2022 70.3 World Championship, St. George UT

“I hope you still feel small when you stand beside the ocean,

Whenever one door closes I hope one more opens,

Promise me that you’ll give faith a fighting chance,

And when you get the choice to sit it out or dance

… I hope you dance.”

For some reason during race week, “I Hope You Dance” by Lee Ann Womack came on the radio SO MANY TIMES! I’ll take it as a theme for this year’s really exciting World Championship race, as every athlete had to overcome the fear of a very cold race on a tough course. We chose not to sit it out, but to dance!

Every season finale has a certain air of nervous anticipation; everyone wants to end the year on a high note. I certainly didn’t want to spend winter thinking about a race that could have gone better! After a really disappointing race a few months earlier in Boulder, CO (delayed start, fueling issues as a result, and getting sick on bike/not finishing)  I know how it feels to have the weight of a “bad” race on your shoulders for weeks on end. St. George always delivers tough conditions: always windy and hilly, cold water temps with warm air temps or, in this year’s case, fair water temps and cold air temps. Going into race week, I knew it would be chilly before the start and after the swim getting on the bike, but likely deliver amazing run conditions. I was also  guaranteed a wetsuit-legal swim, which favors me as an “adult-learn-to-swimmer.” The race was divided into a female-only day on Friday, and mens-only day on Saturday.

My husband, Elliot, has been coaching me for the last three seasons. This is the first BIG race where he has been solely focused on supporting me instead of both of us racing together. Three weeks prior, he absolutely crushed the full distance Ironman World Championship in Kona, Hawaii! It’s been a very busy season of travel, training, racing and supporting one another.

Elliot is spectacular at peaking me for big races, and physically I was in great shape coming of a 13 month training cycle. World Championships in 2021 was a month and a half earlier than this year, so I felt like I had been training with this race in mind for a very long time! During this training cycle, Elliot and I accomplished the following:

  • 1:20:30 @ Seattle Half Marathon, Female Champion
  • 1:17:55 (5:57/mi ave) @ Rock N Roll Arizona, 3rd Overall Amateur
  • Victoria 70.3 Overall Female Champion
  • Coeur D’Alene 70.3 Overall Female Champion
  • Won every local race entered, and placed 2nd overall with the men at Black Diamond and Lake Meridian Olympic Triathlon
  • 1:19:20 @ Rock N Roll Seattle: Elite Female Champion
  • 5th in 30-34 Age Group at Ho’ala Ironman 2.4 Mile Open Water swim in 1:04:47
  • Elliot raced Ironman World Championship St. George in May (a “make up” World Championship from 2020), Ironman Canada in August (5th AG, 3rd American), qualified for Boston at Tunnel Vision Marathon, and placed 4th in his AG at Boulder 70.3. He also raced Victoria, Coeur D’Alene and two of the local Olympic distance races with me.

So, yes, it’s been a busy and mostly successful season! We both had some rough races, which is an important part of the journey. I overcame a painful and complex snowboarding injury early in the year and a DNF, while Elliot overcame the fatigue of several long distances races and the shift to working with a new coach.

I worked especially hard on sleep training and recovery in the lead in to Worlds. Traveling to Kona for Elliot’s race was  during the phase I needed to put in quality training, so I knew I needed both a fantastic fitness base, discipline during travel, and proper recovery protocols with the new environment and added travel stress.

We always stay 20-30 minutes away from a race venue, and I loved the quiet and quaint country AirBnB we found at the base of a beautiful red rock mountain face in Hurricane, UT. All the careful details and preparation paid off on race day: I felt fresh, calm and well-rested on race morning.

Training through Elliot’s Ironman World Championships in Kona, HI was tough but character building!
Elliot and I race morning!
Keeping warm at the start!

The air temperature was 39*F at the start with water temps at 63,* similar to the conditions a few days prior to my practice/acclimation swim. Amateur athletes are released in waves based on their age category: 10 athletes at a time, 15 seconds apart. My age group (30-34) started at 8:15am. The sun rose of the red rocks as we entered the water, and the clear cool water of Sand Hollow Reservoir was a welcome comfort after standing on the cold pier. We swam through several of the older age group women that started before us, which is annoying for us but likely terrifying for them. I felt smooth and strong in the water, especially because it was warmer than the air, and the course buoys seemed to move by quickly. I noticed at the last buoy a girl in my age group (30-34 age group wore light blue caps for identification) blew by me, which is a detail that comes into play later in the race report. I know in the future I’ll need to push myself more, as I clocked the slowest swim time by 90″- 6 minutes in the top 8 women. Typically, I try and hold a smooth tempo effort in the water, despite the short 2km distance, to avoid panicking in the water and wasting energy, but I’m at the technical ability now where I could push harder and go faster. My mindset needs to go from “relax/minimize damage” to “push/race.” I swam the 1.2 mile course in 31:28 (1:29/100y), just 25” off my best time, which I’m happy but not satisfied with considering no warm up and cold conditions.

Cold T1! Thanks for the cheers Ryan and Patty!

The air was cold coming out of the water, but I packed appropriate cold gear for the conditions. Transition 1 felt a bit clumsy with frozen, wet hands/feet and cumbersome cold gear, but I got through unscathed in a fair time (4:50).  The beginning of the bike was brutally cold, as there were fast sections that felt very uncomfortable while still wet from the swim. However, I was able to keep my legs moving and mentally focused, eventually thawing out around mile 33. The bike course is an absolute stunner, and very dynamic with punchy climbs and long ascents; one of the hilliest in North America. I was feeling confident on the final climb, as no one passed me or even rode with me during the 56 mile bike course. I biked a 2:34:55 (21.7mph), which was a little slower than I expected having done this course twice before. However, conditions are obviously always a huge factor in St. George (wind, temps, etc) and they had slightly changed the course. I held spot on my power targets! I was smiling and having tons of on the fast descent into town, where large crowds were waiting for us to begin the run.

