View from the Top: Noel Hanna

by Carrie Adams

On a Thursday morning, most people are settling into work behind a desk, looking forward to weekend plans and just trying to make it through the day. Noel Hanna, 44, isn’t most people. I received this email from him this morning:

“At present I am sitting at Everest Base camp in Tibet with 4 clients who are hoping to reach the summit. I have already been to the summit 3 times from both sides of the mountain.”

He then politely offered me a phone number where I could reach him between “2000hrs until 2300hrs my time if I needed anything. Noel’s days often begin this way, and that’s nothing new to the Northern Ireland native.

Recently, Noel Hanna had an ambitious goal. He set out to climb the highest peak on all seven continents. On December 22, 2009, at the summit of Mt. Vinson in Antarctica, he reached his goal and earned himself a World Record for the effort. In addition to his Mt. Vinson assent, Noel scaled Everest, Denali, Elbrus, Aconcagua, Kilimanjaro and the Carstensz Pyramid. He’s seen the world from the highest peaks on all seven continents, but he never stayed to admire the view. Instead, he raced down to sea level by running, skiing, biking, or kayaking over hostile terrain at top speeds. In the process of completing his goal, these peaks, he and his wife Lynne Hanna, an accomplished mountaineer in her own right, raised over 130,000 euro for UCF, the Ulster Cancer Foundation – Northern Ireland’s leading local cancer charity. You can read about his amazing, record-breaking journey on his website 7Summits2Sea Level.

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Reaching New Peaks: Andy Weinberg

by Carrie Adams

Growing up in Peoria, IL, Andy Weinberg, 41, always loved the water.  He swam competitively in high school and college, and when he did his first triathlon in high school, he fell in love.  At the time there weren’t many people doing them, and after college Andy spent a couple years really hitting the triathlon circuit.  He burnt out with swimming after a few years and decided to focus on running instead.  Admittedly never “super-fast,” he trained consistently and did 11 marathons in one year alone.

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by Carrie Adams

Limitless Living: Joe DeSena

All too often we spend our waking hours trying to find and stay comfortable in our own lives.  We look for short cuts, gadgets, and processes to make things easier, seeking what we consider personal fulfillment.   We believe that there are things we can do and things that we can’t, and we become conditioned to that distinction.  It creates our everyday reality and it makes us feel secure, because we think we know what to expect of the world and what to expect of ourselves.  Enter Joe DeSena, the man who will turn that world upside down.

Growing up in Queens, Joe’s mother valued healthy eating and living and passed on that value system to Joe.   It’s been well-documented that he worked hard growing up and ultimately got to Wall Street, where he made his mark and made himself a small fortune.  He moved his family to Pittsfield, Vermont and quickly entrenched himself and his family in the local landscape.  Joe moved to Vermont in an attempt to get back to the way things used to be.

It’s also well-documented that Joe turned an interest in endurance racing into a passion.  His racing resume is the stuff of legends – over 50 ultra-events overall and 12 Ironman Events in one year alone.  Most of his races are 100 miles or more with a few traditional marathons in the mix.  (He once told me that my running a 26.2 marathon distance was “adorable.”)

To put it in perspective, he did the Vermont 100, the Lake Placid Ironman and the Badwater Ultra… in one week.  For those that don’t know or just don’t want to hear the gory details, the elevation climb for Badwater is over 8,500 feet up to Mt. Whitney and temperatures soar into the 120’s.   Joe also rode cross-country to the Furnace Creek 508 which has been coined “The Toughest 48 hours in sport.”  It’s no wonder his favorite quote is, “Death is the price we pay for life, so make it worth it.”

In 2005, Joe decided that the world needed a new race, something that had never beendone. And so, together with Peak Races, he created The Death Race, a 24-hour mental and physical test filled with unknown obstacles.  Racers couldn’t and wouldn’t know what to expect.  The fear of the unknown would either break or motivate, and all they could do was try to survive.  The race waiver consists of three words: “I may die.” It doesn’t get any more real than that.  No way to train, no way to prepare, just show up and make it to the end.  And don’t expect any love from Joe or the volunteers.  They want to break these people, make them quit.  Joe’s been quoted as saying, “There’s no light at the end of the tunnel. We’re basically holding your hand to help you quit. The same way life does, right?”

