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The REAL History of the Spartan Death Race & Spartan Races

Posted Dec 10 2012 6:00am
Over the last few years I've read a lot online about how the Spartan Races was founded. It seems to me that every single time I read something new in the media about the events, the history behind it changes. Why? Because it is.. the folks behind the Spartan Races continue to weave a web of fabricated and re-fabricated truths in order to sell their event. I've never, personally, understood this method of marketing one's business. I much prefer my friend Nathan Sanel's method. Nate owns a successful motorcycle shop in the Concord, NH area where a huge sign hangs on the well inside. The sign says, "Always Tell The Truth." It seems easy enough. His theory is that if you always tell the truth, customers will continue to come back time after time because they trust you. This is especially the case in the sales industry.

But in the obstacle racing industry, it is unclear what the Spartan Race organizers are trying to sell. They don't need to work hard to sell their race. After all, it's the toughest and #1 obstacle race series in the world. I've come to the conclusion that it's bull shit that they're selling, and I can't figure out why. What's so hard about telling the truth in regards to how the race was founded?


Recently on Wikipedia, I read the following: "Spartan Race was founded in 2004 by Joe Desena, Mike Morris, Andy Weinberg, Selicia Sevigny, Richard Lee, Brian Duncanson, Shaun Bain, and Noel Hanna. Each has an extensive background in athletics, racing, and service. The Spartan Death Race originated in 2005 as a seed for future Spartan Races.
The first Spartan Race event was held in 2010 at the Catamount Outdoor Center in Williston, Vermont and represented the city of Burlington, Vermont. Roughly 500 competitors had to "run, crawl, jump and swim" and overcome a variety of obstacles at the first ever Spartan Race. [3]  All finishers received a medal and prizes were awarded to the top athletes- a precedent that lives on today. Currently, Spartan Race attract thousands of athletes to each event."
Much of the top paragraph simply isn't true and you need to start with the Spartan Death Race "seed" before you can discuss the history of the Spartan Series itself. For instance, none of the others associated with the Spartan Races ever met Richard Lee until 2009.. so how could he help organize the Spartan Race idea in 2004? And why do they say that the Spartan Death Race originated in 2005, when the first actual event was in 2007?

Actual Death Race History
In fact.. the real history of these events is a little more like this. In the winter of 2006-2007, I was browsing the internet when I cam across an article on an event in England known as The Tough Guy Competition. In fact, that ESPN article even titled itself Death Race 2007. In that article there's a picture of a sign that says "Remember You Have Signed Death Warrant." Sound familiar? You can take a look at the article here:  http://sports.espn.go.com/espn/eticket/story?page=toughguy2007

Just as I have done above, I copied and pasted the link to that article and sent it via e-mail to Joe Desena and Andy Weinberg. In that e-mail I told Joe and Andy, "Guys.. this looks amazing! I think America needs one of these and there's no better place to host it than in Pittsfield. What do you guys think? We should host a Death Race of our own!" E-mails went back and forth.. the long and short of them were that Joe loved the idea and was willing to finance it. He asked me to direct it.. but I didn't have the time and I lived 300 miles away. So, Andy Weinberg stepped up to the plate as the director seeing as he directed various other endurance events for Joe all ready. THAT.. is the truth, as I know it, in how the Pittsfield Death Race came about. The very first of which was actually held on June 9, 2007 and is a 100% rip-off of the Tough Guy Competition in England.

Actual Spartan Race History
In 2009, I entered my name in to that years Death Race and it was the first time I wasn't part of the planning committee for the event. Mainly because Andy and Joe didn't want me to know any of the tasks ahead of time.. I was to be a part of the level playing field with everyone else. A week before the event took place was the annual Pittsfield Peaks 50 Mile Run. While Joe Desena was carrying jugs of water up to The Bloodroot Gap aid Station, he encountered a hiker who was walking The Appalachian Trail. Obviously, when the AT hiker saw a man carrying two 5 gallon jugs of water up a ridiculous incline, he had to ask questions. This hikers name was Richard Lee. 

On their hike down off of the AT and to Joe's truck, Joe offered Richard a ride into Pittsfield and of course told him all about the upcoming death race. I imagine it was something like, "You thought carrying these jugs was brutal... you should hear what we have souped up next weekend..." Richard actually decided to get off of the AT and spend the next few weeks in Pittsfield. As a former British Special Forces Officer, the Death Race sounded right up his alley!

Richard Lee would go on to win the 2009 Death Race. It was after that event, specifically, that Richard spent a bit more time in Pittsfield before finishing the AT.. and then returning to Pittsfield to work on.. you guessed it.. The Spartan Races. Richard fell so in love with the event, being that most of it mimicked special forces training; that he came up with the idea of a Spartan Race series. Joe Desena, and a host of other financial gurus that he worked with behind his Yoga Studio in Pittsfield, jumped in as financiers.. and the Spartan Races were born. They did indeed hold their first event in Burlington in 2010, with 500 participants. The only truth that seems to be out there.

Why the hell does any of this matter?

Because... everyone in this country is continually being fed the bull shit. You hear that Spartan Races makes $50 Million A Year.. (it doesn't). You keep hearing that Joe is the founder (sorta). And you're fed wrong dates and fabricated renditions of how it all began. In fact.. if you ask the "9 founders of Spartan Races" listed on wikipedia how the series was started... you'll hear 9 different renditions. It's one of those.. "If you lie long enough, the lie becomes the truth."

My hat is off to Richard Lee for all he endures in directing the Spartan Series. The truth is.. it's his baby and his work ahead of the rest of his team. Me personally... I'm just tired of not being included in the discussion of how it was all founded. I'm not looking to be rich.. hell.. I don't want any of the money. Seriously. What I want.. is the truth. I want my name placed in the history where it is rightfully deserved. Sure, I'll come across as the bitter dude who wants fame and fortune.. I'll take it. But.. at least deep down I know that It all started here... but in an upcoming edition of 60 Minutes.. you'll all hear something different.. again.


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