Few people have the talent to compete successfully in multiple endurance sports, but 26-year-old Canadian (and two-time obstacle course racing world champion) Lindsay Webster has podiumed in cross country running, cross country skiing, mountain bike racing and obstacle course racing.
A huge name in OCR and the current women’s OCR World Champ, Lindsay’s been on my ‘wish list’ of interviews since I first dreamt up Lessons In Badassery, so I’m really thrilled to have her up here! *EXCITED FACE*.
In between training, racing and her new job, Lindsay let me delve into her training and goals for 2017.
(P.S If you haven’t checked out Lindsay’s awesome Instagram feed, do it. It’ll make you want to pack up and head for the mountains!)
You’re an endurance sports fiend – growing up, did you spend a lot of time outdoors?
I sure did! My parents owned a sailboat, so every summer was spent hiking, swimming and camping. When you’re in the middle of nowhere on a sailboat with no cell reception or TV, the outdoors becomes your playground. During the school months of the year I was always enrolled in sports teams.
You only took up obstacle course racing in 2014, yet the following year you became World Champion. How do you cope with the pressure this brings?
I absolutely love obstacle racing. I’ve always had fairly good upper body strength, so finding a sport that combined both my cardio abilities and strength felt like something I’d been waiting for my whole life. Sometimes I feel pressure to perform to please sponsors or the OCR community, but the reality of it is that I have fantastic sponsors and supporters, who primarily just want me to be a good ambassador and role model. I just remind myself that I’m doing this sport because it makes me so happy. I train so hard because I want to do the best I can.
In your first ever OCR race you came an incredible 4th in the elite wave, yet you found the upper body obstacles a challenge…
It’s true! I came in to that race (the 2014 Spartan World Championships in Vermont) having done no upper body training. Thankfully, my endurance and speed were ready because I’d just come off a mountain bike racing and cross-country running season. I was sore for weeks after that race! Now, I train my upper body about three times per week, focusing on grip strength training. I do lots of indoor bouldering and rock climbing, combined with a ton of OCR-specific exercises like monkey bars, chin-ups, and dead hangs. I also keep up with my lower body strength training, agility, and physio injury-prevention exercises.
Living in Canada you’ve got the perfect playground for mountain running on your doorstep. Is it all hills and trails or do you ever run on the road?
The part of Canada I live in has tons of rolling hills, like Pennsylvania except a bit smaller. It makes for great training. I also try and take tons of training camps to the mountains in western Canada or New York. I prefer to run on trails, but most of my speed work is done on the roads.
Your least favourite obstacle is the bucket carry – is that right?
That’s so right! Closely followed by the spear throw, because I’m not very good at it and it can really make or break a race. I have both a bucket and a spear at home that I practice with. It’s a necessary love-hate relationship.
So do you have a favourite obstacle?
My favourite obstacle is probably the Platinum Rig, or anything like it, such as monkey bars. These obstacles are fun, but always present a challenge and motivate me to keep up with my upper body strength training. They can also become incredibly difficult if they’re wet and slippery. I train specifically for them in my shed, where I have a (super-small but effective) homemade rig. Since the room is only 10 feet by 10 feet, I’ll just go around in circles doing laps on it. I also practice for Spartan Race’s bucket carry, and incorporate a bit of sandbag carries in to my training. And my climbing gym also has a set of monkey bars.
How do you balance running with other OCR disciplines such as strength training and grip strength? What does the split look like?
I’d say my training is about 70% running or cardio cross-training (mountain biking, cross-country skiing) and 30% strength training. I find if I do less strength than this, it becomes really hard for me to complete the obstacles.
What are your favourite exercises for improving grip strength?
To be honest, I really hate gym workouts or training inside, but I have discovered bouldering/rock climbing. It’s a fantastic way to improve your grip strength and has a lot of technique that you’ll find handy when executing obstacles. I do find it necessary to keep up with my obstacle-specific training, though. Other favourite exercises include chin-ups or frenchies (a combination of chin-ups and arm lockoffs where you lock your arms at 90 degrees halfway up and hold it, then back down and repeat), dead hangs, and farmer’s carries.
I’ll do other fun things too, like wet my hands with a bottle (to make it harder and replicate rainy day races), hang from my chin-up bar, and switch my hands back and forth on it until I fall off. I go to the bouldering gym about twice a week, where I’ll also do physio exercises, core, and leg strength between rock climbing sets. I’ll do an OCR specific strength program once a week in my home gym.
What’s a typical week’s training look like?
A typical week always includes one rest day, two or three strength training days, and two or three speed work days. The rest is filled with fun trail runs, mountain bike rides, and cross-country skiing/snowshoe runs/backcountry skiing.
