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WORLD’S TOUGHEST MUDDER TV INTERVIEW
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OBSTACLE COURSE TRAINING WITH THOR DIAKOW
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WORLD’S TOUGHEST MUDDER 2017
WORLD’S TOUGHEST INTERVIEW
GETTING BACK TO SHAPE IN THE NEW YEAR WITH FITNESS RESOLUTIONS
WINTER WORKOUT SAFETY ON BTV
Badass Women of OCR: Allison Tai
by Charity Fick, Mud Run Guide
From surviving a road biking accident that left her with many broken bones, to nursing her children at World’s Toughest Mudder and still finishing second. It seems like there is nothing that Allison can’t or won’t do. Allison continues to be one of the strongest Canadian obstacle racers. Her preference is for the long events. She won the 2016 Sun Peaks Ultra Beast and back it up directly after with a win at the 2016 Spartan World Championships – Ultra Beast event. I have the honor of interviewing her for this piece, as everyone has their “layers”. Allison is a super nice person, but when it comes down to her coaching and training, she is not afraid to push you outside of your comfort zone.
What do you feel is the hardest OCR you have done and why?
They all have their own special challenges. The short, intense ones let you that burn you never feel in the longer events and require 100% obstacle speed and proficiency. Of course, the World’s Toughest Mudder is probably the hardest. The obstacles there are insane and dong them lap after lap is tough.
Which race (OCR) will you never do and why?
Anything with zombies… because I am a baby and even though I know they’re not real, they still scare the pants off me.
What is the weirdest pre-race food that you will eat?
Oreos. Are they even a food?
What is your pre-race ritual (to help clear your head and get you into the game)?
I usually jog around and do some strides and dynamic stretches. It’s the long distance runner in me. I’ve done it forever and it’s never failed me. That or sprint to the start while putting on my race bib and chip. And 500 porta potty stops because my bladder is tiny and my nerves are not.
What scares you truly in the world of OCR?
Jumping. I have catapedaphobia so I hate that feeling of jumping and falling. But I’m getting over it and even managed to do the cliff a few times up until I tore my LCL. Then it was the impact that jolted me to my sole, not my fear of falling.
How do you balance training/ coaching and running OCR races with having a family?
I include my kids a lot in my training. They make great sandbags and pushing strollers and pulling them on the bikes is a great workout. Also, I just work in whatever I can whenever I can. Like the hangboard I have hanging outside the washroom so I can watch them play in the bath and work on my grip.
What is one completely random fact about you that you are willing to share? Any cute nicknames we can include on here?
I used to train horses for a living before I got into endurance sport.I have two nicknames. One given to me by the Kevin Chow… Tai-Runner-Sore-Ass-Rex. One given to me by my brother as a youngster: Furbicious Alli. I think it’s a blend of ambitious and ferocious. But it made me want to chase them and bite them.
Have you ever thought about writing a book about your OCR experience and life? if so what’s stopped you from doing so?
Oh gosh. I’d love to. Maybe once I have time to sit at my computer for more than a moment. Or maybe if I could dictate it while running.
What is your go to post race ritual? why do you do it?
I grew up a vegetarian and am not big into meat but I love a good burger after long races. I think I just get sick of all the carbs and need some serious fat, protein, and salt.
What’s the oddest thing you have ever brought on an OCR course?
A baby. When I was still nursing my youngest I waited in line for the Legionnaire obstacle while feeding her.
If you were an animal, what type of animal would you be?
Probably one of those mangey feral barn cats.As run coaches, we do a lot of cheering at races. I got sick of holding up the typical “your feet hurt because you’re kicking ass” signs. So I made one that said “you’re not even halfway there” to hold up at the 10k mark in a half-marathon. Some people laughed hysterically. But not many.
If someone wants to reach out to you on social media to say hi where can they find you?
@YoMamasoFit on Twitter, Allison Tai on Facebook.
Here are some fitness trends that can help you find the right match in 2017:
Go hard. OK, now go harder
Trainer Allison Tai of Vancity OCR — short for obstacle course racing — says the thrill of climbing a rope, throwing yourself over a wall or lugging around heavy objects appeals to people fed up with the monotony of merely running or cycling.
“It’s that sense of adventure and testing all your aspects of fitness. And it’s just fun,” says Tai, who teaches classes in her east Vancouver backyard obstacle course along with her husband and fellow coach, John Tai.
“That’s what addictive — to know that you’re capable of handling whatever obstacle they throw at you. It’s a really liberating feeling,” says Tai, a professional racer who has placed among the top two finishers in the World’s Toughest Mudder, the Canadian Spartan Race Series and most recently named the 2016 Ultra Beast World Champion.
While Tai says people from all fitness backgrounds take her training, there’s also an overlap with the CrossFit crowd that thrives on pushing to their limits with encouragement from the rest of the converted.
The varied workouts which use every muscle — including handgrip to help you hang on for dear life — means single muscle groups aren’t overstressed, she says.
“It’s not often that people get seriously hurt, but little injuries like rolling an ankle if they come down funny off a wall, that happens quite a bit.
“Statistically speaking, less people die in obstacle racing than road running,” Tai says, comfortingly.
Survive an insane obstacle course in VR at World’s Toughest Mudder
It takes a person of uncommon strength and resilience to make it through the World’s Toughest Mudder, a 24-hour obstacle-course challenge
A person like Allison Tai. She was hit by a truck in 2006. The accident left her with a broken back, pelvis and arm; it took her a year and a half to even wiggle a finger. So how did she go from partial paralysis to impressive feats of human endurance?
Enter VRtually There, a weekly video series from the USA TODAY network. Using some of the latest state-of-the-art virtual reality technology, they’re giving us a 360 degree first-hand look at what it feels like to compete in the World’s Toughest Mudder.
“You can feel your chest pounding, because you’re reduced to just basic survival,” says Tai.
The military-style obstacle courses that make up the World’s Toughest Mudder aren’t just tests of physical strength, but of mental as well. Many play on common fears – claustrophobia, heights, electricity, heat and cold – and require fierce determination of will to conquer. Tai admits it gets miserable fast, but says the payoff is worth the pain.
“There is a ridiculous sense of achievement and just redefining who you are when you can overcome a fear that’s so engrained and so terrifying. So over come that, it’s huge.”
WTM 2016 TOP WOMEN TO WATCH
by Mud Run Guide
Allison Tai is back for a third time to World’s Toughest Mudder. In 2014, Tai finished second for women while stopping to nurse her daughter between laps. Last year Tai went into the race with an injury that resulted in her pulling from the race early on. This year she is trained, healthy, and ready to go. Tai has a strong background in both obstacle racing and endurance running. She has finished 100-mile ultramarathons in the past and knows how to push through the pain cave. She recently won the Spartan Race Ultra Beast in Lake Tahoe and used it as a prep for WTM. Tai is ready to find her way back onto the podium.
We are OCR – Vancity OCR
Vancity OCR is the brainchild of the husband and wife team, John and Allison Tai. The Vancity OCR group is local to Vancouver, B.C. Canada but its members are from all areas of the lower mainland, so it is not super restricted or inclusive, all are welcome. Not only do John and Allison race themselves, but they coach, train, motivate and inspire through their Spartan SGX workouts and other training. They are never too busy to answer a quick question or calm a fear you might have about a race or other challenge you want to tackle.
They are both very busy people, but I was fortunate enough to have them answer a few questions for me about who they are, why they OCR and about what Vancity OCR is all about. I asked John and Allison a series of questions and true to whom they are, got some pretty honest answers.
Allison, can you please tell me a little bit more about yourself?
Allison Tai was a competitive runner and Ironman triathlete before getting hit by a truck in 2006 and breaking her back, pelvis, and arm. She also suffered nerve damage and soft tissue injury. After a half a year in a full body cast, not able to roll herself over in bed, Allison fought her way back onto the podium in running and obstacle course racing events. She placed 2nd in the World’s Toughest Mudder 2014, was first place overall in the Canadian Spartan Race Series in 2015 and won the Spartan UltraBeast World Championships in 2016. Allison holds many certifications including canfitpro PRO TRAINER and Spartan SGX Coach. Now a mom of two, Allison feels blessed to be able to share her passion for life and fitness with others.
Allison and John what got you into OCR (Obstacle Course Racing)?
I started participating to help Alli with coaching and to understand the sport. I love the outdoors and since most our weekends was spent out chasing Alli’s races, joining in was a way for me to be outside. Races have introduced us to many beautiful places we would have otherwise never visited. The events then became a symbol of accountability. It is important for me to be fit and healthy to look after my family. If my performance in an event is bad, it is a reminder for me to take better care of myself.
The owner of the local run shop I coach at roped me into doing the gateway OCR: a Warrior Dash. Being your typical clumsy linear runner, I wasn’t sure how it would go – but I walked away itching to do another.
What do you both enjoy about OCR in general?
Being outside, and being challenged to do things I would not otherwise do. Like overcoming my fear of water (I will have to jump off a cliff and swim to shore in WTM, I can now jump off the 10m platform comfortably). Also, the people.
There is always something to work on. You have to be a truly well-rounded athlete. I always leave a race inspired to be better at something. Plus, the people are hands down the most amazing people you’ll ever meet or have in your life.
Thinking back, what made you want to start VanCity OCR and how did you come up with the name?
Helping people learn to develop their health and fitness has always been a passion of mine. A gym where we can help people find the joy in fitness is a stepping stone towards helping them learn the important details behind being healthy and fit.
I’ve done a lot of fitness coaching in the past, but the OCR sport and community are truly unique. I wanted to keep that momentum going between races. It’s been so much fun training together, and we have quite a group these days.
The Wolf Logo and the Inspirational words: For the Strength of the Pack is the Wolf and the Strength of the Wolf is the Pack – what does that mean to each of you individually?
Everyone’s success in life is very much dependent on their inner drive but also on the community of support. We are responsible for ourselves and each other; the wolf pack is symbolic of that. Our family and friends through fitness have been pivotal to who we are.
Regarding my success in the sport, I feel like it was my whole pack was behind it. Training together, motivating each other and then… celebrating our successes. In the same right, you have a duty to your best because you know it will push your pack members. We have this one girl who could barely hold onto monkey bars at the beginning of the year… and now she’s doing the big gap ones. That has an enormous impact on everyone and totally redefines what they feel they’re capable of. Myself included.
Of all the people in the OCR Community you have met locally or at events or gatherings, is there any one person that you have met that has inspired you? If so Who?
At the Seattle Spartan Super, I met a guy on the course who had no legs. He lost them from above the knee. I ran by, and we saluted each other but did not exchange any words. He had to plant his hands in front of his body and swing himself forward to move along. Such people who overcome life challenges inspire me.
There have been tons. Amelia Boone, Claude Godbout, Lindsey Webster and the other top notch elites have made an impression on me, though. These ladies are literally at the top of the sport, and yet they are the most humble, down-to-earth and kind people you will ever meet. It just blows my mind.
