Rock N Roll Arizona – My 2022 Half Marathon Race Report

WOW! What a race! Racing at the front of the amateur field was exciting from start to finish. I’m so thankful Elliot and I decided to put this race on my out-season triathlon schedule. It was a large race with over 17,000 participants between the 5k, 10k, half and full marathon distances, so we knew it would be competitive. After racing a disorganized, expensive, and less-than-impressive Seattle Half Marathon in November, I felt like I need a challenging experience to prepare me for another competitive triathlon season.

Training for a half marathon is a lot less hours per week than a half ironman, which is what I specialize in during the triathlon season (which is typically early May through October). Half ironman triathlons consist of a 1.2 mile swim (2125 yards) 56 mile bike and ends with a half marathon (13.12 miles). Of all three disciplines, I’m the strongest at running. We are working to “strengthen my strength” this offseason while continuing to work on my swim form. I’m fairly strong on the bike, and will begin focusing on that discipline after a run focus for the past 3 months. All that being said, I also really wanted to boost my confidence and prove to myself that I can compete openly as an elite runner in addition to racing as an elite triathlete.

I was fully tapered for this race, and got to relax with my amazing Grandma out in Arizona prior to the race. Senior citizens are the best to hang out with before a race! They go to bed early, eat well, and know how to enjoy themselves. My parents were able to come support the race as well, which is rare! My dad is a hard working farmer and road construction operator, and my mom is very active in the local church community, which makes it hard to travel. It was great to have their support before and after the race!

I was lucky to have a friend Erik Chazin racing in the elite field, and he helped me get organized, warmed up and focused prior to the race start. After a quick pep talk from my very first run coach, Susan Loken (who introduced Elliot and I while training for this very race five years ago!) we headed to the start line. The sun was rising, and temps were warm (55*F) but generally still fast conditions. All the fast girls were right at the start, so despite a rolling start instead of the usual mass start we all settled into a pack early on. I kept note of who started in the corral behind me, as a 3 second gap could make a difference at the finish line if we all stayed together.

While I had a race plan specific to this course, I was also fully focused on making the podium. This means that while I was watching my pace, I was more interested in watching what the girls around me were doing. If anyone made a move, I was prepared to defend it. Within the first two miles, we dropped a few girls. I could tell a few females wanted to sit out front and set the pace, so I let them. There were ebbs and flows of effort and pace changes on the flat start, but I stayed pretty consistent. If the female leaders drifted a few seconds ahead, I had fast men to help keep me out of the wind and in contact with the leaders.

I managed to get water at every aid station, and kept myself in top 5 contention. Around mile 6, the terrain gradually trended upwards in a slight ascent, and the pack dynamic changed. The strong males pushed the pace to drop their competition, and the female lead began to drop back. A new leader emerged, setting the pace at 5:50/mile. I stayed on her hip as one by one the pack dropped off. I could tell by the sound of their footsteps they didn’t blow up, so it was still anyone’s game. The lead and I went together through mile 7 or so, until she turned the screws again to low 5:40 pace. I knew step hills were coming, and I let her drift ahead.

At mile 8, I felt someone tug on my braid! I glanced to my right, and to my great surprise and joy, my 50 year old rival Dave Tindall came running alongside me! We have always been really close in triathlon racing, but he always edges me out by a few seconds. I had no idea he was racing. This added another element to the race, as I have committed to not accepting a pro racing license until I can beat a 50 year old dude! He was running well, and since my husband works with both him and myself, I knew our race plan would be similar. I let him bound ahead a few strides but kept in him in sight.

The hills of McDowell road were upon us at mile 9-10: a steep uphill out and back with a pounding drumline at the top to synchronize your steps to. I was able to check how far back I was from the female lead, and confirmed I was in second place with third and fourth place just 10 seconds or so back from me. With Dave between me and first place female, I hit the uphill section with determination. My heart rate surged and my legs burned, but I had done the work to prepare for this. Mile 10 came with the sweet relief of a downhill, and it was go time.

