I would like to introduce you all to Nicole Fleming, a 45-year-old OCR Bad Ass who currently resides in Southern Missouri. Her journey into the world of OCR was similar to many others (a friend needed someone to run with as their friend bailed on them). Nicole went into the event expecting cutthroat competition but instead fell in love with the camaraderie and the feeling of community. Like many others, after her first OCR event, she was hooked. Unfortunately, she was sidelined with Lupus for 2 years (a very crippling autoimmune disease). I wanted to share her story with you all, as she is someone that has gone through a rather devastating illness, and has fought her way back to health. Her story is inspiring, and I hope somewhere, she can inspire others to not give up and keep fighting.
Please tell us a bit about yourself.
My name is Nicole Fleming and even though I’m over-the-hill at 45-years-of-age, I’m thriving in the OCR and trail running world more than I ever have! I live in southern Missouri, have a 21-year-old daughter and even though I was married for 17 years, I got divorced at the ripe ol’ age of 40. That was kind of scary. But no regrets. I’ve been self-employed as a personal trainer, massage therapist (this keeps me the busiest) and health coach for just over a decade. I lived in Vermont for 15 years, but have been back in the southern Missouri area for about 7 years now. I mentor a trail running group for our local Fleet Feet store here in Springfield and am part of the Springfield Brewing Company’s athletic team.
Just in the past 3 years have I got back into training and competing because I had Lupus for 2 years. It was crippling. It’s an autoimmune disease that made me so achy and lethargic I would have a hard time just getting up off the couch and walking around the living room. I had such a hot, itchy, puffy rash on my face, neck, chest and arms that I looked like Quasimodo. It kind of made it hard to own and operate a business when you don’t get paid sick leave. Needless to say, I wore a lot of makeup, had understanding clients and tried to work just the bare minimum so I could heal. They say you never heal from Lupus, but I did, and it gave me a whole new appreciation for being able to be outside, moving, walking, running, just breathing. I can’t even begin to express how grateful I am to this day to be healthy. I’ve always been active, and to be floored for 2 years, I almost had to redefine who I was as a person. I certainly don’t take for granted where I am today.
Because of that experience, when I broke my calcaneus (heel bone) in a freak accident at the end of May last year, it seemed like no biggie. I had twisted my ankle so hard coming off of an indoor half-pipe that it snapped my calcaneus right in two. All those years of trail running had made for some strong tendons and ligaments so even though there was some tearing and shredding, they didn’t give enough before my heel broke right in half. I don’t have anything even close to osteoporosis and the calcaneus is the strongest bone in your body, so when I say it was a freak accident, I’m not exaggerating! My x-ray tech was flabbergasted. I broke it one week before my boyfriend, Gary Shaw, and I were to travel to Scotland and two weeks before our competition in a Tough Mudder Full there!
I knew I wasn’t going to be able to do the trail running we had planned, but I was certainly going to do everything else we had scheduled on our 11-day adventure, just on crutches!! I chose not to have surgery (to much, much disapproval) and The Boot just hurt my foot more so I wrapped it myself, wore compression socks and hiking boots and off we went! I ended up doing the Tough Mudder on my crutches and it was an experience that will forever be stored in the memory banks. Gary helped me after he did the competitive wave and everyone on the course was like my own personal cheering squad. If you ever want some good OCR training, crutch all over the place (including an 11-day race vacay in Scotland) for 8 weeks :D!! Looking back, I don’t know why the accident didn’t mentally bother me more, especially with the timing of our trip, but it didn’t slow me down much. Dr. Eric and Dr. Tania Reavis at A Hip Joint here in Springfield really worked with me in reducing the swelling with acupuncture before I left and really took care of me when I got back, and I know without their help and guidance I certainly wouldn’t be in the place I am today. I ran a hundred-mile trail race just a little over 4 months after I broke my heel and placed 1st female overall! I’m still healing, but the process has been positive from the start. When I’m out there racing, these two major experiences have made me SUPER grateful to be upright and mobile so the little sh** just doesn’t seem to get to me as much as it used to ;}
Did you always consider yourself athletic?
