SB Nation

Dan England | May 20, 2014

Profile of Spartan world champion Amelia Boone

Mud, Sweat, and a Whole Lot of Tears

Obstacle racing finds its first star in Spartan world champion Amelia Boone

Dan England | May 20, 2014

On an early April morning in 2014, jolts of heavy metal jarred the Spartan Race Gravel Pit north of Las Vegas, a boneyard of rock, grit and wind. As the first few bankers, teachers and marketing professionals planning to hurt themselves stumbled through the gate, the music didn’t seem to fit the soft morning light. It glowed sherbet orange against the gray, rocky ground that crunched under Nikes and Reeboks.

Then again, the Spartans, as the Race likes to call them, were facing 9 miles of running and more than 20 obstacles, including climbing a 20-foot rope hanging over muddy water, staggering over bumpy, crusty hills and lugging lots of heavy stuff for miserable distances. A little adrenaline would do them some good.

"ARE YOU READY FOR THIS?" a race marshal yelled in the face of a startled woman as she headed to the registration tent. The woman exploded with a nervous giggle and, clutching a waiver that absolves Spartan of responsibility were she to lose her life — or at least the skin around her knees and elbows — went to grab her bib. Over the speakers, Ozzy took a break.

"We’ve got AMELIA BOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOONE here," the announcer said. A murmured ripple of awe and scattered cheers erupted from the racers slathering on eye black or slamming down energy drinks.

Barely an hour later, on the much quieter crest of a steep hill, a pack of elite women gathered at the start. The men's race had gotten underway 15 minutes before. Amelia Boone wormed her way to the front.

"I love you," one woman gushed as Boone posed for a picture. She smiled back, hugged some friends from past races and flashed her trademark, pearly-white smile. Inside her six-pack abs, her gut churned.

Boone is introspective and introverted the night before a race, and not so long ago that used to carry over into the next morning. But now she's the world champion, and quiet moments are unrealistic, both before a race and in her increasingly complicated life.

She slipped easily into her role as obstacle racing's first real star.

Dsc_0536_copy_medium

In many ways, she had sought out the spotlight, whether in high school, when she was pitching a softball or auditioning for musicals, or in college, when she performed in an a cappella choir, or even when she made the decision to become an attorney because she was entranced by the drama of the courtroom. And at first, she liked the attention obstacle racing brought her way. With her sunny blond hair, tan skin, green eyes and long, lean, muscular frame  the kind of body that helped her dominate the sport she slipped easily into her role as obstacle racing's first real star. She's sponsored by Reebok, after all, and is one of the few obstacle racers in the world who could earn a living at the sport.

The night before, she joked about staying in a ratty hotel room in Henderson, Nev., Las Vegas' unfortunate second cousin. "I have a Wal-Mart across the street, a full kitchen and an 83-percent chance of being shot," she posted on Facebook, along with a picture of a small stuffed animal sitting by her chained door. "But it's OK because I brought my guard dog."

She hoped she could carry that chirpy attitude into the race. As much as she hoped to have fun, she was also hoping to win.

"I'm struggling with that," she said that night. "Now it's just finding that balance between fun and competition. That's definitely a tightrope."

Ultimately, obstacle racing is still an excuse to do what every child craves, and that's go play in the mud with friends. When Boone first started racing, being on the course made her feel free, in some ways, for the first time in her life.

Now she's not so sure.

A series of injuries, and the pressures that come from being the best, have weighed on her since she won the Spartan world title last year, and that makes her a little sad. As she sat behind a chained door in a cheap hotel room, the freedom she once felt as an obstacle racer seemed far away.

The sport she still loves has, in a way, become her biggest obstacle.

Irene Boone's computer glowed late into the night as she clicked for updates on whether her daughter, Amelia, was alive. Her husband, and Amelia's father, Dan, did his best to reassure her, but the truth was he was just as worried.