Who inspires you both on a daily basis to be healthy and to help others be their happiest and healthiest selves?
Alli has been an inspiration to many and myself as well.
I think we have it a little too good really. As an athlete, you only get to celebrate your successes, as a coach you get to share in hundreds of them!! I feel like it’s a circle at Vancity OCR, everyone just pushes everyone to the next level.
You are super down to earth people – is it hard to get tough when training people and leading the workouts?
I love yelling at people: I don’t have to work at pushing to people to work hard. It comes very naturally. The challenge is reading people and knowing just how much to push and when to pull them back. I find myself pulling people back more than pushing them. I have discovered most people are more driven than we think. It is defeating to break people; the intent is to make them better by supporting and nurturing what they are good at, as well as what they are not.
I’ve been in the coaching field for years. Before that, I worked with high-risk youth as a social worker. You could say I have very thick skin. I always feel like the more people complain in a workout, the less they complain after. People want to work hard… and I feel like we’ve figured out how to strike a balance between hard work and fun (hint: it’s cake).
Any thoughts about your two adorable daughters doing OCR races in the future?
I would like them to be healthy, fit and self-reliant. What they pursue is up to them, and I will do everything I can to support them.
My eldest daughter hates mud, but she might be into Ninja Warrior if she could wear a tutu. I think my youngest might just roll around in the mud pit all day and skip the whole running thing. But seriously, whether they are into it or not, it doesn’t matter. They’ve seen their parents overcome incredible things, scary things, things that were just too much work. That’ll stick with them in whatever they do.
If people want to learn more about Vancity OCR, where can they go?
https://www.facebook.com/vancityocr/ (business page)
https://www.facebook.com/groups/162216600615998/ (Facebook group)
From hosting OCR training and “fun” in their backyard to driving around in the Vancity OCR mobile obstacle course van, Allison and John have embraced their role in bringing together the OCR community with open arms and open hearts. I have not met to this date a set of people that are more inspired to lead and as passionate about the sport and helping others as John and Allison are.
The Vancity OCR family is an eclectic group of beginner to advanced athletes that bring their various talents and goals to the table. Being a new member of this pack, I feel no judgment but a sense of community and love for the sport whenever I share my latest racing endeavor or challenge. I feel a great sense of pride to be a part of such a broad community movement, and it’s amazing to be a part of a local community that embraces the mud, barbed wire and fire as much as myself and my husband Ryan do. I can’t wait to experience many more races with our new “OCR” tribe, and maybe one day Allison will be on course as part of my cheer squad with one of her “inappropriate” cheer signs. She is my friend, my sister in mud and I am honored to say, my coach.
Thank you to John and Allison for everything you do for me, my family and the community.
By Spartan Staff
In a flash, the 2016 Spartan World Championship has come and gone, but thousands of Spartans all around the world are still reeling with the magnitude of this event. If you didn’t make it to this year’s ultimate competition, don’t worry: we’ll be coming around again next year.
For now, here’s what you missed.
5. WORLD RECORD HOLDER ALLISON TAI OBLITERATING THE ULTRA BEAST.
If you’re a mom with young kids looking for a role model, look no further. Allison Tai, first-place finisher of the 2016 Spartan World Championship Ultra Beast, has taken motherhood to the next level of epic. This fitness and obstacle racing coach won the first three Ultra Beasts hosted on Canadian soil, and she also holds the World Record for Fastest Female Marathon Stroller Push.
Tactix Attack obstacle race tests Vancouver ‘ninjas’
by Megan Stewart of the Vancouver Courier
Tactix Attack was the name of the first competition in this new obstacle course racing series put on by VanCity OCR, itself the creation of multiple Spartan Race winner and physical trainer Allison Tai and her husband, John Tai, a mad genius for grip-destroying, gravity-flaunting tests. Set at Tactix gym April 3, the race was capped at 100 people and featured heats followed by quarter- and semi-finals before a championship round for both men and women.
If you’ve seen ABC’s American Ninja Warrior, you know what the Tais are shooting for. This isn’t a marathon mud run, but a set of obstacles laid over a sprint distance, inspired by children’s playgrounds, dream sequences evading mutant crocodiles, gymnastic and parkour minefields, indoor climbing walls and sheer madness.
Matt Petranic had the fastest time in the heats with a three minute, eight second performance. Despite more difficult challenges and heavier weights, he bettered that time by two seconds to advance out of the semi-finals.
Equalling Petranic, Jeremey De Torres also put up a 3:06 performance in the semi-finals and knocked off Radi Detchev who shaved 10 seconds off his first result. But Detchev returned in place of his teammate, who in turn had stepped in for another racer.
In a rematch, Detchev got his revenge and continued to get faster by dropping another 10 seconds off his time for a personal best of 3:10.
Petranic still held the fastest time on the course, but Detchev was one of the few who consistently ran the balance beam challenge without penalty. It paid off when he was able to do it again in the championship final. Because, despite a significant lead heading into this challenge, Petranic faltered and was penalized with 20 burpees, opening the door for Detchev.
Petranic was still paying his fine as Detchev dashed past him, flew through the rope climb, up the 12-foot warped wall, and bounced around the feet-free ladder for the victory. Detchev won in 3:17, nearly a minute ahead of Petranic’s final time of 4:11.
On the women’s side, Heather Baroody crushed all comers by winning the heats in 4:18 and then continuing to impress through two qualifying rounds to reach the final with times that kept her competitive with the fastest men.
Kelsey Jack put in the fourth-fastest performance of the day on the women’s side but was knocked off in the semi-final by Baroody, who went on to win the championship by laying down a 5:41 performance, nearly 90 seconds faster than silver-medallist Nicola Sharp, on a final round that demanded the most upper-body and grip strength.
Read about my first-person experience here. It won’t be my last race.
VanCity OCR will be at the Khatsahlano Festival July 9.
I did this workout: Vancity OCR Tactix Attack
by Megan Stewart of the Vancouver Courier
I realized one of my greatest fears last Sunday when I threw myself into a daunting physical challenge, only to fail and need rescuing like a kitten up a tree.
Tactix Attack was the name of the first competition in this new obstacle course racing series — as I first reported here with the results here — put on by VanCity OCR, itself the creation of multiple Spartan Race winner and physical trainer Allison and her husband, John Tai, who really does love building a bigger, better warped wall.
I was relieved — and none too sorry — I didn’t advance out of the heats. I could not have raced a second time. In fact, I couldn’t do most of the challenges a first time.
Out of 16 women, I finished last. Last. That’s a first for me. It took me nine minutes, eight seconds to finish a course the two fastest male competitors did in 3:06. The fastest woman ran it in 4:17. I probably could have lopped a minute off my result if I hadn’t stranded myself atop the warped wall.
I’m not at all embarrassed about this. I’ll tell you why.
We started with five burpees (no problem) and quickly advanced to the Tarzan rope-combination-monkey rings (major problem). Stubborn me, I should have tapped out sooner, but I swung like a wild chimpanzee after one third of the challenge and finally dropped to the ground.
The fastest competitors, like Kelsey Jack, who laid down the fourth fastest women’s time, and eventual men’s winner Radovan Detchev, completed this 20-foot distance in about half a minute. My penalty was a couple laps with two 25-pound kettlebells.
My forearms now fitfully wrecked, next came a wall to climb and sand bags to carry outside the gym. Back inside by going under-over-under a wall, we reached the tricky equalizer of the zig zag balance beam. The first 10 feet were wooden dowels, like curtain rods, and I couldn’t take three step on these spindles. I was already about to puke from a surge of lactic acid in my limbs and I was shaking. Balance was a true test.
The penalty for this was 20 burpees. In other head-to-head match ups, the trailing racer could fly by the leader should s/he failed the balance beam. It happened in the men’s championship final.
After this penalty, I climbed about two feet on a 10-foot rope. I couldn’t catch the knots with my feet, but stubbornly — yeah, that trait has sunk me before — I clung on like a suicidal guppy unaware of my imminent demise. My resources exhausted from hanging on, I now faced the warped wall, a slope that curves to a ledge 12 feet up, like a half-pipe. I reached it, using a rope, and hauled one leg over the top.
Then I hauled my other leg over. And there I hung, gripping with my hands, my limbs strung over the top but my body unable to follow.
I hung longer, getting more exhausted until I no longer had enough strength to lift myself further. I could only hang on. Not falling was now succeeding.
I waited for help to come.
It arrived in the form of John Tai, the mastermind of my demise now atop the wall to pull me over in what was not a team event. I was so weak, I couldn’t take his hands and pull myself upwards. He had to do all the pulling.
In retrospect, I could have just tapped the ledge and walked around the wall. If I did it again, I’d still try to go over the top. It it only madness that drives competitors in this sport? Like Allison Tai said: If there’s an obstacle you can’t do, you keep after it until you’ve done it — and then you add another success to your list as you move on to the next unconquered obstacle.
It’s not like I wanted to die of embarrassment or anything. I felt rather exposed and very weak, but if there’s a crowd that had my back, it was this one.
When I made it was lifted over, everyone watching cheered. I was so buoyed by their energy, I remembered all the physical effort it took just to reach that point.
Earlier, on the rope climb, Amy Jamieson was there, pushing me on and giving helpful instructions. I couldn’t follow them, but I knew I was supported and encouraged to do nothing more than try.
Try, try I did. Failing is just what happens before you try again next time.
Champion obstacle course race hosts ninja-style series
by Megan Stewart of the Vancouver Courier
Allison Tai has flipped a lot of tires. She’s hauled countless sandbags and logged thousands of miles on her feet and hundreds more on her hands and knees through the mud. She’s come back from a coma and body cast, too.
You might have seen the champion obstacle racer running laps of her East Side neighbourhood, making use of public parks or taking two red jerry cans for a walk.
“I love them,” Tai said of the 20-litre jugs she clasps in each hand, “because they develop all the components of lifting and carrying while working on grip strength. They are great for working on core stability.”
Once, while out circling the blocks with the cans that each weigh roughly 55 pounds when filled to the brim, a concerned driver pulled over and asked if Tai needed help, presumably with her stranded out-of-gas vehicle. Tai recounts the story with a laugh at her own expense, typical of characteristic resilience and sense of humour.
“I was like, ‘My semi broke down…’ Why else would I be carrying these two things? But it is what it is — functional fitness.”
Tai is no weekend warrior, but a champion warrior. In 2014, she won the Canadian Ultra Beast title, a Spartan prize for a 12-mile distance littered with 12 military-style obstacles.
When she reaches the podium — like she has 20 times since 2012 in the Spartan race series alone — she is often photographed carrying one of her daughters as she accepts medals and trophies.
In obstacle course racing, we’re always adding things to our list. I can do that, I can’t do that, I have to do that… — Allison Tai
“That’s always the joke — people recognize the baby before they recognize me,” said Tai, a fitness expert who has made training and competing a family affair. She doesn’t race with her daughters in tow, but typically after the elite women’s event is finished, her husband John will take off on his race and they put their daughters, aged five and two, in her care.
