Meet Brian Duncanson.

One of the very few that initially sat around Joe Desena’s kitchen table with a handful of others when the idea of Spartan Race was born. Adventurer, tennis player, sports fan, all-round good guy. At the beginning of this year, he took his first steps on a trip that he neither asked for, nor wanted.

“It was back in November when I was the Race Director for the Miller Park event, then went to Salt Lake City for a tourism trade show, then almost right after to Fenway for the race. I could tell something was off, but it seemed much like a typical cold.  It stuck around through Christmas time and I was starting to get concerned. I started visiting a clinic to get some medicine and to have my lungs x-rayed. Everything was coming up negative, but the cold was not going away.”

It was towards the end of January that Brian Duncanson noticed things were a little off. Even his wife had commented that he had bags under his eyes and had bad breath. He was wearing a much paler complexion at times, too. A routine visit in the early afternoon of January 23rd to the dentist where both he and the tech noticed a lot of bleeding from the gums set alarm bells ringing.

“I happened to have a dentist appointment at the end of January where the illness boiled over and showed itself. This finally led to the blood test that showed that my white blood cell count was 10x the normal level and I needed to take immediate action or be at risk of a heart attack or stroke.”

A whirlwind of a visit to a clinic, a blood test and by 5pm the same day, Brian was reeling from the news that he had Leukemia.

A man with no history of cancer in the family, who ate well and was a veteran of endurance racing and love of sports, Brian wasn’t who you’d expect to be the target of such a horrific disease. But there he was, dealing with the news that would drastically alter his life.

“It was amazing how quickly a simple blood test popped up the result, it took us a while to process the shock. Even more to be told I had Leukemia as it’s something most people just don’t ever consider. With the results as high as they were, we drove immediately to the hospital to begin treatment. No one said it at the time, but I was likely within a few days of having a major health event.”

Before he knew what was happening, he was the newest resident at Florida Hospital, beginning his battle against cancer and taking his first tentative steps into chemotherapy. He quickly found, however, that his battles weren’t confined to just the disease. The crushing monotony of hospital life as a patient quickly began testing him. He even made comparisons to the film The Shawshank Redemption.

“Staying in a hospital is very much like a prison. Your room is your cell, plenty of time to be alone with your thoughts which are often dark. The nurses are like the guards, while they’re trying to help you, they’re constantly watching and interrupting you. Some are nice and others are more robotic. Time moves slowly here and frequently you don’t know when you will get out. Even the food reminds me of what it would be like in prison. Poor food served on trays. But perhaps the most direct parallel is the fact that you take on a new pattern of living, similar to what a soldier deployed overseas would experience. If it’s long enough, you become accustomed to that life and it becomes hard to reintegrate back into society, particularly if you carry over some disability back into your life.”

As the first round of chemotherapy started, Brian eventually began to understand and cope with the daily white blood cell count review, the sleep interruptions, and his bag stand. He not only had to learn to walk with it so it could continue to feed directly into his veins, but had become “friends” with it, even jokingly pointing out that he sometimes looked like Neo from The Matrix films.

On Tuesday February 4th, the first round was complete. While he could now look forward to cooked meals at home as opposed to relying on the generosity of his family to bring things in for him, going home after spending the previous 25 days in his “Shawshank” life, he knew it was bittersweet.

“I had to close my eyes a few times on my way home from the hospital. It felt great once I arrived home, but it was strange going out in public and seeing people for the first time after my diagnosis. It was easy to get into the groove of being home, but there was always the next treatment hanging over your head. Each trip back to the hospital was harder.”

What was also hard was the financial strain that was beginning to take it’s toll on him and his family. Friends organized a tennis day, with various fundraising elements added, but even with their huge support and help and including the insurance, Brian still had a $20,000 hole to plug.

Brian then went backwards and forwards many times throughout his 2nd and 3rd rounds of treatment. It was around now that his mental grit was tested. Waiting on results, tests to be taken, information from medical staff all took its toll. Waiting on tests, waiting on results and even waiting on individuals to get back to him with information that would allow him to get on with things, whether it was home visits or it was further procedures.

