Rachel McBride started training for her first half-marathon in the dead of the brutal Ottawa winter. She was 28, working towards her second master’s degree, and needed a physical outlet to stop her from going stir-crazy amidst the darkened weather. And so, bundled up on the snowy streets, she ran.
“I was like, ‘I’m going to run a marathon,’” she says now, 11 years later, sipping iced tea at the Matchstick on Fraser and Kingsway. “I just set myself a goal of nine months later running the Berlin Marathon, and I ran it, and ended up qualifying for Boston and totally surprising myself.”
It wasn’t beginner’s luck.
Call it natural-born talent, call it perseverance—more precisely, it’s a perfect harmony of the two. McBride has, since that initial race, made a living out of pushing herself to the edge. Now primarily competing as a triathlete, McBride—tall, lean, covered in tattoos, with a university background in genetics—understands that success is about her mental shape just as much as her physical one.
“I think that I definitely have a genetic advantage, but I think what helps me be really successful is a lot of that mental component and the ability to just go out there and push myself,” she explains. “I have a knack for being able to just push my body and push the limits, and I think that’s something that’s really important that differentiates people being really high-performance athletes versus amateur athletes, is that mental drive.”
To say that McBride, who in 2016 alone finished fifth at Ironman Cozumel, third at the ITU Long Distance World Championships, and second at Ironman 70.3 Calgary—not to mention first at this year’s Great White North Half Iron Triathlon, earning the second-fastest time in the race’s history—is not fazed by a challenge is a comical understatement. Take, for example, the Red Bull 400: a 400-metre race up a ski hill that is put on in cities around the world, including Whistler. McBride was doing the Grouse Grind on a regular basis (best time: 35 minutes and 15 seconds; the women’s world record is not all that far off, at 30:52) when some friends on the trail suggested she try the 400. “I was like, ‘Okay, this is ridiculous but let’s do it; it’s a Red Bull event, it’s got to be cool,’” she recalls of the 2016 race. “So I just showed up, and it was brutal but it was awesome.”
She ended up winning the whole thing.
This year, she is returning to Whistler for the Aug. 5 race to try beating her own time (which, by the way, was the course record). “It’s like nothing I’ve ever done before in my life,” says McBride. “It’s a pretty cool experience.” The biggest difference this year is that she competed in Ironman Canada in Whistler the week prior—so her recovery has had to be swift. “The level of fatigue you have after an Ironman is pretty significant,” she admits. But come hell or high mountain, she won’t be deterred.
UPDATE Aug. 5, 2017: The Red Bull 400 was cancelled due to poor conditions caused by wildfire smoke. But McBride assures us she will be back to compete next year.