Tag Archives: Spartan Death Race

A Death Race Sweep

By Pete Williams

Death Race team building

Olof Dallner was just 16 months removed from a major alpine climbing accident when he entered last weekend’s Spartan Death Race in Pittsfield, Vermont.

The 34-year-old Swedish scientist, who has lived in New York City for the last three years, still feels some lingering effects from the accident in his left arm. But that wasn’t enough to keep him from winning the Spartan Death Race, perhaps the most mentally and physically taxing event in endurance sports.

Dallner, who also won the inaugural winter Death Race in March, was in the lead when the Death Race was called on Monday – 67 hours after it began and with just 51 of 344 athletes proclaimed official finishers.

The obstacle and challenge-driven race required competitors to complete more than a dozen unusual, grueling mental and physical challenges throughout a 50-mile course in the dense Vermont woods.

Some of the challenges included:  a 25 mile/12-hour hike (done as a team challenge) carrying either a kayak, water filled plumbing pipes or a tractor tire above their heads; a 250 question exam with brain twisters; swimming in the Chittenden dam; form work including stacking hay bales; 1,000 Burpees; log chop; a 2-mile body roll through a sheep paddock; carrying a 50-lb bag of cement to the top of a mountain on a 3+ hour trek up and through a steep ravine and waterfall (and if the bag broke they had to head back down to get a new one); plus many more grueling challenges, all the while carrying all required gear, food and water in 40-lb packs.

The theme of the race this year was “Betrayal” which came to life throughout the event.  Organizers planted seeds of doubt and distrust in the competitors by declaring that they was open to mislead or betray other racers, but other competitors were there to potentially do the same to them.

Olof Dallner at a running event in NYC

This format played havoc with the racers psyche.  The ultimate betrayal came after 30 hours when a group of competitors planted by race organizers deliberately began cheating during a challenge.  Once the other competitors saw how easy it was to cheat, many cheated.  But when confronted they understood that cheating was not without consequence.  The penalty for the cheat was 6-hours standing in a 45-degree pond and other comparable tasks.

“I’d see people get betrayed and they’d get angry and quit but that’s part of the game,”  Dallner said.

Dallner said his toughest challenge was something called “The Roll,” where competitors had to roll side-over-side across a quarter-mile field strewn with pine cones, brush, and poison ivy for three hours.

“I’m not sure what kind of plants those were but my arms were stinging pretty bad,” Dallner said. “My arms are all scabbed up from that.”

This is what Joe DeSena and Andy Weinberg had in mind in 2005 when they came up with the Death Race as an alternative to triathlons and other endurance races they felt had become predictable and routine. The idea was to create an event athlete couldn’t possibly train or prepare for in advance.

The race has gotten longer each year as it seems organizers like to wait until 80 percent of the field has dropped out before calling time. Last year’s race went on for 45 hours. In 2010, DeSena and the gang launched the Spartan Race, which now features events at three different distances.

Dallner said he got into Spartan Races after being sidelined for nearly three months following an alpine climbing accident in Vermont in February of 2011. An ice pillar he was climbing collapsed, sending him on a 75-foot fall. His ropes held, but he still crashed against the wall, breaking his helmet in two. He spent four days in an ICU in New Hampshire and underwent surgeries to repair nerve damage in his arm.

Dallner, who works in genetics developing a hormone that controls eating behavior, quickly discovered a knack for obstacle racing and won the winter version of the Death Race in just under 32 hours.

Upon arriving at last week’s version of the Death Race, he reported that he did not meet the race requirement of generating media coverage prior to the event. Weinberg said he would have to swim 12 miles afterward, relinquish his title (if he won), or quickly come up with some media coverage.

Dallner already is scheduled for both versions of the 2013 Death Race.

Florida finishers of the 2012 Spartan Death Race: Andrew Andras (Miami Beach), Joshua Clifford (Fort Walton Beach), Joe Falcone (Boca Raton), and Ricky Weiss (Tallahassee)

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An Interview with Joe DeSena, Spartan Race Founder

By Pete Williams

Death Race competitor Joe Decker

We spoke this morning with Joe DeSena, founder of the infamous Spartan Death Race and the Spartan Race series, which quickly have become recognized as the toughest races in endurance sports – perhaps even more so than Tough Mudder.

