Ephrata native readies for ultimate endurance testSet to compete in Death Race

By on June 22, 2011

By: MILAN VRACARICH Review Correspondent, Staff Writer

Vermont is known for maple syrup, Ben and Jerry’s ice cream and its beautiful fall foliage.

The New England state is now also the home to one of the most challenging races available — the Death Race.

This weekend Manheim Township police officer Chris Dissinger is competing in his second (yes, second) Death Race. In case someone is wondering, the website may be more intimidating than the name of the race itself: www.youmaydie.com.

"Anybody can enter a 5K race," said Dissinger on his decision to compete. "[They're] not as exciting – it’s a boring thing. This is more challenging."

Dissinger was born in Ephrata and still has family here. He attended Lancaster Catholic High School where he wrestled and played football and baseball. He spent four years in the Army after graduating from high school. Since then he’s been a patrolman for nearly 15 years with the Manheim Township Police Department.

For someone who describes himself as not being big into running races, he’s picked arguably one of the toughest races one can find.

Held on the Amee Farm in Pittsfield, Vermont, the 6th annual Death Race is a mentally and physically draining event that can take over a day to complete. The actual tasks and even the course itself are a complete mystery to competitors and are discovered as the event goes on. To add to the mental stress of such an extremely long race, officials constantly tell racers to quit and give up as well as provide false information during the race.

The mental games start well before race day in every e-mail correspondence between the race staff and the athletes competing. Each of the instructional e-mails about the race is a crash course in contradiction and psychological mind games.

For instance, the last e-mail sent to racers before the 2010 race was entirely in Greek and mostly nonsense. After translating the e-mail, competitors had to sift through babble to discover when and where they were supposed to meet before the race. The lists of mandatory and optional gear are also confusing and unclear as to what is actually necessary. Last year racers were required to carry a post hole digger for the entirety of the event but never used it. A few years before that, racers carried a disassembled bicycle for about 10 hours before reassembling it and only riding it for approximately five minutes to prove it worked.

"Basically you just have to put your stuff on and do what they say and go where they tell you," said Dissinger. "It’s all about confusing you and mentally screwing with you."

Racers are allowed to have a support crew for the event. This usually consists of one person, who is not allowed to help with any tasks or carry any of the competitor’s gear. They may, however, provide water and food as well as changes of clothes for their competitor as the race drags on.

Support crews sometimes know more than the athlete and are welcome to share any information they gather. However, as an e-mail sent to racers in May points out, the information could help or it could hurt.

Dissinger’s crew is his wife, Missy, who is helping him for the second straight year. She is anxious to see how the course compares to last year’s event.

"[The race] was different than what they described it to be," said Missy about the 2010 Death Race. "Basically everything they told them was misleading."

Last year, the couple drove to Vermont Friday morning with the intention of checking into their hotel, heading to the registration that evening and getting a few hours of sleep before the scheduled start at 4 a.m. Saturday. A trail familiarization started after registration between 8 and 9 p.m. with the competitors splitting up into groups.

"In our groups we had these big wooden bridges they use for mountain bikes," said Dissinger. "We had to carry them up and down [the mountain] all night with our buckets of $50 in pennies."

By the time they finished climbing up and down the mountain at Amee Farm it was 4 a.m., the official start time.

"Technically it started at 9 (Friday)," said Dissinger, who lasted until approximately 1 p.m. Saturday. "I was about 16 hours in and I stopped. I just couldn’t keep going, my legs were worn out."

This year he has a better idea of what to expect, if that’s at all possible, and his training regimen this year has been more focused than it was before the 2010 race. Dissinger and his wife are planning to drive to Vermont Thursday instead of Friday, so he can actually rest before the race begins.

"I didn’t know what to expect because I had never done this before. I wasn’t as focused as I guess I should have been," said Dissinger explaining that the physical aspect wore him down, not the mental games played on competitors. "My legs were just rubber. I couldn’t even walk anymore."

Dissinger’s training regimen for the Death Race sounds about as hectic and random as the race itself.

Dissinger structures his weight training using the popular P90X system. He also runs between 2-4 miles depending on his schedule that day. To deal with the mountain on the Amee Farm, Dissinger says he has also concentrated on hiking.

If he’s really crunched for time he’ll go to the gym and do a stair workout. Some days he does constant walking for a few hours. His equipment for any of these workouts isn’t always just a pair of sneakers and shorts – sometimes he’ll throw weights into a backpack and strap it on for additional resistance.

"My goal this year is just to finish it," said Dissinger.

Dissinger hopes the extra attention to training will pay off and help him reach his goal or get close to it. In the e-mail sent to competitors in May, race officials claim they do not expect "anyone finishing before Sunday afternoon or even early evening" and "anticipate people being on the course until Tuesday or Wednesday" due to stubbornness.

Registration for the 2012 Death Race and other similar (but not as extreme) events is now open. For anyone interested in pushing their mind and body beyond their limitations, visit www.youmaydie.com. More TEST, page B-3

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