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Podcast No. 56: Rebecca Hammond, Spartan Pro Team Athlete

January 14, 2020

My guest today is Rebecca Hammond, one of the world’s top athletes in the sport of obstacle course racing.

By Will Ahmed

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I spoke with Rebecca just prior to competing at the 2019 Spartan World Championships, where she would go on to finish 4th. Rebecca has experienced a remarkable ascension into the upper-echelon of OCR, despite taking it up only two years ago. On top of that, she’s also a Fulbright Scholar and a recent graduate of Harvard Medical School.

Rebecca and I discuss her mindset before a race, and how WHOOP has modified her approach to training and helped her reach the highest level of her sport. We also go deep into how sleep impacts her performance, as well as the steps she takes to sleep better and boost her recoveries prior to competition.

Show Notes:

2:41 – Why Obstacle Course Racing? “I took a break from running during med school and started rock-climbing and did a little bit of CrossFit, then I tried OCR and realized it was a perfect combination of everything that I like.”

2:56 – What is OCR? “It’s basically like running, but with breaks to do monkey bars and pick up heavy things. … There’s different distances, different styles. Spartan, for example, tends to be more of a trail-run, mountain-run, with hard strong-man obstacles like carrying heavy stuff, plus some monkey bars. Whereas the Europeans tend to have a more technical race obstacle-wise and the courses tend to be flatter. There’s a lot of variety.”

4:57 – Morning Routine. “I wake up in the morning, the first thing I do is I sit up so I don’t lay back down and then I get out of my bed and make my bed so that I feel more awake … and then I put on my running clothes because if I don’t get completely ready to go out and work out after eating breakfast I become lazy.”

5:55 – Modifying Workout Habits. “WHOOP was super helpful for me, especially last year, my first season in OCR. I used the recovery score every day to dictate my workout. I had a list of workouts that I was supposed to get done in a week and then I would distribute them based on what my recovery was on that day. And sometimes if my recovery was too low I would have to change that week’s schedule, but basically it dictated when I had my long and hard cardio workouts.”

6:44 – Getting Out of a Recovery Rut when her body is run down. “It’s sleep … one good night’s sleep isn’t enough necessarily, but if I sleep at the same time and for long enough for multiple nights in a row that tends to help increase my heart rate variability.”

7:33 – Nutrition. “I’m not into restricting anything really, except I try to eat a lot of vegetables, keep my grains whole, and eat lean meats.”

7:55 – Does She Nap? “Sometimes, lately I’ve been getting enough sleep pretty regularly so I haven’t needed to.”

9:07 – Sharing WHOOP Data with Coach. “My WHOOP data has actually been playing along nicely [with the training schedule set by her coach in the weeks leading up to the world championships].”

10:37 – Body Type for OCR? “For females the weights aren’t too bad so you want to be pretty light, it pretty much is an endurance athlete sport.”

11:43 – Recovery from Achilles Injury. “I had to shut it down for a month … it was tough. I was in some dark places.”

12:47 – Optimizing Sleep. “I’m not always perfect about this but when I get my best sleep I shut down the phone or I put down the phone and stop going on social media, etc. over an hour before … Then I’ll read for probably about an hour before I go to bed.”

13:20 – What Does She Read? Right now a book about trees? “The Overstory by Richard Powers. … I pretty much only read fiction. I get too amped with non-fiction, I start thinking about stuff and I want to take notes.”

14:19 – Ambien & Pre-Bed Supplements. “I take a supplement by EndurElite called SleepElite. … Sometimes I take Ambien, sometimes I take Benadryl, because that makes me really sleepy and that makes me sleep for like 14 hours, I get so tired. The quality of the sleep seems fine. For me it’s really sleep initiation that’s affected.”

16:53 – Pre-Race Mindset. “Don’t burn yourself out (on hills). … I don’t want to get my muscles down to an oxygenation of zero and just crash. I have to make sure I’m warming up into it and letting them achieve a good, steady state.”

18:21 – Obstacles on the World Championship Course. “They don’t release the course until a couple days before usually. … They might cancel the water obstacles this year because it’s so cold. The dunk wall, for example, will be frozen.”

20:18 – Racing Gear. “You can bring as much as you want as long as you carry it the whole time, you can’t drop anything on the course. … I do bring a little pouch to put energy gels in.”

20:56 – Spear Throw. “You only have one shot, and if you fail you have to do 30 burpees.”

25:25 – Race Strategy & Awareness of Competitors. “There’s times on the course when you might see people. Sometimes the course doubles back on itself, sometimes there’s an obstacle that takes a long time so as you’re finishing it you see the other person coming in and you know how far behind they are. Then sometimes you have no idea and you’re in no-man’s land. … You have got to keep your cool when you’re running by yourself.”

26:58 – Living by ‘I Can Only Do My Best’ Mantra. “It’s something I have trouble with, that’s why it’s my mantra.”

27:11 – Role of Visualization. “Visualizing myself going through the obstacles smoothly and gracefully and quickly and not dwelling on them can help to calm me down when I’m feeling nervous [in the days leading up to a race]… it turns my nervous energy into a focus and pumped energy.” Fighter pilot Ate Chuet said the same thing about nervousness before flying.

29:29 – Pain, Exhaustion & Euphoria. “There’s nothing like finishing one of these races. You’re so euphoric. But tired too. … Sometimes I’m not sore at all, sometimes I feel like a tractor ran over me. It depends on the course.”

30:24 – Recovery Hack: Car Buffer to Massage Yourself. “You can just use [a car buffer] as a massage tool. The equivalent that’s made for humans is like $280 … it’s a fraction of the cost.” She does it every day.

32:44 – Lowest WHOOP Recovery. “I’ve gotten an 18% a couple of times.” Will notes this is a “high low” for someone’s worst recovery, and they discuss why.

35:02 – Find Rebecca on Instagram @becchamm

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Will Ahmed

Will Ahmed is the Founder and CEO of WHOOP, which has developed next generation wearable technology for optimizing human performance and health. WHOOP members include professional athletes, Fortune 500 CEOs, fitness enthusiasts, military personnel, frontline workers and a broad range of people looking to improve their performance. WHOOP has raised more than $400 million from top investors and is valued at $3.6 billion, making it the most valuable standalone wearables company in the world. Ahmed has recruited an active advisory board that consists of some of the world’s most notable cardiologists, technologists, marketers, and designers. Ahmed was recently named to the 2021 Sports Business Journal 40 under 40 list as well as 2020 Fortune 40 Under 40 Healthcare list and previously named to Forbes 30 Under 30 and Boston Business Journal’s 40 Under 40. Ahmed founded WHOOP as a student at Harvard, where he captained the Men’s Varsity Squash Team and graduated with an A.B. in government.