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