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Death Race Challenge lives up to its billing

Don Schwarz survives three-day Vermont Challenge

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At this point Schwarz said there were about 40 people left in the race, and people started to drop off like flies.

After heading back to the farm, the competitors were exhausted. Schwarz estimated that he was eating about 10,000 calories of food every 12 hours just to be able to stand on his feet. He was eating pure coconut oil, and put about a quarter of a pound of butter on a hamburger.

At that point they were told there was one more challenge. They had to wade through the now neck-high river with 10 cucumber plants and an innertube, plant them in a field, and they float back to the farm.

Schwarz thought the competition would be over around then, but they brought out a 160-question quiz full of religious questions, then said that competitors would have to carry the quiz to the other side of a mountain to have the answers checked - but it was already past noon there wasn't time to do that and attend a mandatory meeting at 3 p.m. Schwarz thought that he might have another five or six hours ahead of him after the meeting, but when the competitors arrived at the meeting place they were informed that it was over.

Schwarz wasn't surprised - the entire race was one big mental game.

"They mess with you," he said. "For example, at the start of the race we were given these punch cards with 20 numbers on it, which were supposed to be the tasks we had to do. By Sunday morning only three of the numbers had been punched. They didn't want people to see how many things they had done and how many they had left before they were finished. The mental game is very interesting, and how they try to demoralize you. So much of the stuff was there for no reason at all, and it kept you guessing."

Another example was the religious symbols from all the world religions that were placed along the course. Schwarz tried to memorize each one in context, but in the end they didn't have any impact on the outcome of the race.

Every competitor can have a support person or group to help with food, water and encouragement, and at one point the support workers were told they had to climb a 600-metre mountain to find information that was crucial to finishing the race - only to find out later that it didn't matter either.

This year's course was probably one of the hardest in the history of the race. Last year's only took 29 hours for the top athletes to complete, while all of the athletes this year were going over 40 hours.

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