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.”