With his white blood cell counts high and favorable, it was around this time that Brian was dealt another unfavorable hand. Doctors began giving contradicting advice regarding how the treatment ball was to continue rolling. It was a choice – a gamble – that Brian finally took after seeking further advice. Would he continue with chemo, or take the bone marrow transplant that he was urged to.

“My decision came down to finishing the four rounds of chemo and going on with life, or tacking on another 6-months of treatment. Both feel somewhat like a gamble because there’s no clear path to a cure. I’m literally betting on which approach might work best”, he admits.

“I’m at the beginning of the marrow transplant. There is still risk with the graph not taking. With Graph vs. Host Disease and then there is still the possibility of a relapse. All of them are bad. In the best case, the next five to six weeks pass uneventfully and my new immune system will be ready to fight on its own. For me it’s three weeks in the hospital, 2-3 months of three times per week doctor visits to keep my blood levels proper. As time goes on, the visits will get further and further apart.”

Brian still has a fight on his hands, but with his family, friends and Spartan community behind him, this terrible disease is picking fights with the wrong person.

Click here to see how you can help Brian in his fight.

Brian has gone on to write about his decision in his own words and goes on to urge others to join a registry of possible bone marrow donors. All it requires is a cheek swab and takes minutes to do.

“Besides wanting to build a successful company, we stated early on in the company’s development that we wanted to change people’s lives.  This started as a pure fitness goal, but then evolved quickly into a set of principles known as the Spartan Code. It was a cool way to personify the ancient warriors and allow people to apply this code to their life’s obstacles.  It’s been amazing to see how many people identified with the brand and made profound changes in their lives. Those stories are always the most interesting for me.”

“As I sit here in my hospital room awaiting stem cells from someone I don’t even know, I think about what motivated them. My donor was identified through the bone marrow registry and all I know about this person is that he is a 22-year-old US citizen. A pretty youthful age to have such philanthropic ideals. Was someone he knew touched by Leukemia? He’s obviously a youthful, strong-spirited person, with great awareness of the world beyond himself. And there it is – the Code. Then I start to wonder if this person has ever been to a Spartan Race and how great it would be if Spartan had caused a change in him that lead to this selfless act.”

“No matter what changes you are striving to make in your life, please allow me to encourage all of you to SPARTAN UP and join the bone marrow database. The larger the number of donors, the better odds for everyone. It’s a simple cheek swap and little time.”

Bone Marrow Transplant

After much discussion with my medical team, I made the decision to proceed with a bone marrow transplant. As previously discussed, I have a type of Leukemia called AML. When the doctors run initial tests they run your cytogentics, which are indicators of abnormal cell behavior and thus predict if your cancer will relapse. The cytogenetics sort out three classes: Favorable – who do not receive transplants; unfavorable – who must receive transplants; and Intermediate risk who have been a point of controversy. Some Oncologists feel that people with intermediate risk AML can obtain long-term survival with chemo only treatments. Cellular doctors believe intermediate risk requires a transplant.

I should clear up at the front of a Bone Marrow Transplant and Peripheral Blood Stem Cell Transplant. Bone marrow is obtained by aspirating the marrow from the pelvis bone. This is the process the doctors use to verify remission in cancer patients as well. Local anesthesia is given, but it’s a slightly painful procedure and a few days of recovery time.

The good news is that Peripheral Blood Stem Cell Transplant (PBSCT) is much less invasive and it is the preferred method of donating for blood cancers. PBSCT is a method of collecting the stem cells from the bloodstream called apheresis. The donor is given medicine to increase the blood levels, then the blood is drawn out of a large vein, goes through a machine that removes the stem cells, then the blood is returned to the donor. The process takes 4 to 6 hours.

Finding a match for the transplant is typically one of the hardest parts of the process. Siblings are typically tested first, but each one of them has only a 25% of matching. There’s only about a 50% chance for causations to find a match through the world-wide registry. That number goes down to 7% if you’re African American. Your health care professional can scan the database once they develop your Human leukocyte-associated antigens (HLA) matching through some expensive blood testing. The better the match, the least likely complications will develop like graph-vs-host disease.