The winner of the fourth installment of the Death Race was Richard Lee.  Richard, Joe, and the other members of the “Founding Few” wanted to create another event, something that captured the extreme spirit of the legendary Death Race, but was modified and accessible to a much wider racing audience.  And so the Spartan Race was born.  Spartan intends to wake up the world up and save humanity, one racer at a time if need be.  It’s a race meant to challenge, to push, to intimidate, to test and even to break those brave enough to try, and it was designed by seven people who know what that feels like.  “Fun run” doesn’t apply here.  It’s about being uncomfortable, overcoming obstacles and finding out what’s possible when what you expect of yourself is everything.   In the words of Joe himself: “The phrase ‘I can’t’ doesn’t mean anything to me anymore, not because of my ego but because I know anything is possible.”

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by Carrie Adams

Since the dawn of time, there has been disparity between the sexes.  Women, perceived as the weaker sex, have waited patiently.  We wait no more.

A Brief History of Time

K. Switzer

776 B.C. – The first Olympics are held in ancient Greece. Women are excluded.

(Lots of stuff happens here)

1967 -K. (Katherine) Switzer registers to run the Boston Marathon. Race officials try to tear her number from her back during the race.

1972 – Congress passes Title IXBOOM.

1973Billie Jean King wins the “battle-of-the-sexes” tennis match against Bobby Riggs on Sept. 20 in Houston in front of more than 30,000 people and a world-wide TV audience of more than 50 million people.

2000 -Fabiola Da Silva’s scorching athleticism leads to the introduction of the “Fabiola Rule,” which allows women to qualify into the men’s vert finals of competitions of the X-Games. Since then, Fabiola has placed several times in the men’s Top 10 and she was the only girl competing against a field of male inline skaters at the 2004 X Games.

2004Michelle Wie becomes the youngest person and the fourth-ever female to play in a PGA tour event when she tees off at the Sony Open.

Michaela Hutchison

2006 – In Anchorage, Alaska Michaela Hutchison becomes the first girl in the nation to win a state high school wrestling title while competing against boys.

2011 – This morning– I passed four dudes on the trail during my little training run.

Okay, so the last one isn’t compelling, but it made me smile when it happened (four times, actually, and they were the only other people on the trail.)

The point is, women are making advances in all sports and we are gaining ground on our male counterparts.  “Getting chicked” is what happens when a man is passed, beaten, bested, or out-done by a woman.  And though it’s becoming a more frequent phenomenon every day,  men almost universally are not entirely okay with it.

Most of my male friends acknowledge their aversion to being bested by women.  I’m no Paula Radcliffe, but in my circle of running buddies, I’m no slouch either.  I can throw down some good times and on a pretty consistent basis.  I’ve been challenged to races more times than I can count by those who didn’t know better, those who thought they knew better, and those who had been drinking heavily.  In the sake of transparency, I haven’t always won those bets (yes, I generally take them), but on the trail and on the road, I can hold my own.

Chrissie Wellington

Regardless, whenever I roll up on a guy in an event or even on a gym track, I get the same reaction: deer-in-the-headlights eyes, the sudden onset of panic/embarrassment/fear, and an overly exaggerated effort to not let me pass them.  When I do, when they forfeit, it’s a small victory for me and a huge shot to the ego for them.

But let’s get real for a hot second.  I’m just a blip on the radar screen.  Take Chrissie Wellington for example, the phenom Ironman athlete.  She has rarely been outside the top 10 overall in her races – 7th in Roth, 7th in Korea, 8th in Arizona.  Her marathon times in some of her wins have been beaten by only a few men in those races.  Only at Kona does she find herself outside the top 10 (22nd in 2009, for example.)

