I posted a recent article about Spartan Race and some of the important lessons that can be learned from an obstacle course race. I also mentioned the new book, Spartan Up! that was written by the founder of Spartan Race, Joe DeSena. I reviewed the synopsis, but also asked Joe some of the questions I had after reading it. And, of course, ESF followers can find that interview right here! Enjoy!
1. You say in your Spartan Up! synopsis that “we believe that there are things we can do and things that we can’t, and we become conditioned to that distinction”. What moments in your life prompted you to write that? Was there ever something that you became “comfortable” not being able to do? If so, what did you do to break out of that comfort zone?
My dad had a construction business I worked for when I was in my very early teens or might have even been 10-11. I was working with the men every day of the summer on a large landscaping job. This will sound like an old fable but my dad asked me to move a boulder. I worked for about 3 hours trying to move that boulder. I finally became comfortable that it was immovable.
I approached my dad and said..”It’s stuck, it won’t move, we might need to keep it where it is” He responded with. No problem let me get someone who will move it.
That changed my life that moment. I realized you can do anything..and if you don’t someone else will.
2. You co-authored Spartan Up! with Jeff O’Connell, who has previously worked with Bodybuilding.com and Men’s Health. These two spheres of fitness seem to be at odds with the total-body total-mind challenge that Spartan Race touts. How did the two of you meet and collaborate?
Agreed. I believe there are iterations of healthy thinking and messaging. I am at the far end of what is lets call the “far right of the spectrum” in that I believe in hardcore healthy eating and training at an extreme level.
The other end of the spectrum would be on the couch with cigarettes and doughnuts. Along that spectrum from left to right sits bodybuilding, random supplements, men’s health etc. What was great about Jeff was that he wrote Sugar Nation..and really “got it” when it came to understanding what we were doing here.
He took my crazy language (I go a million miles per hour) and helped me turn it into digestible bite sized messages for the reader..we really collaborated well here.
3. You mention that lack of self-control and organization are two major obstacles to our success. What do you say to someone with these problems who might make the excuse that they don’t have time to train for your race or eat properly? How do you rip those people off the couch?
Everyone has more time that they believe. All anyone needs to do is write down what they do in a day or week. They will be SHOCKED at how much time they waste or how much time they actually have. Eating healthy and training can ALWAYS be fit into everyone’s life. You don’t get to put another quarter in the machine when your life is over to start over….you better make this game last.
4. What’s your most motivational story you’ve heard associated with the Spartan Race?
Todd Love…missing and arm and two legs…happy as can be..served our country and shows up and completes most Spartan races..now tell me you don’t have time to eat healthy and train.
5. You said in your synopsis that “you don’t parent differently or rethink your work process” as a result of completing endurance races like 10K’s or Ironmans. I understand that you may not have the same problem solving challenges to face as you would during an obstacle course race, but don’t you think that mental toughness is still developed? Don’t you think that the dedication to training and perseverance throughout the race still changes your thinking process in day-to-day life?
Yes I would say that is somewhat true..but what develops mental toughness and grit and the ability to understand and then apply the benefits of delayed gratification are the moments that nearly break us. So as long as the training you are asking about and those events are getting you to “breaking” points…moments where you cannot take another step and are so far out of your comfort zone you are seeing stars..then yes they will change your day to day thinking through a frame of reference shift.
6. You include a few quotes in your book synopsis, what quote has really stuck with you and why?
“When you’re going through hell keep going”- Winston Churchill. Because it says it all. It is our current problem in first world countries…it is too easy to quit at everything. Its never as bad as we think it is, there is always someone that has it tougher, and all we have to do is put one foot in front of the other.
7. You talk a lot about your successes, overcoming a rough childhood, working on Wall Street, starting Spartan Race, and running your own organic farm. However, you mention that failures as well as successes contribute to our mental resilience. What failures have you experienced and how did you learn and bounce back from them?
Failed relationships, failed businesses, failed endurance events. We will all fail that is guaranteed. It is what you do with that failure that makes the difference and weaves our character.
You learn most importantly that failure lasts forever..and that in many cases you didn’t have to fail..by paying more attention, by having more patience, and by just moving forward no matter how hard it was failure was not the only outcome!
8. It’s difficult for many people to differentiate between pushing the limits that they have in their own minds, and pushing their body’s actual limits. How would you explain the difference to them?
The body has at least 8 more days from when your mind says you cannot take another step. I know because I have been there many times. The only obstacle that will stop you is the one in your head. The human body has swam to cuba, run across america, climbed everest, been to the moon, the human body is capable of almost anything…the human mind however needs to believe it. This is why when a record is broken in sports it is immediately followed by the record being broken over and over.