Once you’ve found your match, there are still several weeks of work to do. The donor gets to pick their donation date, and your schedule will be set once that date is defined. You still have to pass a battery of tests on your heart, lungs, and a final marrow biopsy to make sure you’re ready to begin the process.

Check in at the hospital to begin with a central line insertion that will serve to draw blood from your body and insert medicines. After being treated with high-dose anticancer drugs and anti-rejection drugs (one called the Rabbit), then the patient receives the stem cells through an intravenous (IV) line just like a blood transfusion. This part of the transplant takes 1 to 5 hours. All measurements are taken from this Day “0.” You can expect to be in the hospital for 2-3 weeks after Day 0 to ensure the engraftment has taken place and that the new cells are creating your new blood. You will continue to follow up closely with your doctor for up to 100 days after the transplant to verify and correct any blood levels.

If you can make it one year without a relapse your chances are 55% it will never come back. At two years, it’s 70%, and at three years, it’s 80+%. But suffering a relapse before those time markers typically spell a negative prognosis.

The entire process is only possible based on the large registries that are helping to match up potential donors to those in need. In the U.S., Bethematch.org has all the information for people looking to donate marrow. It’s only a cheek swab to get into the registry with only about a 1 in 500 chance that you’ll match with someone who needs your marrow. People 18-44 are most desirable.

Read Brian’s blog as he fights cancer right here.

 

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What’s in Spartan Race DNA?

SR_HURRICANE_BadgeWe are a different kind of competitive event. Why do I say that? The Spartan Race series was born from the Death Race and as such, it is meant to emulate life and help us, “the founders“, find extraordinary people that inspire us as well others. Therefore, our job has evolved into one where we constantly push people beyond their limits. This is not only done through physical challenges, but also mental challenges, many of which are not so obvious.

The Hurricane Heat is a perfect example. When Hurricane Irene hit the East Coast inphoto (8)2011, it was a natural disaster that shut many of us down and in doing so, frustrated the shix out of people. It’s quite obvious that Spartan Race aims to do just that at every event… frustrate and attempt to “break” people. Why? Because the survivors and people that push on, no matter what is being asked of them… inspire themselves, people around them, and the rest of the world. That is what we are about.

bamfThe gear list, whether it is extensive or “old school”, is not intended to prepare you for every scenario. It’s intended to get you thinking. As in real life, we can never truly be ready for every situation, but we can train ourselves on how to react when faced with adversity. It’s how you respond in these situations that determines whether or not you are a true Spartan. Annoying co-workers, relationship troubles, financial problems, and disease can only be conquered if you have the right attitude.

Assess the situation.

Remain calm.

Make a decision.

Keep charging forward.

That’s what Spartans do.

The Hurricane Heat takes Spartan Race to the next level, and we are thrilled that we have the opportunity to spend time with a bunch of like minded individuals willing to get outside, get dirty, and sweat doing things that are so unorthodox.

Can’t wait to see you out there again!

To register for an upcoming Hurricane Heat, visit our event pages and get signed up for your event!  

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Joe De Sena

Dear Spartan Community, 

When I started Spartan Race along with six other extreme athletes, we had a simple goal: rip people off their couches to do what humans were made to do; run, jump, climb and sweat.  We knew how outdoor sports and adventure changed our lives so, based on the discipline and strength of the ancient Spartans, we set out to create a challenge and inspire performance. Above all, we knew we could take what we learned and change other people’s lives for the better. 

We’ve had quite a journey since those early days. And now we’re stepping it up in a big way as we embark on an incredible new partnership. Reebok is now the title sponsor for Spartan Race, which kicked off today at The Reebok Spartan Race Times Square Challenge.  

Why Reebok?  We both share the same ideals about the future of fitness and how it can transform people and communities forever. Back in 2010, we started with a small race of a few thousand people in Vermont. Even then we aimed to create a sport. In 2013, we’ll see half a million Spartans cross our finish line.  We are the leader in obstacle course racing with timing standards, global rankings, escalating distances, and cash purses. This is a sport for everyone, for all levels and all ages, from the elite athlete, to the first time participant.

