Diana Nyad isn't the only woman pulling off seeming miracles of endurance. Meet Katie Spotz
This is an article from the Sept. 16, 2013 issue
Katie Spotz's endurance career started like many others': A self-proclaimed team-sports benchwarmer at Mentor (Ohio) High, she took a walking-running class when she was 18, then gradually added miles to her runs. After her first 10-miler, she set her sights on finishing a marathon and then an Ironman triathlon.
But after she completed that first marathon, in Columbus, Ohio, in 2005, Spotz began to focus on more extreme feats. Over the next six years she cycled across the United States twice; ran a 62-mile ultra-marathon in Australia; became the first person to swim the length of the Allegheny River—covering the 325 miles in a month—and was the youngest person to row solo across the Atlantic Ocean, traveling the 3,038 miles from Dakar, Senegal, to Georgetown, Guyana, in 70 days, five hours and 22 minutes. "I love how endurance tests your mind's power," says Spotz, 26. "In soccer I never faced the question, Can I keep going?"
Every adventure has tested her will in a different way, but her biggest challenge was the solo row, which Spotz had heard about while riding a bus in Australia. First she had to learn how to row, but training was only 20% of her two-year preparation. She raised $100,000 for expenses and stumped for Blue Planet Network, a charity focused on the planning and management of water and sanitation programs around the world. She had to learn celestial navigation, how to work a desalinator, how to repair everything on her 19-foot, sleep-cabin-equipped rowboat and how to keep her various electronics—including four iPods loaded with music, audiobooks and Spanish lessons— humming with solar power.
One hundred miles from the South American shore, she realized she wouldn't reach her intended destination in French Guiana without a tow, due to heavy currents. So she headed northwest to Georgetown, Guyana, which added 400 miles and eight days to her trip but allowed her to land under her own power. "At times I felt overwhelmed and wanted to quit," she says. "But you learn to say, 'Yes, I'm feeling this, but I don't need to act on it.' I try not to have can't in my vocabulary."
On Sept. 8, Spotz, who travels the speaking circuit and runs a charity called Schools for Water, which raises funds for school-based water projects in developing nations, finally got around to her first Ironman triathlon, finishing the Cedar Point Rev3 Tri in Sandusky, Ohio, in 10:48:19. She has no other grand adventure looming at the moment, but she's sure something will find her. "I'll keep doing ridiculous endurance things," she says. "It's in my blood."
Preparations vary for each of Spotz's endeavors and not just because different muscle groups are doing the heavy lifting. "You can break your body down training for an Ironman, and you'll be fine for the race," says Spotz. "When you're going to be out there [rowing] for months, the biggest worry is not being physically ready, it's making sure you're not already burned out." For a marathon, an Ironman or the Race Across America, speed is important, as is proper fueling. "You're burning through so many calories, fuel becomes a science, and I haven't always gotten it right," says Spotz, who was hospitalized for dehydration and hyponatremia (low salt) after a RAAM training ride. "In endurance, you never stop learning."