Whew. Elliot and I are very glad to have the first big race of the year successfully behind us! This is our third time in Victoria, Canada for the half ironman triathlon: a 1.2 mile swim, 56 mile bike, 13.1 mile run. We both competed in 2019, 2022 and 2023. It has been so fun to visit new places and re-visit some of our favorite spots on this quaint island. We enjoyed the company of Elliot’s Uncle Derek, who also competed in the race, and Aunt Ann! I had an athlete, Jason, racing as well.
For context, the bike course changed slightly to years past, but everything else about the course remained the same. Weather can be dramatically different year to year as well. This year was perfect conditions, while last year was overcast and cooler water/air temps. In 2019, with good conditions, I went 4 hours 55 minutes (3rd AG, 7th Overall). In 2022, I went 4:40, winning the race overall by 4 minutes and 40 seconds. This year, I went 4:28, winning the race by just over 6 minutes (but more on that, as technically I only won by 2 minutes!)
I try to be as authentic as possible when sharing race recaps. While I was prepared for this race, I had taken about 7 weeks of very light run training in March and April to heal a hip injury (impingement) before signing up last minute. I was one of the last people to register a month out from the event! I had a good 3.5 week build, but as someone who likes to be as prepared as possible, I was still a bit nervous about where my fitness was. This is normal for any race post-injury, let alone the first big event of the season – a race I had won the year prior to boot. There seemed to be an added pressure because of that, albeit self-imposed. This is also the only Ironman 70.3 I’m racing this year (usually I do at least 4), so I really wanted it to go well.
I really drug my feet signing up for races; I found out in late April that I did not make an elite team(Zwift) that I had applied for months ago, which affected my race selection. There weren’t pro fields at any of the Ironman venues I wanted to race so racing as a pro was out of the question, though I did consider it briefly. Lastly, I decided neither the Ironman World Championships nor the Half Ironman World Championships appealed to me due to location, course, timing, and travel cost/logistics, so I was able to choose races that were not qualifiers/conflicted with peaking for a World Champs. Leading into Victoria, Elliot and I both competed in a local, long-course duathlon and it went OK, but both of us felt the pressure of an A race looming days out from the event. It was particularly challenging to sleep the night before, even for somewhat seasoned athletes like myself. (this is my 6th season of racing)
With a 6 am start, I was happy we stayed near the race. Traffic lights in Victoria are notoriously frustrating, even at 4:30 am on a Sunday, so it was an early morning with butterflies in the tummy! Elliot and I seem to have perfected a race-week and race-day dance around one another… I prepare the food, Elliot takes care of the bikes, etc. We can almost communicated wordlessly, silently trodding away from our prepped bikes together to warm up, nodding solemnly at one another in the start chute, a brief kiss before parting ways for a few hours. It never gets easier, it just gets more familiar.
Elliot started about a minute in front of me. I have never started so far up front in the swim, but I know it’s time to start practicing more elite swim starts and latching onto good packs of swimmers. The swim is draft-legal, so getting in with a good group is key. The water in Elk Lake was perfect, and I knew I was finally going to get under the magic 30 minute mark. Official time: 29:52! Last year I swam a 32:18 on this course, with my best Half Ironman swim time before today at 31:03, so this was a good time drop. I swam primarily with a group of guys who were generally well-behaved, a little rough with 300 yards to go with some pushing and fighting for a good line/feet, but I can’t complain. I’ve experienced far rougher swims!
The bike course in Victoria is beautiful. It’s not the fastest course, with rolling hills and a lot of tight, technical turns. There are beautiful farmlands and ocean beach views; I remember thinking of my dad when riding by a serene field. Another female began riding with me at the 40-ish mile mark, and we paced well together. Long course triathlon is not draft legal on the bike, which means you must keep 6 bike lengths between you and the athlete in front of you at all times. When you ride with someone about your strength, you can alternate “turns” in front, which helps the time pass by and keeps the tempo up. I was very happy for the company with about 15 miles to go! We exchanged encouragement, and pedaled our way to the one prominent climb (about 1200m long) late in the course.
I saw Elliot coming down the hill when I was about halfway up and, after cheering for him, I noted the gap to him was over 3 minutes. No catching my husband today – he was ON! This brings me even more momentum when racing. With how much we race, it’s rare for both of us to have a “perfect” day. Last year it seemed like he would have a good day when I was off, and vice versa. It is the most special feeling in the world when you AND your person have a great race!
After a good bike leg, with an official time of 2:30:36 (just over 4 minutes fast than last year) I came into transition just behind the girl I was riding with, careful to have a legal dismount, as she unfortunately came off her bike slightly after the dismount line and get either a stern talking to or a penalty. I was leaving transition by the time the officials got done speaking with her, so I knew I got a gap to her. Something told me I wasn’t leading the race, and the suspicion was confirmed when a good friend and fellow coach/athlete Brent Detta (who was there to spectate his athletes and friends) gave me an urgent update at the start of the run…
“You’re down by 5 minutes and 20 seconds, Becca! She started the swim just 3 seconds behind you, so all you have to do is catch her!” I breathed a thank you to him, slightly shocked by the gap. I had swam and biked significantly faster than the previous year (2+ minutes off my swim and 4+ minutes off my bike) and, while I had a feeling I was going to get out-biked on this type of course, I did not expect the gap to be so large. The last time I ran down a 5+ minute gap was at World Championships last October, when I was in peak form. Last year, I managed to get into first place by the first aid station. Looking back, it really was the race experience I crave. Being uncomfortable and forced to fight for something brings any experience a lot of value. I remember telling my dad prior to the race “I won’t count my chickens before they’re hatched,” and he got a kick out of my premonition.
