Wall said he considered quitting a couple of times, once when he was in the midst of crossing a "freezing pond" for the third or fourth time and again when he had trouble figuring out how to carry a 3-foot log on his back.

Finally, when race organizers announced at a local church after nearly two full days that everyone who was still participating was considered a finisher, Wall said, "I was confused because I knew I had some tasks left. But it was a relief."

Many insist the mental aspect of the race is what separates those who finish from those who quit. The mental part could include reciting a verse from the Bible, as happened last year when there was a religious theme, or listing the first 10 presidents of the United States in reverse order.

"When you're sleep-deprived and your strength is depleted, all these [activities] are hard to finish," said Weinberg, who teaches at a local liberal arts college.

Hutchinson, who joined the Marines three days after graduating from high school in upstate New York and was left with the rank of sergeant last year, is looking at his first Spartan Death Race as a way to challenge himself.

"I think it's going to be more mental than anything else," Hutchinson, 26, said recently. "The Marines have set me up for something like that."

Hutchinson spent the past few months challenging himself in another way, as a first-year graduate student in chemistry at Johns Hopkins. He said he has prepared for the physical aspects of the Death Race by running up to 12 miles a day with a backpack carrying 40 pounds in weights, throwing 30-pound weights into the air or trying to exercise on very little sleep. He also went without food for a day to see how his body would react.

When his final exams are over next week, Hutchinson will begin to gear up even more for the Spartan Death Race.

"I'm going to try to be as well-rested as I can going in," Hutchinson said.

So will Pavlisak, a 32-year-old West Point graduate from Havre de Grace who believes his own military experience, including two tours as an infantry officer in Iraq and one in Afghanistan, will come in handy once he reaches the Green Mountains next month.

"In the military, you're expected to finish your mission," Pavlisak said. "I don't know what they're going to throw at us, but I can handle the unknown."

But can he handle a little manure crawl?

don.markus@baltsun.com

  • Text NEWS to 70701 to get Baltimore Sun local news text alerts