What do all of the world's most successful leaders, managers, and entrepreneurs have in common? They practice what they preach. They don't just tell, they do and they show. The same goes for Spartan CEO Joe De Sena, who is known for promoting an incredibly disciplined — or what some may call crazy — daily routine and lifestyle. He wakes up before 5 a.m., takes cold showers, eats whole foods, gets GREAT sleep, and does a shit ton of burpees. (Yes, even if it's snowing or raining outside.)
But the craziest part? He actually does those things, every single day. He also gets his boots on the ground and tests himself alongside fellow racers and competitors. Despite a hectic schedule that has him traveling all over the world, Joe picked a date to take on DEKA FIT in Anaheim, California in May. These are his takeaways from the Decathlon of Functional Fitness, and an inside look at his journey to earn his DEKA mark.
Getting the Pre-Competition Nerves
Joe landed in Anaheim the day before the DEKA event, and arrived at the Anaheim Convention Center to find the lights off, no music playing, and DEKA's General Manager, Brian Duncanson, testing himself against the DEKA arena's 10 functional fitness zones and 5K of running.
"I didn't want to bother him because I knew he was in a pain cave," Joe said.
With just two things on the Orlando, Fla. resident's mind — that he was starving and, "There's a Disney here?!" — Joe talked his (and an assemblage of fellow Spartans) way into a Ruth's Chris Steak House, despite donning his signature Spartan sweatshirt and khaki shorts. After ordering some massive salads and one steak for the mainly meat-opposed group, Spartan's CEO retired to his hotel room for the remainder of the Friday night.
"The funny thing is that no matter how many crazy things you do in your life — and I've done a LOT of them — you're still nervous and you still get butterflies in your stomach," Joe said. "You know that the lights are going to be on and the music's going to be playing and people are going to be watching.
"And even if no one's watching, you still have to give it your all. You still have to suffer."
Wheels Up, Bright and Early
In true De Sena fashion, Joe was the first to arrive at the arena the following morning, just after 5 a.m. But as the staff and competitors began to filter in, the lights were switched on, and the music cranked up, he thought to himself, "Damn, I really don't want to get trampled by the Elites at 7 a.m."
So, Joe did what he does best: Fire, ready, aim. He took off running into his first DEKA FIT event.
Immediately, the first zone — 30 alternating RAM reverse lunges — annihilated his legs. His runs — 500 meters between each zone — were a shuffle. And despite burning 300 calories on the AssaultBike every morning leading up to earning his DEKA mark, he was simply exhausted coming into that seventh zone. For the first time in his life, Joe was dreading doing burpees.
"I was just not looking forward to the burpees," he said. "I was thinking, 'Who the f*** came up with this idea?'"
A Business of Jekyll and Hyde
It took Joe a total of 46 minutes and 17 seconds to crush the 10 zones and the 3.1 miles, and just a few more seconds before he collapsed on the post-finish concrete. As he laid there on the ground, he wasn't thinking about how much his entire body was burning, or focusing on catching his breath. Instead, he was thinking, Spartan and DEKA are like Jekyll and Hyde.
"On one side, it's dirty and messy and cold, and on the other side it's clean and pristine, but both of them transform you," he explained. "How could something so clean and organized and short be so hard?"
Joe has completed some of the world's most insanely intense endurance events and challenges. He's gone days with minimal food, weathered unimaginably uncomfortable conditions, and tackled extreme mileage. And if there's one person who will advocate for the benefits of obstacle course racing's test of grit, it's Spartan's CEO. So, why even try DEKA — a test where your new trainers stay un-scuffed and you finish in what feels like no time?
"DEKA is a way to test yourself against what you and other athletes are capable of," Joe said. "Every athlete — whether you're a football player, a baseball player, an endurance athlete, or otherwise — should be able to perform here and see where they stand in the world.
"It will spark something in your mind that gets you on a journey."
Who Should Do DEKA FIT?
"If you're not crawling under barbed wire, but you're still going to the gym every day, you don't get to see the fruits of your labor very often," Joe said. "You don't get to level up, you don't get to play in the World Series or compete in the Olympics. DEKA is your way to do that."
Recently, Joe delivered a talk in the presence of 2,500 10th Special Forces Group members, an active-duty U.S. Army Special Forces Group. The most prominent idea that Spartan's CEO and thousands of brave individuals agree upon? If you want to succeed, you can't rest on your laurels.
"You can't just say, 'I ran a marathon once,' or 'I completed that competition once,'" Joe said. "I was saying to the members of the Special Forces, 'Think about how tough Lewis and Clark's expedition must have been.' They responded, 'Joe, don't focus on Lewis and Clark — focus on Sacagawea, who had a 2-year-old that she was carrying the entire time.'
"Moral of the story? Quit resting on your laurels and start testing yourself every day. And when you think anything is too hard, think about Sacagawea."