The list of brutal events that Amie ‘live wire’ Spade has to her name makes for impressive reading and includes Death Races, Survival Runs, a 277-mile multi-stage race and a team podium at the freezing 24-hour Spartan Ultra Beast World Championship in Iceland. All of which will stand her in good stead for her next big challenge: to run Ireland’s 1553-mile Wild Atlantic Way and set a fastest known time.
Amie is running to raise money for Nerve Tumours UK, a charity which supports sufferers of the genetic disorder, Neurofibromatosis, which causes tumours to form on nerve tissue. The cause is particularly close to her heart as her partner, Adam, has Type 1 Neurofibromatosis.
Here, I quiz the 39-year-old dryrobe ambassador (who is secretly very shy!) on her toughest challenges, her mental grit and how she’s training for her biggest run yet.
You’re a well-known name in obstacle racing. Was OCR the start of your love of endurance and adventure challenges?
I have always been a runner, doing road events, triathlons, etc. But it was OCR that really gave me the drive to step outside the norm in running and events, and push myself to do more adventurous things. I have always been an adrenaline junkie as well; early cliff jumping, and things that, typically, people would find a bit scary.
Are you still running obstacle course races?
Yes, still running. More for fun and time on my feet this year, but I did end last year’s season with a 3rd place team podium at the Spartan Ultra Beast World Championships in Iceland. I’ve had a few podiums this year, the most recent coming 2nd in the Total Warrior Lakes Ultra in July.
You’ve had several top finishes in Death Races – can you explain what these involve?
Death Races are adventure races of sorts, but not ones that are meant to be completed at a high percentage rate. These events are designed to test you physically, but [also] really stress your mental fortitude with mind games from the race directors and brain challenges when you’ve not slept for days and are completely exhausted.
You’ve also competed in the tough Fuego Y Agua Survival Run. How did you find it?
I have competed twice in the team event, in 2015 and 2017. Each time we were on pace to meet the cut-off times and go up Concepcion [the volcano], but both times my race partners ended up with injuries that took us out a bit earlier. It was an amazing experience, especially as I’m normally not a ‘team’ competitor, and it helped me grow tremendously. It is my intention to do this race solo, for the first time, during the next event – it has been postponed for the coming year due to unrest in the country now.
You’ve competed in OCR, adventure racing, death races and ultra-running. What’s been your toughest challenge to date?
I would have to say that Fuego y Agua Survival Run Nicaragua has been my toughest challenge to date. It is the one that I have yet to finish, it is my white whale so to speak. The challenges are difficult, the time cut-offs are tight, and it includes elements of the one thing I still fear… open water swims.
You’re planning to run the 1553-mile Wild Atlantic Way in Ireland next year – where did this idea come from?
In 2016, I took on the challenge to attempt to run the 3 Peaks Challenge, all on foot, from Snowdon to Ben Nevis. My logistics team – Phoebe Brimer and Aishling Peoples – and I were sitting in a coffee shop in Edinburgh talking about what should come next. Aishling, who is from Donegal, Ireland, came up with the idea that I should attempt to solo run the Wild Atlantic Way for the fastest known time (FKT), as no one had done just the official route the whole way at that time as a runner. The idea was born and we are currently in appeals for it to become a potential Guinness World Record, as they turned it down the first time.
Tell me about the charity you’re raising money for?
I looked into several charities that we could work with, and in the end we chose to work with Nerve Tumours UK, formerly The Neuro Foundation. They do work throughout the UK and Ireland, and partner with other institutions around the world to find a cure for, and support those suffering with, Neurofibromatosis (types 1 and 2). My partner and teammate, Adam Jacobs, has NF1, which has resulted in a life full of complications caused by tumours known as fibromas. These tumours attach to nerves and though he is very lucky compared to others in how his presents, he has had to have numerous surgeries. In fact, he is expected to need another spinal surgery to remove a fibroma from his C7 sometime in the near future. We have only recently found that the surgery will be postponed for at least a year, as it is slow growing, but when it does happen it is likely he will lose the function of the triceps muscles in his left arm.
What will your epic challenge to run 1553 miles involve?
