Excerpt: By Joe DeSena with Jeff O’ConnellPosted: March 10, 2014
SPARTAN UP! You’ll Know at the Finish Line
An entrepreneur from 8 years old Joe has had a passion for life that moves the ball forward against all odds. Born in Queens NY to a yoga teaching, meditation practicing mother and an Italian father that was an uber-entrepreneur the author learned simple techniques for forging ahead no matter the odds. Find out how a young kid breaks out, builds multiple businesses, changes lives, and eventually partners with military SpecOps.
Spartan Up! is more than an insider’s view of the world of obstacle racing
It’s a manual for the Spartan way of life, including:
- Finding the will to succeed: The first half of a race you run with your legs; the second half you run with your mind. Turn your pain into an outboard motor to drive you forward.
- Tossing your cookies: The Cookie Test can teach you how to overcome the need for immediate gratification and help you prosper in the long term.
- Getting Spartan fit: Survival of the Fittest means training outside the gym for strength, endurance and flexibility for your entire body—and don’t forget those burpees!
- Moving mountains: Whether metaphorical mountains or the ones on which Spartans race, what you think of as your limitations can actually be a mere starting point for transformation.
The day the U.S. Olympic wrestling team touched down at the airport after a five-hour flight, I made sure that they were confronted with the unexpected. They were not told why they were coming to see me, and they didn’t know what they would be experiencing upon arrival. Their coach had arranged the trip, but some of the best wrestlers in the world were in the dark about the venture and what kind of training they would encounter. I wanted to give them a proper introduction to the Spartan lifestyle. I made certain that when they arrived, no one was there to greet them. Their destination, an organic farm in the mountains of Vermont, was a 10-mile uphill hike away. Dumbfounded, these wrestlers stood holding suitcases, dressed for a business meeting rather than a mountain hike. Without a vehicle, they had to walk the entire distance carrying their gear. I had made sure they had no alternative. So off they trudged to train for the weekend under my tutelage.I know nothing about wrestling, but my team and I are experts at turning someone’s world upside down. To the team members, this seemed like madness. Yet, there was a method at work. I needed to see how these men would react when their mettle was tested in such crazy fashion. The answer would determine if they were indeed Olympic quality athletes. After all, there is only one gold medal.
I had met the wrestling team’s coach, Noel Thompson, months earlier at an obstacle race I organized. The course required a stretch of kayaking, and at one point, you had to drag the kayak 20 yards through waist-deep mud. All the other teams made it through, but Noel got stuck. Not in the mud, mind you; his mind vapor-locked, preventing him from wading in with his kayak like the other racers had. I instinctively grabbed him and his kayak and pulled them both through the mud. On the other side, I was able to push them downriver.
Later, after the race, the wrestling coach approached me. “Can I talk to you?” “Sure,” I said. “What’s up?”?He said, “How did you learn to do that?” “What do you mean?” I asked. “You just get in the mud and go.” I hadn’t thought twice. That’s how I always tackle life. Because I’ve been through so much already, I push through when others would stop, even this coach who trained world-class athletes. How could he freeze in the mud? In my mind, you just commit to something and then get it done, no matter what. He had let self-doubt creep in—the number-one mistake people make.
You won’t get stuck in mud during a wrestling match, at least not during Olympic wrestling, but you might get stuck in a crazy hold or some other predicament. Wrestling is among the most fluid of sports. A match has a beginning and ending, but how it will unfold during those five minutes is anybody’s guess. There’s no telling how much energy you’ll need to expend, no telling what you’ll encounter. Wrestling isn’t linear like a marathon. Your opponent may be wholly unpredictable, continuously trying to place you in unexpected holds from which you can’t escape.
So Noel sent his wrestlers to me because he knew that I could teach them how to prepare for the unexpected. I could show these elite athletes that if they endured enough off the mat, they could crush any challenge on the mat. I wasn’t preparing them to win, because they wouldn’t know what that required until their match got underway. I was preparing them for the unknown.
- THE SPARTAN CHALLENGE? My name is Joe DeSena. I’m the founder of Spartan Race, a global lifestyle company whose life-changing outdoor adventures have taken the endurance world by storm. You may not know what the Spartan Race is, but a million hardcore fanatics define their world around the rules that we have created for them, and many more participate. I’m these people’s biggest supporter and their worst nightmare—both at the same time.
My partners and I have staged races in front of tens of thousands of people in far away places like Slovakia and cool stadiums, including Citi Field and Fenway Park, in the shadow of the Green Monster. Three hundred thousand people a day follow daily workouts that we post on spartanrace.com and blast out across our social media platforms. We put a free e-book on our site, and to date it’s been downloaded more than half a million times. After mixed martial arts, obstacle racing is the world’s fastest-growing sport. Only people don’t watch these races; they participate in them.Obstacle races present unique pitfalls designed to exploit your weaknesses and leave you face down in the mud. The stump jump ambushes your balance, monkey bars target your grip, and hill climbs set traps for your stamina. This requires total athleticism, absolute discipline and mental toughness. You’ll encounter things you can’t control or understand or perhaps even imagine, so you need to be at your best. Like the original Spartans, I built my philosophy on a blend of hardcore modern science and obscure philosophical teachings, all given my own unique spin. To me it all boils down to one thing: to reach full potential, you need to UNLEARN every important thing modern society has taught you.
- Spartan Race developed out of a series of events my friends and I called Death Races, long-distance events that made marathons look like child’s play. The race waiver read, “You might die,” and on more than one occasion, we nearly did. Death races gauged our strengths, our weaknesses and our commitment to finish what we started. I didn’t know it but these extreme adventures had historical precedent in the Spartan warriors of ancient Greece. They might train for 30 years before entering battle. They developed a concept that would take science another 2,500-plus years to prove—that success is a byproduct of delayed gratification. This was confirmed scientifically in 1972 when Walter Mischel, then a Stanford researcher, gave child subjects their preferred treat—a marshmallow, cookie, or pretzel—as well as a choice: They could eat the treat right away or wait 15 minutes, at which point they could receive two. The researchers found that those kids who were willing to postpone gratification became more successful adults than those kids who couldn’t wait.
- Unfortunately, instant gratification guides so much of modern-day life. The individual lacking self-control wants things from others now, but they themselves couldn’t be bothered to put in the work and get shit done. So they shortchange themselves and our society time and time again with disastrous long-term results. Having thankfully developed a Spartan will myself, as a way of transcending a pretty crappy childhood, I wondered how I could pass along this transcendent feeling to colleagues, my friends, my kids and others. I didn’t want to lecture them; I wanted to inspire them. The idea I hit upon was to organize races for them, initially as a way to evaluate prospective employees for my business. I was working a high- powered job on Wall Street back then. On the surface, everyone who came to see me seemed Type A, but when things got tough, I needed to know: Who would survive? Who would drop out? These races would weed out the exceptional from the merely good, the average or the poor. The first official Spartan Race took place in 2005. A phenomenon was born.
This book will be available May 17, 2014.