It takes a special kind of woman to find her passion in scaling walls and paddling through muck, and we’re beyond impressed by the powerful women of OCR who are redefining what it means to act like a lady.

To put it mildly, obstacle course racing is not what your grandmother would call “ladylike.” Similar to — and often inspired by — army boot camp training, OCR tests its competitors in strength, speed, endurance, dexterity — plus sheer, unadulterated persistence. Folks who compete in obstacle racing prepare themselves to conquer extreme challenges like maneuvering around barbed wire, climbing up greased poles, jumping over fire, and crawling through near-freezing mud pits.

Fortunately, we’re starting to meet more and more of these powerful women. “There are still more guys on the course,” Jamie Stiles says. “But, there are a lot of tough girls out there — and as OCR gets bigger, there are going to be more and more of us coming out of the woodwork.”

Jamie Stiles

Jamie, whose killer tattoos make her stand out on both the obstacle course and in life, has always loved being active. A former personal trainer, she took to the world of obstacle course racing like a frog takes to the mud. “I was instantly hooked — it was the most fun thing I’d ever done,” she says. “Right after my first race, I said to myself, ‘I have to do more of these.’” Now she’s competed in (and placed at) everything from Spartan Race to BattleFrog to Tough Mudder — and she’s just getting started.

Do you think that folks who are having trouble getting off the couch can be inspired by elite obstacle racers?

One thing that’s great about these races is that really, anybody can do them — I’ve seen people of all different shapes, sizes, and ages out there having a blast. It’s not just for the elite obstacle racer — it’s for everybody.

I hope I can be part of somebody’s inspiration — that would make me feel pretty happy about doing this. Everyone has something that they need to overcome, and these races help a lot. My fiancé has had a fear of heights for as long as I’ve known him, and he started doing races as well. Because of some of the obstacles that you have to climb over or jump off of, he’s really overcome his fear of heights — it’s amazing.

What shoes and clothing do you wear when you compete?

A lot of people don’t realize that what you’re wearing can really affect how you perform. For me, I always think that wearing less is more because there’s less material weighing you down — but it also depends on the material, too. If you travel to someplace where it’s snowing, obviously you don’t want to be wearing shorts, but here in Florida, a good bet are quick-drying compression shorts, a sports bra, compression socks, and shoes with significant traction — I like Reebok all-terrain supers, which have drainage holes, so if you’re going through water, then it’s going to drain out and not weigh your shoes down.

What’s the most inspiring thing you’ve seen on an OCR course?

I’ve seen amputees out there absolutely crushing obstacles that I might struggle with. People who are blind go out, and they have people helping them get across these obstacles — seeing how it brings people together, and how everyone helps each other, I think that’s just the coolest thing.

Which OCR obstacles have been the toughest for you, what has helped you prepare for them, and what was the experience of beating them like?

Obstacles that require a lot of grip strength are tough — that’s not something most people think about having to train for, but your grip is really important for getting through some of these. So, I’ve been training to develop a stronger grip, but I love climbing, so it’s a fun challenge, too. Rock climbing helps a lot because it doesn’t just work one part of your hand — your fingers need to be strong for things like this. Pull-ups help a lot, and monkey bars. When you start really getting into OCR, you start to look around at everything outside and think, “I wonder if I can climb that.”

Have you had any injuries on an OCR course?

I cut off the outside of one of my fingers at a race last year. But, honestly, my strongest reaction was, “Man, now I have to wait a little longer before I can get back out there.” I could have lost my whole finger and would still want to do these. I’m not going to let anything stop me.

What inspires you to keep going when you just want to lie down in the mud?

You meet so many awesome people with different backgrounds doing this, and we all have one thing in common: a passion for these different races. There are so many people I’ve met from all over the world that do this. It’s great because it makes the world seem smaller — so becoming friends with other people in the sport inspires you when you’re having a bad day.


Ashley Samples

Ashley has become something of a star over the past few years — a six-time undefeated racer at Mud Endeavor, she also won first place in the 30- to 34-year-old division at the OCR World Championships in 2015, and completed her first Spartan Race trifecta in 2015, finishing at the top of the pack. She’s had multiple podium finishes at Spartan and Battlefrog Races, and finished fifth overall in the Battlefrog point series. Needless to say, she’s setting the bar pretty high — for her competitors, and also for herself.

Ashley, you’ve been involved in this scene since 2012. What was your first race, and how did you first get into the OCR scene?

My first race was a local one called Hog Wild, which I did in order to prepare for Tough Mudder. A couple of people at my job set me up for it and recruited a team, but come race day, everybody bailed — I was the only one to show up! At that point, I was so frustrated, I thought, “I’m going to prove to everybody that I can do this on my own.”

Why OCR? What about this thrills you?

OCR is therapeutic, in a way. It allows you to connect with the fun of playing and being a kid, and it also helps you to set goals, and gives a workout routine a purpose. What draws me to OCR is the element of unpredictability: I love the anticipation of not knowing what comes next and adrenaline rush of accomplishing something challenging.

A lot of people have talked about E. coli and other diarrheal diseases as major deterrents from participating in this. What makes these events worth the risk for you?

I’ve done over 100 races, and I have never had any of these issues. My advice is close your mouth when you are in the mud, shower off post-race, and wash your hands off before you eat. Everything in life has an associated risk: driving to work, crossing the street, or running an obstacle course race. If you spend your life calculating risks, you are going to miss everything that would allow you to live life to the fullest. Not taking risks is the only risk I am not willing to take.

