The Summer Death Race is the paramount event for obstacle racing in the United States. It is what started the entire Spartan Race series back in 2007 when a few crazy guys decided they needed to push people to the physical and mental limit. That’s all the history you need because the race is the toughest race you can “run”. Everyone comes into the Death Race hoping they will finish but only about 10% will. You can find some videos if you search around enough (1, 2, 3) and you will notice in most videos you find people are crying; grown men and women cry and that is the norm.
To get more insight into the race I’ll be interviewing Melody Hazi. She is a rare breed having competed in 3 Death Races and finished 3, only one other woman has as many skulls and that’s the frequent Spartan Race winner Amelia Boone. Another interesting thing to note about Melody is that she is coming off an ACL reconstruction just 15 weeks ago. Let’s get into it:
Why do you want to run in the death race, again?
That’s an interesting question. After I ran and finished Summer Death Race I planned to be done. I never had any interest in Winter Death Race as I hate the cold, but then I decided to do Winter to prove to myself I could deal with the cold. After finishing Winter Death Race I was perfectly happy to move on to new goals. Then Traveling Death Race got announced and I signed up being it was a new challenge. I hadn’t planned to do Winter this year, but they announced the Death Race challenge and Winter Death Race worked with my schedule, so I signed up a month before. I ended up missing traveling Death Race in Mexico as I tore my ACL 2 days before. Which brings us to now. I am mainly doing death race to show myself I am “back”. That and I miss the beautiful green mountains and the people. There is something special that happens to people in Vermont on Joe’s Mountain, on Bloodroot, in the frozen river.
What makes Bloodroot special to so many? It’s often mentioned by death race participants but the trail seems relatively tame compared to others in Vermont.
Probably the fact that usually they have you hike it at night, your not just hiking it (you ever tried carrying a kayak, slosh pipes, a huge tire, a 50lb rock you must carry in your arms over a muddy narrow, root filled single track trail at night?) and that it is long and takes you far away from base camp. It’s the circumstances that Joe and Andy create that make Bloodroot the sight of many trials and tribulations.
How have you prepared for this years race compared to others? Do you feel more prepared this year?
Well this year my preparation was completely different. Since I got a new ACL on March 3 I didn’t think I was going to make Summer Death Race. My training was knee rehab with a focus of getting me ready for my events later in year, mainly TransArabia in November. My endurance may be lacking at the moment, but I am definitely stronger in other areas. I have an amazing rehab team and I would love to present them with a plastic skull in a couple weeks.
Has your recent knee injury left any question marks about your desire to compete in extreme endurance events or athletics at all? How did it happen?
Definitely not, it has only strengthened my desire to do whatever I am capable of while I can. Who knows when I might not be able to anymore? I injured my knee skiing with my son in Colorado for Winter Break. It was our last morning a few hours before we were supposed to fly home and at the bottom of the hill I took a stupid soft fall at almost no speed. My skis stayed on though and I rolled and I heard my knee snap twice.
I also saw that some years ago you had serious back injury, how has it changed your outlook on athletics?
I am super competitive so I loved more traditional forms of racing (road running races and triathlons). I was constantly striving for a PR, beating better athletes that were faster ect. I’ve always had a long bucket list of adventures, extreme challenges I wanted to do. I took one of those quizzes on FB recently that was supposed to give you one word to describe you. I got curiosity. In my life I want to see as much of the world and experience as much as possible. I was afraid to do it though. My back injury got me to change my mindset from chasing minutes/seconds doing the same thing over to tackling new challenges and the bucket list of things I want to experience. We don’t know what tomorrow brings, so do what makes you happy now!
How come you have never raced in any obstacle course races like more normal distance spartan races?
Back when OCRs existed and when they were just mud runs at Military Base I raced the Camp Pendleton Mud Run starting in 2002 for 8 years. I was first overall female once as well as 3rd overall female a few times. It used to be my favorite race every year. However since OCRs have picked up the last few years my focus has just shifted. I would like to run a regular Spartan race at some point. I’ve been interested in the VT beast or Ultra beast, but the dates haven’t worked out the last couple of years. Maybe I’ll make this year?
