It’s always a pleasure to connect with awesome and unique athletes out there. Obstacle course racing by nature tends to draw some of the coolest and unique participants you can find. The sport is fast, furious and carries a level of danger with it. It takes a dedicated and focused person to excel and become an elite player in this sport. Well…Ella Kociuba is that person. I think you will be amazed at her accomplishments as well as her ability to persevere and overcome some very big and personal challenges. Take your time and enjoy this interview with Ella.
- Athletic background (anything you want to share that lead you to becoming an elite OCR competitor.)
I grew up racing horses in twenty-five and fifty mile races that were held out in private ranches or national parks. We ran the course as fast as we could while passing through mandatory vet checks. It’s a very fun, demanding, and disciplined sport. I rode my horse every day after middle school athletics, I was insanely addicted to riding horses. I played soccer too, even played volleyball, basketball, ran track and cross country while growing up.
- Why OCR’s? Do you participate in any other sports or athletic activities, or hobbies?
I kinda fell into it honestly. It was after I graduated high school, I just wanted to be great. I was so tired of wanting to push my body for years that I just started running and training. Before I knew it, I was up every day at five in the morning just so I could head to the gym to run and lift for hours. I started entering myself into 5k’s which then resulted in me doing my first half marathon, eventually I stumbled across OCR’s and just started dominating. Had no idea what I was doing, just knew I liked the challenge.
- Describe your training (focused, seat of your pants, or just make it up as you go)
My training has been many things. It has been long grueling rucks, track workouts, intervals, lifting is always a must for me. I love to lift weights but must lift them in the right way for it to be progressive for maintaining endurance. I do a lot of supersets when I do lift, so my lifting is more like cardio, if you will. But in the same breath, I change up my focus often to avoid plateaus, sometimes it’s about strength, power, or speed. You never know, dun dun dun. Just have fun with it. Enjoy training. Never make it punishment.
- Biggest setbacks. How did you overcome? Suggestions for those facing similar issues?
Biggest setbacks? Damn. I am full of setbacks. I spend a lot of time having to sit out on the sidelines and that kind of pain does somethin’ to ya, trust me. We can track my record all the way back to when I was twelve years old and broke my back in two places, I had major reconstructive and exploratory surgery a year later after dealing with numerous doctors, heavy medications, wearing a back brace that went from my collar bone to my pubic bone. I spent my eight-grade field trip in a wheel chair. I hardly could go to school. When they went in to do perform the surgery we found out that my spine was never connected to my sacrum since birth and I also had spondoylotheisis in four vertebrae (all lumbar). So yes, that was and still is a huge challenge for me. I have my good days and my bad days, sometimes my back is just off, it’s not that I’m weak but holding heavy weight in front of me, or farmers carry will really compress my spine. It’s hard but I’ve trained around it. Now, you can see me in the gym squatting real low with 225 on the bar, but you will also notice that my form is pretty much up to par, well you should be lifting with good form anyways, but I have to.
Now, I’ve had many, many other injuries that have made me sit out on opportunities, your typical stress fracturing of tibia and metatarsals. Hahaha, sad that’s typical for me. But they’ve made me sit out of many races.
The greatest setbacks ever that I have faced thus far is my very own head. I am self-destructive. I am bulimic. I am anxious. I am a fighter… I have battled for years in private, I hid my eating disorder, my depression, anxiety. And it made me fall apart. I still fight. Everyday. And it’s rewarding now.
The hardest thing to do is to ask for help and find compassion for yourself. If you’re injured, just understand it’s not the end of the world, if you’re struggling and sick, feeling alone, you don’t have to make it that way anymore. Ask for help. Write down your thoughts, what you want to do, what you’re thankful for today, what you’re doing today for yourself. You have to fight the good fight.
5.How do you push through the days you hate training?
Honestly, sometimes I don’t train hahaha. I’ll be the first to admit it. Sometimes if I’m overly exhausted and mentally blocked, I will just go hike. I’ll take the dogs out, stay out in the water, hike up the hills, carry some rocks or logs if I see fit. I just analyze my training, is it counterproductive today or nah?
