Charlotte ‘Lottie’ Spence: Interview with Military Background CrossFit Athlete

We talked to Charlotte Lottie Spence - the CrossFit athlete, former Army member, Rehabilitation Instructor in the Royal Army Physical Training Corp and mum.

Can you give a brief bio about yourself , where your from and how you got into CrossFit?

I’m from the Lake District in Cumbria (Up North), I grew up in a village called Coniston and went to John Ruskin School. I joined the Army at 19 and served in the Royal Military Police for 8 years before transferring into the Royal Army Physical Training Corp as a Rehabilitation Instructor. I turned 30 in January and this year I competed in my 3rd CrossFit Open.

I was introduced to CrossFit by some of my Work Friends who wanted to put a team in to enter Divided We Fall, we scraped through the qualifiers and made it to the competition, I remember not ever having heard of a snatch and having to learn it during the workout, being coached by a kind spectator who must have taken pity on me, lets not even mention the double unders.

I have been hooked ever since and my CrossFit Journey has taken me all over the place.

I now follow #SYSTM programing which is personalised by Coach Neil Laverty from CrossFit 8020 in Northern Ireland and I am part of CrossFit Esprit De Corps in Alton. We are currently looking forward to competing as a team together at the European Regionals 2017.

What do you think of the Regionals events this year with no barbells? 

Personally I’m a little sorry that there aren’t any barbell movements, not that I’m mega with a barbell or anything, I just think that it’s a huge part of the way we all train. Its also always amazing to watch the way some of these guys and girls lift. I believe it’s a bit attraction of the event.

If you could switch jobs with Dave Castro for a day and program one team event for 2017 Games to really test the athletes what would you chose? 

I think I would like to see the teams really have to pull together in an almost military situation. I believe some kind of assault course with a log or stretcher carry would be a great team event, you would really get to see how people work well together and I’m always a fan of endurance and a long grip.

How is competing as part of a team different from competing as an individual in your opinion? 

I have always preferred being an individual athlete, I find it much harder to work as a team. When you are on your own you can go into your own private pain cave and stay there, you’re the only one who has to do the work so you just get it done.

When your with a team it’s a constant battle with each others strengths and weaknesses.

It’s a lot more tactical and requires much more focus. That said being part of a team can be a lot more fun, we have had some amazing weekends competing and training together as Team Esprit De Corps, even if we lose we always come away feeling like we were the best team there and that’s worth something.

How does your background in the Military and being a trainer help you with your pursuit of competitive CrossFit? 

I think I can thank the military for giving me a really stable endurance base from which to build on and a good foundation of strength. It’s also helped me a little bit with just digging into a workout and being able to switch off. When you’re in training or on training exercises, someone else is taking the workout and you just have to get on with it, there is no escape.

The connection with the US between Crossfit and the Military is very strong and goes back to the roots of the sport. Are there many ties between the two back here in the UK?

I’m afraid we don’t have the backing like they do in the US and CrossFit is not recognised as a Sport within the British Military. I believe a lot of military personnel train CrossFit and integrate S & C into their life styles along with the tradition slowly building of Hero workouts.

We don’t however get any funding or recognition when we compete. For example I gained first Military Female in the World this year and it wasn’t recognised by my Corps (Royal Army Physical Training Corps). Again on a more positive note we are trying to bring in more lifting and ‘CrossFit’ style training in the form of British Army Warrior Fitness, we are hoping to build with this and gain more support as we go along.

What is your favourite Hero WOD and how do you feel when you compete in these types of workouts? 

I love a workout that was made up by a close friend of mine in memory of his best friend who died during a 30 mile run on a training exercise while transferring into the Royal Marines. The Workout is called Jenkins and we do it every year in his memory. I feel proud during any Hero WOD but also sad as at the end of the day we are remembering a life lost in service of our country.

What is it like to be a mum and balance home life and competitive high level CrossFit? 

To be brutally honest sometimes its hard going, my husband works away on the oil rigs and I work a full time job. I’m just lucky that with a bit of prep Jake and I can be at the gym for 6:30 before school and I can get most of my training done during the working day. If I’m on my own my evenings are manic with washing, ironing uniform, doing spellings, bath time, reading bedtime stories and prep for the next day.

I’m often not sitting down to eat until half 8 / 9 o clock, then I´m shattered and its time for bed.

The weekends I’m grateful for the invention of the 3DS, Jake will happily play around the gym or on his DS while I train and I usually try to do something for him after so it balances out a bit. We are also lucky that it isn’t rare in the CrossFit community for people to bring children into the gym.

Do you consider yourself to be a positive role model for women and fitness in the military? Which women inspired you and how important are female role models for young girls in non conventional occupations or hobbies?

I never used to think that I would be someone who other women could look up to and it surprises me when they do. I am no different from any other woman. I have recently been very touched by a number of girls (and a few guys) who have come through the rehab platoon under my care and have gone away and changed their training ethic or attitude towards what they believe they could achieve. I have even had one girl write to me to tell me I inspired her, it was extremely humbling but if I am having a positive effect I can only be happy and proud of their achievements.

I don’t think I have been inspired by anyone one person in particular, I am more effected by the people around me and those I train alongside. My friends at work and other athletes on SYSTM programming can inspire my just as much as women like Sam Briggs.

I think the important thing to remember is not what you think of other people but what you think of yourself.

I´m often quite negative on the outside about what I believe I can achieve but on the inside somewhere I always believe that I can do it.

I do believe role models are important and its important to see that strong women and athletes are just normal people. If they can get where they are, there is simply no reason for you not to be able to achieve the same.

