Last week I had the pleasure of chatting with OCR athlete Erica Vernon, who I first noticed through kickass training routines she shares on her Instagram page. In this interview, Erica goes into more detail on her training regime and nutrition, sharing plenty of useful advice. If you’re a female OCR athlete working on your upper-body strength, you’ll want to hear Erica’s story so let’s dig right in…
To start with, could you introduce yourself to our readers?
My name is Erica Vernon and I am a young woman from the south. I have a crazy personality and big heart. I love OCR and everything it stands for. I may not be the fastest one out there, but I work my tail off to get better and better everyday. Most importantly, I am a Christian and living for God is my number one priority. God has given me the ability to race and through these abilities I hope to spread his love every time I am on the course.
I race because there was a point in my life when I had given up.
You just ran your first Spartan races of the season. How was racing after the winter hiatus?
Man, racing after a half year break was tough. I trained throughout the winter break but there were still a lot of areas I was weak in. It showed what I needed to focus on more to get ready for upcoming races. Also, it sparked that fire back in me to get out there and kick some tail! That first race always starts you back up and gets you pumped up.
Do you have a pre-race ritual or a mantra that keeps you achieving these amazing results?
Before every race I stretch, listen to music, and just mentally prepare myself. Also, I run all over the festival areas like a fool talking with people because I am normally super hyped and excited to start.
I noticed you use a lot of awesome upper-body-strengthening gear in training, like sandbags. What are your go-to exercises for strengthening the upper body and preparing it for rope climbs, monkey bars, and so on?
My husband actually built me a climbing wall with a rope climb on it in our backyard. I practice climbing and jumping it as often as I can to prepare for the upper-body-strength obstacles.
I LOVE my sandbags and gripslings. My favorite exercises with them are creating my own hercules hoist and doing pull ups. I can attach my gripslings to almost anything and strap my Man Bag (sandbag) to my waist and do weighted pull-ups and weighted dips.
I also love doing dead hangs to work on my grip strength. They are tough but very beneficial.
Finally, I cannot say enough good things about kettlebells! They are the best overall workout tool I have come across to date. They work grip strength and get your heart rate going nonstop. I love them.
I usually go to the gym on my lunch breaks from work and do a “lighter” version of the muscle group I worked the night before to really stretch it out and help it recover.
What’s your running regime – e.g. do you focus on building speed or endurance?
I have a love/hate relationship with running. Some days I feel like I am flying and other days I feel like I’m moving one mile per hour. I mostly focus on endurance running to build up my stamina and strength for the longer OCRs, but a couple times a week I will throw in some speed running as well to mix it up. I love doing sprints because they work my body in a different way and make me push myself harder. My heart rate goes up and I love that feeling. Overall, I mostly focus on endurance though. I want to work myself to a marathon in the future and that is going to take tonnes of practice.
What about recovery? Do you have a specific routine for that?
For recovery I typically walk and stretch. There isn’t really anything specific that I do besides drinking an Oral IV with my water. That definitely helps with cramping and muscle tightness. I usually go to the gym on my lunch breaks from work and do a “lighter” version of the muscle group I worked the night before to really stretch it out and help it recover. So far that has worked out pretty good. I am also really interested in foam rolling and am wanting to try it out pretty soon for recovery.
Eesh – foam rolling is a toughie!
Moving onto nutrition – what do you usually eat on training days?
Nutrition is the hardest part for me. It is so hard for me to avoid grabbing a greasy cheeseburger or tacos so I try my best to always have food prepared. I usually meal prep for the week ahead on Sunday afternoons.
My go-to meals for training days are:
Breakfast: Eggs with some egg whites, turkey bacon or ham, strawberries and bananas
Lunch: Grilled chicken, broccoli, asparagus, and yogurt
Dinner: Grilled chicken or Steak, sweet potato, squash and beans
Those are the most common meals I eat. They are all low carb and full of protein to help me shed those few extra pounds and lean out. I also drink a ton of protein smoothies and eat my own homemade protein bars. I also drink at least one gallon of water every single day. I may go to the bathroom a lot, but my energy and hydration is a million times better because of it.
Do you have any specific nutrition-related trick which has been a gamechanger for you?
The whole week before a race I eat low carb and high protein. I also drink more water than I normally do, more than my one gallon. This helps me lean out and gives me a ton of energy for the race.
Speaking of gamechangers, what’s your OCR story? Why do you race?
I race because there was a point in my life when I had given up. I let myself go like many people do. I gained a ton of weight and let life’s stresses get the best of me. I decided one day to make a change for the better and have been pushing myself every since.
I race because it is easier not to. It is easier to just sit down and let life pass you by. I also love the OCR community and what it has done for me. Racing has absolutely changed my life for the better and taught me things about myself that I never knew. I have been so blessed to have the opportunities that I have been given and I cannot express how thankful I am. Racing also brought me closer to my husband. We started our racing journey together and it has been absolutely amazing. Racing with him is something that I will cherish forever.
Your go-to pre-race snack: Nature Valley Peanut Butter Bar (those things are delicious)
Battle anthem/song to help you perform better: Monster by Skillet
A book that made you a better athlete: Spartan Up! By Joe De Sena
Your favorite exercise: Squats. I love working the glutes!
What GRIT means to you: Grit means pushing for your best and then pushing past it! Work hard to accomplish your goals. Grit means never settling again and not letting yourself go backwards. Keep pushing forward and achieve what you want! Philippians 3:14 – I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.
Lastly, where can people find you online or get in touch with you?
Facebook: Erica Vernon