The first time I spoke to Joe De Sena, it was about 4:00 a.m. on a Saturday morning. He had asked me to drive him from Amee Farm to the General Store so he could catch a few hours of sleep. I had no idea who this man was, other than an important figurehead in the Death Race, but I sleepily obliged. As we drove through what I suppose is considered “downtown” Pittsfield, Vermont, Joe asked me what the hell I was doing here. To be honest, I still wasn’t sure.
It was June of 2012. A mere month earlier, I had a brief email conversation with a man named Andy Weinberg, regarding the Ultra Beast, a new distance in the Spartan Race series. In one of our correspondences, I asked him if it would be OK if I came up to the Spartan Death Race to take some pictures, maybe volunteer. I figured it would be a good topic for a blog post. The response I received:
Do you want to be in charge of our volunteers at the DR?
That was it. One sentence, completely out of the blue. A race I knew nothing about, in a position I’ve never done before, with people I’ve never even met, with less than a month to prepare.
Fast forward to that June night. Now one of two volunteer coordinators, I had been thrown into the fray, head first. In less than 16 hours, I had figure out a crazy parking and crowd control situation, all while athletes were running all around me chopping wood and diving for ping pong balls in duck pond. I had to send numerous volunteers to numerous tasks that even I didn’t know about until that very moment; the theme that year was “betrayal” and even I wasn’t 100% in the know as to what was real and what was simply an idea planted to mess with the athletes minds. I had to remain calm while calling EMT’s to come to the rescue of a man as close to death as I had ever seen anyone, all while trying to figure out who this athlete was in the first place, and facilitate someone to go with him to the hospital to contact his family. There were spreadsheets, there were people late to the race, there were people dropping out, there were parents and loved ones wanting (demanding?) to know where their athlete was, and this was all within the first day of a 3-4 day race.
At the time, no, I had no idea what the hell I was doing there, nor why on earth anyone would sign up for this kind of race.
So when Joe asked me what I was doing there, I mumbled something about how Andy talked me into it. (Apparently, this is a common answer.)
But at the time, I also had no idea how stumbling upon this group of insane athletes in the middle of nowhere, Vermont, would change my life.
That weekend, though confusing, chaotic, and utterly exhausting (I slept only a handful of hours over the course of 3 days) was simply an amazing experience. Sure, I had done a Spartan race before, and a handful of other obstacle course races. I was no stranger to endurance racing. I had not only raced a handful of marathons myself at that point, but I had spectated what I considered even greater feats, like an Ironman.
But these athletes at the Death Race…they were a completely different breed.
I remember the next night, standing on the top of a hill with a flashlight in my hands. As racers, now two days into the race (and running on zero sleep) approached the top of the hill carrying a heavy load of logs in addition to their already heavy packs, I was to shine the flashlight in their face and tell them to go get into the freezing cold duck pond, for a time which was yet to be determined. 15 minutes, 90 minutes, it all depended upon what Joe and Andy felt they deserved.
And almost every single one of those athletes did it. They got in that pond without hesitation nor complaint (well, maybe a little bit of both…but they still did it.)
I realized really quickly that these are the type of people I want to surround myself with. People who are physically and mentally resilient. People who believe that they are capable of so much more than what our society deems “sufficient”. People who want more out of life than simply average. People who will go to extremes to find what they are truly capable of…and not for fame or glory, but simply for self improvement.
I am a work in progress, but I aspire to live life like these people. And in these athletes, as well as other volunteers and people who make up this crazy Spartan community, I have found a family. A family that constantly inspires me to better myself in every aspect of life.
Recently, I was fortunate enough to get my hands on an advanced manuscript of the book “Spartan Up“, written by Joe Desena, one of the founders of the Spartan Race, and the man asked me why I came to Pittsfield a few years ago. To be honest with you, I thought the book was going to be another “how to train for an obstacle course race” book, but it isn’t. Instead Joe focuses on that fact that in life, we must build “obstacle immunity”. As a society, we have become complacent. We seek instant gratification, and the “easy way out” of everything. When presented with obstacles, we no longer know how to cope. But when we learn how to overcome obstacles…both in a race and in life, nothing phases us anymore.
In the book, Joe describes amazing feats of athleticism and survival, from current Spartan athletes, to Death Racers, to the Imperial Trans-Antarctic Expedition undertaken by Sir Ernest Shackleton and his crew. Joe describes how we are all capable of such feats, and how these experiences will only enhance our lives. We obviously can’t all cross Antarctica nor have access to the peak of Everest, so Joe and Andy have created the Spartan Race, to simulate physical and mental obstacles to test our grit.
“With those experiences under your belt, real problems don’t seem overwhelming. Without that experience, we end up with adults exclaiming ‘Oh, my god! The kids are screaming. The bag of groceries broke. What a horrible day! Today is a fucking disaster.’ Disaster? We have no idea what a fucking disaster is. Many people feel unnecessarily entitled to things they have no business feeling entitled to, like fancy cars and consumer electronics and other luxuries. It’s unfortunate, but that’s how our society has evolved” – Joe DeSena
Reading this book was surprisingly very emotional for me. A slap in the face to be honest. I’ve had a handful of crappy situations dealt my way in the last few years, but I’ve also had more than a handful of “woe is me” moments (chances are you’ve read some of them on this very blog). How would the person I aspire to be react to these situations? Lay down and admit defeat because somehow I’ve encountered a beast of an obstacle in front of me? Or STFU and climb over it?
Nothing in life is insurmountable. Obstacle immunity.
” ‘Spartan up!’ is an attitude, an X factor, a way of life that I would sum up like this: Challenges make me tougher. Failure makes me work harder. Knock me down, and, sure as shit, I’m getting right back up.” -Joe DeSena
Simply put, Spartan Up! is a combination between a motivational self-growth book, and the story behind this:
Though the book is indeed focused upon the reason behind the creation of the Spartan Race series, Joe teaches methods and ideas behind living your life like a Spartan, obstacle course racing aside. You absolutely do not have to be an athlete to appreciate Spartan UP! (though it will probably inspire you to become one). It is a fast, easy, and motivational read, and I would absolutely recommend it to anyone. The book is available for preorder now, and will be released May 13th 2014. If you are interested in ordering, I was able to get a bit of a discount to share with you guys.
Use this link —> Buy Spartan UP! and the code STFU03 to receive a 10% discount, free shipping, and a free Spartan Up! T shirt (offer good until 04/01/14)
And to my Spartan family: thank you. You all mean more to me than I’d ever be able to express.
OCR friends: what does SPARTAN UP! mean to you?
*FTC disclosure* I was given an advanced manuscript of the book Spartan Up! at no cost, however all opinions expressed are my own.