Pam Reed

Or what about  Pam Reed, the ultra-distance runner who in 2002 was the first woman to become the overall winner of the Badwater Ultramarathon?  That’s a nasty little 135-mile ultra that has crazy elevation and heat indexes well above 120 degrees.  She subsequently repeated her feat as overall winner of the race in 2003. In 2002, her win also set the women’s course record.  In 2005, Reed became the first person (not woman, but PERSON) to complete a 300-mile run without sleep.  It took less than 80 hours.  And NO, that’s not a typo.  300 miles… in 80 hours… without sleep.

The moral of the story is simple.  Guys, the ladies are showing up.  Day in and day out, in all sports, niches, and events, we’re here.   Ask anyone who’s squared off against Sonya Thomas, the 98-pound professional eater who goes by the moniker “Black Widow” and is currently ranked as the fifth-best competitive eater in the United States and sixth in the world, with 29 world titles.

The ladies are kicking ass, and we aren’t going anywhere.  So when you hear the tell-tale sound of approaching footsteps behind you, it could very well be a woman about to smoke you.  Don’t fight it.  As she leaves you in her wake with what you’ll tell your friends later was superhuman steroid-fueled ease, give her respect (even if it’s only in your head.)  You and I both know that getting “chicked” may be the best thing to happen to you all day.

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by Carrie Adams

Creating an international obstacle racing series is not an easy task.  Logistics alone are enough to make it a dizzying headache of epic proportions.  The race venues crisscross the globe and span such long distances that there is a need for constant traveling, scouting, and having teams spread out over wide expanses of the world trying to find the best and baddest places to have the events.

You need course designers who are visionaries that look at the landscape and not only design but set up a course only to have it deconstructed days later. There’s the task of finding sponsors, determining and procuring materials to build the obstacles, finding volunteers to put them up, take them down, assist before, on, and after race day, and runners for the event itself.  There’s parking to manage, racers to get bibbed and chipped, to get fed post-race, and to keep entertained.  Before an event, you have to manage registrations, a constant barrage of questions, accounting paperwork, all just to get one event in the books.  The marketing, advertising, and pounding pavement to tell people your story and get people to show up on race day is an effort of epic proportions in and of itself!

But there is a whole other side to creating an international obstacle racing series.  It’s defining the spirit of the event, the very soul of what it will represent to the runners themselves who will struggle, fight, and claw their way through the miles and the tests that are put in front of them.  It isn’t about getting dirty, but you’ll get dirty.  It isn’t about having fun, but you will have fun. It isn’t about the costumes, the beer, and the after-party.  It’s about who you are when you run, and what is brought out of you when you falter, what you do when you want to give up, and how you feel when you finish.  It’s about what you have inside you to get you across that line.  How do you create something that changes a person so that they are better when they cross the finish line?

The Spartan Race was created by eight ultra-athletes.  It was created by people who have spent their lives redefining what’s realistic and finding out what’s possible by living lives without limits.

The Spartan Race was built on a code:

  • A Spartan pushes their mind and body to their limits
  • A Spartan masters their emotions.
  • A Spartan learns continuously.
  • A Spartan gives generously.
  • A Spartan leads.
  • A Spartan stands up for what they believe in, no matter the cost.
  • A Spartan knows their flaws as well as they know their strengths.
  • A Spartan proves themselves through actions, not words.
  • A Spartan lives every day as if it were their last.

Recently, we told the story of Richard and Selica, two of the initial founders of the Spartan Race.   You’ll be hearing all the stories of the founding few.  The originators of the Spartan Race who gave life to an idea but more importantly gave soul to a movement: living a life without limits.  You have one life to live, strive for greatness!

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by Khaled Allen

Picture credit: oddsock on Flickr

Are you fit enough to save your own life? What about those of your loved ones? Are you fit enough to survive a natural disaster?

If you workout just to get ‘in shape’, that isn’t good enough. It has no concrete value; what does ‘in shape’ even mean? It is a very vague goal, and vague goals never get you anywhere.

