by Alec Blenis

393595_10150389196771861_251061411860_8883561_1155940080_nAt times running over 100 miles per week in freezing temperatures, he takes endurance to a whole new extreme. Placing third in the Spartan Race World Championship, he won the World’s Toughest Mudder competition just two weeks later. Mechanical engineer by day, hardcore endurance athlete by night, he often doesn’t finish his grueling workouts until after midnight. This extraordinary gentlemen is known by some as Pak-man.

Sparta, meet Junyong Pak.

Junyong, 34, was born to a loving family in Korea. To survive the harsh winters in his homeland, extra body fat was sometimes a necessity. Always slender however, Junyong was actually considered unhealthy by his family. Now living in Boston, perhaps it is this background which helped him win the World’s Toughest Mudder, a 24 hour test of endurance in which icy waters and harsh weather kept all but ten of the initial competitors from even finishing the event. With a 2:33 Boston Marathon finish previously this year, it’s no surprise that he did well. Second place was more than four hours behind. “I could have run farther,” he says, “but I didn’t want to get hurt.” Junyong has other big races coming up…

Junyong started racing in middle school when a friend convinced him to join the cross14641_590787849279_2811400_34885900_7814527_n country team. Never one to disappoint, Junyong ran hard for his high school coach but, regrettably, he didn’t run in college. He had always wanted to run an obstacle course competitively, but “there was nothing like [Spartan Race] when I was growing up,” he says. When he saw an ad for Spartan Race a few years ago, he jumped on the opportunity. An inspiring athlete, Junyong always places well at Spartan Races. With another successful racing season behind him, Junyong has big plans for 2012. He’ll be running in multiple Spartan Races: the infamous Spartan Death Race and the Spartan Race Championship to be held in Killington, Vermont.

So how does he balance a full time job and personal life with his rigorous training? Admittedly, he is not a morning person. He does all of his workouts when he gets home from work around 10:00pm, tired and hungry. It’s not always easy though. “Not working out is simply not an option. The rest of life starts when you’re done training. I just make it happen.” Junyong has no secrets. In fact, his training log is available for all to see online. What separates him for his competition is his grit, work ethic, and passion to succeed. He envisions each workout as the one that will make him a better and stronger athlete than the rest.

This year at the Spartan Race World Championships in Glen Rose, Texas, Junyong briefly overtook Hobie Call at the spear throw, only to be passed again at the herculean hoist. Never too far behind Hobie, the reigning champion, many wonder if Junyong has what it takes to claim the title next year. “Hobie’s on top,” says Junyong. “I don’t think anyone can beat him right now. I’ve gotten to be such good friends [with Hobie], I don’t think I would want to beat him even if I could.”

190201_194462037254114_126442634056055_566080_1122835_nI asked Junyong what new obstacle he would like to see in an upcoming Spartan Race. “A peg-wall… It would only be feasible for the top athletes, but it would be great to see at a championship level event.” This obstacle would be a wooden wall filled with holes. Athletes would climb the wall by hanging from two pegs which would would be moved from hole to hole.

Along with his World’s Toughest Mudder victory, Junyong took home a $10,000 prize.
“I’m giving it all to my dad,” he says. “The sacrifices he has made for our family are so great. He really needs to retire, and I want to help make that happen.”

It’s easy to see why everyone loves Junyong Pak.  We’ll be seeing a lot of Pak Man in 2012. 

Editor’s Note: Alec Blenis is an accomplished endurance athlete and Spartan competitor.  Finishing in the top three at several Spartan events and top five in the Spartan World Championships he was the youngest competitor in the field at 17 years of age. 

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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.

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by Carrie Adams

Since the dawn of time, there has been disparity between the sexes.  Women, perceived as the weaker sex, have waited patiently.  We wait no more.

A Brief History of Time

K. Switzer

776 B.C. – The first Olympics are held in ancient Greece. Women are excluded.

(Lots of stuff happens here)

1967 -K. (Katherine) Switzer registers to run the Boston Marathon. Race officials try to tear her number from her back during the race.

