LUKE GREGORY displays some of the trophies he's accumulated over the last year for completing Spartan Death Races. Joshua Spaulding. (click for larger version)
March 31, 2014ALTON — Last year when he signed up for the Spartan Death Race, Alton's Luke Gregory had essentially no idea what he was getting in to.
Now, a year later, he knows the hell that these races can be, and yet he's ready to tackle another one.
"I didn't think I'd get hooked to it," Gregory said. "But the thing that drives me to do this, it's not because I like the races, but the people you meet are amazing. It's a great group of determined individuals.
"You endure so much suffering with them, but every time you go back, it's like a family reunion," Gregory added.
Since originally tackling the Spartan Death Race last summer, Gregory also completed the Team Death Race and the first traveling death race, which took place in Mexico City in February. He was also supposed to compete in the winter Spartan Race, but had to back out due to injury.
He quantifies the Mexico adventure as "insane." The race included many of the same tasks included in other races, but with the elevation at 8,000 feet in Mexico City, things were compounded.
"The Mexico race was absolutely nuts," Gregory said. "It was short, but it was intense."
He points to the start of the Mexico race as one of the most unique experiences he's had.
Halfway through the ride from Mexico City, they put the contestants on a cattle vehicle and unloaded them all in a cattle corral.
"We had to go into a bull-fighting arena," Gregory said, noting that they had to make their way across the ring to get their numbers and shirts.
"And they had a bull chasing everyone around," he said. "It was the most insane way to start the race."
Of course, that hasn't stopped Gregory.
"I've already signed up to do it again next year," he said with a smile.
The Spartan Death Races are a unique competition that includes challenges ranging from splitting wood to climbing mountains, from memorizing sequences to carrying loads of rocks and sand. Pretty much anything is on the table. And the racers have no idea heading into the race what they will be encountering over the course of the few days that the race lasts.
"Everything is different," Gregory said. "I came across a lot of things about these races that is fairly familiar, but it is a different race every time for sure."
And of course, because each one is different, Gregory worries that missing one will put him at a disadvantage when he gets back on the course.
As he did before he conquered last year's Spartan Death Race, Gregory is training with a lot of hiking as he readies for this year's race, which will take place in June in Vermont.
"Hiking is a good starting point," Gregory said. "It gets you used to unstable terrain, gets you used to being alone in the woods and the hazards in the woods.
"And there's lots of wood splitting," he continued. "If you can split wood well, that can be a huge advantage."
Gregory said he's going to start getting into more trail running and ultra marathon to make his training even more effective.
"Your body is hurting for a couple of days, but as soon as that's over, you have a unique pride in what you've accomplished for months," Gregory said. "It pushes you."
Gregory also noted that while the challenge is physically demanding, there is more to it than just that, noting that the emotional and mental challenges each person must push through are huge.
"It allows you to reset and rethink what your limits are," Gregory noted. "Most people will want to quit at only five percent of what they're capable of."
He noted that most of the people that do the Spartan Death Races are people in their 30s and 40s who are looking to get the most out of life, but there's also a group of 20-something people who think they can battle through after doing some Tough Mudder or other Spartan Races. However, Gregory cautions that this isn't the same.
"This is a completely different event from all others," he said. "I didn't consider myself an athlete when I first started, but I just took it and ran with it. I've been amazed by it ever since."
Videos of portions of the numerous Spartan Death Races can be found on You Tube and at the web site youmaydie.com.
Joshua Spaulding can be reached at 569-3126 or firstname.lastname@example.org