SOUTH LOOP — Some people celebrate their 30th birthday with a night out, drinks or a dinner date.
Amelia Boone, a South Loop resident who turns 30 on Friday, kicked off her festivities in Killington, Vt., where she took the gold at the Spartan Race World Championships last Saturday, outpacing the female runner-up by nearly 15 minutes.
She also beat Olympic hopeful and Canadian National team biathlete Claude Godbout, who won last year's race, by 25 minutes, completing the 14-mile mountainside course in 4 hours, 9 minutes and 52 seconds.
If you'd told her three years ago that she'd be spending most weekends flying across the country to train and run obstacle races, she wouldn't have believed you. A three-sport athlete in high school (soccer, softball and basketball), Boone, now an attorney at Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom, ran her first obstacle race two years ago when some coworkers asked if she'd like to join their team.
"They all thought that it was fun, and that was it, and instead I kind of took to it and thought hey, this is something different," she said. "This is not running on a road for hours at a time. It's using your body, and requires strength, it's interesting and requires strategy."
When Boone realized she had a knack for obstacle races, she also realized she had a problem: "A lot of these races are on mountains, which obviously we don't really have in Chicago," she said.
So she designed a training regimen for herself that combined her favorite workout — CrossFit, which she does five to six times per week — with "stair climbs and treadmill inclines. I have to be creative in that regard," she said.
"I pretty much just stay in shape regardless," she said. "I'm training year-round, I run these races year-round pretty much, so I always kind of have on my race calendar one coming up every other week in the summer. In the winter it slows down a little bit. I generally believe in always just maintaining a tough training regimen."
Boone acknowledges that obstacle races like Spartan Run and Tough Mudder have a reputation as light-hearted, fun runs: most are short distances, and many emphasize the fun of the after-race party above the physical challenges on the course.
"It can be kind of challenging explaining to people that I compete in obstacle racing, and they're like, 'Oh yeah, I ran one in a tutu last weekend,'" she said. "And you're like, well it's kind of a little bit different."
"It's great to see tons of people out there. It motivates them, gets them off the couch, things like that. But then there's also this growing market of being able to do these competitively, and approaching it as a sport."
Boone says she wasn't expecting to win, but her roundabout training methods paid off.
"I definitely came in to compete, and to do as well as I could, but you never really know," she said. "The great thing about these races is each one is different. They're all at different locations, so the course is different, the mountain is different, the terrain is different. It really can be anybody's day out there."
Boone's victory comes with a $15,000 prize, which she'll spend on her traveling expenses for upcoming races. She plans to keep traveling to mountainous regions for obstacle runs regularly: Not only does it fuel her love of the sport, it offers her a much-needed escape from Chicago's flat landscape.
"It's nice to be able to go up and down a mountain again, because when I lived in the northwest, I would hike and backpack all the time," said Boone, who grew up in Portland but has lived in Chicago for four years. "I'm still looking for a place like that in Chicago. I've gone up to Kettle Moraine or Devil's Head, but it's still 2 or 3 hours. It's tough to get up there."