Here is a better set of goals, from Mark’s Daily Apple: be fit enough to survive a threat to your own life, to rescue your family if you must, and to endure any trauma you might experience.

Fitness is and always has been a means to an end. We train our bodies so that they might help us accomplish something. The Spartans trained from childhood not because they wanted to have higher levels of energy and look good in a loincloth. They had a city to defend and the honor of a culture to uphold. They put their bodies at the service of their city-state, and that is what gave them purpose in their training.

The most successful athletes have goals. Looking damn sexy is a fine goal, and it has motivated a lot of people in the past. Needing to be in shape to survive is a much better goal, and will let you push yourself to much greater heights of physical and mental prowess.

The greatest athletes in our civilization are the Olympians. They aren’t in it for the fitness. They are in it for the gold, literally. They don’t just want to be ‘in shape’. They want to be the best they can be, to perform whatever task is required of them as effectively as possible, and to leave a mark on the world. For them, it isn’t good enough to just go through their fitness routine; they need to see results.

If you want to become a truly accomplished athlete, you need something to train for, some objective to dedicate your body towards pursuing.

Fitness demands testing. That is why the truly fit – real athletes – are naturally drawn to challenge. They want to be tested. That is really the only way to know if you are fit, and to what extent.

CrossFit stakes its entire approach to fitness on measurable results. Fitness is meaningless if it cannot be measured and tested. The CrossFit definition of fitness is fairly straightforward. It is based on how efficiently you can complete a given task. Weightlifters are fit to move heavy loads. Runners are fit to cover a lot of distance quickly. How do we know? We measure it.

Being fit is important, make no mistake. The term fitness originally refers to the likelihood a given organism will reproduce and pass on its genes. You want to be fit, trust me. The desire to be fit is hardwired into your genes.

A great way to measure your real, applicable fitness is to consider whether your level of fitness is sufficient to save your life in the event it were ever threatened. The blog, The Art of Manliness, suggests 5 physical benchmarks that every man should be capable of performing should he need to save his own life. They include swimming half a mile, running at top speed for 200m, jumping over an obstacle at waist height, 15-20 pull ups, and at least 25 dips.

When fitness is necessary for survival, you have a much more useful measurement of ‘in shape’. Are  you fit enough to save your own life? Or are you just in shape to look pretty?

Most people are content to delude themselves into thinking they are fit based on cheesy infomercials and clever gym advertising. Nobody wants to admit that they’re not fit, because on a biological level, it is the equivalent of admitting you can’t survive and are not worthy to reproduce. And so our culture has come up with plenty of ways to let people avoid admitting that. You go to the gym for an hour a day and you pedal the elliptical like your overpaid personal trainer told you to, therefore you are fit. Never mind the fact that you still can’t climb your apartment building stairs without stopping to catch your breath.

Our definition of fitness has been divorced from actually demonstrating physical prowess.

Want to know for sure if you’re fit enough to save your own life? Run a Spartan Race.

The race doesn’t care if you look good in a muscle shirt. It doesn’t care if you have the latest running shoes. It doesn’t care if you can bench 300 lbs. All it cares about is whether or not you can survive and finish. Can you get the job done? That is fitness. If anyone tells you otherwise, they are trying to sell you something you probably don’t need.

That is why I love CrossFit so much. The CrossFit WODs don’t care how you get the job done, so long as you do it powerfully and efficiently. If the goal is to get weight overhead, you’ve got several different ways to do it. If the objective is to get yourself over a bar, by all means kick your legs and wriggle your way over the bar. If it gets you there faster than some muscle-head showing off his lats with strict pull ups, guess who will win the WOD? If you’re climbing for your life, guess who will survive and who will be found ‘unfit’?

Honestly, you don’t have to do either CrossFit or Spartan Races to test your fitness. You simply need to step up to a challenge that will push you out of your comfort zone. You need to put yourself in a place that is not easy and see if you can take it, and how well you can take it.

And you’re even allowed to fail. But if that happens, I expect you to train yourself to succeed next time. We have the luxury of simulating life threatening emergencies to test ourselves, and we should take advantage of that luxury so we’re ready for the real thing.

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[Editor's note: I came across Niki's blog over at www.andthisislifeilove.blogspot.com and I wanted her to share her experience training for her first-ever Spartan race, coming up April 30 in Atlanta, Georgia.  Here's her story...If you want to share yours, send an email to BethC@spartanrace.com]

by Niki Kenney

Niki Kenney

My friend DP has been trying to get me to sign up for races with him for months.

Considering I spent the greater part of last summer on the couch, due to a serious burn injury, I continually turned him down.  I had fallen out of shape and just couldn’t find the courage to train again, lift again, and put in the grueling effort of caloric maintance and protein slamming.

But, DP knows what it’s like to love running.  Knowing that before my annoying injury last summer, I loved running too, he never gave up asking to join him in a race.  Somehow, one day, he convinced me.

He asked me to sign up for a Spartan Race.  It was “only a 5K” and I was “perfectly capable of handling it.”  He even threw in that I could race for free if I volunteered to help with the race.  Free t-shirt, free race, helping out afterwards and watching other runners finish.

What doesn’t sound awesome about that?

I told myself I could use training for a 5k as an excuse to get my couch-shaped rear back into running shape.

My boyfriend and I joined the local YMCA, where our good friends regularly attempted to tone their bods. We made plans and promises to support each other in this newly acquired get-fit challenge.

I was PSYCHED, energetic and hopeful.  I had a run in my future.  Alongside my closest friends, I had a gym schedule loaded with spin, running, lifting and random other classes, each prepared to rock my world back into shape.

At some point during the second week of 5 A.M. spin classes, I contacted the Spartan Race volunteer director to officially sign up for the Spartan Race and offer to help out for free entry.  I had mentioned the run to my girlfriend at some point, and being that she had never raced before, she had casually agreed it would be a fun adventure for us.

Disregarding a final approval, I accidently tossed her name into the email as a fellow runner/helper.  Following the sign up email, I googled the race while at the same time gchating with my friend quickly to inform her that she would be getting contacted re: racing and volunteering.  I went back to the googled Spartan Race video window and my jaw dropped.

WHAT THE HECK DID I GET MYSELF INTO?!!?

I quickly cut and paste the url box into my gchat window, but totally played it cool (as if I hadn’t just witnessed a race like no other). I let her know that she was already signed up for the run, but that she should watch a video about it as soon as possible so she knew what she was up against.  Without waiting for a response, I went back to Google and began looking for a slice of sanity in this seemingly impossible endeavor I had unknowingly signed up for.

I figured, after about ten minutes of abusing “the Spartan race” in my Google window, that I was going to have to back out.  There was no way I could possibly compete in this sort of race.  Mud? Water? Barbed wire? Obstacle course? All I wanted was a 5K! NOT a death wish! (insert kicking and screaming).

Minutes of googling turned into days, and weeks.

I didn’t back out.

I watched video after video of the “not your typical 5K.”  I didn’t see a torturous race. I saw fun; I saw smiles; I saw the high of finishing such an incredible, different kind of race. I saw Spartans.

I read testimonials and of competitors and comments by supporters.  I didn’t read regret or anguish. I read positivity, happiness and excitement. I read about Spartans.

I emailed handfuls of questions to Spartan race veterans.  Their responses were not to train like I’ve never trained before and give up if I wasn’t in shape in time.  They encouraged me to prepare safely and excitedly for an invigorating, “helluva good time,” won’t ever forget it, run. I heard back from Spartans.

I became enthralled with running blogs and supporters of health, exercise and eating well.

Somewhere in there, I even convinced my boyfriend and another friend to sign up for the race and volunteer.

I’ve spent nearly every single day in the gym. I’ve blogged about the workouts, and the burn. I’ve hated life when my alarm went off at 5 A.M. and cursed at my own legs when I didn’t think they could possibly carry me any longer.  But I still keep on training to get back in shape.  I work at it every day for my journey to Spartan.

