Joe DeSena is the founder and CEO of Spartan Race, the world’s leading obstacle racing company. He is also the host of the “Spartan Up” podcast and New York Times Best Selling author of SPARTAN FIT!
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(click the time stamp to jump directly to that point in the episode.)
[00:52] – Joe moves around the world with his super wife and 4 children
[03:26] – Joe believes that obstacle racing will be an olympic sport one day
[05:51] – Obstacle racing can be a direct parallel for one’s life
[06:41] – JLD talks about the time his father visited him in Puerto Rico
[07:37] – People used to think of Spartan Races as a sport for leading athletes
[07:56] – The fact is, you don’t need much training to start obstacle racing—a mile walk per day is enough to start
[08:56] – Little things add up to make a big difference
[10:25] – Joe pushes through the pain to get past it
[14:48] – He always asks himself, “What would the average person do?”, and then does the opposite
[17:10] – Joe gets emails almost everyday about how Spartan Races affect peoples’ lives; one person said it helped them outrun a falling tree in a hurricane!
[19:27] – Today, Joe takes his kids through a routine that has 12 exercises
[20:33] – Joe is inspired when he has a new “victim”
[21:53] – The seemingly painful experiences that get you out of your comfort zone are the ones that change you
Joe De Sena: I think I’m on fire right now.
John Lee Dumas: Yes! Joe’s the founder and CEO of Spartan Race, the world’s leading obstacle racing company. He’s also the host of Spartan Up! Podcast and The New York Times bestselling author of Spartan Fit.
Joe, take a minute, fill in some gaps from that intro, and give us a little glimpse of your personal life.
Joe De Sena: We have four children, I got a super wife, and we move around the world each year. So, last year, we lived in Tokyo, year before that, Singapore, and this year, we’re in Vancouver. We’re making our way back to the States, although who knows? We don’t know where next year will be, but the funny thing in the last month was we were supposed to go somewhere else, and I called an audible a week before the move and said, “We’re going to Vancouver instead.” I’d never been here, and I’m glad we did because it’s awesome.
John Lee Dumas: Yeah, we were just talking in the pre-interview chat, actually. My first ever trip to Vancouver was just last week after Podcast Movement, and I got to do some cool things there, so I’m looking forward to hearing how you experience the city. And real quick, where was the audible called from? Where were you supposed to go?
Joe De Sena: So, we were gonna go to Ithaca, New York. I was gonna set up an office with Cornell. My wife was gonna be the assistant coach of the girls’ soccer team. And then, it didn’t feel as exotic as going overseas like we had the last two years, so I called our teammates that help us run Canada, and I said, “You got two seconds to answer. Where would you live in Canada?” figuring I could get a quick visa in Canada, and he said, no hesitation, Vancouver. I had never been, but I had heard good things, like you had heard, and so I said, “Honey, what do you think about going to Vancouver?” and she went for it, so here we are.
John Lee Dumas: No, I loved it. I really got a good kick out of it. We were living right downtown Vancouver, in one of those – I think it was a 60-story level skyscraper. And then, we walked down to the base of it, and I swear to god, within five minutes, we were on this wooded path where I felt like I was in the middle of a forest. It was that quick of a transition. It was a really cool vibe there. Cool people. And if you can make it through their winter, I think you’re gonna have a good time for sure.
And, Fire Nation, if you think that you recognize Joe’s voice, well, No. 1, you’ve listened to Spartan Up! which is a great podcast, or No. 2, you remember Episode 938, where he rocked the mic. He shared his worst moment, his aha moment. We rocked the Lightning Round. So, go back and listen to Episode 938 if you wanna hear some of that stuff, but today, we’re talking about some different things, specifically obstacle racing because this is really where Joe thrives and what he’s brought to the world.
So, Joe, people ask me this question all the time about podcasting, like, “What’s the future?” and I’m sure it’s a question that is always evolving and always changing, but for you, where do you see the future of obstacle racing in the next five to ten years?