I took a minute to weigh my options. I knew I couldn’t overcome a 5+ minute gap in the first 10k loop of the 2 lap run course, so I focused on what I could control. It’s easy to panic, but I told myself that all I could do was run my best, and that I would put money on me over anyone in a sprint finish. My good friend, Carolyn, had reminded me to be confident before the race and her words came to me just when I needed them. While this wasn’t the dynamic I necessarily wanted (being first off the bike is always ideal!) this was a high-pressure situation I needed to grow as an athlete. I took just one moment to acknowledge that if I did not win this race, I was not a failure, that I had done well thus far, and that it is an honor to race in an elevated women’s field. Then, I told myself to stay positive and believe in my run.
As I worked my way through the male athletes, they gave me good advice and encouragement. I distinctly remember a guy saying: “She’s not far ahead, so just chip away at her lead.” Again, I breathed a thank you and pressed on. In the first lap of the run, people can easily see who is leading. Both Elliot and I got good placement updates from spectators, which is incredibly uplifting!
The run course is not fast. It’s a trail run, with rolling hills, which can be stressful when you’re running from behind. I figured if I was going to make the catch, it would be in the final miles. The tricky part about a two-loop run course is you have no idea who is running their first loop and who is on their final lap, so I would not be able to determine if I made the catch until I literally saw the finish chute. Only one male ran past me, which encouraged me. I saw the girl I biked into transition with on the one out-and-back on the course during the first lap, meaning I was feeling pressure in front of me and behind me at mile 5.
Brent gave me another spectacular update at the 6.5 mile half way mark, leading into the second loop. “You’ve cut it down to 1 minute 52 seconds, but you have to go NOW! You look better, but GO NOW! Look for a red kit!” Instead of pouting that I had more work to do, Brent fired me up in his firm coaching voice. People around me cheered, and I was now determined to win this race.
Every female seemed to be wearing a red kit (Canada’s colors are red after all, and so many people had on Canadian kits!) so I just pushed as hard as I could. I passed a few girls in red kits, all tucked in with men and women on their first or second lap. I encouraged all of them, not knowing who was the leader. In the final 2 miles, I didn’t see any women in front of me on the few open, flat sections of the trail. While I had a sneaking suspicion I had made the pass, it wasn’t until the finish line spectators greeted me with enthusiastic cheers that I knew I was victorious. I saw the finish line chute, the red carpet, and the glorious tape I had been dreaming of breaking for the second time. With a surge of joy, adrenaline, and overwhelming gratitude for all those who helped me, I ran through the tape and lifted it over my head.
Elliot (who had a fantastic time drop himself from last year, all-around amazing race) finished 8 minutes or so before me and came up to me with a huge smile on his face. There is no greater joy than knowing I made him proud. He is my husband first, coach second, fellow competitor third. Sometimes I don’t know how we balance it, but every once in a while I guess we get it right! He absolutely crushed his day, finishing in 4:21:19 – swim of 28:27, bike of 2:25:49, and a run time of 1:23:11, placing 3rd in his age group and 10th overall. This was his first triathlon representing his new team: Every Man Jack (EMJ) and I’m seriously so proud of him! To date, this race was likely the best 70.3 distance either of us has put together- ever.
Annabel, the strong cyclist originally leading the race that I was chasing, finished 2 minutes 20 seconds behind me. However, she was disqualified from the race. Her partner was also racing, and had a mechanical on the bike. He DNF’d on the bike course, then jumped into the run and ran with her on course. He crossed the finish line next to her. Both actions are illegal. Once you quit a race, for whatever reason, you cannot re-enter the race or cross the finish line. Sadly, the battle is not reflected on official results, but I know how she pushed me and how much it brought out of me. I told her how much I respected her at the finish, and really good job. It is a bummer about the DQ, she certainly dictated the race! I, too, have learned the hard way that Ironman has strict rules in place. Third place went to Adele, the gal I had biked with and saw on the run course. The DQ moved her into 2nd overall, and 1st in her age group. Her time this year would have beaten the time I posted last year to win, which shows the depth and quality in this years event.
Official results show I won by over 6 minutes, with the top bike and run splits, and a 22+ minute gap to second place in the 30-34 age group. I was the 21st athlete across the line with the males. While the real story played out differently than official results showed, I’m incredibly honored to have taken the course with such amazing women, fellow competitors, and amazing course supporters. Every race I’ve done, good or ugly, has taught me something and this race is no exception. Quite literally, I had to run my best to “run it back.”
I owe my run to coach, athlete, and friend Brent Detta. THANK YOU. I owe my training and preparation to my coach, Elliot. THANK YOU. I owe my recovery to my amazing physio, Chris Johnson with Zeren PT, and sports med physician, Dr. Ihm with UW Sports Medicine. I owe the post-race hangover to my Uncle Derek 😉 who was awesome to have with on this trip and super fun to see out racing! A huge shout out to athlete Jason Bishop, who posted a MASSIVE swim time drop going under 32 for the first time! He had two flats on the bike, but didn’t let that ruin his day or his attitude, which makes me the most proud. He also posted a best half marathon off the bike despite Victoria’s “slow” trail run course, so big things to come for this guy.
Well done to all.
To my fellow ladies: Keep elevating one another and the level of competition.
Post-race exploration around the island: