Photo by Ewan Nicholson
If there is a poster child for “pain is gain,” obstacle course racer Faye Stenning would be it.
“The burning quads, the high heart rate, the hyperventilating, the raw burn in your lower back and the mental suffering … it's a nasty, nasty feeling,” the 27-year-old Calgarian concedes. “I think the mind is gonna want to protect the body from injury and exertion, but I try to block out the voice of reason. My No. 1 secret has been pain tolerance and being comfortable being uncomfortable.”
Running about 100K a week, mostly outdoors in her hometown or in the nearby Rocky Mountains and working out six days a week prepares Stenning for gruelling races that require physical fortitude and ridiculous amounts of tenacity.
- Age: 27 – 5'6", 112 lbs.
- 100K running a week; 35:40 fastest 10K time
- 20 max pull-ups/chin-ups; 3:37 dead-hang time; 195 lbs. deadlift PR
- 3-6 hrs a day working out; 9 hrs sleep per night
- 2 L water consumed per day
In October, Stenning placed third behind fellow Canadian Lindsay Webster in the Spartan Race world championships in Lake Tahoe, Calif. before finishing off the podium at the Obstacle Course Racing world championships in Collingwood, Ont.
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Photo by Josh Gibney
Racing through the mud at the Asheville, N.C. Spartan Super.
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Photo by Josh Gibney
Battling fellow Canadian Lindsay Webster (left) across the traverse wall at the Asheville, N.C. Spartan Super.
At the professional level, athletes run for miles over rolling terrain, climbing and strong-arming obstacles. And in the darkest moments, when the body wants to quit, Stenning lies to herself — with good intentions. “I tell myself it's just another workout.”
Tireless training and embracing the suck, as some might say, has allowed Stenning to make a fast and fabulous rise as an obstacle course racer, profiled among top athletes in NBC's television coverage of the U.S. Spartan Championship Series.
The fusing of fitness and fame has been a bit surreal with fans following Stenning on social media and strangers stopping her for autographs and photos. Flattered, for sure, she is humble about her athletic achievements and all the attention.
“I'm just a girl with muscles, someone who is good at working out,” she says. “To be praised and recognized is really cool.”
At 5-foot-6 and 112 lbs., initial optics might not suggest Stenning is such a Spartan beast.
“A lot of guys ask me about training programs and I am thinking, ‘Why don't they ask male Spartans?’ ” says Stenning, whose boyfriend, Josh Stryde, is on the Western Canadian Spartan Elite team. “It’s really cool and it doesn't finish with ‘What are you doing Saturday night?’ It's not a pick-up line.”
Cut-throat on the course, Stenning is all about camaraderie when the clock stops.
“During the race I am just angry and tense and competitive, but when you cross the finish line, you don't even wait a couple of minutes to hug your competitors, thanking them for helping you push yourself and perform at your best,” Stenning says. “No matter how fit you are, these races hurt just as much. The fitter you get, the faster you go and the harder you push.”
In 2013, already accomplished as a former University of Calgary cross country and track athlete, Stenning won her first Spartan race.
“I thought Spartan races were a joke” she says a tad sheepishly. “I thought it was just a goofy, fun run and I thought I could outrun everyone and deal with the obstacles as they came.”
The strategy worked for her debut, but at the world championships the following year, she met the bucket — a gravel-filled, “spine-crushing bucket from hell” that left her staggering step-by-step in an exhausting five-hour race where she wobbled to a disappointing 12th place finish.
Photo by Josh Gibney
Faye Stenning pushes uphill during the bucket carry at the Monterey, Calif. Spartan Super.
She was gassed, gutted and painfully aware successful racers aren't one-trick ponies, but built for speed, stamina and strength. Even with training at its most intense, Stenning strives for balance in her life.
That includes rarely saying no to a glass of wine and plenty of time spent with friends, family and her beau. And if eating is one of life's pleasures, she isn't suffering.
"I have no food restrictions — I have dairy, I have gluten and dinner is a free-for-all," Stenning says. "I love pasta and pizza and I have tons of pub food. I'm not someone who snacks on vegetables. I'd rather snack on something good, like chocolate almonds."
Her staples are bagels with peanut butter or cream cheese, fruits, vegetables, trail mix, BoKU superfood and supplements including fish oils, magnesium and vitamin C.
What’s a go-to snack for the girl who consumes about 3,000 calories a day?
"Meals without vegetables" — Menchie's and double-stuffed Oreos.
"I only have two hobbies — one is burning calories and the other is putting calories in me," Stenning says. "I'm not artistic, I don't like reading books, I don't like movies, I don't like shopping. Working out is just my hobby. I don't know what else I would do."
Stenning took a leave of absence from her supply chain management post at ATCO Energy Solutions to focus on pro racing this year.
“I'm learning you can be really, really good at something, but you don't need to be crazy obsessive and you are better at things when you are having fun,” she says. “You have got to work hard but that can't be all the time. You have to be easy on yourself.”
And as for that pain and suffering, Stenning has never doubted it will pay off.
“Being confident doesn’t need to be cocky,” she says. “You can’t take yourself too seriously. At the end of the day, I'm just rolling around in mud making money.”
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Wardrobe courtesy Reebok.