WEST PARIS — Google the phrase “you may die” and you find a link to the Spartan Race Blog.

Sign up for a Spartan Race, and you sign a release that includes the phrase, “I may die.”

Thousands enter and finish marathon races, tough mudders, ironman races and even ultramarathons, but only the few, the brave and the hardy dare sign up for the Spartan Death Race. Among those few is Hartford native Shannon Francis. Shannon, his wife and five children reside in West Paris.

“I was always addicted to physical activities, and in the Marines I learned how much I enjoyed running and physical stuff,” Francis said.

After leaving the service, he eased up on training until he had children. He said he knew he had to do something to keep up with them so he started weight training and running.

“I always loved a challenge,” Francis said. “When friends said I couldn’t make it in the Marines, I showed them.”

He started running marathons and Sunday races about five years ago. He soon realized he had a lot further to go before he reached his peak.

He and a friend started training by running and power hiking up White Cap Mountain in Rumford as fast as they could go. The goal was to beat their last time.

“The more you put your heart and mind into anything, the better your records will be,” Francis said.

When Francis started doing obstacle races, he found that each one gave him more confidence.

Then he heard of the Spartan Death Race.

According to founder Joe DeSean, “The (Spartan) Death Race is the ultimate challenge, designed to present you with the unexpected and the completely insane! Nothing else on Earth will challenge you like the (Spartan) Death Race, both mentally and physically.”

The thought of overcoming both mental and physical challenges is what hooked Francis on Spartan Death Races.

Francis and friend, Leo Borak, train together. Borak said he grew up playing sports, but that got boring and he looked for something more challenging, “something that really pushes you.” He has participated in three races and says his goal is to just finish one.

Of 50 or so entrants, only 15 are likely to complete the race.

Typical training sessions consist of a three-hour gym workout followed by a 30-mile mountain hike with 45 pounds of rocks added to all of the gear in their packs.

Francis said he frequently gets up at 4 a.m. to work out in the gym so he can be home in time to have breakfast with his family. He hikes at night after they are in bed.

When asked why he does the Spartan races and all of the hard training, he said, “To prove to myself I have what it takes, and to show others you don’t have to be an Olympian to accomplish hard tasks.”

Francis said the hardest part of the race is the uncertainty. A race can last anywhere from one to three days.

“You don’t know when it will begin or when it will end,” he said. “All through the race, the organizers are trying to get you to quit.”

The event starts with tasks in which all of the entrants cooperate to achieve some goal, then at some point it is announced that the race has started and an individual task is assigned, such as racing up a mountain carrying a heavy log. One task after another is assigned until at some point they announce the race ended.

Historically, less than a third of those who start are still standing when the end is called.

Francis encourages those who want a real challenge to check out the website and sign up for the next race.

There are millions of running races, thousands of marathons, hundreds of triathlons and dozens of ultramarathons, but there is only one Spartan Death Race.

Held annually since 2005 in the small town of Pittsfield, Vt., this year’s race is scheduled to begin June 27 with 300 elite endurance athletes given the chance to test their mental and physical prowess like no other event on earth.

Last year, just 10 percent of the registered participants were still standing when the event ended after nearly 70 hours.

This year’s theme is “The Explorer.” According to race organizers, competitors can read the exploits of Sir Edmund Hilary, Sir Ernest Henry Shackleton and Meriwether Lewis and William Clark to prepare for their journey.

Past themes have included gambling, religion and money.

Competitors are also provided a gear list of more than a dozen items weighing in excess of 50 pounds in advance of the race.

The obstacle and challenge-driven race requires competitors to complete numerous grueling mental and physical challenges throughout a 40-mile course that runs through the Vermont woods.

Competitors may be asked to chop wood for two hours, complete a 30-mile hike with rocks and weighted packs, build a fire from scratch, cut a bushel of onions, or after 24 hours of racing, memorize the names of the first 10 U.S. presidents or a Bible verse. They may also be asked to hike to the top of a mountain and recite them back in order — miss a word and you go back down the mountain and do it again and again and again.

Unlike other endurance races that offer a detailed map, Spartan Death Racers have no idea what to expect next because the course map and list of challenges are kept secret.

This provides competitors with one of their biggest challenges because the length of the race can range from 48 to 72 hours. For an endurance athlete, not knowing where the light is at the end of the tunnel can be sheer torture.


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