Which OCR obstacles have been the toughest for you? 

The toughest obstacle for me involved running through a mine. It was pitch black, and I’m afraid of the dark — we had to wear headlamps. We were directed into sub-50-degree water, and I’m admittedly a terrible swimmer, plus I hate the cold. They had lifeguards in boats that would call out to you to check if you were okay — people were going into shock. I went to reply to them and suddenly I couldn’t speak, I couldn’t breathe, I couldn’t touch the bottom — I was shivering and my muscles were cramping. It was like a real-life nightmare, and I starting having a panic attack. Finally, I managed to get out the word, “No!” A lifeboat came over, and was about to pull me onboard. At the last moment, I was able to gather my thoughts, and finally say, “I can do it,” and then I made it out of that mine. But, for a moment, I legitimately thought that I could die. It was just the perfect culmination of all my fears. Conquering that challenge has given me the confidence to know that I can do things I am scared of — and come out stronger on the other side.

What are you looking forward to next in your career as an athlete, and what accomplishments are you proudest of?

I am hoping to return to the OCR World Championship this fall to defend my title as the 30- to 34-year-old OCR world champion. Last year I came in as a “rookie,” and this year I will be coming in with a target on my back. It adds a little stress, but no matter the outcome I will get to see my race friends from all over the world, so it’s definitely an event to look forward to.

My proudest is my OCRWC win, which my parents were there to witness. I got to represent the USA on the podium with women from South Africa and Australia.

What inspires you to keep going when you just want to lie down in the mud?

That’s easy: Ryker. He’s a 4-year-old little boy with a type of congenital heart defect called CHD, and he lives in Canada. Ryker is the buddy I was matched with through the “I Run 4” Organization, a nonprofit that matches athletes of all levels and kinds — runners, walkers, yogis, and triathletes — with folks who have physical, mental, and developmental special needs. Through this program, I’ve learned that the “obstacles” put before me in racing are nothing in comparison to the obstacles that others are confronted with in their daily lives. “I Run 4” was inspired by the following idea: “I run because I can. When I get tired, I remember those who can’t run, what they would give to have this simple gift I take for granted, and I run harder for them.” And that is why I keep pushing.

Jennette Gardner

Jennette is one badass mom. She’s competed in Savage Race, Warrior Dash, Spartan, BattleFrog… and she keeps making the podium, to boot. But, while OCR is a solo sport, Jennette doesn’t compete (or practice) alone: her kids, ages six and seven, come with her to races that offer kid components, complete with mud pits. “They’ve each done two at this point — Spartan and BattleFrog,” Jenette says. “They love it just as much as Mommy does, and jump in my workouts, too. My kids go flying through the rings and the monkey bars — sometimes they do it better than I do!”

Why did you choose OCR — what about this thrills you? 

OCR isn’t just about speed — it’s about an all-body strength, and it challenges you mentally, as well. I understand that marathons are very challenging, but personally, I can’t stand just running — I find it boring. OCR events are perfect for me: I like jumping off stuff, climbing over things, falling in the mud, clambering up ropes… that’s right up my alley. My favorite part is that I can monkey around, goof off, have fun — and not even realize that I’m training for these races.

How has your passion for OCR developed?

I started racing in 2012 just as a hobby. I started with a local race that wasn’t very big, but I realized that I was outgrowing it when I started winning it. I knew I needed a bigger challenge, but I was worried that I’d be terrible in the big-name ones. But, I kept podiuming at these other events, and realized that, well, I was actually really good at this.

My husband is an amazing supporter: he built me chin-up bars, and then a climbing rope, monkey bars, rings, an eight-foot wall, four-foot wall, and an A-frame ladder wall. It’s helped me engage the community, too. I host a boot camp on Saturday mornings when I’m not racing: I set up stations in a half-mile loop around my neighborhood for anyone who wants to join. Then, friends and neighbors are welcome to come into my backyard to practice the traverse wall and everything else. Some people are a little intimidated about doing the course at first, but they end up saying, “Oh, this is actually a lot of fun!”

What’s your diet like?

I don’t count calories, but I try to stick to as many fresh fruits and vegetables as possible. I still eat brownies sometimes — I’m human — but I try to limit my sugar intake. I think you can definitely feel the effects if you’ve been eating really well, but also if you end up eating something greasy like pizza. I just feel better when I choose to eat clean.

What challenges have been the toughest?

The big BattleFrog rigs that are all upper-body can be really challenging: you’ll have a ring that leads to a ring, which goes to a rope, then monkey bars, then more rings, then a little nunchuck, a pole, a rope, a ring, another rope… that was a bit crazy. Courses like BattleFrog are also mandatory obstacle completion, so if you fall and slip, you can’t just keep running on, you have to start over. People might have to stay there for a couple of hours because they make one misstep or misgrab, and they get more and more worn. You just have to calm yourself and focus, but it’s hard.

What inspires you to keep going when you just want to lie down in the mud?

My family. When I come back from a race, my kids will say to me, “Where’s your medal, Mommy? Can I see your medal?” It’s such a great moment to teach them that you’re not going to win every race, and to model being a good sport for them. I love telling them, “Mommy isn’t mad that she didn’t win — she’s happy that she had a good time, and she feels blessed that she didn’t get hurt.”


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