What is the Death Race?

In the 2009 Death Race, participants were required to quarter 20 logs with an ax.
In the 2009 Death Race, participants were required to quarter 20 logs with an ax.
Emilio Simion/Getty Images

Hey, you hardcore fitness enthusiasts out there. Are you bored with running, swimming and cycling in triathlons? Does a 78-mile (125.5-kilometer) ultramarathon across the African desert or a bike ride up a mountain in Idaho no longer satisfy your masochistic urge? No problem. There's an even more extreme event for you.

The annual PEAK Death Race, held each summer in Pittsfield, Vt., is so brutal that entrants are required to sign a fatality waiver beforehand, acknowledging the possibility that they might expire during the up to 24-hour-long torment to which they'll be subjected. The 10-mile (16-kilometer) route provides a test of cardiovascular and muscular endurance, agility, ingenuity and physical and mental toughness worthy of a Nepalese Sherpa mountain-climbing guide or a U.S. Navy SEAL commando.

Contestants must endure trials like crawling through mud and barbed wire, running two miles (3.2 kilometers) through moving water and climbing hills while lugging bicycle frames and tree stumps. If that's not bad enough, they're also forced to perform various mental feats, such as memorizing a list of U.S. presidents or reassembling a bunch of Lego pieces in a precise configuration. PEAK, the Vermont-based promoter of the Death Race and other endurance events, playfully taunts possible entrants on its Web site: "Doubtful you'll finish, but you can be proud of yourself for trying" [source: PEAK].

The Death Race is the brainchild of Joe DeSena, a successful Wall Street financial trader turned triathlete and ultramarathoner who got the idea to challenge endurance athletes to a new extreme. Each year since 2007, Death Race organizers have designed a course filled with a new assortment of bizarre physical and intellectual tasks, the exact details of which are kept secret, to make it harder for entrants to prepare. Instead of the cheery encouragement usually offered at races, Death Race organizers seek to mess with contestants' minds, continually urging them to quit and jokingly -- at least one would hope -- offering free on-site burial to anyone who dies trying to finish [source: Brick].

So what must Death Race participants endure? And do any of them make it to finish line?