My bike, Summer Breeze, is wicked fast!
Coming into T2

Hands and feet were a touch numb getting off the bike from the chilly bike leg, so I felt a a little clumsy again in Transition 2. Luckily, I practiced a lot and went through the motions instinctively (1:33). I had told Elliot before the race “I will just be happy to see you when I get to the run!” and I was! I was certain my swim limited enough damage, and my bike was strong enough to put me in a good spot for the run, which is my strongest discipline. However, my smile faded quickly when Elliot told me I was 9th in my age group, 7 minutes down. Last year I swam 3 minutes slower and biked 5 minutes slower, but was 3rd in my age group and only 4 minutes down to first. “That’s really bad!” I remember telling him with a frown before turning uphill to the first out and back. “Just run strong and you’ll catch them!” He responded before fading into the noise of the crowd.

Focus mode: ON. I ran really strong and took mental notes on the first loop of the 2 loop, 13 mile run course, fueling as I have in races past. I let go of the somewhat negative and unexpected position update, and paced by feel on the undulating, rolling hills terrain so that I could have a strong second lap. Every time I crossed a timing mat I felt the strength of everyone tracking me from afar, knowing they would cheer with excitement at my effort to battle into a top position.

I came back into town ready to hear where I was in the field. Due to the rolling swim starts, athletes are never sure of where they are position-wise. We have to rely on spectators who have access to a tracking app with accurate splits to let us know, which is really tough when you’re racing to win. I was told the gaps were coming down, and that I was running the best in the field, moving into the top 5. I didn’t relax, but felt encouraged. There was more work to do.

Pain face!

My stomach felt tight and sick from the stress, new stimuli of cold early on in the day, and the general digestion of gels/sports drink during an extended hard effort, but I continued on. Fatigue crept up, but I knew the other girls were feeling tired too. I got more updates from friends on the course that saw me, I was gaining on 3rd and 2nd heading into the hilly sections. With just 3 miles to go, I was told I was 14 seconds away from the podium. I began to calculate how fast I needed to run before the finish line to keep catching women. I was running out of miles!

With 2 miles to go, Elliot shouted that I have to dig deep and run hard, that I was in both age group AND top 5 contention by mere seconds. I told him my stomach hurt, but OK and just to meet me in medical tent after the race. My legs felt like lead, but I refused to let my thoughts turn negative. I knew every second mattered now. I pushed the final out and back stretch with everything in me, praying it was enough.

Elliot was the key to my success.
Thank you to all who gave me splits on the run course!
Elliot: “RUN HARD! The gap is down to a second!”
Me: “K meet me in medical!”

Elliot had sprinted over to the final timing mat to give me one last update: with 400 meters to go the gap to 2nd place was down to one second. I felt like a zombie running, leaning forward to propel my legs just one second faster than the invisible competitor I was racing. I saw the finish, leaned into it, and raised my arms in triumph after crossing. Whatever the chip times said, I gave it my absolute everything. I finished completely alone despite being neck and neck with other women “virtually,” which was such a strange feeling. I began to sob, collapsing into a volunteer who carried me to a wheelchair. Soon I was looking up at a kind medical volunteer, babbling about seconds and how I’m so tired. They assured me my finish was amazing and encouraged me to relax. Thank you volunteers! Luckily, the air was cool which prevented me from excessive overheating and I recovered moments later. I had no idea what my finishing position was, and frankly I didn’t care. It felt absolutely incredible to be so engaged in a battle that I was truly, deeply satisfied. I ran a 1:26:17, and while it was impressive on the day, I KNOW a 1:25 on that course is in me!!

Finishing completely alone despite the “neck and neck” tie!

I immediately called my dad while riding high from the experience; speaking to my dad after races is one of my favorite rituals that I don’t think words can accurately describe. Thank you for being in my corner, Dad, I love you! Elliot found me and asked if I wanted to know what happened with results, and I said no. I just wanted to enjoy how amazing the day went, and my effort all around in each swim, bike and run. We laughed in the gorgeous afternoon sunshine, and caught up with our good friend, Sascha. There is no greater feeling than the sweet relief of a hard earned  finish line after months of hard work.

Sascha and I at the finish party

Driving back from the race, Elliot told me what happened: I was in a 3 way tie for 2nd – 4th in the 30-34 age group and 4-6th overall. The race directors had to go down to the tenth, and then the hundredth of a second to determine the podium. I had gotten 3rd in my age group, 5th overall, by just .04 seconds.  CRAZY. I wish we all started together, so that we could have duked it out on the finish line stretch! Elliot confirmed I was the fastest American amateur, which meant a lot to me!

Overall Amateur Results
30-34 Age Group Results

On top of that drama, the girl who won  my age group was tactical (albeit unsportsmanlike in my opinion) by starting at the very back of our age group wave, approximately 5 minutes behind that front wave, and swam one of the best age group swim times to give herself company on the bike, and a solid  time  cushion. Usually, the fastest swimmers line up at the front of the age group; I seed myself according to my predicted swim time vs working the system, but it’s technically within the rules and a tactic other strong age-group swimmers may use. I immediately remembered the girl who blew by me as I was finishing the swim. Recently, I realized this could also mean her course spotter would have seen all of our splits come through about 3-5 minutes before she went through, do some math, and communicate what pace she had to hold run to defend first. Elliot noted I passed her during the second loop of the run, physically. The 3 way tie AND the slingshot swim tactic would be eliminated if we had mass age group starts instead of the rolling starts, just like they do at the Ironman World Championship in Kona. These are issues both Elliot and I ( and several other elite athletes) have been burned by; it’s the primary drawback in racing as an age grouper vs. professionally. I don’t want to sound negative, but these are really impactful experiences that have a profound affect on competitive athletes.

History makers! 3 way tie group at awards. Irish, American, and Polish!
30-34 Age Group Champions

Despite all that, I knew I was in the right place racing amateur instead of professionally. I absolutely loved battling my way to the front. From 58th position out of the water, to 9th position off the bike, to a 3-way tie for 2nd after the run, it was a dream come true in hard conditions on a tough course.

