From Freak Achilles Injury to Ultramarathoner

Relay Iowa start (1)A pool accident sidelined Jill Becker as she transitioned from high school to college running. She’s fought back with patience and perseverance, and now runs faster and longer than before.

By Henry Howard

Jill Becker found her passion — running — when she joined the middle school track team. Later, she excelled on the high school cross-country and track teams.

“First off, I love to run,” she says. “I love the feeling. The ups and downs. The runner’s high, the accomplishment, the health benefits, the challenge, being a motivator, my idea time, my focus time, and it’s part of my routine. I enjoy challenging myself, pushing my limits, and the process of being the best I can be!”

A freak accident before Becker started college gave her the challenge of a lifetime.

‘Giving up wasn’t an option’

Becker accepted a scholarship to run cross-country and track at Briar Cliff University, an NAIA school in Sioux City, Iowa. The summer between high school and college she worked at the local pool, handling lifeguard and pool cleaning duties.

“While moving a steel vacuum cart, the cart ended up cutting my Achilles,” Becker recalls of the incident during the summer of 2005. “I needed surgery to repair my tendon. It was a long road to getting back to running, but giving up wasn’t an option.” 

The injury prevented Becker from fully running for about a year after the surgery. “I went to physical therapy three times a week,” she says. “As soon as I was able to I was doing PT in the water and running in the pool. I also would bike one-legged, and focused a lot on my core and my nutrition.”

At the same time, she also needed to keep her mind sharp on returning to her sports. “It’s all about training your brain,” she says. ” ‘Pain is temporary, quitting lasts forever.’ I looked up a lot of quotes and motivational sayings during the time I couldn’t run. That all helped me stay on the right track. I fought hard to get back to running again. I wasn’t going to let anything stop me. There will be obstacles, roadblocks and challenges. I believe you can do anything if you are persistent, consistent, and never give up!”

Learning to walk again, then run

After such a long layoff, Becker had to start back slowly.

“It was awkward,” she says of those first few steps. “After being in a cast and then a boot non-weight bearing. I had to basically learn how to walk ‘normal’ again, let alone learn to run without limping. With time, patience and hard work, I am back at it. It is crazy to think my surgery was 10 years ago this December.” 

Becker remembers staying positive even in the immediate aftermath of the injury. She knew that she would run again — “I wasn’t letting anything stop me, but my running has taken off after I graduated college and I finally felt healed” — but she probably didn’t know just how far she would go.

After college, she completed half and full marathons, as well as Sprint, Olympic and Half Ironman Triathlons. Then she ran across her home state in the Relay Iowa 2012 with — in her words — “a bunch of ultra dudes.”

Slow, steady progress

Becker caught the ultra bug, and has now completed 17 ultras, including two 100-milers this year. Her first was in March at the Prairie Spirit Trail in Ottawa, Kansas, and in October, she completed the Ghost Train 100 in Brookline, New Hampshire.

Looking back, she credits her recent success to stable, steady progress in the wake of her injury.

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“I believe slow progress and building back up has been my lifesaver,” she says. “I started at 5k, then half marathons, then full marathons, then 50ks, then an 8-hour timed ultra, then 50-milers, and now I run 100-milers. Listening to your body is the number one thing. Also, cross training. You can’t be hammering running day in and day out without some cross training, and strength training.”

Becker, who also is a certified personal trainer and running coach, has a simple message for other endurance athletes who face a serious injury and long recovery time: Be patient.

“Injuries are not fun, but keeping on pushing through when your body is telling you something is not good. REST. RECOVER. Focus on something else to enhance yourself,” she advises. “If you can cross train, work on your core, or better your nutrition etc. DO IT! There are plenty of things you can always do to help better yourself and make your ‘injury/downtime’ a building time.”

Looking back, she says, “I feel everything happens for a reason. Embrace the obstacles and never take running for grated. Progress is progress. When you can return to running, start slow. Don’t think you can go back to where you left off, or you will be back in the ‘injury list.’”  

Ultra Running in Leadville



Speed drill

Name: Jill Becker

Hometown: Bancroft, Iowa

Number of years running: 16 years

How many miles a week do you typically run:  Average 40-50 miles plus, just depends on training cycle

Point of pride: Overcoming Achilles Tendon surgery and now being faster than I was before!

Favorite race distance: 100 milers
Favorite pre-race or training food/drink: Tailwind Nutrition, Honey stinger waffles, Epic bars

Favorite or inspirational song to run to: Who runs with music?! 🙂 

Favorite or inspirational mantra/phrase: “Keep moving forward.” And “Pain is temporary, quitting lasts forever.”

Sponsored brand ambassador for: Altras, Injinji, Tailwind Nutrition, Honey Stinger and Christopher Coffee Bean Company

Where can other runners connect or follow you:  
Blog: https://jillrun4life.wordpress.com/ 

Instragram: jbeckruns

Twitter: @jillrun4life

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