By Pete Williams
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.
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)