Local Woman to take on Spartan Death Race

Leah MainBy Joe Buda

Las Vegas Informer

Leah Erickson is going where only a select few have dared to tread, the Spartan Death Race.

Erickson was selected as part of the group of 300 elite athletes accepted into this year’s race, beginning on June 27 in the woods of Pittsfield, Vermont.

The race is full of obstacles and challenges, each designed to test the athletes both physically and mentally.  Challenges can range from “a 30-mile hike with rocks and weighted packs” to reciting memorized information.

Only ten percent of the participants completed last year’s 70-hour Death Race.

In other words, to participate in a Death Race, an athlete must be determined and strong, both physically and mentally.

With (L-R) Rhino Kerry Wald, Owner Julie Johnston, Trainers Jathan Cox and Brent Johnston.  Photo credit: Christopher Gappi

With (L-R) Rhino Kerry Wald, Owner Julie Johnston, Trainers Jathan Cox and Brent Johnston. Photo credit: Christopher Gappi

The internal burning that causes Erickson to want to participate in a Death Race can be traced back to Hurricane Katrina.

Erickson was living in Gulfport, Mississippi during the 2005 hurricane.

“I did not handle that challenge well; neither during, nor in the long, long aftermath,” Erickson recalls when speaking of the hurricane. “Events like this (hurricane) really show you what you’re made of.  I found myself disappointed in what I was made of.

“Facing that fact was humbling and I’ve realized that these increasingly difficult challenges are a way for me to exercise resiliency and endurance, and an effort to strengthen what I’m made of, so that if I ever have to deal with trauma like that again, I’ll handle it better.”

Erickson recalls starting obstacle racing “on a whim.”

Over the inverted wall at the Monterey Spartan Beast

Over the inverted wall at the Monterey Spartan Beast

During her first year of pharmacy school, she realized that she had gained a lot of weight.  She was miserable.  After hearing about obstacle races from a fellow student, Erickson did some research.

“It did not look fun and I think I said something like, ‘Oh, hell no,’” Erickson stated. “Then, a few months later, fatter and even more stressed out, I saw a Groupon for a local 5K obstacle course and I thought my son and I might have a good time.

“It was March of 2012 and I showed up in cotton yoga pants and an oversized cotton tee shirt,” Erickson recalled.

She found the running and walking part to be “horrible.”

On the Traverse Wall, Las Vegas Spartan Super.  Photo credit:  Tera Burbank

On the Traverse Wall, Las Vegas Spartan Super. Photo credit: Tera Burbank

“But when I came around the corner and saw the obstacles, it was as if the clouds parted and the sun came out shining radiantly upon the day,” Erickson stated. “There was climbing and crawling.  There was ridiculous mud. My outfit suddenly weighed eleventy pounds. Despite the initial discomforts, I was hooked.”

Once hooked on obstacle racing, Erickson started participating regularly in the various levels of Spartan Race, the Sprint (three-plus miles), the Super (eight-plus miles) and the Beast (twelve-plus miles).

In races that feature sand bag carries, wall climbs and intense hilly terrain, Erickson finds that the obstacle that gives her the most challenge is the Spear Throw.

Erickson's first Obstacle Course Race, Scorpion Warrior, in Summerlin, NV

Erickson’s first Obstacle Course Race, Scorpion Warrior, in Summerlin, Nevada

“It took me racing four Spartans before I could even nail it, and even now, I’m still super careful at that obstacle,” Erickson stated. “I take my time, choose the right spear, really clear my head and get set before I make my throw.”

To train for the events, Erickson stays in race preparation mode.  “I’ve found that having something coming up, even a local 5K, helps me maintain my motivation.”

In order to stay prepared, long hours are necessary.  Erickson’s alarm goes off at 4:05 a.m. to start her day.  Her training starts at either 5 a.m. or 6 a.m. (depending on the day) with a boot camp class at Camp Rhino with trainer Jathan Cox.

After a long day of work or school, she works out again at 6 p.m., with either yoga, running or another boot camp class. At 8:30 p.m. her day ends.

Erickson signed up for the Death Race after a Rhino Night race, hosted by Julie Johnston, owner of Camp Rhino.

The Rhino Night race is a 30 obstacle race taking place in the desert at night.

With Jolene Wilkinson and Winter Vinecki at the starting line of Utah Spartan Beast.  Photo credit:  The Painted Warrior

With Jolene Wilkinson and Winter Vinecki at the starting line of Utah Spartan Beast. Photo credit: The Painted Warrior

“Bear in mind, Julie’s obstacles are harder than at any other race I’ve ever done.  Nobody else has a twelve foot rope climb wall, for instance.  No one has a ten meter army crawl holding guns,” Erickson explained. “On a whim I did the night race endurance version, in which you complete as many laps as possible.  I did three laps, and during the hours of solitude and desert night I did all those obstacles, even though no one was there to make me do burpees.”

Upon reflecting on her experience in the Rhino Night race, Erickson decided to up the ante again, and signed up for the Death Race.“I’m expecting pain. I’m expecting extreme fatigue. I’m expecting to want to quit many, many times,” Erickson stated when asked about her upcoming Death Race. “I’m expecting to come face to face with myself.  I’m also expecting to get to know a pretty amazing group of people. That’s about it.”

Her expectations seem pretty realistic. According to Spartan Race founder Joe De Sena, “Just like life, the Death Race is designed to push and aggravate people to such a point that even the most stoic eventually fail.

“Only those people possessing incredible discipline under the most insane and even delusional circumstances can call themselves a finisher. These athletes are willing to complete the journey at all costs. The fact that people endured for 70 hours to see what they are made of, is just remarkable and awe-inspiring.”

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