El Jefe

Spartan Race Starts at Oleta on Saturday

About 15,000 people will pull themselves through mud, climb 25-foot-high ropes, avoid barbed wire -- and swim and run more than ten miles -- Saturday and Sunday in Oleta State Park.

"The only thing we left out this year was the alligators," says race founder, organizer, and all-around macho loon Joe De Sena. "Too dangerous."

Now in its fourth year, the Spartan Race is a juggernaut. About 60 races are planned in nine countries -- including the Czech Republic and Australia -- this year, with about 600,000 people competing.

Why has it grown so fast?

"Human beings need to get their hearts beating," says De Sena. "It is not enough to send emails and make money. The human body needs to be taken out on the track and run around. It just feels good."

The race has been run at Oleta, in North Miami Beach, the past three years. Most people park at FIU's North Campus, and then buses carry both participants and fans to the race.

The mud and cross-country run through nature draws lawyers and doctors, jocks and fat boys. It's expensive -- late registration is more than $140 -- but the pain, desolation, and weirdness is definitely worth it -- particularly if you are insane.

What does the race do for people? De Sena points to a Georgia man named Chris Davis, who weighed 696 pounds when he started the Spartan regimen. He's lost 400 pounds over about 1.5 years. "We got him off the Egg McMuffins and Sprite," De Sena says. "We put him on the Spartan diet... No food and lots of exercise."

Another runner recently sent an email saying the Spartan Race, which he discovered while web browsing, had saved him from suicide.

This year's event is almost twice as big as last year's. Arrive early. Crowds will be overwhelming. I am running it with my 14-year-old son. We'll be watching out for alligators.