by Carrie Adams

[Editor's note: In just 12 hours, Jason Jaksetic, Spartan's legendary Barn Beast, begins the 150-mile McNaughton Ultra in Pittsfield, VT run by Spartan's sister company Peak Races.  Stay tuned to the blog, twitter, and facebook for live updates.]

Stumbling in the barn at 2:15 A.M. March 7, 2011 after 62 hours of effort, Jason Jaksetic had accomplished his mission: 100 miles on snow shoes in the books after 30 days of training.  Thus was born the Barn Beast.  Defying the naysayers and the experts, he accomplished the seemingly impossible–but that’s nothing new to this alternative athlete.  To Jason, there is no such thing as “normal.”

As a boy growing up in Stanhope, NJ, no one would have thought that the self-proclaimed “band dork” would become the athlete he is today.  As a traveling musician who both performed and taught, Jason didn’t enter his first long distance event until age 22.  With no training, he was immediately in over his head.  His first event was the esteemed Boston Marathon.  But there was a catch: he entered on a dare, he ran it bandit (and for you who always follow the rules, that means you crash the event and run the course), and still managed a 4:20 finish.  He’d previously never run more than four miles at one time.

Boston was the catalyst, and Jason wanted more.  Setting his sights on the Ironman, he got serious about training, and completed five Ironman events in two years.  At age 24, he qualified for Kona with a 10:23 finishing time in Lake Placid.  Jason seemed on the fast track and trained hard for a big showing in the Louisville Ironman in 2010.  Then, during a long training run, Jason felt a slight hitch in his hip.   Alarm bells went off in his head, but he dismissed them, not realizing that at that moment that he had suffered a stress fracture.

No injury could stop him.  He planned to destroy the Louisville swim and bike and then get through the marathon as best as possible given the hip injury.  The swim went well, but after pounding the bike for 70 miles, Jason bonked.  At mile 101, he woke up in an ambulance suffering from what appeared to be cardiac arrest due to exhaustion and dehydration.  This, his first DNF, weighed far heavier on his mind than on his body.  He escaped to Swaziland, Africa to reevaluate his training, his goals, and his expectations.  In the airport, he found a passport belonging to Joe Desena, owner of Spartan Race.  It was a turning point.

Not long after, Jason impulsively packed up and moved into the training facility, aka “the Barn,” in Pittsfield, VT, to work for Joe and to train for several ultra-distance races, including the infamous Death Race.  Abandoning his militant Ironman training style, he adopted a more non-traditional approach in the rugged mountains just outside his back door.

“I don’t have training plans,” he quips. “I block off 12 hours to go hurt myself.”  He means it too.  Jason is all too familiar with rigid training plans: “I went to Kona, and I wanted to be a pro Ironman.  I got sick of it all.”

Ultra-racing gives him the opportunity to focus on goals that reach beyond metrics, calories and maximum wattage.  His collegiate background in philosophy and comparative religion means that for Jason, intense training is about so much more than the physical body.

“In ultra-racing, 50% of the race is your body and 50% is your mind.  That’s why I am out there for so long, aggressively seeking discomfort,” he explains.  Critics of endurance racing often point to the physical demands and wear on the body.  Jason adamantly disagrees with them.  “We turn off pain and then give it a negative connotation.  Anything that is worth doing is going to hurt. Running away from pain is running away from physical, mental, and spiritual greatness.”

His quest for redefining the “new normal” is centered in seeking self-fulfillment personal liberation.  He is the enigma that can drag tires up a mountain and then rave about the new baby ducks born on the Amee farm, and somehow, it all fits together.    He grumbles about the inconvenience of pumping his own gas in Vermont and then runs for eight hours in knee-deep mud without complaint.  He will articulate a blog post about the semantics of Kant’s metaphysics and Hegel’s labyrinths, phenomenology and empirical existence, while planning a birthday party centered around the musical, Jesus Christ Superstar.  And that’s just a Wednesday.

He’s at home in his work, in his barn, in his running and training.  His events are now on his terms. “There is no fame and glory in this [extreme racing].  Doing a job that I enjoy is just as important.  It is just one facet of an existence geared toward doing what I want rather than what is considered normal.  Normal offends me. I’m not buying into the standard.”

With the Death Race, Jason is focused.  “I am going to play it smart and I want to be in the mix.  I expect to finish and I expect to get it done.”  What could possibly follow a Death Race Barn Beast style?  Well, today he told me he’s looking into the La Ultra, a 138 mile ultra through the Himalayan Mountains.    I can hear his giddy excitement as he tells me about the race that reaches 17,500 feet of elevation not once, but twice during the stretch.  “I experience a sense of being, actually existing instead of taking a ride on the biological roller coaster.” Still, the Himalayan mountains seem a long way to travel for spiritual significance.  “Someday I’ll attain that while sitting on my front porch.”

So when is enough, enough?  Is there enough?  “When I forget why I am doing it.”

“Why ARE you doing it?” I ask.  There’s a pause.  Jason laughs, “I don’t know. Am I supposed to?

All I know is that you can hit the reset button.  You can survive the overwhelming.”

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