Featured Club: Redefining Hardcore

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Founded by the World’s Fittest Man, San Diego’s Gut Check Fitness has trail runners sprinting hills, hauling rocks and doing burpees before the rest of the world wakes up


Getting up at the crack of dawn to hit the trails is a laudable effort, particularly for those of us who don’t identify as “morning people.” But, a slow, easy run in the woods is one thing—try hitting the trails at 6 a.m. with a man the Guinness Book of World Records calls the “World’s Fittest Man” and a group of like-minded folks for an hour of boot-camp-style workouts.

Welcome to San Diego’s Gut Check Fitness, an outdoor boot camp that encourages athletes to trade treadmills for hills and barbells for boulders. By incorporating trail running, hill sprints, squats, lunges, pushups and other strength-training protocols—including hauling around giant rocks or logs—Gut Check helps people train for everything from adventure races to trail runs to ultramarathons.

This gym-eschewing group, whose motto is “The Earth is Your Gym,” is the brainchild of Joe Decker, 44, and his wife Nicole. Decker earned his title as World’s Fittest Man in 2000 by breaking the Guinness World Records 24-Hour Physical Fitness Challenge. To do so, he biked 100 miles, ran 10 miles, hiked 10 miles, power-walked five miles, kayaked six miles, skied 10 miles, rowed 10 miles, swam two miles, and did a variety of plyometric workouts, including lifting a cumulative 278,540 pounds—all in 24 hours.

Decker’s racing resume boasts several dozen ultramarathon finishes including, Morocco’s Marathon des Sables six-day, 156-mile desert stage race and, in 2000, the Grand Slam of Ultrarunning—which, that year, entailed finishing the Old Dominion 100, Western States 100, Leadville Trail 100 and Wasatch Front 100 in the same summer. (For good measure, Decker ran Death Valley’s punishing Badwater 135 that summer, too.)


In 2006, he and Nicole, also an accomplished athlete, founded Gut Check—a name that harks back to Decker’s three years in the U.S. Army’s 10th Mountain Division. “Gut check” is a common military term that, according to the Gut Check website, means, “Get ready to find out what you’re truly made of. It’s about finding the fire that burns in each of us.”

In addition to hosting workouts—which run $20 a pop for drop-ins, or $100/month for a membership—Gut Check puts on several annual trail races. Quivering Quads, an annual five-mile race, takes runners up and down quad-burning climbs that allow both Gut Check members and non-members to test their physical ability and drive. The King of the Hill race series draws elite, out-of-state runners; included on its schedule is a 22-mile run up and down nearby Rabbit Peak in Borrego Springs.

If a regular old 22-mile trail race doesn’t sound challenging enough, runners can opt to participate in a special Bad Ass Division. This requires runners to carry a weighted pack—50 pounds for men; 30 pounds for women—plus all food and water for the race. Often, the Bad Ass Division begins the night before the race starts, since finishing times can last more than 15 hours.

Johnnie Padilla, a two-year Gut Check member, hadn’t understood the popularity of trail running before attending a class, but is now a trail hound. “I’m out on a trail with Gut Check members at least once a week. I take each hill as a personal challenge to make it up without stopping,” he says.

Most members cite Joe and Nicole as the real reason they’re successful in races and events like mud runs, ultramarathons, Ragnar Trail Races, or running the Grand Canyon’s popular Rim-to-Rim route.

“Joe and Nicole are infectious with their motivation and get-after-it attitude,” Padilla says.

While the workouts aren’t for everyone—“I guess I’m a glutton for punishment,” says member Bobby Lipton—the community consists of a wide range of participants. Lipton adds, “Gut Check members are ultrarunners, obstacle course racers, moms and dads, CEOs, engineers, teachers—all normal people doing extraordinary things with their health and fitness, usually before the rest of the world wakes up.”


Planning a visit to San Diego? Here are a few local spots that the good folks at Gut Check recommend:

  • Favorite Running Shop: Road Runner Sports
  • Favorite Post-Run Grub: The High Dive, Pappalecco and Cardiff Beach Bar at Tower 13
  • Favorite Trails: Mt. Woodson and El Cap Mountain Trails—or, for something easier, hit Balboa Park. To get your ocean fix, check out the trails around Torrey Pines.


Gut Check Fitness

  • Where: San Diego, CA with affiliate locations in Los Angeles, Sacramento, Las Vegas, NV, Port City, PA and most recently, Australia
  • What: An outdoor boot-camp, promising that you will get “dirty, nasty and sweaty while having a great time staying as fit as you possibly can.”
  • Motto: “The Earth is your gym.”
  • Learn more at www.gutcheckfitness.com


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