Spartan Death Race – Extreme Is Not Enough


There is a certain amount of hype and bravado that goes into almost all of the extreme mud races and obstacle courses. Whether it’s coming from the event organizers themselves or those who have actually survived the ordeal, most people considering signing up for this type of race automatically discount at least a fraction of what they’re being told as just so much spin and head gaming.

For the most part that’s fairly accurate. The events are hard and they test you, but they’re not the near-death experience that people would have you believe. That is, until you get to the Spartan Death Race.

Rule No. 1 – There are No Rules

Spartan Death Race is a totally different animal, a race with no set beginning or end, no established course that you can prepare yourself for and no hint of what kind of challenges you may be faced with.

It’s specifically designed to mess with your head at the same time that it beats your body to a pulp. When you hear that ninety percent won’t finish the event, you’d better believe they’re not kidding … the internet is littered with blogs and web postings of those who either are still beating themselves up for giving up or who have finally forgiven themselves. There are those few who speak of the experience as invigorating … but you have to wonder exactly what kind of happy pills they’ve been taking.

The Spartan Death Race is brought to you by the same crew that created the Spartan Sprint, the Super Spartan and the Spartan Beast, but when it comes to the Death Race, Andy Weinberg and Joe DeSena have truly dedicated themselves to defeating their participants.

Where their other events have an element of crazy fun and some predictable challenges, the Death Race is as serious as a heart attack. The website for sign up is found at, and though it hasn’t happened yet, there have been plenty of ambulances called in to cart away racers’ broken bodies, and the race organizers’ warning about only participating if you’ve lived a full life is by no means tongue-in-cheek.

We reserve [the] right to make it as long as we want. We reserve the right to lie, to shorten or lengthen it, to change our minds. That’s life,” DeSena said.
Life may require adaptability, but it is the specter of death that hangs over this event. Weinberg says that the name “Death Race” was originally coined as a way to “draw the hard-core ultra-extreme endurance athletes.”
“Some people take the race less seriously than they should,” DeSena said. “You obviously don’t want anyone to die. But with life, there is death, so it is what it is.” To date, no one has died while participating. –Joe DeSena

Believe In Only Yourself

The head games begin long before the race’s starting point, as emails, newsletters and final prep lists continue to bury competitors with information that is conflicting and confusing.

Once everyone has converged on Pittsfield Vermont it’s impossible to tell exactly how long any one course will be – the event lasts at least forty hours, but has been known to go on for as long as sixty or seventy.

The finish is often determined more by how many are still struggling through after sixty hours rather than on who has crossed a non-existent finish line. Joe and Andy have been running the event since 2005, and it would seem that they’ve studied plenty of history books to make sure that they’ve included time-tested torture methods as part of each event.

Lying to participants about topography or safety issues, about the whereabouts of the rest of their team or support, munching pizza and swigging drinks in front of racers who haven’t eaten in a day, telling people they’ve been disqualified when in fact they haven’t been, are all just add-ons and bonuses to the physical exhaustion that the course and its challenges offer.

By the time Death Racers have been on the course for twenty four hours or more they no longer know up from down. They’re sleep deprived, hypothermic, hungry, and physically and emotionally depleted.

Only those with the strongest survival and endurance skills keep one foot plodding after another instead of listening to the voice they hear screaming in their heads to just quit.

I called it a day exactly at the 24hr mark. I was talking to several people who did the race in recent years and each of them said that there is a point where you just stop caring and just don’t want it anymore.
I definitely reached that point. The thought of going back into the woods in the dark and rain was unimaginable. It took me 4 hours to make it through in the semi sunny day light so I can’t even fathom going back through it in the dark.
Calling it quits was an extremely difficult thing for me to do and I was quite emotional when I did. It’s one thing to be able to say you found your limit but its not a case of saying ‘ok that’s it for me’. It took me a long time to get there – 24 hours with no rest and constant self talking trying to keep myself going –John McEvoy

Obliterating Your Mind and Physical Limits

The challenges that face the Death Racers are almost breathtaking in their intensity.

The 2011 event began with participants assembling a circle of thirteen boulders around themselves, the rocks ranging in weight from fifteen pounds to forty pounds. Each needed to be lifted to chest height then lowered to the ground, with the completion of a set of thirteen rocks equaling a single lap. The process sounded doable, maybe even wimpy to the average crossfitter, until they heard that they were to do 150 back-breaking laps. After over six hours, the organizers brought the process to a halt and told competitors to move on to the next challenge, apparently either bored or caught off guard by the amount of time the task would take.

The physical pain caused by the challenge was immediately numbed by the next, a pitch dark plunge into an icy cold river that needed to be traversed for miles.

Running for miles in the dark and then being told to shovel gravel and pave a road, chopping down trees, carrying logs, all are reminiscent of the types of punishment usually reserved for prisoners of war whose captors are intent on breaking them.

It is no wonder that so many have found themselves making the decision not to continue when there was no end in sight, and why so many others have wept with frustration when injury has taken them out of the game.

Disorientation and exhaustion are basic tenets of the Death Race, and competitors quickly learn that ignoring whatever is said to them by race organizers is a key to survival.

Trust No One

The 2012 race was run with a theme of Betrayal, and included a number of moles who racers were told had been planted among them to encourage them to quit or to provide misinformation. This may have been the cruelest challenge of all, for it effectively removed the camaraderie that is so often one of the rewards of this type of experience.

Participants were truly left to rely on themselves … it was not strength or teamwork that got them through as much as true fortitude.

Being a Death Racer isn’t about making it 45 hours or 60 hours or 67 hours. It’s about figuring out how to accomplish tasks when your entire being is telling you to quit. The Death Race isn’t looking for the best athletes…they’re a dime a dozen. The Death Race is looking for the type of person that gives and gives and gives. Everything they’ve got. 100%. No excuses. Until they just happen to cross a “finish line” or they drop with the biggest smile of accomplishment on their faces. –Josh Zitomer

It is no wonder that the Spartan Death Race has inspired such a wide range of reactions among those who have endured it.

For some the experience is exhilarating, a challenge to be conquered again and again, while others have a strong and disturbing sense that the event showed them exactly where their own limitations were – not always a happy experience.

Just make sure to leave your ego at the front entrance so you don’t die.


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