The focus of a Reebok commercial earlier this year for the retail company’s feminist Express Your Strong campaign, Tai is a darling of OCR. An unrelenting competitor and friendly, encouraging coach who compells racers to reach new heights in a sport that throws a new challenge at her around every turn, she is also an entrepreneur.
At 34, she and her husband are taking their passion for training and competing in obstacle course raceing to a new level, a warped wall level. Instead of merely signing up for and winning events like the Tough Mudder, Battle Frog and Spartan Race, they will host a series of their own in Vancouver.
This Sunday, April 3, they will hold the first indoor event of the Vancity OCR series, a sprint race called the Tactix Attack. Capped at 100 competitors, the event will include elements seen on the popular American Ninja Warrior series such as cargo nets to climb, pipes, balls and cones to swing between, hurdles to jump and salmon ladders to ascend. Also on that list: a warped wall and “magic,” which retains an element of surprise and lets John Tai fabricate whatever his imagination and woodworking skills can entertain.
“My husband is the obstacle innovator of the family and he builds the obstacles and all these crazy wonderful things, and I try to get myself across,” said Tai.
For the inaugural race, the obstacles are not spread over a marathon distance, but are stacked one after the other in a system familiar to CrossFit or circuit training.
“A lot of people see the obstacle course racing and they don’t love the running. They get a little intimidated by it or it’s just not their thing,” said Tai. “They are missing that really short course, one that is fun and approachable but challenging and intense.
“The holds will be achievable. We didn’t want to make it something that only two per cent of the population can do. We wanted it to be something that people who work out in a gym can do — traverse across the holds and run up the warp wall and all that fun stuff that is doable and that people can enjoy.”
The challenges are what move Tai forward. The monkey bars used to impede her. Now she swings across them as a tool to build for greater challenges.
“What really attracts me to obstacle racing is that [thought] I can’t do that… I could never do this… I will never be able to…,” she said. “And then the next moment, I’ve done it. It’s pretty crazy how you can talk yourself from that place and then, finally, it’s done.”
Her latest challenge is a 10-foot wall, one that is dotted with round holes all the way up. To climb it, she has to place a peg in one hole with her right hand, and then do the same in a higher hole with her left hand. To climb with only two pegs, she makes her own hand holds. There are no foot holds. She’ll pull herself up before straining to place a peg in a still-higher hole until she’s done this all the way up two storey height. The only way to rest is to hang. Or drop.
“I didn’t think it was possible to scale the 12-foot wall and then I saw somebody do it and now I have to get my game up and try doing that,” she said. “In obstacle course racing, we’re always adding things to our list. I can do that, I can’t do that, I have to do that… The fact that I am terrified of [certain challenges] right now is almost exciting because then I look at all the other things — like monkey bars — at one time I couldn’t do and didn’t think I’d ever be able to competently do them and they are something I actually enjoy.”
There’s one challenge unlike any other. In 2006, Tai overcame the bone-shattering obstacles of being hit by a truck travelling 100 km/hour. She was on her bike, training for another Ironman. She woke up in hospital with a body cast holding together her broken arm, snapped back and shattered pelvis.
“The fact I got hit when I was already training for the Ironman was my saving grace. Not even in terms of the physical challenge that lay ahead but even the mental and emotional stuff,” she said. “I was used to confronting challenges and trying to continue to make myself better each day as an athlete and that really factors in when you’re recovering from such an accident.”
The prognosis was not optimistic, and Tai lives with a permanent disability rating of 24.5 per cent. She moves with imbalances she refers to as her “wonkiness.” She also has a six-inch scar running down her toned left bicep.
“When I get up to a series of handholds, I have to really think out and plan what is going to happen because I don’t want my left hand to be on a challenging hold,” she said.
Grip strength is difficult to develop for most competitors, but Tai is further challenged but nerve strength in her left
hand. “I have to be careful which arm I’m putting on the more difficult holds or if it’s starting to get fatigued, I just have to be that much more careful to try to position myself so that I’m using my good arm because I still don’t have a lot of total feeling in that hand.”
It’s not something jerry cans will remedy on their own. For that, Tai has an indomitable spirit.
by Adam Kwitko of 3-secs Media
2015 marked the first year a Western Canadian man or woman cracked the overall top 6 in the Canada Elite Spartan Race Elite Series Point Race. Allison Tai (Vancouver) won the women’s and overall point race, Claude Godbout (Quebec City) 2nd women and 3rd overall and Faye Stenning (Calgary) finished 3rd woman and 4th overall. [excerpt]
by MudRun Guide
World’s Toughest Mudder is only days away. As most of the community is getting the last minute packages from Amazon, securing their final gear, and prepping their nutrition it is time now to look at who some of the contenders are this year. With the announcement of the $100,000 prize for the team who cracks 100 miles, many individual athletes have shifted gears for this year making the men’s race wide open. On the women’s side for the first time all former WTM champions will be running as individuals.
The women’s race for this year is a tight one. For the first time, all previous female winners will be running as individuals as well as many returning podium finishers and new racers looking to claim a spot on the podium. The women’s field is shaping up to be one of the most competitive races this year at World’s Toughest Mudder. We narrowed it down to five women who will be hunting for a podium position.
Last year Allison Tai finished second at World’s Toughest Mudder in her first attempt. She completed 70 miles falling five miles short of Amelia Boone last year. She told us she has been putting in a lot of miles but has been battling an ankle issue. While she considers herself a wildcard pick for World’s Toughest Mudder this year her track record would prove she is not one to rule out on the podium once again.
by Alison Tedford
There are few things in this world that are stronger and more beautiful than the human spirit, the relentless desire to overcome and an enduring joie de vivre in the face of daunting adversity. These qualities are crystallized and amplified in the life of Allison Tai of Inspired Movement, who placed first in Women’s Elite at the Spartan Race in Vancouver, BC this year.
This feat is even more impressive knowing how much she overcame to get there and that this is just one of many athletic achievements since her life was changed by an unfortunate accident. Nine years ago, she was riding her bike and was struck by a vehicle, breaking her back, pelvis and left arm. Her doctors were not optimistic about her ability to resume an active lifestyle. They could not have been more wrong. Allison made use of five months spent in a body cast earning credentials in personal training and nutrition. She refused to give up on her dreams and herself. She took some time to speak with me about her experiences.
Inspired Movement: Perseverance Tai’ed to Athletic Achievement
Perspective on Health, Family and Living Life to the Fullest
Q: Were you always athletic? Why did you start?
I used to do show jumping. I went back to school and went from jogging, cross-country to road running, ultra marathons to Iron Man.
Q: Physical activity can become part of identity. How did injury impact how you saw yourself?
It was easier initially; it was obvious I was overcoming something from the crutches and body cast. It became harder trying to do things around people who don’t realize I have a disability and nerve damage. I learned you can’t get too attached to perfection and to focus on what I’ve overcome.
Q: What does self-care look like for you?
Activity lessens PTSD symptoms and is the best therapy. I’m the best when I’m doing something.
Q: How did you respond to your expectations around your future athletic activities being managed during recovery?My doctors gave advice from experience that didn’t involve highly fit people. I took it with a grain of salt, worked hard and did my best.
Q: What did recovery teach you about compassion?
I’ve held up the bus line and couldn’t plank more than five seconds. Recovery helped me relate to people starting out in fitness and the elderly because I’ve been in their shoes.
Q: It’s hard to come back post-injury. What was your first workout like?
It was gradual, walking around the block. My biggest barrier was mental: fears of re-injury, being hit by a car and the bike.
Q: How do you feel when you see your scars?
I’m not concerned about aesthetics. It’s who I am, my character, and a reminder of who I am and what I’ve come through. I’m proud. I still get palpitations when I look at the bike in my dad’s garage or go to a hospital.
Q: Has recovery affected how you parent and coach?
Clients get upset when they don’t meet their expectations, but it’s about getting out there and doing what you can do. I can’t do everything I want to, but I will do what I can. That’s the best take away for my clients and my kids: don’t give up! I’ve learned not to use my kids as an excuse to avoid activity.
Q: What advice do you have for others recovering?
Keep going. Ask yourself “What does my body need? Will what I want to do hurt or help me?”
Q: What are you most proud of since your accident?
Placing second in World’s Toughest Mudder. These events expose self-doubt and you can’t allow excuses; you have to keep strong, even facing sandstorms and hypothermia.
Allison’s story is one of astonishing perseverance and commitment to a dream in the face of seemingly impossible odds. You can’t help but feel inspired just listening to it, nothing seems impossible considering what she came back from. What do you feel inspired to overcome in your own life?
You can follow Allison Tai on her blog, Twitter, or Facebook.
by Adam Kwitko of 3-secs Media
The start of the Canadian Spartan Race season at the Montreal Spartan Super will see two women from Western Canada make the long flight east to face a stacked women’s field. While Western Canada is not known to have the most competitive obstacle course races, Allison Tai and Fay Stenning have made names for themselves in Alberta, BC and at tough races in the USA. This past weekend they topped the podium in the Montana Spartan Beast Founder’s Race, as seen in my report here.
33 year-old mother of two, Allison Tai (Vancouver) was in full body cast for 6 months after being hit from behind by a truck at highway speed while training as a triathlete in 2006. She followed up her full recovery with a Guinness World Record for fastest female marathon stroller push (3:31:35) in 2012, around the time when she began racing OCRs.
Allison won the 2012 Squamish Super, 2013 Vancouver Sprint, 2014 Edmonton Sprint and 2014 Sun Peaks Ultra Beast. She placed 12th at the Warrior Dash World Championships and 18th at Spartan Beast World Championships. Perhaps her most notable accomplishment is surviving hypothermia and a late-night sandstorm, placing 2nd at 2014 World’s Toughest Mudder, running 14 laps of the 5 mile course said to have 20 – 25 obstacles per lap (70 miles, 280 – 350 obstacles) in 24 hours. Most recently, Allison placed 2nd in the 2015 Montana Beast.
Allison has an idea of how competitive the Eastern Canada woman’s elite field is, having raced with Hélène Dumais and Caroline Drolet on Team Canada for the Texas Beast Team Championships, and against Jen Milligan at the Sun Peaks Ultra Beast. “Jen and Faye will for sure will be a factor and it looks like Caroline, Helene and Rose Marie might also be racing! It’ll be pretty stacked but be fun racing with those girls… not sure they’ll all show up but there’s a lot of talent out east. Just awesome that the sport is getting more competitive female athletes!”
with Matt B. Davis of ORM
Allison Tai is like many Canadian athletes we have met in recent months. She’s sweet, humble, and really good at obstacle racing. She won the Edmonton Spartan Sprint in July and the Canadian Spartan Ultra Beast in September. She then turned in an impressive 4th at the Spartan Super in Sacramento a few weeks later. At WTM, she beat all but 24 of the men and bested every woman other than Amelia Boone, completing 14 laps and 70 miles before time ran out.
by Dirt in Your Skirt
Allison Tai recently finished World’s Toughest Mudder as the second place female. This mother of two, fitness coach and obstacle racer calls home in Vancover, Canada. This 32-year old has overcome many obstacles in her life. In 2006 she was in an accident which left her in a body cast and unable to roll herself over in a bed for nearly a year. She was told she would never be able to run again and today she is competitive racer finding her way onto OCR podiums.