It was December of 2011, and Amelia was competing in something called the World's Toughest Mudder, in Englishtown, N.J. Although she did her best to hide the scariest details of the event from her parents, Dan and Irene still knew too much. They knew their daughter, wearing the same ponytail she once did on the soccer field as an ambitious kindergartner determined to score a goal, was likely scrambling over walls, slopping through mud and sloshing through water in below-freezing temperatures. The "winner" of the crazy race would be the one to complete the most laps of the 10-mile course in 24 hours.

They'd never heard of such a thing. Then again, not many people had in 2011. Obstacle racing, as it would eventually be called, was getting mainstream media attention for the first time, and yet most people, even runners and triathletes, still thought of it as a sadistic fad or a strange cult.

most people, even runners and triathletes, still thought of it as a sadistic fad or a strange cult.

Dsc_0434-copy_medium

Irene and Dan thought, or maybe hoped, that after Amelia completed a lap, she would bed down for the night in a warm sleeping bag and maybe do another lap, or part of one, in the morning. But they did not know that she had already staggered through two laps, or 20 miles, and while resting in her tent was contemplating a third. The frigid and watery course had ruthlessly carved away at the 1,000 or so people who paid $450 to enter. Amelia, shivering in a sleeping bag, wet clothes by her side and chemical warmers at her feet, was as cold as she had ever been in her life. Frostbite and hypothermia were a real possibility, and she thought about dropping out. But she did not want to quit. She never did, not when she was a little girl and not now.

That kind of blind determination had always been a mixed blessing. It drove her to achieve anything she put her mind to, but it sometimes pushed her too far, physically, mentally and emotionally. She hated herself for wanting to quit and was afraid of herself for wanting to continue. Then she heard a voice outside her tent. It was another competitor, Joel Gat, asking her if she was ready to go back out.

Hell yes, she thought.

Neither Amelia nor her bewildered parents would sleep that night.

Her wetsuit and shoes had frozen solid, so she borrowed another wetsuit from Gat's girlfriend, and then slipped her own back over it. She opened her tent, took one last, longing glance at her sleeping bag, and went out, where too much water, her weary bones and her own frosted breath would accompany her for another lap.

A layer of mud coated the ground, intentionally camouflaging a minefield of holes that, if she stepped in one, could dunk her underwater. She ran to exhaustion, then jumped off a 25-foot platform, named Walk the Plank, and broke through ice into a lake.

She crawled like a bear under a 30-yard net thick enough to catch swordfish, then ran some more. She squirmed on her belly under live wires. She yanked herself up rope ladders, then ran even more. When she was too weak to climb them on her own, Gat tossed her over 10-foot walls. She was so cold, yet she was unable and unwilling to stop, even to pee. She later bought Gat's girlfriend a new wetsuit.

On the way, she lost a couple toenails. She vomited again and again, at least once on Gat. Blisters cratered her heels. Bruises smothered her arms and legs.

By dawn, volunteers abandoned the aid stations on the course to take care of the shivering hundreds who packed the medical tents. At the end, out of the approximately 1,000 athletes who started the race, marathoners and triathletes and climbers and accomplished weekend warriors looking for the ultimate challenge, only 10, including two women, did not quit. One was Boone. In 24 hours, she ran 50 miles and overcame every obstacle, completing five laps on a course that defeated 99 percent of the athletes who entered.

Many would probably call it a career after such an accomplishment. Some would run away screaming and vow never to try anything like that again.

Boone allowed it to change her life.

The race inspired her to work out for two hours every morning at CrossFit, chiseling her 5'9 frame into a machine incapable of betraying her. The next time she would climb the walls herself. After each new race, she decorated her office with orange headbands, death waivers, medals and other trinkets collected at events around the country. She immersed herself in the sport, just as surely as she had immersed herself in the muddy waters of that frozen pond.

When she visited her parents, they worried, again, about her being so black and blue. When Amelia appeared in the weddings of her friends, the brides gasped in horror at her mottled legs. Her hairdresser didn't know what to do with her long blond hair because she was either dragging it through dirty water, rolling it through mud or losing chunks of it in barbed wire.

She still had the looks of an American Doll, only now one that had been mauled by a golden retriever.

