Canadian Rachel McBride is getting ready for the 2015 Wildflower Triathlon and started her California campaign with a 6th place at 70.3 Oceanside. We last talked to her late in 2012 and much has happened since.
Slowtwitch: Well hi again.
Rachel McBride: Hey Herbert. Great to chat with you again. It’s been a while!
ST: You just had a birthday right after 70.3 Oceanside I believe. Did you celebrate?
Rachel: Yes! The race was on my birthday! I definitely celebrated that night at the Wattie Ink post-race party. Nothing too crazy. Though I still haven’t gotten any birthday cake! I’m definitely owed some cake.
ST: Are you much of a cake person?
Rachel: Oh yes. I consider myself a cupcake connoisseur. I love tasting all kinds of cupcakes, searching for the best. It’s a tough job. Ha ha.
ST: The field was very strong in Oceanside, and you finished 6th. How did that find you?
Rachel: That was a good result for me, but not great. Aside from 70.3 World Champs last year, it was the first time in 2 years I had been off the podium. That was a hard pill to swallow. I was definitely not biking to my abilities that day and was not in the mix with the girls I am used to being with, so it was frustrating.
ST: Last year in Oceanside you had a monster bike split but then had to pull out during the run with what turned out to be a stress fracture. How frustrating was that?
Rachel: Wow yeah, incredibly frustrating especially coming off the bike in 2nd place in such a great field. But in hindsight it was a very good decision. Running a full 21.1km on the fracture would have delayed my recovery by several weeks. It was one of the hardest but smartest decisions of my career!
ST: You then finished 3rd at Ironman 70.3 Eagleman and had the fastest bike split again, narrowly beating fellow Canadian Heather Wurtele, and 6 minutes ahead of Caitlin Snow. Was that where you thought you should be?
Rachel: Absolutely. My bike performance in California really gave me a lot of confidence going into the rest of the season. It made me realize I really had the ability to be in the mix with some of the top cyclists in the sport.
ST: Was that stress fracture out of your mind then?
Rachel: Yeah pretty much. Although I was still taking some of the stress off my foot even the week before the race by training on the elliptical, I was pretty confident the fracture was fully healed. Just my run fitness that was not completely up to speed!
ST: 3rd again a few weeks later at Ironman 70.3 Vineman, but with a run that was much more in line with those ahead of you. Is that fair to say?
Rachel: On the day, yes. It was definitely not a crazy fast run by any means, but one of those runs where I kept looking at my km splits and thinking “whoa, am I really running that fast and it feels so good? Cool!”
ST: In Calgary you then struck gold, and that included a strong run split. Was that redemption?
Rachel: For sure. It was definitely another confidence boost that my race fitness was coming together, especially to see how much time I had taken off from my run split the year before. It was proof I had really gained some run fitness from the year before.
ST: How much more run speed is possible?
Rachel: Well I have an idea, but I’ve just never really had the opportunity to develop my run over a full year or more without taking a step back due to injury. I think I have the potential to run a 1:20 off the bike. I just need to have the time to develop my fitness up there.
ST: What about swimming?
Rachel: Oh that’s a tough one. I definitely have made some ground in my swim in the last year and still feel like I have more power in my shoulders to tap into. But swimming is one of those things you put so much work into only to see a very small gain. Every second counts of course, but it is frustrating to not get so much bang for your buck.
ST: With the 70.3 Worlds in Canada last year, was that additional pressure or is that not how you operate?
Rachel: No, if anything it made the race much more manageable stress-wise. Although it’s a few thousand kilometers away from my home base, it still felt like a “home” event. The Quebecois fans are amazing. It was awesome to have so much support from the Canadians on course and on the sidelines!
If there was any pressure it was probably from the fact that my dad and best friend had come all that way for the big event. The last triathlon my best friend had joined me at was my very first Olympic distance race 8 years ago! My dad used to think he was bad luck at my races because he just happened to be at the ones where things went really wrong for me (heat stroke, pulmonary edema…). So I wanted to continue to prove him wrong, and I think did just that with a solid race.
