PITTSFIELD — Normally, Riverside Farm would be one among hundreds of hosts for the Spartan races, grueling endurance tests held across the world, but because of the COVID-19 pandemic it’s one of the few that will see any such action this year.
“We’ve had a complete disaster,” said Joe De Sena, founder and chief executive officer of Spartan, on Tuesday. “We’re in 45 countries, 325 events, we’ll be lucky to pull off 20 events this year. I had to cancel over 300 events, furlough 350 people, almost 400. We’re just trying to survive like everybody else.”
This year’s event, Spartan Games: Battle of the Fittest, began Friday and concluded Tuesday. It saw 24 male and female athletes, along with a film crew, sequester themselves at Riverside Farm. De Sena said the grand prize is $100,000 split between the top male and female competitors.
“This is really a test to see who the fittest athlete of them all is, so we brought in Olympic triathletes, Crossfitters, strongmen, strongwomen, ultra-runners, mountain bikers, and Spartans, and we’ve got a series of events that take place over five days, and it basically tests them in every area with a point system,” said De Sena.
Past Spartan races have been mainly extreme obstacle courses. This new format, designed with COVID-19 limitations in mind, features mountain biking, obstacle races, swimming, wrestling, and other physical contests.
De Sena said all participants quarantined prior to showing up, were tested twice, and will be quarantined after they leave.
De Sena said he owns Riverside Farm and wanted to be at the event, but has had to remain in Boston, where Spartan keeps its offices.
“I’m not at my farm right now because I couldn’t get tested and get results fast enough to get back to my own house,” he said. It’s an absolute nightmare, but the good news is the crew is there, the athletes are there, and the event has been going seamlessly.”
Ann Kuendig, chairwoman of the Pittsfield Select Board, said Tuesday the board had no direct communication with the Spartan event planners and learned about it — and the details — through Facebook.
She said townspeople have noticed the portable toilets, signs and race equipment, and town officials have received no complaints. Kuendig said the event appears to be following all of the state’s health guidelines and rules.
Last year, when the Town Hall’s chimney collapsed, Spartan competitors picked up all the bricks.
De Sena said Vermont is the only place in the United States a Spartan race will happen. The state has extremely low COVID-19 infection rates, he said.
“I would have had 100 events in the U.S., I would have been across the entire United States,” he said. Everywhere I went, Democrats felt one way, the Republicans felt the other way, it’s just such a divisive situation I can’t pull off an event anywhere.”
He’s had less problems with the pandemic overseas.
“The crazy thing is China, where we host races, is on fire. We’re doing great in China. We had 10,000 kids at an event last weekend, 20,000 people a few weeks before, it’s like night and day between the U.S. and China.”
He said the event is being recorded more like a television show given the shift in scope brought on by the pandemic. The addition of events such as bicycling and wrestling is working so well he expects those elements will carry into future events.