Rachel Joyce: On Going With The Flow and Giving Back

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We caught up with #SoundAthlete Rachel Joyce to learn what she’s been up to since announcing a hiatus from her professional racing career.

World champion triathlete and Kona podium regular Rachel Joyce will forgo a spot at the 2016 Ironman World Championship to focus on a different adventure: motherhood. With her baby due in the fall, Rachel is staying active through her pregnancy, but also relishing the freedom and spontaneity rarely found amid the rigors of training at the professional level.

“I’ve really enjoyed not really having a schedule,” says Rachel. “There are certain sessions I’ll try and do every week just because I enjoy seeing friends that I train with, but I also listen to how I feel. Some days I’m more tired so I might just do a solo swim. I know that some women maintain a very strict training regime throughout their pregnancy, but for me this is the perfect time to take that pressure off myself and do other things.”

These other things, for Rachel, are many. Just have a look at the laundry list of activities that make up her new day-to-day:

First, there’s her passionate work as an ambassador for two leading women’s triathlon initiatives, Women For Tri and Tri Equal. Rachel has been directly involved with the development of Women For Tri’s new ambassador program and serves as the organization’s point person in her home of Boulder, Colorado. 

“It’s been really fun,” she says. “I want to see the sport grow amongst women. One of the nice things inherent in the sport is the mix between the age groupers and the pros, and it’s inspiring to see how enthusiastic and generous the women we are engaging with are in giving their time to share the sport with others.” 

Among Tri Equal’s initiatives, the organization is best known for the drive to achieve an equal number of men and women pros in Kona. 

“I think that ties in quite nicely with the Women For Tri objectives, because beyond growing the sport at a grassroots level, it’s important to lead by example on the professional side of things,” says Rachel. “We haven’t succeeded at getting equal numbers, but we’re not going to give up.” 

Also on Rachel’s agenda are coaching duties, a title she is earning through Ironman University. 

“I only have a few clients but it’s been really fun working with them. My goals are very different this year, but I have enjoyed taking others through a training program to reach their goal.”

And her mentoring doesn’t end there. Taking a detour from triathlon, Rachel serves as an English teacher volunteer through Intercambio, an organization that provides cultural integration and English language classes to immigrants in Boulder County. 

“I’m an immigrant, although I happen to speak English,” says Rachel. “It sometimes feels very separated in Boulder, and you could miss that there is a large immigrant population. I’d really like to see a more intercultural, integrated community. And while I don’t want to get too political, I want to do what little I can to counter the negative dialogue that’s been created about immigrants and integration. It’s a small thing that I’m doing through volunteering, but it is important to me.”

To further expand her own cultural horizons, Rachel attends an intensive Spanish course three mornings a week. She’s always wanted to master a foreign language and says, “It seemed like a perfect time to throw myself into it.”

As a soon-to-be mother, Rachel is also more invested than ever in her physical well being. She uses Sound Probiotics to safeguard both her own and her baby’s immune health.

“I started using the product about 18 months ago,” says Rachel. “The more I read about gut health, the more I see that it’s central to how you absorb nutrition,  to the health of your immune system and your mental well being. So Sound Probiotics are a staple in my daily routine. Even if I don’t take another supplement – if I miss my Vitamin C, for example – I take my probiotic every day. And now that I’m expecting, I’ve read articles saying that taking a probiotic – during pregnancy and after you give birth, if you decide to breastfeed – can help with your child’s future health and help prevent acid reflux.  I wasn’t unhealthy before I started taking Sound, but professional sport is about finding your optimal health. Now I want to do everything I can to be as healthy as possible and create a healthy environment for my growing baby.”

With all of Rachel’s interests, community activities and outstanding athletic accolades, she’s an obvious inspiration to many. Yet she’s hard pressed to see herself in that light. 

“I don’t see myself as inspiring people,” says Rachel. “I would love it if I do inspire people but I am not sure that can be a goal in itself. I love what I do and I’m mostly driven by doing stuff that I enjoy and things that feel right. That’s why I got involved with these various projects. Triathlon has had such a positive impact on my life, and that’s why I think it would be great if we could reach more women and get them into the sport. That comes from my personal experience in the sport and how it makes me feel. It makes me a more positive person, more confident, and that’s something I would love everyone to have the opportunity to feel.”

“Plus,” she adds, “When you’re training all the time, life can be quite mono-dimensional. It’s been quite nice to add other things in that key into other important parts of my personality. I would never have had the time to do the things I’m doing now when I was training to race and focusing on Kona. I do want to return to the sport, but I have ambitions for after the sport as well, so this is a good time to explore how I might shape my career after I’m done racing.”

Starting a family is one thing that Rachel and her long-time partner Brett wanted to do, and the experience thus far is providing a fresh and welcome perspective. 

“Not all of pregnancy has been easy,” says Rachel. “I definitely found it hard in the early days just because I didn’t feel great. But it feels really nice that it’s not me that comes first now. I like that aspect – thinking about another person and making this baby my priority. Sometimes I have struggled in the sport because you need to be selfish at points and so singularly focused. That’s necessary to reach your potential, but I also found it difficult at times. So it’s nice to have shifted focus. It’s a relief in a lot of ways.”

As for when we might see Rachel back on a triathlon start line? 

“I think nothing can really prepare you for having a baby except for when you actually have it,” she says. “I don’t have a concrete image of how life will be after the baby comes and I’m not pressuring myself that I have to be back into training at a certain time. I really feel that I’m going to go with the flow and see what happens.”

