East Village ‘Spartan’ will join 300 in the ‘ultimate challenge’

Brian Hennessy, here toting a heavy pack, plus a wood beam, regularly competes in and trains for grueling endurance competitions.
Brian Hennessy, here toting a heavy pack, plus a wood beam, regularly competes in and trains for grueling endurance competitions.

BY ALINA TSUI  |  Being a New Yorker means being able to handle everything that this crazy city throws at us, right? Well, for one New Yorker, that’s not enough of a challenge — not by far.

East Villager Brian Hennessy will be pushing himself to the limit in the Spartan Death Race. The three-day, challenge-driven, obstacle-course event in Pittsfield, Vermont, is a transformational, growth-enhancing experience for participants. You either finish or you don’t.

Most of us are consumed with work, family and / or school, and have little time to be physically fit. However, Joe Desena, the death race’s director, believes that we need to push ourselves more, and that it’s therapeutic to test our limits.

“We’re so soft now as a society,” he said. “We live a sedentary lifestyle. Everyone is catered to. We’re all told we’re winners and we can do it. People just kind of sleepwalk through life. With the race, we’re trying to recreate that everyday life struggle.”

Unlike other athletic events, this multi-day event has no set start and finish times, and participants won’t know what to expect until race day. Although there are checkpoints along the way to ensure participants’ safety, organizers provided no support. The 10 percent completion rate is a testament to the physical and psychological barriers faced by the participants.

Hennessy, who works in TV production, is set to accept this challenge. He’s one of the 300 elite athletes accepted to participate.

Tired of living a sedentary lifestyle and feeling physically drained, Hennessy was working 18-hour days. Nine years ago, he broke out of this routine and started running on city streets just to get active. He has since participated in other obstacle-course races, triathlons, and road and trail events. Just this year he ran the New York Road Runners’ Gridiron Classic 4-Miler and the Brooklyn Half-Marathon, plus, in Vermont, the Peak Races 50 Mile Ultra Marathon.

In addition to working out in gyms during the week, Hennessy runs and hikes in the mountains in Vermont and New York with a 50-pound weighted backpack on the weekends.

The 37-year-old endurance athlete sees the upcoming event as “the ultimate challenge.”

“It is the culmination of everything that I have learned and experienced in life,” he said.

He has already completed Death Race Training Camp, also in Vermont, a 28-hour precursor to the main event. The theme of this year’s race is “Exploration.”

The Death Race has attracted a diverse group of “Spartans,” ranging from veterinarians and realtors to professional athletes. Among them is Joe Decker, a two-time winner of the Spartan Death Race who holds the title of “World’s Fittest Man.”

In last year’s race, women were 40 percent of the participants.

Possible challenges that participants may face include “chopping wood for two hours; completing a 30-mile hike with rocks and weighted packs; building a fire from scratch or after 24 hours of racing; memorizing the names of the first 10 U.S. presidents or a Bible verse, then hiking to the top of a mountain and reciting them back in order.”

Completing the taxing contest is its own reward. There are no cash awards, though, finishers will receive a plastic human skull.

Pushing oneself to his or her physical and mental limits isn’t just about getting an endorphin rush. It also means not taking anything for granted, and it can help bring meaning to one’s life. These values of hard work, self-motivation and fitness have resulted in a global surge of obstacle-driven events, and even a “Jr. Spartans” obstacle course for youngsters.