I learned so much about myself, and clocked the best run in my age group, 2nd best of any amateur in the entire field. I am the fastest American amateur at the 70.3 distance. I’ll admit… I would have loved to win my age group and be top 3 overall. The gaps were close – only 3.5 minutes to first overall and 1 minute 50 seconds to first in my age group/second overall. I was hoping this race would offer closure on what to do next season: continue racing amateur or make the jump to professional, but the 3 way tie only left me wondering if I have more unfinished business with age group racing!

At awards the next evening, the podium girls and I finally met, gushing over the day and excitedly sharing our experiences with one another! The announcers proclaimed history was made as they called the three of us on stage. We were all over the moon as the crowd gasped in amazement over the tie. The feeling of making it to a World Championship award ceremony is just unreal, and I’m thrilled to have made it back. The field was deeper and far more internationally influenced than last year, as travel in 2021 was still fairly restricted. 2/3 of the field was from outside of the United Staes this year! (Last year I was 2nd in 30-34 AG, 8th Overall, and 3rd American). I definitely improved and raced far better, so I am truly happy with the results.

Thanks to my crew! Elliot, Sascha and I at awards.
Happy and relieved to end a busy season on a high note!
My triathlon sister, Carolyn, celebrating after the race! Love you C!

I’m thrilled with my preparation, the coach-athlete relationship that got me here, my performance, and can confirm that I absolutely love this lifestyle. I’m in no rush to think about next year, and am looking forward to down time with my dogs and husband, painting and completing DIY projects while continuing to grow my coaching business. Thank you to all those who helped me this season, on race day, and supported my mental health and emotions throughout the highs and lows of the long season. I appreciate those of you who took the time to read this report, and am happy to answer questions or discuss triathlon/lifestyle if you feel lead. Just shoot me a message on my coaching Instagram page or send me an email (becca@kawaoka-coaching.com)

Cheers,

Becca

One of my idols, Craig “Crowie” Alexander, with me after awards. He was amazed by the 3-way tie! Thank you for your inspiration and commitment to the sport, Crowie!


Why Every Triathlete Should Race Locally

By Certified Triathlon Coach & All-American Athlete: Becca Kawaoka

After racing my first local triathlon of the season, Lake Whatcom Triathlon in Bellingham, WA, I feel compelled to highlight the importance of participating in local 5k’s, half marathons, and multisport events. This is my 4th year racing triathlon (5 years in the sport) and every year I am intentional to incorporate local events. Why?

Reviewing the swim course with racing buddy and local legend, David Larpenteur

The sport of triathlon has a grassroots beginning. In the early 1970’s, a group of 46 athletes decided to do a short sprint-like event with swimming, biking, and running as a way to cross train for running events. In the late 1970’s, a handful of people on the shores of Kailua-Kona attempting a self-supported, open-road event that eventually evolved into what is now known as the Ironman distance. That course is now known world-wide as the Ironman World Championships.

History aside, without local races to offer new athletes a chance to “dip their toes” (no pun intended!) into racing, the sport is unlikely to gain new participants. Large corporations like Ironman, Challenge, and the up-and-coming PTO typically only offer long distance events. This can be intimidating to youth/new athletes. Infusing young people and new participants is vital for the long-term survival of the sport, and local racing offers a variety of short to middle distance options (like the super sprint!) or even pairings, such as just the swim-bike, or team relays in case that’s more approachable / in case an injury pops up.

Pre-race shake outs and nervous laughter!

Local races have a laid-back atmosphere, which is a wonderful welcome if you have ever participated in a high-stakes race like Ironman. It’s so fun to chat candidly in transition with your local buddies. Most of my friends, and my husband’s friends, are people we have met at local triathlons. It’s a great way to get to know people who share the same interests as you and live nearby. We love racing the local competition and have developed a wonderful camaraderie with a lot of local triathletes!

Elite start with our buddies discussing tactics!

Racing locally is sort of like choosing to go to a Mom and Pop coffee shop instead of Starbucks. Local racing is really the heart of the sport, and while the field sizes are a bit smaller and the courses are not quite as elaborate as big corporate races, the local events are keeping triathlon alive. One thing I’ve noticed local races do this year is offer an elite wave, which allows anyone competing for an overall position to start in one mass group. This is EXACTLY what we want Ironman to start doing so that it’s a live race on the course versus wave starts. It is very challenging to know where you stand in the age group field at Ironman events because they do rolling wave starts, so we are thrilled that local race directors are starting to offer elite fields. There is no qualification to start with the elites, and you can much cleaner water than the wave or gender starts. Plus, it’s a true live race! For those of you who race competitively with Ironman and have felt the pain of wave starts, support local races and engage in the elite wave. Change really starts at the local level.

Lake Whatcom Triathlon offered such a start, and a handful of about 8 of us started together. My husband and coach, Elliot, started just in front of me with the local group of triathletes we know well: David, Bethany, and Jeremy to name a few! I enjoyed starting on Bethany’s feet and we all stayed together until the first buoy. Lake Whatcom is a wonderful lake, with a triangular swim course. The water was relatively calm and cool, perfect for racing.

Me exiting the water just behind my friend Bethany!

Transition was about 400 meters from the swim exit, up a shallow hill. This year, the transition set up was in the Bloedel Donovan Park’s parking lot. The set up was FAST, as transition was compact with pro-level bike racks and a very short jog out of the swim onto the bike! I was happy to get the chance to practice transitions, though mine was a bit sloppy. My friend Bethany reigned supreme in transitions, with the fastest men and women’s transitions of the day! She was just up ahead of me out of the swim and we exchanged enthusiastic encouragement to one another when I found her on the bike course.

Practicing my transitions!

The bike course is quite challenging, with a fast and beautiful rolling start into a size-able climb on quiet country roads. Unfortunately, I was alone most of the day so I didn’t bike quite as hard as I wanted too. I was also feeling under the weather, congested and weak the days before, so knowing that I was at the front of the women’s field allowed me to ease into a more sustainable effort. A few men passed me, which hasn’t happened much this year, so I was rather chuffed coming into transition.

Shoes off, ready for a quick T2!