Reebok shares our vision; they recognize that Spartan Race is more than just a race, it’s a lifestyle.  We both believe that through fitness, ordinary people can realize their full potential and reap the benefits of a healthy lifestyle.

We now have the platform we have been looking for. The DNA of Spartan Race won’t change. We’ve just found a partner to help us continue the journey we started at that very first race in 2010.  

Thanks to everyone at Spartan Race and Reebok. It’s time to take this to the next level… together.  

Sincerely,

Joe De Sena 

Spartan Race Founder and CEO

 

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by Carrie Adams

The rain hadn’t let up in hours.  Mike Morris checked his watch again as darkness started to fall.  He and the three other members of his team were two days into a three day Adventure Race in Maine, had paddled nearly 75 miles that day, and they had a five mile portage to the next checkpoint looming ahead.  As if that weren’t enough, their canoe cart had broken so that meant their heavy canoes and gear would be carried the five miles to their next checkpoint (CP) .  It was a bad omen for Morris and his team, who was new to the sport at the time.  All he could think was, “Cold, raining, cold, raining.”

Team GearJunkie

When they finally got to the next checkpoint, Morris and his team threw their boats in the water, paddled to inlet to what they believed was the next CP, the rain still fell heavy and cold. Something was wrong.  They scanned the area but saw no checkpoint.  So, they began the “go in circles and cross your fingers” approach in hopes that they would stumble upon the CP.

Then they retraced their steps, attempting to confirm their position on the map they’d spent all night before the race plotting.  By midnight they were colder, wetter, frustrated, and a bit delirious for not sleeping for two nights prior.  Their only option was to lie down under their canoes, wrap up in tarps, and sleep.  When they awoke it was nearly 5 AM and they were all shivering uncontrollably they needed to move.  Lucky for them they had daylight on their side for the checkpoint search.  But they still had no luck.

Morris and his team got in the water and paddled to all the inlets in the area for the next five hours double checking their location.  They took breaks only to eat, pee in their wetsuits, and finally call the Race Director (RD) on the satellite phone to make sure that the race organizers didn’t get worried and send out the rescue team.

But when it was noon and they had made no progress, they had no option but to go back to the map to confirm the checkpoint they had plotted earlier (in most Adventure Races, or AR’s you have to plot the checkpoints yourself on your map).  Stunned and frustrated, they realized they were one grid off and had been searching for the CP in the wrong spot.  After plotting it correctly, they were on their way, hours wasted being lost.

Morris and his team, were “short coursed”, meaning they were allowed to continue racing despite having missed mandatory cut-off times.  They ultimately finished on a shorter length course earning a finish time but were ineligible for prizes and they earned no ranking for all their trouble.  They did learn a valuable lesson about course plotting.  As Morris puts it, “We spent the entire winter/spring training for this race and had wasted it (and hundreds of dollars) because we were morons.”

Getting lost is something that all racers fear but is always a risk, even on the well-marked Spartan courses.  How can you minimize your risk of getting lost?

Pay Attention to Course Markings

Spartan Courses are marked well, but you can still miss arrows and tape if you aren’t vigilant or if you become distracted during the longer running segments. Our recent Vermont Beast (and Ultra Beast) course was marked with over 10,000 feet of marking tape and there were over 400 course arrows placed by our crew, but folks still got lost, most notably when they took an existing mountain bike trail up the mountain that wasn’t part of the course instead of following the arrow down the mountain.

“It was  a well-worn path so my brain told me to follow it,” said one Ultra Beast racer who ended up doing an extra six miles.  “I saw the marker on the second loop after I figured out where I’d gone off track.  Whoops.”

Morris, Race Director for Spartan Race and experienced Adventure Racer is no stranger to being lost. “I’ve been lost too many times.  Not including the races where I had to navigate with a map and compass.  Most of the times I got off course though were my fault,” says Morris.  “Once I was trying to adjust my music player and blew right by a turn.  I was pretty green at racing and just kept running thinking the course markings would resume.  Well… they didn’t.  I went a few extra miles during that race.”