You can listen to that Fitness Buff Show interview HERE. Some highlights:

— DeSena does not like the term mud runs, preferring “obstacle racing,” believing the competition is more about overcoming obstacles than dealing with mud.

— Though his company plans to attract more than 350,000 competitors to 41 events this year, including several overseas, he bristles at the idea of people entering huge teams of athletes, some of which are not prepared for the rigors of the race.

— More than 10,000 people applied to be on “Unbreakable,” the upcoming reality show that will pit 100 athletes in seven days of Death Race-like competition in Vermont this spring.

 

 

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Committed to The Death Race

By Pete Williams

Last year's Spartan Death Race

For all the talk about Tough Mudder and the Spartan Race, there is one event that remains far above the rest when it comes to crazy, hardcore, physical challenges.

That’s the Death Race, held since 2005 and rebranded last year as The Spartan Death Race.

Death Race participants don’t know how long the race will last. They’re not even given a start time, just told to be at a farm in Pittsfield, Vermont on a certain day in June ready to go.

As for the challenges, they’re like no weekend mud run, including Spartan Race and Tough Mudder. Last year’s Death Race began late on a Friday night with athletes squatting 10-to-30 pound rocks…for six hours.

They spent the next 39 hours navigating a series of grueling mental and physical challenges throughout a 40-mile course that runs through the woods. Competitors had to wade through icy water, haul 20-pound stumps up and down mountains for hours, memorize Biblical verses, and carry a 10-gallon bucket of water for 2.5 miles.

The Biblical verse challenge came after 15 hours of racing and required the athletes to memorize the scripture, climb the top of a mountain and recite. Get it wrong? Go back to the bottom and do it again.

Rebecca Hansen, shown competing in triathlon, will attempt to complete a second Death Race in 2012

Last year, 185 started the race and only 35 remained when it was called after 45 hours. Remarkably, some of them are among the 200 committed for this year’s event (June 15), including several who finished the race. Rebecca Hansen (left) was one of two Floridians to finish last year’s event. The 50-year-old ultramarathoner from Naples committed for 2012 shortly before embarking on last year’s race.

Paul Roarke,the 51-year-old former U.S. Marine Corps Master Gunnery Sergeant from Pensacola who dropped out after suffering a leg injury 26 hours into the race, also is back. Megan Mays, 28, of Tallahassee, the only other Florida finisher last year, plans to return to Vermont, but only as part of a support team for other athletes.

Joe Decker, the two-time defending champion from San Diego, apparently is not returning. After all, it’s not like he has anything left to prove.

Other Floridians among the registered: Joe Falcone, 35, of Boca Raton; Doug Bush, 32, of Davenport; Joshua Clifford, 26, and Abraham Lara, 27, both of Fort Walton Beach; Andrew Andras, 35, of Miami; Bruce Harris, 48, of Milton; and Ricky Weiss, 28, of Tallahassee.

Unlike other endurance races that offer a detailed map, Death Racers have no idea what to expect next as the course map and list of challenges are kept secret.  This provides competitors with one of their biggest challenges as the length of the race can range from 24 to 48 hours. For an endurance athlete, not knowing where the light is at the end of the tunnel can be sheer torture.

Race founders Joe DeSena and Andy Weinberg created the Death Race after becoming bored with marathons, Ironman triathlons, and eco-challenes. Though it’s not an official policy, it seems they let the race last until about 80 percent of the field drops out. Thus, the event gets longer each year. Last June, they called it after 45 hours with 35 athletes remaining.

“We commend the brave athletes for taking on this challenge and taking the ultimate test,” Desena says. “We are creating a course that offers no mercy and breaks the will of at least 80 percent of the entrants.  We have never had more than 20 percent of the participants complete the course.  We don’t expect that to be challenged this year.”

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Spartan Women

ESF’s ENDURING ATHLETES OF THE MONTH – JUNE and JULY

By Pete Williams

YouMayDie.com

There are endurance athletes and then there are people like Rebecca Hansen, 49, and Megan Mays, 28, who were among the four women (and just 35 overall) who finished the 45-hour Spartan Death Race in Pittsfield, Vermont, last month.