I received confirmation from the run volunteer this week that I would be running in the first heat.  Remembering that I had read at some point that the first heat was when the fierce “elite competition” usually races, I quickly shot back an email asking her if this was true.  Spoken like a true Spartan, her response: “I’m not sure. . . things have changed slightly, and I haven’t been filled in on all the details . . . Don’t worry about it though, all the volunteers are elite in my mind :) ”.  I was at ease.

I am by no means in as good of shape as the competitors highlighted on the Spartan site.  I don’t run as far as my new blogger friends. I wouldn’t consider myself completely back to being fit. But I am different than I was a month and a half ago.  I’m a new person, with a new attitude and a new outlook on fitness and physical challenges.

This is corny, and probably only the thousands of Spartan racers would really understand, but I’m Spartan strong.

And in a few short weeks here, I’ll be able to call myself a true Spartan racer.

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by Khaled Allen

The most common complaint I hear from people who are interested in improving their fitness is that they don’t want to lift heavy weights. Bikers maintain that they don’t need to, soccer players believe it will make them bulky, and runners think it will slow them down. Women almost universally are afraid of gaining weight.

Marilyn Monroe lifted heavy weights, for crying out loud!

The problem is that there are no images in the fitness world of immensely strong, lean individuals. Everyone seems to think that if they so much as touch a loaded barbell, they will balloon into an Austrian bodybuilder. When people think of weightlifting, they see super heavyweight powerlifters and bodybuilders. They don’t think about the 135 lb men who are lifting 300 lbs and are about as lean and cut as a jaguar.

Most people don’t realize that the super heavyweights follow special programs to gain weight; they don’t get that way just by lifting.

People associate strength with bulk, and bulk with slowness. They would rather be small and weak than slightly heavier and immensely stronger.

Here’s an interesting fact: muscle tissue is capable of generating approximately 30 times its own weight in tension. That means 1 pound of muscle can pull 30 pounds of weight. Any gains in muscle mass will bestow more than enough extra speed, power, and agility to compensate for the extra bulk (up to a certain point of course).

The Spartan Race requires you to be well-rounded, just like any real-life situation that might require you to use your body. In an emergency, you might have to carry your loved ones to safety, and the ability to bike for hours will do you no good if you can’t even support their weight for more than a few minutes. Get strong. You’ll be faster, more agile, have less pain, and look better naked.

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by Khaled Allen  

Marathon Runner, christianisthedj on Flickr

At the CrossFit gym where I work, we have athletes of all ages and abilities. Many of them are in their 30s and 40s. Some are in their 50s and 60s. We ask all of them to lift heavy weights and push themselves until they are gasping for air. As a result, they are strong and in great shape.  Many senior athletes are reluctant to do so at first.  But they soon realize that by asking their bodies to deal with controlled stress, they preserve and develop their strength much more effectively than playing it safe all the time.

I hear it all the time: “I’m too old to be exercising like that. You young folk should enjoy it while you can, because when you get to be my age, you won’t be able to move around so easily.” Usually the person I’m talking to is in their late thirties, maybe their forties.

I believe that not only should people be exercising throughout their lives, but that older people especially should be lifting heavier weights, running faster races, and actually competing in their sports. Just like most people need to increase the intensity of their fitness routines, older athletes should also be training as intensely as they can, instead of holding back out of fear because of their age.

Shotputter, Rick Rickman, in an article by Anthea Raymond, Huffington Post

There is a false belief that as you get older, your ability to engage in athletic pursuits diminishes. This belief is based on studies that claim to show definitively that as you age, your muscle mass and bone density decreases, your ability to recover drops, and your coordination and agility begin to falter. These are old studies, and have been replicated many, many times, so they must be justified.

These studies do not account for men and women running marathons in their 60s. They do not account for powerlifters in their 40s outperforming younger competitors. They don’t account for the masters swimmers who are leaving college kids in their wake. Are these individuals genetic outliers? Or are we missing something?

