The Weight of the Lost and Wounded on Small Shoulders
By Jackie Hanson
Packed into the tiny 5-foot, 105-pound frame of Hailie Beam is a huge appetite for testing her mental and physical endurance against the odds. Half marathons and obstacle events like Tough Mudder were just appetizers for 12- to 15-hour military-style challenges such as S.E.R.E. Performance and GoRuck, and her toughest one to date, Team Wounded Wear Selection. Each challenge she endures is exponentially more extreme than the last.
Among her “mutually crazy friends,” who participate in these types of events, one event seemed to be up on a pedestal: the annual Spartan Death Race in Pittsfield, Vermont. Maybe it’s the fact that only 10 percent of entrants actually complete the race. Or the fact that participants are given an unsettling time range of 24 to 48 hours, which could mean nothing at all, as last year’s lasted 68 hours. Participants have no idea what tasks they will be faced with and experience sleep deprivation, dehydration, hallucination and starvation.
“Death Race will be the first challenge that breaks me, for sure,” Beam said.
The Thrill of the Unknown
Not knowing what is in store means Death Race participants must train for the event blindly. She is entering this race as an average person without any specific training beyond her typical routine of CrossFit, rucking, paddle boarding, yoga, etc. — and enjoying a beer here and there. Beam said a lot of people who compete are in the military or are personal trainers, and use these backgrounds as a platform for strict workout regimens and diets. “That’s just not me,” said Beam, a 27-year-old graphic designer in Jacksonville, FL. “I love working out and eating healthy, but if you don’t enjoy your life while training, what’s the point? I waited too long to get serious about prepping for this race, but I will go regardless to see how long I am able to fight my demons. Regardless of how long I make it, it will be an amazing experience.”
Part of her preparation — or intentional lack thereof —is avoiding learning too much about what’s to come. “I really dig the element of surprise,” she said. “I feel like the more you think you know, the worse off you are going to be. There is only so much prep you can do. Having the fanciest shoes or most expensive pack will not win the race. It truly will be 80% mental.” At only two weeks before race day, she is still awaiting a final gear list, which should be one of many and change numerous times, simply to stress the racers out before it even begins.
The Death Race course (which was roughly 100 miles last year) tests participants’ physical strength and stamina through numerous tasks designed to make them quit, like hours of lugging around awkward, heavy objects and crawling through barbed wire obstacles placed in the icy streams of Vermont’s mountain runoff.
Growing up on the U.S. Virgin Island of St. John and now living in Florida near the beach, Beam knows she will be at a disadvantage in a few tasks that are likely to come up. One would be anything involving cold water, hiking up the mountains and/or chopping wood. “We didn’t have to build a lot of fires in the Caribbean growing up,” she said.
Reasons Bigger Than Herself
The Death Race promises to be uncomfortable in every way. So why would anyone pay to be put through it all? Ultimately, Beam said, she wants to dig down deep and learn how much pain and frustration she can handle. “I like to set my goals bigger than I can achieve so I can strive to become a person who can,” she said. Through each of the events she has completed in the past year, she has emerged a stronger person who knows more about her abilities and how she reacts in intense situations. But it’s not solely a personal journey for Beam.
“There are reasons bigger than yourself for doing these things,” she said. “I’m doing this because I can, because there are others who won’t, and because I have friends who would have loved to have had the opportunity to join me if they were still with us.” She has carried with her on these challenges the memory of soldiers whose lives were cut short. She even physically carried 200 dog tags with the names of fallen soldiers with her on this year’s Tough Mudder and maneuvered a Wounded Wear flag taller than her body through the mud, water, nets and barbed wire. In fact, it’s her respect for these lost lives, and one friend in particular, that keep her going when she thinks she’s reached her breaking point in any challenge. After the Team Wounded Wear Selection, she vowed never to do a cold weather challenge again. In the darkest, coldest moment of that race during a PFT run, she thought of her friend, who always wanted to do events like this, and envisioned him at her side encouraging her. “It definitely pushed me to keep moving forward,” she said.
As for the finish line of the Death Race, Beam said she’s thought very little about it because it’s not likely to happen — officially, anyway. She said her goal is to be an unofficial finisher, which means completing the race and all the obstacles outside of the timeframe required to be an official finisher. “I really just want to see how long I can make it,” she said. “I’m not trying to win anything, yet. Perhaps next year.”
If she finishes, she said her next goal will likely be an ultra-marathon or triathlon. But first, Beam will head to Vermont on June 21st to tackle the current challenge she has set for herself. “Ultimately, I’m looking forward to a fun, dirty, brutal, nonstop, roughly 70-hour, 100-mile camping trip with my inner demons. It’s going to be a blast,” she said. “… It’s going to suck.”