Yep. Total tomboy. I grew up in the woods and a favorite activity of ours as kids was trying to get lost, so we could find our way back. I think what contributed most to my base as an athlete today was all the manual labor and chores I did as a kid :D!! All those chores you hate to do as a kid: picking up rocks and sticks, hauling wood, mowing lawn, washing the cars, made me very self-sufficient as I got older and I continued to chop wood, haul it through the snow on sleds, changed my own tires and oil on my Jeep, planted my garden, shoveled snow off of my roof and driveway, etc. Although I never excelled at any particular sport in high school or college, I was always active.
How did you get into the sport of OCR?
A friend of mine in massage school told me her husband’s friend bailed on him at the last moment for a Tough Mudder they were getting ready to do for the first time and she thought of me. I was training for my first trail 50K, so I thought, why not?! I ended up having a blast, doing better than I expected and loved the camaraderie of the event instead of the cutthroat competition I expected it to be. It wasn’t long after doing this event that I was sick with Lupus for a few years and was pretty excited if I could just take my dog out for a walk. After slowly getting back into training and doing well with trail racing for about a year, Gary encouraged me to enter some OCR events and I did surprisingly well! I had always enjoyed it, I just forgot how much!!
Tell us about the races you have done so far.
I’ve done a lot of trail races, up to 100 miles, and they have been tough ones, where you’re using the terrain to help you up and down mountainsides So even though I was predominantly using my lower body, I think my upper body was more engaged than in road running. As for OCR races, I’ve done mostly Tough Mudder events, with a Warrior Dash 5K thrown in there. I’ve done 3 Tough Mudder full events (one of them a Competitive Wave in which I placed 2nd female overall), an 8-hour overnight Tougher in TX (dropped after 20 miles due to hyperthermia…who knew you’d need a wet suit in 55 degrees!) and did World’s Toughest Mudder in Atlanta (24 hours) this last November and placed 7th female IN THE WORLD! It was pretty cool to be interviewed at the end because I was such a No-Name (and the only woman in the top 10 over 40-years-old). With the freezing temps at Worlds, it was hands down the hardest race I’ve ever done, and I placed 1st in The Hawk 100-miler if that gives you any perspective. Getting ready to travel to Wisconsin this weekend to do the Abominable Snow Race, a 7.5 mile, 26-obstacle course in single-digit temps so I might change my mind!! I’m going for the unlimited laps on Saturday after the Elite wave. Hope I come back with all my fingers and toes!
What initially drew you into the world of OCR and adventure racing?
It’s fun to mix up trail running with some obstacles. I like using my whole body. Basically, you feel like a big kid on a playground and what’s not to love about that!! All the OCR races in which I have competed were full of people just having a good time and helping each other out even if they were gunning to cross the finish line before you. That’s important to me. I’m competitive, but if I’m not having a good time, count me out.
Do you feel that due to strong women like yourself, that others are more willing to push their own limits?
I hope so! The feedback I’ve gotten from friends in local training groups and friends on Facebook make me feel like this is the case. I think it’s important to step outside your comfort zone on occasion, because you will probably surprise yourself—in a positive way!
On course, what has been your favorite obstacle and why?
Last year, because I had broken my heel the end of May, was Mt Everest at the Tough Mudder event in MO in August: The Competitive Wave. I had broken my heel on this very same obstacle indoors while training (a big half-pipe that you have to run up and then try and pull yourself up over the lip at the top), so facing the very same obstacle on course for the first time since my accident was almost paralyzing. And to top it off, the top lip was curved so you didn’t have an edge to grab. But because it was the competitive wave, they had ropes hanging about a third of the way down that you could run up to and then use the rope to pull yourself up to the landing area at the top. I had originally planned to run the course with a friend (who would normally kick my butt in this race) so I could have the added security blanket of having someone there if my heel, which I literally broke in two 3 months prior, started to give me problems. I found out the morning of that he couldn’t make it, so, even though I was a nervous wreck, I thought: what’s the worst that can happen? I can take a penalty on an obstacle if I find out it’s outside the ability of my gimp self. When I ran up to Mt Everest, I scoped out the rope I was going to use, didn’t think about it too long and just went for it. My heel didn’t drop me, I made it to the rope and pulled myself up and over the curved edge at the top. I grunted once with the last little bit of effort at the top and yelled so loudly in triumph once I made it to standing at the top that I startled the camera man that was focused on the couple helping each other out on the other side of the half pipe! I didn’t bang my fists against my chest, but I might as well have 😀 The confidence I gained from facing my fears on this one and doing something that in all honesty I didn’t think I was going to be able to do alone made this my favorite obstacle last year for sure.
