News & Updates

Madi Campbell: Notes on Ironman Arizona and doing hard things

During our conversation with Madi, Oak Bay’s newest physio, we learned about how training for an Ironman has made her realize people are capable of more than they think they are.

You ran the Ironman!

Yes! I was going to do it in Penticton, but with the fires this year, they canceled it a week before. When I learned I could transfer my race to Phoenix, I did it! I started training for it in November 2022, and it’s been such a healing and growing process throughout the year. It would have been a shame to have trained for it and not been able to do the actual event and celebrate all that hard work!

How did you get into running?

Exercise has always been a good outlet for me. It’s a good way to keep me in shape, and to have something that’s a really big goal has been so helpful for my mind.

I didn’t start running until after high school, mostly because it was free exercise! I was also getting over a few injuries from improper training in high school (basketball, hockey, volleyball), so I was encouraged to bike and swim, and I found that I really loved those activities. 

What do you love most about it?

I love being able to experience nature in a very immersive way. Moving out to the island was very much influenced by the fact that I could step out my front door and be outside exploring immediately. My favourite way to see a new place when I’m traveling is to step outside my hotel room and go for a run! Seeing the trees and being able to crunch on the leaves in the fall, it’s such a nice way to clear my head. I used to listen to music, but now I intrinsically love the silence. I usually come back in a better mood than when I started.

Why an Ironman?

It’s always been on my bucket list. I love a physical challenge! I remember being told while on my elementary cross-country team that I was built for endurance sports. At the time, I hated that! I wanted to do fast, short events and be done with it. But after high school, a switch flipped and I started to really like the endurance thing. It has so many parallels to life: pushing through discomfort, doing hard things, and overcoming the limitations of our minds.

I ran cross country in university and had a lot of injuries, plus arthritis in my big toe joint. I thought I wouldn’t be able to keep up with running. But through physio school, I learned about ways to adapt, and now I wear orthotics, which helps a lot. I remember being on a placement and hearing someone talk about Ironman but assumed I wouldn’t ever be able to do it because of my arthritis. They said not to stop myself from doing something I was passionate about! My toe is still temperamental, but the training helps so much.

I’ve always been impressed that people can persevere through this kind of event. I don’t know if I’ll do another one after this, maybe a half-Ironman in June. It’s a time commitment, and my grocery bill is twice as expensive as it usually is.

What keeps you accountable for your training?

I met with my previous boss in Saskatoon, and when I was seriously considering running Ironman (he’s done three!) he suggested that if I were to do it, I’d need to follow a plan like clockwork and get a coach if I wasn’t good at keeping myself accountable. At the time, I was quite frugal and wasn’t sure if I would be able to afford a coach, and I had an insecurity that people wouldn’t think I was a legitimate athlete without one. 

But then I had a meeting with the person who became my coach (also a physio in Saskatoon) and had such a good impression. It was totally worth the investment. He’s been amazing. Everything we worked on was populated on an app called Training Peaks. I’m a pen-and-paper gal so the app is not my forte, but I can comment on my workouts, and he can reply. And, we do things like in-lab testing and lactate threshold, which is super interesting to me because of my field. My favourite part about it is that I can relax and do the thing on my training plan: it’s all laid out. I don’t think I’d be able to do it on my own; I’d be clueless or injured! 

How do you think Ironman connects to the rest of life?

The most important thing I’ve learned from my Ironman training is that you can do hard things, regardless of the situation. It could be sports-related, or maybe it’s climbing a staircase when you have knee problems, or overcoming a fear of swimming.

It’s been fun to translate my love for endurance sports (and its challenges) to my patients. Hopefully, it inspires them to realize that they’re capable of doing things that are challenging, regardless of what that looks like. Usually, it’s not extreme! Having them come back after I’ve given them exercises that they think are ridiculous, and saying it helped is great too.

What brought you out to the island? 

I hiked the West Coast Trail in 2017 with some friends and have been surfing in Tofino! Those experiences made me fall in love with the Island. I think it is such a peaceful, restorative place. It’s so immersed in nature, and that’s my jam. Moss is my favourite thing! I love moss.

I did my undergrad at the University of Saskatchewan and then went to Calgary for my physio degree before going back to Saskatoon. I love Sask and my family to bits but I’ve never felt like that’s my place. It was really hard for me to move from Calgary back to Sask because I didn’t feel like that’s where I wanted to end up.

I’ve always thought of the Island as a place to call home. I don’t know if it’ll be permanent with my family being so far away, but I’m definitely looking forward to extending my time here as long as I can. The people are lovely, and it’s less of a busy vibe than in Vancouver (where I’ve spent some time too); it feels a bit more small-town. 

Favourite place to run here?

Mostly, because it’s so calculated with training, I’ve been doing a lot of running along Goose or Lockside. But I have done some runs at Thetis Lake, which is close to my house! Sometimes, I run with Sandy and a running crew along Oak Bay, and that is quite stunning. 

Outside of running or physio, what do you enjoy?

Hiking is probably my favourite thing ever. Trail running also! I think exploring a place through walking or running is such a novel thing to do. I’ve got a list on my phone of post-Ironman hikes I want to try! I love paddleboarding with friends, but I don’t own my own board yet. I plan to purchase one after Ironman is done.

And I love to spend time with my dog. We’re in View Royal, and we’re about a 10-minute walk from the ocean. Our morning routine is to go for a walk and throw sticks into the ocean, and she swims for them. She’s a bit shy and anxious but thriving here and getting braver in the water. She comes on my little hikes with me; we went to Goldstream recently, and she was playing in the waterfall. She’s super game to come on any outing that I have. We watch the sunsets together. They’re fun little dates!

Madi Campbell and her dog stand on a beach on Vancouver Island.

Favourite type of client?

Retired folks! They’re precious and sassy! I love them. I also love the gardeners that come in. And adolescents! I’m treating a teen lacrosse player with a hip injury right now. Adolescents heal quickly, but it can be challenging for them to adhere to exercises. They’re usually curious, ask questions and want to figure out what’s going on. 

I also have a soft spot for runners and endurance athletes because I’ve been an XC runner and have experienced what they’re going through, so I can empathize and relate to them a lot.

Where do you go to get new research in physio?

Honestly, my best resource is my coworkers! We bounce ideas off each other all the time, and it’s so helpful. They really value collaboration, which I appreciate! Every month, the clinic offers a learning experience where we all get together and study issues together. This fall, we’ve looked at shoulder injuries and TMJ. We’ll present a case and then discuss who would do who would do what. It’s fun to co-treat each other and build skills by having a bigger repertoire.

Otherwise, I still refer often to my orthopedic manual from school. And I’ve found some DPTs on Instagram who are based in the States and a couple here in Canada that are trusted sources for new research.

What’s your favourite nerdy physio topic?

During the final year of my kinesiology degree, I completed an honours thesis in a  neuro-muscular physiology lab. My instructor was super passionate. I did a project on hand muscles in relation to stroke rehab. We had to hook up electrical pads to nerves in the hands and see how they were impacted pre- and post-stroke. I’m so fascinated by human anatomy! That was, by far, my favourite course in university. I really love studying the moving, breathing human and wondering how we can move more efficiently when we are aerobically active.

I nerd out over VO2 max tests! I’m doing them for my Ironman training to see how my training is paying off. I think my interest in them probably started with an honours project in school, but now I’m the one being tested. I try not to get too wrapped up in the data (even if it’s cool), but to be a sustainable exerciser, I want the process to be intrinsically motivating. Data get me motivated!

Madi Campbell sits on a fallen tree over a waterfall and rushing river in a cedar forest.