Vyto Starinskas / Staff Photo
Peter St. John carries one of 15 bales of hay with other competitors into a barn during the Death Race in Pittsfield on Sunday.
PITTSFIELD — The Spartan Death Race — a tortuous multiday ordeal challenging the mind, body and soul — is misnamed.
“I tell people, ‘This is not a death race. It’s a life race,” said Daren de Heras, of Monrovia, Calif., who is one of 400 competitors from 36 states and four countries at this year’s annual competition, which kicks off at 5 a.m. this morning at the Pittsfield Original General Store.
For de Heras, who turns 40 on Tuesday, this will be his fourth time competing in the event, which challenges participants to chop and carry wood, dig up tree stumps, as well as hike, bike, run and crawl. Of his three prior attempts, de Heras finished once, in 2011, with a time of 62.5 hours.
Last year, however, de Heras left the event early and went home in a wheelchair with broken bones in his feet after having to hike up a mountain carrying a 60-pound bag of concrete.
“That was one of my favorites,” de Heras said, with more than a trace of dry humor, all the while espousing the event as a transcendentally life-changing experience. “You are reborn each time, and it’s made me a better father, a better businessman and a better person.”
Don DeVaney, a former four-time competitor who now holds the title of “taskmaster,” echoed de Heras’ view of the event as a sort of rebirth.
“It’s an exorcism of your previous life. You are made new every time,” DeVaney said. “The biggest success is stepping over the line, not the finish line but the starting line.”
DeVaney, along with race director Andy Weinberg and others, spend an extraordinary amount of time and effort to craft challenges that keep competitors off balance. The organizers guard the secrecy of the events with efforts akin to the recipe for Coca Cola.
“The big thing we look at is, how can we make this like life, to challenge people physically, mentally and emotionally,” DeVaney said.
A past event challenged competitors to carry a tree stump to the top of a mountain, where they met a volunteer who told them the names of the first 10 presidents of the United States of America. At the bottom of the mountain, the competitors had to recite the presidents’ names in order, and if they made a mistake they had to climb the mountain again.
“Our goal is to break the athletes,” Weinberg said. “Whether it’s physically, mentally or emotionally, we want them to break down.”
The event is expected to run until Monday. Spectators can view some of the events at Amee Farm and Riverside Farm, both on Route 100 in Pittsfield. For more information, visit www.youmaydie.com.
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