Some people take the road less traveled... and some people just go ahead and make their own road. Jason Jaksetic is one of those people. He's the Lifestyle Editor at Spartan Race, has a background as unique as they come, and is as passionate about his own path as he is about helping others find theirs. His goal is to give people "the ability to live the life that they're aspiring to live."
"As humans, we should be hungry," Jason says. "A Spartan or a scientist should be looking to push the boundaries of either knowledge, or physicality, or performance... you want to set marks and get above them, and you do that by modifying your behavior. In order to modify your behavior you need to know where you're going and how to get there."
We love that kind of passion (it's why we create innovative tools, like our awesome new High Performance panel) and we're happy to call Jason a friend who inspires us. In turn, we get to inspire his blood and body! In this interview, Jason takes the time to walk us through his amazing personal journey — it involves a Double Ironman, injury, music, and a thrilling ending. And it all starts in an African hut.
00:45 - Working as Lifestyle Editor for Spartan Race
03:00 - Jason's journey to Spartan Race (involves an African hut!)
07:30 - Starting Spartan Race with Joe De Sena
10:30 - InsideTracker and Spartan Race - merging the best of both worlds!
13:50 - Eliminating doubt through InsideTracker results
15:45 - Using InsideTracker to help train for a Double Ironman
18:20 - Working with quantifiable science to maximize performance
23:00 - Spartan Race's "Food of the Day"
24:35 - How to push the boundaries of knowledge, physicality & performance
Get an inner edge by training based on your biomarkers. We've created this FREE e-Book to help you understand how!
Erin: Jason, so excited to be talking to you. I hear that you have a very interesting background and I’m going to let you explain it. But, just to give our viewers a tease. Somewhere in there, there’s modeling, double ironman, Spartan Community Strategic Manager, Food of the week or maybe Food of the day rather. You’re basically a critical influencer, doing a whole bunch of stuff. I want to hear all about it.
Jason: Hi! Well first off thanks for having me. It’s a pleasure to be here. And no, yeah. It’s been quite an exciting few years that have led me to chatting today. And, a few of things that you touched on, I am the Lifestyle Editor of Spartan Race, located here in Boston, coming from the mountains of Vermont. And you know, part of my job at Spartan Race, as a Lifestyle Editor is to make sure as a company we can bring to our audience the ability to live the life they are aspiring to live. Doing a Spartan Race is a physical endeavor and it doesn’t come easy. It’s got to be earned and most people are attracted to that because being successful requires lifestyle modification. And, you know, it’s not necessarily quick fixes. It’s an attitudinal change, it’s a nutritional change, exercising change, a philosophical change. It’s a way of existing. And so, part of being successful into that genre, if you will, is to really help our fans be successful. And, it becomes really into nutrition, exercise. So part of what I have been working on for five years is helping our growing audience, it used to be just a couple hundred people and now it’s a couple million people, get interested and get knowledgeable about nutrition. And we have a program called “Food of the Week”, it used to be called “Food of the Day”. Just 365 days a year, we’re interested in helping the audience just eat better. I’ve worked with a workout problem; we have a Workout of the Day. And part of my role is to just do everything that I can to make sure that the Spartan voice is intelligible and clear and welcoming. And, to give our audience the ability to just come hang out with us. We’re looking for Spartans all over.
Erin: Well there’s no one better to do that than you, because people probably really want to hang out with you. And I don’t say that facetiously. I know you have this really, really cool background, so tell us a little bit about how you got involved with Spartan really, because I hear there’s a story there too. But, I know that you did some modeling and you do Ironman competitions and those are seemingly disparate things. But, they’re somehow, I’m sure, connected.
Jason: Yeah. So, my background was… I was living a very different life about, more than 5 years ago. I’m from New Jersey. I was a musician fulltime. I was on tour a bunch, you know and that’s not the best, healthiest lifestyle necessarily.