The run course is a DOOZY here. Our buddy David, who lives near the course, coaches athletes, and owns the course record from last year, did the aqua bike vs the Olympic due to a hamstring injury. He went out onto the run course after finishing and helped direct me where to go – which is just a perfect example of class sportsmanship and why I love local races! I ran completely alone until I saw the men’s leader, our friend Jeremy. He assured me I was headed the right direction. The run path starts relatively quick on packed gravel and dirt, but quickly gets challenging with a full flight of stairs both down and uphill! I’m not talking a few steps, I’m talking 400 meters of full stairs to burn your quads and skyrocket your heart rate no matter how good of shape you’re in! I saw my husband, who was hard to miss as we were in bright polka dotted matching kits, and a few other men on the out and backs, but was otherwise alone. There was a very encouraging aid station ran by some friendly volunteers who did a great job directing me which way to go on the labyrinth, forested trail run course. Several white arrows directed racers which way to go, but you did need to look for them carefully. Elliot missed one arrow and ran a bit extra, but thankfully found his way back to the path and it did not affect his position.

The finish was flat and fast, and the arch was a welcome sight after quite a battle on the fun but challenging course! I won the women’s side and was 6th overall, a bit disappointed I didn’t make the overall podium but I accepted it, acknowledging I felt less than 100%. Elliot was 4th overall and 2nd in his age group. A few of the front age guys started in age group waves instead of the elite mass start, and it did affect the flow of the overall placements. For example, Jeremy was  only passed physically by the men’s leader, Tom Hutchinson, who won the race convincingly despite starting in the age group waves and catching everyone. If results stayed this way, it would have put Elliot third and age group winner. However, two other top age group men clocked times that put them into top 5 podium position, but were never seen physically because they started further back.

Helpful volunteers pointing me the right way!

This was hard on me as well, as usually I hold onto a podium overall position in the men’s field. In general, this could be cleared up by stating anyone who wants overall awards should start with the elite or first wave. It would have been a more dynamic race that way! This also affected the women’s podium for 2nd and 3rd overall, as my friend Bethany started with me in the elite field. She was only passed by me, so she thought she had 2nd place squared away but a gal who started well behind us clocked a time about a minute faster. This same thing is happening with Ironman races, like I mentioned, but at least there is an opportunity to solve the problem by encouraging an elite start. We just hope more people use that option in the future, and that large corporations catch on. Competitive athletes want a live race! 

The post-race food was AMAZING, and it was so fun jumping in the lake after while discussing the day with our friends and athletes. My athlete Carissa won her age group in 18-24, so we were excited about that as a start to her racing season. The weather was great, and I am so happy to see local races continue to thrive in Washington. We plan to do upcoming local races such as Black Diamond, Lake Meridian, Bonney Lake, and Lake Stevens (barring any injuries) to continue to hone our race skills for key Ironman race events.

Athlete Carissa and I after the race!

SUPPORT LOCAL RACES! If you live near Bellingham, put this one on your calendar!

Cheers,

Becca Kawaoka


Ironman Victoria 70.3 – A Defining Moment Against All Odds

This is a race I will always look back on with awe, humility, and gratitude. After suffering an ankle injury while snowboarding 3 months prior to the race, an osteochondral lesion (or fracture/damage to cartilage), bone contusion, stress reaction, and edema, so my husband and coach, Elliot, and I weren’t sure if I would even race. I decided 5 days prior to starting that I would go for it after 3 months of conservative, non-surgical rehabilitation. While I made it through a modified training cycle and early season race, we are keeping an appointment we made months ago with a surgeon who specializes in this unique injury to weigh all of our options and gain peace of mind with training/racing decisions moving forward. We should know more in a week! Cartilage injuries are tricky, and I’m thankful to have connected with a fantastic run-specific physio, Chris Johnson, to guide my rehabilitation. His insight coupled with his own elite run experience gave me both confidence and clarity during my rehab.

I won’t go into much detail of my rehab training, as it could probably be a novel, but I want to share one truth – there were days I could barely make it 30 minutes into a session before crushing anxiety and fear for my endurance future would completely shut me down. Elliot was an absolute rock, and together we worked through the emotions injuries bring on. I learned a lot about myself and my husband during this time. My intention and purpose in both sport and my career are more clear than ever. I would never wish injury upon anyone, but I am nearing the point where I can reflect back on this time and see the growth and lessons.

Going into race week, we decided to really rest and focus on mental strength. Limiting emotional highs and lows was a really big challenge for me, as I have never gone into a race with so many question marks around my health, fitness level, confidence and so forth. The first race of the season is always especially nerve-racking, and both the course and the conditions were going to be challenging. Elliot is great at planning race trips in terms of accommodation, arrival times, places to visit, etc. while my tasks center on food preparation and mobility/stretching sessions. Our balanced little dance really gave me comfort as my nerves were through the roof the entire trip! I enjoyed visiting a castle nearby our AirBnb where X Men was filmed, which made for a great taper movie night with E!

We knew the swim was going to be cold from an unusually rain and cool spring. We live in climate very similar to the race venue so I was intentional to train in our lake, which ended up being the same temperature as Elk Lake. We also did the *very choppy* 1,000m practice swim on Friday evening before the race with my friend and athlete, Hannah Levy. It’s always fun getting to train and race with my athletes! After getting absolutely dumped on during a chilly shake-out ride earlier that day, Elliot and I agreed that we were ready for anything race day would throw at us!

Race day ended up being cool (50-60*air temps) and no rain. It was an early start at 6 am with a water temperature of 61*F. We were allowed in before the start at 5:45 am, so after a nippy acclimation in the water, a brief kiss and typical understanding nod, Elliot and I parted and took our positions in the start corrals. We entered the water 30” apart, but I ended up swimming about 3.5 minutes slower then Elliot. I beat my time from 3 years ago on this course by a few seconds, but am still generally unhappy with my time of 32:16. I am capable of better, but struggle in the water if its anything less than optimal conditions. Always something to improve in triathlon!