How did you get involved in your sport?
I got involved in obstacle course racing on a whim. My road racing club was doing the Warrior Dash and I thought “why not”? I had so much fun that I got hooked.
Were you always an athlete?
I wasn’t always an athlete. In fact, I’d hide rather than participate in track and field in school. I rode horses through junior high and high school and professionally in early adulthood. When I went back to college I picked up running to maintain my weight and joined the cross country team. Turns out that I could run long distances well… I had just never tried.
What are some of your athletic achievements?
I won the Timex Athletic Alberta Road Race Series in 2003 and came second place in my age group at Ironman Canada in 2006. For OCRs, I won the Squamish Super in 2012, Vancouver Sprint in 2013, the Edmonton Sprint and Sun Peaks UltraBeast in 2014. I also came second at World’s Toughest Mudder in 2014 and had several other podium finishes.
What are your goals for the upcoming season?
I’d like to get stronger on hills and short distances and improve my technical capabilities. I actually like burpees, just not when I’m racing.
Who is/are your inspiration?
I think challenge is such a critical part of our lives as humans – that most have lost touch with. Every time you embrace challenge, you grow stronger. And then one day, you’re Amelia Boone… and you’re mentally and physically tough enough to take on almost anything. That inspires me.
What is your most proud moment in sport?
My proudest moment in sport happened at WTM on top of the slippery wall known as Hump Chuck. I was the only one at the top and there was a really beefy dude trying to climb it. He looked as shocked as I felt when I got hauled him up.
What is your most proud moment in life?
My proudest moments in life are when I see my kids interact with others. They’re becoming people that I can be proud of.
How do you overcome a bad race or training day?
I think that changes when you become a parent. I used to really best myself up if I didn’t do what I wanted to out on the course. Now, I just do what I can, knowing that my family and friends will love me just as much no matter what happens. I went into my hometown race last year with a busted ankle knowing that I’d have to walk it. At the finish-line my daughter asked if I had fun and if my watch got dirty. All the perspective you need right there.
What is your training routine like?
I usually sneak out of bed at 5am to jump on my bike or run to crossfit. I also do a lot of steep hiking with my baby strapped to my front and my older daughter strapped to my back. It’s a great strength workout and we have fun passing the time with the “alphabet game” and “I spy”. I also do some parkour and have an obstacle course set up in my backyard where my husband coaches me.
What advice would you give to someone starting out in your sport?
My advice to newcomers would be not to take it too seriously and to believe in yourself. It should be fun. That being said, it’ll be a lot more fun if you train for it… and it will be a lot easier to believe in yourself too.
What is your favorite pre-race and post-race food?
I have a pretty good stomach so I’m not ritual about food. I definitely carb load for any race lasting longer than 3 hours. Race morning I will have something bland and made of simple carbs like a bagel. I have a very small cup of coffee because I have a very small bladder. After, I try to eat a little protein and carbs with a lot of fluid within that magic 30 minute window.
When not training and competing what do you do with your down time?
I love being active with my family. We hike, snowshoe, cross-country ski, bike ride, and generally just have awesome adventures. I do love to snuggle up after to read or watch movies though.
What is your favorite quote to motivate you?
“It’s like wrestling a gorilla. You don’t rest when you’re tired, you rest when the gorilla’s tired.”
What is the best advice a coach ever gave you?
My Ironman coach, Marilyn McDonald, used to always say that bad workouts make tough athletes. She also used to tell me to just keep moving forward when things got nasty and to not waste energy on anything you can’t control at that moment.
If you could share some advice to the next generation of athletes, what would it be?
I’d say to attack your weaknesses but remember your strengths.
What is/are the races you are most looking forward to this year?
I’m most looking forward to getting back out there with the best of OCR at the Spartan World Championships and World’s Toughest Mudder.
Any additional information you would like to share:
I have a 24.5% permanent disability rating from getting hit by a truck at highway speed while riding my bicycle in 2006. I broke my back, pelvis and arm. I was in a body cast and couldn’t even roll myself over in bed for nearly half a year. Nobody was sure that I’d be able to run again or use my left arm. So I feel really grateful that I can do it at all, let alone compete at this level.
Let me be upfront with you: the Tough Mudder is not my thing. But, for 20,000 people more daring and exciting than me, it’s their thing to run through a challenging 16+ km obstacle course in Whistler’s Olympic Park. Modern Mix Vancouver has taken the opportunity to interview three past participants of the Tough Mudder in Whistler and asked them for their tips for “surviving” this physical and mental challenge.
First of all, a bit of info about who we chatted with:
Allison Tai – was a competitive runner and ironman triathlete before getting hit by a truck in 2006 and breaking her back, pelvis and arm. After half a year in a full body cast, she fought her way back to fitness and back onto the podium in running and obstacle course racing events such as Tough Mudder.
Ben Frisby – a young professional who recently moved from Vancouver to Prince George, is known for his highly competitive nature that has propelled his involvement in a variety of challenges. Over the last year he has trained for and participated in Tough Mudder, the World’s Toughest Mudder, and the BMO marathon. Most recently, Ben cycled from Vancouver to Toronto during the winter to raise funds and awareness for the Movember Fund in ‘Mo Ride across Canada’ garnering national and international attention.
Steve Frankard – well, Steve is my boyfriend. Can’t say I wasn’t nervous about him participating in this dangerous course but he signed up anyway with his co-workers, completed the course, and lived to tell the tale. Steve likes to wear his Tough Mudder souvenir t-shirt to hot yoga class and his orange headband as a badge of honour.
Without further ado, here are Modern Mix Vancouver’s Top 10 tips to help you prepare for this year’s Tough Mudder in Whistler on June 21 and 22:
Research: Familiarize yourself with the Tough Mudder obstacles so you know what challenges to expect. In the weeks leading up to Tough Mudder, Steve browsed online through all the obstacle photos and description. I did some research myself and was particularly freaked out by the fiery wall of flame runners had to jump over into a pool of ice water.
Find a Good Team: The Tough Mudder is designed so it’s practically impossible to finish on your own. In fact, over 80% of participants register in teams. Find a small group of friends to sign up with and support each other along the way.
Train: Training for the Tough Mudder is half the “fun” – make training apart of your weekly routine leading up to the race. You should be able to hold your own body weight up while hanging, jump and land softly in a squat position, crawl, climb and run or walk for ten miles.
Dress for Success: Avoid cotton and other material that soak up water. Ben wears spandex – the tighter the better.
Wear Proper Footwear: Trail shoes are Ben’s recommended pick for footwear because of the Whistler terrain, but running shoes will do. Avoid Vibrams! According to Allison, she made that mistake for her first obstacle race and her toes rammed into the end of the boxes until her nails came off and her feet froze – ouch!!
Accessorize: Gloves, goggles and accessories are a matter of hot debate in the Tough Mudder world. Allison tried wearing goggles but they ended up getting too muddy so she couldn’t see.
Prepare Mentally: According to Steve, many of these challenges are mentally daunting – like jumping into a pool of ice water. You just have to stop thinking and go for it! As Allison advises, “you can’t choose what’s coming around the corner, but you can choose how you react to it.“
Fuel & Hydrate: Allison took an energy bar with her and broke it into two halves and others take sports gel or chews. These small items can be carried in a simple waist pouch, and water is available at hydration stations situated around the course.
No Pain, No Gain: If the Tough Mudder was easy, there wouldn’t be so much pride in completing the challenge. Without a doubt, your body is going to hurt at the end of the race. Steve and his team limped for a week after the race. But the pride and joy of finishing the “toughest obstacle course in the world” far outweighed the temporary aches.
Focus on Finishing: The goal for participants is not to win a medal or compete against time, but simply to finish. On average, only 78% successfully complete the event – will you be one of them?
Registration is now open for the 2014 Tough Mudder in Whistler. For more information, visit toughmudder.com
by Allison Salz of the Edmonton Sun
Hearing Allison Tai describe her injuries, you’d be surprised she’s able to walk, let alone compete in what some say is “probably the toughest event on the planet.”
But Tai is currently training for the Tough Mudder competition, to be held in Whistler, B.C., this June, where participants push their physical and mental limits in a 10+ km obstacle course.
The 31-year-old was a competitive runner and Ironman triathlete before getting hit by a truck in 2006.
She was one week from competing in Ironman Canada before the September crash, so she was on a low-intensity ride to keep her legs and heart pumping.
A truck suddenly rear-ended her on the Sherwood Park Freeway, west of Sherwood Park, at 100km/h.
In seconds, she was sliding along the ground on her rear-end, and it wasn’t long before she came to rest in the ditch.
Among her injuries, a broken back, pelvis and left arm. She had also torn up her left rotator cuff.
She spent the next six months in a “clam shell” — also known as a full body brace.
Doctors were less than optimistic about Tai resuming the active lifestyle that she once knew, but she was intent on proving them wrong.
“As an athlete, you’re so intense. And that was all I had,” she said.
“I focused on small gains, like having a bath on my own. Six months ago I couldn’t turn over, but now I’m walking three hours a day, why not add 10 seconds of running here and there.”
On paper she has a 24 per-cent long-term disability, and physiotherapists who assessed her ability to do daily tasks were floored at how much she was able to do.
“They’d ask me to go up the stairs, and I’d run up them,” she said.
The Tough Mudder encourages participants to push their every limits, climbing, crawling, running, and jumping their way to the finish line.
It’s gritty, and it’s dirty, but she says she wouldn’t ever turn down the challenge.
“There are always people around you and helping you. These are people that are maybe in the same position in the race as you are, but they’re cheering you on,” she said.
“There are points where you feel lonely, and that’s when you have to fight to move forward.”
The Tough Mudder Competition runs in Whistler, B.C. June 21-22.
by Women of Obstacle Racing
Allison Tai from Vancouver, Canada, a 32yr old mother, Fitness Instructor Specialist & Pre/Post Natal Fitness Instructor and OCRacer, tells the inspiring story of her comeback from an horrific accident, to take the podium in not one but two Spartan Races in the last 2 years.
It always surprises people that I was never an athlete growing up. I’d hide every track and field day so that they wouldn’t make me run. I did try once, but it was 200m and let’s face it, there’s not a fast twitch muscle fiber in my body. I think a kid who was walking passed me. Later in life, I found myself successful at Ironman Triathlon and distance running. Turns out that you don’t have to go very fast to be considered a great athlete if you can just go really far. I had finally found my passion in sport of all places, something I had been hiding from my entire life.
