Laura Lunardi: Obstacle Racer, Physical Therapist, Coach and Mom

Laura Lunardi carries a lot of titles.  She is a 42 year old geriatric physical therapist from West Chester, PA and a mom to 5 children.  She coaches field hockey and lacrosse.  As if all that was not enough she competes in and excells at obstacle racing.  With that kind of constant activity, hydration is key.  Hauling around all her kids’ sports gear is great training for all the hauling around bags of sand in competition.  NATHAN was lucky enough to get a few minutes of Laura’s time.


How did you get into obstacle racing?
I heard about Spartan Race (SR) at the gym I was going to in the summer of 2013 (the gym has WAY since closed…). Spartan race came to the gym as a stop on their workout tour. As an aside, the workout tours have been completely revamped, restructured, and are basically a huge market now for SR. The people who run the workouts are full-time SR employees and they have hundreds of stops every year – in 2013 they were just starting the tours to spread the SR name.
Anyway…I did the 2+ hour workout, which included heavy bag carries up hills, sled drags, “teamwork” types of activities, lots of body weight stuff, 1500 burpees, and then a small scale obstacle course at the end. I LOVED it, but was not sold on the idea of doing a race. The idea of the mud just didn’t appeal to me. But not sure what went through my brain, because about a month later, I signed up for the NJ Super (the middle distance race) that was happening that September. Did it, loved it, I guess the rest is history…


Carrying stuff is all part of the game.
Carrying stuff is all part of the game.



What is your athletic background?
I played field hockey, basketball, and lacrosse through high school. I then played Division I field hockey and lacrosse on a scholarship at the University of Delaware. I never really enjoyed long- distance running except for training for my sports seasons, but during my last semester, I raced a few road races in Delaware, the first of which was the Caesar Rodney ½ marathon. After I graduated, I did races a bit more frequently, mainly 10Ks, 10-milers, and an occasional 5K. In 2004, I decided to take the plunge and run a marathon. I took somewhat of a hiatus while I was having all of my kids, and although I continued to run and played club field hockey, I just didn’t do many races. I slowly got back into racing, but with more trail runs, etc.
Can you tell us some of your achievements in the sport?
My first year, I competed in 4 races and finished Top 15 each time, with 8th being my highest. In 2014 I made the podium 8 times, winning 2 of those races. In 2015, I turned 40, which made me eligible for Elite Master’s podiums on top of overall podiums. I was the overall winner in 2 races, also finishing Elite Top 3 in 9 additional, coupled with 15 Master’s podiums. The next year (2016) continued with more of the same (3 Elite wins, 10 Master’s 1st places, 5 additional Top 3 podiums). This year (2017), I have only been able to make it to one SR so far (NJ Beast), and I was 4th overall, with a Master’s Elite win. My SR schedule will be lighter this year, as I will be doing more marathons, trail races, and Ultramarathons.


What is it that you love about obstacle racing?

It has really made me overcome a lot of my fears, especially my fear of heights! Over the years I have become less tentative when approaching obstacles that challenge my fears of heights and of falling. I’m usually in a comfortable groove, and can make quick work of them at this point. I also like the unknown factor of Spartan races – the actual distance, the obstacles and the order in which they will be placed. It’s all part of the challenge and uniqueness, and many people embrace that.


Above everything though, I like to lose myself during a race. Mountain races are my favorite. I like to grind it out on the long, steep climbs. These races are mentally and physically unlike anything else, but they take me to another place and allow me to completely clear my mind (much like running in general does for me).


It's not an obstacle race without barbed wire and some mud.
It’s not an obstacle race without barbed wire and some mud.


What is the most challenging aspect?
For me, it’s trying to balance everything else in life while still be able to compete at a high level each race. I’d say I’m one of very few SR Elite females that has children. I also don’t have a trainer, belong to a gym, or have access to anywhere I could practice obstacles. It definitely puts me at a disadvantage.


How do you train for these events?
As I eluded to already, I’m pretty sure I have the most non-conventional OCR training routine for someone who races OCRs! But some of that, in fairness, is because I am not an obstacle course specialist. I really enjoy trail races, an occasional road marathon, etc. I like the variety of race type, as well as distance.
I run every morning. Depending on what races I have coming up, I will do runs anywhere from 5-15 miles. I don’t have a gym membership, so all of my other workouts are in my basement with pretty simple equipment (free weights, dip/pull-up bar). I incorporate tabata training, body weight exercises, and HIIT (high intensity interval training) workouts to simulate the quick bursts & speed necessary for OCRs. The pattern of running, quick stops, and obstacles require the ability to recover quickly to get through each obstacle. That’s pretty much it, nothing fancy.


Walk us through a typical day of training (but not necessarily only the training components- life components too) in the busy life of Laura Lunardi?
My life is BUSY! I have 5 kids, 10 year old twin daughters, a 9 year old daughter, and 7 year old boy/girl twins. This is the first year they are all in school full-time, but for some reason life seems crazier! They are very in to running & all kinds of sports. I coach just about every team they play on, from field hockey to lacrosse, and sometimes even flag football!
I work part-time and have a flexible work schedule, which varies week-to-week. My training schedule also varies, although the one constant is my morning run. I will not give that up for anything.
Basically, I do my runs in the morning before school/work. I find that if I don’t run first thing in the morning, my entire day is just “off.” And although I much prefer trail running, I basically train on the road because it’s simpler – I can just walk out my front door rather than drive somewhere. My other training falls in to place whenever I can fit it in (see above). Whenever I can do “training” in every day life, I take advantage of it (piggyback my kids, move heavy stuff, run up/down stairs with my kids, do monkey bars on the playground, etc).



Laura has had practice carrying stuff as she has 5 kids.
Laura has had practice carrying stuff as she has 5 kids.



What type of gear are obstacle racers into?
SHOES!!! I think that’s the biggest and most important piece of gear for OCR. Grip and drainage are essential when you have to get through the mud/muck and slippery obstacles. Some venues have some pretty gnarly terrain and a lot have boulder/rock downhills, which can be disastrous in the wrong shoe. Now, the brand is personal preference, and OC racers will argue until the cows come home about which shoes are the best!
I’d say next would be the socks. I know I will only race in one brand of knee-high mid-compression OCR socks (made by MudGear). They are like magic – they can be soaked, but my feet never feel squishy!
Beyond that – no cotton tops/bottoms! You will be miserable in a soaking wet cotton shirt! Most female racers wear compression shorts & tanks/sports bras. Most men (at least in the Elite field) go shirtless.


What is next for you?
I just raced a trail marathon in Philadelphia and have an Xterra trail marathon coming up in Maryland. After that, I will have a string of Spartan races, all in my home state. The Blue Mountain races are considered some of, if not, the, most challenging Super and Sprint races in the SR series. It’s awesome to have a SR that’s only an hour away! The rest of 2017 will be a mix between Spartan races, trail races, and 3 or 4 Ultramarathons (or more)!


Go, Laura!
Go, Laura!