I always get excited at the opportunity to learn about new people within the OCR community. I first heard about Ami Sawran on the Dirt in Your Skirt Podcast. She is quite the interesting lady – she is well-known on air personality for the popular Mudstacle – Obstacle Racing Website, and a vet by trade. With this article series, I continually look for stories of the strong, determined and unique women within our community, and Ami is no exception. She doesn’t see herself as bad ass, yet this woman participates in OCR events while living with chronic fatigue every day, which cannot be easy. I applaud Ami for being so open and honest about her struggles and the fact that although she has a chronic illness, she isn’t a victim of her circumstances.
Tell us a bit about yourself.
Well, hi! I don’t really have a particularly impressive sporting background; I used to dabble in everything through school and university, but unfortunately, the nature of my job meant that a lot of it fell by the wayside. I went from playing netball, football, doing athletics and playing badminton to doing not a lot, apart from grabbing the occasional snowboarding holiday.
I discovered OCR when I was doing my PhD in London, and it’s only through OCR that I really started to make time for sports again. Right now I’m enjoying bouldering and getting back into watersports.
I’m a veterinarian, and I mainly work with farm animals. It takes up a LOT of time and energy and I spend the vast majority of my time with flecks of poop on my face, but when I’m not doing that, I work for Mudstacle and go on little adventures with my little dog, Remy.
Tell us a bit about Mudstacle.
Mudstacle is the hub of obstacle racing information in the UK and I guess now we are spreading internationally. We’re a merry band of people, who go to races dressed in yellow and have the absolute best time. We have a competitive team, The Mudstacle Machines, that are doing really well, and we have loads of excellent people who run in our colours in all sorts of events, not just OCR.
Our website is a great resource for learning about races, obstacle technique and kit, but also highlights pertinent issues in OCR. We do spotlights on races, recap competitive events and try to bring more people into the sport. The boys are incredible videographers too, and they’re constantly surpassing themselves with the content we’re featuring.
We run membership to a UK league and hand out prizes for that each season, and we also offer race insurance to our members. It’s probably the first place you should go if you want to know anything about OCR in the UK. But mostly, it’s a community. I truly love it.
Through my research, I have discovered that you are a Mudstacle Media personality. Please share the story with us on how you came into this role.
Oooh, a personality! I feel really lucky to have been asked to become part of Mudstacle. I’ve always loved their ethos, and was lucky enough to get some opportunities to jump into fun laps with them. I loved every second. As I got to know the guys in charge, they gave me the chance to present Mudstacle TV and work on some race promo videos. I think they realized that I was fairly comfortable on camera (read: I love attention), and they liked having a female presence on board. You have to be super quick off the mark and nail your takes in race situations because sometimes we only get one shot, and I rather liked the pressure of it all, and the satisfaction when it all came together.
It wasn’t long before they invited me into HQ, and now I get to help make decisions as to how the community is run. I love it, and it’s opened up a whole new world to me. It’s been especially good to be able to keep my hand in OCR when I’ve been unable to race due to illness.
Long story short, I think I was in with a good crowd at the right time, and they had enough faith in me to give me a shot. I’ll forever be grateful to the guys for that.
I understand that you primarily OCR (obstacle course race) in the UK. Tell us about your favorite event/venue.
I couldn’t say that I had one particular favorite race, as so many have their own merits, but I’ll always have a soft spot for Men’s Health Survival of the Fittest at Wembley, because that was my first ever OCR. I remember being unable to move properly for days after that first 10k, and it makes me laugh to think that I do these races now without even thinking twice. Now that it’s moved to a summer slot, it’s an even better day out.
As a venue, I think most of us in the UK have a spot for Pippingford Park. It’s a really dynamic and interesting place, with new parts of wicked terrain always being brought into races in new ways. It hasn’t got any permanent obstacles, so races there are always just what the directors make of them. Some, like Judgement Day, know it like the back of their hand and use all of the natural elements to their advantage – that’s what I love about OCR. It can make a space really come alive.
What is the most challenging race / OCR that you have done to date? Why did you find it challenging?
I think my reasons for races being challenging are different to most, because I have chronic fatigue syndrome. It’s a ridiculous condition, which can lead to rather crippling depression and demotivation, so that means a race that I love and am looking forward to could suddenly turn into a herculean task. Therefore, some of the races I’ve found the most challenging have been the ones in which I was in quite a bad place and shouldn’t really have been racing. The first UK Championships is probably a good example of this; not a bad race, but I was a mess. Similarly with the last Tough Guy this year. I ploughed on due to stubbornness, but I shouldn’t have run – I was absolutely crushed by my CFS at the time, and it was not fun as a result.
A challenging race that has given me a great sense of achievement lately was Toughest in Amsterdam; I was recovering from a particularly horrible flare up of CFS, and I had put on weight, lost strength and was terrified I would hold everyone back. Happily, I completed almost every obstacle, which made me feel so much happier. Don’t get me wrong, I was going at sloth pace, but I truly thought I was going to flunk out, and I surpassed me own expectations. It just goes to show that everyone is running their own race – I don’t think many would have called Toughest Amsterdam that hard, but for me, that day, it was my Everest.
