5 minutes to find it, and then had to stay in the water for another 5 minutes as a penalty. That water was cold!! I didn’t stick around.
Our next task was a long hike on the trails around the grounds and we could begin as soon as we retrieved our hammer. I got back to base camp, filled up on nutrition and water, put on some dry clothes and headed off into the woods. There were many trails cris-crossing each other with plenty of different color, size, and shape flags directing different paths that had been used over the years for all the different races that had taken place there. We were to follow the orange flags. I was the second person on the trail and I was trying to catch up with the first. Somewhere about 4 miles into it I realized I was following the wrong set of flags and it became apparent to me that I was lost. I could hear the roaring of the motorcycles way off in the distance and knew I had to get back to base camp before darkness set in or I wouldn’t find my way back. Once I got back, Tanya approached me and asked if I had found John and got my tire. I had not, so I had to start the trek all over again. Note to self – pay attention to course markings!! I trekked back down the trail until I found John. Had to do some burpees, just because – burpees, and then was told to go find a tire. I picked one of these heavy, specialized motorbike tires and came back down the hill to John who told me I had to do “tire burpees”! And my feet had to leave the ground. Cranked them out, changed into warmer clothes because the temp was dropping and I had to bring that tire all the 5 miles back to basecamp. It had gotten dark on the way back and I had to use my headlamp to follow the flags and hopefully not get lost again! Thank goodness I came across Miguel, another racer and together we stayed on track and pushed each other to make it back. It was now 7:30PM and we had been at it for over 24 hours. We were told to get ready to head back out for one more task at 8:30.
At this point I was wondering how much more I could take. My knee had been in pain since the sun came up and now it was after dark. I knew there was a 10PM cutoff, so the end was near. Our last task was to make candles out of the oranges we were required to bring. It was a cool, learning experience and we were given this task as a take away. We learned how to remove the insides of the orange, use the middle as a wick and fill it with olive oil. We then had to tie ourselves together and make one final lap around the motocross track with our candles. It was a reflective moment and the candles represented that flame in each of us that never was put out.
All in all, it was a great event. I made some amazing friends and strengthened bonds with existing friends. I learned some new tricks and found out how far I could push myself. Matt was happy with the turn out. 18 people signed up, 14 showed up and 8 finished. He didn’t want it to be easy, he wanted it to push each of us to the point where we question ourselves, our abilities and if we had the grit to get it done. He was very encouraging during the race, telling us we could do it. We could make it to the next task. He said they are already planning the next race, and I’m already planning on running it.
Peter is a Personal Trainer, Surfer, Bachatero, Father of 3 wonderful girls and is into all types of muddy challenges. He enjoys helping people overcome their fears, weaknesses and pushing them to achieve their full potential. Peter ran cross country in high school and after running OCRs, “Cant go back to road races”!