This entry is part 15 of 30 in the series Faces at the Races

Katie Purcell -- 1Name
Katie Purcell

Age
29

Lives
Connecticut (but soon to be Boston)

Occupation
Market researcher/Student

Favorite OCR series
So far Spartan Race, but there are many I want to try, including Bone Frog, BattleFrog, Goliathon, and I just heard about the Tandem Race, which sounds really fun!

Favorite obstacle
Z-wall. I also like the rope climb and I’m also starting to like the rig. It’s very love/hate but leaning towards the love side as I improve my grip strength!

Least favorite obstacle
Dunk wall and rolling mud. I know a lot of people race partly because they love the mud and getting down and dirty. For me, it’s about the test of physical strength and endurance and pushing myself physically. I’m not a fan of getting muddy just for the sake of getting dirty and calling it an obstacle, especially when thousands of other people are in there, too. No wonder people are always getting sick after races.

Ideal race distance
I haven’t tested this out in the elite wave yet, but I’m thinking the super MIGHT be my best distance

Favorite previous race venue
Easy — Fenway Park! I know, I know, it’s a stadium and those are “way easy,” but I love it. Stadium Races have a different feel than other Spartans due to their enclosed nature. No mud is a plus (see “least favorite obstacle” above), the music is piped in for the whole race, and it’s such a short distance. The combo of all three plus the jumbo screen that shows people during the race just lends itself to a totally unique atmosphere. I LOVE doing multiple “fun” laps with friends, which is something I’m not up for in a typical Spartan Race. It’s cool that the after-party shenanigans are so close by! Fenway was also my first race ever AND the first race that I ran elite, and Boston has always had a special piece of my heart, so for me this question is a no-brainer.

Katie Purcell -- 22016 OCR goals
To have fun! I am very competitive by nature (mostly with myself) so OCR is a positive and healthy outlet for that. As a result, I try not to be too competitive with it or focus too much on my results. My race buddy and I decided to try out elite this season and so far I am enjoying the challenge. I have 5 Spartan Trifectas on my calendar and I am SO excited that I will be racing at the OCRWC this fall! I couldn’t attend last year because my grad school apps were due around the same time and education has to come first. This year I am also wicked excited to have actually qualified for the Pro division, so I’ll be repping Team USA! Not sure how I squeaked by to qualify on that one but no complaints here! I figure if you qualify for a world championship YOU GO, and if you qualify to race in the Pro division, even if you think you’ll come in dead last, YOU GO. You give it your all because either way that is one hell of a story to tell!

Brief bio
I grew up in Connecticut, went to boarding school outside Boston for high school, entered/focused on recovery for my ED in college, found OCR, and started living that OCR life.

Social media
Instagram – @pretty_fierce_spartan

Why do you compete in OCR?
It gives me a healthy goal to pursue that surrounds me with positive, encouraging, supportive people. OCR forces me to live a healthy lifestyle, or I simply wouldn’t be able to compete and do the things I do. It has re-taught me to appreciate my body and value it for what it can do, rather than how it looks. I marvel at the progress I have made and feel proud of how far I have come, and recognize that I am indebted to the OCR community and all who have supported me along the way. I also feel inspired by so many of the people I’ve met and stories I have heard. People you would never expect to race or who could so easily have an excuse not to are breaking down barriers every day. Some of these people include Earl Granville, Lindsey Runk, Tim Morris, Jeremy Reid, and Neely Fortune.

Most of your race photos show you with face paint on. What’s the story behind that?
I’ve never pretended that the facepaint has any kind of special meaning or importance, so I guess I won’t start now! I have a silly self-conscious thing where I think one of my eyebrows is higher than the others in photos so I’m often critical of how my photos look. Knowing that there would be photos taken of me at the race that I couldn’t edit or do anything about, I suggested to my race buddy Kristi that we do facepaint.

Bonus: facepaint is fun and it gets you pumped up. It was a win-win situation. We tried a few different designs at different races and she came up with the one we wear now, which I love! The rest is history.

