Pro triathlete Jocelyn McCauley has enjoyed a remarkable rise during the last 10 years, from racing her first half-IRONMAN in 2013 - just 11 weeks after giving birth to her first child - and then finishing first female age-grouper at the IM World Champs a year later.

Since turning pro, she's won four IRONMAN races and was tipped to be a dark horse for Kona in 2022. However, injury derailed her race on the 'Big Island' and she's been rehabbing from two surgeries since - an inguinal hernia surgery and labral repair surgery which took place within 10 days of one another.

We spoke to Jocelyn about her recovery and how she's coping with going to a "dark place" mentally during rehab...

Hey Jocelyn, how’s your recovery post-surgery going? 

It’s going fine but obviously I’m an athlete, so nothing is ever fast enough. I wish recovery was quicker, but I’m just doing everything that I can to recover as fast as I can. It can be frustrating but I’ve just had to focus on appreciating what I can do.

You posted quite an emotional video post-surgery. If you look back at how you felt then and how you’re feeling about the injury now four weeks on, I imagine it’s been quite a journey?

That's life though, right? Races, sport and life are roller coasters, so I guess this experience is a small snapshot of the ups and downs that we go through in life. 

With my surgery, I think the anaesthesia really does play with your brain and makes things a little harder, so it narrowed my focus and what I felt at the time. I was in so much pain and legitimately felt like I wouldn’t get better.

For the first few weeks after surgery I was thinking, “oh my gosh, this is how I have to live the rest of my life. This is horrible. I can’t do this anymore”. I was in a really dark place to be honest.

From there to now, it’s light years different. I’m still in pain but my focus has completely switched. I’m focusing on the progress I can make, rather than the fact I can’t train like I would when fully fit. 

Have you had an extended injury lay-off before in your career? 

I've been really fortunate during my triathlon career. I actually haven't been seriously injured at all before this.

I suffered a labral tear on the other side when I was running post-collegiately, but that was so different because running wasn’t my career and it didn’t affect my life to the same extent. I was working as a nurse and sport was a fun added extra in my life, whereas now triathlon is 24/7 and it’s my everything, outside of my family.

Before we started chatting, I was going to say “I guess you’ve experienced extended breaks from training as you’ve given birth to two girls, who are now nine and two”. But then I read you raced your first half-IRONMAN 11 weeks after giving birth to Emi in 2013! 

My first child, Emi, was super easy; totally fine, arrived on time, and I experienced very little pain during the birth. I ran the day before delivering and I was back to swim-bike-running about a week later, and then did my first half about 10 weeks after that. 

But my second, Sydney, was two weeks late and a completely different experience. I felt a pop in my hip area during labour and I was in so much pain. I had to sit on a doughnut for about a month after having her, but I wanted to get back to triathlon because that’s what makes me feel like myself. When you have a baby, you don't feel like yourself, your body isn’t your own because you’re breastfeeding and everything else that goes with that. It’s a wonderful experience, but you're craving anything to make yourself feel normal again.

So, I probably rushed back faster than I should have because I put pressure on myself. I wanted to qualify for the Collins Cup because that looked like such a cool experience. I wanted to feel like myself again and I honestly even felt the pressure of wanting to get my body back; which I think is a big pressure on a lot of women nowadays because we see others living apparently picture perfect lives on Instagram. 

Were those pressures amplified because you were a pro triathlete second time around?

I was an amateur when I had Emi and I probably averaged 10 or 11 hours of training a week, with the highest training load being 14 hours, when I qualified for the IM Worlds as an age-grouper.

Whereas with Sydney I needed to get back to a much higher level as a pro and the gap to cover to get back to full fitness was far greater. I routinely trained close to 30 hours a week as a pro athlete, although that’s been closer to 11 hours during my recovery from the surgery. 

For context, I was probably doing higher intensity sessions as an amateur than I do now because I was fitting them in around family and my job as a nurse. I do a lot of Zone 2 training as a pro, and my biggest week of training in 2022 was around 37 hours during the week before the PTO US Open.

Despite the frustrations of not being able to hit those big volumes, I imagine one of the positives of doing less at the moment has been spending more time with your family? 

Oh absolutely. My oldest daughter is nine and she’s loving having more mummy time. I took her to the jump park yesterday and, whereas my days are very structured when I’m fitting full-time training in with daily life, my days have been more ‘free form’ since the surgery. 

When it comes to fitting training in with family life, what does a typical week look like for you? 

My husband does the school run so I can swim at 7am and then I come back and jump on the bike trainer, as that makes things easier. Plus, it’s a lot safer than riding on the roads. 

We’ve got a trampoline in the garage so I can chuck a whole bunch of toys in there, put some toddler music on Amazon, and my two-year-old Sydney is set while I ride alongside her. 

I’ll then generally spend some quality time with Sydney later in the morning and have some lunch, and then I’ll either fit in a run or go and pick Emi up from school at 2.30pm. 

I’ll then have an hour window where I can do my run, which most afternoons involves taking Emi to gymnastics and then running home. So, I’ll try to get all of my training done by about 5 o’clock, then it’s family time for the rest of the evening. 

Fantastic. And if we go back to your recovery, I read an interview where you talked about going to a "dark place" during your win at IM Texas in 2022. Is that a common feeling? And do you find that you’ve developed coping strategies as you’ve gained more experience of those moments?

That’s a really good question. We all have dark times in life and I think they can help you grow, including in races. It’s important to focus on the positives and I like to use the phrase, ‘growing the good’. So, whatever you focus on really grows. 

As well as focusing on the positives, I think it’s important to accept that you’re going to have sad feelings and be in a dark place at times in life. It’s what you do in that dark place that matters. Are you dwelling on negativity? Are you sitting in bed and doing nothing to get yourself out of this hole? Or are you doing things that will help you progress by focusing on what you can do now to make tomorrow better? 

And that’s the same in a race, right? 

Most people are going to go to a dark place in an IRONMAN. They’re long, long days for a lot of people and it’s what you do in those moments that define you. What can you do to solve the issue? Are you hydrating and fueling properly? Is your run form falling apart? Are you too hot and need to cool down

Do you use specific tactics pre-race to help prepare you for those dark periods? 

During the build-up to a race, I’ll have different songs and different words that resonate with me at that time. 

So, Hall Of Fame was my go-to song in 2019 as I found the chorus was positive and uplifting for me. And there’s no doubt that your body responds to self-talk, so the three words I focused on a lot in 2022 were ‘strong’, ‘powerful’ and ‘relentless’. I kept repeating those three words over and over to myself in Texas.

My song of choice at the moment is pretty appropriate as I gear up towards my racing comeback: I'm back.

Thanks for sharing, Jocelyn. Good luck with your recovery, we're looking forward to seeing you back racing soon!