Elite Spartan Race Athlete Ella Kociuba Talks With TheAthleticBuild.com

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Tell us about your athletic background growing up

Well, I am still very young, I just turned twenty this June and only have been training and competing seriously for just about two years. Before my horse riding accident I played soccer, basketball, and volleyball, then in high school I ran cross country and track along with racing my horses in long distance races called Endurance Riding (25, 50, 75, and 100 mile distances). I am a very active person, being outdoors is my thing, you can catch me finding peace in down by the river or even shooting some guns (oh so country right).

Ella Kociuba

How did you get started doing Spartan Races?

After I graduated high school, I decided to take matters into my own hands. I had been struggling since I was twelve to just walk, run around, and be pain free. I wanted so badly to be the athlete that I had been dreaming about since I was little. So despite it’s distance, I went after it. I started with a simple goal, run a half marathon (crazy thing was, is that at the time, I thought anything over 200 meters was extremely silly). So I stopped doing crazy teenager things like staying out late, eating junk food, and found myself lost out on the trails, stuck up in the gym on friday night’s. I fell in love with it and got so completely lost in my training that it became the only thing I craved, as it became my only thought, I also found out that with every rep, every mile that I ran, I became happier and healthier. My back stopped holding me back as much and my dreams were finally becoming reality. In prep for my half marathon, I entered into a bunch of 5k’s and each and every one I entered, I hit podium, I won, I broke my PR’s. It dumbfounded me, success was coming easy through all my hard work. When one day, I stumbled across an ad that stated ‘marathons are boring, try a Tough Mudder,’ I couldn’t agree more with the statement and entered into it and won. Two weeks later, I signed up for another obstacle course, a Spartan Race, which I also won as well. After that, it was love, it was my niche. I entered into everything I could and sure enough, I came out on top. I had no idea my potential at the time, just was doing it, just loving it.

Ella Kociuba

What does your training look like compared to traditional bodybuilding or even Crossfit?

You can find me training twice a day Monday through Friday. Mornings I do my running and evenings I do my strength training (I love the weights). I focus more on stabilization and endurance in the muscle, so volume training galore. Majority of my weight training is super-setted with pylometrics, very short rest periods, isometric movements, and drop-sets. I’m very focused on exhausting the muscle through high volume. Usually I will do one week of heavy, one week of isometric, and then two weeks of volume/pylometric weight training monthly.

You have been up on stage doing figure competition before, do you think you will get back on stage again?

Indeed, there was a day that I was once an Oompa Loompa and honestly, I had no idea what I was doing, I hardly dieted for it, I had no real posing practice, and I was as nervous as could be to be basically half naked in front of so many strangers. I’ve always been a little bit self conscious of my body so getting up on stage was a big deal for me back then (I was eighteen at the time). I actually only did the show because I had injured my knee (tore some cartilage) and found myself unable to run and do my races and since I’m such a competitor I needed something to do. I think I would like to get back up other one day and actually have a prep coach, specially since I have put on a great deal of size since then. But I really do enjoy my racing. I know when I get first in what I do now, that I actually did get first. There was no politics, no one who is judging me on how I look but instead on how I perform. It is me and the clock, the finish line is my judge and he has no bias. I like the dirt, the grit, the cuts and bruises, it is the pain that excites me.

Ella Kociuba

You had a major back injury when you were 12, tell us about that and how it had shaped who you are today.

I believe it is my struggle that has gotten me to where I am today and has made me to be the person I am. Without the hardships I have encountered, I do not know what kind of mentality I would have, so therefore I am thankful for the lessons I have learned even though it took me through hell and back. Like I mentioned earlier, I race horses in Endurance, and luckily enough for me, I grew up with a Mother who loved horses, so I started riding at a terribly young age. The night of my incident was just like any other night, I took my horse out to the trails behind the house to train. I got my horse, Socks, into a full on gallop up the rocky hill and before I knew it, a deer jumped out in front of us and Socks halted. I was thrown forward onto her neck as she reared backwards and sent me flying off down to the ground. The initial fall broke the L4 and L5 of my spine. The next following year, I can honestly say was the worst year ever for me. I struggled not only physically but mentally. My body was breaking down and I was extremely depressed, I went to five different doctors, went through metal back braces, chiropractors, heavy medications, and endless amounts of physical therapy and nothing was helping, they couldn’t even figure out what was exactly wrong with me. When finally it got so bad that I was unable to walk and one specialist looked at me and said, ‘we need to go in for exploratory surgery, or you’ll be crippled’. Sure enough, after opening me, we came to discover that my spine since birth was never connected to my sacrum and I was also suffering from spondylothesis (a condition where a vertebrate thins out and breaks off the spinal column and slips forward), I had this going on with four vertebrates. Four metal rods and six screws drilled and aligned into my spine and I was told not to play sports or ride horses again. The next two years after my surgery I struggled through physical therapy and medications, and happily came back to running and riding my sophomore year of high school. It wasn’t easy and isn’t even easy now but I keep on and will always keep on pushing forward for something better. I want this so badly that it aches in my joints and crowds my everyday thoughts. And just the fact that I have been given the opportunity to fight for being something great gives me an insane amount of motivation. I once wasn’t able to walk and it was questionable for me to recover and because of that strain I have developed a mental toughness that one cannot create.