The challenge will begin at Malin Head, Donegal and finish in Kinsale, Cork. The hope is to complete 100km per day, possibly more in the beginning if I am feeling exceptional. I will have my logistics manager, Phoebe Brimer, with me for the entire endeavour; Aishling will be joining during specific points due to work constraints. Phoebe will be driving an RV and meeting me at specific points along the route. In addition, I will have a medical team that rotates in and out, which to begin with will include friend and fellow athlete, Darlene Leonard. Thus far we have several sponsors, fellow athletes, friends, and supporters coming to act as pacers for me along the way, especially toward the end.
Adam will be coming when he can do so, and will be pacing me in the last few legs coming in to the finish point. The team of people assisting are amazing, they are coming out at their own expense and volunteering their time, so as not to take anything away from the charity… all funds raised on [my] Just Giving page go to Nerve Tumours UK.
The team is currently reaching out to pubs and hotels along the way to see if we are able to find some support for food and lodging here and there. It is my goal to complete this challenge for the FKT (fastest known time) over 35 days or less!
What do you anticipate will be the most challenging aspect of your attempt?
The unknown. It is hard to train for this type of endeavour. You can test out gear, switch out shoes, put in miles and miles in training, but you cannot really simulate the real thing. I have great nutrition sponsors and resources, wonderful recovery equipment and kit, such as Marena Sport and Marc Pro, etc. However, you just do not know how your body will react to it all until you do it.
The biggest challenge of the attempt is not stopping. This is the most meaningful endeavour I have ever taken on, as it holds so much meaning to me. This is a run that could result in the funds to help others like Adam, especially those who suffer far more. My medical team is aware how important this is, and we have a plan which may even include having medical personnel waiting for me at the end. This one is bigger than me or any FKT accomplishment.
What’s been your longest ultra-run to date?
The longest ultra run in one go has been 146 miles, but 277 miles is my longest run over five consecutive days. My favourite distances include the 100km and 100 miler, and these tend to be the races I do my best time and placements in overall.
You’re working with renowned OCR trainer Yancy Culp to prepare. What does training involve?
Yancy is amazing and has me doing a lot of tyre pulling with the Trail Toes Tire Trainer. [Training includes] Mileage, full body focus and cross training, inclines, etc. I am still coming back into my own after a minor injury, so Yancy will be stepping up my mileage and intensity. In addition to training for this, I am still competing in OCR and will be into the next season before the attempt. That is no easy task, but I am still focusing on longer distance OCR.
What’s the focus of your training right now?
My training focus is now mileage, and building strength and a base to the type of endurance I will be needing. Core strength, cross training, muscle maintenance while leaning is all important. Yancy makes sure that I am maintaining muscle mass to prevent injury.
What kind of running are you doing?
My training includes speed work, long runs, hill training, intervals and a lot of time working on Lydiard pacing as well (late running coach, Arthur Lydiard’s practice). This coming year will focus a lot on road running as well as trails. The Wild Atlantic Way official layout is mostly over road, which is something I have not done in a very long time. I mostly keep to trails of varying technical difficulty. I currently spend time on the treadmill, out running places like Ivinghoe Beacon where I can get some hill work, and out in the forests near my house. However, I have had to start adding a lotof road and path time in order to acclimate to the change on my joints etc.
What does a typical week of training look like for you?
We are trying to maintain my ability to run endurance and increase it and still participate in adventure and OCR racing events competitively. Without giving away my coach’s actual program, a typical week, now that I am back from an injury will involve:
Tyre drags on flats or up to 15% inclines
Runs at low aerobic threshold anywhere from an hour upwards, on trail and road
Weighted workouts – deadlift, kettlebell, pull-ups
Bodyweight workouts – crawls, pull-ups, push-ups, sit-ups, HIIT
Rowing machine – especially while injured
Speed work – at times including burpees, in rounds
A lot of grip strength work, hangs, Force 5 equipment drills
You’ve completed some seriouslytough events. How did you become so mentally resilient and what tactics do you use when things get tough?
The one thing that is a reoccurring theme with a lot of endurance athletes is the tough childhood, or some other portion of their lives where things really tested them… they needed an outlet. I grew-up with an alcoholic, drug addict mother and was in and out of different homes. I have not once used it as an excuse for mistakes or paths taken in life, as everyone makes their own choices. However, I will say that it does actually give you a sense of what it means to suffer. I know plenty of people from incredibly loving and normal lives, who just have that within them all the time without the negatives. Those people are the seriously tough ones. I think those of us that have been through a lot have something to compare the “suck” to when in those events, and can think to ourselves that it really is nothing.