1972 – Congress passes Title IXBOOM.

1973Billie Jean King wins the “battle-of-the-sexes” tennis match against Bobby Riggs on Sept. 20 in Houston in front of more than 30,000 people and a world-wide TV audience of more than 50 million people.

2000 -Fabiola Da Silva’s scorching athleticism leads to the introduction of the “Fabiola Rule,” which allows women to qualify into the men’s vert finals of competitions of the X-Games. Since then, Fabiola has placed several times in the men’s Top 10 and she was the only girl competing against a field of male inline skaters at the 2004 X Games.

2004Michelle Wie becomes the youngest person and the fourth-ever female to play in a PGA tour event when she tees off at the Sony Open.

Michaela Hutchison

2006 – In Anchorage, Alaska Michaela Hutchison becomes the first girl in the nation to win a state high school wrestling title while competing against boys.

2011 – This morning– I passed four dudes on the trail during my little training run.

Okay, so the last one isn’t compelling, but it made me smile when it happened (four times, actually, and they were the only other people on the trail.)

The point is, women are making advances in all sports and we are gaining ground on our male counterparts.  “Getting chicked” is what happens when a man is passed, beaten, bested, or out-done by a woman.  And though it’s becoming a more frequent phenomenon every day,  men almost universally are not entirely okay with it.

Most of my male friends acknowledge their aversion to being bested by women.  I’m no Paula Radcliffe, but in my circle of running buddies, I’m no slouch either.  I can throw down some good times and on a pretty consistent basis.  I’ve been challenged to races more times than I can count by those who didn’t know better, those who thought they knew better, and those who had been drinking heavily.  In the sake of transparency, I haven’t always won those bets (yes, I generally take them), but on the trail and on the road, I can hold my own.

Chrissie Wellington

Regardless, whenever I roll up on a guy in an event or even on a gym track, I get the same reaction: deer-in-the-headlights eyes, the sudden onset of panic/embarrassment/fear, and an overly exaggerated effort to not let me pass them.  When I do, when they forfeit, it’s a small victory for me and a huge shot to the ego for them.

But let’s get real for a hot second.  I’m just a blip on the radar screen.  Take Chrissie Wellington for example, the phenom Ironman athlete.  She has rarely been outside the top 10 overall in her races – 7th in Roth, 7th in Korea, 8th in Arizona.  Her marathon times in some of her wins have been beaten by only a few men in those races.  Only at Kona does she find herself outside the top 10 (22nd in 2009, for example.)

Pam Reed

Or what about  Pam Reed, the ultra-distance runner who in 2002 was the first woman to become the overall winner of the Badwater Ultramarathon?  That’s a nasty little 135-mile ultra that has crazy elevation and heat indexes well above 120 degrees.  She subsequently repeated her feat as overall winner of the race in 2003. In 2002, her win also set the women’s course record.  In 2005, Reed became the first person (not woman, but PERSON) to complete a 300-mile run without sleep.  It took less than 80 hours.  And NO, that’s not a typo.  300 miles… in 80 hours… without sleep.

The moral of the story is simple.  Guys, the ladies are showing up.  Day in and day out, in all sports, niches, and events, we’re here.   Ask anyone who’s squared off against Sonya Thomas, the 98-pound professional eater who goes by the moniker “Black Widow” and is currently ranked as the fifth-best competitive eater in the United States and sixth in the world, with 29 world titles.

The ladies are kicking ass, and we aren’t going anywhere.  So when you hear the tell-tale sound of approaching footsteps behind you, it could very well be a woman about to smoke you.  Don’t fight it.  As she leaves you in her wake with what you’ll tell your friends later was superhuman steroid-fueled ease, give her respect (even if it’s only in your head.)  You and I both know that getting “chicked” may be the best thing to happen to you all day.

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