This Saturday some of the world’s best obstacle course racers will line up in Tahoe for the Spartan Race World Championship. Gunning for the win will be pro OCR athlete, Faye Stenning, who, in addition to taking third place in last year’s Spartan World Championship, raced herself into the number one spot in the 2016 global Spartan Race world rankings.
While tapering for Tahoe, Faye took time out to answer my questions on training, racing and crazy weighted pull-ups…
You have a background in elite track running. How did the switch to OCR come about?
After university I was very burnt out from running so I took time off and got into lifting weights and HIIT training. Then my boyfriend at the time wanted to run a Spartan [Race] and naturally with how I had been training I had instant success. Next thing you know, my competitive nature took over and I began to build my running back up – which I missed more than I thought.
It didn’t take you long to make an impression in OCR. At what point did you realise you could make a living out of it?
After Tahoe 2016 [the 2016 Spartan Race World Championship], I realised I wanted to see where I could go with this sport. I had no idea I would actually make a living at it till earlier this year. I couldn’t have done it without the support of the Spartan Pro Team, my agent, my fans, and of course my sponsors!
For a lot of OCR athletes the major focus each year is the Obstacle Course Racing World Championship. Is that the same for you or do you prioritise the Spartan Race World Champs?
I won’t even go to OCRWC; Spartan is my focus. It’s where I started and it has enabled me to live my dream so I have no desire to race any other races at this point.
Do you replicate obstacles in training? And what’s your least favourite obstacle?
The only thing I replicate in training is the carries; I find that training to be a better all-round athlete will help you with the obstacles. I have lots of different grip workouts I do at the gym which seem to be working.
My least favourite obstacle is the 8 foot wall because it freaks me out – I feel like I’m going to smash into it and hurt myself. And my most favourite is the barbwire because I’m fast at it, and I like to use it as a chance to recover, especially if I can roll.
Do you have a rig or holds at home to practice on?
No, I just do a variety of different drills on a traditional pull-up bar and go to the bouldering gym every once and a while.
How do you balance running with other OCR disciplines such as strength and grip strength?
Running is 70% of my training, strength and OCR skills make up the rest.
What’s a typical week’s training look like for you?
On non-racing weeks it includes:
2 Run workouts
3 Trail runs – with one being substantially longer, acting as the “long run”
1 HIIT workout which is OCR-specific
1 Strength workout
1 Grip focused session
1-2 Dead easy recovery runs on the road
1 Heavy carry workout
2 Yoga sessions, yin/restorative style
2 Chiropractor sessions
3 Spear throw practices
When racing back-to-back races, I do WAY less.
I’ve heard you’ve got some pretty evil gym and EMOM workouts …
I have a bunch! I highlight some of my workouts on #FayeFriday on Instagram, but if anyone wants more specific, personalised workouts they can reach me via my online coaching business, www.gritcoaching.net. And all my workouts can be access through there.
What kind of running do you tend to do – long, tempo, intervals, hills, trails, roads etc.?
All of the above. The mileage varies a ton depending on what phase of training I am in. 75 miles [per week] happens a lot during non-race weekends and I occasionally drop below 50 miles during a race week.
You’ve said that ‘technical’ running isn’t your strength. Is this a focus in your training?
Yes, most of my running has been on trails this year but it’s still my biggest weakness. Practicing downhill running on technical terrain is important, but it also increases your risk of injury so you have to keep that in mind too.
I’ve seen some impressive videos of you doing weighted pull-ups. What are your favourite strength training exercises?
My favourite upper body strength exercise is weighted, neutral grip, pull-ups. Most of my strength training is a variety of different deadlifts, lunges, push-ups and pull-ups. Just playing with the reps, tempo, the way the weight is loaded, etc., can really change the effect of the exercise. I like to stick to the basics as I believe you get the most bang for your buck out of these exercises.
What about your favourite exercises for improving grip strength?
I usually just do one grip workout a week but I do it till failure. I do a combination of:
Pinch grip plate hold
Fat grip farmer walks
Pull-ups with 10 second dead hang at bottom – thanks to Yancy Camp [OCR training].
Are dead hangs a regular part of your training?
Last year they were, but not this year. My max dead hang time is 3:37 minutes.
Do you have a go-to source of energy for racing and training? I heard that you like Oreos for long training sessions…
A CLIF BAR before I race and Stinger Gels if it’s a long [Spartan Race] Super or Beast. Yes, Oreos if I’m in the mountains for over 3 hours.
Do you have any pre-race rituals or strategies for feeling calm on the starting line?
No pre-race rituals, I just like to carry on with my day-to-day life. Obviously, I focus on drinking more water and going to bed earlier. Other than that I like to stay calm and keep social with friends and family to keep myself distracted and prevent myself from over-thinking/stressing about the race.
You’ve set up Grit Coaching with Olympic 5000m runner, Jess O’Connell. Can you tell us about this?
We offer online, fully individualized programmes tailed to our athletes and their goals. I specialise in the strength/obstacle portion of the program, while Jess focuses on endurance and oversees periodization – the principle of emphasising different parts of training at different times of the year, which is essential for peak performance. We have short videos of every exercise we use, complete with detailed instructional descriptions. These are built into the online program and the app, which allow you to understand and visualize the movements. You can even upload videos of yourself doing the exercise into the app, allowing you to compare your own form to ours. The app also allows you to track sets, reps, and progress. All information can be found on our website www.gritcoaching.net
Last year’s Spartan Race World Championship finish was nail-bitingly close. What were the high and low points of the race for you?
The low was failing the monkey bars at the top of the first climb because my hands were so cold. I was devastated because I had put such a gap on people by this point and it was quickly lost.
The high – after failing both the monkey bars and spear I still remained positive and hopeful, and I was able to work my way back up to a 3rd place finish.
At last year’s OCRWC you decided against completing the Dragon’s Back obstacle. Is this a fear of yours or was your decision based on the risk of injury?
What races are you looking forward to in the rest of 2017?
Spartan World Championships! This has been my main focus all year.
What are your favourite items of kit for training and racing?
Energy Patches from RefreshinQ – great for sustained energy throughout the day; RefreshinQ Customized Vitamin Pack; BCAA from Optimum Nutrition is the best recovery tool; Snickerdoodle Whey Protein from Optimum Nutrition; Cookie Dough Protein Bar from Optimum Nutrition – which is my post-workout go-to.
I’m old-school and just love my basic Timex stopwatch. Also my Spibelt for carrying gels. It’s very light, doesn’t move around and the pocket expands so you can fit as much or as little as you like in it.
You can follow Faye’s racing and training on social media: www.instagram.com/fayestenning_ocr and www.facebook.com/FayestenningOCR or by following the Spartan Pro team on www.instagram.com/spartanproteam. To find out more about Faye’s online coaching programme visit www.gritcoaching.net