EASTHAMPTON, Mass. (AP) — Jesse Stanley, 34, admits that his idea of fun is unlike most other people’s thoughts on the matter.
The Federal Street resident, who works as an occupational health technician for the Army National Guard in Windsor Locks, Conn., competed in his first obstacle race in 2011 at Mount Snow in Vermont. The 10-mile Tough Mudder event involved, among other things, running up a long, steep slope that he had skied down years before. While that would feel like torture to some, Stanley loved it. He was hooked.
“Most people think I’m crazy,” he said. “They say, ‘Why would you ever pay money to do that?'”
This year, he will compete in more than 20 similar events, including a few 24-hour events around the Northeast. But he said none will be tougher, longer or more punishing than the Death Race.
Spartan Death Race, Stanley said, is renowned in the obstacle racing community as the most difficult of its kind. It starts June 27 in a wooded area of Pittsfield, Vt., can last up to three days, and involves both mental and physical challenges that are not revealed in advance. Usually only 10 percent of the field finishes.
Stanley said he first learned about the Death Race a few years ago through friends he met at races and through online blogs and groups. “It sounded really, really insane and I said, ‘I’ll never do that, that’s crazy,’?” he recalled.
But when registration opened last summer, he paid his $300 and signed up.
Doug Drotman, a spokesman for the event, said a small group of obstacle racers headed by Joe De Sena and Andy Weinberg dreamed up the first Death Race in 2005 or 2006 (he said record keeping wasn’t their strong suit then) and it has been held every year since.
“They were sick of the old events they had been doing and wanted something better,” Drotman said. A few dozen people took part that first year, and it has grown to include about 300 competitors.
Drotman said the Northeast is always well represented, but competitors come from all over to take part. In 2013, 37 states and four other countries were represented, he said. Among the competitors, 31 were Massachusetts residents, he said.
Peter St. John, a former Northampton resident and alumnus for the Clarke Schools for Hearing and Speech and Northampton High School, competed but did not finish in 2011. The Cambridge resident told the Gazette at the time that 20 hours into the race, he could not complete a hike up a mountain lugging an 80-pound log.
What makes the Spartan Death Race popular among obstacle racers is its reputation as the hardest challenge out there, Drotman said.
“People in this world are always looking for the next challenge,” he said. “The athletes we get have done it all and they’re looking for something different, and Death Race is different in that it has both mental and physical challenges.”
Competitors’ biggest mental challenge is not knowing what they will face on the course, because it is different every year and obstacles are a secret until the event. And once they start on one obstacle, whether it is a hike up a hill or digging up stumps, they do not know when it will end. “Not knowing is really brutal,” Drotman said.
Obstacles at previous races have included chopping wood, building fires from scratch, diving for cinder blocks, cutting bushels of onions and memorizing and recreating Lego buildings.
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