You have to be tough as nails to be at the top of the Obstacle Course Racing (OCR) world, and that’s exactly where Lindsay Webster stands. She has won the Obstacle Course World Championships the last three years in a row and topped the podium at the Spartan Elite World Championships in 2017 and 2018.
“No one’s ever won Spartan three years in a row and that’s my goal for this year,” says Webster. “Every year it gets more competitive and the field is growing. I just try to train a little harder to eke out an extra one percent more!”
Webster explained that obstacle course racing is basically a trail run with barriers that must be overcome before continuing. Participants have to jump, climb, crawl and swing over various features of the course and be prepared for anything. The dynamic nature of the sport is what Webster loves and her versatility as an athlete is what keeps her on top of the podium at event after event.
Introduced to the sport by top OCR competitor Ryan Atkins, whom she married three years ago, Webster wasn’t winning anything in her first year. And in Spartan races, if you fail at an obstacle, you have to do 30 burpees.
“When I started I had no idea how to do obstacles,” she says, “I had to do a lot of burpees while watching people pass me.”
Growing up in Ontario, Webster was a competitive figure skater until high school. Her sister, Brittany, meanwhile had become an elite cross-country skier and introduced Webster to that sport.
“I did compete for a few years in cross-country skiing, but after high school I chose university instead of sport. I had to find out for myself if sport was what I wanted.”
Webster completed a Bachelor of Applied Arts in Media Studies at the University of Guelph and also earned a Diploma in Culinary Management at Humber College. However, sports were calling and for a while, she competed in mountain biking but found she was losing her joy for the sport because the training was so repetitive.
“Obstacle course races are exciting to train for because there are so many things you can do to prepare,” Webster says. “Another massive thing [I like about training for OCR] is the cool places my feet can take me. I’ve reached so many amazing places that you could never get to with a car or even a bike.”
Trail running is Webster’s favourite part of OCR and she does a lot of running – long days in the mountains to build endurance and stamina combined with shorter, intense days running up and down hills.
In addition, she rock climbs regularly with Atkins. They call it ‘wall yoga’ due to the amount of reaching, stretching and flexibility required. She says climbing is great for building arm and grip strength and keeps her from having to do too much weight training in the gym, something she dislikes.
Close to a big competition Webster will practice carrying a 50 – 70 lb bag uphill to get her body accustomed to the weight. It’s not one of her favourite challenges, but it’s included in every race.
“There are parts of obstacle course racing that aren’t very enjoyable, mostly the carries,” she explains. “And you never know what you’ll get in a race as the obstacles change. It’s a lot more enjoyable if you’re prepared mentally and physically!”
As a professional athlete, sponsored by Spartan, Webster says she is very results-driven and just looking at pictures of her competitors is enough to keep her motivated to train. Someone once said her superpower was anxiety about competing, which drives her to be well prepared before a race.
On their property in Caledon, ON, Webster and Atkins have built a home training facility in a small shed. It’s filled with tools and devices like wheels that spin when you grab them and hanging rings to swing through. This is where they spend the off season, if there is such a thing for Webster, who seems to find competitions to try regardless of sport or season.
In early June, when I spoke with her, Webster was prepping for her first Sky Race in Livigno, Italy. These types of races are similar to trail running but with a lot of elevation gain.
“The Sky Race is a highlight for me and I’m going into completely unfamiliar territory. I’ll have to see how I perform in a field that is out of my specialty area. I could be completely dominated.” [she came 6th in an international field.]
Unsurprisingly, Webster also competes in winter SkiMo events, which involve ski touring up high into the mountains. Mixing it up with different sports throughout the year is clearly something Webster relishes.
“I love obstacle course racing but a lot of it is in the same place every year, like Lake Tahoe. It’s just exciting to try some trail racing in new places and to travel. We’re so lucky to live this lifestyle.”
The OCR season is just getting underway, and Webster is currently first on the Elite Spartan World Series leaderboard with plans to defend her world title for the third time in Lake Tahoe, September 29.
Later this fall, Webster and Atkins will spend a month in Europe travelling and competing. They’ll start in London, competing in the OCR World Championships October 11 – 13 and plan to do some training and sightseeing in Scotland before another race in Greece. They’ll finish up in Sweden where Atkins will compete in the Spartan Ultra World Championships, which he won last year.
With so many wins under her belt, what’s Webster’s secret for success aside from loads of talent and hours of preparation?
“A lot of athletes tend to get a bit OCD about training and push hard even though they may be injured or not feeling well. I’ve learned to know when to take a rest day if I need it. Or if I’m having a really bad workout, I’m not afraid to shut it down. I also try to focus on recovery, rolling my muscles out, eating enough and sleeping well. Although there are days when I second guess myself.”
Training and competing shape the life of this outstanding athlete who says it would be no fun if “it was all about speed.” There has to be more to life according to Webster.
“We have days where we go hard and fast but also have days when the goal is just to get up a mountain and enjoy it,” she explains.
It’s the variety of training and unknown challenges in races that keep Webster in the OCR game. That’s not likely to change and means she’ll continue to be a dominant force in the OCR world.