(for full article with pictures see http://purposefulmovement.wordpress.com/category/athlete-success-stories/)
I always think it’s interesting to hear the stories of people and the journeys that they take to becoming “endurance athletes.” What motivates us to participate in all of these “crazy” races? Aside from being a great way to stay in shape and build relationships i think that many of us have realized that training for races is an excellent form of stress relief. It helps our minds AND our bodies stay in better balance. This is how Tonya Stogsdill, one of Joplin’s local racers, first got into endurance sporting events. Tonya isn’t just your typical “runner”. . . Tonya likes to add a little more “craziness” into her training. She has a rock she named “Sparta” that she carries sometimes when she runs . . . when Sparta is not with her she likes to do burpees ( a quick push up with a jump for those of you that aren’t familiar) in the middle of her training runs. When she is not running she likes to climb walls, jump over park benches and do lots of push ups. . . among other things. Why would Tonya do such things you might ask yourself? Well, for those of you that don’t know, Tonya is an endurance “obstacle racer.” She has competed in a number of 3+ mile obstacle races across the country over the last two years. Her longest and toughest race to date has been the Utah Spartan Beast (a 12+ mile obstacle race) which was held at the end of June this year. After completing the Utah Spartan Beast Tonya’s point total in this year’s Spartan race series boosted her to a 4th place national ranking in the overall female division. Her goal is to evenutually compete in the Spartan “Ultra” Beast (26+ mile obstacle race). . . a race that you must be invited to participate in. I invite you to read some of Tonya’s story and her advice below.
Q: Why did you first get into obstacle racing?
A: On May 22nd, 2011 my life was changed as an F5 tornado ripped through my hometown of Joplin, Missouri. Many of my friends and family lost their homes and some even lost their lives. As you can imagine, this was a very stressful time for our community. It was because of that stress however that many people, myself included, began running and working out as a way to deal with the stress and anger evoked from the storm. Soon, running became an addiction for me but before long it wasn’t enough. As a result, in August of 2011 I was introduced to obstacle racing. Obstacle racing is a race containing 10-36 obstacles that include things like army crawling through mud, fire jumping, wall climbing, sandbag carries, repelling, and spear throwing. After my first race, I was hooked. I knew this sport fit my competitive personality and I absolutely loved it. I discovered that I had a passion and real talent for obstacle racing.
Q: Which obstacle race has been your favorite and most challenging so far?
A: No doubt, Utah Spartan Beast has been my favorite. The Spartan series is by far the toughest of any obstacle race series. This race was definitely the most challenging on my mind and body. The scenery in Utah was breathtaking and was my first time to race in mountains. My body was challenged from the very first few steps from the lack of oxygen I was getting due to the high altitude (race took place at an altitude starting just over 5500 ft. and went up to just over 6800 ft.) . Once mile 1 was over with, it was a major mental game because that’s where the incline started. We inclined for about 10 miles and only descended for about 3. So our descent was a quick one, which after 10 miles felt great. I only failed one wall climb obstacle (30 burpee penalty) which was the 3rd to last obstacle. I failed mostly because I had pushed my body so hard that my arms completely cramped up and I couldn’t hang on any longer to the wall. This race had most of the best elite females in the Spartan race series, so it was a big race for me. . . it is one that I am very proud of.
Q: How do obstacle races compare to traditional 5k/10k/half marathon races both mentally and physically?
A: Regular road races are probably more mentally challenging than obstacle course races(ORCs). I am constantly checking my watch for my pace on regular races. Which don’t get me wrong, I still like to beat my PR’s in road races. . . it just adds more to the mental challenge of the race. I would say that OCR’s are more physically challenging. They are all different so you can’t really go by time or really even pace yourself. I’m sure this could be argued. I guess I’m more of a kid at heart. . . I’ve heard people say that an OCR is like an “adult playground”. I get bored with “just” running so this mixes it up for me. Its a full body workout and some races even have mental challenges such as questions to answer. You never know what to expect with the Spartan series. That’s part of the obstacle, is the not knowing what is coming next.
Q: What types of obstacles have you run into during some of the OCRs you have done?
A: Some of these obstacles are hard to explain…..but a ton of trenches full of water and mud, rugged terrain, mountains, wall climbs ranging from 4-10ft, over under series(over a 4ft wall, under a 2 ft….killer on hams and quads) several cargo net climbs (some straight up, some angled, some at the side of bridges), pulling a tire up the side of a bridge with a rope, tractor pull (hardest for me….pulling a huge solid concrete block with a big chain attached to it up a rocky hill), spear throw into hay bails (has to stick or you owe burpees), shooting range, rope climb to ring bell at top over muddy water (so it makes it more fun if u fall), sandbag carry up mountain side, fill bucket full of rocks and carry overhills, army barbed wire crawl up very jagged rocky hills, , traverse wall(that’s the one I fell off w the 2×4 studs to crawl across), soapy rope walls to climb up, trenches to swim thru w tops covered by tarps and not much clearing for face, stump walk(series of tree stumps to step on and walk across without falling,), monkey bars always follow the water obstacles, mud holes to swim thru, tractor tire flip, and of course the gladiators are there to knock you down with jousting sticks at the end of the race.
Q: How have ORCs helped you as both an athlete and as a person?
A: This is hard. I believe I have become a more well rounded athlete from these races. I also think they have helped me to stay motivated and keep running and staying active. I feel I have set a good example for our 2 children, Tatum (10 y/o) and Triston (7 y/o). They did their first obstacle race this year and will be runnning in their first Spartan race this December. My husband Larry has even began to walk and jog some. He is mostly a powerlifter, but has stressed some interest in running a 5k so he can beat me. Lol. My goal is to get him to do an OCR. I’ve had to learn to prioritize my time in order to get my training in for these races. I try to start my day around 5 AM with my running and lifting so I won’t take time away from my family. They still give me a hard time for all that I do but are very supportive of my new passion. They are my biggest fans and are very proud of me.
Q: What advice do you have for people who want to train for a longer distance (8+mile) OCR?
A: First off you can push yourself as much or as little as you want in these races. There are people who literally go from the couch on friday and race on saturday…..however, there are also the athletes like myself who will put it all on the line and train like crazy for these races. I highly suggest that everyone try it at least once. You don’t have to be a major athlete or competitor to do one of these races. The most important training I would suggest is what I call my “crosstraining runs.” For me this is 3-8 mile runs w push-ups or burpees about every half mile with no rest in between. The hardest part of these races is the starting and stopping so much to do the obstacles and then getting back into the running. It messes with your heartrate. Or if I get a chance to get off of the road and onto a trail I will run through ditches, jump over knocked down trees, or go under anything with tight spots. I also have my rock, Sparta, I run with at times. Upper body and core strength is extremely important. My husband is very smart with weights and has given me a great upperbody workout to do. I do a ton of planks and ab exercises for my core. I also take martial arts and plan on starting Cross Fit.