J.T. Bolestridge has a death wish. A Spartan Death Race wish, that is. The 32-year-old first-grade teacher will be among other audacious people this week who seek to triumph over several hours of running, obstacle course tasks and mental challenges. While his day job is all about nurturing and wrangling 6-year-olds, he’ll take a leap of faith into this intense quest.
Since 2005, the Spartan Death Race has brought out men and women, mostly military personnel, firefighters and others who have participated in marathons or triathlons, to the Pittsfield, Vt., landscape.
The extremely grueling race has participants swimming through rivers at night, chopping wood for hours, doing numerous repetitions of certain exercises and reciting scriptures after going several hours without sleep. Last year, the race lasted 45 hours.
Adventure racing is not new to Bolestridge. He’s completed Tough Mudder, a 12-mile course that has challengers trekking through mud, fire and over walls. Bolestridge also finished the Warrior Dash, a 5K with obstacles, and the Super Spartan Race, a scaled-down 8-mile version of the Death Race.
But the Death Race certainly is new to Bolestridge. It’s thought of as one of the toughest adventure races available. Last year, only 35 out of the 280 racers finished. Even the toughest athletes dropped like flies, while the individuals who completed the course pushed past the fatigue and self- doubt.
“The thing about this race, in particular, is there’s so much of a mental aspect to it,” Bolestridge said. “I’ve never attempted anything close to this. The longest thing close to this was in the Navy boot camp.”
An active athlete, Bolestridge learned of the race through health blogs. He stumbled across a man, Canadian Johnny Waite, who was among the 35 who completed the race last year. They quickly became friends through his blog and on Facebook. His view of the race is completely different from the first time he learned of it.
“I read (Waite’s blog) and I thought, ‘This guy is insane,’” Bolestridge recounted.
Waite later invited Bolestridge to participate in the race, as finishers could bring a friend to the next race for half the price.
Bolestridge’s friends and family are excited for him and support his endeavor. His wife, Heather, was surprised by the proposition but is confident he’ll prevail.
“He’s really motivated to finish it and he has a good mindset which I think is very important,” she said. “He just wants to beat the race, show what he’s made of. If you put your mind to something, be committed to it, you can do it. I have no doubt he can finish but if for some reason he didn’t it’s still amazing that he’s set himself up to be successful.”
An adventurous trend
“Our society has come to a point where people have spent so much time indoors,” she said. “Being in a race is exciting. It’s a fun way to get out and enjoy what the terrain has to offer you.”
Adventure racing or extreme sports are increasingly becoming popular among everyone from new athletes to avid marathon runners. In addition to obstacle courses and super races, fitness experts have also developed workout plans, such as Insanity and P90X.
“The main appeal to these programs is the challenge they present by pushing participants to exercise intensities and modes they are not accustomed,” said Greg Maschal, operations manager at East Texas Medical Center’s Olympic Center.
“They typically utilize a wide range of exercises and equipment, which in turn, keeps the participant challenged, motivated and interested.”
Completing the Spartan Death Race’s course is a great feat, but it comes with great risks. The name of the race’s website is youmaydie.com. The online registration form’s waiver simply proclaims “I may die!” However, there have been no reported deaths.
Paramedics and EMS will available to assist people who may be sick or injured.
“Since these programs are typically performed at higher intensities and with higher repetitions combined with less rest, they put the participant at a higher risk of injury,” Maschal said.
“It is very important that anybody participating in these programs who has a health status that is contraindicative to participation in high intensity exercise receives proper medical clearance before participation. It is also important that the leaders of these programs and classes adhere to the recommenced guidelines for safe and effective exercise.”
PREPARING FOR THE DEATH RACE
Bolestridge said there always has been wood chopping and they must chop for several hours at a time. Thankfully, his parents live on a farm in Frankston, where he can adapt to the job.
Since some of the toughest athletes drop out of the Death Race, it takes more than physical strength or endurance alone.
“Obviously, you need some level of physical fitness, just to be able to physically complete the tasks that you’re asked to do,” Bolestridge said. “Beyond that I would say the ideal candidate is someone who isn’t easily intimidated because they give you these monumental tasks to accomplish that don’t seem possible.”
Nutrition is important; participants must remember to eat regularly. Inspired by health documentaries, Bolestridge and his wife have dabbled in vegetarianism, veganism and Paleoism. In general, his diet is well-balanced and includes farm-raised meats and fresh, pesticide-free fruits and vegetables.
In addition, Bolestridge does CrossFit — short, high-intensity cardiovascular training — at a local gym at least five days a week. He also runs three to five miles each morning.
Bolestridge was a long- distance runner in high school and then enlisted in the U.S. Navy, so physical activity has always been a part of his life. But after leaving the military, something changed.
“I kind of got off track a little bit once I got out of the military,” he said. “My weight was creeping up. I was almost 200 pounds.”
The scale at the doctor’s read 199 and Bolestridge was determined not to tip it another pound.
“I just made up my mind that day that I was going to change myself back to what I used to be,” he said. “So I changed my diet, my workout habits.”
Today, he’s 35 pound lighter than he was one year ago.
The longest Bolestridge has trained is 16 hours. Last month, he completed a 14-hour overnight training session. By 4 a.m., he began to doubt himself.
“Once I got my mind off of being tired, I was fine,” he said. “It’s not so much me versus the other people who are doing it. It’s me versus myself. Can I push myself to keep going for two days, three days, how every long it takes?”
Some challenges include critical thinking like remembering scriptures and constructing a specific form out of Legos cube from memory. This is difficult without sleep, Bolestridge noted. Nonetheless, he’s certain he will succeed.
“I will finish so that’s not a question,” he said. “People defeat themselves before they even start anything. How do you know you can’t do it if you’ve never even tried it? Human beings are amazing. We can do a lot that we don’t know we can do.”
Bolestridge doesn’t know—win or lose—whether he’ll return in 2013. Part of the experience, he said, is to develop friendships and enjoy camaraderie among other extreme athletes.
Bolestridge said he is anxious about the race, but also excited. The first thing he’ll do following the race?