Digging Deep with Ben Hoffman

Ironman Champion Ben Hoffman recently returned from the trip of a lifetime to South Africa where, before touring the country for some hard-earned R&R with fiancée Kelsey Deery, he scored a brilliant victory at Ironman South Africa. The performance was quintessential Hoffman – a window into the dogged discipline that drives him to push the limits of his potential, day after day, year after year in training. In the marathon, Hoffman and fellow pro Tim Van Berkel ran stride for stride until the halfway point, picking off a succession of rivals before an unfaltering Hoffman ultimately pulled ahead to clinch the win. We sat down with the newly crowned champ to learn how he manages to dig deep under pressure and maintain focus when it matters most, and to get a sense of his outlook for the season ahead.

In your post-race recap from Ironman South Africa, you mentioned looking at your watch at the half marathon mark, seeing the time of 1:20, and making “a decision in that moment to end the pain as quickly as possible... no groveling home, no struggle street blues, just suck it up and win this damn thing.” That’s a risky place to be, when you’ve gone out a bit harder than you might have intended and you’re on that precipice where you’re either going to have a breakout success or a massive blowup. What tools – whether internal or external, physical or mental – did you use to dig deep and ensure the end result was a good one? 

“I think a lot of that stuff happens before you get into those moments. It’s in the training you do. You practice hurting yourself over and over again while you’re training, and you practice not quitting and not giving up. I go out and train really hard, so I get my body used to dealing with that pain. Part of the game plan also – and it always is with an Ironman – is to stay focused in every moment. I remember specifically in South Africa, Kelsey was on the course and every time I saw her she said, ‘Run in this moment.’ You have to do the best thing you possibly can in each moment, because that’s all you can do. Even when things get painful, you just have to make the best decision to deal with that pain right then. We’ve incorporated some meditation this year, which I think has been really helpful. It’s about being mindful and practicing being aware of what you need in any given moment. If your muscles cramp a little, maybe you need a little more food or a little more electrolyte. It’s about paying attention to those small cues. You have to be peaceful in a way, and focused in the moment, because if you allow yourself to get overwhelmed by how chaotic it is in a race setting, you’ll start to unravel.”

When you finished second in Kona in 2014, was that a similar experience of feeling aware and in control?

“It was. I remember people on course kept telling me, ‘Jan [Frodeno] is right behind you!’ He got within 15 seconds – it was really close – but I thought, I can’t do anything about Jan. I can only do what I can do right now. I remember my coach Elliot saying, ‘Don’t listen to these people. You know what to do. Take care of yourself and get what you need from the aid stations.’ I had been really conscious that entire race about cooling and I remember – even as Jan got within 15 seconds – I got to the next aid station and I slowed down to get all the ice and water I needed. I knew I couldn’t go ripping through to try and get away from him or it was going to blow up in my face. You need to have that laser focus on yourself and what you need, regardless of what’s happening around you, in order to get your best performance. I think that’s evidenced when you finally get across the line and can really let go – the relief and emotion is obvious, because the focus has been so intense.”

How does your experience in Kona 2014 and at Ironman South Africa add to your arsenal heading into Kona 2016?

“I have a better idea every year that I do Kona of what I need to perform well out there. One of the things that’s really important is what’s going on in your life outside of the sport. I’ve found that to be the final critical key. I’m really consistent in my training – I feel like I always come to an Ironman in physically good shape and ready to race – but that extra five to ten percent, or even more, comes from what’s going on in your personal life and where your head is outside of the sport and outside of the training. In Kona 2014 and this year in South Africa, I knew that I was in a really good state mentally. I almost knew I was going to have a good performance just because of that. This year I keep saying to myself in training, ‘This is the year to make it happen.’ I feel that in my heart right now, and I think we have the pieces in place to make it happen, from sponsor support to Kelsey’s support and just where I’m at mentally. Plus, the fact that I punched my ticket to Kona early is really good. I can truly focus the season on that race. It’s a nice feeling that no matter what, between now and October it’s really only about Kona. It’s a good place to be in, and now it’s just about capitalizing on that position and making sure we do everything right.”

How does Sound Probiotics fit into that plan, and why are probiotics important to you?

“My initial interest in gut health and using probiotics for boosting health was the recognition that around 70 percent of your immune health is based in your gut, which to me was eye opening. I don’t know how I didn’t know that before! I’ve struggled over the Ironman distance with GI issues, and I think you really have to come to the race with optimal gut health. To do an Ironman properly and have good nutrition and be able to deal with the struggles that happen in the race, you have to come into it with your gut in the healthiest place possible. It’s also important when you travel to the race – your immune system has to be in optimal condition when you board the plane and travel, for example, to South Africa for 35 hours. I didn’t have any health issues the entire trip, and we had really crazy travel. We were stuck in middle seats with a guy coughing all over the place, and we had a stressful situation on one of our layovers with an airport official wanting to take our passports, plus a bag that didn’t make the connection. That sort of stuff really stresses you out and takes a toll on your well-being! It’s also important to make sure you get probiotics in right after a race when your body is shelled. Everyone walks away from a race in kind of a rough spot in terms of how much it taxes your body, and probiotics protect you from getting sick afterwards so that you can hit the reset button and get going again. For me, they’ve been really helpful.”

One final question: You often talk about the pursuit of “ideal execution”, of seeking that elusive perfect performance. Do you think a perfect performance is actually possible?

“No, I don’t. But I still think there’s a lot of value in talking about it. Because it makes you cognizant of chasing your best, all the time. I don’t believe in perfection as a concept necessarily, but I think there’s something noble about chasing perfection, even when you know it’s not possible. And I think that if you want to continue to be the best when you’re at a high level, that’s what you need to do to make it happen.”