Joe De Sena – Spartan Race

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Barbed wire, sandbags, rope climbing, a spear throw and lots of mud are just some of the challenges you’ll face when you sign up for the Spartan Race – the toughest competitive obstacle race in the word. But it’s founder, Joe De Sena, believes that shaking off the sleep of comfort or complacency, then exchanging it for the warrior spirit and pushing yourself to the limits, will revolutionise how you see yourself. Joe wanted help people realise their potential by pushing themselves beyond what they realised they were capable of. He named the race, quite appropriately, after an ancient civilisation – Sparta. The Spartans, nearly 3 millennia after their city-state disappeared, are still recognised as the hardest and most resilient armies in the history. If you’re familiar with the movie 300, you may be surprised to know that the movie is based on real historical documentation of a battle in which 300 badass Spartan warriors defended Greece from a Persian army of thousands.

How? Because of their “sign me up” attitude that feared comfort over challenge. How do you match up though? When was the last time you truly pushed yourself? It’s hard to test yourself running a 9-5 in an office, right? In a scene from the movie Green Street, one character says, “Once you realise you’re not made of glass, you don’t feel alive unless you’re pushing yourself as far as you can go.”

Determination, focus and discipline are the traits of every warrior that competes in the Spartan Race. It’s go hard or go home. Joe believes that what you bring or discover at the Spartan Race, that warrior spirit, you’ll bring back into your home and work. People will see the difference, and you’ll feel the difference. You’ll be a warrior in the boardroom as much as on the running track. Joe De Sena will wake you up in today’s London Real. Don’t be caught sleeping!

How Joe booked himself into 3 ultra-endurance race in one week, by accident. [7:10]

Joe talks about commitment [8:34]


The Vermont 100

The Vermont 100 [9:10]

Breaking the 24 hour mark for the Vermont 100 mile race with Lisa Smith-Batchen [9:10]

Why they needed friends to join in the last 30 -20 mile in an ultra race. [10:00]

Why the first 17 mile is easy! How to trick the mind into moving the wall. [10:25]

Funny story of Jack Rabbit. [11:21]

Why a kidney failure may happened. After 70 miles in the race. [14:04]

Hydrotherapy/Ice cold water after a race. [15:30]

The feeling after a 100 mile race. [16:59]


3 things to consume when doing a 300 mile run. [17:47]

Bikram yoga and endurance running. “Winning in life is about outliving your competition in a healthy manner” [18:17]

The why question. Why do endurance races? [19.20]

Committing. Your word is everything. [20:00]


Badwater Ultramarathon

Badwater at 135 degrees where shoes melts and Lisa’s plan. [21:11]

Support crew and the wooden stick. [24:30]

With 35 miles left I became obsessed. I’m getting my 18 places back! [25:10]


Lake Placid Ironman

Lake Placid Ironman [28:00]

The wedding [28:31]

Did you ever thought of not completing the race. [29:44]

The person that kept Joe going in the race. [30:20]

Running away from demons. [30:36]

Exit interviews with the people that quit the races. [31:30]

Embrace the suck. Being alive with water, food, and shelter [32:30]

Hire people who is hungry and fighting for the milk. [33:02]


Construction business

Life growing up in Queens. [34:35]

Mum who’s into yoga, meditation and spirituality and how she’s influenced Joe. [36:45]

Looking up to mob bosses and moving to Ithica. [37:25]

Selling fireworks at 8. Learning supply and demand. [38:03]

Pool business working for the Bonannos, Lucchese and the Gambinos. [40:00]

Why the mob bosses likes an “earner’. [40:13]

The 3 principles Joe learned from the bosses. [40:13]

Becoming the guy didn’t fit in. [42:30]



Going to Cornell. [42:40]

Kids needs to be directed. Why some kids knew they needed to go to college and others don’t. [43:15]

Walter Mischel’s Marshmallow test and delayed gratification. [44:40]

Was Joe’s son a cookie eater? [45:35]

Denied into college. “Now I’ve got to do this”. [46.30]

We’ve got 92 women studying textiles and we want to develop a programme for men. [48.20]

Perseverance and persistence. Digging for gold, 4 inches away and he quit. [48:55]

Why Joe has a history of receiving mentors at critical juncture. [49:10]

Joe complimenting the level of production on London Real. [49:30]