The first 10km of the bike was pretty cold. At 6:30 am, soaking wet from a cold swim and right onto a bike pushing 20-30 miles per hour with air temps in the 50’s isn’t what I would choose to do on a typical Sunday morning, but I managed to get past the crowds early on and found a good rhythm. Another female rider was riding super well, and we stayed together well for several miles and even exchanged polite words here and there. I recognized her kit, and knew she would push me, so kept her within sights as much as possible on the technical, one-loop, hilly bike course Victoria offers. I was pleased to see Elliot on the final hill, about where I was hoping to see him. Unfortunately, he crashed just over halfway on the bike and knocked his headset loose, so aero position wasn’t as stable for him and he lost a lot of time. Thankfully he only suffered road rash on his arms and knee, and a minor bruise on his ankle.

After a strong bike of 2:34 and change, I braced myself for the run. This is always what I look forward to the most, and I still did even on this uncertain day. I was determined to finish what I started even if it meant humbling myself to a walk in order save my ankle. My watch wasn’t working well, so I ran by feel, which was really the plan all along. I passed two girls in the first mile, and then ran completely alone for the entire first loop of the 2-loop, trail run course. The cool air felt really good on the run, as I wasn’t in great run shape and likely would have suffered had it been warmer. I got pretty consistent updates about my position on course, as there was no pro men or women’s field. I was surprised not to see any age group men, so I figured I was either running really well or really poorly. I could feel my ankle injury, but it never progressed to a sharp, stabbing pain, like it had early on in training post-injury. I monitored it and took the time to step carefully on the trail.

I decided to continue on at the halfway point, and felt better throughout the second loop of the run course. I haven’t run much, and really rarely off the bike, so the first 5k and last 5k felt really terrible. I hope I can get the OK to either have surgery and get to 100% quickly post-op, or get the OK to train through the dull, achy feeling I get when I push off during hard run efforts. I pinned this “feeling” at about a 3-4 out of 10 on the pain scale during the race, which was consistent with what I felt when I tried some efforts in training the week prior to the race. I was going to finish no matter what, even if I had to walk to save my ankle, but it never came to that. I had no soreness or swelling after the race, and I feel like I’ve done everything I could have in training / rehab. I was cautious during training so that I could push it on race day, and I feel confident looking back that all the decisions made along the way were the right ones.

I felt emotional coming to the finish line. I had crossed the line first in races past, but breaking the tape with rolling starts doesn’t always mean you secure the win. Sometimes, athletes that start the swim behind you clock faster times overall, so you really don’t know you’ve won until several minutes after you finish. After an emotional collapse at the line after breaking the tape, I remember laying my head on the red carpet and telling myself : “You’ve done your job.” Regardless of what results showed, I made it to the start. I overcame the pre-race anxiety. I survived the cold swim with minimal damage. I pushed the bike and had no mechanicals or crashes. I got to the run. I found the finish line. The swim and run were not pretty, probably not what a 100% healthy and fully trained Becca is capable of, but they were enough to beat the female field by 4+ minutes overall. My run split was 2nd best of the day with a 1:28 half marathon (only 30” off being the best run of day from a gal I’ve raced before, who came in 2nd overall and suffered a mechanical! Bummer, I know it would have been a much closer race!) It’s always the goal to place as high as possible, but today I was truly just happy to finish. I am quite pleased I placed well even with the men factored in, too. (only 40 age group men managed to beat me, but soon I hope to conquer even more of them!) 

My goals were as follows in order of importance:

1. Finish the race.

2. Be able to walk the next day. (as in no severe ankle backlash)

3. Secure a World Championship slot

4. Win

I managed to check all 4 of those boxes in the most unlikely of circumstances. Additionally, I beat my time on this course from 3 years ago, in harder conditions, by 13 minutes. I shaved time from all 3 disciplines to boot. Elliot, who recently came off a really tough Ironman a few weeks prior, was there for me at the finish – overcome with joy and bursting with pride for me even after a disappointing crash and tough race for himself. We have committed to being happy and supportive of each other even if one of us struggles or has a less than perfect day in training / racing. It’s not always easy, but it adds perspective and balance to our lives. Obviously, we are quite competitive with each other and sport in general, but I’ve realized if it wasn’t triathlon pushing the both of us, it would be something else! Why not this? I have centered my entire life around sport, which is obviously hard when I am hurt, but it’s what sets my heart on fire.

Racing is living, Elliot reminded me as we sat in an ice bath post-race. Not everyone gets this chance. It’s scary, unnerving, uncomfortable, but it really brings you eye to eye with yourself and your demons. Our bodies feel completely drained, but satisfied. Our hearts are full, but they feel even more full after experiencing some of the heartbreak that comes with pursuing your passion year over year.

No matter what happens, I will be grateful for every finish line because now I realize how much I need them. The terrible reality is that all of our finishes are numbered, and each one is special whether it is ugly or pretty. The value is in the journey. I feel affirmed as a female competitor and coach, one who has been challenged a significant amount in the last 3 months. From male doctors telling me I would be out for the season, to male athletes arguing I either don’t affirm them enough or are too hard on them, to staring myself in the mirror wondering if I was still good enough to compete with a rocky training cycle…I faced it all and stepped up to prove myself once again. After a few days to let everything sink in, it’s time to prepare for what comes next. The best victory is always the next one 😉

Thank you for your support, and for reading this reflection.

Best,

Becca


2021 Race Reflection #1: St. George 70.3 – North American Championships

This trip was a doozy. The real process of crossing the finish line started two months earlier when a coworker of mine quit unexpectedly, resulting in me and my superior working overtime for the next several weeks. I work as the strength coach for a local club swim team, but recently obtained my USA Swimming Level 1 certification. This allows me to be on deck and coach as needed. To be clear, I have zero competitive swimming background besides triathlon and an occasional master’s meet, so I rely heavily on my coworkers to help me! In light of a coach quitting just before our biggest swim meet, and first meet in over a year due to COVID, I stepped up to help the team out. Coaching on deck for a four day swim meet out of state is not in my job description, but these hard-working athletes deserved every resource to be competitive at a big meet. It was the best decision I could have made. I learned so much about swimming in the lead up to their meet and my race!

