It says a lot to me when a person is truly humble. Today I had the pleasure to interview Spartan Elite obstacle course racer and NSCA Certified Personal Trainer Heather Knowles Cammarata. I watched a video of her working out which was posted online last week. The intensity, focus, and determination while she was training amazed me. When I commented on her Facebook wall about how good the video was her response was simply, “Thank you, I’ll pass that along to the producer.” Humble indeed. I knew at that time I needed to do this interview to find out what motivates her to be one of the top athletes in obstacle course racing.
So Heather, How did you become involved in obstacle course racing? Did you have a background in athletics before racing?
I have always been athletic. In high school, way back when, I played soccer and fenced. When I finished college, I didn’t do any formal type of exercising for many years. I took up running in 1998 and ran my first Marathon in 2000. I heard about a mud run called the Warrior Dash, and it sounded fun. At that time I had your typical gym membership and took classes, but felt I should prepare myself a little bit more, so I bought a few personal training sessions to help me get ready for the race. Well, they did, and I was immediately hooked after the race. It made me feel like a kid again. What an awesome feeling!
What are some of your memorable races?
Let’s see one would be Spartan Race in Tuxedo NY in 2012. I signed up for the Hurricane Heat without knowing anyone going into it. I was so out of my comfort zone standing in a dark parking lot at 5 a.m. wondering what have I just gotten myself into. Because of that race, I met two amazing friends Angela and David Kalal. They took me under their wings and taught me techniques on how to conquer the 7 and 8 foot walls, traverse wall, and the Tyrolean traverse. We have become great friends and enjoy racing with them.
Another race would have to be the Leesburg, Virginia Super Spartan Race. Not sure if this was the first race that Team X-T.R.E.M.E. participated in, but it was the first time that I saw them as they entered the race site by skydiving in. What an amazing group of men and women! Especially Marine Cpl. Todd Love. Todd lost both legs and part of an arm fighting in Afghanistan. He completed this 10.5-mile course with the help of his team while wearing full gear including gas masks. If that doesn’t inspire you, I can’t imagine what would. I found tears welling up in my eyes as I watched this awesome group move through the course.
Is there one race that stands out the most? How come?
The 2013 Tuxedo NY Spartan Sprint on June 8th stands out most in my mind. It was the first time that I found myself standing on the podium in 3rd place at a Spartan Race. This was one of my goals for the 2013 season.
So what’s your favorite obstacle and why?
My favorite obstacle would have to be the spear throw. I kind of have a love/hate relationship with it. It is the one obstacle that seems to be the hardest for most people and when you “stick it” you can’t help but jump and scream and give the volunteer’s hi-fives. On the other hand, when you don’t make it, well it’s burpee time!
I see you’re a Dirt in your Skirt Ambassador. How does it feel working with Margaret Schlachter and the other ambassadors? How’d the training camp in upstate NY go this year?
Margaret is absolutely amazing! I watched her the past couple of years and have just been in awe of her. I was so honored that she picked me to be one of her ambassadors. I was able to meet a few of the other ambassadors at camp this past week and we all became friends very quickly. If I could, I would go back to camp today. I think we all created a nice bond with each other. The training camp was fantastic. Not only was it about exercising the body, but also it was also about clearing your head and having time to relax. How often do we get “downtime” in our every day lives? Well, we had some during the week and I feel that was just as valuable as the actual exercise sessions. Forest Call made an obstacle course for us to participate in. He did an amazing job! We ate some delicious food that Margaret and Forest made for us each day. Forest made some amazing bread for us during the week. We all came home with the recipe to try and make it ourselves. I think we all left there with some new foods to incorporate into our daily routines. I know kale was on many of the ladies shopping lists when they got home.
Currently you’re a personal trainer at ZS Fitness in Long Valley, NJ. How would you describe the types of workouts you provide for your clientele?
I try to tailor the workouts to meet my client’s needs and incorporate types of exercises that they enjoy doing. There is nothing worse than having someone do something that they absolutely hate to do when there are limitless varieties of exercises out there. I have some clients that love to sweat and do more functional type workouts and then there are the clients that just want to be able to feel more comfortable working out at the gym. You have to be able to listen and really understand what your clients are looking for.
On the topic of training, what’s your workout schedule look like?
My workout schedule usually consists of 3 days of functional training class along with running 4-5 times a week. I try and do at least one or two days of trail running and one day of hill repeats. Occasionally you will find me doing a traditional weight workout in the gym, but I really love being outside and using the “fun toys” like the tires which we flip up and down the hill, sled push and pulls, monkey bars, kettlebells, battle ropes, box jumps, and the rope climb.
You recently completed the NJ Trail Series Running with the Devil, which is an ultramarathon in New Jersey. Now we’re outside the realm of OCRs. What motivated you to do an ultramarathon? Any plans in the near future for more of them? If so, which ones interest you?
I signed up for the Running with the Devil Races because it was at the same venue as the New Jersey Super Spartan. What better way to train for a race than on the actual hills you will be climbing right! I thought this would be a good one to start with since the race was a 5k loop up and down the mountain so each lap you had access to all your gear instead of your typical ultras that start at one location and your are gone for hours on end. I came home the day after running this race and signed up for my next one. I will be doing the NJ Trail Series One Day 24/12/6 Hour Race plus Marathon and 50KM at the Sussex County Fairgrounds on Nov. 9/10. I will be doing the 24-hour race.
Do you have any tips on eating right for the readers?
When it comes to diet and eating right, I have always taken the side of everything in moderation. With that being said, “everything” does not include processed, prepackaged foods. I try and eat foods in their natural state, lots of fruits and veggies and protein. I do occasionally have desert or a chocolate bar or chips. I feel that if you deprive yourself totally of these things, it just makes you want them more and you end up binging. I drink lots of water and stay away from alcohol. I try and look at food as fuel for my body, each time I pick something up to put in your mouth, I can ask the question, is this going to help fuel me or slow me down? That seems to help me make the appropriate choice.
What are your thoughts about the future of OCRs. In what direction do you think the sport is headed?
I think that the sport of OCR is still in its infancy. It is still evolving and can go in many different directions. As the years pass, more and more OCR’s are popping up all over. Whether it be your larger races adding more venues to their schedules or local towns hosting their own races. The popularity of the sport is increasing every day. I tend to gravitate to the races that have more of a competitive side to them. There are some races out there that don’t give you a timing chip and the race is more about completing it and having fun with a group of people. I love the competitive nature of the Spartan Races and would love to see the sport become more mainstream. Could it one day be an Olympic sport? I don’t know the answer to that, but I am enjoying watching the sport evolve and look forward to seeing where it goes from here as I am one of the thousands of racers racing to the finish.
Do you have any last suggestions to someone looking to become involved with obstacle course racing?
The best thing that someone could do if they want to take on the challenge of their first OCR, would be to find someone that has done one. Even better yet, find a Spartan Street Team Member, and ask them as many questions as you can about the races. The more prepared you are, the better the experience will be. The Spartan website is a great place to pull information as well. You can watch videos of past races; you can sign up to receive a WOD (workout of the day) to help with training and getting you ready along with healthy food ideas (FOD).
Thank you Heather for taking the time out of your busy schedule to chat with me, and good luck with all your future endeavors!
Same thought process on the Running with the Devil race. Great article.