On course, what has been your least favorite obstacle and why?
At World’s Toughest Mudder, any obstacle that had to do with falling in water, walking through water, submerging myself in water in below freezing temps in the middle of the night is still the bane of my existence. So. Much. Water. Please know I have a very warped idea of fun and can find the silver lining in most any circumstance, but I was just miserable. I had a wetsuit, changed into dry clothes and wool socks numerous times, stayed fueled, etc, but, egads, that was a bugger and don’t really care to do it ever again!
Is there is an OCR or endurance race that you will never do?
Don’t care to ever do a World’s Toughest Mudder again. I realize saying Never kinda sets me up to doing it again, but between the icy, watery conditions, 24 hours and obstacles that are impossible the FIRST time around for 75% of the population puts a damper on it for me. That being said, I’m doing the OCR World Championships in Sydney, Australia this June which is a 24-hour event during their winter season. But, fingers crossed, it’s not supposed to be as cold!!
Are you someone that plans your race schedule in advance?
Planner all the way. But I confess to signing up for a Warrior Dash 5K on the fly last August, the weekend before my competitive wave at the Tough Mudder in MO. Gary was going to compete and I was just going along to watch and hang out, but when we got there I knew “just watching” wasn’t going to work for me. It was my first race since breaking my heel (less than 3 months earlier) so I wasn’t going to take it too seriously, just wanted to go play in the mud and try out my broken wheel. Turns out I got 4th female. The expensive last-moment entry was worth the confidence boost.
What type of training do you complete for OCR training?
I have an active job in which I use my upper body a lot, so I would love to do more training in our local indoor Ninja Warrior Sports gym, but I have to be careful to not overuse my hands, forearms and shoulders or I get hurt. I try to get in a workout there once or twice a month. Otherwise, I do yoga weekly, just a routine strength training class once or every other week, but primarily just trail running. I live in a loft so I haul my massage table, cases of water and groceries up and down those stairs a lot—does that count?! I garden a lot in the summer. I don’t do as many manual labor chores as I used to, but I do enough to maintain my core strength. My boyfriend, Gary, still loves to give me crap how non-scheduled my training plan is, but I think I’ve operated on plans for so many years that I kind of instinctually know what to be doing, but choose not to have the added stress of following a specific plan now or recording all my activities. It’s what works for me right now.
For someone that is newer to the OCR sport, what is one solid piece of advice that you wish to pass on?
Don’t be intimidated. The OCR community is a welcome bunch. Just start small at a 5K-ish event and do what you can do. Go play!!
Who inspires you?
Women 35 and older who have been in this sport for a while and still continue to thrive: Allison Tai, Deanna Blegg, etc. It’s one thing to be a One Hit Wonder, but it’s another to continue to podium and stay healthy for the long haul. I respect that.
What is one bucket list race you want to do?
One? Just one?! Some big ones on the horizon for me: Georgia Death Race in March (both Gary and I got in on the lottery!), The 24-hour OCR World Championships in Sydney, Australia in June and The Cape Wrath Ultra in the Highlands of Scotland in 2020 (an 8-day stage race that averages about a 50K a day). I know those aren’t all OCR races, but when you carry a pack and are running and hiking and making your way up and over mountains and through streams, it’s such a full-body endeavor that I put it more under the OCR category than just straight up running.
Is there anything else you want to share with us?
If I haven’t emphasized this enough, please take care of yourselves!! Being a Bad Ass OCR Woman means you sometimes push through the pain in a race and struggle mentally to keep going when all you want to do is quit, but in the day-to-day, if you don’t take care of the one body we were given, it WILL break down on you. It’s not a luxury to get bodywork, etc, it’s a necessity. Don’t feel guilty about spending time and money on it.
What’s the best way to reach you on social media if someone wants to reach out?
Facebook: Nicole Fleming. If I ignore your friend request, just Message me so I know who you are
**Warning, I’m not on Facebook every day so please be patient with me!**