When Joe De Sena, founder and CEO of Spartan Race, talks about the event he created, it sounds as if it's one part race and three parts philosophy.
"It's an avenue to give everyday people the opportunity to overcome adversity and push themselves to new heights," De Sena said, "in hopes they'll realize there are worse things out there than what they deal with on a daily basis."
In other words, Spartan Race — which makes its Minnesota debut at Welch Village, south of Hastings and west of Red Wing, on Saturday — is not your standard running event.
The race Saturday will cover a little over three miles, just like a 5K, but instead of going from point A to point B in a straight line, competitors will traverse various changes in elevation as well as more than 20 obstacles along the way — including fire and barbed wire.
If this sounds tempting on a whim, registration is still open at Spartan.com for events beginning at both 8 a.m. and 11:15 a.m. That said, you had better know what you are getting into.
"What sets us apart is that we are a sport. We have elite heats, timed events and global rankings. That's not something you see in other obstacle course race events," De Sena said, adding that he can envision a day in which obstacle racing is part of the Summer Olympics.
But De Sena didn't necessarily start it with elite athletes as the focus. Before he founded Spartan Race, De Sena worked on Wall Street.
"I saw people buckle under the pressure of the smallest things. Maybe a trade didn't go their way, they had an unhappy client, but there are worse things in life," he said.
De Sena said he felt like people didn't have enough outlets for stress and that the mental health of Americans was suffering as a consequence. So he decided to give them another option.
"People aren't going outside like they used to and we're giving them a new activity for people of all fitness levels to push themselves," he said. "More importantly, it's time to put down the tablets, cellphones and videos and rediscover what makes the outdoors so great."
Competitors worldwide agree. Though this will be the first Spartan Race in Minnesota, there will be 120 of these events in 20 different countries this year.
De Sena said he is excited to see the expansion — and is excited to bring the race here.
"There is a history of pride and tradition in the area," he said. "We also heard from consumers in the market that they wanted this event in their hometown, so it's going to be a great race."