An article in the latest issue of AARP pointed out that these studies did not control for level of activity; they simply measured various indicators of fitness in the general population over a certain age. Most adults in their late thirties and forties pretty much give up serious exercise when they get busy with families and jobs. Since most Americans are sedentary after their twenties, this means that we’ve been making conclusions based on a population that has been inactive for 10+ years. Basically all you can conclude from them is that if you stop exercising for a long time, you will lose muscle mass, bone density, and coordination. If you don’t exercise, you will lose fitness.

No surprise.

Then a study will come along and look at older people who don’t exercise because they’re told they can’t, and it will conclude that older people are weaker and slower, and should therefore limit the intensity of their exercise.

You see how this is a circular problem?

The same AARP article cited more recent studies looking at active older adults which found muscles almost as energetic as in younger athletes. So if you do keep training, you stay fit. This should come as no surprise, but I still get into a lot of arguments with adults in their thirties and forties who say they simply aren’t as fit as they used to be. I ask if they’ve kept up their training, and they say “no, but that has nothing to do with it.” They just got old.

My belief is that these ex-athletes feel bad about letting their fitness decline. Instead of accepting responsibility, they blame their age. Instead of just getting back to the hard work of developing fitness, they make excuses.

Lance Armstrong said it well. At 37, he re-entered the Tour De France, with the stated goal of winning an eighth time. Many people questioned his decision, saying that he was just being selfish, or couldn’t move on in his life, and should accept that he’s getting older and shouldn’t be competing. His response: “Athletes at 30, 35 mentally get tired. They’ve done their sport for 20, 25 years and they’re like, I’ve had enough. But there’s no evidence to support that when you’re 38 you’re any slower than when you were 32.”

There is also a troubling belief among many that, rather than strengthening the body, exercise actually wears it out and that you can only be fit for so long before fitness turns into excessive stress.

Besides the fact that this view doesn’t make sense, it isn’t even supported by what few viable studies have been done, much less the anecdotal evidence of athletes in their 40s, 50s, 60s, and even their 90s who only start training seriously after they are considered past their athletic years.

It used to be said that muscle loss was inevitable, and all you could do was delay it by doing some basic resistance training. Nobody thought to actually try lifting heavy weights or doing intense exercise. Lo and behold, there are bodybuilders in their 60s and 70s, sprinters and swimmers, track and field athletes competing well into their nineties, all with impressive musculature.  For visual evidence, check out Rick Rickman’s photographs of older athletes.

If you follow current trends in fitness, you know that the move is back towards functional lifts, performed at a load that permits only 1 to 5 reps, and short, high-intensity sprints. These loads have always been known to produce results, and have been used by high school, professional, and college athletes for decades. Compare that to what most of us have been doing in gyms for the last thirty years – lifting puny weights for sets of 10-12 reps, thirty minute bouts on the elliptical – and it’s no wonder we’re losing muscle as we age.

According to Miriam Nelson, director of the John Hancock Center for Physical Activity and Nutrition, “We have underestimated as a culture, and maybe even in the field of exercise science, what older adults are capable of doing.”

What does all this mean? It means that aging, or at least the physical frailty that comes along with it, is a choice. You don’t stop exercising because you get old. You get old because you stop exercising.

Picture credits:

Marathon Runner, christianisthedj on Flickr, http://www.flickr.com/photos/hcmedkamera/2080472076/sizes/m/in/photostream/

Shotputter, Rick Rickman, in an article by Anthea Raymond, Huffington Post, http://www.huffingtonpost.com/anthea-raymond/older-athletes-turn-heads_b_419637.html

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by Carrie Adams

Kat Dunnigan isn’t the kind of woman you would have assumed was the “Death Race Type.”  Physically, she’s hardly imposing.  Barely 5′ 1”, she’s small, and her soft voiceon the phone, along with her contagious, bubbly laughter, hide her strength and toughness.

