A Tough Mudder is bush league compared to this.
On June 27th, in the woods of Pittsfield, Vermont, 300 elite endurance athletes will compete in a 48-72 hour, 40-mile Spartan Death Race.
The race, created in 2005 by Ultra athletes Joe DeSena and Andy Weinberg, was developed as a way for competitors to test themselves both mentally and physically.
Physically, participants could be asked to chop and carry wood for hours on end, complete a 30-mile hike in challenging terrain, or assembe a LEGO structure with pieces found at the bottom of a pond.
Mentally, competitors don’t know what time the race technically starts, where and when it will end or what exhausting challenge they can expect to complete next, as race directors keep nearly all details a secret.
In fact, the only thing 27-year-old Philadelphia resident Kyle Wegman did know ahead of time, is that if he didn’t get media coverage, he would have to perform 2,500 burpees with a weighted vest before starting the race. (That’s an estimated six straight hours of burpees!)
That’s where I come in. This is Wegman’s story.
In January of 2013, Wegman was 50 pounds overweight, a smoker, and a far cry from leading a healthy lifestyle — until a friend turned him on to CrossFit.
Wegman, an operations manager at Paul Down’s Cabinetmakers in Bridgeport, was immediately hooked and began training at CrossFit KOP where he met fellow athlete Mike Petrizzo.
“I had been training with Mike and one day he approached me and said, you ought to try out this Spartan Death Race,” said Wegman.
With an official Death Race finish under Petrizzo’s belt, Wegman decided to take his advice.
“Mike seemed confident that I had the mental fortitude to compete, so I did some research and registered last June.”
Preparing for a race that has a failure rate of 90 percent has become more of lifestyle than a training methodology for Wegman, calling it his “only outlet.”
Wegman frequents CrossFit Supercharged at least four days a week and focuses heavily on strength training and squats. But, physical training is just a small part of the road to success in Pittsfield.
Petrizzo shared stories of past races in which participants had to hike 15 miles up the vertical side of a mountain where they were given the names of the first 10 Presidents of the United States. After hiking back down, if they recited the names incorrectly, they had to hike back up the mountain until they got it right. And this was after they had already been awake for 24 hours straight.
“I think it’s a given that everyone who competes in the Death Race is physically fit,” said Wegman. “It’s not like the race directors are asking you to do things that you can’t physically do. It’s the mental game that breaks people.”
This year’s race theme is ”The Explorer,” and according to race directors, competitors can read the exploits of Sir Edmund Hilary, Shackleton and Lewis & Clark to prepare for their journey.
“I’m really into the outdoors so joining for the year of the explorer is very fitting,” said Wegman. “I anticipate that we’ll be reading all kinds of maps and probably asked to find certain points in darkness.”
Going into his first Death Race, Wegman plans to keep a completely open mindset and stay as relaxed as he possibly can. (No easy task for these competitors!)
“I’m going to take it one task at a time,” said Wegman. “The people that approach it as a race to win are the ones that burn out quickly.”
On June 27th, Wegman has one goal: To not quit.
“They don’t tell you when or where to finish, so I’m just focusing on not quitting instead of finishing,” said. Wegman.” I don’t want to have anything in my mind that relates to there being an end to the task, let alone the race.”
For Wegman, the Spartan Death Race will be the ultimate test of fortitude. Physically, the 27-year-old knows he’s ready to take on the task; mentally, he’s ready to see how far he can push himself.
“It’s really a life race to open your mind to what you can actually accomplish.”