Spartans are extreme. No doubt about it. From founder Joe De Sena completing over 10,000 burpees a few weeks ago, to the origins of the Spartan Race series in the Peak Death Race DNA, Spartans are known for being up for any challenge. This one is a doozy!

Yesterday, the 703 mile QUINTUPLE “Ironman” Distance Virginia Anvil Ultra Triathlon kicked off and of the brave nine who started, FOUR are Spartans. Spartan co-founder Andy Weinberg, Rebecca Daniels Hansen, Olof Dallner (who took second in the Ultra Beast in Vermont), and Josh Zitomer. You can get live updates HERE.

Additionally, Spartan blogger and mastermind behind the Spartan WOD programming Jason Jaksetic will be taking on the Double later this week.

Stay tuned for updates on this epic feat of strength and endurance.  Aroo!

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Oftentimes we hear of the “race within the race” referencing some intriguing subplot. Nowhere was this more true than in Killington, VT the weekend of the Reebok Spartan Race World Championships.  But, the story is from a different race that had quietly started Friday afternoon without fanfare and with very few spectators – the Peak Team Death Race.  The Peak Team Death Race and the athletes who participated are a rare breed.  Numbering less than 60 and competing in teams of four they would be out in the Vermont wilderness for three days in a desperate attempt to earn a coveted Death Race finisher skull.

Born in 2004, the Death Race is the Spartan Race origins.  The DNA of where Spartan Race was founded in this epic endurance challenge that sees a finish rate just over 10% in most events.  A summer, winter, team, and traveling version, the Death Race is a very different event that the obstacle course races in the Reebok Spartan line-up.  Lasting several days and with no idea what challenges and tasks will be required to finish, it’s brutalizing.  Founder Joe De Sena says, “Spartan Race in a baptism into this life, the Death Race is an exorcism.”  This Death Race would prove to be one of the most difficult to date.

When the Death Race’s annual Team competition kicked off in nearby Pittsfield (well, not so “nearby” when you have to hike the whole way, in the rain, through your second night of zero sleep, deep in the woods, with your wrist zip tied to a long rope shared by several dozen other racers) and included steep climbs, frigid rivers, moving massive loads on slippery paths, all with no idea what was coming next or how long it would all last.  

This spectacle arrived in the resort town just before midnight Saturday, out of the cold, dark, wet night, as groups of four filthy runners came off the highway and towards the Wobbly Barn. Inside, the party was rocking, with hundreds of athletes dancing and celebrating with their finisher medals proudly dangling from their necks, earned on the Saturday Spartan Race courses in Killington. Soon, many of them were drawn to the front door to gawk, open-mouthed at the Death Racers amassing to bang out hundreds of burpees in the muddy parking lot. And these weren’t the glorified squat thrusts that so many people try to get away with, either. These were chest to deck, jump with a clap overhead, full-blown burpees.

And when everyone else went back to their after-after-parties in condos with hot tubs, these Death Racers sat in the rain on the gravel by the registration tent, waiting for their bibs and chips for the UltraBeast kicking off the next morning at 6 AM. Yes, after 48 hours of brutal work, freezing cold, and no sleep, they were told to complete the hardest obstacle race ever staged and with their packs and the same time cutoffs as the rest of the field.

If you think this story could be no more incredible, it’s time you meet Noah Galloway. In 2005, Noah was stationed in Iraq where, during his second tour of duty, he lost his left arm and his left leg in an IED attack. Now, 8 years later, he was huddled in the cold with his fellow racers. In the two full days prior he had neither asked for nor received any special treatment. He lifted the same rocks (ok, even bigger), climbed the same hills, took the same abuse as everyone else. With one arm, one leg and am indomitable spirit.  He’s no stranger to Spartan Race courses, either.  With two finishes in Virginia, most recently Wintergreen, and Carolina in 2012, he dons a blacked out gas mask and runs along with Operation Enduring Warrior, an organization aimed at empowering and motivating injured veterans.

Plenty has been written on the insane difficulty of the Ultrabeast and the low finisher rate, hovering around 42% on the day with chilly temps, and muddy tracks making the course even more challenging than designed.   While most people would never, ever, EVER even consider taking on the Ultra Beast, much less the Ultra Beast after 48 grueling hours, Noah is clearly not most people. Nor are his teammates, Nele Shulz (2013 Winter Death Race Champion), Andrew Hostetler, and Eric Matta of team Reload Fitness.

At the outset of the Ultra Beast, the racers were told that finish position would be determined by combined team times. So it made sense for the fastest runners (in this case Andrew and Eric) to go out hard, and for Nele and Noah to do their best to keep up.

Over 12 hours later, David and Eric had arrived at the end of the course and were looking for their teammates.  They could certainly be forgiven for looking for a chair in which to wait – after all, they’d been up for about 60 straight hours and had covered countless mountain miles. Instead, they set off backtracking the Ultra Beast  course so they could all come across the line as a team.