Things took a huge turn in 2006 though, when I got hit by a car, a Chevy Avalanche at highway speed while riding my bicycle. I broke my back, pelvis and arm. I had nerve and tissue damage. They put me into a full body cast and I had to call for someone to roll me over in bed. When they didn’t come, I didn’t move. I had stood on the age group podium at Ironman Canada just one week ago. Now my mom spoon fed me, a catheter emptied my bladder and tubes gave me air. Recovering was the hardest thing I have ever done. Everything was a major challenge. Everything hurt. I carry that time with me everywhere. It’s who I am today.
In training for OCR, you face all types of challenges. You can’t control what comes at you from the outside, all you can control is how you react to it. It’s what you do and who you are and it’s why we love this sport. I’ve now won 2 Spartan Races, the Squamish Spartan Super 2012, North Vancouver Spartan Sprint 2013, I won not because I’m a great athlete. I’m scrawny and uncoordinated at best. Both races were won on grit and an unescapable need to push on. Sure, you can let go of the rope if you start to slip. Maybe it’s muddy, or you haven’t done enough training. But you can choose not to. You can always choose to fight. To keep pushing on. To not back down.. Right now, I am currently expecting a baby in 2 weeks so it’s just upkeep (modified Crossfit) and jogging, but I have a few aspirations for the future; I am hoping to come in top ten at the Spartan World Championship this year and the Worlds Toughest Mudder the year after that (when my daughter is no longer breast feeding).
After all that I have experienced and reflecting back on my achievements, I truly believe that in OCR and in life in general, we rarely get to choose what’s coming around the corner, but we always get to choose how we face it.
by Lee-Anne Ekland
Are you looking for inspiration to get your body back after baby?
Do you want to kick your fitness level up a notch or ten this time around?
Look no further. Even if you prefer a more, ahem, sane approach you can’t help but be inspired by this story.
Allison was tragically hit by a truck in 2006 and spent a half a year in a full body cast from breaking her back, pelvis and arm. She fought her way back to fitness and back onto the podium in running and obstacle course racing events such as Tough Mudder which takes place June 21st-22nd in Whistler, BC, one of 55+ Tough Mudder events worldwide in 2014.
A mother of two and fitness coach specializing in obstacle course race preparation, Allison completed her first Tough Mudder in Whistler in 2012, and will be back this year.
Interview with Allison
We had the pleasure of interviewing Allison to find out how despite all the obstacles in her way she managed to not only get her body back after baby but continues to push the limits to compete in the Tough Mudder, Allison epitomizes the diverse range of athletes that compete in the Tough Mudder. Having just had her first child before last year’s Tough Mudder, Allison can tell you firsthand on how she nursed her baby while competing. Most recently, Allison delivered her second child and see’s the Tough Mudder as an excellent way to get in shape.
We asked her how she does it all, baby in tow.
1. Can you tell us what changed for you when you realized that your injuries sustained in the accident might be the end of your life as you knew it?
I know for a lot of people after a near tragic accident, it’s about realizing that each day could be your last and seizing each day. I had already left my office job and started training for a career in Ironman triathlon. I was living the dream so to speak. I was very independent.
My family has always been close, but it was unbelievable how they swooped in and took care of me for six months of intense recovery, with such intense love. That was the game changer for me. I feel more connected not only to my family, but all people.
2. How do you motivate yourself to make fitness a priority in your life?
I love the way I feel when I’m super fit. That’s motivation enough. I also do things that I love to do. You won’t catch me slogging it out on an elliptical. I’m very competitive and motivated by events and races. I always sign up for a bunch at the beginning of the year and keep them front and center on our calendar. I recommend that everyone sign up for a few goal events this year… even if it’s just a 5k walk or short bike tour!
3. Can you tell us what your average day looks like in terms of your home life, your training and anything else that might help us understand you better?
It’s definitely harder with kids. But I also think it’s more rewarding. To get big mileage in, I’ll run with the kids in the stroller somewhere decently far, like the aquarium or beach. Usually we end up singing and talking the whole time. When we get there, we’ll play until they’re exhausted and then I’ll take a longer route home for nap time. I make an effort to engage them in the stroller that I don’t in the car… and the fresh air is great for everyone.
I also don’t stress when my strength training gets all broken up – I commit to finishing a workout – but sometimes it will take three hours to do a 30 minute workout with breast feeding, diapers and cuddles interspersed. Mostly, I don’t stress. If I planned to run and it’s not a good day for anyone, we’ll walk instead.
4. What advice can you give moms who are struggling to get their fitness back after having kids?
Hang your ego up. I’m just coming back from my second c-section and it’s tough having slowed down so much. But listening to your body is the only way to get back to health. Just keep going forward and do your best each day. Remember that movement is medicine and it will give you the physical, emotional and spiritual health to be a better mother.
I ask myself, “Did I do what I could today?” and if the answer is yes, I sleep much better. I sometimes end up darting out for a quick run and some chin-ups before bedtime because that’s when my husband is home. I’ve found that creative and dynamic planning is essential.
5. Why did you choose to compete in Tough Mudder?
I love a challenge and they’ve built a course that can really challenge all levels. It’s one of those events that has the power to transform people. The neat thing about it though, is it’s also nice for first time obstacle course racers since the emphasis is on camaraderie over competition. People you’ve never met haul you over walls and cheer you on. You don’t have to be that fit (or even run) to make it through in one piece. You can even skip obstacles without penalty.
It’s all about completing and helping one another out, rather than on competing against other people. I coach obstacle course racing and I always tell my clients that you have to be fit or friendly to finish the Tough Mudder.
6. Is there anything else you’d like us to know?
I have the Guinness World Records for Fastest Female Pram (Stroller) Push for the 10k and the full Marathon. My three-year-old won’t sit in a stroller unless you’re running FAST. When I was running with the stroller 9-months pregnant with my second, she’d razz me for walking the hills.
What an amazing story of perseverance, courage and just plain awesomeness. Inspired yet?
Thanks Allison! And good luck in the Tough Mudder this year in Whistler!
We say it time and time again: Vancouver moms are the best. In our Mom on the Street series we’re talking to many of you to find out what makes you awesome, and what you love about the neighbourhood you call home. Today we are going to feature one tough mommy: Allison Tai who has an incredibly strong spirit behind her. We are happy to hear what she has to say about our amazing city!
What do you love about living in Vancouver with your family?
It’s the perfect place to raise an active family. I love being in one of the biggest cities in Canada but only a ten minute drive from some of the most beautiful hiking. I love the hills and the houses that spill across them. I love having the North Shore mountains as a backdrop. I love the variety of walking and running routes. I love feeling safe taking my kids on a bike ride on dedicated paths. I love the accessibility of fresh, healthy organic food. I love the ocean and the rainforest. I even love the rain and how it keeps us cool but not cold.
Why was it the perfect fit for you?
Everything about the city is a perfect fit for our family and our lifestyle. We can be outdoors all year round, have our pick of amazing hikes and be back in our own beds to sleep. There’s just so much to do. I can’t think of anywhere else that you can wake up in the morning and ask your kids if they want to ski or go to the beach.
What is one place you love to eat with your family, in Vancouver?
We’re a family of runners, so of course, we love bread. We often ride our bikes or head down post run to Beyond Bread on Alma and 4th. They have outrageously delicious coffee and hot chocolate made with quality imported chocolate. I’m totally addicted to their walnut fig bread. There’s no comparison between quality artisan food and packaged junk. You get spoiled in Vancouver… and you can never go back.
As a Vancouver mom on the street what does living here mean to you?
After having traveled pretty extensively, I’m convinced that this is the only place I’d want to call home. We are able to live an optimally balanced lifestyle here in Vancouver. We have access to fresh and affordable organic food. We have farmers markets, health foods in almost every corner store. We have some of the best tap water in the world. We have spectacular mountains, lakes, old growth forests… the ocean! We also have all the wonderful perks afforded by living in a big multicultural city.
I love the opportunities that you get from living in a big city. I’ve been able to participate in lots of great local races and the Tough Mudder Obstacle race in nearby Whistler. There is a great sense of camaraderie to pair up with members within your community – whether it’s members of your local gym or running club – to take on a new challenge together.
What neighborhood based events does your family always participate in and enjoy?
As runners, we love to attend family oriented races and outdoor events. We also love eating locally grown produce and live in East Vancouver, so we look forward to the Trout Lake Farmers Market and nurturing our daughters connection with food and the people that grow it.
What do you love to do together as a family?
We love our adventure days. Whether it’s hiking, snowshoeing, skiing, canoeing, running, cycling, swimming or just going for a long walk… for us it’s all about being together and enjoying this paradise that we are lucky to call home. Since having children, I’ve really learned to slow down and enjoy the little things in life. There’s no such thing as being in a hurry.
If you could change one thing about your neighborhood what would it be and why?
I knew everyone on my block growing up. We had water fights, dinner parties and we helped each other out. I’m almost embarrassed to say it, but I only know the name of one of my neighbors. I miss that connected community feel.
What things do you, and your family, do to give back to your community?
My husband does a lot of volunteer yoga and general fitness classes in the VGH area where he works. Part of our vision is getting people active who might otherwise not be. I coach running and fitness classes, so I feel good going to sleep at night. I feel like that’s the best way I can make Vancouver an even better place. That, and raising my children to be good Vancouverites of course.
What is the best part, in your opinion, of having your kids grow up in Vancouver?
Getting to submerge them in nature by day and tuck them snugly into their own beds at night. Kids need to feed their connection to nature, but in so many cities that’s just not possible.
Where are your favorite places to shop in Vancouver?
Hands down, Rackets and Runners is my favourite place to shop here in Vancouver. Yes, I’m obsessed with running apparel – but that’s not the only reason. I think a big part of its charm is that it’s run by a group of family and friends. You get the sense that they really care about you and the community. To be honest, I don’t love shopping, but I do love the independent Vancouver shops. We’ve all become a little disconnected with all the chains and online shopping, but when you hit a little gem like Rackets and Runners, it really reconnects you to what a community and your daily transactions should be like.
Thanks so much, Allison, for sharing your viewpoint as a Vancouver mom on the street! If you’d like to share the high points of your neighbourhood with us in an upcoming mom on the street feature, drop us a line at vancouvermom.ca/contact.
Allison Tai is a strong willed mother of two living here in Vancouver focusing on inspiring others in their physical fitness goals. Despite a tragic accident in 2006 this mother fought her way back to running and will once again be competing in Tough Mudder after a long and grueling recovery from some very substantial injuries. Her drive to keep on meeting and exceeding her goals is nothing short of inspirational for all moms here in our city!
No stroller, No Problem at Spartan: Squamish Days World-Record Setter Returns to Squamish to Win Female Division
by Ben Lypka of the Squamish Chief
This time, Allison Tai didn’t have her daughter in her stroller holding her back.
Back in August, the Vancouver resident competed in the Squamish Days 10K run, pushing her 18-month-old daughter in a stroller to a Guinness World Record time.
