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One year, participants were told to bring mountain bikes. Many racers trained for a long, punishing ride. At the start of the competition, they were told to remove their bicycle chains, throw them in a lake and carry the frames for an entire day while racing on foot.

“Every race you go to, they tell you everything,” Mr. Weinberg said. “When it starts. When it finishes. You know exactly what you’re doing and how to train. You know that if you get to 20 miles in a marathon and are struggling, there’s only six miles to go.

“We thought it would be unique to come up with a race where you have no clue. We wanted to find athletes that were able to deal with adversity. The race is a lot like life — things suck, and you have to deal with them.”

Mind and body games

According to Mr. Canino, last year’s Death Race went partially like this: Competitors lifted rocks for five hours. In the dark. During a rainstorm. Next came a one-mile upstream wade through a flowing, frigid river, followed by carrying a lit candle around a field for seven laps — if the candle went out, racers had to start over.

At the bottom of a slippery mountain trail rigged with electrified cattle wire, competitors were given tree stumps. They were told to ascend the trail without allowing the stump to touch the ground. At the top of the mountain was a Bible verse; racers had to memorize the verse and recite it to a volunteer after scrambling back down.

“If you did the verse right, you got to split your stump to firewood and keep going,” Mr. Canino said. “If not, you had to do it over. I saw one guy have to do this four times.”

Mr. Weinberg and Mr. DeSena cobble together each year’s race from a self-compiled computer database of more than 100 challenges that test participants’ physical and mental mettle. “We do test them ourselves,” Mr. Weinberg said, “and it’s a lot of fun.”

During winter editions of the Death Race, competitors have submerged themselves in freezing water to the point of uncontrollable shaking, stepped out to guzzle nausea-inducing gallons of milk and then fired guns at targets or put together delicate birdhouses with sticky glue.

Another year, racers who already had been awake and running for 24 hours were required to count out 1,250 pennies — exactly — and place $5 worth into a plastic bag. The bags subsequently were tossed into a lake, where racers had to dive in and fetch them.

Mr. Weinberg and Mr. Desena’s most fiendish challenge? Perhaps when they had participants — 40 hours into the race and well past the point of exhaustion — crawl under barbed wire to reach a bridge. Under the bridge was a sentence written in Greek.

“We told them to bring a Greek translation book,” Mr. Weinberg said. “So they spend an hour translating it. It says, ‘Congratulations, you’re almost halfway done.’

“We just do crazy stuff. We can’t really use taser guns. No branding. And we don’t make them get tattoos. We’ve considered making them get tattoos on their foreheads.”

Mr. Canino has tried to prepare. Per a set of pre-race instructions from Mr. Weinberg and Mr. DeSena — some of which likely are bogus — he has a backpack stuffed with his ax, a bow saw, a personal flotation device, chopsticks and a pair of dress shoes. Because competitors are allowed to bring anything else they can carry, the pack also contains a headlamp, bandages, work gloves, duct tape and body glide.

The latter, of course, is for chafing.

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