Despite a quiet start to the 2014 season due to a bout of anemia that left her feeling run down, Ironman champion Rachel Joyce is now in excellent health and is gearing up for a trio of races on the near horizon–Ironman 70.3 Kansas on June 8, Ironman 70.3 Boulder just one week later and Challenge Roth on July 20, a race Joyce won in 2012 with a personal best time at the distance of 8:45:04. I caught up with the sprightly Brit over coffee in Boulder, where we spoke about her upcoming events, the fiercely competitive field assembled for Challenge Roth, a poignant moment from Kona 2013 and her experience being mentored by six-time Ironman world champion Dave “The Man” Scott.
Triathlete.com: The start to your season was uncharacteristic, with a DNF at Ironman 70.3 Texas and a DNS at Ironman 70.3 St. George as a result of being anemic. But you raced the Bolder Boulder 10k on Memorial Day and you have Kansas, Boulder and Roth all coming up in rapid succession. Tell me how you’re feeling, how your training is going and how excited you are to get to that next start line?
RJ: I have missed racing the first part of the season. It’s always hard watching people in fine form early in the year when I am, more often than not, a little way from being in race form. But, these days the season never really ends so I have to decide what part of the year I will focus on. I raced Ironman Cozumel in December [Joyce won in 8:52:28, her fifth sub nine-hour finish], and so I knew I wouldn’t be back at a start line in the early part of 2014.
However, my plan was to have raced by now. But one thing I’ve learned the last couple of years is that plans need to be flexible. I knew something wasn’t right before Galveston but it took putting myself into a race situation to really address that! I beat myself up a lot about not finishing there, but then I took a step back and took the time to assess things more objectively. A blood test showed that I was extremely low in iron. There’s no quick fix for that and I saw no point in jumping into another race until I was fully healthy.
I wasn’t certain I’d be ready to race Kansas, but I’m feeling really good now and healthy. Bolder Boulder was a lot of fun and I was pretty happy with my time [37:18:22], so I feel like I’m on the right path for Kansas. I loved racing there in 2012, so it will be a really nice way to get back into racing for 2014. The double 70.3–with Kansas and Boulder on back-to-back weekends–is not something I’ve ever done before, but as well as having the opportunity to race I wanted a different kind of challenge, to see how I react to that one-two effort. And Boulder is a home race so I’ll get to sleep in my own bed–that’s pretty attractive! After that I’ll train through to Challenge Roth.
Triathlete.com: Let’s talk about Roth. You won the race in 2012 and you’re an obvious favorite there. But the field is tough–you’ll be going up against 2013 champ Caroline Steffen, another previous winner in Yvonne Van Vlerken, plus several other strong contenders including Bek Keat, Michelle Vesterby and of course Rinny. So it’s basically a Kona-esque field, albeit missing some of the other top long course talents. What do you think it will be like facing that level of competition smack in the middle of the season? Does it excite you? Does it intimidate you? Do you view it as an educational opportunity to gauge the other girls’ fitness?
RJ: My primary reason for going back to Roth is because I loved that race in 2012. Oh, and my entire family have booked their holiday around it–no pressure! I think it’s awesome that Challenge has put together such a good field on both the men’s and women’s sides. As well as it being an amazing race day experience I like being part of a big race, and of course knowing the caliber of the field is a big motivation during training. It will be fun–I think there’s been as much talk about the after party as the race itself amongst the girls! I’m realistic though–July is not October. So whether I have a good race or a bad race–and I hope that’s not the case–I’m not going to make any predictions about Kona based on what happens in Germany.
Triathlete.com: Speaking of Rinny in particular, I recently saw a clip from the Kona 2013 video–the moment when she made the pass on you while you were leading the race in the marathon. That moment was the epitome of good sportsmanship, in my book. You turned to her with such a huge smile, and it showed a moment of true friendship and respect between the two of you, even while you were both obviously battling for the world title. What was that moment like for you?
RJ: I was kind of surprised seeing that moment when I watched the video. I didn’t feel super happy to lose my lead! Going into any race I feel fiercely competitive but that moment reminds me that I am racing against people I respect and enjoy racing against–often friends! My smile is a little misleading though. I hadn’t given up on the win. I think Rinny said something along the lines of, “Lovely day for it!” I smiled, she made the pass and then it was back to business.
As an aside, I prefer to race in a happy place and I think that’s kind of reflected in what happened during that pass. Generally, I’m just not someone that races angry. I’m very, very competitive, but staying positive is really important for me in order to keep going. And I knew she was coming–I had been hearing the splits and then I felt all the press gathering around to catch that moment, so it wasn’t exactly a surprise!
Triathlete.com: You’re about a year and a half into working with Dave Scott as your coach. I’m curious, is it a collaborative relationship or do you simply trust in his expertise and do what he prescribes? And honestly, do you ever just want to say, “Look, I realize you won Kona a few times, but really, what do you know?”
RJ: [Laughing] I would say it’s pretty collaborative, more so probably this year than last year. Dave has a huge depth of knowledge and experience and I’d be stupid not to draw on that as much as possible. But I think he would agree that we’ve had some “butting of heads” (his words!) at points. In the end I know my body better than anyone else, and one thing my little blip at the start of the season showed me is that I need to really listen to that. Our relationship has evolved, it’s a bit more collaborative now and relies on good communication to works at it’s best. He’s a great coach. He cares an incredible amount and he knows so much, and so I want to absorb all of that information. At the same time I know my body the best and so I’ve got to listen to how it’s responding to the training and communicate that to him. I think that’s how we get the most out of working together.
Triathlete.com: Is anything else happening in your world that you’d like to share?
RJ: Well, touch wood, Brett and I will be buying a house soon, although that’s a work in progress. But we’re going to be here in Boulder for a bit. Other than that, not much!