I knew with 5k to go I would at least set a personal best time, so now it was time to race for finishing positions and pride. I recaught Dave at Mile 11 and we ran side by side for a half mile before he encouraged me to go, and go I did! I cruised past him and desperately pleaded with my legs to put a gap on the girls behind me, as first place had continued steadily up the road – too far to catch but still within sight. I heard footsteps behind me, and knew the race was developing behind me.

I could see the finish line, and felt cries of pain leap out of my throat. I knew everyone was hurting and pushed the thoughts of collapsing aside, knowing my dad would be at the finish to carry me if need be. To my utter dismay, 4th place had made an amazing comeback and surged from behind with a quarter mile to go. She was composed enough to encourage me to finish strong, and knew beyond the shadow of a doubt she had planned this move from the start. Incredibly done! I glanced at my watch, and even at a 5:50 pace, knew I could not defend second. I finished in 3rd overall amateur (5th with elites), 30-34 age group win by 10+ minutes, and a new best time of 1:17:55 (5:57/mile average)

The pain of racing, defined
Excerpt from a local newspaper reporting on the race

I congratulated first and second on amazing race, and found my friends Dave and Erik before embracing my dad, mom and grandma. WHAT AN EXPERIENCE. I live for moments like this: moments of battle, fatigue, stress, pressure, success, heartbreak and joy all at once. Icing on the cake was receiving an email from Ironman/Rock N Roll Elite department that I can now enter as an elite moving forward, as I had in triathlon. I had also bested my time from 5 years ago by exactly 20 minutes.

It’s as simple as this: Do the work, and the results will come. I had no doubts Elliot had prepared me for this, and I had done the work to make all my reasonable but challenging goals come to fruition. I know I’ve been on a bit of a hot streak, and that hot streak may end eventually. I’m fully prepared for the day a race doesn’t go my way, too. I’m really in this sport for my own reasons, and the elite/pro shenanigans is just a nice affirmation to go along with the journey.

I’m so excited to race more this year! Thank you for your support and for following/reading about my journey.

Please let me know if you have any questions, or are considering getting more involved in endurance racing, elite or for fun!

Best,

Becca Kawaoka


New Video: Out Season Workout #4

Join me for the 4th installment of her out season strength videos!

These workouts are slightly progressive, however you do not need to complete the workouts prior before beginning. You’ll need an ankle circle band, a med ball OR single dumbbell, and a physio ball today. This workout is 25 minutes long, offers options for beginners and intermediate participants, and incorporates functional movements in all 3 planes of motion.

Enjoy – and see you for Week 5!


New Video: Out Season Workout #3

A 25 minute total body session that begins with 10-15 minutes of injury prevention before a 10 minute strength circuit. You’ll need a step and a set of weights, moderate with an optional set of slightly heavier weights. This is a slight progression from Workout 1 & 2, although this workout can be done without completing those workouts prior.

See you next week!


New Video: Out Season Workout #2

Join me for my second workout in the Out Season series. Out Season is typically the season where endurance athletes build strength, correct imbalances and build resilience for the upcoming build. This series will be a progressive strength build that begins with mobility and injury prevention before completing a functional strength set. All workouts can be done at home, and various levels are shown. Voice over audio will provide cues for form!

Even if you’re not an endurance athlete you can still benefit from this functional strength series.

Please give it a try no matter your background! See you next time! New workout posted every 7-14 days in this workout series, so we hope you stick with it 💪🏽


New Video: Triathlon- Out Season Workout #1

Welcome to the first session in my workout series!

These sessions are designed to improve resilience (stability, mobility, flexibility) while integrating functional strength movements specific to endurance athletes.

You’ll need a set of light to moderate weights for today’s session. All levels welcome! Coach Becca is a triathlon, cycling, running, certified strength and conditioning coach, and USA swim coach. Even if you do not compete in endurance sports or triathlon, you can still benefit from these workouts!


Ironman 70.3 World Championship & Season Review

Joy is where high performance goals turn into reality.

