Preparing for the Death Race
February 15th, 2011

Bruce Allentuck wants you to know he is a regular guy. He is not a Navy Seal. He is not a physical trainer. He is a 45-year-old married father of three, owner of a small landscaping business, resident of a pleasant middle-class neighborhood in North Potomac.

Except that he is compelled, for reasons he explains in simple terms, to determine how much punishment he can inflict on his body and mind. That is why he was crunching through six miles of ankle-deep snow in the woods recently, lugging a three-foot, 50-pound length of solid oak. Why he recently ran a third of a mile in nine minutes carrying two 40-pound buckets of gravel. Why he runs five miles in a creek with a 60-pound truck tire slung over his shoulder.

It is why he is the only person from the Washington area headed to Vermont in June to run the 2011 Death Race, the sixth year of a competition so unimaginably cruel that the organizers require the 200 carefully selected entrants to sign a three-word waiver that reads simply, "You may die."

"I just want to see if I can push through and do it," said Allentuck, who has completed seven marathons, four ultramarathons, three Ironman triathlons, a 4.4-mile Chesapeake Bay swim, and 30 to 40 other triathlons of various lengths.

"I've done all kinds of things," he said. "It's the next thing."

Allentuck's personal journey roughly parallels the evolution of adventure racing itself. As the sport's popularity has surged over the past decade, the core disciplines of trail running, biking and paddling are increasingly combined with wades through mud bogs, leaps over fire pits and knee-scraping crawls under barbed wire.

Jack Raglin, who studies the connection between the psychology and biology of exercise at Indiana University, says Allentuck does not exhibit any of the classic signs of exercise addiction: diminished family and social life, loss of interest in anything but exercise, lack of interest in his job.


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