Competitors in The Death Race have no idea how long the event will be – it gets longer every year – and only a vague idea of what obstacles and challenges they must face. This year’s group was forced to do six-hours of squats, wade through 45-degree waters, and spend two nights climbing mountains in the dark.

Oh, and they had to do most of it with heavy logs tied to their backs. No wonder most of the 155-person field dropped out.

Mays, who lives in Tallahassee, and the Naples-based Hansen underwent a staggering amount of training for The Death Race, but even they were amazed at what Death Race creators Joe DeSena and Andy Weinberg threw at them.

We spoke to them in March on The Fitness Buff Show about their preparations for the event and again this morning, 10 days after the race. You can listen to that interview HERE or read an edited transcript below. Here’s our report on the race from a two-hour visit to the site.

Q: How do you feel?

Megan: I feel pretty tired still, definitely recovering. My muscles not happy with me, but mentally I’m ecstatic for going through the race and finishing.

Rebecca: I’m pretty good, feeling back to normal.

Q: How did you step up your training leading up to the Death Race?

Megan on the mountain

Megan: I had the help of a wonderful local gym here in Tallahassee. The owner Laurel Blackburn got very creative coming up with some death race simulations for 12 hours and that was very helpful. We don’t have a lot of mountains in Florida so there was no helping training for that, but putting us through those exhausting, menial tasks that went on forever really helped.

Q:  The event began with a ring of stones ranging from 10 to 30 pounds that you had to squat for five hours. What was that like?

Megan: I was shocked when I heard what we were supposed to do and doubtful I could make it through the first day. One guy dropped one on his foot and broke it.

Q: So now you’re at 1 a.m. in the woods in the freezing water looking for fish.

Rebecca: That was my favorite part of the race. I grew up trout fishing with my dad and the glow of the lights was beautiful. It was freezing but we caught trout in a baggie with our hat and I really enjoyed that part of the race.

Q: I didn’t realize there were volunteers and support crew. Did you meet up with people or bring them along?

Megan: I had an awesome support crew. Three came from Florida and two lived in New York and drove over for the weekend and I definitely could not have finished without them. It was all about team effort.

Q: What were they allowed to help with?

Megan:  They were allowed to clothe, feed you and tell you where you were but they weren’t allowed to touch your gear. They couldn’t put your backpack on you or help you with any of your tasks.

Climbing the mountain

Q: How much of these people did you see?

Megan: In the beginning it was touch and go. They would check on me and bring me food, but toward the end I had one of them with me at all times.

Q: Rebecca, you are involved in ultramarathons, what kind of preparation did you undergo?

Rebecca: The most valuable thing I did was a 60-hour race simulation. I had gone 48 hours without sleep but I wanted to see if I went to 60 what would happen. I slept two hours a night and did race stuff when I was awake and the second night I’m lying on my lawn and fireants crawled on me and bit me. I was groggy and moved to my neighbor’s lawn and the sprinkler goes off. By the third day I was in a stupor and I was really exhausted but I knew if I could get to 60 with that much exhaustion I could get through anything. I did this 10 days before the race.

Q: Megan, when I saw you at the Death Race you were wearing long pants. How did you choose wardrobe for this?

Megan: I wasn’t very well prepared. I brought all of the workout clothes I owned and I knew that I didn’t want poison ivy or bug bites, but I was not prepared for the cold. I had two racers give me shirts off their backs because I was in water and shaking so bad they were worried I would go hypothermic. Just the way everyone helped each other was awesome.

Q: Are there limits to what you can bring?

Rebecca: I had some good people coaching me that had done it before but if I had to do it again – and I will next year – I would take the bare minimum.

Rebecca - running it back in 2012

Q: Just 10 days removed from the race and you’re commited to doing it again?

Rebecca: Andy (race co-founder Andy Weinberg) asked me before the race if I would so I signed up before the race.

Q: Megan?

Q: I have no plans to do this next year but I do have a friend going back so I promised to be on his support team so I’m looking forward to helping him.

Q: You spent long hours climbing those mountains, often in the dark. Did you have much to go by?

