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Olof Dallner: Mountain Master, Death Race Champion

Dallner nearly died in a climbing accident three years ago, and then he became an obstacle course racer.

Dallner nearly died in a climbing accident three years ago, and then he became an obstacle course racer.

Olof Dallner was a mountaineer who went on expeditions all over the world. Three years ago, he was climbing an ice pillar when it collapsed and he fell 75 feet. The rope caught part of his fall, and he was lucky to survive. He spent a few days in the intensive care unit in the hospital and then walked out.

During his recovery, he began searching for a sport that combined the suffering and challenge of mountaineering without the danger of falling. He found it in a Spartan Hurricane Heat. But Dallner enjoys the extreme obstacle course races the most. He has mastered the Death Race, an event that would be declared unconstitutional if it were a prison. It’s a grueling, multi-day event with no rules, no clear format and barely any finishers. Dallner, however, has not only finished it four times, he’s won it three times. He’s also the only person to finish two Goruck Selections, an event with only a 5 percent finisher rate—even worse than a Death Race.

How did you get into obstacle racing?

I started as an alpine climber and mountaineer when I was 17-18. Then when I was 19 I made the selection for an Arctic Ranger regiment in the Swedish Army, and that got me further into mountains.

Spent a few years going on expeditions all over the world. Then I moved to the U.S. about five years ago. After the climbing accident, I tried to find other things to do that seemed fun and had some adventure in it.

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What do you do for a living?

I’m a postdoctoral scientist in molecular genetics at Rockefeller University. Did a PhD in molecular physiology in Sweden before I came here. I’m essentially working in diabetes and obesity research.

Why do you enjoy such extreme OCR events such as the Death Race?

My background as a multi-day alpine climber primed me well for doing longer events that has more sleep and food deprivation, cold and misery.

Even when I climbed mountains, I was drawn to climbs and expeditions that were in extremely unexplored areas. I just love when you don’t know what’s around the corner, and that’s essentially a Death Race.

The truth is Death Races will eventually become familiar too. And then it’s time to step outside the box and try something else again.

But isn’t the Death Race an event that the organizers, Joe DeSena (who also founded Spartan) and Andy Weinberg, don’t want anyone to finish?

The Death Race isn’t fair. They’ll be unfair to trigger emotions in you that will make you want to quit. We all have our weaknesses. Cold can be one. We will all be forced to quit sometimes. It’s really how you deal with it that is important. Failure is good sometimes.

How do you train for a Death Race or another extreme OCR event?

You can’t train for specific things for a Death Race. You’re likely to run a bit and carry heavy things up a mountain. The previous Winter Death Race we spent three to four hours in the river. You can’t really prepare for that. You can build some experience, but apart from that it is grit and mental focus.

I like to train sometimes when I feel the worst. Just to reset my mind. I realized this when I saw some incredible athletes fail because they were used to performing under perfect conditions.

RELATED: Profile: Obstacle Course Racer David Magida

OK, but what does your training schedule look like?

Running varies but I have weeks with more than 100 miles. I do a fair amount of road biking and swimming. I’m an ambassador in a triathlon club here. I try to vary a lot. I love Bikram Yoga, too.

Have you thought about doing OCR full-time?

I know some people move into OCR full time, but I haven’t really. I like the longer races, and you can’t really support yourself from that. And I’m passionate about the science I do. OCR is the way I relax on my spare time, so I don’t really feel like making it into a job. I made the same decision for mountaineering once when I considered becoming a mountain guide. But who knows. Maybe I’ll do something related in the future when I’m old and slow. Like train other people or tell exaggerated stories.