ST: Talk about the race:
Rachel: Well it was really exciting for me to be back at the World Champs since I hadn’t raced it since my first year as a pro. Little did I know I was jumping into the most competitive field this race has seen in a long time! I had pretty high expectations for myself, but had never raced against some of these women like Ryf. I also hadn’t anticipated how bunched up the bike course would get and how strategy and tactics would play a big role. I didn’t really know how to deal with it and felt like it hindered my riding. It was definitely a huge learning experience for me. My run again was really consistent with what I had been putting out in the months before. It’s really made me see just how much I need to up my game to be on that world podium.
ST: Did your dad and your best friend enjoy themselves watching you and Mt. Tremblant in general?
Rachel: Oh absolutely. A very generous friend let us stay in her condo right in the village. The vibe was infectious. It always means so much to me to have them there on the sidelines and at least this course was somewhat spectator friendly with a few viewing/cheering opportunities on both the bike and run. Mt Tremblant village was also a blast to explore - like a mini-Whistler with really good poutine!
ST: Well who makes the best poutine? And I don’t really get it, but is it indeed possible for some folks to not like it?
Rachel: Seriously! Well I had the Smoke's poutine that's in Mt Tremblant village pretty much immediately on my way back from the race. It was tasty, but not the best. I actually haven't spent enough time in Quebec to determine the best it has to offer – [but it is] on my bucket list. I do know the Poutinerie in Toronto actually has a pretty stellar poutine and the veggie gravy is surprisingly better than the meat version!
ST: When we last talked to you late in 2012, you still worked with Björn Ossenbrink. When did you start with Cliff English and how did that connection come up?
Rachel: I started working with Cliff in January earlier this year. He probably doesn’t remember this, but I actually first connected with him way back in about 2007 or so. It was when I was first getting serious about Olympic distance triathlon and was looking for a pro bike fit. I never followed up more than an email inquiry, but it definitely put his name on my radar as a top Canadian coach. Fast-forward 7 years and I was in Tucson at the same time as Heather Jackson and fiancé Sean Watkins who were there for a Cliff English pro camp. I tagged along for a few workouts and had a fantastic time. Cliff has worked with an incredible roster of world-class professionals – including one of my Canadian favorites Samantha McGlone. I had most recently seen Jackson really sky-rocket under his guidance, so in December I approached him about the possibility of coaching. We really clicked from the get-go. It felt like a no-brainer to start training with him.
ST: How different is the approach of these 2 coaches?
Rachel: Well it still feels pretty new working with Cliff. It’s a little hard to judge differences at this point. I was definitely training a higher volume with Bjoern, which some athletes can totally handle. I feel Cliff has been keeping things pretty conservative with me so far – and rightly so considering my knack for early season injury and the fact that I spent the winter rehabbing damage to myself from attempting to self-coach! I’m excited to see what kind of training Cliff has in store for me when we really get into the thick of this season and beyond.
ST: Currently you are preparing for Wildflower. Do you feel ready?
Rachel: I’m getting there! I’m excited to race a course that really suits me – all that glorious climbing.
ST: I think this is your first experience of this popular and historic event, and that seems surprising.
Rachel: It’s been on my bucket list ever since I started racing! In the past I’ve always felt like I needed to focus more on chasing points to get to 70.3 Worlds. This year I’m feeling much more confident in qualifying, so I’m able to branch out a lot more in the races I choose to do. Plus my good friend and fellow pro Nathan Killam just raved about his experience last year. I really couldn’t bear to pass it up yet again!
ST: After that?
Rachel: The next several weeks after that will be an intense block of racing with Challenge Knoxville 2 weeks later and Challenge Quassy 3 weeks after that. Vineman 70.3 is always an amazing one to hit, and I suppose I’ll have to go defend my title at Calgary 70.3!
ST: Anything else we should know?
Rachel: This summer I’ll be involved in a documentary called the Triumph Project along with BMX-legend-turned-triathlete Dave Mirra that I’m pretty excited about. It’s basically attempting to bridge the gap between pro and amateur triathletes, show how accessible the sport is, and document several athletes coming from very different backgrounds with unique styles. thetriumphproject.org