If money was no object what is the one bucket list OCR / race / Run that you would go do?
I’d probably go straight back to Hawaii and run the Spartan Trifecta again! I did it last year and it was truly one of the most majestic venues and incredible race experiences of my life. If I had to go somewhere new, I’d love to check out what Australia and South Africa have to offer. Gun to my head, I’d go do a Warrior Race, I think.
Is there a challenge or race that you won't do?
There actually is, and it’s any race involving people role-playing Zombies. I could absolutely not handle doing an OCR with even a fake zombie chasing me, because I know I’d take it FAR too seriously or even literally, and I have a genuine fear that I’d hurt somebody. I can’t even explain it, because this is probably the dumbest reason for not doing a race, but I couldn’t be trusted not to kick a zombie in the head, and I’m pretty sure that’s frowned upon.
What is the one thing that helps keep you motivated during a tough training cycle?
Again, a ‘tough’ training cycle for me is certainly nothing like you’re going to see from someone I consider a real athlete. I used to do well in low-key races when I first started out, but OCR has evolved, and I have unfortunately got sicker. So, a tough training cycle for me could quite honestly be trying to get out running more than once a week. That’s CFS for you. The one thing that keeps me motivated to get as fit as I can is the thought that if I can keep up, stay strong and get faster, it will allow me to see and keep up with my friends at the weekend. I’ve had to bail from a few races this year through illness, and it’s not missing the race that kills me, it’s missing out on the social side of OCR.
When someone comes up to you and tells you that you have inspired them, what crosses your mind?
I sometimes wonder if they’ve got the right person! But weirdly, this has happened and it’s humbling and wonderful. I’ve been a big advocate of positive body image and acknowledgement of your own personal achievements through my blog, thisgirldid.com, and I’ve had some positive feedback from women who felt motivated and inspired by that. To be honest, it spurs on my own personal development, because I think if I can catalyze a change in someone else, I should be able to motivate myself more effectively and set a good example.
What also crosses my mind after I stop being bashful, is that it’s so great we give positive feedback to people that have touched our lives in some way. I think letting people know that they’ve brought something to the table is super easy to do, and it’s a small kindness that can really make someone’s day. It definitely makes mine.
You have been doing OCR events for a while. Is there still an obstacle that you are still struggling with?
I am laughably terrible at Irish Tables. My core is atrocious. I just flail around like a drunk baby.
Do you have a funny on course race or race build story you want to share?
Basically, any of our Mudstacle fun lap videos will show you that almost every race we do together is funny. We did a great one recently, introducing Tom from Mudstacle’s lovely girlfriend Tillie, to racing. She wore road shoes and fell over about every ten seconds. It was hysterical, but looking back on it, probably a bit cruel that we laughed about it so much!
I sometimes take my dog on course with me. It seemed totally normal at the time to be floating across a lake on an inflatable banana with my dog sitting on my back, but it’s retrospectively hilarious.
What’s one little-known fact about you?
One time, I accidentally super glued myself to a live pig.
Is there anything else you wish to share?
My bewilderment and my delight at being asked to do this article! No, really, I am not one of your standard OCR babes. I’m not the strongest, the fastest, the fittest or the leanest. I’m not a ‘one to watch’, or even a decent race contender. I’m so grateful that you asked me to do this because I am a startlingly ordinary person. I just have a totally rubbish condition but have been offered a way to stay involved with OCR when my energy is simply too low to run around on a course. I’m lucky that I love presenting Mudstacle TV so much that it doesn’t feel like work. And I’m really so grateful to have been asked to do this and want to make sure that anyone with CFS/ME knows that you can, in some way, claw back some of your sense of self with a little help from the right people and with some patience. It sucks, but you can get there. And if you have this problem, you can totally talk about it with me if you want.
What are your upcoming OCR / race or other goals you wish to share?
Right now, after coming off that big flare up, I’m just trying to get to the gym, run and strength train. I only have aspirations for fun laps at events this year, because I’m in no fit state to run competitively. In my dreams, I’m well enough to compete in age category again at OCRWC 2018, and maybe even slot in a destination race… possibly in the USA if you’ll have me!
Any plans to travel abroad to the US or Canada to race?
I’ll be back at Blue Mountain for OCRWC, but only as media, as we’ll be too busy (and I’m too lazy) to compete. Though I’m tempted to jump on a journeyman short course or the Make A Wish run. I can’t imagine going all that way and not playing on the obstacles.
After that, who knows? There are a TONNE of US/Canadian races that I would love to get to, but until they start paying vets decent wages, they might have to wait until I win the lottery!
If someone wants to reach out to you on social media where can they find you?
She can also be found easily through any of Mudstacle’s channels.