Joe De Sena: It’s definitely gonna be an Olympic sport. It’s just a matter of when, so we’re hoping for 2024. It’s only getting bigger, and the reason it’s getting bigger is, one, people are just getting more and more unhealthy, so I believe they’re gonna seek this kind of activity to restart their lives. They’re already doing it, and that’s gonna continue as a trend. But the other thing is there’s less and less physical education in schools, and there are so many kids that just can’t play because they don’t have the talent. Kid sports is almost becoming professional sports in a way. Parents and the coaches are so intense now with sports that most kids just sit on the bench. They don’t even try.
So, this becomes the human sport. We could do this anywhere. We’ve already started Spartan Sport at some schools. They sell out in minutes. So, it’s just a matter of us being able to offer it on a much larger scale, scaling it around the globe, and it’s just gonna become part of our lives is the way I see it.
John Lee Dumas: It’s just so gosh darn entertaining to watch. I can go to Netflix and Amazon now. I’m seeing all of these shows that are doing the contests of the world’s most fit athletes. And you even have prime TV shows of the obstacle courses. I think back in the day when I was younger, one of my favorite shows was American Gladiators, and it seems like that’s coming back, that kind of form of television watching and entertaining.
And for me, I look at poker in a way, where poker was not fun to watch for years and forever, basically, until they came up with that hole cam, and when we could actually see those two cards, now we can actually be “playing in the game.” Then, watching poker became fun, and now it’s watched by millions of people all over the world. And I kinda have that same vibe when it comes to obstacle racing and stuff like that. I kind of feel like now I’m in there with the drone camerawork and all these different things.
What do you think has really been the reason why people like myself, who haven’t really even – I’ve never done an obstacle race. I was in the military for eight years, so I do love that stuff, but I still haven’t really gotten to that point where I’ve gone for a Spartan Race yet. But why do I still love watching it as just a viewer? What’s the draw there?
Joe De Sena: It’s what a human being was meant to do: crawl, climb, swim –
John Lee Dumas: Get dirty.
Joe De Sena: – get dirty, so it feels, in some ways, we’re connected to that. But in other ways, our lives are the complete opposites. Our lives are clean, perfect little box –
John Lee Dumas: – manicured –
Joe De Sena: – manicured, and so this is a little bit of – I don’t know. Maybe it’s a little bit sexy. It makes us feel like, “Oh, this is something.” I remember my kids were first doing their first Spartan Race. They might have been 4 years old, and they were running full, and they wanted to win, and they got to a mud puddle, and they stopped short. And I was like, “What the hell are they doing?”
John Lee Dumas: That is great.
Joe De Sena: But they had been trained, right, already at 4 years old to stay out of the mud. And so, the same way we don’t use dirty words, or we wear clothes on our body, this might be a little sexy.
John Lee Dumas: I love that. Actually, it brings me back to the memory of my father came to visit me here in Puerto Rico just after we’d moved here, and we decided to go on a little bit of an adventure walk. And so, this walk ended up turning into this kind of crazy trail walk/run, and then it brought us down to the ocean, and so we decided to just walk along the ocean, and this was just a very out-there wilderness ocean coastal line. And so, now, we’re climbing over coral. I’m getting cuts on my knees, and my shoes were getting tore up, and all these things, and we get back to the house, and I am dirty. I am bloodied. My knees are bleeding.
And I remember my mother and Kate looked at me, and they’re just like, “What are you doing?” and I kind of just stood back and was like, “Yeah, that’s right. We just got back from an adventure,” and at my core, just like you mentioned, it’s what we were meant to do. It felt great at my core, and I like that’s what it brings.
And that’s the next point I wanted to talk about is a lot of people used to look at Spartan Races for just elite athletes, like you had to be jacked and in amazing shape, and all this stuff, but everyday people are now taking advantage of this great race and this great opportunity. So, what advice do you have for people that want to get into shape for an actual Spartan Race? What do we, the average person, do?
Joe De Sena: You don’t need much. I tell everybody, at the very basic level, if you walk, just walk, one mile a day, and if you did 30 burpees a day, and if you did 30 of the best pull-ups you could possibly do. So, everybody says, “Well, I can’t do a pull-up.” Okay, well, do jump-ups. Just do the best 30 you could do, do the best 30 burpees you could do, and walk a mile a day. That would be the most basic minimum requirement just to get through this thing. Obviously, if you wanna compete, we’re gonna take it up a notch.