Your job as a market researcher sounds pretty interesting. Walk me through a typical day on the job for you.
It IS a very interesting job! I was a sociology major for my undergrad degree, which basically means I like studying groups of people and how they interact/what motivates them to do things/why they feel the way they do about certain things. This lends itself really well to market research. One thing I like at my firm is that we have a lot of varied clients in different industries, so the work never gets too boring. In the morning, I could be working on a project for Ben and Jerry’s. Say they have 18 ideas for new ice cream flavors and they want to know which three will reach the most consumers to maximize the chance that everyone will like at least one flavor. Or I could be working on something for McDonald’s. Say they’re thinking about a new burger idea and they have five potential names for it. They want to know which one people like best. Or I could be working on a project for Reebok to figure out who runs Spartan Races, why do they race, what race lengths are people running, and which is their favorite? Some of the stuff I have learned is really, really interesting, but my lips are sealed!

Katie Purcell -- 4Do you have a training group or coach? If so, how have they transformed you as an athlete?
I don’t have an official coach/trainer, but I do have a guy who taught me how to do Thai kickboxing. I’ve been working with him on and off for about 8 years now. I love the uniqueness of the sport and the empowering feeling it gives me. My coach has been there for me through thick and thin (no pun intended), and I truly appreciate and respect him. Another pseudo-trainer I have is my race buddy Kristi. She has been a fitness instructor for nearly a decade, and we do HIIT together as well as most of our races and other athletic pursuits, like rock climbing, hiking, etc. She is one of my best friends and has been an immensely positive and encouraging influence on me from day one. She is even the one who asked me if I wanted to do my first Spartan Race, so I credit her with giving me that first fitness goal to work towards that started this whole revolution for me.

You had a severe eating disorder growing up. How did it affect your life and how were you able to overcome that battle? Was there a turning point when you finally realized you needed to make a change?
It affected everything. I lost what could have been some of the most fun years of my life because I was preoccupied with how I looked and what I weighed. There were a LOT of plans that I cancelled on myself and on other people because I didn’t think I looked good enough. When I had something coming up that I was looking forward to (a party or a concert, for example) I would build it up in my mind and tell myself I could only go if I weighed “x” pounds. I would set a weight goal for myself. If I didn’t meet it, I wouldn’t go to the party and I would blame myself for not making my goal.

I did not make a lot of friends I could have made because what’s one of the first things you do when you get to know someone: meet for lunch, dinner, or drinks. I “couldn’t” do any of that and so I missed out. I didn’t do nearly as well in my studies as I would have if I had spent more time studying and less time on the treadmill. I didn’t care about being fit: I cared about walking on the treadmill until I had burned “x” number of calories so that I would feel like I did “okay” that day. There were a lot of things I couldn’t do physically that people take for granted. Even walking up a flight of stairs made me feel dizzy or like I was about to black out. It was scary and there were nights I fell asleep crying because I was afraid I wouldn’t wake up.

One of the most frustrating things the whole time was that a big part of me blamed myself. I felt like “there are people in the world with with REAL problems that they can’t control and here I am killing myself.” I hated that line of thinking. That was before I understood how serious and pervasive addiction is. When someone has a mental disease or disorder it is NOT THEIR FAULT. No one would choose to live this way, trust me. I knew deep down that no amount of weight lost would ever be enough, and I despaired in the lies that I told myself about how I would be “happy” if I just lost another five pounds. I could go on but I won’t. Basically it all came to a head when I had been in therapy for depression for about a year and realized that I just couldn’t do it anymore. I didn’t want to hide it anymore. I knew I needed help and was ready to take the first step and ask for it. I told my parents what was really going on and we started recovery together. Without their massive amount of support and love and understanding I never would have gotten as far as I have today.

Do you still struggle with self-image issues despite your weight gain success story? If not, how were you able to overcome that mindset and stay positive?
Sometimes it feels like I exchanged the unrealistic images of Victoria’s Secret models for unrealistic images of uber fit fitness models, which isn’t any more attainable for 99% of the population and therefore can be just as damaging. Moreover, the “fitspo” images we see are actually meant to portray health and fitness rather than just looking “good,” so it really confuses the issue of what “health” actually looks like. The reality is that “healthy” looks different on different people. You can’t necessarily look at someone from the outside and know what their level of health is or what they’re capable of.

