Calgary's Faye Stenning on top of the Spartan Race world

In just three years, Calgarian Faye Stenning went from being a Spartan Race rookie to the top ranked female competitor in the world — and second-ranked among all racers.

3 years after taking up the sport, Calgarian is the top ranked female

Faye Stenning carries a log during a Spartan Race, one of the many strength-based challenges competitors face over a 12- to 20-kilometre obstacle course. (Submitted by Faye Stenning)

In just three years, Calgarian Faye Stenning went from being a Spartan Race rookie to the top ranked female competitor in the world — along with being ranked second among all racers.

Involving running up hills while carrying logs or sandbags, throwing spears, jumping over fire and crawling under barbed wire, the Spartan Race is considered one of the toughest in the world.

A top middle distance and cross-country runner in high school, Stenning still holds the junior girls provincial record in the 3,000 metres, and was an all-Canadian in cross-country in her senior year at the University of Calgary.

In town for this weekend's five-kilometre, sprint style Calgary Spartan Race — shorter and easier than the 12 or 20 km versions Stenning does — Stenning stopped in to tell The Homestretch how she got into the sport and what motivates her to push her body to the limit.

Q: For people who may not know, what is a Spartan Race?

A: Spartan Racing is an obstacle course race and there's three distances, a five to eight [kilometre] one, an eight to 12 [kilometre] and a 21 [kilometre] plus. They call it a sprint, a super and a beast. They're running races but not on road, they're through trails and through the woods, up mountains, running through creeks, really cool, awesome, fun terrain. Then there's a bunch of kind of strength-based obstacles, heavy carries, a lot of grip strength obstacles, there's even a spear throw, a bunch of walls. It allows you to use your whole body.

Faye Stenning wades through chest-deep water during a Spartan Race. (Submitted by Faye Stenning)

Q: How did you get into this?

A: My boyfriend and I just did one for fun. I started racing them as a weekend thing for fun then it escalated from there. We started travelling to the [United] States doing bigger and bigger races, going to world championship races then I was getting noticed in the U.S. and I got signed on the pro team just this year.

Q: This all happened so quickly for you, your first race was the Red Deer Spartan in 2013?

A: It's totally a dream come true. I'm making enough money right now just from racing. I left my job for four months and I get to travel all over the States to some really, really cool places and compete for prize money.

Q: How big has Spartan Racing become?

A: It's become really big. We're having some of the top athletes in the world from various sports come compete. There's a lot of ex-Olympic nordic skiers, cross-country skiers, Lance Armstrong even did some obstacle course races in the States. They're televised and there's even a TV reality series on it so it's blown up big and I got into it at kind of the right time.

Faye Stenning climbs over a wall during a Spartan Race. The Calgarian is the top ranked female in the world in the gruelling competition. (Submitted by Faye Stenning)

Q: Some of it looks dangerous, you have to crawl under barbed wire. Have you ever seriously injured yourself?

A: Yeah, you get really scraped up and I'm starting to worry about that. I'm noticing a lot of scars on my body that aren't really going away so I'm putting bio oil and vitamin E oil all over my body before I got to bed. Before I was always on antibiotics because I would get infections but you learn how to take care of yourself and bandage up the cuts. They heal so it's not too, too bad, but definitely having some good gear, some good compression stuff to cover your body so you don't get too wrecked out there is important.

What's the worst injury you've had?

A: I have a shoulder injury right now, it got really bad. I actually have a cortisone shot in my shoulder so I don't feel any of the pain but it's still there.

Q: You have to do so many different kinds of activities in this sport, what kinds of training do you usually do?

A: There's your typical running, you've got your long runs and you've got your intervals, but we try to do running more on technical terrain so we go to Bragg Creek a lot and do a lot of trail running in Banff and Canmore, which is fun. A huge aspect to Spartan Racing is the heavy carries, so I have my own bucket and my own sandbag and me and my boyfriend are just taking the bucket and sandbag up any hill we can find in the city. I put 65 pounds in my bucket and my boyfriend puts 80 pounds in his. Another important aspect is grip strength, so you're kind of training a bit like American Ninja Warrior, you're hanging on the monkey bars and seeing how long you can hang and doing pull-ups and that sort of stuff too.

Having started in the sport just three years ago, Faye Stenning is now the top ranked female Spartan racer in the world. (Submitted by Faye Stenning)

Q: You're not competing this weekend but you've got other stuff happening in the States. What's next for you?

A: I'm competing in the U.S. Spartan Championship Series, which are the big races televised by NBC Sports. There's six in that series, so the end of the month will be the fifth race, which is Colorado. Then the last race will be in Lake Tahoe, which is the world championships. That'll be awesome because a lot of Calgarians will come down and a lot of the Canadians will be there. It's been sad missing out on some of the Canadian races this year to focus on the U.S. Championship Series but in Tahoe we'll all come together and get to be a Canadian team so that will be fun.

Q: Your contract requires you to be on television in the States quite a bit, are you finding you're being recognized when you're out and about?

A: Yeah. it's pretty cool. I was just in North Carolina for a race last weekend and I'm walking through the town and had little girls coming up to me saying they saw me on TV and their parents are like, 'Can we get a picture with our daughter? You're her superstar.' I'm just shocked the amount of people that know my name in the States and know who I am and have seen my on TV is really cool. I just hope to keep inspiring people to do these races, even if you're not trying to do them competitively, do them in the open heat, it's just a fun way to challenge your body. People get bored of going to the gym and doing the same workout so this is a fun way to switch it up.

With files from The Homestretch