And you could do other simple things. You’re in the airport. Don’t take the escalator. Don’t take the elevator. Take the stairs. Carry your bags up and down the stairs. Park a little further from the grocery store. Carry your bags. Don’t use the cart. Obviously, if you’ve got 14 bags you’re carrying, you have no choice but to use the cart, but make those little, seemingly insignificant decisions on a daily. Stand up at a desk.
John Lee Dumas: I’m standing right now.
Joe De Sena: Yeah. Do some crunches the first thing in the morning when you wake up. Little silly things, they add up.
John Lee Dumas: And this is the thing, Joe, is that a lot of listeners are like, “Really? Is taking the stairs that one time gonna make a big difference?” and the answer is no, not one time, but if you do it every time from here for the next year, if you do those 30 pull-ups, even if they’re just jump-ups, every day for the next year, they’re gonna make a massive, massive difference in that long haul.
And there’s a great book I love to recommend by Jeff Olson, The Slight Edge, and it’s all about doing the small things right, over and over again, and then the slight edge you have at the beginning turns into this massive compound effect of awesomeness. So, Fire Nation, just the small things right every day is going to create and end in something awesome.
Now, what’s the advice that you have for people that have trouble pushing past that pain, Joe? Because I was on a run yesterday, and my right knee started to kind of tense up a little bit and feel a little achy, and I was like, “Do I stop now and hobble back home, or do I sit here and stretch and then finish my run?” What do you recommend for people that do experience pain during these things? How do we push past it, and what do we do?
Joe De Sena: A few schools of thought here. One is – and this is good timing. It’s 6:12 a.m. here in Vancouver, and my kids, for the last six years, every day, seven days a week, we work out.
John Lee Dumas: You should go get those kids up right now. Are they sleeping?
Joe De Sena: I gotta get them up. I’m gonna walk around with my computer, so I don’t know if I’m gonna cut in and out or not, but I’m gonna wake them up, and we’re gonna push past the pain because they don’t wanna wake up. Kids don’t wanna wake up at 6:00 in the morning, and I’m sure some parents listening are gonna say, “Oh, this is ridiculous.”
But back to your earlier statement, these tiny, little, seemingly insignificant decisions over five, six, ten years, they add up. These kids are amazing athletes, not because – I don’t even throw around a football with them, I don’t play much soccer with them, but we do a workout every single morning, so they’ve got athleticism, and that’s what we’re talking about that everybody should apply to their life.
So, let me walk around with the computer. I don’t know –
John Lee Dumas: If we cut out a little bit, we’ll do what we can, and then you know the spot in your house where the good Internet is, so you’ve figured that out already. That’s a key thing in every house that you have. And while you’re doing that, Joe, I’m gonna say a couple quick things.
No. 1, I’ve never gotten really throwing a football around. What are you really doing? You’re just standing still, throwing a football back and forth. Let’s do something a little more active. At the very least, get a Frisbee out so you’re running around after it.
And, Fire Nation, if you think that Joe’s been dropping value bombs, he has. We’re gonna take a quick minute while he’s going around, we’re going to thank our sponsors, and we’ll be right back. And then, Joe’s gonna get his kids up, and they’re going to get to work today, 6:12 a.m. in Vancouver as we’re talking.
All right, Joe, we are back, brother. Are you gonna get them up right now?
Joe De Sena: We got the lights on in my daughter’s room. We are now getting the boys up. Can you hear me?
John Lee Dumas: I can hear you moving around. You’re still coming in loud and clear.
Joe De Sena: All right. The two boys look like they’re in –
John Lee Dumas: Are they in sleep mode?
Joe De Sena: – Disneyland somewhere. We are leaving Disneyland, boys. We headed back –
John Lee Dumas: The Tower of Terror.
Joe De Sena: I wish we could get some footage of this because they’re squirming around. They’re not really acknowledging that I’m here. Boys, let’s do it!
Joe De Sena: We’re hearing a little scream of, “Stop!”
John Lee Dumas: That’s a common sound for parents right there. “Stop! Dad!”