– Wendy Neely, Masters Coach

It’s hard to put this season and World Championship experience into words, truly. I began thinking about this race two and a half years ago, back in 2019, when I began placing overall at half ironman triathlons. The half ironman distance (often referred to as a 70.3) consists of 1.2 mile open water swim, 56 mile bike, 13.1 mile run and is my favorite distance to race. When Covid took the entire 2020 race season away from us, I knew I had to make this year count. I’m no spring chicken at 30, which some of you may chuckle at, but it’s the cold hard reality of racing at an elite level. As someone who, like many, got into the sport as an adult, you feel a certain subtle time clock ticking as every year passes. This marks my 4th season of triathlon (again, thanks Covid for robbing me of my final year in the 25-29 age group!) and I am thrilled at how it turned out.

Oregon 70.3 finish

2021 in Review:

  • North American Championship, St. George 70.3, May: 3rd Overall, 2nd Age Group
  • Lake Wilderness Olympic Triathlon: First Overall Female, 5th Overall Male/Female
  • Lake Whatcom Olympic Triathlon: DNF, went off course!
  • Oregon 70.3: 2nd Overall, 1st Age Group
  • Black Diamond 70.3: First Overall Female, 3rd Overall Male/Female
  • Bonney Lake Olympic Triathlon: First Overall Female, 3rd Overall Male/Female
  • Ironman 70.3 World Championships, St George, September: 8th Overall, 3rd American Amateur, 2nd Age Group

My goals for this year were to improve and have fun, first and foremost. I learned to swim when I got into triathlon at age 26, which is a major disadvantage as I race girls who grew up swimming. I spent a lot of 2020 swimming in the lake, since Covid shut down the pools for several months in Washington, and knew I would have my work cut out for me in the winter. I am blessed to work for a club swim team as the head performance coach, so when pools reopened my coworker, Adrienne, began swimming with me several times a week. This, in addition to Masters swim training, has really helped me improve both my technique, endurance, and confidence in the water! I also knew I needed to improve my bike and run to be competitive across the board. I found a new passion and joy in bike racing, which helped change up my training in a fun way!

Bike Racing at Pacific Raceways (photo by Jake Smith)

Starting this season, I knew I had potential. Elliot, my husband, fellow triathlete, and coach, has always been extremely honest with me about where I stand in the sport. We both acknowledge that triathlon is a hobby – it will never be the way we pay our bills- so taking racing too seriously with lofty dreams of racing professionally would not only be delusional based on where I’m at, it would kill the fun of triathlon. Professional triathletes make very little off race winnings (you usually have to place top three as a pro to be “in the money”) so acquiring sponsors is the primary income source, something I’ve always felt very uncomfortable with. If I like a product, I’ll use it and tell people about it, but promoting it for financial gain…no thanks. There’s also an added pressure to perform at races while representing these brands, and I don’t think I’d like that. I also love what I do for a living (I work full time in personal training, performance coaching/marketing for a club swim team, and triathlon coaching) and don’t currently feel like I could give that up to focus on triathlon, which is what racing competitively at the pro level requires. Never say never, but after being asked repeatedly how I feel about pro racing, there is my honest thinking!

Training with Elliot is always filled with equal parts laughter and sweat

Elliot and I chose to race St. George 70.3 in May, which was North American Championships, as our season opener to preview the course for racing World Champs later that year. World Championship races are by qualification only, so we also hoped we would both secure a slot to return in September. The course was slightly different and slightly more challenging this past weekend for Worlds than it was in the spring, but I enjoyed it! While all the races I did this year were awesome and taught me something, this race in particular is noteworthy. I’m excited to share the experience with you!

Athlete Check In with Elliot

Race week was filled with nervous energy, lots of traveling (we drove 16 hours to St. George), and a lot of good times with fellow athletes and friends. We stayed with Dave and Kimberly Tindall, good friends and athletes, Simon Shi, up and coming superstar, and Juan & Camila from Colombia at the world’s best Air BnB! Everyone in the house was racing, so we kept each other calm, joked about the race, and really had a fun time. I also received tons of encouraging notes from my athletes, coworkers, good friends, family, and coaches which was really meaningful!

