The Tim Ferriss Show: Joe De Sena on Grit, Endurance, and Building Empires (#16)

Spartan Race

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Ep. 16 - Joe De Sena on Grit, Endurance, and Building Empires

This episode is brought to you by…you guys. To help keep this podcast going, please check out the Tim Ferriss Book Club, where, every 1-2 months, I highlight one book that’s changed my life. Here are the first four books.

Now, on to our guest…Joe De Sena.

Joe De Sena is the co-founder of The Death Race, Spartan Race (1M+ competitors), and more. Among other things, he has completed the famously grueling Iditarod dogsledding race…on FOOT. And what about the Badwater Ultramarathon (135 miles at over 120 °F/49 °C), Vermont 100, and Lake Placid Ironman? He did all of those in ONE WEEK. The man is a maniac, and he’s a very strategic businessman.

This episode covers his story, as well as his approaches to grit, endurance, and building empires.

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This show’s had more than two million downloads…but only 550 or so reviews!  WTF?! If you’d like me to continue doing these podcasts, please leave a short one here.  It will help the show tremendously, including my ability to bring on more incredible guests.

Show notes and links (e.g. mentioned books, resources) can be found below.

You can find the transcript of this episode here. Transcripts of all episodes can be found here.


If you’ve missed previous episodes, here are two you might enjoy:

Episode 2: Joshua Waitzkin
Episode 9: The 9 Habits to Stop Now -- The Not-To-Do List

Show Notes and Select Links from Episode 16

  • The story of his entrepreneurial beginnings — pool boy to the organized crime figures of New York
  • Becoming an expert in women’s clothing
  • How he ended up on Wall Street, and why it led Joe to adventure races
  • What is the Death Race, and who enters a race with a name like that?
  • 3 races and a wedding (saying “yes” can get you in trouble)
  • How the Spartan Race became a global phenomenon
  • Behind the scenes of Spartan Up!
  • Much more….


Books Mentioned in the Episode

The Tim Ferriss Show is one of the most popular podcasts in the world with more than 900 million downloads. It has been selected for "Best of Apple Podcasts" three times, it is often the #1 interview podcast across all of Apple Podcasts, and it's been ranked #1 out of 400,000+ podcasts on many occasions. To listen to any of the past episodes for free, check out this page.

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33 Replies to “The Tim Ferriss Show: Joe De Sena on Grit, Endurance, and Building Empires (#16)”

  1. Good stuff. This is really inspiring. I’m going to be getting get back into shape after this years fasting month is over.

  2. Hi Tim, is it possible to get a transcript of your podcasts? Because I don’t unterstand english isn’t so good! It would be great to get 100% access of this great content.

    Greets from Germany, Bennett Heitjan

  3. Man I really loved this episode. I used to have the fire in my belly when I was younger and was really fit but I’ve let myself go honestly. I used to be a pro level ironman triathlete and was out there taking swings at huge business deals but slowly let my fitness fade and it really affected other areas of my life. There is satisfaction in knowing that you are there physically and this episode gave me some fire to get started again. Thanks! I’ll definitely be getting the book.

  4. This podcast was just awesome. I’ve been listening since the start of the show and for me this show was definitely a highlight / on a par with Sam Harris’ interview.

    I believe by finding these highly driven, ridiculously modest achievers, you can fully appreciate the hard truths it takes for someone to be ‘successful’. Simply, it seems there are so many routes to ‘success’, yet when you listen to someone like Joe, you realise that all you really need is: ambition, hard work and (mostly importantly) to be liked by people.

    Great stuff Tim, really appreciate the effort you’re putting into this. Working in the startup scene, so I’ll no doubt I’ll bump into you sooner or later.



    P.S. Love the ridiculously attractive spartan girl you put up as a pic for this blog. Classic. 😉

  5. Tim – Episode #1 was my first podcast ever. period. seriously. Can’t say why I choose yours but I’ve become a podcast addict since. You’re rare among podcasters in that you tend to shut up and let your guests do the talking. Hell, you let Joe talk uninterrupted for 15 minutes or so – great! And, you’re introducing me to people I would have never come across otherwise. Thanks!