Jason: But, I got involved in the Ironman Triathlon and triathlon in general, partly because music was such a subjective thing. You know the payouts in music weren’t necessarily tied to talent. And, that was a discouraging thing, when you work really hard to be the best you could be and then it didn’t always work out with your skill sets. And, I was attracted to sport, because generally speaking, the strongest person wins. Not always, but usually. And so, I started doing Ironman races and what happened was actually ended up breaking my hip right before I was kind of getting ready to go to the next level. I was an elite age grouper; I did the world championships as an amateur. You know, so I stopped working and I started training all the time and I was ready to go. I really gambled big and I ended up breaking my hip the last workout before my big race.
Erin: Oh man.
Jason: And, that shook things up. I didn’t know what was going on. So, the story that led me to Spartan was, it started in an African hut. I left New Jersey to go stay with my friend who was in Swaziland, in the Peace Corp.
Erin: An actual African hut?
Jason: Actual African hut.
Erin: Not metaphorical?
Jason: No, no. Yeah. I packed a bag and flew to South Africa and hopped in a kombi, little Volkswagen truck with 40 people, drove twelve hours and got to a hut. You know, that’s where I had this moment out there. I had just left the world, where I had a $7000 dollar bike and it wasn’t good enough. You know, I trained in 4 pairs of shoes for every condition and it wasn’t good enough. And quite honestly, the pros had much better stuff all the time and better trainers. And yet, suddenly I’m watching African villagers with 12 kids sharing a mountain bike and commuting 20kto school each day, running in flip-flops and jean shorts. You know, some lights started to go off about that. And, stayed there for a while, healed up. And on my way home, I randomly, I lost my passport on an airplane and I went back to find it and the stewardess was, “Oh we found a passport” and handed it to me. I put it in my pocket and went home. And when I got there, I opened it up and it was Joe De Sena’s passport.
Erin: No way!
Jason: So, the circumstances were, I was I just got done in a very different lifestyle and I bussed this man. I googled him and we had done the same Ironman, a bunch of races and I brought back his passport and I was like, “What’s up?” He was a Wall Street guy, I thought maybe I could go trade some stocks or something. He said, “I got a better idea”. And, what brought it all together was we were both pretty dissatisfied personally with Ironman, because it more about the bikes. And necessarily it wasn’t the strongest person winning the race, it was about toys and stuff like that.
Jason: And, Spartan from that early level was a philosophical change into “How do we make a healthier community of people, making it a different lifestyle, that doesn’t maybe fall into the same dead ends?” As an Ironman I ran into a dead end, I over trained and broke my hip, because I was running too much with bad form. You know, I wasn’t eating right. My resources were too spread thin. It wasn’t really healthy. I was running pretty fast, but I wasn’t a fit person. If my friends needed me to move a couch, “Forget it I’ve got to train today. I can’t do that”. So, I moved into his barn about 5 years ago. I moved into Joe De Sena’s barn. It was an upgrade from the African hut.
Erin: I was going to say, “You went from an African hut to Joe De Sena’s barn.”
Jason: And so, I was a Jersey guy and I moved into a Vermont barn. And, for about 18 months I sat huddled in blankets and living in the woods. We started Spartan race and you know, my role with that very early, was starting to write about the workouts Joe was teaching me, the food style we were trying to eat. It was a blank slate. We were a bunch of weirdos in the mountains, with no one telling us what to do. There were other industry makers, there was Tough Mudder, there was Warrior Dash. And, it was, “How do we differentiate ourselves as a company?” You know, anyone can build an obstacle course or a playground for people to go run through mud, but we really felt like what would define us was a holistic way of approaching, that made humans and people stronger, more resilient, maybe a little more authentic with how thing used to be. And, that was the spring board from the huts of Africa, to the Vermont barn, and now I’m in downtown Boston. And, that’s really weird!
Erin: Well, there’s a lot that I could say about all of this, but given the limited amount of time we have, suffice it to say, when the Universe wants something to happen, clearly it finds a way to make it happen. Not to get too New Age-y, but that’s crazy, crazy synchronicity, if I ever heard of one. And, now you know you have to have Leonardo DiCaprio play you in some version of this movie that’s eventually going to happen.
Jason: I’d need to… I’ve got to go see his new movie.
Erin: It’s really good.