Ella Kociuba

What kind of music do you listen to when you are working out?

I like good music. From old school rock like AC/DC, Black Sabbath, Aerosmith to anything like The Browning, Asking Alexandria, Miss May I, Tupac, August Burns Red, Limp Bizkit

We all have at least one, what is the most embarrassing song on your iPod?

I have the entire best of Cher album and the best of Enya. Enya is like this depressing, almost tribal music, but oddly enough, I listen to her sad, inspiring instruments and unusual singing to ease my nerves before a big race.

Ella Kociuba

Favorite and least favorite Spartan Race obstacles?

My least favorite is actually the running sections of the race. I am a strong runner, specially in the shorter distances but I have found that it bores my mind. My favorite would most likely be the sandbag carry, I have no problem picking up that heavy pancake and running up a mountain. Challenge me with something heavy and I’ll smile at you.

How difficult is the Spartan Death Race?

It is like nothing you will ever do, it is designed to break you down mentally, physically, spiritually, and every which way you can be broken down. You’re feet will be shredded to all hell, your body will be crippling under your ruck, everything will suck, and you will be suffering up in the mountains of Vermont for days. Your mind will want to quit constantly and it will lie to you and the demons inside you will begin to rage. The obstacles are always unknown, there is no official finish line and you can find yourself doing anything from farm chores for hours, chopping wood for hours, climbing up and down the mountains for no reason, stirring rotten cow guts, doing memorization tests, carrying heavy odd objects, just basically twisted shit. Many will cry that is unfair, but why should you, it is just like life. It hurts and it is demanding. So don’t give up on yourself.

Ella Kociuba

What does your diet look like?

The basics. I like chicken, elk, bison, salmon, shrimp, turkey, sushi, almond butter, avocados, all the greens in the world, I just love me some veggies man, like zucchini, spinach, broccoli, brussels sprouts, asparagus, snap peas, green beans (you get it, veggies are good), apples, all kinds of nuts, cottage cheese, blueberries, and a bunch of eggs.

 List the top 10 foods we would find in your kitchen

  • Grilled chicken
  • Sweet potatoes
  • Avocados
  • Almond butter
  • Almonds
  • Eggs
  • Grapefruit
  • Spinach
  • Lean ground turkey
  • Fuji apples

Ella Kociuba

 What kind of cardio do you like best and why?

I do not care for long runs but will do one about once or twice a week just for the endurance. But most of my cardio is fast and all about quality. I am not concerned about quantity here, I want to run good times, I want speed. So I do a lot of mile repeats, track work, hill repeats, and weighted vest runs. My cross training days can be anything from long rucks, stairs with weights, bike intervals, or swimming. I am able to maintain a thick, stocky physique of muscle by doing my high intense sprints and it is more satisfying to me than to run for twelve miles.

If you could give somebody only one Spartan Race tip what would it be?

Don’t be afraid of the unknown, embrace your fears and challenge yourself. So you’re giving your absolute best, huh? Well shit, push a little bit more. Just keep pushing it and don’t you dare give up.

Ella Kociuba

Tell us about your biggest fitness influence?

To be honest, I never really looked up to anyone specific. There are those who I admire but don’t necessarily blame for being my biggest influence to be come fit. I saw an opportunity to make my dreams come true and went after it, I witnessed my oldest brother making his dreams come true by becoming a SEAL and for that, I know the hard work will always produce great results.

Ella Kociuba

Favorite cheat food?

Oh.. Oh, that glorious meal. Well I absolutely love bacon cheeseburgers with guacamole and brown sugared sweet potato fries or a big awesome fat burrito, bring on that cheesy queso too. I do have a killer sweet tooth as well and I’d have to go with red velvet cheesecake, that stuff makes my belly happy. And of course, anything with peanut butter I will eat it. I don’t care if it’s broccoli and peanut butter, it’s going down.

Do you take any supplements?

Why yes, but they are called supplements for a reason. They are added to my diet to help enhance my performance and physique. They are not miracle pills though, you still have to eat right and train hard. I take a lot of glutamine and BCAA’s, as well as MSM, a multi-vitamen, green tea extract, cranberry extract, milk thistle, fish oil, and calcium. specially when I am in full on season, racing every other weekend is demanding so recovery is huge.

What does the future hold for you?

Considering my young age and the success I have hit so far, my future looks pretty awesome (not to get cocky, but I am excited about life, just like everyone out there should be, you have the chance everyday to make shit happen, so go do it). I am competing in some serious endurance events, such as the Death Race (again), 2014 is the Year of The Explorer and it is expected to be the most intense one yet. Of course I will be back to the Spartan racing circuit as soon as I heal and am back in good shape. I would like to do the GoRuck Selection as well. Who knows what I have up my sleeves, I got a lot to offer. 😉

Ella Kociuba
Facebook: www.facebook.com/EllaAnneKociuba