As a woman, and especially as a woman with the history that I have, it can be very confusing to have all these conflicting images/ideals floating around. We are supposed to have “gainz” and be proud of them, but not supposed to get “too bulky” or “too manly.” We have to be #strong and #confident and #powerful but also #pretty and #feminine and #cute. Are 6-packs manly or is strong the new sexy? I’m not endorsing one view of the other. I am pointing out that it can be very confusing and just as damaging to announce #strongisthenewskinny without really examining what that even means.

So yes, intellectually I understand all these things and can navigate them from an academic standpoint, but that’s not too helpful when standing in front of a mirror and having emotions take over, as they so often do. I’m not ashamed to say that I’m vulnerable to self-criticism, but rather than BLAMING society or pointing fingers, I’m shining a spotlight on some of this stuff because it doesn’t need to be as pervasive and harmful as it is. Rather than whining about how unfair society is or how my feelings are hurt after seeing a photo, I’m drawing attention to the issue at-large. The more we recognize it and criticize it, the less power it has and the better armed the next generation will be to (deal with it). How about #healthyisthenewskinny?

So many girls struggle with body image issues. What advice do you have for women of all ages who think they “have to be skinny?
It’s not worth it. Take it from someone who knows, someone who has been to hell and back, and someone who has lived that truth. Re-read what I wrote about my experience. Feel free to reach out of you want any more details and, trust me, I’ve got journals full of them. Think hard about what is important to you and why. For me, I would never have been able to live the life I LOVE now if I had kept my goals the way they were before. It is worth weighing an extra “x” pounds to be healthy and truly LIVE your life and embrace all it has to offer. What’s on the outside is never going to fix what’s on the inside because confidence shines from the inside-out. Your worth is intrinsic, invaluable, and wholly undeniable.

Was there ever a time during your first race that you thought you couldn’t finish? Once you did finally cross that finish line, what thoughts were going on in your head?
Even if there were, Kristi wouldn’t have let me stop anyway! I think I was running on pure adrenaline and all those things I mentioned earlier. The awesome stadium atmosphere definitely helped (as well as the shorter mileage). When I crossed that finish line, it was the proudest moment of my life up until that point. Tears welled up in my eyes after I crossed the finish. Time stood still. I felt so proud of myself for doing something I never would have thought I would be able to do. Remember what I said about struggling to go up stairs? This was a stadium! I was also so grateful for all the work I had put into recovery and for all the people who had been there to support and push me when I needed it. I still had a long way to go (both in recovery and in the rest of my life to reach my goals), but I knew in that moment that something changed and I would never be the same. It sounds cliché, but it’s true.

What is the furthest distance you’ve traveled for a race (or are planning to attend)?
I’ve been pretty lucky travel-wise because we are spoiled here in the Northeast regarding race proximity. Bermuda was pretty far and I also went to Dallas for the Beast in October. This coming October I will be heading to Canada for OCRWC. I’d love to do some of the races in Europe in the future.

Katie Purcell -- 5Congrats on your 3rd place finish at the Bermuda Triple Challenge earlier this year. Can you explain what this race is for readers who might not be familiar with it?
It was awesome and I highly recommend it. It’s a much smaller race, primarily focused on fundraising and teams. There are 3 OCRs over the course of 3 days. Friday night is a 5k through the town of St. George’s, Saturday morning is a 5k (10k for elite) on the beach, and Sunday morning is a 5k in the Royal Naval Shipyard. Each race was so fun and unique. I loved how the obstacles incorporated the town/old buildings/parts of the dockyard like the ship lines. Running on the sand was HARD and I’ve definitely got work to do on that if (when!) I plan to go back in 2017.