Raised in Portland, Maine, Dunnigan had an athletic family but didn’t really get into sports as a child or teenager.  She graduated with an Electrical Engineering degree from SUNY Maritime and headed to NYU for law school.  At 28 she found herself wanting to do something more than just work, so she took up Karate, and after four years she earned herself a black belt.  It was a wakeup call for Kat that she wasn’t just working out and she had transformed into something bigger.

“When I saw myself as an athlete that changed my whole world,” she said in a recent interview.  Karate brought with it full contact tournaments, but it also brought burnout and she needed inspiration.  A ten month break found her in front of her TV watching an Ironman.  She felt the unmistakable feeling of fear in the pit of her stomach and in that moment she committed to doing an Ironman… but not some far off day in the future.  She wanted to do one in a year in France.  Her training started that day and hasn’t stopped.  Since 2006, she’s competed in an Ironman every year from France to Australia, Lake Placid to New Zealand and in four weeks she goes to St. George.

So, why the Death Race?  She’s proven herself an athlete and a consistent and formidable one but a year ago while strength training at Warrior Fitness Boot Camp Kat saw the webpage for the Spartan race and saw the link for The Death Race… you maydie.com.  She clicked on it. A familiar feeling rose in the pit of her stomach – the same feeling she got when she first watched the Ironman, fear that quickly turned into a rush of adrenaline and then resolve.  “I have to do this insane thing.”

She goes into the race with no pretentions.  She is doing the race for herself and her way. This event isn’t about her being the strongest physically.  She is admittedly not a natural athlete but she has no illusions about herself and she has a quick wit and self-deprecating sense of humor that she believes will help her survive the long hours.  Mentally, doing the Ironman has taught her how to find inner peace.  The race brings everyone to a place where they want to give up and they have to make the decision to move on.

Recently, she participated in Death Race camp and commented, “The one thing that is amazing is that your ego is put away and you are no longer worried about anything but that task at hand… it’s painful but it’s a peaceful place to be.  There is nothing left to do but put one foot in front of the other.  I can put one foot in front of the other.”

When she thinks about Death Race day she has only two fears – one of just being that tired and sleep deprived.  Two, she fears that she will miss time cut-offs and be pulled from the course.  “I’m okay with feeling like I’m behind, but I’d hate to be pulled in the middle.  I want to make it to the end.  I want to get the skull they hand out.” She laughs.  She wants to get herself through it.  “I want to feel like I have just come through the hardest thing I’ve ever done.”  They promised me that.

Kat doesn’t think of herself as a woman competing, she thinks of herself as an athlete competing.  She’s read about at least three women who have done it and finished at least once.  It opens the door for more women to give it a shot, women like her, and she’s grateful for the trails they have blazed.

This new chapter is a new challenge for a professional, working woman who found her inner athlete in her late 20’s.  The Karate gave her confidence, the Ironman gave her endurance, now she trains for strength and she brings her own brand to the table.  To stay motivated, to do it in the first place, she said it just clicked.  “The death race is just ‘find your inner crazy.’  It resonates with me.  I got a lot of inner crazy.”  She laughs and then pauses.  “ It brings things back to a place that’s very raw.”

Her training has combined endurance and strength – her Ironman mere weeks away, she views it as a training day, focusing more on the Death Race in June.  Her friends at Warrior Fitness Boot Camp are helping her get strong – weighted vest runs, stairs, intense cardio sessions and even a few words of wisdom for the journey.  Alex Fell, one of the Warrior Fitness owners told her – “Get amnesia…”  It’s about living in the moment completely.  If you have a bad race or you have a bad day, just forget it and move on.  If you have a good day, same thing, get amnesia and move on.  It’s just a day.  She laments with a laugh, “Most of my amnesia is about bad days.”  You can’t help but love her story, her drive, and her reasons.  She’s an inspiration for athletes, men and women, everywhere and we don’t think the Death Race will even slow her down.  By the way, did we mention Kat turns 40 next week?  Happy birthday, Kat… we’ll see you in June.

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