Can “The Captain” Capture the Million?

And oh yeah, did we mention it’s in Sweden, where there will be several feet of snow and temperatures will almost certainly be below freezing?!



SPARTA, GREECE – In 2018, Spartan CEO Joe DeSena put $1 Million on the line for an incredible feat of athleticism, mental toughness and pure grit. DeSena promised this grand prize to any athlete that could win the Spartan World Championships in Tahoe, California, the Trifecta World Championships in Sparta, Greece, and win/complete 100 miles (men) at the Ultra World Championships in Sweden, they would be awarded $1 million. 


Last year, the UK’s Jon Albon got tantalizingly close. He won the first two events and was poised to take a shot at the prize but ended up falling off pace at the Ultra World Championships (held in Iceland in 2018) and “only” finished 42 miles. To put the difficulty of the 100 miles in perspective, the winner of this event, Ryan Atkins finished with 82.5 miles. 



This year, the format has been changed quite a bit. Now DeSena has set up a point system so that your total miles minus your placement in Tahoe and Greece equals your total score. In order to win the $1 million, an athlete needs to score 98 points. Therefore, a win at Tahoe and Greece and 100 miles in Sweden would net an athlete the grand prize, but this year an athlete isn’t out of the running if they do not win one of the first two races, but they would have to complete more miles at Sweden. With this point system, while the 2018 spotlight was beaming on Albon, it’s shining a little less brightly on Killian. 


“I’ve always liked being the dark horse,” said Killian.


“I’ve always liked being the dark horse,” said Killian. “I had a huge goal of winning Tahoe and I trained for months for that race specifically. Not many had me pegged to win after not getting podium at any U.S National Series race and more eyes, including my own were shifted to someone peaking on the mountains at the time like [Johnny] Luna-Lima.” 


Unlike last year, this year’s Trifecta World Championship and Ultra World Championship are on back-to-back weekends, causing there to be virtually no recovery. Not only that, but for each five-mile lap, the racers will be faced with 2,000 feet of gain, totaling 40,000 feet overall. Additionally, if a racer isn’t back from their last lap within the cutoff time, they are disqualified from the race and none of their miles count.


And oh yeah, did we mention it’s in Sweden, where there will be several feet of snow and temperatures will almost certainly be below freezing? However, the athletes do experience significantly more sunlight in Sweden versus Iceland (9 hours versus 4 hours). 


Essentially what I’m trying to get at is that everyone believes this mission to be nearly impossible (especially DeSena.) However, Killian is ready to give it a shot. 


“Every race I go out there I try to have fun,” said Killian. “My first goal is to complete the 30 miles for the belt buckle and from there see what my pace is at. If I can go for it from there, I will, if I can put myself into position to win the event, I will, and if I’m off pace for both of those things, I’ll check out and try to win the Super the next day.”


Killian elaborated further by saying that it’s really an unknown with how one’s body might feel the day of the race. He has put in the hours, days and weeks training but only his body will know how far he can push it on race day. 


“My body is definitely ready for a break,” said Killian. “When I first started this sport, the season was from May until October, but now they have us stretched from February until as late as December, so there really is no true offseason for us.” 


Killian is referring to the U.S. National Series beginning in Jacksonville in February and the Trail Championship not being held until December 14. Then, it would be surprising to see Spartan not have a similar time frame on their schedule for 2020.


So how does an athlete prepare for a massive mission like this? Killian identified a few key components that he believes is a recipe for a successful ultra. 

“It’s about 40 percent volume in training and then about 30 percent nutrition and 30 percent gear, especially in conditions like this,” said Killian. 


While most of his mission has been discussing the man versus course conflict that comes with completing 100-miles in Sweden, this requires an incredible three-race series in Greece among a very deep field and another deep field in Sweden that includes Atkins, Aaron Newell and Kris Brown, who finished 13th in the 2019 Western States 100-miler in 16 hours, 35 minutes, so he could have an additional 7-hour cushion to potentially compensate for the obstacles, elevation and weather. 


With a task this massive, just going out thee and trying to have fun is something that every racer reading this article can take away, regardless of their goals. 


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