I’m going to go out on a limb and guess that traveling to a tropical island played a major role in your decision to race there. What were some of your favorite memories in Bermuda, besides the race?
Definitely meeting new people. Going out there I only knew one fellow Spartan racer and by the end we had formed our own little family of Americans! I also met some really cool people out there who might be coming to some races later this year, which would be really fun. I also enjoyed meeting and speaking with the race directors, hearing their thoughts on the race/why they do it, etc. That’s not something you always have exposure to at a bigger race series.

Why did you decide to make completing five Trifectas your goal this year? What do you plan on doing with the medal?
My race participation has increased manifold year over year. I did one race (Fenway) my first year of racing. In my second year, I did two Stadiums and one Super. Last year Kristi and I decided to go for our first Trifecta. We ended up getting three, so this year I thought five sounded like a good number! I could likely do more without too much trouble, but honestly I just like the number 5 better than 6 or 7. My medals are all hanging up in my bedroom over my closet door so I’m sure that’s where it will end up.

Katie Purcell -- 3It’s pretty obvious that you’ve done quite a bit of traveling after looking at your results. What budgeting tips do you have for racers who want to travel more but don’t think they can afford it?
Network, network, network! Spartans are generally very friendly people, and lots of people traveling to races are in the same boat! It is not generally too difficult to find someone (or lots of someones) who are looking to split a hotel room, carpool, etc. to cut down on costs. It’s a great way to get to know other Spartans you might not have otherwise spent a lot of time with. However, I would recommend to always be CAREFUL when sharing a room or anything with someone you don’t know well. Safety first!

Where do you see yourself in ten years?
Well I don’t want to give too much of it away, but I have been lucky enough to grow up with my dad as a role model. He LOVES what he does for a living and ergo has instilled in me the firm belief that there’s no reason to settle for a job that is anything less. That being said, I am attending school to get an MBA with a specialization in entrepreneurship. I guess we’ll just have to wait and see what it is that I LOVE to do and how I can maneuver that into a fulfilling career!

What is the best part of attending obstacle course races? Is it the challenge of racing, meeting new people, helping others, or something else that drives you?
The community. One year ago I barely knew anyone (when I raced Citi Field alone I saw one person I knew in the whole day), and now it feels like my #OCRfam has been in my life forever! It is great spending time with people who have similar goals and are committed to living a healthy lifestyle. Many of us are very different in other ways, but if you meet a Spartan (or other OCR enthusiast) pretty much anywhere in the world, you’ve always got something to talk about, which is pretty cool. I love that while you’re hanging out with this unique and awesome community, you’re doing something really healthy and good for your body.

Do you follow any of the elite racers on the pro circuit? If so, who are your favorite racers and what did you think of them if you’ve met any of them in-person?
I don’t really follow anyone because, like I said, I don’t really pay too close attention to rankings and that more competitive part of racing. It’s just not my main focus. However, I’ve met a good number of them and have had really positive interactions. Brakken (Kraker) is nice, and Kevin (Donaghue) and I have several mutual friends, although we haven’t hung out much (yet!). I met Orla (Walsh) at Citizens Bank Park and she was very sweet and down to earth.

Give me a fact about yourself that would impress most people?
Impress people? How about some Katie trivia facts instead:
— I can speak French and Italian relatively well
— I almost always sing when I’m driving
— I LOVE to dance
— When was younger, I created an entire alphabet and used to keep a journal in that alphabet (I still know it!)
— Traveling is my favorite thing to do in the whole world and my favorite trip ever was when I went to China with my family.

Pretend you’re a race director for a day. Describe the course (including pre- and post-race festival areas, if you’d like).
Hmmm, this is a tough one. I would definitely vary up the obstacles a bit from Spartan’s standards and try out something new. The Rig would be in there and I love those little 4 ft. walls. It was fun in Bermuda when we ran in and out of buildings and through cars, so I would incorporate the surrounding venue into the obstacles. There also might be zip lines involved.

Is there anything else you’d like to mention (about OCR or life in general)?
Do what you love. Love what you do. Life’s too short to give it anything less than all you’ve got.

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