Fast forward to 8pm. Long after dark,  all four are working together. Nele’s legs swollen painfully, but still moving forward. . Noah’s prosthetic leg had broken and was barely able to support any weight, forcing him to practically hop the balance of the race on his other leg. They each credit the other with having gotten them this far, and now Andrew and Eric shouldered the extra load, supporting their friends while they moved as a unit towards the finish.

There are countless stories from this year’s Team Death Race that will stand out in the minds of those who were there to bear witness. Mark Jones’ superhuman performance throughout.  Vermonter Jane Boudreau Coffey’s inspiring finish,  earning her coveted skull.  People helping one another along the way, sharing food, water, and encouraging words. The sight of 60 year olds racing alongside 20 year olds in one of the most difficult Death Races ever delivered, everyone suffering as a unit to finally cross the Ultra Beast finish line and be told, “You’re done.  It’s over.”  Hearing those words and knowing that it was finally time to stop, was like music to their ears.

And among the finishers at the sushi restaurant after the race, a team of four, Nele being carried in unable to walk, barely able to keep their eyes open, Team Reload Fitness celebrated their finish as a team clutching their hard earned finisher skulls.

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When Spartan Race founder Joe De Sena issued the challenge of riding his bike from Texas to Vermont for the Reebok Spartan Race World Championships, Isaiah Vidal jumped at the chance. “I shook his hand immediately. I knew it was something I had to do.”

His journey would take him from Central Texas to the small town of Pittsfield, Vermont, home to the Peak Death Race, an event that Isaiah has completed in the past. It took 16 days, and 133 hours of bike time to make the trek that wasn’t without its fair share of mishaps.

On day 15 he posted on Facebook, “Made it to Amsterdam, New York unfortunately how I got here was the most dangerous thing I have ever done and its one to always remember. Its 7:30pm and I biked 20 miles In the rain and it was getting dark….. Yeah I know it was risky, but I wasn’t going to let this rain stop me anymore.”

Flat tires, loose pedals and heavy rain didn’t deter Vidal from finishing what he set out to accomplish. When he arrived in Pittsfield September 14, he had mixed feelings. “I’m here in Pittsfield the place I call my second home due to many accomplishments I’ve made here. It feels weird being social with other people. Not being on the bike is a relief, but…we must overcome anything that we put ourselves in or we are thrown in no matter the pain or suffering.”

With the help of friends on the way, and warm wishes and encouragement from family, friends, and supporters following his journey he has arrived!  Now that he’s settled into Vermont, he has just a few short days to prepare for the Reebok Spartan Race World Championships where he will be representing Mexico in the elite heat!

More to come on this incredible journey!

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by James Korak

When I turned 40, I looked in the mirror. I didn’t like what I saw, my youth had slipped away, I had gained 50 pounds and had a soft body. I was on blood pressure medicine, cholesterol medication and was falling apart. I had just came through a dark time in my life where we lost a daughter, were having struggles in our marriage due to a failed adoption, and communication was weak at best. I was not being the leader of our family, so I started to get my body (temple) back into shape by attending boot camp 3x a week for over a year. Then I was asked by my trainer to run a simple three mile mud race (Ha- simple was not the term I use). I got my butt kicked and didn’t like that because I used to be a professional cyclist in my youth and competed at a high level with very structured training and diet. For me to be at such a high level physically, then go to getting my butt kick in a simple 5k mud run did not settle well with me and lit a fire again in my soul and heart for competition. As I tell my wife today, there are worse things to do when you turn 40 and have a midlife crisis than get back into shape and start competing again.

Then came Spartan. I did my first Beast race and still did not do well, so I upped my training and including running to my regiment of training. I ended up placing in the 25 among all males and 4th in age group in 2012. Now I am currently 1st in my age group and hoping for a top 30 finish by the completion of September’s elite racing season.

What changed? How are things getting stronger at such an late time in ones physical life?

When I started doing more races, and getting further into shape, I now was back to my high school weight, the best shape of my life and feeling no restrictions on what I can accomplish except a longer recovery and sore knees! Ha- The Spartan people challenged me to go harder than I ever had physically in life, and enjoy it.

The second component of my story is my family. My brothers, sisters and of course my mom and friends thought I was crazy and truly feared for my well being. When I started doing events like 24 hour obstacle races in sub freezing temps, the Spartan Ultra Beast, and most recently the 2013 Death Race, they thought I was going to kill myself because I was OLDER and should not be doing those things.