Jason: It looks totally Spartan.
Erin: It’s very Spartan-ish.
Jason: You know, and those were the influences. And me and Joe would walk around the woods… he’s a strange person you know. We had our best meetings at 4 in the morning on snow shoes, walking up and down mountains, you know, is when things got done. But, we talked about people like, Ernest Shackleton and the people that really lived through things that make a couple of business meetings and you know, and the fact that your home fries were over cooked in the morning, not seem like a really bad deal.
Jason: And that’s kind of what Spartan Race kind of represented to him and it became to represent to me, was redefining and reframing perspectives. And, part of what we’ve done as a company, we have a podcast that I encourage everyone to check out ours, and the different books and stuff is to just try and take a step back and look at things from your nutrition to your exercise, to your attitude and maybe repurpose it for higher performance and better wellbeing.
Erin: And, that’s a great segue into talking about, you’re a professional here, I don’t even have to do anything, because you just led us into the conversation about InsideTracker. But obviously, in all seriousness, it’s why Spartan and InsideTracker are such a good fit together, because we’re both after essentially the same thing. We’ve got similar motivations. I mean, as your talking I’m nodding and going, “Absolutely, 100%”. And, that sort of holistic view of the body, of health, of things not being separate, whether it’s your blood biomarkers not being looked at in a vacuum or your whole lifestyle not being looked at in a vacuum, I think is a really important step toward evolving the way that we live. And Spartan is a piece of that, and I think that what we do is a piece of that. So, that being said, I’d love to talk to you about this “armed farm” concept, that I only just heard about, by the way.
Jason: Right. Right. Just to reinforce what you just said, it’s a beautiful relationship in that it’s the best of two different worlds coming together to generate the next one. You know, a great metaphor that we refer to sometimes is Rocky IV. You know, where you had the guy, the bearded Stallone in Siberia and you had the Russian in the lab, right? And, they don’t need to be mutually exclusive. You can start to merge the two worlds. At Spartan we have these intuitions, food that grows from the ground is good. We don’t have PhDs, we have a lot of instincts, we have a lot of aesthetics, and grounding in nature, but that doesn’t mean we can’t go talk to PhDs that have a whole wealth of information. And, we were dying to meet the mad scientists that might be able to take what we suspected and go further. And, we exist as athletes, as people in between the input and the output. Day to day you are what you had and are what you are before you become, you’re in between the two things. And, InsideTracker is to me, is you’re tapping in a quantitative way that person in between, while taking into account your input, your nutrients and all of that to get the reading of who you are and compare it to your output as an athlete.
Jason: And that’s the whole package of from arm to farm. You know, from farm to arm. Living on a farm, very interesting things happen with when you heat yourself with fire. And, I had a woodstove that I cooked on. And this weird thing happened where I needed to go chop the wood, to go feed the stove, to cook the food I ate, to fill me up from having to heat the stove. It was this cycle. And living on a farm you’re eating the food that you watched coming out of the ground and you work out for three hours, you’re burning those calories, a conversion engine, and your fuel is important. Your blood is your gasoline or at least a way to see the grade you’re running at.
Erin: Right. Good analogy.
Jason: And InsideTracker… I came in, I got the blood work, it was super quick, super easy and then to get the detailed analysis of my strengths and my weaknesses was so informing. It eliminated so much guesswork. The biggest killer is doubt, you know? Is “What can I be doing better? Am I eating enough cauliflower?” You know those are the things that are going to make… Doubt will kill you faster than anything else. And, like InsideTracker is raw source code…
Erin: Oh! I like that!
Jason: of which you’re ready… Yeah, I am ready. I’m ready to do this. So, the relationship of… and, it’s not about who has the better bike. It’s about, what are the mechanics of my body, my engine. What do I need? And we’re all different. We’re all special. We all have different goals, we all have different genes, we all have different backgrounds. And, information is what will allow you to maximize what you have relative to where you’re going.