Today, her friends and family her look back at the 2011 World's Toughest Mudder as maybe the first crazy thing they remember her ever doing. The challenges and dangers of the sport both surprised and frightened them. But at the same time, the more they think about it, Boone's reaction to the sport and her devotion to it isn't surprising at all.

It makes perfect sense.

Dsc_0256-copy_medium

Dan and Irene Boone live in Lake Oswego, Ore., an hour from the mountains, for a reason: They like the laid-back, outdoorsy lifestyle. This alone makes them wonder where Amelia came from.

They were active and so was she. Dan spent hours with her practicing pitching in the backyard, but even as they exposed their daughter to athletics and competition, they quickly learned that they also had to emphasize balance in her life. Even as a young girl, Amelia took losing too hard, so hard, in fact, that her easygoing parents had a tough time relating to her.

Other kids on the soccer field seemed happy with the orange slices they received after the game, win or lose. Amelia, though, would brood in her room for hours after a loss. She loved the competition, as it drove her to excel, but it marked her too.

When she looks back today, Boone admits she was probably a little obsessive, and now she pokes fun at her competitiveness with her dry sense of humor. But as a child, she hadn't yet developed that kind of self-awareness.

Starting in the fifth grade, she learned to use music to calm her competitive fire, singing pop songs in the shower every night before she'd go to bed. Irene sang too, in church, and encouraged Amelia, providing her with piano lessons and playing music around the house. When Amelia reached high school, she started participating in show choirs and musicals and took opera lessons.

As music took on a greater role in her life and Boone grew weary of athletic competition, she slowly let it go. She quit soccer at the beginning of her junior year in high school, and upon graduation turned her back on a decorated career as a softball pitcher. As an undergrad at Washington University in St. Louis, she joined the a cappella group. No one thought of her as an athlete.

Singing and getting good grades somehow satisfied her competitive urge without inspiring the ugly side effects of losing. But she remained competitive. In law school at the University of Washington in Seattle, she started her day at sunrise, carpooling with friends to the gym.

"She would jump on the elliptical," said Skylee Robinson, one of Amelia's closest friends from law school, "and she would murder the shit out of it."

Boone was a terrific friend who listened and was a lot of fun to be around, and Robinson remains a close friend today. Robinson also realized that to be her friend she had to get past the fact that Boone also wanted to beat you in everything.

"Like getting drunk. She would find a way to do that better than you."

Dsc_0331-copy_medium

"If there was the tiniest modicum of competition to it, like folding laundry, she would find a way to excel in it," Robinson said. "Like getting drunk. She would find a way to do that better than you."

Boone graduated from law school in 2009 and joined Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom, one of the largest and most prestigious firms in the world, as a corporate bankruptcy attorney in Chicago. She dreamed about being another Perry Mason as a kid, but the performer in her learned to love the intricacies of bankruptcy.

"It's this choreographed dance," she said. "You have all these different constituents, and all of them are wanting to get paid. You have to work the code to satisfy all of them, and yet it's never the same."

At the same time, Amelia dabbled in running. She was more serious than a recreational runner, but not quite a competitive one, either. Despite struggling with stress fractures, in May 2011 she ran the Wisconsin Half Marathon, her only road race, in 1:32, a pace of 7-minute miles, good enough for 40th place out of more than 2,000. She was hoping to run the Chicago Marathon when her co-workers at the law firm goaded her into signing up for something called a Tough Mudder.

She liked her colleagues, and that's the biggest reason she was there on that summer day in 2011 for her first obstacle race at Devil's Head, a golf course and resort three hours from Chicago with hills steep enough to host mountain biking in the summer. On that day, as Boone looked over the course, the Tough Mudder turned it into a muddy playground where she was free to be somebody else.

It was love at first sight.

Boone knew nothing about obstacle racing at the time. The sport had existed for two years but was just starting to boom. Warrior Dash, a 5K that emphasizes fun, not competitive fire, hosted one event in 2009 and was successful enough that it went nationwide one year later. In 2010, it attracted more than 120,000 participants. Tough Mudder and Spartan, events that are tougher, longer and in some ways meaner than Warrior Dash, were established in 2010 and enjoyed similar growth even as each evolved around opposing philosophies. Tough Mudder isn't a timed race and emphasizes team building. Spartan, however, not only encourages competition, it pays the top finishers prize money, and organizers one day hope to make it an Olympic sport.