  6. This was a great episode. Joe is gangsta. 😉 If you ever decide to do a Spartan, let me know Tim. I’d be happy to send you a training plan.

  7. Tim, that’s incredible Joe was able to complete Badwater, Vermont 100, and Lake Placid Ironman all in 1 week. Last week I ran my first 100 miler, a solo mission from Long Beach to San Diego, and I can’t even imagine running 2 more heavier ultras in the same week. Joe is gnarly!!

    I’m looking forward to listen to this Podcast soon. You have a lot of great guests on your Podcasts, awesome to listen to on long training runs. Keep up the good work!



  8. Thank you for the wonderful podcast. Truly some of my favorite media these days.

    I’d love to do as you ask, and support the Tim Ferriss book club. That being said, a new book hasn’t been posted in nearly two months – I would guess that many of your readers fall toward the ‘voracious’ side of things, and would love another title.

  9. This was one of the best podcasts you’ve had to date! Back to back great stories and I’m still finding it hard to swallow that Joe did three races in one week?! True steel.

  10. This was so inspiring! I’ve listened to all your podcasts, but after this I just wanna drop everything and start running! I know the feeling of the fire in the belly, I had this one when was preparing for half-marathon (not the athletic fella here). When you forget everything and just run! Is so damn good!

    Thanks so much for this episode!

  11. 41min12sec and after, just epic.

    Love these podcasts.

    After listening them, keywords pump up in my head, and cristalize the road.

    Not knowing if you read these comments, I jus repeat in case…

    Would be epic:

    Elon Musk please, interview Elon Musk 😉

  12. He really sets a new bar of what is possible with the human body.

    Although I now feel lazier than ever with my desk job.

  13. I’ve been creeping my way up toward ultra-distance runs on the trails. This interview was inspiring as hell. I’ll be buying the book as soon as I can get Amazon to accept our Thailand credit card – FFS. Best of life and luck to you Joe – and Tim!

  14. Tim,

    thank you so much for this interview. I also ordered this guy’s book now.

    There are two questions that remain:

    1) What can you do to lighten up this “fire in your belly”, which apparently makes a huge difference in a person’s life?

    2) What can you do to achieve great results if you don’t have this “fire in your belly” and you can’t have it?

    1) is a challenge, but I’m terribly afraid of 2).


  15. Tim,

    You seems to overcome many obstacles. I salute you. What is holding you back from providing a transcripts we the commenters ask, ask, and ask. You have so much resources and it is not difficult to do. There are numerous of prolific podcasts have transcripts.

    A brand new podcast and not even a month old doing podcast in American Sign Language provides transcript. It is not something it can easily be outsourced and yet it is accessible to the public with an English transcript of American Sign Language show. No excuse since this content provider don’t have much resources as you do. [Moderator: Link removed]

    I see Ben Greenfield making a comment. You maybe can ask him how he produces transcripts for his podcast continuously.

    I have legitimate reason. It is not because it is difficult to hear your talk due sound system you have. It is because I am deaf and I very much want to have access as other people with hearing do.

    If you care and you will find the time to outsource the transcribing. And the effort to create a system that it transcribed automate. It is not something or a feature to add. It is right thing to do.

    So many people follow you, look up to you, and emulate you. Please make a difference so that dignity of people like me are respected and recognized. Take a step forward for to make your blog a more civilized with sense of social justice and equal access.

  16. Hey Tim. This may be the 2nd time your reading this. I think WordPress burgled my first publication attempt so I’m going to give it another crack. Apologies if this appears in your blog twice.

    I think I’ve come up with a novel solution for your reviews vs downloads problem that you addressed frankly in the show notes for the Joe De Sena podcast.

    In recent episodes you’ve told listeners that we are the sponsors and encouraged us to write a review with instructions on how to reach the apple review site.