Erin: Absolutely. And, I love, by the way, the point that you made about you guys having the instincts about things and InsideTracker having the scientists. But, really science arises from hypothesis anyways. So, essentially the scientist has an instinct that something might work or might not work and they’re just testing it. So, there’s really not that much difference between what you’re doing and what we’re doing. We’re just saying “Well, here’s some proof and let us organize it for you. And here’s some super powerful artificial intelligence that quantify that.” But, your instincts are not to be discounted, obviously. So, I like how those two meld together. What was… I know you’ve had tests yourself. Was there anything that you were surprised by? Any feedback that you got?
Jason: Yes and no. There were certain things that I knew, I knew I was eating too many chicken wings going into that. But, we have different parts of our year, as athletes evolve. As I mentioned earlier, I like to do Double Ironman, which is just an Ironman but twice as long. So, when I came back to the sport I wanted to take it up a notch. So, I had my testing done, kind of earlier in my season, right before I was getting serious about training. And you know, you can’t… Denial’s a powerful tool right?
Jason: You’re like, “I really wasn’t eating that much cholesterol or whatever” and “Yeah you were. You weren’t tip top.” And, I knew I wasn’t tip top and it validated that. It’s a coach. The best thing a coach can do to a person is be real and let a person see what your incapable… You’re not looking in a mirror. Your looking through your perceptions to see the mirror. And, the blood work let me know what was up. What it taught me actually was… I had just started training and your team sat me down and were like, “Wow! You need to train harder.” I was like, “What?” They were like, “Your too healthy.” I was like, “Excuse me? I don’t understand?” I was probably doing 10 to 15 hours a week, training in my off time. But, my system was in too good a working order. I knew I could push harder in a healthier way, because the stressors, my cortisol levels and all of that… And, it actually gave me a lot more confidence to push harder, because I was able to ease into it. And this was coming from an athlete who, my first couple of seasons, and I think you see it in the industry, the enthusiasm of beginning, you over train. You know, you’ve just lost a ton of weight, you’re looking good, you have the endorphins from the race. You’re doing twelve races a year. And then year two or three you’re starting to burn out a little bit. You’re over trained. And, this year I wanted to go slower. And, the tests gave me that, right before I was ready to start my critical training, I did a Double Ironman in October, I was able to step on the gas and know that I had the engine ready to do it.
Erin: Very cool.
Jason: Yeah. It was wild. It was… It takes… You have to be … I did a lot of work with quantifiable science this year. I started working with a heart rate monitor a lot more, InsideTracker. You know, you’re not as good as you think you are, right? You know, if I was to go run at a certain pace all the time and the heart monitor is like, “Yo bro, maybe you shouldn’t. You’re not really tip top today.” And, you think you’re killing your diet, but maybe there’s some unforeseen things. And, we all can’t have a personal coach.
Jason: But technology and the companies coming up bringing what once was science fiction to the everyday consumer, is something 10 years ago, I myself couldn’t imagine. And, it’s everyday reality and it’s very feasible.
Erin: I love it. We’re soon going to be living on the bridge of the Starship Enterprise. Very soon. Just wait until the tricorder scanner really gets made.
Erin: But in all seriousness. What I love is that when you combine science with the passion that you have, and you guys at Spartan have, which really is the thing that strikes me most, is what Spartan brings to the table is really just this true passion in the approach to everything, whether it’s your food of the day or whether it’s crawling under fire, or whether it’s something not even as extreme. I mean, I’ve met stay at home moms that don’t do anything that crazy and yet, their doing Spartan races. So, you don’t have to be this sort of extreme triathlete, fighter mentality right? It’s for everybody. So, I just think the combination of that and this ability to see inside of your body in a very analytical way is really powerful. Because, machines alone are dangerous, right? With no emotion and no sort of human element to them and then you have human speculation without quantification is also dangerous. So, I think …
Erin: …the two of them is good.
Jason: And full transparency, I was so skeptical coming into this, because my fear was “Oh great! Now here come the multivitamins. Here comes cocktails of crazy artificial things”
Jason: And that was really against our aesthetic, our instincts of eating wholesome food. And then, as I got to know your team and their recommendations, and you start to supply recipes and it’s all real food. And, I’m just like “Oh!”. And as a world, as a nation, you want to talk about extreme? Extreme living now is eating whole foods, right?