Mentors. Successful people want to help you. [59:40]

If we go down, we go down together. Little Vic and Gaspipe. [50:45]

Don’t worry about the pay cheque. Make yourself invaluable. Play for 15 cookies. [52:25]

Completing Cornell and doing an MBA. [54:30]

2 management books. Customer service and the Nordstrom tyre story. [54:05]

Ken Blanchard on managing people. [55:22]

Mentoring. What is it I got to do to keep a mentor and not be a burden.[55:50]



You’ve got to go to Wall Street. [57:57]

I’ve got to go to Wall Street. [59:30]

Getting a job in Wall Street. Prime brokerage. Series 7. Stock loan. Banking. [1:00:40]

I’m going to start my own company. [1:04:00]

Pizza’s late!!! [1:06:55]

Carrying dumbells up the stairs. When the student is ready the teacher arrives. [1:07:15]


Adventure Racing

Introduction to adventure races and becoming the endurance junkie. [1:08:00]

Iditarod – the Alaska story. [1:09:00]

Joe meets his wife and the kayak strategy. [1:11:40]

Diet of an adventure racer. [1:13:00]

How to leave wall street and the idea of getting enough. [1:14:30]

Learning that material things aren’t important. Rent everything. [1:15:43]

Living on the farm. Starting businesses. [1:17:05]

Adversity makes people successful. [1:19:00]

Playing for 15 scoops. Commitment. Dealing with landing. [1:20:35]


Death Race

The Death Race. [1:21:13] and investing in this search engine called Google. [1:21:25]

Expedition at British Virgin Islands and putting the first race in 2001. [1:22:07]

How the Death Race started. [1:23:50]

Every business was losing money.[1:26:00]

What was the Death Race. [1:26:50]



Facebook boiler room and the idea of the Spartan Race. [1:28:20]

Losing $300,000 a month. [1:31:30]

The Subway Sandwich strategy. The Network Effect [1:32:30]

Spartan struggles to pay employees. Pushing out payables and collecting money now. [1:33:28]

$1m injection and buying time before the VCs and private equity arrived. [1:35:10]

How big is Spartan Race now. [1:36:30]

Our imagery is awesome for social media. [1:37:50]

Lifestyle business. [1:38:00]

Hanging out with Cornell happiness professor. Spartan races and happiness level. [1:38:50]

Why we need competition. [1:40:33]

Designing races is our IP. [1:41:50]

Why Spartan is a lifestyle. [1:43:07]

Doing with less. Lycurgus and the story of the Spartans. Take what is good. [1:43:40]

Steven Pressfield on Spartan. [1:44:50]

“You don’t own things they own you.” Consumerism. [1:45:20]

Expecting a tough guy. American wrestling. Being humble. [1:45:40]

Ego. Arnold before winning competitions. [1:47:20]

Change your frame of reference. Coming into a 12 hour Ironman from an 8-9 day adventure race. [1:48:10]

250 days on the road and being with family. [1:49:20]

Col Tim Nye [1:50:19]

Parenting. Mandarin only TV. Killbill and chinese Kungfu. Burpees. [1:50:40]

300 Burpees challenge. 8 hours of Burpees. [1:53:05]

The story behind why Joe got his kids doing wrestling. [1:58:28]

Moving to Singapore. [2:03:00]

Spartan in 5-10 years. [2:03:45]

Success Secrets. [2:05:40]

How to attract people on Spartan Up Podcast. Stay in touch with people. [2:06:20]

Thoughts on London. [2:07:48]

Dealing with major brands like NBC, Reebok, Tomtom and Panasonic. [2:09:02]

Safety. Selling grit and danger. Joe’s view on the law. [2:11:20]

Advice to the 20 year old Joe. [2:13:20]

Best advice Joe’s ever received. [2:13:55]

Advice to the 20 year who’s listening. [2:14:25]

The marathon monks. [2:16:58]


Success Secrets

Daily routine. [0:30]

What raised Joe’s game the most. [3:40]

How does Joe evaluate success. [5:20]

Who do you think of when you think of the word successful. [6:48]

Leadership and delegating. [8:26]

Connect with Joe De Sena


Spartan Up Podcast


Joe’s Book

Spartan Up!: A Take-No-Prisoners Guide to Overcoming Obstacles and Achieving Peak Performance in Life


