Groupon began series of obstacles for Stanford grad student



Rea Kolbl isn’t afraid of obstacles.

The 26-year-old grad student at Stanford actually seeks them out as one of the top female athletes in the world of Spartan Race, an endurance competition that employs the motto “You see struggle, we see strength.”

How was she introduced to the sport?

“There was a Groupon for it, actually,” Kolbl said.

Back in 2013, as an undergrad at Cal, she joined a group of friends from a workout class in Berkeley for a team race in Monterey.

Then, Kolbl “kind of forgot about it” for a couple of years until her sisters-in-law invited the Bay Area transplant from Slovenia to tag along for another race.

“It’s just been uphill since then,” said Kolbl, who this weekend travels to Squaw Valley in Lake Tahoe to participate in the 2017 Spartan World Championship at the site of the 1960 Olympic Games.

“I would totally recommend it to anybody,” she added. “And really the thing about it is it requires such a broad skill set. It requires strength, endurance and speed, so no matter what you do in life, you probably have some aspect of that that you’re good at.”

Kolbl grew up as a gymnast in Slovenia for 11 years, which she credits for her agility when it comes to the obstacles.

After coming over the United States in 2010 to study at Cal, she quickly grew an affinity for trail running in Berkeley.

“And so then I found Spartan Race, which pretty much combines trail running with obstacles like monkey bars and carrying heavy buckets around or climbing ropes,” Kolbl said. “It kind of combines my two sports that I was already in love with into one event, so I tried a few and I realized I was pretty good at it, too.”

Is there any obstacle that she detests?

“There’s an 8-foot wall that scares me,” Kolbl said. “I love monkey bars and rigs and things like that. And I actually really like to carry heavy things, so there’s a bucket carry which is I think over half of what I weigh. Those I don’t mind.

“But I’m always really terrified of an 8-foot wall, because I’m 5 feet 4 and I can’t really jump very high, so that seems like a really, really high obstacle and I’m never quite sure if I’m going to reach it. And it can be really frustrating if you can’t really reach the top of it and you keep trying and you’re losing time.

“So that’s the one that I’m usually afraid of. It’s funny, because I don’t really have trouble with it anymore, but I’m still terrified of the 8-foot wall.”

The obstacles tend to be the one constant at every Spartan Race. It’s the terrain that Kolbl needs to adjust for.

Mud was a factor in Seattle on a flat course back in April, the first of five Spartan U.S. Championship races on NBC.

The third stop in July at Palmerton, Pennsylvania, featured a course on a ski slope, which was shorter in terms of distance but took longer to complete.

New challenges await this weekend in Lake Tahoe.

“Part of it is going to be an alpine swim up at 9,000 feet, which is not very warm,” Kolbl said. “So things like that change the race, but in terms of obstacles themselves all of the events are pretty similar in terms of what you’re going to see on the course.”

To prepare, Kolbl trains roughly 2½ to 3 hours a day.

It begins with morning runs: 9 miles on weekdays, 15 miles on weekends. That’s followed by another workout in the evening, with an emphasis on strength exercises aimed at weight-oriented obstacles.

Can her husband keep up?

“Sometimes,” said Kolbl, with a laugh. “He’s usually spectating the races, he’s my support crew. But we work out together in the afternoons, so he’s definitely my workout buddy.”

In pursuit of a Ph.D. in applied physics, Kolbl completed her master’s requirements in June. This means she no longer has to worry about classes, which commenced this week.

Instead, she’s focused on her research, which is geared more toward biophysics, material science and developing bioimaging devices.

To help Kolbl balance academics and any other obstacles, it helps that her advisor at Stanford competes in triathlons and shares a gymnastics background.

“She understands that people have hobbies in life,” Kolbl said. “And I actually just chatted with her recently because this is taking more and more of my time, so I do try and do my best, still be a full-time grad student. And in the winter time, when there’s less races and there’s less traveling, I just try and get more work done.”

This year, Kolbl joined the Spartan Pro Team, which is comprised of 10 men and 10 women.

It makes travel easier and more accessible, with Kolbl coming off a first-place finish at the end of August in the West Virginia Spartan Beast.

“We’re from all over the United States,” said Kolbl, who is supported by Reebok, which provides her gear. “Actually, we’re from all over the world, almost. I’m from Slovenia and then we have somebody from Mexico and a few Canadians, so it’s really an international team.”

A year ago at Squaw Valley, it took her 3 hours, 14 minutes, 49 seconds to complete the Spartan Beast World Championship race in seventh place.

It’s the only time she’s finished outside the top 5 in almost 30 races.

The course is 16 miles long, with 30-35 obstacles in the way.

Game on.

“It’s really just beautiful because you’re out there on trails and then you get on top of a mountain and you have an amazing view — and then you do monkey bars up there,” Kolbl said. “Which is really a unique thing that you wouldn’t be able to do otherwise.”


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