From ancient Greek history to cinematic hunk-fests like Zack Snyder’s film 300, the Spartans have often been held up as a gold standard for male fitness, determination and endurance. How appropriate then that one of Canada’s most grueling athletic events is called the Spartan Race. And how utterly fabulous that one of the most exciting competitors is a woman.
Allison Tai has not only competed in the Spartan races, she’s won several of them. And just to be clear, this isn’t some breezy sprint on a nice flat track — no, this a series of obstacle courses, climbing, crawling and running that may seem impossible to anyone not born a natural athlete.
But Tai’s story shows that anything is possible.
“I wasn’t a very active child,” Tai says. “I never participated in sports. I was actually kind of scrawny and little and slow. I basically got into fitness fairly late in life when I started running to lose weight in my 20s.”
So what advice would Tai give to your average ’mo, stressing about going shirtless at this year’s Pride?
“I tell people that you need to start by giving that time and attention to just walking, and building it more into a lifestyle. Then add in short bursts of jogging and endurance. It doesn’t take long before you’re running.”
Tai’s specialty is endurance running. During her first year she won the Timex Athletics Alberta Series, before moving on to the cheerfully named Canadian Death Race. Normally run as a relay race, Tai accomplished this 125km grind across two mountains solo. It was the start of a passion that has lasted nearly 15 years — a passion that would be tested almost before it had really begun.
It was 2006, and Tai was out for a sunny bike ride, having placed second in the Ironman Canada just two weeks before. She was cruising at highway speeds when a truck rear-ended her.
“I broke my back, my pelvis and my arm. And the arm was a compound fracture, so the bone was actually coming out of it. I was left with a 25.5 percent disability rating. It was bad.”
It was also a challenge. Tai embraced her physiotherapy, and began running as soon as she was able. It wasn’t long before this warrior was back in competition, running Spartan Races and any other challenges she can find.
“It’s really interesting,” she chuckles. “Basically they put all the obstacles on steroids and you run around for 24 hours. There’s a 35 foot cliff jump, cable from chains to traverse across, and you wear a wetsuit because you’re in and out of water at all times.”
It does sound impossible, doesn’t it? But Tai’s message is that if she can run the Spartan Race after receiving such horrific injuries, then anyone can.
“It is absolutely something that somebody who knows nothing about this can do,” she says. “There’s an amazing sense of camaraderie, and people will always lend a hand. You get an amazing sense of what’s actually possible when people work together.”
The next Spartan races are the Sprint Canada series, taking place in both Vancouver and Quebec City on Saturday, June 4, 2016.