The Swim

The water temp was taken on race morning, and at 78* it was declare a non-wetsuit swim. For me, this is a disadvantage as I learned to swim later in life and a wetsuit definitely makes it easier for me to keep up in the water. My age group (30-34 years old) was also one of the last waves to be sent off, so we had a lot of traffic as we caught slower, older age groups the entire time. A crowded, non-wetsuit swim favors someone with a strong swim and/or a swim background, where it has always slowed me down in the past. I didn’t panic when Elliot informed me at 4:30 on race morning to pack my swim skin instead of my wetsuit though. I had been working on my swim a ton, and I was excited for a challenge! Plus, I do feel like a world championship should be a “real” swim, and boy was it ever! It was very physical, as open water swim races usually are especially in a world championship field. I got punched in the eye, kicked in the face, pushed into a buoy, and pushed to shore by swells brought on by strong winds. The first half, despite being filled with nerves and dodging people, went by fast. I remember smiling while breathing to my left side, as I could see the large crowds lined up on the shore watching us start. How cool was it to be here? My first world championship. I took it all in.

I struggled to get my swim skin off! First time racing in it.

I got dropped by the first group I started with and the next group that came through, which is common. I always start near the front and hold on as long as I can. I struggle with congestion, and typically lose feet easily if I get jostled around. Something to work on for sure! I stayed calm and held my tempo effort, reminding myself today was going to be a long day and if I couldn’t hold a certain effort to let it go and race MY race. I hoped another strong-ish swimmer from a later wave would come through to help me! The swim is draft legal, which means you can sit behind another swimmer and save a significant amount of energy. Thankfully, a girl came by and I knew I couldn’t let her go. We swam the entire second half together, weaving through women from age groups released up to 4 waves in front of us.

Coming out of the water (blue cap = 30-34 age group)

Sand Hollow is an absolutely gorgeous place to swim, and I tried to acknowledge the scenery of each venue I race even if I’m dying a bit from the effort! The blue water against the surrounding red rocks is breathtaking. I smiled as the shoreline approached, glanced at my time and headed into transition towards my bike. I was hoping for a 33-35 minute swim, and finished in 34 minutes and change, a 7+ minute PR from my last and only non-wetsuit half ironman swim.

The Bike

I headed out on the bike hot on the heels of a familiar girl in my age group, Carolyn. The bike is not draft legal in triathlon: athletes must keep a legal distance of 12 meters apart to avoid receiving a drafting penalty of up to 5 minutes. This athlete and I respectfully worked together right off the bat without impeding on the drafting rules. 

Experienced a lot of female camaraderie on course, which was awesome!

The sky looked dark from the start of the bike, the wind was blowing hard and picking up, and an occasional flash of lightning struck. I hoped we were going to be allowed to finish! Right before the swim start, a gentleman mentioned a storm was expected to hit around 10:30. At mile 10 of the bike, 10:31 am, we got hit by 20-30 mph winds, pelting rain, and eventually hail. I was still riding with the gal in my age group, so I yelled at her as I went by to stay in this with me and not throw in the towel until race officials pulled us off the course. She nodded her head to show her support, and yelled “Let’s do this, girl!” I shifted into a big gear, leaned into the wind, and put the hammer down. Whenever I glanced back, Carolyn was still with me. This helped me hold the aggressive effort into the driving wind and rain.

Dark clouds rolling in at the start of the bike

The middle of the bike course was uneventful and somewhat boring. I eased my effort a bit to conserve some energy, but know in the future I have to keep the gas on to stay with the race leaders. Around mile 48, just before the final big climb, I was passed by a really strong female. She went on to win my age group and place 5th overall. I made the decision to let her go, and continue focusing on my pace and effort to set myself up for the run.

