by Carrie Adams

There isn’t a common death racer type.  Collectively, they are often called crazy, but crazy comes in many colors when it comes to Death Race competitors.  The more that I talk with the athletes, the more I realize that each one is chasing their own dreams, or in some cases, demons.  Their training, background, and expected outcomes are all different, and their stories offer insight into what drives these athletes to take their lives into their own hands at the Vermont Death Race in June.

John Sweeney, 32, is a research associate for an investment management company in Cambridge, MA.  He might strike you as just a regular guy, because, well he is.  He’s not an Ironman.  He did run a marathon once, but it’s been a few years.  He registered for the Death Race in Vermont last September after running a Spartan Race last summer with his wife.  Now, John is drawing attention to himself (link the an article ) running all over town with heavy lumber and a weighted back pack.

John attended Death Race Camp last weekend – the lone camper.  No one else was brave enough to join him.  He said, “I didn’t know what to expect, so I read Johnny Waite’s post and I got an email from Matt that said, “Bring your road bike and plan on being gone for a few days.’”  He laughs.  “So I was, you know, apprehensive…”

John’s first day of camp was monumental.  How did it start?  With a 30-mile run.  Not a big number for ultra-athletes maybe, but his longest run of late was less than five miles.  For those of you doing the math, he had a marathon’s distance in between to cover.  “In my training, I was more focused on speed and power – not long distance. It was the most I had ever run in my life.  But this was Death Race Camp, you do a 30 mile run and that’s just your warm-up, right?”  Indeed.  His next task was running 1,000 feet up a mountain, retrieving a 100-pound BBQ pit, and hauling it back down the mountain.  His partner in that effort was none other than resident ultra-distance athlete Jason Jaksetic (aka the Barn Beast), another Death Race hopeful.

John was lucky: he got to sleep on night one, not a normal occurrence.  But on day two had he and Joe ran 10 miles on tired, sore legs.  “That was ‘fun,’” John lamented.  Joe then instructed him to flip a tire up and down the Joe’s driveway, a frequent Death Race training exercise.  A long swim at the local rec center capped off the two days of torture.

“It was good for me to go out there and train with those guys and get exposed to that,”John said of the experience.  “I was outside my comfort zone and I’m looking to push that now.  I have to do my best.  I am not stopping.  You have to just keep going.  That attitude is necessary for the death race because it’s all about keeping going.”

His training will include more endurance work – long runs on weekends and then recovery runs the next day through the pain of sore legs and joints.  It’s the only way to train your body to handle the stress and the pain so you can go the distance.  His weighted vest will log some mileage, too.  John is focused on what he has to do and where his body has to be to meet his goal of finishing the race.  It’s about more than just finishing—it’s about seeing what he’s capable of.  Why?

“Because I’ve never done an event where really pushing my limits is the outcome.  That’s fun.”

Photos courtesy of Jared Charney for the Cambridge Chronicle

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