ROBERT BAKER of Alton will be heading out into the woods of Vermont for the Spartan Death Race next weekend. Joshua Spaulding. (click for larger version)
June 04, 2012ALTON — Robert Baker has no idea what he's getting into. Literally.
The 30-year-old Alton resident signed up for the Spartan Death Race almost a year ago and as the day of the race approaches, he still is unsure of exactly what to expect when he heads to Pittsfield, Vt. next weekend, June 15-17.
And when he toes the starting line with approximately 200 other people, just finishing will be the goal. However, when that finish will occur is a whole other story.
"In 2010 a guy finished in 16 hours, but last year the race was 45 hours," Baker said. "So we're pretty much guaranteed to go the whole two days."
According the event Web site (www.youmaydie.com), only about 15 percent of the people who start the race actually finish, a stat made more incredible by the fact that some of the competitors are among the toughest and most seasoned endurance athletes on the planet.
"There are people flying in from all over the country," Baker said. "There's a lot of people who are in this thing for a lot of money.
"The odds are not high, but obviously everybody thinks that they will finish," Baker continued, counting himself among them. "I think I'll do pretty well.
"I think everybody who shows up is able to finish, they have the ability to finish," Baker said. "The focus is on who really wants to do it and who doesn't."
However, not knowing what is happening during the race can make it a challenge preparing for the event. Baker expects to get an e-mail a day or two before the event listing what is recommended to bring and possibly telling competitors what they will do.
"They want people to kind of panic and freak out because they don't know what will happen," Baker said of the organizers.
While he doesn't know for sure what to expect, Baker has some ideas of what might happen when he gets to Vermont next weekend.
"I imagine this year a lot of the things will be just wearing people down," he said. "If I was running the race, carrying really heavy weights for long distances is something, there's nothing more demoralizing."
Baker is also hoping for a lot of mental stuff, which he believes his many years in the military have helped prepare him for.
"I am hoping it's a lot of thinking type stuff," he said. "That's always more interesting than the manual labor.
"But last year there was lots of intense manual labor," he continued.
However, Baker pointed out that training one's mind is a lot harder than training one's body, which makes those mental aspects excruciatingly difficult.
"You can train your body to do just about anything," Baker said. "But I don't think you can train your mind to be stronger after low levels of sleep."
Baker expects it to be a challenge to take care of himself, but he also expects other people to underestimate the little things that could help them push through the race. Things like eating or even brushing their teeth.
"The simple stuff, a lot of people don't think about that," Baker said.
The former military man is brining MREs with him to eat during the race and is also bringing water purification tablets to make sure any water he finds along the way isn't going to make him sick and keep him out of the race.
Doing the race was something that Baker had been considering for a year or two, but thought this was the perfect time to step up to the plate, as he is out of the military and won't be starting school at the UNH School of Law next year.
"I had talked about it for a year or two, but never did it," he said. "But I figured, now that I'm out of the military, why not?"
Baker said he used to hang around with a lot of buddies that were always up for crazy things and this new experience is something that ranks right up on that list.
"I just stumbled upon it one day and thought, that will be tons of fun," Baker said.
The race can include just about anything, such as chopping wood for two hours, carrying large heavy loads around for hours, building a fire, cutting a bushel of onions, crawling through mud under barbed wire or mind games such as memorizing the first 10 presidents or a Bible verse and then hiking to the top of a mountain and reciting them back in order.
The Spartan Death Race has been around since 2005 and is run in a 40-mile course in the Vermont woods. Baker expects that the intensity of the race should lead him to meet some pretty interesting people.
"Usually at something like this, you meet lots of interesting people," he said. "It's a good way to meet a lot of people."
Baker also notes that this is a one-time event for him, something he won't be trying again.
"I'm only going to do it once," he said. "It's one of those things you're only going to enjoy once."
For more information on the race or to see photos from previous Spartan Death Race events, visit www.youmaydie.com.
Joshua Spaulding can be reached at email@example.com or 569-3126