But competing at the first-ever Spartan Race in Squamish, Tai left her child with her husband and jumped through fire, crawled through mud and climbed her way to the best female time, completing the course in one hour, 18 minutes, 58 seconds.
“It was awesome,” she said at the finish line. “The course was really well marked, the volunteers were helpful and the competitors were all just there to have fun.”
Tai said the 12-kilometre course was challenging.
“The obstacles were just hard enough,” she said, noting that the most difficult part was some of the hilly trail running in Smoke Bluffs Park and that the javelin toss was an obstacle that slowed her down. Tai qualified for the Squamish race after a second-place showing at the Spartan Race in North Vancouver in May. She said she’s still waiting on official confirmation from Guinness on her 10K stroller record.
The top finisher overall was Seattle’s Kris Brown, who completed the course in 1:02:42. Brown won a Spartan Race event in Malibu earlier this year to qualify for Squamish and agreed with Tai that the hills were tough.
“It wasn’t too bad, but hill climbing is always tough,” he said. “It can be pretty hard to stay motivated when you realize you have eight miles to go and you don’t know how they’re going to torture you next.”
The top team was the Bindusters from Duncan. The foursome completed the course in a total combined time of 6:00:44. They beat out the second-place Bromance team from Vancouver by nearly 15 minutes.
The top local time was posted by Jamie Pierotti, who was 31st overall with a time of 1:23:10. The fastest local female was Emma Seguss, with a time of 1:36:26, good for 123rd overall. Other top local times included: Ronan Deane (1:26:20), Aaron Rietker (1:28:52) and Ryan Chamberlain (1:29:10).
The course, which race organizers managed to keep secret, saw racers start at the Loggers Sports Grounds by jumping over flames before heading down the trails on Loggers Lane. From there, competitors crossed into the Smoke Bluffs before circling through Valleycliffe’s trails and returning back to the grounds.
In between all the trails, racers had to climb a number of different walls, pull heavy items like cinder blocks and crawl through mud under razor wires to finish. The penalty for not completing an obstacle was 25 burpees.
by Paul Henderson of the Chilliwack Times
Tanja Shaw and Allison Tai don’t know each other but the two share a few things in common.
They are both fitness instructors, they are relatively new mothers, and they love to run with their strollers.
Fast images really fast. Shaw lives in Chilliwack and at the 2010 Run for Mom on Mother’s Day, she not only ran the eight-kilometre race pushing her son Jacob in her fitness stroller, she ran it in 38 minutes and 15 seconds, which put her first in the 20-to-29 female age group and eighth out of all 116 females over the distance.
Tai, who lives in Vancouver, is likely even faster and plans to come to this year’s Run for Mom with her 15month-old daughter to use the event as practice for her Guinness World Record stroller running attempt over the coming year.
Tai’s goal is to break the world record for fastest 10-kilometre, half-marathon and marathon while pushing a stroller.
She got the idea after running a half-marathon in Edmonton last year. She didn’t have childcare so she ran the race with her daughter in her running stroller.
She finished the 21-kilometre race pushing little Amelita in one hour and 32 minutes.
“I came in second overall and was first female,” she said. “The second place male came across the line said, ‘Oh my god, I just got my butt kicked by a girl who just had a baby and was pushing her baby in a stroller!'”
Tai originally wanted to include a five-kilometre race and the eightkilometre Run for Mom in Chilliwack in her record attempt but Guinness didn’t like the five-or eight-kilometre distances.
Her speed in long distances is that much more remarkable because six years ago, while training to be a competitive ironman triathlete, Tai was riding her bike and was hit by a truck travelling at 100 kilometres an hour. She broke her back, her hip and her arm.
“I was in a body cast for half a year,” she said.
BABY IS THE PARTNER
Since 2010, when Jacob was seven months old, Shaw has offered stroller boot camp classes in Chilliwack.
Her interest in pre-and post-natal fitness began before she was pregnant, back in university when she did a project on the subject. That was academic but having a child gave her further understanding about what it’s like to try to exercise with a small child.
“It’s a chance to help other women in Chilliwack and be with Jacob as well,” she said of her stroller boot camp course.
Shaw gets anywhere from three to 12 women out with their strollers at each class, depending on the weather. The benefit isn’t just exercise, it’s socialization both for the young ones and the new mothers who often find themselves housebound.
“Some women, they struggle at the beginning to get out of the house, to know what to do,” she said. “Stroller boot camp just provides opportunity for mom to get a great workout and spend time with baby and interact with other moms.”
Running or exercising with a young one in a stroller is not always easy, particularly if the baby is still nursing or is just a frisky child who wants to play.
Both Tai and Shaw know moms have to take this into account and be flexible about their workouts.
Tai said she goes for runs with her sling and bus fare in case Amelita wants to get out.
Shaw said it really depends on the age of the child. When Jacob was very young she could go for two-hour walks or runs and it would serve as his nap.
“Now it’s more like 45 minutes is about it,” Shaw said.
Key to this is buying a good stroller, which can run into the many hundreds of dollars. A few companies make running strollers, including phil & teds and Chariot, but probably one of the best and most popular brands is Bob.
It’s harder to run with a stroller, it takes more planning and you have to be flexible and cautious about safety.
But exercise is exercise and both Tai and Shaw agree, a short workout with baby is better than no workout at all.
For information about this Sunday’s Envision Run for Mom in Chilliwack visit www.runformomchilliwack.ca.
by John French of Pique News
There aren’t many 18-month old kids who do 10km runs, let alone attempt to set a world record time at it.stroller run 10k record
Young Amelita Tai may well make her way into the Guiness Book of World Records after completing the Squamish Days 10k Run in 43 minutes and 7 seconds with her mom.
Mom and daughter were entered in the stroller division so the person who did all the work was Amelita’s mom, Allison Tai. Amelita’s father, John Tai, also played a key role in the effort to set a world record by acting as the running team’s pit crew, chief photographer and main cheerleader.
The trio from Vancouver participated in the annual run on Sunday and before entering the stroller division in the race they checked with the folks at the Guiness Book of World Records to see if they would accept her time for a 10k run. She was told she had to run the 10-kilometre distance in 45 minutes or less to be considered for a world record.
“I’m trying to break the records for all the distances but they wouldn’t accept five or eight k (km),” said Tai after her race. “I did an eight k (km) in 32 minutes a month or so ago but they wouldn’t accept it.”
The half marathon record time for running with a stroller is currently set at one hour 31 minutes and 51 seconds, said Tai.
“I’m probably going to try and break that but not this year because I’m injured,” she added.
In addition, she said she’s considering a try at the current marathon record time of four hours.
Tai said she was hit by a truck in 2006 and suffered a broken back, a broken pelvis and a broken arm. She ran the event in Squamish with a squished nerve in her back.
The fastest competitor in the Squamish race was John Machuga of Kelowna in a time of 33:53. Kristin Smart set the fastest women’s time this year when she crossed the finish line in 39:53.
Volker Schneider and Catherine Fleming were recognized for being the fastest Squamish residents in the race. Schneider clocked a time of 38:55 while Fleming ran the course in 50:17.
Emma Chadsey of Pemberton topped the female 18 and under division with a time of 41:54 while Walter Wallgram of Whistler was second in his age group with his time of 45:17.
Whistler’s William Goldstein did the course in 48:59 to finish fourth in his age group, less than a minute behind the third place finisher.
Christine Suter of Whistler just missed a podium finish with her time of 49:41.
Check back for more news from festivities this long weekend.
by Cary Castanga of the Edmonton Sun
Allison Conroy poses at her fitness studio in the Rossdale Community Hall (top). Allison survived being hit by a truck while on her bicycle in September of 2006 resulting in a broken back and arm among other injuries (bottom) and has since made a remarkable recovery.
Triathlete defies odds in fight back to fitness. The day Allison Conroy nearly died in indelibly etched in her mind.
It was around 3pm on Sept 4, 2006 – holiday Monday of the Labour Day long weekend, as she results.
It was unseasonably warm that day. Records show the mecury hit 28Cby mid-afternoon. Conroy remembers it being a perfect day for a scenic bike ride.
The triathlete had competed in the Ironman Canada two weeks prior, so she had planned a relaxing, low-intensity jaunt just to get her legs and heart pumping.
And it was all going to plan, until a truck suddenly rear-ended her on Wye Road east of Sherwood Park.
As she temporarily became a hood ornament for a Chevy Avalanche, she could hear the “awful sound of metal twisting,” while simultaneously coming to the chilling realization that, “Oh crud, I’m getting hit by a truck,” she recalls.
A split-second later, Conroy was sliding along the ground on her rear end. She says it was like tobagganing on flat land – at 50 kmh and without a tobaggan.
When she came to an abrupt and painful stop in the grassy ditch, she knew it was serious.
“My arm was snapped and I could see the bone sticking out,” she says, adding she tried to stand but kept falling “like a baby gazelle in the field.”
Among her injuries, Conroy had broken her back, pelvis and left arm. She had also torn up her left rotator cuff.
But she was lucky. Thanks to her helmet, she had no head trauma.
She would sped the next five months in a “clam shell,” otherwise known as a plastic body cast that rendered her torso immobile.
Much of that time, she was bed bound.
She also required crutches early on, as well as a sling for her arm after undergoing surgery that involved fusing the broken humerus together with a titanium rod.
Doctors weren’t optimistic about Conroy ever resuming an active lifestyle. But she was determined to prove them wrong.
Once she was able to start physiotherapy, she worked diligently and celebrated her small victories along the way, such as being able to roll over in bed, tie her own shoes or walk a couple steps.
During her excruciatingly long recovery process, Conroy also earned her nutrition and personal training certification through Can-Fit-Pro – by studying in her bed.
“I’d hold up the fitness certification book in front of my head as long as I could until my arm got sore and then I’d put the book down,” she says.
The body cast came off in January.
By July – just 10 months after the accident – the competitive athlete felt she was strong enough to enter the Calgary Marathon.
She ran 14km in the 42-km race before bowing out with a foot injury.
Seemingly a glutton for punishment, Conroy was back at it again two months laterimages She entered the Angeles Crest 100-mile endurance run Sept. 15-16 in California.
Known as one of the toughest races in the world, the Angeles Crest 100 requires runners to traverse 100 miles in 33 hours. Conroy, one year removed from her debilitaing collison, ran 76 miles in 23 hours before opting out of the race.
The 25-year-old Edmonton resident knows she bit off more than she could chew, but she’s OK with that. Both races were used as personal measuring sticks to gauge her amazing progress since that fateful September afternoon.
“For me it’s better to go out there and do as much as I can and break down and fail,” she explains. “It’s about pushing my limits, not about winning races or anything like that.”
With that in mind, Conroy – a vegetarian who weighs a fit 118 pounds at five-foot-five – is currently training for Ironman Malaysia in February.
It will be her third Ironman triathlon since taking up running in 2003 at the urging of her friend, and the first since her accident.
