Sponsored Athlete Interview: Lea Stretch, OCR Ninja Pt. 1
At 6 Pack Fitness, we're proud to support dedicated individuals who are all about living life to the fullest and pushing their bodies and themselves to their utmost potential. Lea Stretch knows all about pushing yourself to new physical limits. Specializing in obstacle course racing (OCR for short), Lea is determined to carve a name for herself in this new, male-dominated fitness field.
6 Pack Fitness is proud to sponsor Lea Stretch as an athlete, and we decided to sit down with her to get some insight into what drives her to be the best she can be.
Tell us a little bit about your background.
I have been working for the past ten years as a massage therapist, and I'm currently studying for my personal training certification. My career goal at this point is to work one-on-one helping people achieve their fitness goals. I'm obsessed with the human body, so massage was rewarding work, but it's incredibly taxing on the hands and joints. I'm already having issues with my lower back, wrists, and shoulder, meaning it's time to do something different. Once I discovered obstacle course racing, I quickly became deeply involved with that whole world. Personal training was just a natural progression towards that.
As a personal trainer, are you specializing in anything? Will you take on the average Joe or tailor your focus more towards obstacle course racers?
It would be fun to focus on obstacle course racers, but even if you don't want to run these races, the type of training is totally awesome for the whole body. The training [you do for OCR] is great for performance, weight loss, mobility â€¦ you name it.
Have you always been active in your life?
I've been running since 7th grade. That's over 20 years now, so it's no wonder that I'm starting to feel the pain! I was a sprinter all through middle school and high school. When I got to college, I ran 3-5 miles daily just to stay fit. Then I got involved in endurance racing, and I tried my hand at a half marathon. That's when I realized that my body could take on more. I felt like a machine! I got that runner's high and wanted to see how long I could go, how many miles I could run. I did marathons, half marathons, and a lot of cross training. I joined a boxing club and did their conditioning classes, and I was a dancer.
I get bored really easily with my workouts. I always need to be moving, doing something with my body. I try new things out on a regular basis. About two years ago, I saw a flyer for a Spartan Race at a marathon and I signed up for the Elite heat, which is more competitive. I came in 5th place for women and I realized I am kind of good at this! Spartan Race was my first race, and from that point, I just stuck with it.
When was your first race?
January 2012. I've been doing it for a little over 2 years now.
How many competitions do you do a year?
This year, hopefully 10, but I'm trying to get to a point where I'm doing one a month. I'm in the process right now of trying to get more cash sponsors because it's super expensive to train and travel for these races. My next race is a Spartan stadium race on August 9th in San Francisco at AT&T Park.
Let's say you get all the sponsors you need. Is it that taxing of a sport to where you can only do one a month or do you think you could do one a week?
It depends on the distance. If it's a shorter race, I could probably do one every two weeks. It also depends on the incline, because with a lot of hills, it can be really taxing on the body. A real challenge with this sport is that there is not an off-season, so a lot of us train year round. We're all new to this, so we are trying to figure out how exactly to train for a variety of races and obstacles. It's still kind of trial and error. The best thing you can do is to be as fit as you can possibly be. This is not only the endurance aspect, but the strength aspect as well.
Is every event similar in nature as far as the obstacles you have to face go?
Most race series have similar obstacles for every event. The majority of obstacles are the traditional military ones, like jumping over walls, rolling under barbed wire, and climbing up ropes. But to keep things exciting and challenging, new obstacles are thrown into the mix. So when you get to a race and see something new, if you're fit and strong enough, you're going to be able to figure it out. That's another aspect to this type of racing, you just won't know! You don't even know how many miles you're racing, because they'll say 9-11 miles, and you may end up running 12-15. Usually at the beginning of a race, there will be a course map. Some runners can look at that and memorize everything, but not me. Sometimes I just don't even want to know. I want to take it one obstacle at a time, but I'm thinking I should start memorizing the end of the course, so I know when to push it.
Can you give us a brief recap of how you train? Do you have any tips for people who are trying to get on your level?
Depending on any injuries that I'm dealing with before a race, I might train 4 times a week, but right now I'm doing 5-6 times a week. I'm pretty much always trying to put some kind of cardio in there, but at the moment I'm not really putting too many miles on my body because I'm having multiple issues, including with my back and feet. I'm sticking to 4-5 miles at a decent pace just to keep my baseline cardio up, and after that I'll do strength training. I'm focusing on more power training now, and with that I'm trying to improve my explosive power. So more plyometric training, medicine ball throws, kettle ball lifts, that type of stuff. These exercises help with speed, agility, quickness, and reactivity, skills you need in obstacle course racing. I'm focusing more on anaerobic training, as well. I'm always trying new things out, and if it's difficult, then I'm like, â€œAwesome," because if something is difficult, I'm going to try and master it. Pull-ups, for example, are a great exercise that really strengthen the upper body, which you totally need for this type of racing. But they're hard for me! I want the difficulties to become second nature.
For somebody trying to get to the next level, would you say that a good piece of advice would be to identify your weaknesses and turn them into strengths?
Yes, definitely. If you're a complete beginner, I would stick with just trying to get your cardio up and then doing basic strength training movements that aren't too complex. You want to make sure the stability is there to avoid injury. You can always get a personal trainer to help you, and if you have a gym membership, you can join a conditioning class. Then you'll want to work on movements in different planes of motion. Most exercises are in one plane, so you'll definitely want to try exercises on both transverse and frontal planes.
With her obvious determination and drive, Lea Stretch is bound to go far. We're proud to sponsor her and pleased that our gym backpacks can help in her path for world domination!