What kind of running do you tend to do?
I do a mixture! I also clock my training by hours, as opposed to mileage. I find it works better for me, because if you’re out in the mountains or something, you could be out for two hours and only travel 10km. I probably train an average of two or 2.5 hours a day (this doesn’t include recovery work, yoga, physio, etc). I know some athletes, like cyclists, train a lot more, but when your training is done running or on foot, a lot less hours are required than when you’re on a bike. Also, some athletes benefit from training more hours. I’ve tested all those boundaries and this seems to be what works best for me.
You’ve got The North Face 50-mile Endurance Race and World’s Toughest Mudder (24-hr obstacle race) this year – do you tailor your training in the run up to ultra-distances such as these?
I think that training for ultra-distances is something that needs to be done over a really long period of time. You can’t get ready for these races in a month, or even a few months, or you could end up injured. I’ve been gradually increasing my mileage over the past four years to be able to run 24-hours.
Do you have a go-to source of energy before training or events?
I like to eat white rice or oatmeal on race mornings, with some added peanut butter and coconut oil for fat and salt. I do take gels while I race! Fuelling and hydrating is probably the most important thing in a race, to keep you from crashing and burning.
Do you get nervous before you race?
I sure do! I’ve tried to tell myself it’s silly to expend energy on being nervous, but I just can’t help it. I like to learn as much as I can about the race course and obstacles, so that I know where my strengths will lie. I usually visualize the whole thing in my head, and picture myself executing obstacles well. I’m not sure if it really helps at all, but it gives me confidence when it’s time to actually do the obstacle.
You recently had your honeymoon in New Zealand (Lindsay is married to OCR powerhouse, Ryan Atkins). Did you take advantage of the amazing trails while you were there?
Definitely! New Zealand’s Department of Conservation is amazing. They’ve spent an incredible amount of energy developing their infrastructure to promote an outdoor lifestyle. It was hard not to over-train while we were there, and it turned in to a pretty epic month-long training camp.
You seem incredibly positive. Do you ever have days when training and racing is a struggle?
Of course I have days when it’s a struggle. Just like anyone in their career, some days you wish you could just stay curled up in bed a little longer. But, luckily, I have a ton of energy so that never lasts long. I find it really hard to sit idle, and if 11am rolls around and I haven’t got outside yet, I get pretty antsy.
Tell us about your goals for 2017
I’m taking on the new endurance challenge of the Toughest Mudder races, which are Tough Mudder races that last for 8-hours, starting at midnight and ending at 8am. My focus this year has shifted a bit more to endurance events. They have six races in this series, and I’d like to compete in as many of them as I can (without getting burnt out or injured, of course). I’m also training like crazy to try and defend my title as OCR World Champion. It would mean so much to me to be the first person to hold this title for three years in a row, and I think it would be really empowering for women in this sport.
You’ve run trails all over the world – which are your three favourite trail run destinations?
New Zealand for sure! Some of my home trails in Canada, like the Killarney La Cloche trail, are some of the most beautiful I’ve ever been on. I’d also say England is one of the most beautiful places I’ve been, in the High Peaks and Lake District.
What are your favourite can’t-live-without items of kit for training and racing?
Hmm tough one! For racing, the tights I wear, which are made by Marena Sport compression wear. They keep my legs from getting all scratched up, and I’ve worn them even in really hot weather. Once they’re wet they actually help keep me cool, so if it’s hot I’ll just wet them before the start. My chin-up bar is probably one of my most key pieces of training equipment, and I’m pretty sure it was $2 from Home Hardware. Third, my Suunto Ambit GPS watch. It allows me to track my training and keeps me motivated when I can look at how much mileage or hours I’ve put in throughout a week. Also, I can’t forget the bags I use, KitBrix, which are perfect for OCR. And BeetElite. I’ve been eating beets as a pre-race ritual since high school, so not having to cook them the night before every race, and just having them in a handy portable packet, is pretty amazing.
Competing and kitting yourself out for racing can be expensive – who are your sponsors?
My sponsors currently are Tough Mudder and BeetElite, and I couldn’t do this without them! I would never support a sponsor who I didn’t wholly believe in, and both Tough Mudder and BeetElite promote the healthy lifestyle I cherish. Also, a big shout out to team GoatTough, which I’m a part of. This team was put together to promote the exact same thing – a healthy lifestyle and to live every day to its fullest. It’s pretty amazing to be able to race and train for a living, so thanks to them it’s possible and I’m loving every second of it.
Watch Lindsay in action winning the OCR World Championship 2016 short course race here, courtesy of Mudstacle TV: