It's the world's hardest race. Only 10% of those who are insane enough to attempt it — signing a "You May Die" death waiver before stepping foot on Pittsfield, Vermont's Riverside Farm — will complete it, and they return changed, different, matured, hardened. The Spartan Death Race takes place in the home of Spartan twice every year. If the Summer Death Race is a nightmare, the Winter iteration is a living hell. Our race directors are not only all former Death Racers themselves, but they're hell-bent on pushing races all the way PAST their physical and mental limits, and they know how to get into your head and break you.
On February 9, 2023, only 11 of the registered 23 racers followed directions carefully enough to make it to the check-in table by the 7:30 a.m. deadline for the 2023 Winter Death Race. (And no, the racer who had accidentally showed up a week early to the race, Thomas, wasn't one of them. Despite surviving nearly an entire week out on the pond in negative temperatures with no fresh food and only his own supplies — and despite an unprecedented number of you rooting for him — a sunken boat and a flame-scorched tent brought about his demise. Though he did commit to showing up to this year's Summer Death Race...)
Throughout the following 50 hours, all but three of those who started the race would quit. Unlike most Death Races where racers are eliminated using time hacks, every single racer eliminated from this winter's race quit on their own accord before they were cut by staff.
Here's a look at everything that went down at the world's hardest race.
The 2023 Spartan Winter Death Race Recap
The First 12 Hours
Those lucky enough to begin their race got off to a great start: foot races, burpees, and handstand push-ups into ice-cold water to earn their bibs. That was just the warm-up. Racers were then led to the pond for their first task: chop and gather wood for the Solo Stove, which would be placed into a boat and required to keep burning throughout the event. They carried the boat — full of firewood and the stove — across snowy fields while reciting the Earnest Shackleton quote they'd memorized from the mandatory gear list.
The following few hours were a nightmarish combination of carrying and holding grotesquely heavy metal bars and bags of gear (losing teams were yet again punished with handstand push-ups into icy buckets of water), competing to start individual fires in their buckets using only flint and magnesium, standing on the frozen pond and chopping a circle around themselves until their ice circle broke and they fell into the water, and even constructing a snowman to their own exact heights.
After filling bags with sand (75 pounds for men and 50 pounds for women), racers went around a half-mile track doing burpee bag tosses until a few racers — broken, exhausted, and beaten down — quit the race.
Natural Selection: Eliminating the Weakest Links
Racers performed "Loop de Loop" — a challenge where they were carrying firewood to Shrek’s Cabin atop the mountain, given a quote at the cabin that they had to recite once back down at the barn, and after the completion of one mountain lap they had to go to the pond, create a fire, and submerge under the water in the hole they previously chopped — through the night.
Next, Death Racers built a fire over which to cook a half-pound hamburger. With nothing other than their bucket, fire building supplies, and raw meat, racers who failed to have a “well-done” burger within a specific time frame or who had not carried sufficient firewood during Loop de Loop were given a pond water submersion penalty of 90 seconds.
By this point, all but three racers had quit.
The Final Three
With just three brave souls remaining, the race was coming down to the wire. Sleep deprived, physically exhausted, and delusional, the racers toiled over mind games before snowshoeing a 6.2-mile loop of the Snowdevil Ultra Snowshoe race course, chopping wood to an extremely specific height and width, and then carrying 10 pieces of it up to Shrek's Cabin.
At 8 a.m. on Saturday, racers got their snowshoes back into gear to lead the first quarter mile of the Snowdevil Ultra before dunking into the feared pond yet again as the Ultra racers — so early on in their own daunting quest — cheered them on.
In perhaps the most uncharacteristic event of the weekend, Spartan CEO and notorious hard ass Joe De Sena invited the wet racers to his home, dried them off, and clothed them with Craft winter gear. He even took them to his General Store down the road for breakfast and then home for a long nap.
It was short lived. Death Race Director Andi Hardy soon after grabbed the racers from their slumber and marched them to the pond, where one skull was floating amongst the chunks of ice. The question was simple: Who wants it?
Ryan Moran, who had never done a Death Race before, leaped into the pond to snag the skull, but — failing to submerge it for the required 20 seconds — gave previous Death Race participant (but not finisher) Kelly Shores the opportunity to give it a go. She was deemed the first 2023 Winter Death Race Finisher.
With Ryan and Andrew Head (a fellow past Death Race participant) still shivering on the bank, a second skull was flung into the pond, shattering into several pieces. Ryan wasted no time gathering every chunk, while Andrew claimed the final skull to go splashing into the same icy water that had plagued the warriors for over 50 hours.
The "Why" Behind the Death Race
Why would anyone want to do a Death Race? Why would anyone want to come close to freezing to death, to go days without sleep, or to hike, run, snowshoe, burpee, crawl, or body roll for dozens of miles with barely any fuel? For the race directors who have been there themselves, the goal is to go so far beyond your conceivable limits that you conquer demons you didn't even know you had.
"We want to push racers to their limits in any Spartan event, but in the Death Race, we go WAY past," Hardy says. "We want them to be a better human and face their demons. Some people come because they have demons, and this a counseling session in its own weird way. It helps them overcome what's holding them down.
"Even those who study and train and seem like they have it all together, we make them realize they're not invincible, but they have the mindset to be invincible. You have to get to that moment with the racers where their life will be forever changed, where they lose that fear of themselves, the elements, the unknown, and they know they can tackle anything."
Think you have what it takes to take on the world's HARDEST race? Sign up for the 2023 Summer Death Race now!