Prior to getting hooked on running, swimming and cycling, the Fort McMurray native says she lived a fairly sendentary life.
“I wouldn’t even run to catch the bus,” admits the part-time social worker, whose competitive history includes the 2005 Canadian Death Race in Grande Cache.
Seems like she’s making up for lost time. Since June, Conroy has also been keeping busy running several Bootcamps in Edmonton.
Indeed, it’s been an amazing recovery. But Conroy is nowhere near 100%. The chronic pain in her lower back, left arm and shoulder, and right leg and hip have yet to subside.
Meanwhile, the driver that hit her was charged and the case remains open before the courts.
Conroy – who bears a five-inch scar near her left bicep – says she isn’t angry at the motorist and she certainly refuses to be bitter.
If anything, the entire experience has offered her a deeper appreciation for being fit and healthy.
“I realize how constricted you can get in your own body,” she says. “A lot of people end up that way, not because they’re hit by a truck, but because they stop moving. They get into a sedentary lifestyle and their body stops working for them.”
Knowing what it’s like to completely lose mobility, Conror is grateful to have regained the gift of movement.
“For me, it’s about the freedom to move, feel good and live life to the fullest,” she says. In other words, she’d rather use it than lose it.
by Chris Zdeb of the Edmonton Journal
Allison Conroy, a personal fitness trainer, and her boyfriend, John Tai, a yoga instructor, spent months travelling through South America learning native dances and teaching fiitness to kids in the places they stayed. They also pedalled several thousand kilometres.
Allison Conroy and John Tai love to dance. They’re also crazy about bike riding.
They paired their passions during a recent seven-month vacation to Central and South America, which surprised no one who knew them. It’s nothing for the couple to go out for a 100-kilometre bike ride, followed by a night of dancing.
As Conroy, 27, a personal fitness trainer, gives a rundown of their adventures in the Dominican Republic, Peru, Bolivia, Argentina, Brazil and Cuba, listeners keep waiting to hear about the “fun” part of the trip, because a lot of it sounds, um, torturous.
There’s the muscles Conroy pulled on her rib cage while doing a back stretch after cycling along Lake Titicaca in the Andes, on the border between Peru and Bolivia. It derailed their trip for a couple days. She blames the altitude, 3,809 metres (12,497 feet), which makes Titicaca the highest large lake in the world.
There were times when her quadriceps were shaking at the end of the day because her legs were so tfatigued.
Or how about they got out of bed at midnight to start a nine-hour glacier climb near La Paz, Bolivia, to a point 500 metres higher than the base camp at Mount Everest, just to reach the top in time to wacth the sunrise? Granted, the view was spectacular, but jumping over crevasses in the pitch black when “the only thing you’re tied to is your guide,” sounds nerve-racking.
Everyone in the climbing group took altitude pills except Conroy and Tai, 38, a yoga instructor, who had trouble breathing, because the couple were saving their only two pills for a “total” emergency, Conroy explains.
“We both turned blue and we were dizzy. We made it to the top, but it was terrible. Talking to us was like talking to drunk people. We were swearing and confused and falling into crevasses. I keep trying to block it out,” she says.
The couple hurtled along on two wheels down the Death Road, a treacherous cliffside gravel track in Bolivia, known officially as the world’s most dangerous road beacause of the hundred-plus people who die each year after plunging over the edge, to fall almost 1,000 metres into the Amazon jungle below.
“Oringinally, we thought, ‘Oh we’re not going to do that. That’s just stupid. Why would you purposely go on a bike trip if you know you’re posisbly going to die?” Conroy says. But breathtaking photos of the route and confidence in their bike-handling skills convinced them to put their lives on the line.
Which brings Conroy’s story to the Atacama Desert in northern Chili, the highest and driest desert in the world. They had expected to get over a mountain pass into Argentina, but after zipping down at 70 km/h, they reached an impassable gravel road and had to turn around and go back. What took them an hour to do downhill, took three days to get back up. “We were going, like, a kilometre an hour, pushing our bikes into a headwind,” Conroy says.
“Even downhill you’re pedalling as hard as you can. We didn’t have enough water and we ran out of food. On the last day we had an egg and a small handful of cooked pasta.”
The dancing parts of the trip were also troublesome, at first, especially learning their favourite dance, the tango. They also learned the forro, zouk, samba, and Cuban salsa
“We’d danced the salsa before, but it’s so fast and you’re far apart, you can make any mistake you want. In the tango, you have to move together because you’re so close, and we couldn’t move at the same time at all,” Conroy explains.
For five straight weeks in Buenos Aires, the capital of Argentina, the couple danced for six to 10 hours a day.
“I had never worm high heels for more than half an hour in my life, so my feet swelled up like Shrek’s (the large green ogre in the Disney animated movie of the same name),” Conroy says.
After two weeks of being out of sync on the dance floor, the couple was pretty frustrated, “and then we just clicked.”
“I know (the trip) sounds horrible,” she says laughing, admitting neither of them expected it to be such a physical challenge.
But she and Tai are already thinking of another dance-bike trip, this time to Columbia and the rainforest.
“That’s where the cumbia (a folk dance) originated, and they do different styles of salsa, really fast, so we may go there.”
It may not be most people’s idea of fun, Conroy says, “but if you can get through that, you can get through anything.”
SERIES by Marta Gold of the Edmonton Journal
Where better than at a New Year’s Eve party to make a fitness resolution? When a couple of women told me about the Boot Camp they’d just completed, I resolved, in a haze of good cheer and optimism, to try it myself.
They assured me it was kinder and somewhat gentler than it’s name implied. No starvation, bugs, or immunity challenges and no screaming drill sergeants. Just cold, snow, darkness and plenty of exercise, starting at 5:50 a.m., three times a week, for six weeks.
I wimped out compared to some of my classmates, who had signed up to do this five days a week. One of them is taking it for the fourth time. Our instructor, Allison Conroy, is herself an inspiration. She took up running in 2003, after never having participated in any sports or exercise of any kind, other than horse back riding.
By 2005, she had run the 125-kilometre Death Race in Grande Cache — solo. The following year, while cycling, she was hit by a truck and broke her back, pelvis and arm. After five months in a body cast, she started retraining her body from scratch. “I totally sympathize with people who can only do a plank-hold for 10 or 15 seconds because that’s where I wasimages That gave me such an insight into people who are trying to get fit.”
Last September, to mark the first anniversary of her accident, she ran 76 miles of the gruelling, Angeles Crest 100-mile endurance race in California. So when Conroy tells you that you an sweat out a couple more stomach crunches or run a little faster, you do it.
We started Week One with fitness testing against which we’ll compare our results at the end of boot camp. We counted how many sit-ups and pushups we cold do in one minute, how long we could hold a squat or plank position and how fast we could run a kilometre. We also took sobering body measurements. And of course, we began our first demanding rounds of indoor circuit training, weights and outdoor exercise.
Conroy warned me I’d have trouble washing my hair because of the pain, and she was right. But I’m also starting the day feeling energetic and upbeat, if a little shakey and sore. The tradeoff seems worth it so far, but there are still five weeks left.
I’ll update my class’s progress as we go. Wish us luck.
The boom in boot camps; Legions of enthusiasts are signing on as never before
With the start of a new year comes the perennial search for a fitness boost, or, for a growing number of Edmontonians, a fitness boot. As in boot camp.
The intensive, group fitness programs — usually held up to five times a week, often before the crack of dawn — are spreading through Edmonton and across the province like an invading army.
They first infiltrated locally back in 2004, when the Soldiers of Fitness started its boot camp led by real army reservists. But the past year has seen several rival platoons joining the war on sloth, taking the boot-camp model farther from its military roots.
Now there’s Bikini Boot Camp and Defining Eve’s Bridal Boot Camp. Survivor Boot Camp focuses more on a mix of circuit training and outdoor exercise, without the militaristic edge. Phat Training, run by former high jumper Jesse Lipscombe, has its own boot camp. Club Fit and the Kinsmen Sport Centre run weekly boot camp fitness classes. Alberta Adventure Boot Camp, which has programs in Calgary, is set to expand to Edmonton this year.
The competition from so many rival camps doesn’t seem to have hurt Soldiers of Fitness. Its program has spread to locations across the country. Locally, they’ve seen participation grow from about 30 per month to up to 150 per month in the spring and summer, says co-founder Colin Reid. They’re set to open second locations in Edmonton and Calgary.
“We already have army-sized strength going on. I joke around that there’s more people training with us in the morning than there is at our actual military unit,” says Reid, an army reservist who served as as a peacekeeper in Bosnia along with business partner Karth Sahadevan. The newcomers seem to be faring well, too, proof of the booming interest in boot-camp-style programs.
Allison Conroy, who heads the Boot Camp that I started here in June, says its popularity has suprised even her. So many people signed up for boot camp this summer, she was leading four different groups each week. She just recently gave up her part-time job as a social worker to devote herself to boot camp and has hired additional staff.
[They] offer classes at 6 a.m., noon and 6 p.m. at downtown or south side locations and will soon open in Mill Woods. They’re looking to expand across the regions to places like Sherwood Park and Leduc, too.
While their styles, approaches and techniques vary, most boot camps offer three or five classes a week for between four and six weeks. The “boot camp” cconcept appeals to people beacuse it’s intense and effective, says lifestyle and fitness coach Allan Fine, who runs the Adventure Boot Camps in Calgary. It’s cheaper than hiring a personal trainer and is less intimidating for many people than one-on-one training. And with regular workouts three or five times a week, people see results, he adds.
“When you have a (boot camp) trainer working with you, there’s no guesswork involved,” says Fine. Many people don‘t know where to begin if left to work out on their own. Nor do they have the motivation to continue without the support of others.
That camraderie makes the experience fun and social, says Conroy. “I think a lot of people are just getting really bored of going to the gym,” she adds. Tanya Berry, an assistant professor at the Univeristy of Alberta specializing in exercise psychology, says the group experience is key to making such programs a success.
“With anaything that brings the group together for a shared experience, and in this case, it sounds like shared pain, everybody’s going to bond and you get to know people and you’re more likely to come back.”
Berry says the novelty of the program has likely attracted people too, especially those who have tired of their usual exercise routine.
Having the support of a group helps a lot for encouragement and motivation. The river-valley stairs are easier to climb when there’s someone in front of you to follow, and someone behind you to keep you moving. Of course, Alli’s voice is a constant, telling us to try harder, do one more or stay with it.
The best part so far is coming home well before the sun is up, feeling energetic and healthy, knowing you’ve already done your workout for the day. The second-best part is knowing you have almost 48 hours to recoer before you have to do it all over again.
Self-discipline wavers in Week Three: Regulars motivate each other to stick to the program
EDMONTON – It’s heard enough to get up early for a fitness boot camp three mornings a week, and I’m only three weeks into it. Imagine the motivation of some of my classmates, who have been faithfully attending boot camp five days a week for months on end.