Joe De Sena: “Stop! Stop! Stop! Stop! Stop!” All right, so this is every single morning. This is work, but you gotta do it. What I say to myself is, “What would the average person do?” The average person would go back to bed, would not want to deal with pulling a leg or getting these guys up. It’s a lot of work. It’s a lot of work for the parent. But those seemingly insignificant decisions…
My favorite analogy is you and I are in a spaceship. I think I mentioned this, actually, 900 podcasts ago when you interviewed me. But you turn the dial just a millimeter to the right, one of the 100 dials on the dashboard of the spaceship. No big deal, seemingly insignificant, except we end up on the wrong planet.
So, with these guys, it’s like a lot of work. It’s frustrating. Like we only let them watch movies in Mandarin. You could imagine the battle, but I’m hoping within ten years, just through osmosis, they’ll be speaking another language.
John Lee Dumas: Now, do they at least get any kind of closed-caption titles or anything?
Joe De Sena: We just started that, actually, a couple days ago, so, yeah, that was like a sugary treat, having closed-caption titles.
John Lee Dumas: Right, it’s all about the comparison. I can remember when I moved to Guatemala. I went there cold turkey, didn’t speak any Spanish. Got there, I lived with a Spanish-speaking family. And I was watching TV, and I couldn’t figure out how to turn on closed captioning, so it was all in Spanish. And I can remember, a couple weeks in, I finally figured it out, and it was like heaven, the fact that I could see English words at the bottom of the screen. It was amazing.
Joe De Sena: Yeah, we just started it. And, hey, it’s good. They get to read, and they’re hearing those words, and it’s working. Yesterday, they never played hockey before, and we went to a hockey rink, and there’s a lot of Chinese in Vancouver.
John Lee Dumas: Yeah, huge, huge Asian population in Vancouver.
Joe De Sena: And there were some kids getting ready for hockey speaking Mandarin, and these guys jumped right in.
John Lee Dumas: Come on! That’s awesome.
Joe De Sena: Yeah, it worked.
John Lee Dumas: That’s great. So, Joe, one thing that I think that you’ve seen, doing what you do, is that the Spartan Races and just having a Spartan lifestyle really affects people in business, and in life, and in relationships. Do you have a couple examples of how you’ve seen Spartan affect people in those different ways?
Joe De Sena: Yeah, I’m looking at two boys right now getting ripped out of bed. It’s certainly affecting them at 6:00 a.m.
I get emails every day. I got an email yesterday of a guy who was out in the hurricane, and he was training for our race in Iceland on December 16th, and a tree fell, and it almost took him out, and he had to write me. And he said, “Look, I don’t know if I should be pissed or happy, but I outran a frigging tree.”
John Lee Dumas: Pissed because he wouldn’t be in that situation if he wasn’t training for it, but happy because he was able to evade it.
Joe De Sena: Exactly. And so, he said, “I got a little more athleticism thanks to you guys. I got a little more spunk. I got a little more resilience.” So, we get these emails every day: “I’m no longer upset with my wife,” “I have a new frame of reference,” “I’m no longer upset with my husband, “I’ve lost a bunch of weight,” “I no longer do drugs,” “I stopped drinking,” “I’m better with my employees because I’ve got more gratitude and understanding and patience.” So, this is much more than a sport. This is a way of life that recalibrates all of us.
John Lee Dumas: Now, as you travel around in the different countries that you’re in, obviously there’s probably ebbs and flows with how many people know about Spartan Races and the word Spartan. What have you found with Vancouver so far? Is it too early to tell, or is there a pretty big movement there?
Joe De Sena: Pretty big movement here. They know it. I’m a glutton for wearing the same t-shirt every day that says Spartan on it.
John Lee Dumas: Yeah, always be branding, baby.
Joe De Sena: Yeah, people see it. People know it. And anywhere in the world – even in China, I was skeptical. I figured kids in school weren’t necessarily talking about Sparta, but they accepted it. They knew it right away, and they understand those values and principles that come out of thousands of years of stories and what actually happened in the ancient world. So, it translates well everywhere. We’ll find out with Elon Musk if it works on Mars, but in the United States and all around the world, it’s working.