Climbing Snow Canyon

Tough weather usually favors me. It may be easy for some to throw in the towel when Mother Nature flexes her muscles, but I just grit my teeth and flex mine back. I knew I could gain an advantage if I took some risks and kept my effort up while others may play it safe, ease up, or even quit. We had really bad conditions for about 20-30 minutes, but they kept the race going and eventually it cleared up. The course is very highly, but fair. If you go up, you get to descend afterwards. This keeps it exciting, as you constantly have to adjust your gearing and effort. I absolutely love this course. It is as gorgeous as it is challenging, with a notable 4 mile climb up Snow Canyon at the end of the course and a total of 3,639 ft of elevation gain. This race favors a strong cyclist without a doubt, and while I never post the fastest bike split of the day, I usually move up significantly on the bike. I was 46th in my age group out of the water, and moved up to 3rd in my age group on the bike, posting a time of 2 hours and 39 minutes. While this was about 4 minutes slower than what I did in May, I knew the weather was a significant factor in the times today and wasn’t concerned at all.

Head down, go to work!

The Run

My legs started to feel heavy about halfway through the bike, but I’m fairly used to feeling that way. If you’re really racing a 70.3, it shouldn’t feel good all the time. What if I don’t do well on the run? I thought to myself. “But what if you do.” I remember saying to myself out loud as I jumped off my bike and ran into transition to change out of my bike shoes and into my run gear. I was concerned about the run, as I knew it was very hilly and challenging with a total of 1500 feet of elevation gain, but reminded myself to fuel a bit extra and to trust my training.

Elliot and Sascha waiting for me out of T2

I saw Elliot and our friend Sascha as soon as I left the transition area. “You’re in third!” Elliot yelled at me. Honestly, I was smiling and over the moon just to see him, as I had told Elliot all week that I would just be happy if I survived the swim and got through the bike without a mechanical. “I biked really hard!” I yelled at him as if to prepare him to see slow run splits come through on the Ironman Tracker app, which is allows you to see an athletes times as they cross timing mats out on the course. I enjoy running over these timing mats, as I know loved ones are watching the race from all over the county in long distance support of me. To all of you who were enjoying the battle play out from afar, THANK YOU. It lifts my spirits out there!

My stomach felt queasy, as the sun was out and the air felt both warm and humid. The amateur race had 3,459 total participants, and the age women started very late in the morning as a result of this. For example, Elliot started at 7:41 am and I started at 9:25 am. I adjusted my pre-race fueling as best as I could, but it was around 12:45 pm when I started the run. That’s lunchtime! However painful the race was, I knew at this point I would finishing the race no matter what. Nothing within my control could now bar me from crossing the finish line, so I just ignored my pace and moved my legs.

Fully focused on the moment

The run course in May was a simple out and back, but this time around it was a looped course that started with about 3 miles steady uphill and away from town into a sharp incline about a mile uphill before flattening out and turning into a steep downhill back through town. I remembered the hill from spring, but running it twice was a cruel new twist! The course was absolutely packed with people and aid stations were nearly impossible to use. Many people were walking, some were just laying down on the side of the road crying in pain, and several were shouting profanities. I blocked it out and focused on positive things. I smiled so much because HELLO world championships, and truthfully I was playing defense. I had a quiet goal of finishing top 5 in my age group, and with the knowledge I was in third all I had to do was prevent any women from passing me. Typically I move up on the run a few spots, so I trusted whatever my legs could give me was enough. I didn’t concern myself with the slower than expected splits. 

The skies opened up for me around mile 4, and it was the one rare and shining moment that I felt truly amazing, confident and at ease in this race. I started feeling better and running well as I came back through town to huge crowds of people. Elliot updated me I had moved into 2nd place in my age group but wasn’t sure of where I stood overall due to the wave starts, so to just focus on running hard. At that time, I was filled with confidence but knew I had my work cut out for me heading away from the crowds and back up that terrible hill. It took everything in me to overcome the quad and calf cramps from the brutal terrain, but I closed my eyes occasionally and willed my muscles to continue working for me. This was the last race of the year, and I did not want to spend off season regretting anything. I believed I was capable of some incredible things, but those things don’t come easy.

