For the past six months, the 13 members of Team Ricey have been training with tires, sledgehammers, kettlebells, stairs and more to get ready for the Spartan Sprint this weekend.
The race itself, which is approximately three miles and more of an obstacle course than a straight out run, looks like it comes right out of the world of the gladiators.
Competitors climb over walls -- wooden, mud and wet ones, crawl under barbed wire fences, climb ropes while sliding on greasy footing, slog through mud and water -- maybe even an ice bath, all the while fending off attacks from "Spartans." In this case, Chris Dowling says he and his teammates will have to leap over flames too and go up against collegiate football linemen.
In some cases, Spartans fire water cannons at the contestants, trying to knock them flat as they make their way through various obstacles. Dowling said every course is different and they're not sure what to expect this Saturday.
Fifty Spartan Races are held across the globe each year and the company says there are only a few staple features -- most are specific to the location. There is no course map to inspect beforehand.
"There is fire, mud, water, barbed wire, and occasionally Hell on Earth. There WILL be obstacles to catch you off guard. Curve balls, so to speak. Get over it," reads a company description.
Dowling, a fire inspector, said he and several fellow Peabody firefighters and friends will be running the Spartan Sprint up at Amesbury Sports Park as . and left behind his Amy and their three young children.
Team Ricey is selling team tee shirts that will be worn on race day and donating the proceeds to the at . They hope to raise $1,500.
The shirts, which were designed by Dowling, use Rice's badge number "14," which incidentally was also the jersey number of retired Red Sox slugger Jim Rice -- and yes, Dowling said that was an inspiration for the design, hence the Red Sox logo within the logo.
The team is also still accepting new members who want to test their mettle in Amesbury. You can find more details at the team website.
Yes, it's an opportunity to support the Rices, Dowling said, "but at the same time challenge ourselves." He noted he has Type 2 Diabetes and a teammate has multiple sclerosis -- the two have ridden in other charitable races for a cure. He said it's a good challenge for them and a true test of fitness, endurance and grit.
Dowling said the team has been training at over on Lowell Street. The gym is run by the Smyrnios family and Steve Smyrnios, a retired Peabody firefighter, is acting as the team's trainer. They're getting ready with CrossFit.
"Really Steve Smyrnios has got us all in shape to even think about this," said Dowling.
In addition to Dowling and Smyrnios, firefighters Dan Pimenta, Steve Pellegrini, Tracy Collins, Nick Mir and John Hinchion will be joined by friends Matt Dowling (Chris' brother), Michael Bedard, Mark Morabito, Lewis Smyrnios, David Baker and Dean Smyrnios. Baker is a former Peabody resident who's now a chef in New York and Lewis Smyrnios is making the trek up from Florida.
Chris Dowling said the CrossFit training informally started among the firefighters a few years ago as part of a health and wellness program. The program was modified a bit to incorporate the sorts of activities firefighters might be engaged in during a fire -- carrying hoses, wielding sledgehammers or axes, charging up stairs with heavy packs on, etc.
The race lasts over two days, expects thousands of competitors and is organized into heats of 250 racers every 30 minutes over Saturday and Sunday. Dowling said Team Ricey's heat is noon on Saturday.
Dowling said he recently learned that one section where the Spartans engage the runners directly is now being staffed by offensive and defensive linemen from Boston College's football team.
For many of the teammates, they've never done anything like this before, but for some ex-military types, such as Dowling, it's kind of like Basic Training all over again. And Mir regularly competes in the national Scott Firefighter Combat Challenge, a national contest -- the Olympics of firefighting even.
"We're pretty confident that we're at least all going to finish the race," Dowling said, and maybe one or two will move on to the next round, which a 10-mile course up in Vermont.
Dowling said his time as a paratrooper should help him in some areas -- there is a technique for low-crawling and covering terrain quickly at the same time. He said the running will continually be broken up by obstacle courses or carrying heavy sandbags, so lanky runners won't necessarily have an advantage in the race. The beginning of the course, howevers, appears to start right at the bottom of a steep hill.
Dowling said the initial inspiration for doing the race came from a friend who competed in one, and didn't do that well. At first, it was suggested on a lark, but gradually became a serious challenge for the group.
Dowling said everyone's excited, but anxious at the same time, as they watch more and more previews of the Spartain Sprint -- possibly beginning to wonder if they truly knew what they signed up for.
Dowling, laughing, said his wife finally watched a promotional video and "told him he was out of his mind."