Bib 061 — or Thomas from Kalispell, Montana — is one of the brave souls who signed up for the 2023 Spartan Winter Death Race. He trained for months (but if we're being honest, anyone with a fair shot at completing the torturous race has really been training their entire life), he checked off every item on the mandatory gear list, and he felt physically and mentally prepared to take on what many regard as the world's hardest race. But there was just one problem: He's apparently terrible at reading directions. Thomas got the event's date — February 9-11 — incorrect, and showed up an entire week early to Pittsfield, Vermont's Riverside Farm, the home of the Spartan brand.
A word to the wise: Showing up early to any event in the Spartan ecosystem — a Spartan or Tough Mudder race, a Hurricane Heat, an Agoge, a DEKA FIT event, or even a Trail race — is like showing up early to your own funeral. There won't be a warm-up period with coffee and bagels. As soon as you're on Spartan property, you need to be prepared for pain, and we promise that our race directors are crazier than you and will not waste any time.
So, what happened to Thomas? Well, he spent his first night on Riverside Farm floating in a canoe with all of his gear, alone. (Did we mention that temperatures in Pittsfield fell below zero that night, with a wind chill of up to -50 degrees Fahrenheit?)
The Dangers of Being Outside in Extreme Temperatures
When temperatures reach dozens of degrees into the negatives, it is not only dangerous but also life-threatening to be outside — especially in the water. The human body is not equipped to withstand such extreme cold, and exposure to these conditions can cause severe injury and death. One of the most immediate and well-known dangers Thomas faces is hypothermia, which can occur in just a matter of minutes in such extreme cold temperatures. Symptoms of hypothermia include confusion, slurred speech, shivering, and drowsiness.
Faced with symptoms of hypothermia, Thomas runs the risk of accidentally falling out of his small canoe into the surrounding pond. The risk of being in water in such extreme cold temperatures can lead to another dangerous condition called cold shock. This occurs when the body is suddenly exposed to cold water, causing an involuntary gasp and a rapid increase in heart rate and blood pressure. This can lead to drowning — even in shallow water.
And, of course, there's always frostbite, can result in permanent damage and even amputation of the affected body parts. (Let's hope Thomas read the gear list more closely than he read the schedule...)
But despite all of these dangers — which would have most people Ubering to a hotel room for the week — Thomas told Death Race event manager Peter Borden that he refuses to quit throughout the following week of absolute hell.
Why Would Anyone Want to Do the Death Race?
Why would Joe De Sena ever create the Death Race? And who in their right mind would sign up for something that could potentially kill them? The simple answer is that it's not for everyone.
"I created the Death Race because most events didn't emulate life," Joe said. "In life, everything that can go wrong does go wrong. There's not a guide book in life, and there are no aid stations. Sometimes you get a medal. Sometimes you don't."
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"We have evolved over millions of years of evolution to seek pleasure and avoid pain," Anna Lembke, MD, professor and Medical Director of Addiction Medicine at Stanford University, says on the Spartan Up! podcast. "This wiring was great when we had to work really hard just to survive, but it's very maladaptive for the world we have now.
"We have tons of time, tons of leisure, more disposable income for luxury goods than humans have ever had, we have machines doing a lot of the physical labor for us, and we have the technology that has allowed us to 'drug-ify' almost every human experience."
In other words, the world is becoming more and more soft every day, and doing insanely hard things is the only way to ensure we don't go soft along with it. If you don't believe us, just take it from three-time World's Toughest Mudder winner (2012, 2014, 2015) and three-time Death Race finisher (Winter 2012, Summer 2012, Summer 2013) Amelia Boone:
"At some point, we all stumble. We have a bad race. A race finds a weakness. A weakness finds you. And of any race out there, the Death Race excels at doing this. It’s a game of Russian roulette that we play once or twice (or now three) times a year. It’s unlike any other race: For example, when you do Ironmans, you know you are going to be swimming, biking, and running, in that order, for a fixed amount of distance.
"With the Death Race, you never know what may be in store, and sometimes it may not seem like a 'race' at all. And that’s what draws it to us. And that’s how we discover things about ourselves. And that’s why we keep coming back. But that’s also what crushes us.”