Carmel Valley: Athletes take unusual training steps for ‘The Death Race’

Jeff Bales, Roger Bernstein, Joe Decker, Sentry Marks and Vu Tran are in training for Death Race 2011. (Photo/Jon Clark)

By Karen Billing
Staff Writer

Few might sign up for a race called “The Death Race,” a race that comes with a website titled Only 19 people finished the ultimate endurance race in Vermont last year out of 135 who started it. Local trainer Joe Decker beat death and won the event in his first time racing the event in 2009—lasting through 42 miles of obstacles from hauling manure for seven miles to crawling under barbed wire for three miles to eating 10 pounds of onions right in the middle of the race.

Decker, who runs the popular Gut Check Fitness boot camp at several Carmel Valley parks, has signed up to do it all over again and this time he’s bringing along some fellow fitness warriors.

He will compete in the June 25 race with Roger Bernstein, Vu Tran, Sentry Marks and Jeff Bales, a teacher at Ocean Air School.
These men swear they aren’t crazy—just up for a challenge, getting the most out of life. Decker relates it to Gut Check Fitness’ mission.

“My primary goal is to motivate people to take care of and enjoy their bodies and get out there and try fun, cool or even un-thought of events like Death Race,” Decker said.

Decker understands more than anyone how important a healthy lifestyle can be — fifteen years ago he was 80 pounds overweight and depressed and he credits fitness with getting him out of that hole. Now he smiles as he jogs, tugging a 75-pound Hummer tire behind him no problem.

The guys started training a couple of months ago for the not-so-average race. Nearly every aspect is unpredictable—the race organizers decide how long the event lasts and when it begins. In 2009, Decker said the race started four hours before it was supposed to and lasted 28 hours. In 2008, the race was 14 hours.

“You could be out there 15 hours or 28 hours, there’s no official race time, you’re done when they tell you you’re done,” Decker said.
The race aims to take people out by throwing challenges in their way that they cannot handle. Not Decker’s guys. While only 19 participants finished last year, Decker said his group will all finish this year.

“We don’t have a choice,” said Tran.

“Joe’s quote is, ‘Don’t think about it, just do it,’” said Bales.

Decker nods and affirms, “Quitting is not an option.”

They team trains five to seven days a week by hauling…well, everything. Heavy buckets of sand, rocks, those aforementioned Hummer tires. They’ll do a grueling set of pushups and run along with the rest of Decker’s boot camp participants, then they run and crawl and carry some more.

The grossest thing they have done is swim in sewage. After it rained they trained in a sewage pit in the Los Penasquitos Canyon Preserve — Decker threw a brick in the “water” and the guys had to get in and retrieve it.

“We’re trying to get used to agony,” Decker explains. “The race is all about trying to get you to tap out. You just can’t think about it because the brain will be screaming ‘Don’t do it!’”

“It’s easy for us to shut off the thinking switch,” said Marks.

“It’s not a very big switch,” cracked Tran.

To learn more about Gut Check Fitness, visit

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Posted by Scott Reeder on Jan 13, 2011. Filed under Carmel Valley. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0. You can leave a response or trackback to this entry

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