On the positive side, the tactics I use most are my kids. When I started doing these events, they were in primary school. It was difficult to train, be mom and work, before I took the time to train and work from home. I was lucky how supported I was, especially from them. But the best part was when they sent me off to my Death Race and told me not to come home without a [completion] skull or they were changing the locks. Each one wrote me a letter that I could use at any point in the race when I felt like I could give up, or was just in the ‘struggle’. They are very tattered, but they go with me in a plastic bag to all those tough events, and they are saved on my phone.
I guess the last tactic is that I am just genuinely stubborn, especially when I am expected to not be able to do something, or told I cannot. I do not like limits. A lot of people sacrificed and took a chance on me – sponsors, coaches, friends, and my minis. I cannot let those people down; they believed in me.
Can you recall any particular race moments where you had to dig really deep to get through?
Uh, of course. All of Winter Death Race. The cold water portions of Mexico; backwards rolls in the summer death race; every single part of Fuego y Agua Nicaragua – which is still the toughest event out there. Fuego in Nicaragua is my goal race, to see if I can truly dig deep enough to finish it. I think there is a little part of every 24+hr event, where you have to dig deep.
During Toughest 24 Xtreme, I was running with one arm, as my left arm was tied to my body. I was scheduled for shoulder and bicep surgery 6 days after returning from the event. Despite the injury, I had to be there for my team, and could not have a substitute. I ran the whole night, did every obstacle, or attempted [it] and took the penalties. Around 2am, I slipped on Dragon’s Back (an obstacle that requires you to leap 3m to grasp a metal bar, 3m above the ground) for the first time after many one-armed successes, rupturing my bicep the rest of the way. Never in any event have I had to dig deeper, because I was not going to let my team down. We took 3rd place in the women’s team event.
World’s Toughest Mudder has become what I like to call my cursed event. The first year, my teammates and I were rocking toward 50 [miles] in 2014. There was a huge sandstorm, and though I borrowed a thicker wetsuit from Morgan McKay, there was a tear in the bum, and water kept getting in, so I ended up hypothermic for the first time in my racing career. The next year, I did two small laps, because I had just had major shoulder and bicep surgery. In 2016, I had food poisoning and barely eked out 25 miles. There are just some events you cannot dig deep enough to pull out a strong finish. Now, believe me, I will return, and my goal has become a placement at some point. When that will be… who knows?
Nutrition for endurance events can be trial and error. Have you found a fuelling strategy that works for you during ultras?
My fuelling strategy for ultra events, whether crewed or self-supported, involves carefully labelling boxes for the particular foods I need that are in line with my macros or predicted nutritional needs for the event. Each box has laps/times, food types, amounts, labelled ready for a quick grab in pre-made packs. I am very particular about eating ‘real’ food and not taking supplements for my salts, especially as those make my stomach sick.
Percentages of salts, fats, proteins, simple/complex carbohydrates, and hydration, with supplemental needs for magnesium, potassium, etc., are measured out exactly to further prevent deficiency and cramps. I have found this system is crucial for me and my crew. The mind can really mess things up the longer we are awake, and especially if self-supported. I just read and check-off that I have done the directed for each lap.
Go-to foods include Olly’s olives – my favourite things in an event; Honey Stinger GF Waffles, Honey Badger hydration, Rice Krispies Treats/Squares – my reward every 15 miles, German Salami, sweet potato with peanut butter, Veloforte bars and Krave Jerky – someday I will be rockstar enough to be sponsored by these guys!
What are your favourite items of kit for racing and training?
My dryrobe– I literally use it for everything! Also Marena Compression Gear, Darn Tough Socks, Trail Toes, Force5 everything, TRX, Osprey hydration packs (like the Duro and Rev series), Tire Trainer by Trail Toes, the rowing machine, treadmill with 15% incline, cable machine and a wreck bag.
Who are you sponsored by at the moment?
Current sponsors include: Dryrobe, Osprey Europe, Marena Sport, Honey Badger, Honey Stinger, Olly’s Olives, Darn Tough Vermont, Wreck Bag, Force5, Trail Toes and Etchrock. We have some other great negotiations ongoing at the moment!