By Posted in - Epic Alex on May 29th, 2013 0 Comments

This is a great article in the Wall Street Journal concerning Spartan Race

There are occasions, though admittedly rare, when I pine for the Times Square of old, when it was the preserve of pimps and prostitutes and X-rated movie houses. This typically happens when I’m trapped in a stagnant mob of tourists who are rubbernecking at some stunt or spectacle, usually having to do with TV cameras, screaming teens and product tie-ins.

So it seemed business as usual Thursday afternoon when I spotted an obstacle course set up under a large tent in the middle of Times Square. It was promoting the Spartan Sprint, an event said to make your average marathon seem like a stroll in the park. It’s coming to Citi Field in April.

Shane Ford/The Wall Street JournalA member of X.T.R.E.M.E., a team of military veterans, takes part in the obstacle course event in Times Square last Thursday. I can appreciate that there are people who like to test themselves, to push themselves to the limit, to see what they’re really made of. This seems like an excellent idea, especially if you’re part of an organization such as Seal Team 6, and want to prepare yourself in case you get caught by terrorists and subjected to torture.

But I fail to see the necessity if you’re an average Midtown office worker whose greatest risks typically involve making the PATH train. Seeing as life has a talent for reminding us of our mortality daily, isn’t it simple common sense to avoid unnecessary risk?

I’m apparently in the minority, judging by the excitement the Spartan obstacle course was generating on that chilly afternoon. Among the challenges were wall climbing, shimmying up a rope, hauling buckets of rocks, crawling under barbed wire and being pummeled by paid gladiators while you ran a gauntlet of giant batons.

“It goes with the whole Spartan race concept,” explained Dustin Dorough. Dressed in a red cape tossed over his bare and bulging chest.

Mr. Dorough was serving as master of ceremonies and shouting into a microphone, challenging passersby to test their mettle.

“The barbed-wire crawl is 330 feet minimum,” he told me, referring to the excitement that awaits the Citi Field participants come April. “There will be at least four gladiators showing far less mercy than you see here. You’ll see fire pits that you have to jump over. Even mental and educational obstacles. We test your brain as well as your brawn.”

Peter Foley for The Wall Street JournalTodd Love, member of the military veterans group team X.T.R.E.M.E. and triple amputee takes part in Times Square’s first ever Extreme Obstacle race in New York, on Thursday, January 17th, 2013. Peter Foley for the Wall Street Journal Published Credit: Peter Foley for The Wall Street Journal

He didn’t enumerate what such mental and educational obstacles might entail. And while I didn’t say so, because Mr. Dorough seemed like a decent guy—he said that while he specializes in the martial arts and has appeared as a werewolf in “The Vampire Diaries” and as a zombie in “The Walking Dead,” his main passion is “Hospital Heroes,” a charity he created where he delivers presents to children at hospitals in the U.S. and Canada dressed as Superman (he showed me a picture of himself in Superman garb that looks pretty convincing)—it seemed obvious to me that the best proof that you aced the mental and educational parts of the Spartan Sprint is deciding not to sign up for it in the first place.

When I noticed that Mr. Dorough’s pronounced biceps and abs weren’t keeping him warm, I doubled down on my belief that running around the Central Park reservoir a couple of times a week, walking to appointments whenever possible and taking an occasional ski vacation is all the exercise one needs.

“I’m freezing,” he confessed.

He also had the sniffles. “It’s allergies,” he claimed. “I’m really lucky. I never get sick. This is teaching my immune system a lesson now. If I’m not sick after this, I’ll be impressed.”

I was introduced to another of the Spartan Sprint’s social ambassadors, Dana Linn Bailey—at least that’s the name by which her public knows her. “I have a really huge following,” she told me without noticeable ego. She meant on Facebook FB +0.30% : “Over 103,000, and another 5,000 friends.”

I could understand why. A gentleman standing beside me thought Ms. Bailey might have been wearing a padded suit for the occasion, so remarkable was her physique. She said she has a clothing company called “Flag nor Fail.”

“People think it’s a fitness line,” she said. “It’s actually a lifestyle line.”

Ms. Bailey went on to explain that at the IFBB—that’s the International Federation of BodyBuilding and Fitness—championships she competes in the two-year-old pro “Physique” category.

“I was the first female physique winner,” she reported proudly.

I frankly didn’t understand Ms. Bailey’s contribution to the Spartan Sprint promotion, besides looking supremely healthy, though also shivering. But as I said, I got there late. Maybe she was one of those battering passersby with rams, or was simply serving as a role model and life coach. “I haven’t competed in a race yet,” she confided, referring to the Spartan Sprints, which are held in 60 cities around the globe.

The event’s masterminds and co-founders, Joe De Sena and Andy Weinberg, had long since retired to the warmth of the Heartland Brewery around the corner. They apparently met and bonded when they were the only two finishers in an extreme endurance race.

Mr. De Sena said he and Mr. Weinberg discovered that they like to surround themselves with inspiring people—then again, who doesn’t, though I had a hunch that their definition of inspiring is different than mine—and thought, “What if we created an event that weeded out the soft people?”

As I was saying.

“What if we create an Ironman where we take everybody’s bike seat off their bike?” he continued. “So we joked about ideas like that. Ultimately, we came up with the Spartan concept. We called it the ‘Death Race.’ The website was”

Frankly, none of this background information made me more eager to sign up for the Citi Field event—even though at three miles, the Spartan Sprint sounds like pretty weak stuff compared to other races in their portfolio, including the eight-mile Super Spartan, the 13-mile Spartan Beast and the 24-hour Death Race.

The gentlemen stated that their ambition is to see Spartan Sprint become an Olympic event. If you’ve seen the Olympics lately, with golf and kitesurfing shortly to join the list, that doesn’t seem like such a stretch.

“It’s better than curling,” Yan Martin noted dryly. He’s the head of global brand marketing for Reebok, which is a Spartan Sprint partner for the Citi Field event.

Mr. De Sena accurately sized me up as a weakling and tried to put the rewards of Spartan Sprint participation in terms I could understand. He explained that “whereas you might get frustrated when the waitress at the counter gives you the wrong coffee,” after a recent trek he was so inured to adversity that he spent a couple of hours outdoors without even noticing it was pouring. “I’d been in the rain for 8½ days freezing,” he boasted. “I was so happy to be back in civilization, in a home with water and food.”

I long ago came to the same conclusion, and without having to negotiate an obstacle course.

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