Issue 12 – Not your average Joe
Following an impressive start to this year’s uk spartan season at the allianz park arena in london, bestfit caught up with race founder and ceo joe de sena about his plans for the future of spartan in the uk, what to expect next season and training advice
Joe, tell those who may not know your story a bit about yourself… I grew up in a place called Queens New York, did a bunch of construction work and pool cleaning as a youngster and made my way to Wall Street in my mid-20s. I stumbled upon adventure racing and did races all over the world as a way to escape the reality of working in finance, and fell in love with it. My mother was a yoga teacher who’s really into health, meditation and spirituality, so between the adventure races and her background, I got really exited about getting people fit, getting them off the couch and showing them how to eat right. In 2010, I launched Spartan Race.
What was it that first introduced you to endurance racing? The elevator was broken in my building and I had to take the stairs, and I met someone in the stairwell carrying dumbbells going up and down. It intrigued me, so I met him the next day and then lived in that stairwell for many years! The first race I did was an adventure race; an hour kayaking, an hour running and an hour biking.
As a long-term endurance racer yourself, what’s your next challenge? My next challenge is this morning, I’ve got to go out and run 30 miles. We put on races all over the place and I left some flagging in the woods, so I’ve got to go and take it all down today.
Is it true you do 300 burpees every morning? That’s true. To keep fit, I don’t do that much. I do my burpees, I do some other flexibility and mobility exercises and I try and go out for a run once a week for at least 10, 15, 20 miles. I have young children right now, but if I get the opportunity, I’ll try and do something for 6-8 hours.
“I hope we can reverse the obesity rates in the world… so if spartan can reduce that, we’ve won.”
What do you think sets Spartan apart from other races? Spartan is really the only obstacle race there is that takes it [obstacle course racing] and views it as a sport, views it as something that we can get into the Olympics. I think the other races kind of lower the bar and pitch more of a party atmosphere, which I think makes it easier for participants to consider themselves able to do it, so it’s easier to get customers. But at the end of the day we want to remain authentic, we don’t want Leonidas [a Greek warrior king of the Greek city-state of Sparta] to turn over in his grave if we softened up Spartan and didn’t make it competitive.
Spartan Race is the race for ‘everyone’, developed from the Death Race to a more mainstream audience. What’s next, something in-between perhaps? Well I’m working on something that’s top secret, I can’t tell you. Spartan Race is more military inspired, more athletic, more sporty. And I think that’s important as it gets people to push their limits when they’re competitive and I think when they can practice obstacles in their backyard it becomes more legitimate as a sport. But I think there’s a lot more that we can do at Spartan… and that’s coming. You’ll be excited next year.
What are your aspirations for the future of Spartan? I hope we can reverse the obesity rates in the world. I mean we’ve got growing obesity rates, growing consumption of junk and processed food, and more sedentary people. So if Spartan can reduce that, we’ve won.
What’s the dream location for a Spartan race? The moon. I’m working with Richard Branson and Elon Musk on that one.
Are there plans for an Ultra Beast in the UK? There are plans, but those concessions are being held in storage below ground in a secret room, so I can’t tell you any details yet.
“If you can’t complete a spartan race, then you may as well pack it in for life. i think we’ve become way too sedentary and too timid, and the only way to live is to get out of your comfort zone and reach goals that seem impossible.”
We’ve just had the first stadium race in the UK, are there plans for more? There are, I think people enjoyed it. We’re working with a team now to look at 2016 venues, and I think stadiums are going to be part of that. I think you’ll be excited.
What’s the best training advice you’d give for beginners up to experienced Spartans chasing that Trifecta? 30 burpees a day followed by 30 pull ups, even if they are jump ups or the best-you-can-do pull ups, and a one-mile brisk walk. If you can do that at a minimum, you’ll be fine. For advanced training, carry heavy things. If you can get yourself to the track also, one of the best ways to get faster is to run 400 meters as fast as you can, or somewhere around that distance. Finish it with 30 burpees, take a 90-second break and repeat it until you feel dead. Do this once a week.
What do you say to people who don’t think they are capable? If you can’t complete a Spartan race, then you may as well pack it in for life. It sounds grueling, it looks tough but really it’s just an obstacle along the way of your life, and if you’re not going to step out of your comfort zone and get that done, what else aren’t you going to do. I think we’ve become way too sedentary and too timid, and the only way to live is to get out of your comfort zone and reach goals that seem impossible.
How do you see OCR as a sport growing and developing? I think it really depends on people at Spartan to really do that, I mean you’ve got to have consistency, rules, regulations, penalties, governing bodies, and that all costs a lot of money. To make it a true sport, you’ve got to have all of that structure, and we’re working on it every day. In addition, you’ve got to have the athletes and you’ve got to have the rivalries. We have television already, but you’ve got to have the right sponsors. So it’s just a matter of putting our heads down and doing phone calls and emails and staying on track every day, and that’s what we’re doing.
Who are your ‘ones to watch’ for the Spartan World Championships? Well obviously you’ve got Jon Albon (current Men’s Spartan World Champion from Great Dunmow in Essex), but I think there are a couple of amazing athletes out there that might surprise us. They’re training like crazy in the US, I know they’re going crazy in Australia and Spain also. Every year catches us off guard as there are all these athletes coming out from other traditional sports, making their way over and they just come out of nowhere, so I think it will be interesting to watch.