Striding uphill, Mile 9

“Be patient, be present, be gentle, be kind.” I kept thinking to myself. It was important to me that I encourage other women out there, so I tried to tell every woman good job as I went by with the exception of when I was running up the steep sections (I needed all the air I could get there!) While I was taking this race seriously, I had to allow small moments to give back to the universe a little by sharing moments with my competitors. The last 2 miles were pure pain, and I was passed by a very strong gal that went on to place 3rd overall. I tried to stay with her for as long as I could, and surged for a half mile or so, but eventually had let her go. You told your mother you would put yourself in the hospital to reach your potential, so stand by your word, I remember thinking.  Another gal came by gunning for the finish, so I gathered myself knowing every second would eventually count, I sprinted with her. Spectators were cheering for us “Thatta way ladies!” “That’s why they call this a race!” When I saw the finish, I was overcome with emotion. Pain came as a searing reminder that I had pushed myself to the very limit, and I collapsed on the nearest stretch of grass and sobbed for a while as I came in and out of consciousness. Several people asked if they could help me, but I brushed it off as pure elation and eventually wobbled to my feet to find Elliot. I promptly threw up the remnants of fueling in my body, received medical attention from several kind volunteers and medical staff, and found my way to Elliot with the help of a good friend, Sascha!

He confirmed I finished 2nd in my age group, 3rd American amateur, and 8th amateur female overall. YESSSS!!!! Sadly, he also informed, my friendly rival Dave had beat me for the third time this year. Next year, Dave!  We headed back to our AirBnB to enjoy pizza before attending age group awards, which was an amazing experience. Triathlon legend Dave Scott handed me my award, which was so cool, and standing on stage with the other men and women who placed top 5 in my age group in front of a cheering crowd was incredibly affirming. My dream really was coming true!

Overwhelmed by emotion and exhaustion

Finishing time: 4:52:19

In a nutshell, the season went exactly how I had hoped. I got my qualifying worlds sport early in the year while simultaneously qualifying for my pro license. I won all the local races I entered and placed overall with the men. I had a bad race that resulted in a DNF, which taught me a lot, and I bounced back. I achieved USAT All American status for the first time. I competed in my first World Championship event, placed in the top 10 overall in the world AND podiumed in my age group. All the things I knew I was capable of doing, I accomplished and I’m incredibly proud of that. I also got beat by over 20 minutes by another age group female AND by a 50 year old dude named Dave, so I’m as motivated to improve again as I am pleased with my year.

                      

The women at the front of the age group race were at a completely different level than me, and I need a better gear in the swim, bike, and run to race with them in the future. I think it’s important to acknowledge your achievements while staying humble and continuously craving growth. You have to get beat in order to grow, and I got beat across the board. While I could pursue a pro racing experience, I know I would struggle with the pressure and anxiety, and I don’t want to hinder my performance or ruin the fun experience of racing triathlon. I also really love engaging in a race, and I’m very clearly not at the level where I could engage in a pro level field. I’m going to race as an amateur again next year and enjoy myself as much possible while reaching for the next level. I have no idea what I can really do yet but, with Elliot’s help, along with all my support system of training buddies, friends, family, etc, I hope to find out. I know I have a lot to learn and I look forward to the opportunity to not only continue succeeding, but also failing. It’s in the failures we learn the most and I know I, like everyone, will have tough times and good times ahead.

Dreams coming true!

I’m passionate about triathlon because its unpredictable, challenging, scary, humbling, and incredibly rewarding. I hope you consider giving it a try if you haven’t already! If I can do it, you can too. If there’s anything I hope to communicate to you from this race and season summary, it would be to challenge yourself, live in the moment, and find something that lights your soul on fire. I’m so goddamn lucky I get to do this!

Thank you for reading this. Wishing you the best!

Bec

Elliot and I post-race in Bliss, Idaho



New Video: Stability & Mobility (Total Body)

Grab a tennis ball and/or a light weight for this gentle total body session! The goal of this 15 minute workout is to improve range of motion, function, and balance. Enjoy dynamic movements that simulate activities of daily life (like lifting or reaching/rotating) and include sport-specific movements. You should feel better after completing this session; a great warm up before a challenging lift or great before/after a cardio session or sport practice.

All levels welcome!