At Devil's Head, the hills reminded Boone how much she missed the mountain trails she ran while attending law school. Although she liked Chicago and called herself a city girl, living downtown, on the 15th floor of a 24-story condominium and working on the 32nd floor of a 46-story building, being surrounded by all that concrete did not feel like home.

Before the start, Boone recited the pledge Tough Mudder requires of all its participants, about how it's not a race, how you put teamwork before a time and how she would help her fellow mudders. Then she looked up at those hills and flew away from her co-workers.

Boone hadn't known she was looking for something when she started, but the challenge, the lure of competition, even in an untimed race, and the playful yet painful obstacles made her realize she had found it. She crossed the finish line happy and exhausted. The stress from the long hours she spent at Skadden was gone. She had a new outlet, a new sport and, though she didn't realize it yet, a new life.

She had a new outlet, a new sport and, though she didn't realize it yet, a new life.

She would not just enter the World's Toughest Mudder later that year, but embrace the entire burgeoning community, joining mud racing groups on Facebook.

A few months later Boone drove to the World's Toughest Mudder with two guys she'd gotten to know from one of the Facebook groups, guys she'd never actually met, to a house on the Jersey shore, where she stayed with more than a dozen other obstacle racers who she also had never met. Her friends back home told her that was a good way to end up raped and knifed in a ditch, but Amelia partied with her new friends, and then, the next day, they all went out to suffer together. Not much else bonds people together like alcohol and suffering.

When she came home, she was hooked and quickly stuffed her apartment full of the sport. Before a race, she would organize heat-gear tank tops and a half dozen pairs of shoes and boots and food and axes and compression tights and water bladders all over her carpet. She piled wetsuits in the corner and kept bottles of Vaseline, Aquaphor, Gold Bond and waterproof matches on shelves. She bought cases of chemical hand warmers, Clif Bars and 5-Hour Energy. Then she tossed all of it into a suitcase before a race, raising the eyebrows of more than one airport security officer.

When she returned, she would gather her gear in a pile and drive it to a self-service car wash, where she could hose off all the mud and slime and blood so she could do it all again. Her doorman became accustomed to seeing her wearing a backpack full of bricks so she could sneak in a little extra training during her walk to work. She even took the stairs to her office on the 30th floor.

She spent almost $10,000 that first year on travel, gear and other expenses, flying far more often than she ever did for work. The people she met at the first World's Toughest Mudder, and later other races, became some of her best friends.

Her older friends back home weren't surprised that Boone was so obsessed  that was who she was  but they were surprised she chose to be so obsessed at racing through mud and barbed wire and fire pits.

It was all so crazy, but looking back on it now, Boone loved it because it was crazy. By day, she was a risk-adverse associate in a law firm, but her new world was all about risk, from meeting strange guys and driving with them for hours just to be beaten up by a race, to spending thousands of dollars on gear and plane tickets.

It surprised her, too. But she wasn't crazy.

Love can do that to you.

Joe De Sena, the founder of Spartan, pauses and grunts during a phone interview about Amelia. "Sorry," he said. "I'm doing kettle bells right now."

De Sena really is that intense. He wrote a book, "Spartan Up," that preaches a way of life built around the sport. And before De Sena helped found Spartan, he helped design an extreme race called, without even a trace of irony, The Death Race, a race without a start time, or a finish line or any rules at all apart from the whims of the organizers. Those who enter are put through an ever-changing series of tasks so unpleasant and cruel that hardly anyone finishes. And since every race is different, competitors have no idea what to expect. De Sena likes it that way: The fear of the unknown is one of the toughest parts of the competition. If it were a prison, it would be declared unconstitutional.

So, of course, the race intrigued Amelia. The 2012 Winter Death Race was the first race she entered after finishing her first World's Toughest Mudder. She didn't think she could ever suffer at much as she did at World's Toughest Mudder, but she was wrong.