Don’t Just Follow the Herd

 

Never assume that the person in front of you knows where they are going – “herd mentality” or a momentary distraction can lead a racer off track easily.  Just because a whole group is moving one direction it doesn’t mean it is the right direction.

“I’ve been lost and just followed the people in front of me,” explains Morris.  “I figured if the entire pack was running this way then I was OK.  All of a sudden the entire group was turning around. “I quickly learned that during off-road races it’s my responsibility to watch out for my own well-being on the course… nobody else. “

What if you DO get lost?

Don’t Panic.  If you’ve gone a ways and are not seeing any trail markings, you could be lost, but the reality is that you may not be as far off or out as you think you are.  Stop moving and use your senses to get oriented.  Look for trail markings in all directions, listen for familiar sounds, and if that doesn’t give you a direction to follow then attempt to backtrack to your original location where you may have gone off-course.  With 350,000 racers and counting, we haven’t lost a racer yet!   We have course sweepers, full medical, and rescue crews on site for every race as well.  We won’t leave a Spartan behind.

So don’t sweat it or try to over plan on our courses on race day.  Have fun, pay attention and you’ll finish as you intended without any extra FREE miles.

 

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by Carrie Adams

Noel-HannaOn a Monday morning, most people are settling into work behind a desk, looking forward to weekend plans and just trying to make it through the day. Noel Hanna, 44, isn’t most people. I received this email from him this one Monday morning last year:

“At present I am sitting at Everest Base camp in Tibet with 4 clients who are hoping to reach the summit. I have already been to the summit 3 times from both sides of the mountain.”

He then politely offered me a phone number where I could reach him between “2000hrs until 2300hrs my time, if I needed anything. Noel’s days often begin this way, and that’s nothing new to the Northern Ireland native.

Recently, Noel Hanna had an ambitious goal. He set out to climb the highest peak on all seven continents. On December 22, 2009, at the summit of Mt. Vinson in Antarctica, he reached his goal and earned himself a World Record for the effort. In addition to his Mt. Vinson assent, Noel scaled Everest, Denali, Elbrus, Aconcagua, Kilimanjaro and the Carstensz Pyramid. He’s seen the world from the highest peaks on all seven continents, but he never stayed to admire the view. Instead, he raced down to sea level by running, skiing, biking, or kayaking over hostile terrain at top speeds. In the process of completing his goal, these peaks, he and his wife Lynne Hanna, an accomplished mountaineer in her own right, raised over 130,000 euro for UCF, the Ulster Cancer Foundation – Northern Ireland’s leading local cancer charity. You can read about his amazing, record-breaking journey on his website7Summits2Sea Level.  He attempted and completed another ascent just this past year. 

Noel’s no stranger to danger or challenge. We’re talking about a guy who’s been chased by headhunters in Papua New Guinea and survived being on the anti-terrorist squad of the RUC police force. His experience on the police squad gave Noel the thrill of challenge that he craved.

That craving for adrenaline led him to adventure races like the Eco Challenge along with endurance running like the Bad Water 135 and the marathon Des Sables. It was during that time of adventure and endurance racing when Joe Desena approached Noel about creating a new kind of challenge. “Make it a race that would break all who took part. That was a given,” he recalls.

Alongside eight other ultra-athletes, he helped design Spartan Race.  The race that would challenge anyone who took part, that would push the runners into new territories of endurance and strength, and would set the race apart from any other event on the planet. And Noel should know, since he’s had a pretty lofty view.

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by Carrie Adams

Growing up in Peoria, IL, Andy Weinberg, 41, always loved the water.  He swam competitively in high school and college, and when he did his first triathlon in high school, he fell in love.  At the time there weren’t many people doing them, and after college Andy spent a couple years really hitting the triathlon circuit.  He burnt out with swimming after a few years and decided to focus on running instead.  Admittedly never “super-fast,” he trained consistently and did 11 marathons in one year alone.