John Lee Dumas: So, what is the day’s workout gonna consist of? You just got your girl and your boys out of bed. I can hear them cranking around back there, so they’re getting a little fired up. The sleep’s getting out of their eyes. What does dad have in store for them today?
Joe De Sena: So, we are heading outside. First thing we do, when we were in Japan, we would do 40 flights of stairs to start because that gets the engine going. I don’t have stairs right here, so we go down the hill. We carry some sandbags. There are some blackberries that are still popping down at the bottom, so we do a little blackberry hunting, and then we head back up with the sandbags. Once we get here, we’ve got a 12-exercise routine that’s just like brushing out teeth: bear crawl, crab walk, cartwheel, rabbit jumps, duck walk, handstand walk. And we just do it every day.
And so, when people see these guys, they’re like, “Oh, do they do gymnastics?” Nope. I mean, I guess if you consider those, but we just do it every day like clockwork.
John Lee Dumas: I love it.
Joe De Sena: And then, they’re allowed to eat breakfast. Otherwise, they can’t eat.
John Lee Dumas: Joe, it’s pretty obvious to me that you inspire your kids, you inspire thousands if not hundreds of thousands of people around the world, but who inspires you?
Joe De Sena: I think I’ve been put on this earth to torture people, and I’m inspired when I have a new victim, I like to call them. So, these guys are victims for me right now. They’re officially in the bathroom brushing their teeth, so that’s good. I gotta go back up and get my daughter. And so, I don’t know. I gain strength from other people that are looking for strength. If I’m awake, I want the whole house awake. I want the neighborhood awake. I want to get in touch with everybody I know. I get inspired that way, if that makes sense.
John Lee Dumas: It makes a lot of sense. And let’s kind of wrap this interview up because you’re gonna get your kids out, you’re gonna challenge the day, you’re gonna conquer the day, but take your time here. What do you really want to maybe pass along as a message for Fire Nation? What do you want our listeners, who are entrepreneurs, who, frankly, are probably putting too much time with their asses in the chairs and staring at a keyboard and a screen than really challenging themselves out there in the wilderness and doing some cool things out there that’s going to give them the confidence to sit down and actually conquer the world online as well? So, what do you want to say to Fire Nation?
Joe De Sena: We’re on this planet for a very short time. We’re not gonna remember at the end the stuff in the middle, the easy stuff, the sitting on the couch, the watching TV. We’re gonna remember the edges. Go out in the rain. You’re not gonna drown. The water’s cold? Who cares? Get in the cold water. Take cold showers. Do the burpees in the morning.
Those seemingly painful experiences that get you out of your comfort zone, those are the times you’re gonna remember. Those are the times that change you, rewire the brain, change your frame of reference, and prepare us for tough times. It could be a hurricane, could be somebody getting cancer, whatever. We need to manufacture adversity in our lives so we can become more proficient at dealing with it.
John Lee Dumas: So, Fire Nation, I want you to listen to the Spartan Up! Podcast if this is resonating with you. Joe brings on amazing guests. He drops amazing value bombs on that show. And I want you to read Spartan Fit if this is resonating with you because, for the same reasons, you’re gonna get really excited about all of this stuff. You want to keep going down this path, keep following down this path.
Joe, any other calls to action for Fire Nation before we say bye?
Joe De Sena: Wake your kids up if it’s 6:00 a.m. Get them out of bed.
John Lee Dumas: Fire Nation, you’re the average of the five people that you spend the most time with. Remember that. And today, you’re hanging out with JD and JLD, so keep up the heat and head over to EOFire.com. If you type “Joe” in the search bar, his Show Notes page is gonna pop up with everything that we’ve been talking about today. Go back and listen to Episode 938 to hear more of his story personally.
And, Joe, I just want to say thank you, brother, for sharing your journey with Fire Nation today. Thank you for bringing us into your 6:12 a.m. world of waking up your kids and what you do every day to stay Spartan fit, and for that, brother, we salute you, and we’ll catch you on the flipside.
Joe De Sena: Thanks. Thanks for having me. I’ll see you in 900 episodes.
John Lee Dumas: Boom!
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