At the Death Race, held in early March in Pittsfield, Vt., Boone did 3,000 burpees or squat thrusts  yes, 3,000  ran more than 25 miles up and down a snow-covered mountain, chopped and stacked wood, did a couple full submersions in a frozen pond, carried snow and completed two Bikram yoga classes. On the third climb up the mountain, in the dark, she thought she saw a witch and screamed.

Since there was no finish line, she didn't know when she'd be done. The Death Race is supposed to last 24 hours, but, again, there are no rules. When Boone came off the third mountain loop, fully expecting to submerse herself into the lake again, De Sena said, "Congrats, you're finished," and gave her a plastic skull to commemorate her achievement. She'd been at it for more than 32 hours.

It sounds horrific, but in that race, her sick determination wasn't something to temper or channel, as she'd had to do most of her life. It was an asset. She bonded with her fellow racers in a way that she found hard to equal in the rest of her life. Only three months later, she entered another Death Race and eventually competed in four of them, finishing three, one of only a few racers to do so. In fact, De Sena believes Boone's the only female to finish three. You can almost hear the frustration, and the grudging admiration, in his voice when he says that.

"She's gritty," De Sena said.

Many consider Boone to be obstacle racing's breakout star, the face and body of the sport. Dsc_0060_copy_medium

Many consider Boone to be obstacle racing's breakout star, the face and body of the sport. De Sena compares her to Michael Jordan. Jordan, he said, was a superstar, and there's no doubt he helped the NBA reach a wider audience. He wants Spartan, the company he founded and continues to run, and obstacle racing to expand as well. This is why he flies Boone, and 19 other racers, a total of 10 women and 10 men, to competitions. "We find good athletes and we want them at our events," De Sena said. "We want to inspire others to be like them."

Amelia has made the podium at every Spartan race she's entered. She's beaten guys, including elite guys, and finished first overall at races. At the 2012 World's Toughest Mudder, on the same, wet and miserable course as the 2011 race (although it was warmer) she not only won the women's race, she finished second overall, 10 miles ahead of the next guy and even further ahead of some of the best obstacle racers in the world. The fact that she's well spoken, intelligent and, yes, good looking, said De Sena, adds to her appeal. She sells the product.

Boone isn't the fastest runner, though she's fast, and she's not the strongest, either, though she's strong. Skinny runners don't do well in obstacle racing, De Sena said.

Despite a questionable diet  her favorite food is ketchup, and she loves junk food, including ice cream and gummy worms  Boone's package of endurance, speed and power is envied by other elites. Her greatest advantage is her will, her almost masochistic willingness to suffer, something that makes her a favorite in almost every race she enters. "I think she's an animal," said TyAnn Clark, who has five Spartan wins herself and started as a marathoner. "She's totally the target."

She was the target, too, at the 2013 Spartan World Championships in Vermont on Sept. 21. She'd won most of the races she entered that year. This race, however, felt different. NBC was televising it, and Reebok put up $25,000 for the winner. It was in many ways obstacle racing's first taste of the big time.

Even though she was already a Toughest Mudder world champion, in all honesty, it was Boone's first taste at the big time, too. The only person who didn't see Boone as the favorite was Boone, and that was, more than anything, a feeble attempt to ease the pressure she put on herself.

It didn't work. It was, really, the first time she came into a big race as the one to beat, and her stomach rebelled against it. She was as nervous as she'd ever been in her life.

When the race started, Morgan Arritola, a Nordic skier who competed for the U.S. in the 2010 Winter Olympics in Vancouver, took off up the same mountain Boone had first faced in the Death Race. At first, that mountain, and the suffering it brought her, calmed her nerves because of the good memories from that first Death Race, and it reminded her of back home in Oregon and law school in Washington. Yet as she pursued Arritola, the mountain actually seemed to be a disadvantage. Boone couldn't keep up. As they crested the summit, Arritola had at least a 10-minute lead.

