Without taking a formal poll, it can be safely assumed that most people, when presented with the option, would decline to do something – anything – with the caveat attached that “you may die.”
Yet there is a select group of people that, like moths to a light, are attracted to such life-threatening challenges.
West Hartford resident Andrew Beliveau, a 2003 graduate of and a current Hartford firefighter, is one such person.
Beliveau has entered the Spartan Death Race, a 40-plus mile adventure race held in Pittsfield, VT, scheduled for June 15 that is so grueling and demanding (as though the name Spartan Death Race wasn’t enough of a clue) that its website is www.youmaydie.com.
The race’s physical challenges are indeed daunting - competitors have to carry burdens like cinder blocks and logs, as well as traverse fields lined with barbed wire and push backpacks through 200-foot concrete pipes.
But it’s the psychological aspect that really sets the competition apart. Entrants one year had to climb a hill, memorize the first 10 presidents of the U.S. and recite them back upon descending.
“After you're sleep deprived, you're cold, you want to stop,” Beliveau said.
Oh, and no one knows exactly when the race will start and when it will end. Last year, for example, the race was set to begin at 4 a.m., but the competitors were called in for what they thought was a last-minute briefing session at 10 p.m. the prior evening, only to find out that the race was starting at that moment.
“Whatever I think is the hardest thing I can do, just double or triple it, because they’re trying to mentally make you quit,” said Beliveau in a recent interview. “I would hope anyone who signed up for it physically knows what’s going on. You’re going up and down hills, you’re chopping wood, so most people can do that. It’s also to test your will.”
Beliveau said that just 10 to 15 percent of the 300 or so competitors will actually finish the race. Last year’s winner completed the entire course in just over 28 hours.
“Whatever they have in their mind, it’s stuff you don’t expect,” Beliveau said. “I kind of like that. With a marathon, you know the end. That kind of motivates you. Here, you’ve got to find your motivation some other way. You need some outside help to push you. I can’t say I know. This is my first time [entering the race].”
Without question, Beliveau will be ready for the physical aspect of the race. He’s training at CrossFit Relentless in West Hartford as well as his former home in East Granby in the Spoonville Road and Route 187 sections of town.
“The foundation of training comes from CrossFit,” Beliveau said. “Basically, I’m varying the workout as much as possible and expanding it to all horizons of sport – gymnastics, Olympic lifting, endurance, cardio. It all comes together for an hour. Today’s workout was 18 minutes, but you’re gassed.”
His training also includes 2 ½ to 3-mile trail hikes that he takes around East Granby while carrying a mountain bike or a log.
“East Granby is awesome,” he said. “I love it. If I could be in a place like this, I don’t see anyplace better. This is where I am training.”
In the last year, Beliveau has run a couple of half-marathons, a full marathon and the Tough Mudder race, a 10-12 mile obstacle course that is held in Vermont, among other places.
“[The marathon] was tough. ... I thought that was the hardest thing yet,” Beliveau said. “Tough Mudder was just hiking. There was almost no running. Unless you were finishing in the top percent, you weren’t running. The obstacles weren’t hard. It was just get dirty, get wet, get cold.”
So Beliveau, who looks like a lean, tattooed 26-year-old human tank, is less concerned with the physical challenges than he is the mental ones.
“They try to demoralize you,” Beliveau said. “No one has [actually] died, which is good. There’s some pictures of some guys who are banged up. Knock on wood, I haven’t been plagued with injury too much.”
Beliveau has been mixing up his workouts by pulling them out of a hat to prepare himself for the randomness of what lays ahead. He also has a relentlessly positive - though not necessarily sunny - approach to the race.
“I think I’m ready to start today,” Beliveau said. “If they called me up, I’d be ready to start today. It’s got to be inside of you, but I can’t say for sure. I definitely am going to finish. I don’t know how long it’s going to take. If I don’t finish, they’re going to have to pull me off. If you finish, you are a special person. Just being out there and not quitting is already a step above. Finishing is going to be something super special.”
It’s an attitude that he inherited from his father, Kenneth Beliveau, a career firefighter who is currently the East Granby fire marshal.
“I would say that he’s following in my footsteps,” Kenneth Beliveau said. “I did the [firefighter] stair climb when it was originally in the Gold Building in Hartford. … I did the Firefighters’ Challenge several years ago. So he’s just going a little bit further than what I’ve done. I wish I could follow him.”
Kenneth Beliveau is certain his son will finish the Spartan Death Race.
“He’ll make it,” Kenneth said. “Just by running the races I’ve been seeing him doing. I’m very proud of him.”
For now, Andrew Beliveau is training in his old haunts in East Granby several times a week as well as his gym in West Hartford, waiting for the day that will serve as the ultimate test of his mental and physical limits. And he can’t wait for that day to arrive.
“[When I cross the finish line] probably I’m going to think, ‘Never again,’ like I did with the marathon and go to sleep,” Andrew said. “But, if they call me today, I’m ready to go. I’m pumped. I’m excited.”
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