June 30, 2011 -- Imagine spending a weekend carrying a tree stump up a mountain, crawling through a drainage pipe filled with muck and hiking miles through a frigid river in the middle of the night as fast as you can.
Sounds insane but for an extreme athlete, it can be the challenge of a lifetime.
This was the Spartan Death Race last weekend in Pittsfield, Vt. About 150 racers on a mission in what might be the most demanding -- not to mention diabolical -- race on the planet. Participants pay up to $400 for three days that will exploit their weakness just for the prize of ultimate bragging rights, and perhaps a T-shirt.
The race was founded six years ago by Joe DeSena and Andy Weinberg, tremendous athletes in their own right.
"Love seeing people break," DeSena said.
Racers have no idea what is in store for them when they arrive. They don't know what tasks they will face, how many of them are there or even when the race has ended.
Death Racers Anthony Capone, 41, and Reed Costello, 40, participated in the race for three years in a row, but the past two years, they quit mid-race.
"I enjoy the challenge," Costello said.
"I feel most alive when I'm pushing myself," Capone added.
Whether they are the craziest or just the toughest people on the planet, Death Racers believe they have something to prove, but it takes incredible skill. Here's a compilation of key strategies to surviving the Spartan Death Race. But, in the end, all you'll have left is your determination.
1. Get the Right Gear
Race organizers told participants via email to bring the following mandatory items with them and that they must have these on their person during the race at all times:
Hand drill with 1/2-inch drill bit
Axe or maul
10-foot section of climbing rope
One $20 bill
Two $1 bills
Racers are also told they can bring "optional" gear such as a knife, duct tape, canoe, life jacket, helmet, gloves, and that an ER doctor and EMS professionals will be standing by, according to an email race organizers sent out to participants.
2. Get Fit Before the Race
Most male and female participants are in incredible shape at the start of the race. Costello is a firefighter and a former Marine, while Capone, who owns a restaurant, used to lead wilderness expeditions.
It's all for good reason. On Day 1, the race begins at 6 p.m. The first challenge? Having participants stand in a circle and pick-up enormous rocks more than 1,000 times for five straight hours.
In another leg of the race, participants had to lug a tree stump up a hill while memorizing then reciting a Bible verse out loud. If you get the verse wrong, you have to start over.
3. Get Acclimated to the Cold
After the rock lifting in the middle of the night, With their bodies are dripping with sweat, Death Racers took a hike in a freezing river with 45-degree water in pitch-black darkness while wearing a huge backpack. On a cold Vermont night, some racers appeared to be showing early signs of hypothermia.
"I felt totally, mildly hypothermic," Capone said. "I was in the first stages, when your core starts to shiver and you have no feeling in your extremities, that is where you need to get somewhere warm."
4. Put Your Brain on Autopilot
Death Racers push on without any sleep for days and days, even after hiking up and down mountains, crawling under barbed wire and chopping wood for hours at a time. But the hardest part of the race isn't the physical but the mental, they say.
"You just can't think about it," Capone said. "Worry about what's in front of you and worry about the pain later."