The Founder Of The Spartan Race Is A Big Ol’ Maniac

Joe De Sena, co-founder of obstacle event series Spartan Race, talks rope climbs, training tips and pushing people to the brink

Other than, I don’t know, Zeus, what do you call a man who has completed the Badwater

Ultramarathon (135 miles in 49oC heat), the Vermont 100 ultramarathon, and the Lake Placid Ironman in one week? You call him Joe De Sena, co-founder of both the Death Race (comforting name) and the Spartan Race.

Born in the USA (Vermont, to be precise), the Spartan Race is one of the most popular obstacle races in the world, with more than 130 events in 15 countries – including 11 events in the UK. Participants choose from Sprint (5k+), Super (13k+) and Beast (20k+) courses, and then race through mud and water, over obstacles, and through pits of fire. All for the lolz.

Joe De Sena: not afraid of getting stuck in

How the idea for the Spartan Race was born

“In the ’90s and ’00s, I got into crazy, long races all over the world and it took me to breaking point. I remember once lying in the snow towards the end of a race in Switzerland, and just thinking ‘I’m done with life’. But somehow, I got back up and I pushed through.

“Fast-forward to 2010, and the opportunity to put on an event to show people what that feeling of overcoming obstacles was like. We wanted to create a race that would motivate people to ditch the lethargic lifestyle and become more active. We came up with the Spartan Race.

The Greek warrior king Leonidas would turn over in his grave if we took the Spartan name and made it soft!

“We were one of the pioneers of the obstacle race and have approached the phenomenon differently from the outset. We aren’t about making things easy. Leonidas [the Greek warrior king who led the Spartan forces during the second Persian War] would turn over in his grave if we took the Spartan name and made it soft!”

Spartan Race training tips from an insider

We have one lady who, after a serious car accident, has completed 20 Spartan Races on crutches

“It may be tough, and it does require athletic ability, but the Spartan Race is an accessible and achievable goal for anyone, absolute beginners included. We even have one lady who, after a serious car accident, has completed 20 Spartan Races on crutches.

“The most basic training programme I recommend to people to prepare for a Spartan Race is to go out seven days a week, walk at a brisk pace for one mile, then do 30 burpees and 30 pull-ups, even if you have to jump up to get there. If you do that every day over a period of 30 days, that’s enough to get through the race. You’re not going to win and you’ll be breathing heavily when you finish, but you’ll get through it.

“I hear more about people’s struggles with motivation than anything else. The first thing I say is, ‘Stand up and get off your ass.’ Getting up on your feet is the first thing you have to do and the rest will lead on from there.

The Rope Climb is the obstacle that most people struggle with because upper body strength is so often neglected in training

“In order to be successful at an obstacle race, or a fitness challenge, it’s important to break your training down into short, achievable gains. Then commit publicly, so you’re forced to wake up early and get started.

“The Rope Climb is the obstacle that most people struggle with because upper-body strength is so often neglected in training. My tip would be to work on your upper-body strength.”

How the Spartan Race obstacles are designed and tested

We have a laboratory in the mountains where we pit people against their worst fears and challenges

“We mix the course up year-on-year and have a laboratory up in the mountains in the US, where we’re constantly testing people by pitting them against their worst fears and challenges.

“The way we lay out the obstacles in succession makes a big difference to how we get people to the brink of quitting, bring them back, and then push them through, so a lot of thought goes into that. There’s a cemetery next door to the laboratory, of course, for all of the people that die! Ha ha!”


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