Jason: You know I’m showing 50,000 to 100,000 views and it’s collard greens. But, people since my grandparents’ generation haven’t been eating real food.
Erin: No. Yeah, that’s true.
Jason: You want to get exotic and wild? Go cook some collard greens. You’ve probably never done it. You’ve never experimented. You know, “experimental drugs”, yeah it’s called food.
Jason: And, that’s where it all came together, because InsideTracker was based on alterations, scientific alterations, in the most organic sense. And then, my mind was blown. And, that’s why we have some of your recipes on our website. And, we’re all time crunched, we’re all stressed. We don’t have a lot of… and we’re not all chefs, let’s face it. And what I hope Spartan does, we’re all machines and your taste buds aren’t necessarily equated to how well your machine’s going to… It’s a nice … the gasoline tastes great? Great. But, you know what? Maybe I’d rather have a higher octane than worried about… Sugar is a pollutant and we’re sabotaging ourselves, because of that.
Jason: The recipes that you guys offered, they not only tasted good, but they’re easy, quick, and it changes… my whole world of food changed. Five years ago I was your average guy in his twenties that lived out of the microwave. Didn’t have any skills.
Erin: Don’t get me started on microwaves. Please.
Jason: So, where the food of the day came out of, you know… We’ve got about a quarter million subscribers, the website gets even more traffic. On Facebook we put up videos. The goal was… Joe asked me “We need a nutritional program.” I’m like, “Well, I don’t know how to cook, bro.” And he’s like, “Well, good. You should figure it out.” And, I literally would go buy all raw foods from the produce section of the grocery store. And I lived out in the middle of the woods, once I moved out of the barn, I did get a regular home, but it was way off the grid. And, I would go out there for two weeks with whole foods and not die. I was forced to just learn how to navigate it. It’s the best I ever felt when I took the time to cultivate, what was a brand new way of living. And, Spartan is a whole, is a brand new way of living. InsideTracker is a new perspective that changes the way you look at everything. And, nothing makes people feel better than seeing results. As soon as you have a cholesterol level that you’re not happy with, that’s called a target. You’ve got a target down there. And whether you sign up for a sprint, because you never did it. A Spartan Super, that’s your target. That same attitude of, “I’m going to go where I’ve never gone before”, whether it’s a goal weight…
Erin: Another Star Trek reference! I like you Jason.
Jason: Yeah. That was…
Erin: That was impressive!
Jason: That was… Don’t get me started with the food puns. I keep dropping those all the time now. As humans we should be hungry. We should be looking as a Spartan. And, a scientist is looking to push the boundaries of either knowledge or physicality, performance, whether it’s as a parent or a boyfriend or as a girlfriend… You want to set marks and get above them and you do that by modifying your behavior. And, in order to modify your behavior, you need to know where you’re going and how to get there. As a whole, that’s part of what I hope I can help our audience do and companies like InsideTracker can add to the success.
Erin: It’s a beautiful relationship. Seriously, I’m really happy to be working with you guys. And, I have never spoken to you before, even though I’ve heard these amazing things about you. And, now I know why, because you’re awesome.
Jason: Thank you.
Erin: So, clearly you get it.
Jason: It was an absolute pleasure. You know, I come to Boston a lot more now. I would love to bump into the mad scientists helping us confirm our instincts.
Erin: We’re happy to have you anytime. And your buddy Joe D.I. over there, is going to help me with my hamstrings next week in Miami. So, we’re even.
Jason: Yeah. Joe D.I., we have our own… On the exercise side we have a great exercise science, group of people over here. I go through all the details, there’s qualitative, there’s quantitative, both equally important.
Jason: You need those different voices. I hope to bring the attitudinal voice. At the bottom of it, you need motivation and drive, and know where you’re going.
Erin: You’ve been awesome. Thank you so much for taking the time to chat with us, and for all of your amazing insight, and your cool stories, and we’ll be making lots more real food with you throughout the year.
Jason: Absolutely. It’s a pleasure Erin.
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