Weekend Warrior

MBA student tests his physical limits in Spartan Death Race

Many students approach the Krannert Weekend MBA program with a “weekend warrior” attitude, sacrificing Saturdays with the eye on the prize of a forthcoming degree. Patrick Porter, now in his second year of the program, is taking that mentality to extremes.

A procurement specialist for Booz Allen Hamilton by day, Porter has raced in two Spartan Death Races, a grueling series of endurance challenges in Pittsfield, Vermont, designed to punish participants into quitting. Those last men standing, including the likes of two-time winner Joe Decker (the official World’s Fittest Man according to the Guinness Book of World Records) are among the elite 15 percent who start each race.

Porter says he’s set the bar high on staying active since he was a kid. As a participant in the Bataan Memorial Death March in White Sands Missile Range, New Mexico, Porter ran two full marathons in the heavy division in 2008 and 2009 — that’s 26.2 miles through the desert in boots and full fatigues with a 40-pound rucksack. He finished in the top 10 percent.

After reading about the Death Race in Outside magazine, Porter asked organizers about training in one of the “Death Camps” before committing to the race. But they encouraged him to go ahead and enter the 2011 competition.

Part of the sadistic charm of the Death Race is that competitors do not know the events beforehand. They don’t even know what comes next throughout the race. They can be fairly certain that official finishers may spend some 48-plus hours in obstacle courses made of icy waters and rugged terrain, chopping wood, crawling through brush and barbed wire and navigating parts of the Appalachian Trail, with elevation levels as high as 3,400 feet.

Patrick Porter

Patrick Porter acknowledged his Purdue supporters before starting the Death Race. (Photo provided)

“In the 2011 race, I discovered quickly that I was in over my head,” says Porter, a lieutenant commander in the U.S. Navy Reserves who was deployed to Southern Afghanistan from December 2009 to July 2010. “I made it about 10 and a half hours into the race before I dropped, when I was immersed into the 45 degree river knee to waist deep for three hours against class II rapids. I feared having to return to the cold waters again later.”

Porter, who stayed alive in the race for 24 hours in 2012, says the Death Race is like Survivor meets Jackass. Team challenges that may require groups to race with kayaks carried over their heads up and down mountains for hours create team dynamics that may help or hinder certain athletes.

Patrick Porter

Unusual training regimens helped Porter prepare for the unexpected. (Photo provided)

The 2012 race was known as the year of the betrayal, where the competitors were told not to believe anything, even some of the rules, which could change on a moment’s notice. Racers were required at all times to have such odd accoutrements as a needle and thread, an axe, life vest and a pink swimming cap, not knowing when a physical challenge could turn into a mental one. A long hike might lead to a seated, two-hour test that could result in more than brain cramps for exhausted athletes.

For Porter, who is looking to make a case study of how the team dynamics of such a race can translate to business success, the greatest takeaway is the experience. “Every year there appears to be a building up of lessons learned,” he says.

Lessons he’ll need as he prepares for a repeat appearance in 2013, which will be known as the year of the gambler. Previous racers who completed the course will risk their “finisher” status, and near finishers, like Porter, will be giving a final opportunity to go the distance.

There is some payback for all the pain. Porter partnered with the Wounded Warrior Project for his training, raising money and awareness for injured service members in the name of Lt. Cmdr. John Pucillo, who returned to active duty in the Navy after losing his left leg to an improvised explosive device.

“The ability to participate in the Death Race is a blessing because so many of our American heroes have lost the ability to use their bodies in such a way,” Porter says.

To learn more about the Wounded Warrior Project, visit www.woundedwarriorproject.org; to help support Patrick Porter’s training and fundraising efforts, visit www.facebook.com/PatrickPortersDeathRaceTraining.