Then, after running into a hometown acquaintance at an event who told him about ultra-marathons, Andy caught the bug.  He has now completed over 40 ultras, mostly 50-mile and 100-mile distances.  Through the challenge of running extreme distances, Andy learned what it felt like to push himself and succeed.  Of course it wasn’t long until he had to try an Ironman, a double Ironman, even a triple.

andy1Weinberg met Joe DeSena through mutual friends in 2005 where they completed the Vermont 100.  When Andy came back to Vermont for an all-night snowshoe, the two soon found themselves talking about how racers can become “soft” because they always know what to expect.  “An ultra isn’t an easy race, but when you know it’s 100 miles, you can train for that.  You can prepare for that,” Andy said.  He and Joe spent the night talking about a new kind of race.  A race in which participants wouldn’t know when it would start or finish, or even what the race would consist of.  In other words, a race that no one can train for.  Racers would simply need to summon the courage and show up.  So the Death Race was born.  Andy began putting on races in Vermont with Joe and three years later he moved his family to Vermont to teach and race direct full time.  (By the way, he biked the 1200 miles from Peoria to VT in seven days, mainly because his friends said he couldn’t.)

The Spartan Race is born out of the same spirit.  The Death Race is the most extreme and designed for only the most extreme athletes but Spartan isn’t a walk in the park.  It’s there to attract serious athletes who want to compete.   Andy says, “Spartan Race is unique because the team involved, the whole company is athletes.  They run races, they’ve traveled the world, they know racing and they know athletes.  Most of the other obstacle races can’t say that.  And Spartan events are races… not parties.  It’s about going as hard as you can.”  On a personal level, Weinberg feels that Spartan Races play a role in preventing illness by inspiring people to get off the couch and get active. “Our nation is at its absolute worst place.  Childhood obesity and diabetes are both preventable as long as you make good choices.  You just have to get out there and exercise a bit.  Why not let Spartan help you get there?”

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by Carrie Adams

What would you do if you were alone in the middle of the densest woods in Maine and the battery on your headlamp died? In the midst of a competitive adventure race (involving paddling across lakes and towing canoes through the woods), you bushwhacked off-trail to find the next checkpoint, which had eluded your team.  You left your teammates behind on the trail, with a heavy cargo of canoes—and your spare batteries.

It happened to Brian Duncanson, Spartan Race CEO.  During one memorable adventure race, he and his teammates paddled across seven lakes, carrying their canoes with them as they walked through the woods that separated each lake from the next.  They searched unsuccessfully for the next checkpoint, until they were too burdened by the canoes to go further.  So Duncanson set out on his own to find it.

He was alone in the woods without a light or a friend or hope of contacting his team, who were out of earshot–when a member of an opposing team stepped in to help out. Using the light of his opponent’s headlamp, the two men managed to locate the next checkpoint and make it back to the trail, where Duncanson replaced his batteries.

Adventure races, like Spartan Races, are all about cooperation–not only between team members, but also between opposing teams. “There are many times during a race when it becomes advantageous to temporarily cooperate with another team,” Duncanson says.  ”Whenever we’ve found things and not told other teams, it always came back to bite us, because we may need their help down the road.”

Despite close calls like these, Duncanson stays passionate about adventure racing.  “I really like doing different things, and I love being outdoors,” he says.  But “the most interesting thing is the fact that there’s navigation involved.  It’s a mental challenge as well as a physical one, like solving a puzzle.” Adventure racers use only a map and compass to determine their path through wilderness and swampland.  In this way, adventure races are quite similar to Spartan Races: competitors’ creativity and ingenuity are tested, as well as their physical strength and endurance.

For Duncanson, life and career are no different from the extreme challenges and team mentality of adventure races.  He’s been competing in adventure races for the past ten years, and his team was even sponsored by Guinness.  Adventure racing led him to his job at Spartan Race, since he met co-founder Joe DeSena at a race event.  Duncanson’s chosen career, athletic event organization, reflects his commitment to adventure racing as well.