But as the race went on, through the tire drag and the mile-long, 60-pound sandbag carry and rope climb and wall scramble, Boone slowly gained on her. Boone practiced these specific events in her daily workouts at CrossFit, and at mile seven, she caught Arritola and never felt better. Yes, she had trouble with something she couldn't practice in Chicago, the spear throw  why couldn't it be a softball toss, Boone thought  but training for the other events made for a nearly perfect race.

Even all those years singing paid off: She sang "Thrift Shop" by Macklemore & Ryan Lewis, one of her favorites, throughout the race to take her mind off the pain.

She crossed the finish line of the daunting 14-mile course in 4:09:52, nearly 15 minutes ahead of the second-place female, Australian Spartan Champion Deanna Blegg, and just over a half-hour slower than men's champion Hobie Call.

The race solidified Boone's place as the dominant woman in the sport. It was proof that endurance and strength were just as important as speed.

She not only won $25,000 and was the sport's world champion, but Reebok offered to sponsor her.

But winning the title added more pressure to her profile. When her name was announced before each race, she wasn't just "Boone." She was "BOOOOOOONE!" She found, after seeking the spotlight her whole life, that sometimes it could be a little hot. And that's when the world of obstacle racing, more than the obstacles themselves, became, in many ways, tougher than a Death Race.

Dsc_0287-copy_medium

Boone hadn't even entered a Spartan race until the 2012 World Championship, where she finished second, because at first, she didn't want to be timed. Even for Boone, Spartan seemed too much about winning, and she remembered what competing in sports had done to her when she was younger. Why, she thought, would she want to invite that back into her life, into a sport that reminded her fondly of recess? The Death Race, with its plastic skulls as rewards for finishing, seemed to mock glory rather than encourage it.

It wasn't the winning and notoriety she enjoyed as much as what obstacle racing had unleashed in her.

She began to realize that it wasn't the winning and notoriety she enjoyed as much as what obstacle racing had unleashed in her. Boone, in her self-description on Twitter, calls herself "decidedly unfunny," but the sport made her feel quite the opposite  free and even a little goofy. At trips to Target to buy more Epsom salt to clean her wounds after a race, she purchased Nerf guns and would shoot them at bars of soap in her bathroom during a soak. Races felt like playtime, the kind you enjoy as a kid, but rarely indulge in as an adult. Boone often had no idea what was she was going to face in a race, and she didn't care.

"Perhaps I'm not as Type-A, control freak as I thought," she wrote on her blog. "Or perhaps adventure racing is teaching me how NOT to be like that. I'm growing. Growing as an athlete, growing as a professional, and growing as a person."

She didn't consider that there could be any downside to the sport it brought her not only fame and fortune, but most importantly, some fun  until after the world championships, when her calf began to holler at her.

What followed was, in her words, a "mysterious amalgam of injuries," one after the other, and all of them reminding her that there was a cost to all this. At times nerve pain stormed down her leg. At other times, her back seized up on flights. At still other times her shoulder burned. Doctors could never really tell her what was wrong, other than the fact that she leapt into a demanding sport that required things like crawling through mud and under barbed wire and over lots of 8-foot walls. It wasn't that she couldn't race. She couldn't even run. And at times, walking to the trains left her in tears.

In late October, just after the world title, she took what she hoped would be a few weeks off, but those few weeks stretched into a few months. She missed her morning workouts. She mourned the loss of her routine. She was no longer having any fun at all. This wasn't why she started racing in the mud.

All those injuries made her realize something: At first obstacle racing had simplified things for her, but competing and winning made her life more complex. She still loved the sport, but the obligations that entailed  photo shoots to satisfy sponsors, trips to faraway, kind of boring places and, the expectations to win, well, that took some of the joy out of it. Boone was already a complicated person who could be as puzzling as the obstacles she loved to solve. Now she not only had to figure out how to beat a course, but in order to continue, she had to start to figure out herself.

In late February, at a Spartan race in Tampa, Fla., Boone's first race since being injured, she said she missed the sport and was looking forward to it. Then she finished second and needed a couple days to get over it.

Boone cries. Not just a little, but a lot.

Dsc_0136-copy_medium

The fact is, obstacle racing is a sport, an increasingly organized sport, and sports are hard on her. Perhaps the best way to measure that comes at the end of every race. Boone cries. Not just a little, but a lot.

