Creating the elements in body, mind and spirit with Spartan Pro Team Member, Alyssa Hawley
“The true essence of being a Spartan or OCR athlete is being functionally fit and mentally tough.”
Spartan Race founder and CEO, Joe DeSena, had one goal in mind when starting the now most popular Obstacle Course Race community — that was to rip people off the couch. 100 million people to be exact. One of the now five million people to partake in a Spartan Race is Alyssa Hawley.
Hailing from Spokane, WA, Hawley has been a proud member of the Spartan Pro Team since 2016. After a college career playing softball, Hawley found a passion and purpose in OCR upon completing her first Spartan Race in 2015 at Citi Field. To date, Hawley has completed 45 Spartan races, (with 19 total first place finishes) across three different countries and all over North America.
Therein lies the need for creativity. Is a course in Houston similar in makeup to the terrain in Seattle? What about in Mexico where the conditions are bound to be warmer? Furthermore, how do you prepare for such a challenge to brave the elements while climbing over a monstrous wall and pushing yourself across a 10 mile finish line while the voices maybe telling you to stop, you can’t do it.
“So much of what we are capable of lies within our own beliefs.”
The foundation to an OCR like Spartan is to inform you that your body (and maybe your life) can handle more than you realize. You just have to dig deep and prepare both mentally and physically in order to feel that gratification of tapping into your full potential. A big part of that is being the artist of “you”. Making yourself. Being “functionally” fit, as Hawley says. And then designing the environment around you to meet the needs of what you are trying to accomplish.
With that, Hawley takes us into her 4-seasonal world of balancing mind and body strength, while injecting it with spartan-like creativity.
Do you find there is a creativity and artistic element to training for a Spartan race?
I do believe there is an artistic element for training for a Spartan Race. It is a sport comprised of multiple skills not seen altogether in other sports. That’s where the real creativity lies, in the fact that no one quite knows exactly how to train for it due to the combination of different strengths it takes to be successful. Not only that, but since so many of the athletes come from different backgrounds, the training is going to vary greatly depending on the athletes individual strengths and weaknesses. I think in the simplest terms it can be broken down into two different categories: strength and endurance. You can come from a background of strength and/or athleticism that makes you good at obstacles or a running background that gives you great endurance, but you might be failing lots of obstacles. The art of OCR comes in the form of a balancing act between these two in body, mind and spirit.
What is your process for creatively training?
My process for creatively training has been to keep my natural strength and get faster and stronger as hill climber. In the process I have lost some of my strength, but have made huge gains in running. Doing a lot of trail running and workouts that specially involved carrying heavy things and running and doing some sort of lift component are my main go-tos. I really like to carry heavy objects around me and incorporate them into running. I grab a heavy log and carry it up a mountain, flip a heavy tire as many times as I can and run a fast interval, carry a bucket up and down a steep hill and sprint up it in between.
I believe this to be applicable to the artistic component — how much of OCR training and even racing contains a mental and spiritual component as opposed to straight physical and endurance?
The biggest part of it is mental. It’s also big spiritual component, but I think you’re kinda born with that. I’d call it heart, and I don’t believe you can teach that. I didn’t always “love” running, I just had the heart to work hard and push myself that was instilled in me, and then the heart and love to run was unleashed through experiences and others. But the mental aspect is something I think you can definitely train and teach. I am currently working with a mental coach to take myself to the next level. So much of what we are capable of lies within our own beliefs. Our bodies can handle and push way harder than our minds think it can. But this is another individual art that takes practice of mental toughness and strategies during training and to have the tools to be able to aware and realize our full potential.
You have shared a bit about finding the ability to train regardless of the environment you are in; your winter Rocky training photo, doing pull ups in the snow comes to mind here. Can you share how you go about finding the ability to train regardless of where you are?
The true essence of being a Spartan or OCR athlete is being functionally fit and mentally tough. You are fit for any of life’s tasks or adventures and use your environment and body weight to strengthen your body. This is what I like the most about it — that you don’t need a ton of equipment. You can go anywhere and use your body in various ways for exercise. I really enjoy being new areas. That is where I get to be creative. It depends where I am staying, but immediately I will check to see if there are hiking trails or mountains nearby. Finding those allows me to run different terrains which is my basis. From there, I can add in burpees, find something heavy like logs or rocks to carry around, and I’ll always look for something to be able to pull up on. If there isn’t a ton of space, I’ll do shorter intervals and more HIIT style things with body weight exercises. I also don’t like to be indoors and so that means going into various elements and making the best of it.
What are some ways people can try this themselves? What are things to look for when it comes to training regardless of your environment?
Things to look for: trails, mountains, paved trails/walkways, parks, and playgrounds. Knowing body weight types of exercise like lunges, split jumps, squat jumps, push ups, pull ups, planks, to name a few. With basic knowledge of workout templates like 30 second on/off, reps/sets, intervals, and body weight movements — you can create endless ways to workout.
The pacific northwest, specifically the greater Spokane/Seattle area is full of beautiful and artistic nature. How does that inspire you here?
Living in the PNW inspires me because I have traveled a lot and I realized how lucky I am to live in an area that I have green year-round, all four seasons, and mountains to train on. I love all the seasons that we have because I am always getting to mix it up and train in different conditions. I think overall it inspires me because I could spend every day running a different route and discover a new trail just in the area I am in and with all the changes in weather and views, no workout is the same.
What are some other crucial things to consider when it comes to creatively preparing yourself for OCR?
To prepare best for OCR, I think A.) you need to find your strength and weakness, and you need to work on your weakness. For me, I loved strength work, but I would never be where I am if I didn’t work on my weakness, running. Which leads me into my next point. B.) You need a good running program to stick with or even a coach if you can. There’s a lot of elements to this sport, but the basis is running, regardless of your running background.
You mentioned having certain songs in your head when you are training / or racing to help push you? What songs or artists typically?
It depends on the type of workout and what I am listening to currently. If it is a particularly hard workout, “Never Give Up” — Sia, “Till the Day I Die” — Toby Mac, or“Everyday” — Logic. If it’s an easier run it might be “Congratulations” or “Rockstar” — Post Malone, “All the Stars” — Kendrick Lamar, or various Drake songs.
How do you describe the emotion of being a Spartan champion? All things considered, when you cross the finish line and/or standing on the podium what does that feel like?
It is very emotional for me because I am so passionate about this sport and feel so blessed to be able to do what I do. I work my butt off and prioritize a lot of my life around training, like most people, but I feel like for me it’s different and that I just put more of my soul into it. I am more connected on a spiritual level to the sport, and when I finish a race on top it’s like all the hard work paid off. If I don’t end up on top I am still happy because I know I did everything I could, but it just makes me hungrier to keep working to be better.
What’s on tap for you? Where can people find you?
I have the rest of the US Championship series — Chicago June 23, and Utah July 28. From there its the North American Championship and World Championships. My main side goal is to go international, ultimately France for the European World Championships in July.
Or my blog: christianwarriorpnw.wordpress.com
Produced/written by, and in collaboration with Jeff Gorra: