Profile of Amelia Boone

Inspiring Women Series

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Amelia Boone is an athlete of the first order, competing at the elite level in endurance races, CrossFit, ultra-running and obstacle course racing (OCR). These fittest-of-the-fit sports have been growing rapidly in popularity, drawing larger purses and endorsements from corporate sponsors. Amelia is an early icon.

I spoke with Amelia about her philosophy of dual-tracking a business career with being a pro athlete.

When she's not kicking ass in the mud, she works as a corporate attorney for Apple in their HQ. Yes, she manages to train and compete at a high level while maintaining a full-time job in a challenging field. I told you she's remarkable. So who is she?

Quick Stats

Amelia Boone is a relentless achiever. She can deadlift nearly double her body weight and push-press her body weight overhead. For those of you who don't lift, that's impressive strength. Amelia has been featured in Newsweek and on CNBC with Carl Quintanilla in a special about extreme sports.

She has earned the right to a large measure of swagger, yet the first thing that strikes you about Amelia is her humility. She isn't caught up in her celebrity. She doesn't flaunt her prowess. Amelia is centered, serene really, a quality I've come to appreciate more as I age. She has perspective about her capabilities; the difference is she is more capable than most athletes.

Q&A Session with Amelia Boone

How much does nutrition play a role in your success?

"Nutrition is important, but I am by no means very rigid or dogmatic about it. With the amount of activity I do, I want to make sure I'm feeding my body correctly. I take in good, quality calories but I'm not obsessive about it."

Have you experimented with nutrition?

"I have tried to go fat-adapted, which means low-carb and they say for long distances it prevents the bonk from carb depletion since you're burning fat. I tried but eventually abandoned it. I've experimented with things, but I've gotten into a good balance now; moderate carbs/fat and hi-protein."

Do you incorporate rest days as routine or is it more instinctive?

"I try to have one day a week as a rest day, but it's not scheduled. It's based around what the training looks like for the week. It's hard for me to do completely nothing, so my rest day will include stretching, mobility, foam-rolling and a nice walk around the neighborhood. Especially as I get older, I realize the importance of rest."

Are there things in your past that may have presaged the success you would have in your sport?

"I think about the nature vs. nurture thing, which was explored in David Epstein's "The Sports Gene" but in my past nothing really stood out, athletically, except for the fact that my parents noticed I had an ability just to keep going compared to my peers.

I was never really a star, but I could play three games in a day in a soccer tournament, and I would never need to come out."

Is that ability as much physiological as psychological?

"I think so. At a certain point, you get it in your head that this is the way you are and use it. Some people have the ability to turn off the brain saying 'stop' and keep going. Amelia once said, 'Rest days eat my soul.' She has a sense of humor. Or was she serious?

Are there threshold levels for OCR, that is, minimum athletic abilities one must have to compete at the elite level?

"Not officially, but we've all kind of opined on it, like, 'What's the ideal mix for an obstacle course racer? Do you have to be able to run a sub 5:30 mile or be able to lift X amount?' But I think the beauty of this sport is you don't.

There are no gating factors or thresholds such as minimums for the Olympic trials where women have to run a sub 2:45:00 marathon. Because OCR is so full-body, it's not standardized and no two courses are alike, so I think that's what attracted me to it. One big factor is you have to be able to control and hold your own body weight to climb walls or pull yourself through a rig of hanging rings. So it's a harder metric to quantify than absolute strength.

Outliers

Is Amelia an outlier? What separates Amelia from the other elite competitors is many of them at her level are full-time professional athletes or personal trainers. Amelia battles at the top of her sport while working another career. That in itself makes her an outlier and a role model. It's not something she boasts about, but a fact that is striking after a cursory exploration of the sport. Amelia expresses herself without reservation but also without self-adulation.

How do the pressures of external expectations affect the way you look at a race?

"I struggled with this. It started as, 'Hey, I'm good at this and people are noticing.' That was kind of fun, but then people started expecting me to be at the top and the cliché of 'it's hard to get to the top and even harder to stay there' came true for me. I felt as if I had a target on my back and for a year or two, it was hard to find the fun in it. I got stressed out before every race, and it was no longer an outlet. I was living up to other's expectations. Mentally I went through a shift, where I decided to go out there and kick some ass and see what happens."

Everyone expected her to win Spartan Race 2015 and when Amelia came in fourth, she felt as though she had to apologize to people. She realized life goes on and people weren't disappointed in her. That awareness became "freeing" for her.

The racing has helped her in her law career as well, understanding, "Nothing is permanent. There is no one career move or decision that must dictate the rest of your life."

The confidence developed as an attorney and as a champion support one another. "The lessons go both ways. If I've had a tough work situation, I learn composure. I can use that on a course when things don't go my way. There's nothing in this moment that can't be fixed. Let's scan everything, re-frame and readjust." This ability she has to step back and get sort of a Wayne-Gretzky vision of the ice around her, what basketball players call 'court sense,' is an indication of strong metacognitive abilities, for thinking about how she is thinking.

Amelia is a proponent of EQ, which she believes is much more useful than IQ. It helps on race days when she can get a sense, particularly from people against whom she's raced before, of who looks in a good place and will likely perform well that day. "It is, by far, a better gauge of your success in life than absolute intelligence."

The Give-Away and Give Back

I ran a Twitter contest prior to this interview. I asked followers to pose a question to Amelia. I chose the best one and gave the winner two signed books by Josh Brown,  a NYC-based financial advisor and regular on CNBC's Halftime Report. The winner was Jeff Shoaf from Texas, who asked, "Do you have any advice for teenaged girls to achieve professional success while remaining happy and healthy."

Amelia— "For me, it's realizing that you have to play the long game. You're not going to be able to have everything all at once. In this instant-gratification culture, it's important to have an over-arching plan. You can't do everything all at once. In college, I gave up athletics to focus on my studies. Sometimes you need to focus on one part of your life, get that in order and then move on to the next part. Especially for young women—tune out the noise, the social media, the negative stereotypes and things people say that just don't matter. It's hard to do, but nothing good comes from listening to these things."

Have there been moments of revelation?

"After winning the Spartan Race World Championship in 2013, I went down and sat in the lake, and I looked around and said, 'this is going to change everything.' Soon after I signed with Reebok. I keep those moments tucked away because they're really cool to reflect on."

How will these few years of intense competition inform the next twenty?

"There is recognizing and actually being grateful in the moment. Realizing that at any moment it can all go away. For me, it's always trying to live in a state of gratitude for what I've been able to do and to never take it for granted."

Amelia isn't afraid to try anything. Her sport will grow and change, and Amelia plans to be a part of that evolution, "Wherever it goes, I want to be a part of it and give back to the sport that gave me so much."

A final thought?

"It's important to me to not frame things in terms of successes and failures but to frame them in terms of experiences and lessons."

Follow Amelia's career

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