When Joe Decker eased his way into the culvert that runs under Route 100, he’d been racing over 24 hours. He was the first 2011 Death Racer to get to this point in the race. The water level was higher than he expected, and he had just finished a long hike back from Roger’s Farm. Pushing his pack ahead of him, he crawled forward. Halfway through the culvert, he felt what he thought were water droplets on his face. Looking up, he realized that he was surrounded by hundreds of massive, thumb-sized spiders. With no room for him or the spiders to move, he knew he’d just have to deal with them crawling all over him until he could get to the other side.
Joe Decker returned to the 2011 Death Race as the 2010 Champion, but he didn’t return to defend his title or to compete with anyone but his own training and preparation. “I can only think of a race like this one task at a time and hope I put in enough time and training to be successful. That’s what it’s about for me. Pushing myself. Did I do enough? Is the training there?”
His training proved worthy. Joe Decker led early on in the race and held that lead for the duration of the race that spans the small town of Pittsfield, VT ultimately coming out on top for the second year in a row. True to his positive attitude and upbeat personality, he maintained that level of performance and did so almost always with a smile on his face. Tasks of the 2011 Death Race included hiking, wood chopping, climbing, water crossings, and mental challenges that left only 35 of the origianl 155 competitors standing at the cut-off time of the race. Of those 35 finishers, only six had completed all the tasks on the race list. Those tasks were outlined in a previous post on the Spartan Race Blog, and the finishers were also outlined in more detail in a previous post. Grace Cuomo Durfee was notably among the six finishers who accomplished all the tasks, and she finished as first female in the race.
Decker credits his training for his success. This year he was bringing four of his trainers from Gut Check Fitness, the award winning Boot Camp he runs in San Diego, California. “A lot of training went into getting ready for this race. As we got into it, it took on a life of its own.”
For the back to back Death Race champion, how did 2010 compare to 2011? “It was amazing: the degree of difficulty compared to last year. I’ve been around the world doing races, and I’ve seen a lot of really tough stuff. I can rank races. Last year was a 7 – definitely challenging – but this year was a 9. This year was tough. I was taken aback.”
Constant rain, heavy packs, difficult challenges, and steep, technical terrain made this year more difficult than previous years. “What can you do?” he laughed. “The ravine and over the mountain for the Gaza strip stretch up through the briars…I was flabbergasted by the difficulty.”
Always prepared, Decker ran into unexpected hydration challenges five miles into the ten mile stretch of Gaze strip. “I ran out of 100 ounces of water at the top. You can’t let yourself get dehydrated or let your blood sugar drop. It worked out okay.”
Wood chopping was a fixture of this year’s event. Watching Decker plow through the wood piles was quite a sight. He credited his rural upbringing for some of his skills in this type of race. “I grew up on a farm in a rural area, lower income, so we didn’t have a lot of money. I grew up burning wood.” He explained, “It becomes a matter of do you want cut wood or do you want to freeze? So, I cut wood every day until I was 18.” Humbly, he added, “It plays very easily into my life. It’s just fortunate.”
Next year is still up in the air for Decker who has openly been challenged by one of the Death Race creators, Joe DeSena. He has some big plans for his 2012 season, but he can’t discount that the Death Race will be a part of it. “I enjoy it. I just love seeing what the hell I can do. You don’t really know yourself until you test yourself. You don’t really know. Guys and girls realized they weren’t as tough as they thought they were.” He also maintains a great deal of respect for anyone brave enough to take on the Death Race challenge. “This year had some amazing athletes. I was proud to trudge alongside them all over those mountains.”
If he does return, it won’t be to defend the title. It would be to see if he can handle another year of the training, of the preparation, and of the challenge it represents.
“I just love the event” he said. “That much I know for sure.”