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'Death Race' isn't for faint of heart

Dr. Dennis Lesniak is getting ready for the race of his life this summer even though he's not completely sure what it is he'll be doing.

The event in question is called "The Death Race." If that isn't foreboding enough, the website's address is youmaydie.com. It is held in Pittsfield, Vt., on June 25-27, and attracts up to a couple of hundred athletes each year.

Runners are always coming up with new ways to test their physical limits. A new goal, particularly at this time of year, is always welcome. Some certainly will say Lesniak might be overdoing it here -- he believes he's the first person from the area to try this particular event.

In the case of the Death Race, the competitors have to go through a variety of tasks over the course of 48 hours. The catch is that while the athletes know there will be a variety of physical tests in a rural setting, they don't know exactly what's on the agenda.

For example, at one race, athletes had to take off at 4 a.m., jump into a mud pit, crawl under barbed wire, pull a stump out of the ground, and crawl back through the mud, rocks and water.

"The kind of person that signs up for the race is someone that has no limits," said Joe DeSena, one of the event's co-founders, in a video posted on the official website. "They're just basically a lunatic. The kind of person that finishes is an extraordinary person."

"I found out about this when my wife and I were an an orthopedic appointment for my mother," Lesniak said. "I found an article on the race from Outside magazine. My wife stole the magazine from the office, and I looked at the website. I said, 'I have to try this.' "

The website certainly goes out of its way to set a tone. For example, under race detail reads the following: "Expect to cry, scream, barbed wire, wood chopping, mud, water, ponds, waterfalls, etc. No prize money. Doubtful you'll finish."

Lesniak, who has his own practice as a chiropractor, clinical nutritionist and personal trainer in North Tonawanda, has an impressive running resume.

"I've done five full marathons, and a multitude of half-marathons," Lesniak said. "I've done Eight in the Rough [an 8-mile trail run in nearby Glenwood], and a Vermont 50-mile ultra-marathon."

"It's always been a thing of mine to see what I can do. The running part is fun. But I weigh 220, so an event like this that requires strength and endurance lends itself well to someone of my size."

After Lesniak paid his $500 registration fee -- it jumps to $900 after Jan. 31 -- he started to prepare for this test.

"I've been doing a lot of treadmill work while wearing a weight vest," he said. "I'll put 100 pounds of weight on and do 15, 20 minutes with the extra pounds. Then I'll do less weight but go up a 15 percent incline. I'll work on my grip strength. That's the bulk of the training, but I'll do some running, weight-lifting and full body workouts."

Strength work is important in preparation for the Death Race. There are no restrictions on the tools that competitors can use along the way. But, they have to carry them as they go along.

As the training takes place, organizers like to play little games with the athletes -- almost like psychological warfare. They ask for video proof about the level of training that competitors are doing before their application is accepted, and they suggest that the athletes sign up for one of their preparation camps beforehand.

When the training is done, the athletes -- at least the ones that haven't been scared off -- will converge on Pittsfield. The little town is located almost right in the middle of the state.

No one sets out to win an event like this. The idea is just to finish, and only about 10 percent of all entrants do that.

"I've run some tough marathons," Lesniak said. "With the money I've put in and the training I'll do, I can't see quitting."

If he does finish, he'll achieve his reason for taking part in the Death Race.

"I want to prove to people that when you put your mind to something, you can do anything. It just takes time," Lesniak said.

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Race calendar

*Resolution Run, 5K, 12861 Route 438, Irving, 10:30 a.m. Saturday, 532-9225.

*Penguin Run, 5K, 2425 Niagara Falls Blvd., Amherst, 11 a.m. Sunday, 549-6307 x201.

*Mr. Ed's Superbowl Warm-Up 5K, Fire Hall on Main Street in Middleport, 11:30 a.m., Feb. 6, (585) 798-3282.

e-mail: bbailey@buffnews.com

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