Rebecca: We really didn’t. Megan and I met on the second mountain and I was nervous because it was thundering and lightning and there was a nice man that helped us out there. His instruction on how to climb a mountain in torrential downpour was invaluable. The mountain was hell and it just didn’t let up.

Q: It seems like you had to carry a log forever.

Megan: At least a full day and probably more than that – at least 25 or 26 hours.

Rebecca: At least three-quarters of the race. Love the log.

Q: It seems like this race gets longer every year. Does it seem like this harder than what you’ve seen from the last couple of years?

Rebecca: When Andy told me to sign up, it was a 24-hour race. Then it became 36 and then longer. I think because 35 of us finished they’ll bend over backward to make it more difficult and longer and tougher next year.

Q: What was the toughest part of it?

Megan: The biggest challenge was being out there the second night and it was dark and I was tired and going up a mountain and not knowing where I was going. I almost sat down and didn’t get up. Once the sun came up, I felt better and was going down the mountain and I just pushed through those times.

Q: What was your biggest injury in the race?

Megan: I didn’t have too many injuries but I was going into the race with knee problems and they got really achy, especially since half of the race was downhill. I didn’t get any major injuries, but I did see people with gashes and broken fingers.

Q: Could you sense when people were dropping out of race?

Rebecca: It was the second night when a lot of people dropped on that second mountain. I was climbing with some guys and they ditched me. I didn’t realize they had quit the race. As people tired and started to hurt, they dropped out. They weren’t necessarily physically tired but mentally tired. Going through that water and pushing toward hypothermia, people were pushed to their limits.

Q: Was there a lot of swimming?

Rebecca: We were chest-deep swimming across that pond with your backpack. I thought I was going to go under. It wasn’t swimming, more like dog paddling with a backpack and a log.

Q: How tough was handling nutrition during this?

Rebecca:  I thought I had it down from ultramarathoning events. I had ziplock bags of four hours worth of food and the second climb my food floated down the river and I ran out of water and there was a period of eight hours when I didn’t have anything. That was more psychological than anything.

Q: Did it seem like the racers helped each other out?

Megan: Absolutely. I didn’t feel any competition at all but that was because I was in the rear, coming in the back end of the group, I got help from so many other racers so I offered whatever I can. I can’t say I had fun at the Death Race, but it was the most awesome weekend I ever had.

Death Race finishers give thanks

Q: Anything you trained for that you were disappointed wasn’t included?

Rebecca: I thought there would be more barbwire. I set up an obstacle course on my lawn simulating that. I shouldn’t say that otherwise there will be tons of it next year.

Q: What do your neighbors think of this?

Rebecca: They look at me like I’m a lunatic and my kids come out and shake their heads and go back inside.

Q: After finishing the Death Race, it must be a letdown to jump into a local 10K or sprint triathlon. What do you possibly do for an encore?

Megan: I’m setting my sights on mountain climbing. I don’t have Everest in future but I want to summit Denali in the next couple years. I have no mountain climbing experience.

Rebecca: I’m training for my first double Ironman in February and some of the guys I met in the race were talking about Primal Quest next year, so I’m talking about that too.

Read Megan Mays’ blog chronicling her training and race experience HERE.

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Death Racing

By Pete Williams

Logging the Death Race

PITTSFIELD, Vt. – It was 20 hours into The Spartan Death Race on Saturday and the transition area looked like nothing in endurance sports.

Logs were strewn everywhere in front of a barn alongside Route 100 in this Central Vermont town quickly becoming known as the home of the most unusual endurance challenge in sports. Athletes dealt with obstacles in the mountains that loomed in every direction, but some of the more difficult tasks took place right here in this muck of mud and sawdust.

It began Friday night with a few deadlifts – 1,300 or so with rocks ranging from 10 to 30 pounds. That’s 100,000 pounds worth of deadlifts over six hours. That was followed by a hike upstream in 45-degree waters which were at times waist deep.

Joe Decker, shouldering a load

After emerging from the icy waters, the shivering contestants were forced to carry a lit candle for a quarter-mile. If they lost the flame, they started over, repeating the loop seven times over a three-hour period until sunrise.