Another reason to travel with the team to their meet was that it happened to be one week before my race in the same location: St. George, Utah. In my mind, it couldn’t be a coincidence and it was unlikely the opportunity to travel with the team AND race myself would come again. The meet was as stressful and time consuming as it was exciting and educational. I have never coached a swim meet before, and this was a big one. All the athletes who traveled to this meet had to qualify, so it was a competitive group of 28 athletes. I assisted our head coach as best as I could, but with my little swim knowledge my main task was keeping the kids warmed up, injury free, and focused. I had no idea swim coaches spend 10+ hours on deck every day, so getting my training in was hard but not impossible. It gave me perspective for my athletes that work overtime or 10-hour days!

By committing to coach the Sectional meet, I was also committing to training while on the road and all through the meet. I prefer a short taper, so I kept my foot on the gas throughout the travelling and swim competition. The drive was 16 hours, about 1,200 miles each way, so we split it into two days and booked hotels with training options. We had the bikes, trainers, recovery boots, and all the gear needed to fit training and some form of recovery around our busy schedule. Elliot was also working during this time, so we had two laptops and a printer along with all of our training supplies. It looked like a triathlon bomb went off in our hotel! It probably wasn’t optimal to our race timing, but it worked out as best as it could have. Communicating with my head coach regarding the schedule allowed me to plan swim, bike, and run sessions. We only ate out once in the span of two weeks thanks to Costco and our trusty cooler, so we felt healthy going into our taper week. Elliot was very supportive and helpful in adapting sessions to fit the busy meet schedule.

We ended up winning the Sectional swim meet, which was VERY exciting! I really loved being a part of the energy of each event, especially the relays! I grew a lot as a person and as a coach during the experience. I’m always thankful for the opportunity to grow and learn! The following  weekend, two athletes went on to qualify for the Olympic Trials, which was even more rewarding to learn. The momentum from the Sectionals win carried me into taper week with a confident attitude.

Elliot and I were both nervous heading into taper week. We hadn’t raced in a year and a half, like most people, but after receiving both vaccines we were ready to punch out. We were able to train on the race course the week prior, which was helpful and the main bonus in heading to the race venue two weeks early. Personally, I hate the nervous energy athletes bring to town in the days before the race, so I avoid any popular spots or training grounds.

The only bit I struggled with was the water. It was cold, 56 degrees, and really windy the day we tested the water. I had a full meltdown, tears, anxiety, taper tantrum galore. After two attempts, I gave up, left Elliot in the water, and called my dad. He gave me exactly the pep talk I needed. I was able to get past the cold and fight the waves to find a rhythm, but it was certainly no confidence booster. The combination of race week nerves and minimal open water training this year was a mental challenge more than a physical one. Moving forward, I will do more open water swimming before a big race, even if its cold! Following my breakdown, Elliot made the decision to forego any other training sessions and took me up to Zion. It was exactly the break from sports that I needed to recharge, connect with nature and myself. Thankful for those memories! Luckily, the next day, we met up to swim with an old friend from Arizona and races with the male pro field, Paul Stevenson. His sweet girlfriend, Lauren, also has a swim background  so between the two of them I felt a lot more at ease about the swim coming up. Thanks guys!

Before we knew it, race day came. The water had warmed up slightly, but sadly the age group athletes don’t get any water access prior to the race start. Elliot turned to me and whispered some last minute words of wisdom to me, and in we went at 7 am. Sadly, I swim a pace that most competitive age groupers swim (32 ish minutes) so it was crowded, physical, and still cold. I focused on energy management more than anything. The goal was to finish without conceding too much time or energy overall and, after the little freak out I had a few days before, not giving in to anxiety. My chest felt tight from the nerves, and probably a little from the cold, but I was able to get into a decent flow. I knew by the way I felt in the water it wasn’t going to be my fastest swim, but that I was going to finish it. Came out with a 32 high, not bad, certainly not great. Training motivation!

The bike was flipping fantastic. My bike computer popped off at mile 10, so I was racing by feel. Boy, what a freedom. I may have to do that more often. It’s a hilly course, but plenty of down after you go up so I would say it’s an honest but fair course if you are well rounded. The highlight was getting caught by a female around my 40. I rarely get passed on the bike or run, so I was ready to battle it out and pace with her. After yelling at her to get off my wheel (fuck anyone who shows any hint of drafting, seriously) we rode through the town of St. George and up Snow Canyon together. We each took pulls in front of the other, which was exhilarating. To me, this was the first time the race felt like a race with another girl. We were dropping guys who had full disc wheels, so I knew we were doing ok. Again, no bike computer to provide feedback, but judging by the guys we were passing and the steady flow of “Wow, Girl Power!” cheers we got, I figured we were up front. As I was taking my shoes out for T2, I saw Elliot on the run in a pack of strong runners. “GO ELLIOT!” I screamed, knowing his strength is in his run.

I came into transition 6 bike lengths behind my female competitor, and after barking at a few guys to move it or lose it, found my rack and made the awful decision to continue on without socks. I stomped my shoes on and  got a few cramps in the quads to remind me I’m human, and took off to see who I could conquer on the run. Sadly, my competitor got out of T2 before me and went on to run just ahead of me and I didn’t see her till the finish line. The run was what I expected. I was able to run the course 6 days prior to the race, so no surprises. I will say my race fitness isn’t there, so I have signed up for more races in the next few months to get that back. I moved forward and had a decent run, saw the men and women’s world class pro field’s battle it out, and was thankful to finish. I could have done better, but any honest athlete will say that. My favorite part of the run was seeing our fellow Airbnb mate screaming “GO BECCA! TEQUILA!!” while holding a neon sign that read (you guessed it) TEQUILA!

I was helped to the med tent to inspect my extremely bloody foot. During the race, I didn’t feel anything (thanks, adrenaline!) but I did see the blood on my instep around mile 5. The medical staff thought I had stepped on a nail! Turns out it was just several blisters on both feet that bled through my shoes. 4 days later and I’m still treating them, but it’s a good lesson learned.