“You’re on a team, and working together,” Duncanson says, whether it’s out in the woods or in the office.  “Different people have different personalities and different strengths.  I see my job as not only organizing race events, but also blending different personalities together.”

Do Spartan Races have anything in common with adventure races?
Duncanson says yes.  ”Number one, it’s about having a new experience and doing something out of the ordinary.  I think that’s what attracts a lot of people to come out and do the events.  You sign up for a 10K and you know what you’re getting into.  Spartan races are something totally different and a little mysterious.”

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[Editor’s Note: Selica is director of Quebec and Ontario Spartan Race Markets. Richard is the director of the UK Markets.]

If you want to know how exactly Spartan Races came into existence, you have to look to the story of Selica Sevigny and Richard Lee, the British-Canadian couple that literally stumbled into Pittsfield, VT in spring 2009.

Montreal native Sevigny, 26, was working for Global television in Montreal in 2008 when she met the Iron Man finisher, and endurance athlete Richard Lee, 29.  He was on vacation and it was love at first sight.

In spring 2009, the pair was hiking south on the Appalachian trail to help Richard recover from a broken leg.  After 2000 miles, they hit Pittsfield, VT only a few days before the start of the Death Race, Joe De Sena’s brutal 48+ hour test of mental and physical endurance.  Richard was confident he was up to the challenge of the Death Race, and he dared Selica to do it with him.  She agreed, although she had never competed in an endurance race before.  But, she said in a recent interview, “I’m just a very determined individual.  When I set a goal, I try to stick with it and get through.”

Remarkably, despite his lack of preparation, Richard finished first in the race.  He said though he found the Death Race psychologically more difficult than the military training he received before sustaining military career-ending injuries.  Selica, who said the race was “by far the hardest challenge I’ve ever experienced in my life,” developed hypothermia during the race and was unable to finish.  She said, “Many times during the race, I could only put one foot in front of the other, but I thought, as long as I’m moving, I’m still in the game.”  Her determination and persistence led her to return for the winter Death Race  in December 2009, where she placed third.

Needless to say, the race made an impression on both.  “It’s so unpredictable that you can’t really train for it, and we really liked the idea of not knowing what’s coming,” Selica said.  “In a marathon or triathlon, you know exactly what’s coming.  In the Death Race, you don’t know the obstacles and you don’t know how to react.”

The day after the Death Race in 2009, Richard broke his foot, effectively stranding the couple in Pittsfield for a month.  In that month, they spent some time hanging out with Joe, and the idea for Spartan Races was born.  Selica and Richard, both inspired by the sense of accomplishment and confidence they felt after competing in the Death Race, wanted to offer that feeling to a much wider audience.  Due to its extreme nature, the Death Race is open only to the most elite athletes—those who have the time to train extensively.  “We wanted to invite just anybody, regardless of fitness level, to give it a try,” said Selica.

Why Spartan?  “We brainstormed to come up with iconic images of strength, bravery, and ingenuity.  Spartans were a small group, but they overcame so much adversity.”  Plus, the fact that the Spartans were an ancient people offers an appealing alternative to the questionable values of our modern society.  “The essence of what we’re doing is encouraging people to return to their ancient roots,” said Selica.  “Our ancestors lived in the woods, hunting and gathering as a daily lifestyle.  Now we depend so much on technology that people use a GPS system just to go for a walk.  Not only are we living a pampered life—we live a life where people get stressed by little things like having to wait for an elevator or being stuck in traffic.  We want to encourage people to return to the days of running in the woods, getting lost, challenging themselves, getting dirty.  Even just getting in contact with that for a day is fantastic.

“If the race inspires people to just get out of their comfort zone for a day, or if it inspires lasting change, then we’ve done our job.”

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by Carrie Adams

mike-morris“Anyone can get off the couch tomorrow and do a Spartan race,” says Spartan Race Director Mike Morris. “Sure, you might suffer, but the feeling you get when you cross the finish line is going to bring you back again and again.”