Jodi Abbott, a vice-president with Capital Health has been coming to the class every weekday since September. “I’m hooked on it,” she says. “There’s so much variety so you’re never bored.”
Nicole Hartman, 22, and her dad Doug, 50, drive from St. Albert to downtown each weekday for the 5:50 a.m. class. “You get used to doing it and it gets a little addictive. I know that sounds kind of sick,” says Nicole, a recent U of A grad. She and Doug have done three previous four-week rounds of boot camp. The program is now six weeks long. She says they’re motivated by the group and look forward to seeing many of the other regulars each morning.
Others, like first time boot campers Julie Lawrence and Stacy Gold, work night shifts and still manage to getup for early morning class. “It’s hard, but it’s worth it. We make each other come,” says Lawrence a server at Chop.
Self-discipline wavers in Week Three: Regulars motivate each other to stick to the program
Instructor Allison Conroy estimates up to 85 per cent of boot camp participants are returnees. She says they enjoy the unique combination of indoor and outdoor work, plus the full-body workout they get. Most importantly, they see results, she adds.
The most dramatic change she’s seen has been in Brooke Wasylishen, whose brother Clinton owns the Calgary and Edmonton franchises of boot camp.
She started the program in June, “extremely out of shape” and overweight, at about 280 pounds, she says. “I was afraid that everyone would be really good athletes and I’d be slowing them down.”
Instead, Conroy modified the program for her abilities and the group gave her great support. When the class first tackled the stairs in the river valley, Brooke went up five steps and stopped. When she finally made it up the whole, long flight, everyone in the class cheered, recalls Conroy.
She’s continued with boot camp every morning since, except for a one-month break, and has so far dropped more than 40 inches from her legs, arms, waist and chest, and lost 30 pounds. This spring, she’s set her sights on completing a five-kilometre run. “My energy level has gone through the roof, and I can do more throughout the day,” says the 27-year-old massage therapist.
Even those who started off in better shape have seen dramatic improvements. Alison Lewis, 43, says she dropped 12 pounds and “significant” inches off her already-slim frame after just four weeks of boot camp. She started off the program with her 23-year-old daughter in September, and eventually brought her other two daughter, aged 16 and 14, along, too.
She’s continued with boot camp solo, now coming two days a week while running on her own six days a week as she trains for a half-marathon. “I’ve never felt fitter in my entire life,” she says.
“That was the biggest benefit for me. It got me to a place where I’m — I guess the word is addicted. I’m at a place where it’s not a struggle anymore.”
A cosy indoor space offers just enough room to get in a good, well-rounded workout
It only takes a few days of sub-minus-30-degree weather to make a person question her commitment to nay kid of early morning activity, let along the intense, physical kind.
Mercifully, boot camp instructors are as averse to frostbite as boot camp participants, so our classes have been inside the warmth of the Rossdale community hall all this past week. I guess they don’t want to be too literal with the “boot camp” name.
The Rossdale hall is certainly cosy, as in warm, and as in small. Fine for exercising a few preschoolers, but pretty tight when you jam a dozen or more sweaty adults in there.
Still, we manage to undergo a rigorous workout. Our instructors — Allison Conroy and this week, Tessa Hamula, filling in for Alli on her impeccably timed Costa Rica holiday — are masters of the intense, small-space workout. We run (very) short relay sprints, do squat jumps, anything that will get our heart rates higher. Then comes the strengthening component — sit-ups, abdminal crunches and arm, shoulder and back exercises with weights and resistance bands.
One day, Hamulaset up a circuit of 10 stations we rotated through one at a time, squatting, jumping, crunching or lifting in one way or another for a minute. In between each station, we jumped rope for a minute or two before moving to the next station.
The challenge is finding on-the-spot activities that will elevate our heart rates, since we don’t have much room to run around, says Hamula, a student set to graduate this spring from NAIT’s personal training program. Instead of trying to find endurance activities that will maintain a steady, elevated heart rate, she puts us through interval training — intense bouts of cardio work mixed with
Interval training has been shown to provide more post-exercise benefits than straight and steady cardio exercise, she says. It’s also a great way to tax people like me, who do the same cardio exercise all the time, without varying much in pace or intensity.
Exercisers often emphasize the cardio component and ignore the resistance training, says Hamula. But it helps burn fat, build muscle and increase metabolism, she adds.
Our compact but intense workouts show just how little space or equipment a person needs to get a good workout. Of course, having a trainer telling you exactly what to do and for how long helps a lot. So deos having a room full of sweaty, red-faced exercise partners suffering along with you. Still, for those with the motivation, an exercise ball, resistance bands, hand weights or even your own body weight, coupled with the right on-the-spot moves can give you a good workout.
This week, if the weather co-operates, we’ll be back to our usual mix of indoor and outdoor activity. For those brave souls who come five mornings a week, that’s two days outside and three days inside. For less hardy participants like me, who signed up to come three days a week, the mix is one day outside, two days inside. And come fairer weather, the program moves outside every day.
Mix things up with workouts; Keeping exercise interesting
Here’s a little boot-camp math. Working out five days a week for six weeks totals 30 workouts. Even with three days a week, you’re still cramming in 18 workouts, mostly in the same location, with the same people and the same instructor.
Keeping those workouts challenging, interesting and yes, even fun, can be a tall orer both for the trainer and the trainees. So boot camp leaders need to be creative, motivating and above all, enthusiastic, to keep participants coming back.
Allison Conroy likes to use the element of surprise to keep her boot campers off-balance. She’s our instructor for the six-week boot camp program I’m taking, now in it’s final weeks.
“On the hard days, they don’t know they’re going to be hard until they’re half-way through them,” Conroy says. “Part of the difficulty in a workout routine is the fact that you blow it up in your head. You think ‘Oh, it’s going to be so hard.’ You dono’t want to go, and then you feel bad about it.”
For example, on our fast outdoor run, we were all dreading the inevitable stair-climb we had done on our previous run. Instead, Conroy took us in the opposite direction, away from the stairs. We heaved a collective sigh of relief, only to discover she wanted us to do two five-minute tempo runs, at a pace that left us breathing hard, with a one-minute break in between.
And just when we thought the hard part was over, she led us to the base of 103rd Street and had us run to the top and down, twice, with suqats and lunges thrown in for good measure.
But she was right. Before we knew what had hit us, it was over.
One of Conroy’s favourite ways to take the “work” out of “workout” is by playing games. Sometimes, they’re her own takes on schoolyrad games like “duck-duck-goose” (the ducks hold a squat, while the goose runs around them) or “what time is it, Mr. Wolf?” where the wolf squats as his ponential pray lunges toward him.
She loves tag, particularly circle tag, where everyone but the person who’s “it” joins in a circle, then moves en masse to protect the person designated as the “target” from being tagged. Toilet tag requires those who are tagged to sit in a squat with their arm outstretched until another participant “frees” them by sitting on their knee and “flushing” their arm.
Conroy’s personal favourite is animal tag “because I get to laugh a lot.” When a person is tagged, he yells out the name of an animal, which the person who is “it” must imitate until they tag another person, who then calls out another animal name for the “it” to imitate.
In nicer weather, when boot campers have more space outside, they play ultimate Frisbee or other running games. “People don’t even realize that they’re working out. Any sort of a challenge, it’s just human nature that people want to play that game,” she says.
She’s also big on using partners for workouts. “Pain squared is what we call it.”
Sometimes the partners use resistance bands, medicine balls or just their own body weight for the exercises. Working together helps motivate people and makes the exercise more fun.
Whatever the activity, it changes regularly and quickly to keep eveyone guessing.
Mix things up with workouts; Keeping exercise interesting
“People are not going to work out nearly as hard ifimages all they’re concentrating on is how horrible it is and how they want to stop.”
People don’t have to join a bootcamp to use these techniques, Conroy adds. Take a friend to the gym to make it more fun. Try a new activity or class, just to get some variety in your workout. And be sure to find activities you like. The more you enjoy your workout, the more likely you are to stick with it.
She cites examples of one of more of the men in our group who was so busy at work, he considered quitting boot camp. “Then he decided it’s the one hour of his day where he really had fun every day, and he just couldn’t give it up. And that’t the way we want people to fit exercise into their life.”
Bottom line? Thinner thighs
In the cold depths of January, feature writer Marta Gold began this series on her experiences at fitness boot camp. This is her sixth and final report from the fitness front.
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EDMONTON – – The first rule of writing a news story is to start with the most important information first. So even though this isn’t technically a news story, I will follow the rule.
My thighs are thinner.
That is what six weeks of early mornings, cold weather and demanding exercise will do to a person, especially one who begins boot camp with chubby legs.
I can proudly say that I completed boot camp last Friday, without missing a single one of my thrice-weekly (that’s 18) workouts. In all, I lost a few pounds, along with an inch from my hips and two inches from my thighs. I can do way more pushups and sit-ups in one minute than I could at the start and I did a plank hold and a squat hold for much longer.
My new exercise pals saw similar improvements in their fitness performance though we all did our body measurements in the privacy of of our own homes after class.
Stacy Gold, who admitted she was pretty out-of-shape at the start of boot camp, says she clearly sees a change in both the way she feels and the way her body looks. “I’m definitley shaped differently. My New Year’s shirt fits completely differentlyimages Jeans that I couldn’t weat two months ago, I’m wearing now. And my stomach — I have a four-pack now, ” she laughs.
Even those who were obviously fit before the boot camp, like Martha Corderre, saw improvements in their fitness. “I totally improved, and the whole time, it was fun, so you don’t even realize that you’re working out,” says Corderre, a health promotion consultant for the City of Edmonton. “I like being outside, and I like having everybody in the group to motivate me.”
Stephanie Anderson says she not only got stronger and fitter during boot camp, she was inspired to improve her already-healthy diet. “What’s the point of doing workouts if you’re not going to eat well too?” she says. She was looking to get her body bikini-ready for her wedding in Cuba next month.
Both she and Coderre liked boot camp so much they plan to continue in the next six-week round.
Whether it’s the exercise itself or simply the results that become addictive, boot camp does seem to be an experience many people are willing to repeat.
Most of us said we’d easily do it again, and many have already signed up. Within our group of about a dozen, at least half were boot camp returnees. Several of those have done three or more back-to-back boot camp sessions.
Now that I’ve done it myself, it’s easy to see why. While getting up in the morning can be hard, the experience is rewarding. It’s heathly, social and, believe or not, fun. Even in the winter, it’s a great way to enjoy the beauty of the river valley.
After six weeks, I feel stronger, fitter and more motivated to add variety to my exercise routine and build in more simple, strength-training activities. A friend and I plan to continue our early morning workouts together, inspired by our improved levels of fitness.
And if we falter, we can always return to boot camp to whip us back into shape.
Boot camp offers six-week sessions in the morning and evening at their downtown location, morning sessions at their south side location and will soon open in Mill Woods. A number of other companies, including Soldiers of Fitness, P.H.A.T. Training, Bikini Boot Camp and Defining Eve also offer boot-camp programs.