I biked well (2:35:02) and ran ok (1:32:50). I would have liked to be closer to 2:30 on the bike and under 90 minutes on the run, but chalk it up to race fitness/experience. 5% better on the swim, bike and run would have changed my position, but getting beat is good for a person. I’m humbled, thankful, and ready to begin working towards my upcoming events. I accepted my slot to 70.3 World Championships in September. I also qualified for a pro racing license for the first time, but am not even considering racing as an elite until I feel mentally and physically ready for the jump. One thing I learned from a year sans racing: my purpose is not in my results, but rather in the experience and relationships I build in the process. Every workout, or race, is an opportunity to grow. The scarier or more nerve racking the session, or race, the more I’m going to grow from it. I am a better person because of this sport.

My husband, Elliot, has coached me for the past 3 years and has done an absolutely remarkable job. I know I will continue to grow, learn, and teach, which makes me happy and gives me purpose. I can’t wait to see how he grows as a mentor, athlete, and coach, too. I enjoyed meeting some amazing friends via our Airbnb, and truthfully that was the highlight for me! We met some awesome folks from Canada, Phoenix, Peru, and Mexico City. I learned how to make homemade corn tortillas, saw the world’s biggest Rubik’s cube (Simon!), and got to experience the beauty of Zion. Our dear friend and athlete, Sascha, made the trip from Phoenix to Sherpa and cheer (and seriously spoil us with post-race goodie bags!!) which was a big highlight as well.

I’m excited to be home and back to work, with my soul renewed and my feet raw.

Bring it on 2021!

Best,

Becca


Age is Just a Number: Getting Fitter, Faster, And Stronger with Age

I’m turning 30. WHAT! Where did time go?? 30 may sound young to some, and old to others.  Some athletes achieve world titles and Olympic medals at 20, while some athletes cross record-breaking finish lines in their 80’s and 90’s. In fact, some people over 100 years old still compete in events like track and field. So, why let aging stop us from becoming fitter, faster and stronger? Today, I’m speaking to any level of athlete at any age about breaking mental and physical boundaries NO MATTER WHAT.

Part 1: Swag

“3 – 2 – 1 SWAG” The swim team I work with broke down an epic practice with a confident, unified (and yes, still socially distant) cheer. What stood out to me, as their strength and conditioning coach, wasn’t the speed or power generated (though both looked great, too!) but the mental fortitude that was impossible to ignore. After 4 weeks of grinding in the water and in strength workouts, these 13-18 year old athletes now carried themselves with poise, purpose, and a little swag.

When we come together with others that share a common goal to simply improve, great things can happen. Whether you’re on a swim team, in a spin class, part of a running club, or train with a lifting group regularly, the intention of the group often dictates the level of productivity. While I discourage relying completely on another person or group of people to feel validated or successful, I highly encourage athletes to engage with a peer group that will challenge them in a healthy way. Humans naturally adapt to their environment, and if that environment is pumped full of energy, focus, and SWAG, I don’t know how you couldn’t see some marked improvements.

If you feel like you’re lacking confidence, I want to challenge you to find at least one other person that shares a goal you have (losing weight, improving a skill or hobby, picking up a new sport, etc.) and commit to 12 weeks of consistent, goal-oriented work at least 3 times a week. I don’t care if it’s knitting or power walking, if you want to improve, you have to put the time in. Encourage your partner(s), make it fun, work hard and give it the right amount of time. Take a photo, write a note, or do a baseline test on Week 1 to compare it with Week 12. I would be willing to bet you’re in a better place mentally AND physically in Week 12!

Part 2: Coaching is Critical

“These results aren’t that great and, quite honestly, I know you can do better.” Elliot, my husband of 3 years, reviewed my test set with an unenthusiastic response. Elliot is my coach, and a very honest one at that. What he lacks in tenderness, he makes up for in results. While this style isn’t the right approach for everyone, it is the right approach for me. Sometimes it hurts to hear the feedback we are too afraid to tell ourselves, but hindsight is 20/20 and if he hadn’t spoken that truth to me, I highly doubt I would have committed the 10% more time and energy into the next training block. I’m happy to report 2 weeks later I did the same test and completely obliterated my previous results. He was right, even if it made me mad and defensive at first.

*I should note that both Elliot and I got into triathlon in our mid-twenties. This could be considered “past the prime” for some sports that rely on youthful energy systems to be successful. Both Elliot and myself have continuously improved year over year in some capacity since age 25. Endurance sports are certainly the way to go if you want to get into something “late in the game.” A coach is especially important for older individuals, as the risk of injury generally increases with age. The right coach will load and unload at an appropriate pace so you don’t get hurt or burnt out. If you suffer from chronic injuries, your program is probably not appropriate for you. The right coaching style and program should eliminate or decrease chronic injuries.

On the flip side, some coaches can speak in harmful and borderline abusive ways to their athletes. No coach is perfect, and every coach has at least one bad day. There are plenty of under-educated, inexperienced coaches out there sharing damaging information, and I hate that. I have personally been the victim of a coach’s personal insecurities, and it was damaging. I am dedicated to being a constructive coach that listens and pushes at the same time. You can find a coach that does both. A great coach should be able to adapt their approach to fit the athlete. My message to you if you are in an unhealthy coaching relationship is this: You are worth it. Break away, find a new team or coach that speaks truth in a way that works for you, and pushes you to get the results you want and need.

I do believe having a good coach is critical. Having  an objective, external source is extremely helpful, especially if you classify yourself as an overthinker. If you are coached by someone who has never been coached, you are in for trouble. We should only preach what we also practice. Hold your coach accountable to that. If he/she doesn’t listen to you and adapt based on your results, it may be  time to go shopping for a new coach. If you don’t have a coach, I invite you to look finding one. Any goal worth reaching is worth the time and financial investment that goes with it.

Part 3: Self-Awareness and Perspective

Not every day is going to be a breakthrough. Especially as we age. You’re going to have bad days, maybe even bad weeks. As we mature, it does get a little easier to allow the process to take time. Even so, I still have mature athletes rush their timeline a bit too much. All great things take time. Allow yourself to have bad moments or rough days. One or two workouts won’t completely ruin your timeline for achieving a goal. Heck, a bad week probably won’t either.