Morris, who selects venues and designs Spartan Race’s unique courses, knows what it feels like to cross the finish line after an arduous race. He’s a competitive adventure racer who has competed in multi-day races around the world. Adventure racing, for those who don’t know, is a sport in which teams of two to four people hike, run, mountain bike, and paddle for upwards of nine days across hundreds of miles. They navigate their own way through forest and wilderness, from checkpoint to checkpoint, eating and sleeping when necessary.

Since 2003, Morris has competed in Adventure Races in Vermont, Florida, Missouri, California, New Hampshire, Maine, Connecticut, New York, New Jersey, Canada, Georgia, and Costa Rica, and has raced in the yearly United States Adventure Racing Championships three times. He’s no stranger to adversity on the trail. In one memorable instance, he developed knee tendonitis eight hours into a three-day race through the mountainous terrain of Vermont and New Hampshire. Every time he bent his leg, pain shot through his body.

Did he consider quitting?

“Of course,” he says. “The pain was really bad. But I knew I couldn’t let my team down, even though we had to go a lot slower because of my injury.”

Adventure racing can involve getting soaked in 40-degree pouring rainstorms, meeting up with alligators while paddling through Florida swamps, and at times even falling asleep while hiking or biking due to sheer exhaustion. You rely utterly on your teammates for support and guidance, which is why it’s important to compete with people you know well, according to Morris.

Morris knows that not everyone can afford the commitment of thousands of dollars it takes to buy a mountain bike and travel to compete in adventure races. He sees Spartan Race as an alternative that is accessible to everyone. “Spartan Races are an opportunity for people to experience something different that might intimidate them, but ultimately will be that much more rewarding if they finish,” he says.

Morris believes that absolutely everyone can benefit from racing. “I enjoy the challenges of endurance racing,” he says. “It all comes down to mindset, which in more challenging and longer races is equally, if not more important than physical abilities. I always say, ‘If I can do it, anyone can do it.’”

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by Carrie Adams

All too often we spend our waking hours trying to find and stay comfortable in our own lives. We look for short cuts, gadgets, and processes to make things easier, seeking what we consider personal fulfillment. We believe that there are things we can do and things that we can’t, and we become conditioned to that distinction. It creates our everyday reality and it makes us feel secure, because we think we know what to expect of the world and what to expect of ourselves. Enter Joe DeSena, the man who will turn that world upside down.

Growing up in Queens, Joe’s mother valued healthy eating and living and passed on that value system to Joe.   It’s been well-documented that he worked hard growing up and ultimately got to Wall Street, where he made his mark and made himself a small fortune.  He moved his family to Pittsfield, Vermont and quickly entrenched himself and his family in the local landscape.  Joe moved to Vermont in an attempt to get back to the way things used to be.

It’s also well-documented that Joe turned an interest in endurance racing into a passion.  His racing resume is the stuff of legends – over 50 ultra-events overall and 12 Ironman Events in one year alone.  Most of his races are 100 miles or more with a few traditional marathons in the mix.  (He once told me that my running a 26.2 marathon distance was “adorable.”)

To put it in perspective, he did the Vermont 100, the Lake Placid Ironman and the Badwater Ultra… in one week.  For those that don’t know or just don’t want to hear the gory details, the elevation climb for Badwater is over 8,500 feet up to Mt. Whitney and temperatures soar into the 120’s.   Joe also rode cross-country to the Furnace Creek 508 which has been coined “The Toughest 48 hours in sport.”  It’s no wonder his favorite quote is, “Death is the price we pay for life, so make it worth it.”

Montage of Joe racing

In 2005, Joe decided that the world needed a new race, something that had never been done. And so, together with Peak Races, he created The Death Race, a 24-hour mental and physical test filled with unknown obstacles.  Racers couldn’t and wouldn’t

know what to expect.  The fear of the unknown would either break or motivate, and all they could do was try to survive.  The race waiver consists of three words: “I may die.” It doesn’t get any more real than that.  No way to train, no way to prepare, just show up and make it to the end.  And don’t expect any love from

Joe or the volunteers.  They want to break these people, make them quit.  Joe’s been quoted as saying, “There’s no light at the end of the tunnel. We’re basically holding your hand to help you quit. The same way life does, right?”

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