The tears that always come aren't happy ones. Even after she won the World's Toughest Mudder, or the Spartan world title a year later, she sobbed in the shower.

"It's all this emotion and stress, and it just all comes out," Boone said. "Your nerves are just so fried and just so frazzled."

Just imagine, Boone says with a chuckle, what would happen to her if she turned pro.

Reebok alone pays her enough to allow her to make a living, if she had a minimum-wage job to supplement it, she said. Even so, instead of earning money to pay off her law school loans and take trips to the Super Bowl, where she watched her Seahawks become world champions, she would have to win to put food on the table. The pressure would crush her. Besides, she makes almost 10 times as much as an attorney. Boone doesn't love the sport enough to give that up.

Yet the pressure to win is there, and at times, it's hard to say if that pressure is much different from what she would feel as a professional. She is the world champion. She is sponsored by Reebok. She is Amelia Boone.

"There are days when I long to be back to running just for fun, before money and sponsors became part of the equation," she said. "I'd love to go run a Spartan for just shits and giggles."

Joe De Sena praises the top Spartan racers as some of the best athletes in the world, and therefore, he believes their sport deserves to be in the Olympics. His goal is to make obstacle racing an Olympic sport by 2024, if not 2020. To do that, he needs people like Boone to give the sport credibility. Boone, after all, has already beaten Olympians.

Boone, however, isn't sure how long the obstacle racing craze will last. In the three years since it became her life, there have been an estimated 5,000 events and 10 million participants in more than 30 countries. The rapid growth is impressive, but also worrisome.

"They're going to have to keep evolving," she said, "because if you do one of these, unless you really love competing, you may be like, ‘OK, I've done it.'"

Boone also doesn't know how long she will last. De Sena believes Boone has five years left competing at a top level. Boone, however, believes other elite athletes like Clark now see a chance at stardom in the new sport. She, or someone like her, could very well defeat Boone at the 2014 Spartan Beast World Championships in September. She knows her time atop her sport will be short, and at some point expects to finish off the podium. Though she would never say it, in some ways that may be a relief. Yet, when she thinks about losing the world title, she shows how conflicted she remains.

"It will suck when that happens," she said. "It will really suck."

She's 31. She wants to have kids. She has a serious boyfriend. She remembers how she once preferred to sing. She doesn't know how long her body will hold up. She already feels the constant, nagging pains professional athletes deal with every year, and her sport doesn't have an offseason.

"Everyone here can forget about all the fucked up shit in their lives."

She doesn't even know how long her law firm will allow her the time she needs to travel to races, no matter how hard she works during the week. These are all the things she thinks of between races, and all the things she can't afford to think about when she starts a race.

Yet just like most of the thousands of people who compete in obstacle races, she's found a reason to keep going.

"There's this little microcosm here," she said, "where everyone here can forget about all the fucked up shit in their lives."

Dsc_0618-copy_medium

Two months later, in April, Boone waits for the start behind the line at the Gravel Pit in Vegas, with TyAnn Clark at her side, in search of some balance. Clark is now one of her biggest rivals, but the two laugh together like the good friends they are until the race starts. Just as quickly, when the announcer says go, it's obvious from the opening steps that this one isn't just for fun. Clark and Boone trade the lead with Rose Wetzel-Sinnett, who wears a rainbow tutu, from the opening mile.

Over the long stretches between the obstacles, Boone runs behind Clark. But when they reach an obstacle, Boone passes her. The obstacles include climbing a 20-foot rope above water, more scrambling over walls, flipping huge tires, rolling through mud under barbed wire, carrying a large pail full of rocks and lugging two bags of sand up and down hills. Clark is ripped, but she's smaller and therefore not as strong as Boone.

Wetzel-Sinnett settles for a comfortable third and a spot on the podium (she would later blame that on snagging her tutu on the barbed wire), but Clark and Boone battle back and forth until after the first sandbag carry, when Boone hoists it like a small sack of potatoes and bolts up the hill, building a lead that looks commanding. There isn't much left of the course, save for another sandbag carry, a wall traverse and jumping over a fire pit.