I had to include self-awareness and perspective as two key tools to have in your toolbox, especially if you are someone who really wants to improve on a skill or sport at any age. You may not be a college athlete anymore, and it’s really easy to look back at what you USED TO be able to do. I hate to break it to you, but you aren’t the same person you were when you were 19. What you do have now is experience, and patience. If you really want something, I hope you have the tenacity to see it all the way through. It takes adaptability and endurance. You may have to try several routes before achieving the end product you want, but the process is the rewarding bit.

At the end of our lives we probably won’t look back on the things that took us a few minutes to pick up, but rather the days and weeks we spent trying to get better at something we’re passionate about. If you’re thinking about giving up because you’re “getting too old” or “aren’t as good as you used to be” then I affirm your decision. But I won’t let you off the hook easily. Are you taking the easy way out? The response should come naturally to you. If the answer is yes, then take some time to reflect on your perspective. You’ll grow either way. If the answer is no, then maybe it’s time to find a new hobby to devote yourself to.

In conclusion, I want to thank you for taking the time to read this. I hope I encouraged you to find a community of peers that will push you to be stronger, mentally and physically, because you can have all the swag you want at any age! I hope I encouraged you to seek guidance from a coach or mentor if you don’t already have a great one in your corner. Lastly, I hope I encouraged you to give yourself grace and space to try, fail, and try again.

And remember: You can get stronger, fitter, and faster at ANY age.

Love,

Becca


Do Hard Things

Shut up legs!

Jens Voigt, a professional cyclist, once famously exclaimed.

I think we can all relate. Whether you’re doing a wall sit for the first time, picking up running, doing your first squat post-partum, or gunning for something like an hour record, your legs are bound to start talking to you…and chances are they’re not saying nice things! That’s what makes sticking to an exercise regimen so challenging. Exercise is hard. Workouts almost always have a painful moment, indicating failure due to fatigue is near. Then there’s the haunting knowledge that there will always be a something harder left to try, and someone stronger, faster, leaner. Why would we expose ourselves to that? Isn’t settling for the way we are easier, more comfortable?

You’re absolutely correct. Life would be easier without competitions, goals, and structure to worry about. No comparisons, no falling short, no failure. How great would that be…or would it? Call me old school, but I firmly believe the best way to grow is to experience the pain produced from doing hard things. Said pain can be emotional or physical, but it’s often both. Let me explain in two brief stories, both of which happened in the same weekend.

Like many (if not all) of you, I’ve had my share of conflicts with my parents. We don’t always see eye to eye, but nothing soothes the heart like a call home to Mama. Just 48 hours before I was set to lace up for one of the most physically painful events, my mom and I had a difficult conversation. Something inside me said, “Time’s up. Be honest and forthright without burning bridges.” I swallowed the lump in my throat and confronted my mother about the pains of the past. I noted how I’ve matured enough to finely match the right words to the feelings I had without lashing out. It was emotional, for both of us. She was able to apologize for the past, and I was able to effectively communicate about why I had shut her and my father out for the several years following his affair. It was painful to discuss, but not more painful than carrying it with me. It took courage, honesty, and thoughtful words on both my part and my mother’s. We listened to each other, which made it an effective conversation. While we acknowledged we have different world views, we were able to share emotional pains we’ve suffered, which honestly unites all of us. Hard things aren’t always physical.

Fast forward 48 hours. I nervously gulped an orange, caffeinated gel and tightened my cycling cleats for the 5th time. It was time. Time to take on the most painful, lonely event that exists: The Hour. The Hour is 60 minutes on a sloped track, on a fixed gear track bike, with no metrics, fuel, or hydration. Once the gun goes off, you are alone until you quit or reach 60 minutes. The pain is immediate. Fixed gear bikes are unique in that there is no rest within the pedal stroke, no ability to change gears, coast, or rest even for a fraction of a second. You are restricted to one position (referred to as aero or time trial position) hunched over your machine, praying for the end to come as soon as you start. An ominous black line guides you around the curved velodrome until your vision becomes blurry from a sustained maximal effort. I’ve done it once before, exactly one year ago when I set the elite women’s record at my local velodrome, and with Covid-19 decimating all other race venues this was the only opportunity to compete in 2020. I wasn’t prepared in the slightest. I had barely ridden my fixed gear bike and knew my muscles were going to ache sooner. I had forgotten all I’d learned in the previous year about gearing and cadence required to be successful on the track. So why did I agree to try and break my own record when it had every chance of standing another year?

I beat last year’s record by just over 1.6 km’s

The same reason I called my mother to confront her about the past: we cannot grow without experiencing hardships. Without pain, we cannot change. You may disagree upon first reading that, but spend some time reminiscing. Did you grow from the walk you took across the stage at your graduation, smiling while being celebrated? No. You grew while sacrificing time and sleep to study for challenging exams. I bet you learned from tearful and hurtful break up you went through, or perhaps you grew during the unexpected loss of your family member. Maybe you made the team but felt the stab of failure when you didn’t get put in, or added time to your event. Perhaps you are the great Jan Frodeno, the reigning Ironman Hawaii World Champion, who earned his ticket back to the great race only to walk the marathon in defeat. We don’t learn and grow from the happy moments. We learn and grow from the hard ones.

The takeaway: Expose yourself to hard things if you want to grow.

Enter the race. Call the relative or estranged friend. Start the workout. Sacrifice a few precious weekend hours to volunteer. Try the new recipe. Attempt the challenging hike. Pick up the weights. Set verbal boundaries with people that steal your energy. Take a new yoga class.

Even if you “fail”… you’ve won. You’ve grown.

Becca Kawaoka

It’s not possible to compare the hour with a time trial on the road…Here it’s not possible to ease up, to change gears or the rhythm. The hour record demands a total effort, permanent and intense, one that’s not possible to compare to any other. I will never try it again. (and he never did!)

– Eddy Merckx, the most decorated professional cyclist in history.