Jason Jaksetic is an ultra-endurance athlete, an accomplished Ironman finisher, a dumbfoundingly (I made up that word it’s so worthy)spiritually driven and elegant writer and philosopher, a runner for the Mud Mafia, and one my good friends. I like that part the best about him. I wrote a little piece on his upcoming Death Race in June (although he does run a little 150 mile jaunt May 5th in Vermont before that.)
As an example and as my friend, Jason has really taught me the value of not having a baseline of expectations laid out for you but creating them for yourself on your own terms as you go. He’s redefined what’s “normal”. It’s been life-changing. He’s rad and I wanted to write about it.
Stumbling in the barn at 2:15 A.M. March 7, 2011 after 62 hours of effort, Jason Jaksetic had accomplished his mission: 100 miles on snow shoes in the books after 30 days of training. The Barn Beast was born. Defying the naysayers and the experts he accomplished what was seemingly impossible but that’s not new to this alternative athlete. To Jason, there is no such thing as “normal.”
As a boy growing up in Stanhope, NJ no one would have thought that the self-proclaimed “band dork” would become the athlete he is today. As a musician, traveling, teaching, and making music he didn’t enter his first long distance event until age 22 and with no training. He was immediately in over his head. His first event was the esteemed Boston Marathon but with a catch… he entered on a dare, he ran it bandit, (and for you who always follow the rules, that means you crash the event and run the course) and still managed a 4:20 finish. He’d previously never run more than four miles at one time.
Boston was the catalyst, but Jason wanted more. Setting his sights on Ironman, he got serious about training, completing five Ironman evens in two years and at age 24 he qualified for Kona with a 10:23 finishing time in Lake Placid. Jason seemed on the fast track and trained hard for a big showing in the Louisville Ironman in 2010. During a long training run Jason felt a slight hitch in his hip. Alarm bells went off in his head, but he dismissed them, not realizing at that moment that he had suffered a stress fracture.
Jason’s plan was to destroy the swim and the bike and get through the marathon as best as possible given the hip injury. The swim went well, but after pounding the bike for 70 miles, Jason bonked. At mile 101 woke up in an ambulance suffering what appeared to be cardiac arrest from exhaustion and dehydration. This, his first DNF, weighed far heavier on his mind than body and he escaped to Swaziland, Africa to reevaluate his training, his goals, and his expectations. In the airport, he found a passport belonging to Joe DeSena, owner of Spartan Race. It was a turning point.
Not long after, Jason packed up and moved into the training facility aka “the Barn” in Pittsfield, VT to work for Joe and to train for several ultra-distance races including the infamous Death Race abandoning his militant Ironman training style to a more non-traditional approach in the rugged mountains just outside his back door. “I don’t have training plans, I block off 12 hours to go hurt myself.” He quips. He means it too. He’s all too familiar with rigid training plans, “I went to Kona, and I wanted to be a pro Ironman. I got sick of it all.”
Ultra-racing gives him the opportunity to focus on everything beyond the metrics, calories and maximum wattage. His collegiate background in philosophy and comparative religion makes the significance of effort and investment about so much more than the physical body. “In ultra-racing 50% of the race is your body and 50% is your mind. That’s why I am out there for so long and aggressively seeking discomfort.” Critics of endurance racing often point to the physical demands and wear on the body. The pain and damage inflicted on the athletes. Jason adamantly disagrees, “We turn off pain and associate it with negative connotation. Anything that is worth doing is going to hurt. Running away from pain is running away from physical, mental, and spiritual greatness.”
His quest for redefining the “new normal” is centered in self-fulfillment and a quest for liberation. He is the enigma that can drag tires up a mountain and then rave about the new baby ducks born on the Amee farm and it all fits together somehow. He grumbles about the inconvenience of pumping his own gas in Vermont and then runs for 8 hours in knee-deep mud without complaint. He will articulate a blog post about the semantics of Kant’s metaphysics and Hegel’s labyrinths, phenomenology and empirical existence while planning a birthday party centered around the musical, Jesus Christ Superstar. And that’s just a Wednesday.
He’s at home in his work, in his barn, in his running and training. His events are for him now are on his terms. “There is no fame and glory in this. Doing a job that I enjoy is just as important. They are one facet of an existence geared toward doing what I want and not what is considered normal. Normal offends me. I’m not buying into the standard.”
With the Death Race, he’s focused. “I am going to play it smart and I want to be in the mix. I expect to finish and I expect to get it done.” What could possibly follow a Death Race Barn Beast style? Well, today he told me he’s looking into the La Ultra, a 138 mile ultra through the Himalayan Mountains. I can hear his giddy excitement as he tells me about the race that reaches 17,500 feet of elevation not once, but twice during the stretch. “I experience a sense of being, it’s actually existing instead of taking a ride on the biological roller coaster.” Still, the Himalayan mountains seem a long way to travel for spiritual significance. “Someday I’ll attain that while sitting on my front Porch.”
So when is enough, enough? Is there enough? “When I forget why I am doing it.”
“Why ARE you doing it?” I ask. (pause) Jason laughs, “I don’t know. Am I supposed to?”
“All I know is that you can hit the reset button. You can survive the overwhelming.”