But first, there's the spear throw. And Spartan has a nasty rule: Skip or fail any obstacle and you have to do 30 burpees. And 30 burpees are not only exhausting, but also take the better part of a minute.

Boone knows she has to stick the spear, but CrossFit still doesn't offer a spear toss in its gym, and therefore, she can't find a way to practice it in the middle of Chicago.

Her toss glances off the straw man target.

"OH FUCK!" Boone screams and immediately drops to her knees. A volunteer starts counting, "1 ... 2 ..." Boone could do these all day, but then Clark jogs up, sticks her throw, and runs by with a smile on her face. She knows she's going to beat the world champion.

Boone gives Clark a hug at the finish.

Later that day, Boone reflects on her surprising career. She thinks about her first forays into the sport, such as her first World's Toughest Mudder, when she was only one of 10 people to finish a race out of 1,000, or her first Death Race three months later, when she suffered for 36 hours. Even then, when the sport meant nothing but fun and a plastic skull to put on a shelf in her office, she thought being sponsored to race in obstacle racing sounded terrific. So she remains grateful for what she's been given. This, and plans for a fun night out on the Vegas Strip, keep her from brooding too much about finishing in second place.

She seems to be learning to take what she can get. She may not be able just to race for shits and giggles, at least not until her star dims a bit. But the sport can still give her some time to play.

Moments before the end of the race, Boone jumped over the fire pit to cheers from the small crowd who gathered that April morning at the Gravel Pit near Vegas to get a glimpse of her. Her calf had cramped, and it was already clear she wasn't going to win, but, suspended in the air, she wore a goofy, wide smile, the biggest of anyone, as she floated over the fire. She found the time to savor a rare, carefree moment before the demands of gravity brought her back to Earth.

Dan England is the Adventure and Entertainment Editor for the Greeley Tribune, a position he's held for nearly 15 years, and a freelance writer. He has three young children, including twin girls, and a wife who puts up with all his running and mountaineering. He's also climbed all the 14ers in Colorado, though not in 10 days. Follow him on Twitter at @DanEngland.

Producer Chris Mottram | Editor Glenn Stout | Development Ramla Mahmood | Copy Editor Kevin Fixler | Photos Dan England

About the Author

Image

Dan England is the Adventure and Entertainment Editor for the Greeley Tribune, a position he's held for nearly 15 years, and a freelance writer. He has three young children, including twin girls, and a wife who puts up with all his running and mountaineering. He's also climbed all the 14ers in Colorado, though not in 10 days. He's also finished two obstacles races, including the Super Spartan in Vegas. Amelia Boone beat his time by an hour. Follow him on Twitter at @DanEngland.

X
Log In Sign Up

forgot?
Log In Sign Up

Please choose a new SB Nation username and password

As part of the new SB Nation launch, prior users will need to choose a permanent username, along with a new password.

Your username will be used to login to SB Nation going forward.

I already have a Vox Media account!

Verify Vox Media account

Please login to your Vox Media account. This account will be linked to your previously existing Eater account.

Please choose a new SB Nation username and password

As part of the new SB Nation launch, prior MT authors will need to choose a new username and password.

Your username will be used to login to SB Nation going forward.

Forgot password?

We'll email you a reset link.

If you signed up using a 3rd party account like Facebook or Twitter, please login with it instead.

Forgot password?

Try another email?

Almost done,

By becoming a registered user, you are also agreeing to our Terms and confirming that you have read our Privacy Policy.

Join SBNation.com

You must be a member of SBNation.com to participate.

We have our own Community Guidelines at SBNation.com. You should read them.

Join SBNation.com

You must be a member of SBNation.com to participate.

We have our own Community Guidelines at SBNation.com. You should read them.

Spinner.vc97ec6e

Authenticating

Great!

Choose an available username to complete sign up.

In order to provide our users with a better overall experience, we ask for more information from Facebook when using it to login so that we can learn more about our audience and provide you with the best possible experience. We do not store specific user data and the sharing of it is not required to login with Facebook.