By Karen Billing
For the second year in a row, Joe Decker crawled, hauled, suffered, survived and ultimately bested “The Spartan Death Race.”
Decker, who runs the popular Gut Check Fitness boot camp at several Carmel Valley parks, recently completed the Vermont race in 39 grueling hours — about 11 hours longer than it took him the first time he won the event in 2010.
The race, which started June 25, involved obstacles such as eight hours of chopping wood, 10 miles running through an ice-cold river, 30 miles hiking up a mountain with a 70- pound backpack, and crawling through barbwire.
“All kinds of nonsense. Luckily there was no eating bad stuff this year,” said Decker, referencing last year’s race in which he had to eat 10 pounds of onions.
Decker ran the race with a team from San Diego, including Roger Bernstein, Vu Tran, Gentry Marks and Jeff Bales, a teacher at Ocean Air School. The group trained for nine months in preparation for the unpredictable, physically and mentally demanding race.
Very few of the 150 entrants are able to complete the race, where the goal is to get people to drop out. Tran was able to finish the race about five hours after Decker, and Bales and Bernstein lasted 28 hours.
“Overall, they did a really good job and I’m very proud of them,” Decker said.
There is always an East-West Coast rivalry, with the East Coasters calling Decker’s team “California Girls.”
“Someone from California won it for the second year in a row so apparently we’re doing something right out here,” Decker said.
Decker said the hardest part of Death Race 2011 was coming down the “substantial mountain” and hiking up a stream for two to three miles on a straight vertical—even through a waterfall. Running through acres of blackberry briars was also brutal and he has the cut-up ankles and calves to prove it.
“I’m in so much pain,” Decker said in an interview on June 30. “I have bloody marks all over.”
Despite an aching back and thighs that were virtually “filleted” by the axe used to chop logs, Decker expected to be back working out by Monday, July 4.
“I’ll take the weekend off and start again,” said Decker. “I enjoy [working out], it’s my life. It keeps me balanced, it keeps me sane.”
Death Race, he admits, is a little bit insane. Insane but fun. He’s not quite sure if he will sign up again for 2012 but he won’t rule it out. He’s got a title to defend and a three-peat is a definite possibility.
In 2000, Decker broke the Guinness World Record’s “Twenty-Four-Hour Physical Fitness Challenge” to help inspire and motivate people to get fit. In addition to breaking the world fitness record, Decker has competed in many of the world’s most challenging endurance and adventure fitness events.
After serving three years in the Army with the 10th Mountain Division, Decker graduated from Western Illinois University with a B.S. degree in exercise science.
Decker has appeared on "The Today Show," "Discovery Health," "The Early Show," "The O’Reilly Factor" and Fox News, and has been featured in numerous national publications.
Decker’s Gut Check Fitness Boot Camps are held six days a week at Sage Canyon Park, Torrey Hills Neighborhood Park and Carmel Valley Recreation Center. To learn more, visit