But the days where I do need to get in the work and can’t just opt for a hike, I will just have myself a cup of coffee and take a long warm up. Of course, music helps, but you can’t always depend on it.
I think we kinda function off three motors. Emotion, conscious, and survival. Don’t run off emotion, don’t consciously analyze it. Just think about the task at hand and get it done, find the quiet place in your head and go there. Do what you need to do to get the job done and then some.
- Any athlete mentors? Non-athlete mentors that have inspired you?
Nope. I just witnessed my family’s work ethic really. First hand I watched my brothers become heroes for this country.
- Least favorite part of training and racing?
Sometimes I despise trail running… I used to run for eight, twelve miles easy and nowadays I only want to do three to five… five even sounds mean. Hahaha. Other times, I love it, I love the technical footing and the scenery.
- Favorite part?
I like the feeling of your depleted body lying on the ground after a very intense workout… or simply just the simple fact that I can push my body like this. That I can walk, that I can squat. I can do these things without being stuck in bed like I did growing up.
- Our favorite question…what’s the hardest part of an OCR?
Hardest part of an OCR? Not sure. Every single one is different in my opinion. Usually it’s the terrain that will get you. Mountains and such.
10. What is your nutritional philosophy? Do you have one?
Meh. Food is food. EAT. You’re asking someone who was anorexic and then bulimic through my professional career of racing… Not to sound like a debby downer by saying that or mean but food is overanalyzed and it shouldn’t be black or white for someone. Find the grey.
I have done many diets, back in 2012 I did a bodybuilding show so I was super ‘bro’ with my diet, hardly any seasonings, no sauces, white fish, brown rice, plain chicken, steamed veggies, no creamer in my coffee. I’ve done IIFYM, which worked greatly for me for a long time but still was so fixated I had to stop counting… I’ve tried Ketogenic diets, where I stuffed lots of fat in my face and barely any protein or carbs. I’ve starved myself, binged, purged.
Dieting in this day of age is silly. Just find what works for you. Lately all I do is eat, I know what I should eat and what I shouldn’t eat. I try to eat most of my carbohydrates around workouts, every third or fourth day I overeat on purpose. I try to get in about 160-180 grams of protein a day.
- 11.How do you prepare nutritionally for training? For racing? Normal mortal life eating?
Usually I just eat more, haha. But not all that bad of food.
- Top 5 favorite race/training foods. Top five favorite real foods?
Salmon, Bison, Eggs, Avocado, Peanut butter. (I like fat, can’t ya see???)
- Cheat foods?
ANYTHING. I eat about 80/20-70/30. so, by that I mean, 80% of the time I’m eating good food and 20% of the time, rich food.
- Do you use any supplements?
Not really. I do take glutamine, glucosamine, an active vitamin when I remember 😛
- Racing goals for 2017?
I want to get back out there some. No big races to name for ya tho.
- What motivates you to keep competing and pushing yourself?
It makes me feel peaceful with myself.
- Have you ever wanted to quit?
All the time. And I have quit. I walked away from my contract in 2014 because I was so mentally sick with my bulimia at the time. I had to stop racing to save myself. But I loved racing. I love it. But I was so anxious over it, it was a huge trigger for me to binge and purge.
So many people ask me about when I’m going to return full time to racing, especially in the Spartan Series, but I just can’t… At least not yet, my mind is steal healing, I’m still learning myself. After I walked away from my contract, I struggled to relearn how to eat without counting anything, without freaking out about a full stomach… I just had to relearn myself and it was so brutal to experience.
- What advice would you give to the average person wanting to try OCR?
Have fun with it, don’t take it so seriously. Get yourself dirty, push your mind. Sometimes the obstacles seem too much for you, overwhelm you, just look a few yards in front of you and tell yourself to get there, and then find another spot. Just inch your way through the course… Task to task.
- 19.Favorite thing about the OCR community?