What does your son think of you running in the death race? Do you tell him about it or it’s name?
My son knows about all my races and has been to quite a few over the years. He is into martial arts vs. endurance sports and most of the time these days doesn’t say much. When he was younger he always wanted me to win and bring a medal home. When I first did Death Race the thing he picked up on was the rolling in hay field for 2 miles while stirring pig guts. I heard from his school he was making up tall tales about his mom rolling 2 miles as a race and everyone puking everywhere.
Can you elaborate on this rolling in a hayfield and stirring pig guts?
One of the last challenges at Summer Death Race 2012 was “rolling”. They had a 1/4 mile loop laid out in the hay field. You literally had to lay on the ground and roll yourself over the loop 6-8 times (I can’t remember exactly). Along the way were buckets filled with pig guts and fertilizer that you had to stir. This was not a flat field. there were rocks and branches, at times you rolled under a tarp. Besides getting dizzy you do not realize how hard it is to stay awake after being up 3 days when laying on the ground. People fell asleep rolling and you would roll along and roll over them. I think all of us that did that challenge can still smell the wet hay and pig guts.
What are some of the other top Death Race challenges?
2 stick out. First the frozen river during Winter Death Race in 2013 for sure. Still not sure how I survived that one. I remember I kept chanting in my head the faster I move is the only way to keep from getting hypothermia. We were in and out of the river for 5 hours total when the air temp was just 15* fahrenheit. The 60lb cement bag carry up Joe’s Mountain about 50 hours in to Summer Death Race 2012 is the other. My pack with the cement bag was over 100 pounds (45kg). Since then I’ve carried that weight a few times, but then that was a whole new thing to me and I didn’t know I could do it. Now that might not be such a huge obstacle, but then it was.
What drives you onward they tell you to dive in a pond for pennies or to chop wood for hours on end?
I am willing to do anything to “survive”. It’s a mindset of whatever sh!t I am in I will survive and overcome. Quitting isn’t overcoming. If I was a solder, like so many people close to me, and my teammates or my life depended on it would I quit? If I get a terminal disease like cancer would I quit or keep fighting, because I have my son to raise?
Do you find your stick-to-itiveness a special trait or can anyone complete a death race if they put their mind to it?
We as humans are capable of so much more then we know. Pretty much anyone could complete Death Race if they just believed they could and they wanted it bad enough. If you don’t want it bad then the sacrifice and pain will never be worth it.
Is there anything they could ask you to do that you would say no to, fear based or otherwise?
No I don’t think so. I’m pretty adventurous and want to try everything at least once. Plus they don’t really want us to die, only feel like it.
Are you looking to win a death race or is finishing a win for you?
Due to my competitive nature there is always a part of me that wants to win. That said this time I’m out I am not necessarily even planning to finish. It will depend on my knee. My first Death Race I would have done anything to finish, but being I have finished before I will not sacrifice my knee repair or my goal races later in the year to finish.
Is this your last? How many more?
I have no plans for more Death Races, but that doesn’t mean I won’t find reasons to go back. My priorities will be on other “new” adventures, but I love pretty much everything about Death Race.
What are your future racing goals?
This year my goal races are the Transylvania Traverse and then my bucket list desert crossing; the TransArabia 300k from the Dead Sea to the Red Sea. For next year I want to get together a competitive team to take on the return of Primal Quest Expedition style adventure race in Lake Tahoe! Other races I’m eying are The One Run in Dominica, The Dragon’s Back in Wales and Ultra Trail Mount Blanc, which if I complete my 2 goal races this year I will have the points needed to qualify
What other types of goals are on your bucket list? Do you have any that will take years and years to accomplish?
Yes for sure. I want to summit some mountains. Denali, Rainer, Aconcagua, Elbrus, Kilimanjaro. Interestingly Everest holds little interest, but K2 is my pipe dream on the bucket list.
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