The log splitting event, a Death Race staple, included a new twist. After selecting their 50-lb. tree stumps, athletes were forced to carry the stump up a windy 2.5-mile trail. At the top of the mountain they were read several bible verses. Upon retuning down the mountain they were required to recite the verse from memory. Miss a word, go back up the mountain. Get it right and they got to chop wood.

Twenty percent of the field missed and headed back up the hill with the wood.

The race already was eight hours old and just getting started.

This is what Joe DeSena and Andy Weinberg had in mind in 2005 when they came up with the Death Race as an alternative to triathlons and other endurance races they felt had become predictable and routine. The idea was to create an event athlete couldn’t possibly train or prepare for in advance.

Athletes do not know how long the event will be or what obstacles it will include. They’re not even given the exact starting time, just instructions on when to be on site, along with a list of items to bring. This year’s list included an ax, saw, drill and bit.

Other highlights (lowlights?) of this year’s race included carrying a 40-lb. log for more than 24 hours and carrying 10-gallon buckets filled with water for 2.5 miles. If one drop was spilled, they started over.

After more than 35 hours on the course, the mentally drained competitors were given a 200-question test to recall information given to them at the beginning of the race and throughout the course.

An average Ironman triathlon winner takes eight or nine hours to navigate a course, with much of the field taking between 12 and 15 hours. The 2010 Death Race winner, Joe Decker, took 28 hours to finish.

Decker was back for more punishment, one of 155 crazies taking on the ultimate in a category loosely defined as “adventure mud runs.” It ranges from the low-key and all-inclusive (Muddy Buddy) to the challenging (Tough Mudder and DeSena/Weinberg’s own Spartan Race).

The Spartan Race debuted with three events at the end of 2010 and now has two dozen events with The Death Race re-branded this year as The Spartan Death Race. It belongs in its own category.

Joe Decker, two-time winner

Decker, the 41-year-old owner of Gut Check Fitness in San Diego, was the first to emerge from the woods having hauled his freshly-cut 36-inch log through the mountains. After using his hand-drill and bit to embed his race number in the log, he crossed Route 100 and tossed it in a pond. Then it was back to more hiking and a pitch-black crawl through a small culvert under Route 100.

Emerging from the culvert, Decker was told to hike back to the pond and retrieve his log. Unlike subsequent athletes, whose logs floated, Decker’s sunk to the bottom.

No matter. He entered the pond and retrieved it within 10 seconds.

Back in transition, athletes still were drilling their numbers into logs. One imposing guy in a triathlon tech shirt and right sleeve tattoo struggled with the drill.

“I’d say woodworking is probably my weakest discipline,” he said to nobody in particular.

Death Race attire varies

Perhaps the most striking thing about this mid-race snapshot of The Death Race is how good everyone looked. Some had shredded their white race bibs, but most everyone looked far better than an average marathon or triathlon finisher. Only 20 or 25 athletes had dropped out. Most everyone was in good spirits.

Of course, when you don’t know when the finish line will come, you pace accordingly.

We spent just 90 minutes at The Death Race, which admittedly is like covering one-half inning of a baseball game. One blogger preparing for the 2012 event did a more thorough job here, noting that Tallahassee’s own Megan Mays, 28, earned everyone’s respect for slogging through the race.

Mays was one of two Florida athletes to appear on our Fitness Buff Radio Show before the event. Rebecca Hansen, a 49-year-old trainer from Naples, also finished.

Decker repeated as champion, which has to rank among the toughest repeats in sports.

Race organizers required athletes to generate pre-race publicity for themselves and the event or risk some sort of hideous punishment. (Full-body shaving, including head, was rumored.) Mays and Hansen, incidentally, were two of the only four women left standing when the race was called on Sunday afternoon after 45 hours.

Just 35 of the 155 athletes who started finished the race and only 7 completed all of the tasks. That group included Vermont’s Grace Cuomo Durfee.

Paul Roarke, the 50-year-old former U.S. Marine Corps Master Gunnery Sergeant from Pensacola, dropped out after suffering a leg injury 26 hours into the race.

“No excuses from me,” he says. “I will just have to try harder next year.”

Listen to Megan Mays and Rebecca Hansen discussing their pre-race training HERE.

Listen to Joe DeSena discuss the creation of The Death Race HERE.

Read about Paul Roarke‘s pre-race preparation HERE.

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