Death Race, anyone?
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Sunday, Jun. 01, 2014

Death Race, anyone?

  • http://media.charlotteobserver.com/smedia/2014/05/29/11/08/EOF8s.Em.138.jpeg|473
    - COURTESY OF KAMIL KEPINSKI
    Kamil Kepinski, shown here in a previous competition, will be competing in his first Death Race this year.
  • http://media.charlotteobserver.com/smedia/2014/05/29/11/08/T694K.Em.138.jpeg|214
    - COURTESY OF JASON ALLEN
    Jason Allen of Blakeney will be competing in his second Death Race, taking place in June in Vermont. Allen, third from right, is shown here among competitors in his first Death Race 2012.

Blakeney resident Jason Allen and South End’s Kamil Kepinski will attempt what has been described as the world’s most challenging endurance race – lasting up to 70 hours – June 27 in Pittsfield, Vt.

Last year, just 10 percent of the 300 registered participants finished the demanding event, known as the Death Race.

In 2012, Allen was one of 41 people who finished, in a time of 64 hours and 30 minutes. Competitors are told their times and credited for finishing but are not ranked based on time.

Allen flew back to Charlotte after the event and immediately drove himself to a hospital, suffering from rhabdomyolysis, a condition in which muscles fibers break down and are released into the bloodstream.

“After hitting 200 pounds a few years after college, I began running seriously,” said Allen, 43. “Since then I have completed over 50 races, including marathons and a half Ironman.

“I have never started a race I did not finish.”

“I am looking forward to being part of the 2 percent that completes more than one Death Race,” said Allen. “My son graduated high school in 2013, and I had to miss that year to attend his graduation. This year I am ready for the Death Race, this time with another Charlotte resident.”

Kepinski, 28, said he feels up for the challenge after competing in more than 35 races in the past three years, including half marathons, triathlons and 5Ks – but nothing close to the 115 miles Allen covered during the Death Race in 2012.

In 2013, Kepinski completed another series of adventure races, the elite Spartan Trifecta: the Spartan Sprint (5K), Super Spartan (8 miles) and Spartan Beast (13 miles), in one calendar year.

“I’ve wanted to conquer the Death Race for the past few years, since I got into adventure races,” Kepinski said. “My favorite part of adventure races is the sense of the unknown, testing your limits. I think people limit themselves and you can handle more than you think.

“I don’t want to settle and have a boring life.”

According to Allen, the race will be far from boring. “For the first half of (the Death Race) in 2012, I was ready for the challenge. During the second half I was my duct-taping my toes to be able to go from one assignment to another.

“You have to keep going as the race continues. By hour 60, I was hallucinating.” Allen said.

The theme of the 2014 Death Race is “The Explorer.” Past themes have included gambling, betrayal and money.

Competitors are provided a gear list of more than a dozen items weighing in excess of 50 pounds to carry throughout the race.

“Just like life, the Death Race is designed to push and aggravate people to such a point that even the most stoic eventually fail,” said Joe DeSena, co-founder of the Death Race and founder of the Reebok Spartan Race.

“Only those people possessing incredible discipline under the most insane and even delusional circumstances can call themselves a finisher. These athletes are willing to complete the journey at all costs. The fact that people endured for 70 hours to see what they are made of is just remarkable and awe-inspiring,” said DeSena.

The obstacle and challenge-driven race requires competitors to complete numerous grueling mental and physical challenges throughout a 40-mile course in the Vermont woods.

In past Death Races, competitors have been asked to chop wood for two hours; build a fire from scratch; cut a bushel of onions; or, after 24 hours of racing, memorize the names of the first 10 U.S. presidents.

“People usually think that it is crazy this is how I choose to spend my time,” Kepinski said. “I moved a lot as a child and sports were always something consistent. Everywhere I went, sports were the same and a way to make friends.”

Kepinski said he sees adventure races as an investment in himself, not just spending time and money on a hobby.

Training is different for everyone; Kepinski says he spends about $10,000 annually on supplements, healthy groceries, gym memberships, travel and race registration.

Allen said he works out mostly with weights in his basement; he has no gym membership, and he runs three times weekly.

This year, to augment his training, Allen had a local tree-trimming company drop a truckload of red oak in his front yard. He chopped and stacked the wood before giving the logs to a friend with a fireplace.

Allen said he often carries an ax and logs on runs.

Kepinski said he doesn’t schedule workouts in advance or plan for days off. For him, about one hour of training each weekday and two to three hours each weekend day is about right. He also mountain bikes and hikes in his free time.

Kepinski said plans to heed Allen’s advice: “No matter what you decide to do, finish it,” Allen said. “Even if it is a 1-mile run. Once you quit, it is easy to quit again.

“The Death Race is 90 percent mental. Don’t let anyone else inside your head.”

Kepinski’s closet is stacked with boxes of trophies and medals. The award he is most proud of, however, is his high school state championship ring for basketball.

Completing the Death Race with Allen could replace that accolade.

Elisabeth Podair is a freelance writer. Have a story idea for Elisabeth? Email her at epodair@gmail.com.

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