With the 2017 Spartan World Championships only weeks away, we wanted to take a moment to share one of our favorite inspirational stories from last year’s World Championship. We spoke with Rea Kolbl, seventh place finisher at the 2016 Spartan World Championships. With the help of a StairMaster Gauntlet, a low impact cardio and strength training machine, and an abundance of determination, she was able to overcome an injury and get race ready in time for the World Championship. We asked for her to share her story with us:
I first started using the StairMaster two years ago after being diagnosed with a stress fracture to a metatarsal bone on my right foot. Being someone habituated to trail running at least seventy miles a week, I couldn’t take my recovery sitting down. I had tried every alternative: the elliptical, cycling, swimming and even aqua jogging. It was a frustrating process of elimination to find the same challenge as a hill run until I discovered the StairMaster at my local gym. I quickly became hooked and soon spent all my mornings climbing stairs. My days would start with a 1.5-hour session on a StairMaster, and what a workout! Fully drenched, I looked just about the same as if I just completed a swim… but satisfyingly more tired. Even when my foot healed I kept using the StairMaster in the evenings to make sure I got my endorphin rush before my calisthenics routine.
Earlier this year, at the urging of my husband, I reluctantly signed up to run in the elite wave of the Spartan Race held in Monterey, California. It was going to be a televised race and the larger than average prize pool attracted the best in the sport. My fierce competitors pushed me to my limits; in the end, I surprised almost everyone, including myself, by placing fourth. The only person not surprised was my husband and he wasn’t afraid to rub it in with an “I told you so” after the race.
My surprising placement in Monterey gave me an itch for competition. Of course, to cure this itch, I had to sign up for more races and then I also had to start training specifically for obstacle course racing. After the Monterey race, I competed in the “San Francisco Super” and then the “Portland Sprint” where I placed first in both races. My winning placements gave me access to the coin holder elite wave of the Spartan Race World Championship held at Squaw Valley in Lake Tahoe, California.
I was so excited for this race and the challenge I knew it would be, so I started increasing my running mileage, difficulty, and increasingly often, squeezed in three workouts per day. Then I started feeling the pain in my shin. I dealt with it in my usual way – by pretending I was ok. But the weeks went by and my morning runs became increasingly painful, off balanced, and slow. With only four weeks until Tahoe, I couldn’t even take a walking step without a stabbing pain in my leg. I decided that if there was any way I would run this race, I had to take a break from running. Although there was no guarantee that I would be in racing form by the time of the event, I had to try everything I could to keep my stamina and endurance. So, I put on my elevation training mask and hopped back on the StairMaster for the next week. Our gym only has two machines, hence I made sure to show up promptly at 6am when the facility opened and secured a spot at my cardio altar. With three weeks left to go I began incorporating running back into the routine. By running, I actually mean lightly hobbling for short distances on one foot for the first few days, then getting the actual cardio workout in the evening on the StairMaster machine. My “balanced” routine helped, and though I wasn’t completely healed, the adrenaline (or better yet, the frigid water dunks and swims) masked some of the pain and I did the best I could towards a seventh place finish at the World Championship. I feel I could have done better if I was fully healed, but I’m confident that without my StairMaster cardio I wouldn’t have even made it to the start line, let alone the finish.
Ever since StairMaster, I classify my injuries in two categories: the awful ones, which prevent me from StairMaster as a running alternative; and survivable, which let me climb the stairs until I have nothing left to give.
In 2017, Rea placed first place at the Hawaii Beast. She not only had the best time compared to her female competitors, but also the men. We look forward to another great showing by Rea at the 2017 Spartan World Championships.