Selected Links from this episode


Vermont 100


Badwater Ultramarathon


Lake Placid Ironman


Bikram yoga


Marshmallow experiment


Ken Blanchard’s One Minute Manager


Tom Peter’s In Search of Excellence


Nordstrom Tire Story


Iditarod Alaska


Boiler Room Operations


Peak Races


British Virgin Islands

Little Tobago


Subway Sandwiches

Network Effect


300 Movie

Kill Bill



Pumping Iron


People mentioned

Lisa Smith-Batchen


Walter Mischel

Professor Anita Racine

Journalist sportscaster Bryant Gumbel




Little Vic


Ken Blanchard

Tom Peters

Dale Carnegie

Jim Polata of Raptor

Paul Tudor Jones


Steven Pressfield

“We need competition to push ourselves.”


“We want to put you into the war setting, where you are going to get so uncomfortable and get yourself out of your comfort zone that you are going to be happier.”


“Let’s slow down on the consumerism. Let’s start eating healthier. And let’s start sweating more.”


“What’s the next level up? Well you could do 12 hours. Well sign me up. Next level up. What’s after that. Sign me up. I need the toughest race in the world. Where is it? Sign me up.”


“And so I find myself in Alaska in January at 30 below. Waist deep. Slowly and nearly dead and it felt great.”


“Winning in life is about outliving your competition in a healthy manner.”


“I’ve already jumped out of the plane. If you jumped out of the plane you can’t really have a discussion of why you jumped out of the plane. You’ve already jumped. Now you dealing with landing. It’s too late. Can’t even ask me that question. You’ve got to finish it now.”


“Lets make money heavy and bulky so its not something you will want to accumulate. Lets make food really simple so everybody won’t be chasing the next dish, the next meal. You can have anything you want as long as it is black soup like pig feed and vinegar.” Lycurgus


“You don’t own things they own you.”


“Change your frame of reference.”
“Time for some purposeful suffering” on moving to Singapore.


48 Comments on "Joe De Sena – Spartan Race"

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Sort by:   newest | oldest | most voted
24 days 23 hours ago

Joe, are you coming to the race in Taiwan on Nov 26? Would love to get my shirt signed 🙂

25 days 5 hours ago

Awesome episode!!! Thank you for having him here! 😀

Jure Rajer
2 months 11 days ago

15:00 The horses in the Badwater race are there because it was originally a horse race. One year someone’s horse got injured or something but the man decided to finish the race anyway… It’s in the book Ultramarathon Man by Dean Karnazes. You could interview the guy.

Jure Rajer
2 months 11 days ago

No, he’s talking about Vermont 100 there.. Badwater comes later 🙂

3 months 4 days ago

Loved his advice. Amazing story

3 months 9 days ago


5 months 19 days ago

Definitely my most favourite interview I’ve ever seen

7 months 23 days ago

GREAT interview

11 months 8 days ago

What a fantastic interview. So inspirational!

11 months 18 days ago

great episode, great person, great interview


Great Episode, Great Wisdom.

1 year 1 month ago

That’s one hell of a role model.
My favourite episode to date.

Juris Baltacs
1 year 4 months ago

Such an awesome episode. The humble and, down to earth, way he talks about these races, that give him every right to brag about, makes it that much more inspirational. I’ll definitely take the phrase “purposeful suffering” with me.

Marie-Judith Jean-Louis
1 year 4 months ago

“When the student is ready, the teacher will appear” Gotta keep getting ready. :p Great interview. He taught me quite a bit in this session. Thank you 🙂

1 year 4 months ago

he really is pure inspiration; I haven’t heard that real of a story before, I have personally recommended the show to all my “rich” friends after seeing this one

Tony McAnearney
1 year 4 months ago

What a mentality, unbelievable attitude, born leader. His children have some start on live.

Tony McAnearney
1 year 4 months ago


Russ Patchitt
1 year 4 months ago

Fantastic podcast. I learned & was inspired..Brian’s interviewing skills 10/10. Thank you London Real.

1 year 4 months ago


1 year 4 months ago

No audio download???!!

1 year 4 months ago

Really enjoyed this. Joe is great to listen to. He comes across really well. What resonated with me is that we need to experience “pain” to be happy. I’ll take this on board.

1 year 4 months ago

Who’s playing for 15 scoops??


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