The people. It’s a family. A community. It’s been two years since my face has been really active in the Spartan community but people still come up and say hi, remember you, love on you, hug you. People help each other out and that’s what life should be about. Do you! But help everyone else out around you.
- Is there any athlete you would love to meet? Why?
I’ve never had one idol. I never know how to answer these. I admire athletes but have always tried my hardest to not look over at others. I know, that’s weird. But really. I just wanted to focus on me. In the healthiest, selfish way. I try not to put so much emphasis into others.
- Most inspiring moment?
Mine might have been the moment, just because its more recent, but when I realized I was going to place second in the Mexican Death Race, I had no idea I would finish it. I was hurting so much, the altitude was killing me, I struggled up the volcano thinking to myself, “should have laid off all the pie… damn”. I didn’t only finish that race but I won it for women and came in second. No one was really there to throw money at me, to take many photos, I finished, cooked a fish over the fire with a zombie inspired machete after 100 log presses. I carried that fish with me the whole race (about 50 hours) and anyways, I took a bite of that fish and heard I finished. I loved the lack of publicity. I loved the lack of my confidence but the brutal fact that my mind just took over and worked it out was outstanding to me. I was proud of myself.
- How many tattoos do you have? Do they all have meaning? Do you think a person can have too many!? ?(I am a big tattoo fan so…)
What is it for me to say someone has too many tattoos? I currently have 8 pieces… They’re all quite big. And yes, they have meanings. The kitty-unicorn in the wheelchair on my ankle is a resemblance of my battle of being an athlete. I was never supposed to be one, just like a kitty-unicorn isn’t supposed to be something… The two unicorns fighting on my right thigh resemble my own twist on the Cherokee legend of the two wolves, one is full of bad and one is full of good fighting inside you always, which one wins?
The warrior girl on my left leg is my concept of self-image issues. You see a beautiful woman who obviously is a warrior, but then you see her skin disappear and her spine trickles down my leg, just because something on the outside looks nice, doesn’t mean the insides aren’t.
The horse skull on my left rib cage doesn’t have too much meaning, but I have a huge connection to my horses and I’ll always be thankful for what they taught me when I was little.
My right rib cage is another horse, tribal, my first ever, ha-ha I think about covering it or adding to it to change it some, it used to just resemble my horse riding accident.
My right half sleeve with the woman and big cat also resemble my battle with bulimia. you see a woman holding a big leopard with a chain in one hand, an apple in the other. The apple resembles food, health, knowledge, it was my eating disorder. I took a bite despite knowing the damages, but I still looked at it as if it was healthy because I got success from it. Now the big cat she’s holding which is on the inner bicep, is my image… If you don’t know, now you know, but I used to dye my hair every three weeks leopard print on the side of my head (where it’s shaved) so people knew me as the leopard girl or cheetah girl, whichever works. so, that was my future, she held it.
The panadalope on the back of my neck was a sporadic one but glad I got it, I hallucinated pandas when I did the death race. Just is fitting.
YES. I will get more.
- Do you have mantra you use to help get you through the grueling training or tough races?
I just don’t think.
- If you weren’t doing OCR’s what would you be doing? Example: did you ever want to grow up and be a doctor or CPA, or something involving less mud or barbed wire?!
About to start my dream of doing talks and seminars over eating disorders with the company I am working with (www.grrrl.com).
- Do you have a support system that encourages you to keep going?
Yep, I got a lot of amazing followers, most I’ve seen be on my stuff since I’ve started and it’s so cool to have that. I feel blessed, thank you to those who follow and believe in me.
My family is very supportive, so glad to have them on the sidelines.
- Biggest accomplishment to date?
Self-publishing a book in 2014, ‘All Things Ella’ available on Amazon.com
I want to take the time again to thank Ella for taking her time to answer these questions and allow to get to know her a little bit. I know I speak for many OCR enthusiasts that we hope to see you back out on the courses and in the mud sooner than later!
Train hard people!
Previously Fat Guy