The Spartan Death Race, the world's toughest race with iterations in both the summer and winter each year, has seen just 10 percent of its racers complete its absolutely brutal itinerary in the past 10 years. This year, 52 ambitious people signed up for the Spartan Summer Death Race. The theme was "No Quarter," meaning no mercy. Only 33 brave souls showed up. And over the course of 70 soul-crushing hours, all but three of them were eliminated. Here's how it all went down.
Some Notable Items From This Year's Summer Packing List
- A power tool (any kind, but choose wisely)
- 13 ounces of fish scales
- A turkey egg
- Safety goggles
- An axe
- A personal flotation device
- A roll of quarters
The Pre-Race Commitment Challenges
All Death Racers were required to complete two challenges in the weeks leading up to the race, to prove their absolute commitment to the cause.
1. Death Racers were tasked with performing a magic trick — make a quarter disappear — and posting it on social media.
2. All participants were to have their commitment to the Death Race published in a newspaper or blog article, authored by someone other than themselves.
Proof of completion for these race prerequisites was due to Race Director Andi Hardy by the third week of June, for her review and approval. Within days the racers arrived at Riverside Farm, and the real fun began at 7:30 a.m. on Thursday, June 30.
The Spartan Summer Death Race Challenges
Pencil Rolls and Hauling HEAVY Shit
Racers who had their pre-race challenges approved by Hardy were sectored into one group, which was sent hiking up a mountain to perform their magic trick at the summit. That was followed by concrete hauling. Those who couldn't hack the original challenges were required to pencil roll down extremely long grass paths. And when they finished, they did some hauling of their own, heaving old equipment of all sorts to a dumpster.
The racers then regrouped to perform sandbag-centered physical training, including holding 65-pound sandbags overhead for extended periods of time. If one person dropped their bag, the entire class of racers had to start over.
Time Hack #1
As the racers barreled through the first few challenges, the Death Race staff knew what was coming — and that it wouldn't be pretty. The next challenge would prove so rugged and remote that racers would understand firsthand where the name "Death Race" was derived from. There would be no emergency medical access, and no cell phone or radio service. The race's first Time Hack served as a safety measure to whittle out those who might not make it through what was to follow.
The Time Hack was simple: Get to the top of Shrek's Mountaintop and back down (about 2 miles in total) in an hour and a half. Sounds simple, if you think about how fast you can run 2 miles. But with the intense incline and technical terrain, a typical time for this challenge is a 45-minute ascent and a 15-minute descent. Surprisingly, only 10 of the 33 starting racers returned in time.
The Bloodroot Challenge
Vermont's Bloodroot Trail, nestled in Green Mountain National Forest, is the original Spartan Trail. Incessant mosquitoes swarmed and nipped at the 10 brave, exhausted, and hopeful racers who dove into the depths of nearly 25 miles of treacherous, dense, wooded trails to ascend and descend twice. Throughout their extended hours out of help's reach, the racers had to submerge in frigid water and form a human dam with their bodies. They then had to assemble a fire from scratch — on which to cook their turkey egg — and build an axe from natural materials.
In the middle of the night and in the pitch-black wilderness, the whirring of power saws cut through the deafeningly-silent air. Only eight racers returned.
"The Bloodroot eight are bonded for life," Death Race staffer Matthew Waller said. "They went through stuff together that they will never be able to share with anyone else."
The Bucket Brigade
This challenge was no ordinary Spartan Bucket Brigade: The eight remaining contenders had to "elephant walk" on top of overturned buckets, memorize anything from a song to the steps for creating an origami frog, walk back, and either recite, perform, or recreate what they had memorized.
Racers were offered a choice between three sets of buckets — from cheap and poor quality to pricier and rock solid — that they then had to "buy" using their roll of quarters. (The caveat was that the racers had no idea whether they'd need the quarters for future challenges, so splurging on the "Ferrari" buckets was a gamble.)
Chopping, Hauling, and the Wheel of Death
Then, the racers retrieved pre-marked pieces of wood from the top of the mountain, hauled them into the field, and used whatever tools they had available — axes, saws, and even power drills — to break the logs into smaller pieces. Periodically, pairs of racers would be pitted against each other in a game of "Wheel of Death," where the winner victoriously returned to chopping and the loser was sentenced to pencil rolls ... through fish scales.
Mt. Sparta Laps (Time Hack #2)
Mt. Sparta is a 24-hour ultra running event where competitors complete the 2-mile loop from Riverside Farm up to Shrek's Cabin, and back down, on repeat in an attempt to break a course record within the allotted time. On Saturday, remaining Death Race participants joined Mt. Sparta competitors for several loops.
Weighed down by a different burden with each lap — a sandbag, rock-filled buckets, and water-filled buckets that were drilled with holes (which they had to figure out how to plug) — the racers checked in with staff at the conclusion of each lap, noting their timing on a bulletin board.
After several laps, race staff placed an envelope that read "Death Racer Mail" on the board. Inside, it disclosed that the last racer to complete their sixth lap would be eliminated. While many racers failed to notice the mail, the racer in last place read it first. Despite making an immense comeback in an attempt to finish lap six ahead of just one of the other racers, she was eliminated.
License Plate Math Equations
As the remaining hours began to dwindle, Waller snapped photos of each of the standing racer's license plates and devised math problems and puzzles from those numbers. For example, racers would add the last four digits of each plate, divide by 600, round up to the nearest number, and provide their answer in the correct number of burpees.
Egg Yolk Burpees
At the start of the final challenge of the 2022 Summer Death Race, 12 eggs were placed on a counter. Racers were instructed to gather eggs — they were not told a specific number — and then put one yolk in their mouth. Then, with the yolks in their mouths, they had to perform 25 burpees, run over to the pond — where they had to search for a hidden skull — and then run back. Once they returned, they had to remove the unbroken egg yolks from their mouths and show it to the staff, for approval.
At 5:30 a.m. on Sunday, only three of the original 33 racers who started the Death Race finished every one of the race's grueling, punishing challenges to completion and satisfaction: Toni Kathmiller from Austria, Nathan Rudge from Ohio, and Scott Telford from Illinois.
Kathmiller had previously competed in several Hurricane Heats in Austria, priming him for the Death Race's unique and excessive physical and mental demands. Rudge lasted just hours at the 2021 Death Race, having packed nearly 70 pounds of unnecessary gear. This year, he returned with just 33 pounds of must-have equipment (and a vengeance). And Telford, a college student, proudly accepted his skull on Sunday morning, rushed back to the barn to connect to WiFi without a moment of sleep, and powered through a final exam.
Why Should You Compete in the Death Race?
Every person who signs up for the Death Race does so for a different reason. Some come to claim the bragging rights that accompany the coveted skull. Some come to work through inner demons and find out who they really are, and others show up simply to build unbreakable bonds. The key to completing the seemingly-impossible race? Keeping a positive attitude.
"It is 80% mental, all day long," Waller said. "If you cannot keep a positive attitude 36 hours into it — when you're sleep deprived, the demons start talking to you, and you're alone on the mountain — you're done. But if you can find fun and keep moving forward, that's it."
And if you can, your life will be changed forever.
"When you start winding someone down, all those layers of B.S. and facades of everyday society just wash away, and there's a real person underneath," Waller said. "You come here for personal issues and to work those out, and then you start realizing that you're not alone on that journey.
"This event is real therapy for you. Years later, you don't come back for the demons in your head anymore. You may come back for your endurance family and for the people on that same journey as you, but you never come back the same."