What workout do you secretly hate? 

Thrusters – Its no secret I have absolutely zero liking for this movement!!!!

You talk a lot about being in competition with Emma McQuaid, what is the relationship between you like? 

Emma has been a good friend of mine for the past two years, yes I love it when once in a blue moon I beat her in a workout, especially if its swimming and she has had a good drowning at the same time but really I wouldn’t say there is competition between us. She has been so helpful with my training, I could ask her anything and she would help me work it out. In the open last year she sat awake all night and worked out what splits I needed on the handstand press ups (a big weakness for me) down to the last second so I would do well in a workout. She is on another level to me, incredibly dedicated athlete I can’t wait to see her smash Regionals this year and I know she is made to be a Games competitor.

What more uncommon exercises should crossfitters use and program more into their workouts?  

As an exercise rehabilitation instructor I believe that answer is always glutes and core – we all have great power and strength in the big muscle groups but what about the deep stabilizing muscles? Glute med for example gets neglected, you only have to look at peoples knee movements in the squat to know that a lot of people (me included) lack a certain amount of control we really should have.

When things get really tough in WODs do you have any mental tricks that you use to stay focused and keep you going?

My biggest one is possibly counting and thinking ahead on the reps, if I’m counting and thinking ahead to the next reps I’m less likely to break. For example 50 wall balls, if at 39 I´m already thinking about 43 or 44 I know I won’t break at 40.

What common mistakes do you see beginner crossfitters make and what can they do to avoid them?

I think over training is a common one, it took a long time for me to realize that if I wanted to improve both physically and mentally I needed to take sufficient rest days and correct recovery periods after workouts that are hard on your central nervous system.

I think the best advice I can give you is get to know your own body and listen to it.

If your tired and normal movements seem more effort then you probably need to rest and recharge.

What do you hope to see from British CrossFit athletes in the future? What do we need to do in order to get more athletes on the podium at the Games? 

I think we have a lot of really good CrossFit athletes up and coming in the UK and some amazing lifters too. I would like to see more of our girls and guys take up the Regionals spots as long as they leave a little space in there for me too. I’d like to get a good run at Regionals injury free before I’m booted into the masters category. As for the Crossfit Games I’m really not sure what we need to do, I’ll ask my coach and get back to you.

Where do you see CrossFit in 10 years time? How will it change and evolve as a sport? 

I’m hoping that the opportunity to compete within CrossFit will widen and not narrow, I am worried that events like Regionals and the CrossFit Games will become so elitist that only those who can afford the best coaches, the best recovery methods and to go away and train full time will be able to compete, this would be a great shame. I love the sport and would like to see it evolve fairly, I’d like to see stricter drugs testing throughout the season and fairer placings allocated in the more populated regions. That said I’m biased as I believe Europe is one of the toughest regions.

Sport seems to be a real passion for you , with things like rock and ice climbing being cited as some of your other hobbies. Do you still have tie to pursue some of these outside of CrossFit and do you think the skills you have learnt from them helped you when you first started CrossFit?

Before we had Jake our main hobby was like you have mentioned – climbing. That mainly stopped due to having the little man, I did take up triathlon for a while but suffered really badly with shin pain. CrossFit is what I used to fill the gap and now has become my main focus. I believe when Jake is a bit older we will start climbing a bit more again but its not the sort of activity you can easily do with a 6 year old, especially not ice climbing. I´m not sure if there are really any skills transferred from climbing except maybe grip strength and of course triathlon helped with my endurance and now my love of swimming events.

If you were stranded on an island and could only have one piece of workout equipment with you what would you pick?

Umm possibly one of those SUPs from Tribal class then I could get myself off the island, once I´d had some peace and quiet and a nice tan first though.

What book would you recommend that everyone should read?

Okay so I am a bit of a book worm but only when it comes to fiction, historical fiction and science fiction/fantasy novels, I can be tempted by the occasional crime book but mostly stick to the latter. I would recommend anything by Bernard Cornwell for fellow geeks out there and I’m also a fan of Scott Lynch.

What do you like to do when you need to switch off from CrossFit?

I do like my cardio so sometimes a swim, run or bike can be really helpful if I still want to train but not CrossFit. Obviously as I already mentioned above I love to read and if I get the time I can easily get absorbed in a book. However the main thing to do if I want to switch off from CrossFit isn’t a break from my training but a break from my phone, Instagram and Facebook can be so addictive and also misinformative sometimes its good to just leave those apps alone.

If you weren’t a CrossFit Athlete what would you be doing instead?

I think I would be trying to get back into triathlon again, I really like the 3 elements of the sport and I still believe that I don’t get anywhere near the amount of endorphin kick from CrossFit as I used to from running, I love that feel good factor. I have been a bit tempted by the British Army Rowing league, rowing is one of those love / hate things, it’s awful but you can love it…. Or I could give up training and eat cake I’m not sure which I´d chose.

Can you tell us one surprising thing about yourself that people would never guess when they first meet you?

When I was at school I used to hate any type of physical activity. I would literally do anything to get out of PT. Once me and my best friend Hamish even hid under the school stage for an hour to avoid having to go to a tennis lesson. We would even do extra math classes. PT was the only thing I ever got a bad report on.

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About The Author

Editor-In-Chief at BOXROX. I come from a background of rugby and weightlifting. Growing up in the English Lake District, I spent a great deal of time swimming in its stunning lakes and rivers. In 2015 my brothers and I became the first people to swim the 145km length of the River Eden, from source to mouth, in 9 days. We also swam the Corryvreckan whirlpool, the third largest in the world, and Crossfit is a huge part of my training for these events.

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