    What if during this time you played a track for 2 minutes, perhaps a suggestion from your guest, whilst the listener went to the apple reveiw store and wrote a review. I think this would work best if the track was contemporary and not well known. That way the audience is receiving curated content from big influencers and they’re experiencing something new.

    Most podcast to a broad audeince have ” a word from their sponsors” which goes for anywhere from 1 minute to 7 minutes (thank you Joe Rogan!). For you to ask your “sponsors” to take two minutes whilst you provide a quality backing track to enable their duty as sponsors I don’t think is too much to ask at all!

    If the listener has already written a review or dare I say it, they have some bizarre objection to writing a review they can either enjoy the track or press the fast forward button a few times to get to the end of the track. Everyone wins! If it starts getting old after a few episodes you can do it every other podcast. Surely thats worth a trial for a few weeks!

    Like my suggestion or not the podcast is amazing. Massively insprirational. I look forward to more episodes.

  17. This pod cast, like all the rest was fabulous! always a pleasure to listen to your wisdom & wit. You’re awesome. Have a fab holiday.!

  18. Guten Tag, Tim,

    before going on with the listening – and just because you seem to always be in Hunt of the perfect form – a short comment on “Fressen”, since you commented it.

    “Fressen” is the designation for eating, if animals do it. It is also used for humans who display eating manners which do not fit under the term “elegant” anymore.

    So the reason, the devil “frisst” is:

    1) he is (even in Germany) not known as the sympathetic guy, so if you speak of him, you might want to degrade him onto animal status or near of it.

    2) he probably doesn´t like flies as much as human souls, so he might eat them with disgust and display a procedure of “Fressen” rather than “Essen”.

    3) it´s an enforcement of his bad situation. If he could go on “eating” (table, tablecloth, fork, knife, waiter, etc) he wouldn´t be that desperate, so “Fressen” just fits better.

    So, this comment, just to be German.

    I always imagined meeting you surprisingly on a german street and wondered, what you would sound like, if I spoke to you in German directly.

    Now I´ve got an idea 😉



  19. Hey guys,

    Does anyone know why Tim Ferriss Experiment episodes aren’t available for download on itunes or anywhere in the U.S.? Would love any info.

    Thank you.

  20. Thats so true

    champion sweat shirts blew out at waist and sleeves!

    it was like freakin cardboard after several washes

    i can remember it like is was yesterday(damn,, that was 20 years ago)


    vanilla ice

    ice cube

    mc hammer

    boys 2 men

    ok got it .. enough

  21. Joe de Sena is wrong about downhill skiers.

    Skiing is about commitment and fear. In order to ski well, you are required to commit (to the fall, as it were) despite your fear. In extreme cases (of fear) it engenders an amazing experience of focus.

    Now that I’ve blown my trust fund and procreated I can’t ski anymore, and what I miss most about it is this experience of having my innermost spirit, or at least my core sense of myself, trained and purified.

    1. You might enjoy the following book if you don’t already know about it: The Rise of Superman: Decoding the science of ultimate human performance by Steven Kotler. Talks about what you’ve alluded to – really interesting and fun read.

  22. Before listening, I thought, “Why so long?” After listening, I am looking forward to part two! Forty-five minutes well spent! Thank you!

  23. What have happened to the Tim Ferriss Experiment??? I have been waiting forever and nothing. C’ mon……..

  24. It’s time now to really place our spiritual achievement to the

    test. A correct interpretation of the beginning positions

    exposes the “hand” that has been “dealt” in lifestyle.

    When the Chariot is reversed, energy is becoming squandered.

  25. Thanks a lot Tim for your podcasts, just love them, really good stuff. I am gonna listen every single one and I am buying a bunch of books but I am based in France so each time I click on your links I cannot buy I need to shift to the french version of amazon, just wanted to make you know.

    All the best,


    PS please continue doing this stuff

  26. Hi Tim!

    What is the guided meditation that Joe mentions on the post? Could you share a link? Your work it’s enlightening for me, Gracias de corazon! 😉

  27. Thanks for letting Joe De Sena talk on this episode. Too often it feels like you are just waiting for your turn to speak.