Gordon Dritschilo | July 12, 2018


Staff Writer

Kailey Sumner, left, of Boston, and other course volunteers test the ROPEFLEX RX2100 machine after assembling it Wednesday afternoon before Thursday’s Spartan Death Race at Riverside Farm in Pittsfield. (Robert Layman / Staff Photo)

PITTSFIELD — The Spartan Death Race is back.

The annual endurance event in Pittsfield returns this weekend after a two-year hiatus. Among various other surprise unpleasantries, contestants will try to set a world record for crawling under barbed wire. The event begins one minute after midnight Thursday and continues until some time Sunday afternoon.

The Spartan Death Race is composed of a series of challenges testing participants’ strength, perseverance and ingenuity, though what those challenges would be remained a secret as of Wednesday afternoon.

“They keep everything under lock and key for the most part,” organizer Jonathan Fine said. “The whole thing is about surprising competitors.”

Challenges in previous years have ranged from splitting and stacking wood to deciphering Greek while standing neck-deep in pond water. One year, contestants got tasks by spinning a wheel of fortune with results including getting knocked out of the competition.

“That was a crusher,” said race director Robin Crossman, a four-time finisher.

Another year, contestants chose between two buses to board. One delivered passengers to a nearby location where they did chores. The other went to New York City for a scavenger hunt.

“Anything can happen,” Crossman said. “You don’t really know the start. You don’t really know the finish time. … It’s not fair. It’s hard. It’s built to be that way.”

One of this year’s challenges that was being discussed ahead of time — with the press, if not with the racers — is an attempt to set a world record for distance crawled under barbed wire in a 12-hour period. Crossman said the barbed wire will be strung about 2 feet above the ground in a circle with a 0.2-mile circumference.

However many contestants make it to that stage — Crossman said 189 are signed up, but that usually between 80 and 100 start and some drop out at every stage along the way — 10 will be designated for the world-record attempt. They will crawl lap after lap under the wire, nonstop, for 12 hours with the goal of putting in at least enough laps to reach marathon distance — 26.2 miles.

Crossman said the crawling must be continuous, and how contestants meet the physical needs that will come up during those 12 hours is up to them.

“They can have their food and water alongside,” he said. “Part of the race is them figuring out how to do it.”

The barbed wire course. (Robert Layman / Staff Photo)

Crossman said the competition has to meet strict requirements to have the world record certified.


“Judges are being flown in from London,” he said. “There have to be two people watching.”

Thus far, Crossman said, death race participants have avoided actual death — or serious injury or illness.

“We have a really good medical staff,” he said. “It’s very well controlled.”

Nor does the event admit spectators, which Crossman said would be “a logistical nightmare.”

Crossman said Spartan Death Race founder Joe DeSena conceived of the event while watching triathletes coping with equipment failure.

“He wanted a race that can test that,” Crossman said. “Can you still go when things are going horribly wrong?”