GET TO THE STARTING LINE
“The bravest are surely those who have the clearest vision of what is before them, glory and danger alike, and yet notwithstanding, go out to meet it.”
My name is Joe De Sena, and if all you want is a training program, there’s a list of exercises in chapter 6 and recipes in the appendix.
Or, to make things really simple: Go outside right now and run as far you can. Then do as many burpees as you can. Then run, walk, or crawl home. Eat whole foods, skip dessert, don’t get drunk, get some sunshine, take cold showers, lift something heavy, use the stairs, meditate or pray, find someone to love. Lights out at 8 p.m.
There’s your program ?— ?go do it.
Look, if being fit were as easy as having a list of the right exercises, the Internet would have ended the obesity crisis. There are a gazillion exercise programs out there! The team at Spartan Race posts a new workout every day ?— ?it’s all there, it’s all free. We have all this information at our fingertips. Lack of information isn’t your main obstacle.
Your main obstacle is you.
You are also your greatest opportunity.
And that’s as true for me as it is for anyone.
The purpose of this book is to help you overcome any physical or mental obstacle ?— ?and to achieve the opportunity that lives inside of you. To become Spartan Fit.
Specifically, this book contains a 30-day training program to prepare you to complete a Spartan Race, an obstacle race that I founded and oversee. Spartan Race drives competitors to their limits so they can surpass them. Our tagline is “You’ll know at the finish line”?— ?and you will ?— ?but I spend much of my time imploring people around the world to get to the starting line, which is even tougher. Once they’re there, the race takes over.
As tough as it is to get some people to the starting line, I’m constantly amazed by what those same people accomplish after the finish line. Jay Jackson didn’t wrestle blindfolded because he thought it might save his life one day; he trained for a sport and it changed his life in a way that he never could have anticipated. After that experience, Jay changed his career, became a high school teacher, and developed a curriculum with us called Spartan Edge to help kids overcome any obstacle through grit and toughness. I’ve received tens of thousands of emails from disabled veterans, cancer survivors, and ordinary folks who went on to do extraordinary things beyond the finish line. I’m committed to helping others build more strength and grit to achieve their goals in sports and life. I love to inspire people to achieve the seemingly impossible.
I’m an ultraendurance athlete who has been lucky enough to compete in challenging races all over the world. I have completed more than fifty ultramarathons, and more Ironman events than I remember. Most of these races were one hundred miles or more, with a few traditional marathons mixed in. I was roped into competing in the Vermont 100, the Lake Placid Ironman, and the Badwater Ultra in one week. The last of those events is a 135-mile run that travels from Death Valley to Mount Whitney in the middle of summer. That year it was 137 degrees. My shirt melted.
Yet, no matter the challenge, I never question whether I’ll finish a race. The rush of the starting gun drops me into an empty space where I hear nothing but the sound of my own breathing and the drumbeat of my heart. My body moves forward, but everything else stands still. I’m not thinking about hopes or regrets, what I’m having for dinner, or what my kids are doing. All I’m thinking about, if it’s thinking at all, is the repetitive thwap of my feet striking the pavement. I will finish, no matter how far I must go to reach the finish line. It’s simply what must happen.
As for why I’m so compelled to compete, I think back to my childhood in Queens, New York, in the 1970s. My mother introduced me to yoga, an ancient form of holistic training that captivated her imagination and changed her life, bringing calm to her troubled mind. True yoga masters could hold a pose for minutes, hours, or days. It wouldn’t make much difference, because for them time stopped. They had mastered the relationship between their mind and body to such a degree, fused them so completely, that nothing mattered other than the sound of their breath and the beating of their heart.
But even if you practice yoga, meditate, or run for hours on end, life will intrude in ways that leave you unprepared. Obstacles confront you and require quick adaptations, making a mockery of something like “the runner’s high.” So you’re cruising along, feeling in control of the situation? Great. How about when the trail ends and the terrain grows rocky and you break your ankle? Then what do you do? Or what happens when you need to climb a rock face to keep advancing ?— ?only, come to think of it, you didn’t train for that, and you could easily fall and break your neck? Do you adapt, or do you fall apart, because all you knew was the thud of the pavement, and now the pavement is gone?
Forget the challenges of an endurance run ?— ?some people are so ill-equipped at handling the unexpected that a cold cup of coffee or a traffic jam can ruin their day. Very seldom do we wake up and have our day unfold exactly as mapped, so I grew interested in how physically unprepared many people are for daily events, let alone extraordinary ones. Their training doesn’t reflect life’s complexities. An event such as a distance race, as challenging as many people find it to be, is highly predictable ?— ?an adjective that seldom applies to life’s great challenges, the ones that truly define us as human beings. If a 5K race seems like a good impetus for improving your health, consider an alternative, one that’s not totally preplanned and that will strengthen your mind as well as your body. Consider a Spartan Race.
I created the Spartan Race in 2010 to test people’s overall conditioning, a term that encompasses endurance, strength, stamina, speed, and athleticism. I also wanted to test their ability to adapt physically ?— ?and, perhaps even more importantly, mentally ?— ?especially to surprises. I wanted to stress test the weaknesses that make us vulnerable in a difficult and sometimes dangerous world, where the chaos of the battlefield increasingly characterizes civilian life and everyday society. My theory was that such a test would have broader implications for a person’s life than mere fitness. Attempting a Spartan Race, I believed, would teach people to handle the obstacles of everyday life, enabling them to function at a high level as parents, employees, public servants, or in any role that life might throw their way.
Spartans refer to this readiness as “obstacle immunity,” meaning an ability to move past, around, through, or over what life places in their path. In the races, we’ll position a mud pit, a greased wall, and other physical challenges in the way of racers ?— ?but, whatever the obstacle, its purpos...