HA again, but when they saw the physical talents that God gave me to not quit and conquer what appeared to be impossible challenges, they now are starting to become believers on what one can do and overcome if your heart and mind is into it. But my wife and kids have and always are my biggest fans. My wife is my biggest supporter and fan and never tells me I can’t do something or its too hard! My kids, Grace and Abbie, cheer me on at the races. Whether I see them at the finish line holding a hand painting sign or out on the course trying to run with me for a moment or two, it gives me an enormous amount of strength and courage to push my body past its breaking point and to finish strong. When I cross the finish line in 10th, 20th, etc. and my wife and kids are there, I feel completely fulfilled in life and they look at me with love and compassion in their eyes making me want to challenge myself further. This is far better than winning a cycling race in my younger days. Besides, I do find some satisfaction on beating youth more than half my age, but it’s still more than all that.

My kids now see what hard work and determination can do; age/health is no longer a factor of limitations, but rather an excuse. I now have been told by friends, family and neighbors all around that I have been a source of encouragement to them, showing them there is no limit on what you can accomplish if you put your mind and body into it. I recently spoke at my daughters FCA (Fellowship of Christian Athletes) to 60 plus kids in Junior High School, to give encouragement on finishing life strong in order to hear the words, “Well done” at the finish in life’s race. Spartan helps me strive to better myself as an individual to be the best I can be in life.

My goal is one of inspiration and encouragement to all ages of life. That when faced with adversity and challenges, how you struggle to find solutions and push through the pain and suffering to finish strong, not just in a Spartan Race, but in life. I believe the two our synonymous and I just want to help others help themselves and be a source of inspiration for them and my family to become active and change who they are!

Now it’s your turn! Register TODAY!

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by Matt Trinca

It’s Friday afternoon. The Death Racers have been going now for 5 hours, moving boulders and cutting branches to clear a path up to Joe’s cabin. Joe De Sena and Andy Weinberg are standing atop a climbing wall, explaining the theme – Gambling – and the rules for this year’s event. “We started the Peak Death Race to find people that we’d like to hang out with,” explained Andy. “We wanted to surround ourselves with people that inspire us.”

Team SISU was started with the same premise. Two years ago, as Daren de Heras and Yesel Arvizu were training for their first Death Race, they formed this small team to help prepare themselves for an event cloaked in mystery and madness. Neither of them finished the race that year, but they came back with a burning desire to push themselves further, and that desire spread amongst their friends. In 2012, 7 members of Team SISU traveled to the Peak Death Race and 4 of them finished… ”unofficially.” Bolstered by this success, the team continued to grow, and now boasts more than 800 members across the country.

SISU is a Finnish word, meaning “ultimate determination, fortitude, and persistence, carried to an unfathomable level.” But to sum it up in one word, SISU means “guts.” The mission of Team SISU is to, “forge unbreakable athletes,” and nowhere was this more apparent than at the 2013 Death Race, where 10 members came to race, along with 5 members who came to serve as support crew and volunteers.

Bolstered by a team camaraderie developed through various team events, such at the 50+ mile Rim-to-Rim-to-Rim run in the Grand Canyon and the 24+ hour SISU Iron adventure challenge, the true grit of each team member was truly on display over the course of the 72 to 80-hour 2013 Death Race.

There was a point in the event where each racer was pushed to their limit, and faced with temptation to quit. Whether it was an injury, soreness, lack of sleep, mental fatigue, competitiveness, or fear, all had their own personal demons to face down. In a situation like this, just toeing the start line takes tremendous courage, and a “Did Not Finish” or “DNF”, is nothing to be ashamed of. But for those who were able to reach down deep and push through the pain and doubt, there was a tremendous feeling of accomplishment and satisfaction.
Daren de Heras finally earned his first “official” finish. “It’s a great feeling. The 2013 Winter Death Race left me with some unanswered questions about myself, but I now feel like I have my confidence back. What a way to celebrate my 40th birthday!”

Will Bowden – first time Death Race competitor and 5th place male finisher – had this to say, “This race was a game changer for me. Any situation that brings you to your mental or physical boundaries (or both), and allows you to decide if you want to hold short or cross them and create a new boundary, will always change the core of your being. The Death Race did just that.”

Eric Wyler – another first time competitor and Death Race finisher – said, “The race was incredible. It’s truly an experience that strips you down and exposes parts of yourself you never though existed. During the 70-ish hours the race lasted, there was nothing on my mind other than the race. Time seemed to pass in a strange, continuous way such that I lost track of whether it was Friday or Saturday or Monday morning. It’s always incredible to do these races and meet so many inspiring people.”

Even the SISU support crew got into the act, staying up long hours to prepare food, shuttle supplies, and provide logistical support to the SISU racers. Three team members even took part in an overnight, 30+ mile hike that brought more than a few participants to their knees. And they did it not for money or glory, but merely for a mutual respect and love for their friends, a bond forged through shared experiences of hardship and triumph. Racers and crew alike bonded together supporting each other, and pushing each other to dig deep, not to quit, and show that true grit which embodies the word, “SISU”.

Team SISU will be back again for the 2014 Peak Death Race, where the theme will be the Year of the Explorer. Find Team SISU at www.facebook.com/groups/278263838919491/. And check out the Peak Death Race at www.youmaydie.com.

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