How Terra Jackson beat imposter syndrome and became a world champion
Terra Jackson, a successful obstacle course racer, shifted her focus to hybrid fitness events beginning in 2021. Jackson quickly became a dominant force in Deka competitions, winning the World Championship in Deka Fit and Deka Strong in 2022. (She will be in Dallas to defend her titles next week.) Jackson has also finished in the top 10 in the last two Hyrox World Championships.
The Hybrid Letter spoke with Terra about body image, overtraining, and how her mental approach shifts when a race gets really tough.
The interview has been edited for length and clarity.
The Hybrid Letter: Why did you make the transition from obstacle course races to hybrid fitness competitions?
Terra Jackson: I was a collegiate runner. So I’ve actually been running since middle school. I ran for the University of North Carolina in Wilmington. And then after my college career was over, I still wanted to do something. I got into my first Spartan race back in like 2011-2012 and then did that for about 8 or 9 years.
I felt like the OCR [obstacle course race] scene was getting stagnant. And then, right before Covid, they brought the first Hyrox to the United States. I saw it, and I thought: that's an event I’ve always wanted for them to make. I’m a good runner, but I’m also pretty strong. There isn’t a whole lot of strength stuff in Spartan. It is more body weight and manipulating your body. There isn’t anything super heavy.
I didn’t compete in Miami but I saw the race on social media. I thought, “Wow, I want to do that.” And then Covid happened and the world shut down. So I ran my first Deka in 2021. That was one of the first events back after the COVID lockdowns. And I immediately felt like this is what my body is made to do. I was a good runner in college but never exceptional. I felt with my size, I was inhibited in some ways. That’s why I really liked Spartan racing because it started to bridge the gap between people who could run fast and people who were also strong. And Hybrid closed the gap even more.
THL: Has focusing on hybrid competitions changed the way you view yourself as an athlete?
At the elite level in Hyrox and Deka, you have these people with different backgrounds and body types coming together and being exceptional. For years, I wasn’t comfortable in my body as an athlete because I felt like I didn’t really belong. I look at everybody else, and they all look different than me. I had imposter syndrome, a little bit. When I got into hybrid, nobody really looked the same. I’m definitely not the biggest one on the line anymore. I felt like there was more of a sense of belonging in the sport. It allowed me to embrace having my body the way it was instead of trying to mold my body into a sport.
I'm 20 pounds heavier than I was in college, and I’ve crushed every single one of my college running PRs. I finally broke 18 minutes in the 5k, which has been a lifetime goal of mine. And I did it heavier than I’ve ever been. So, it’s been a really great experience for me learning that I can still be fast even if I’m not small. It doesn’t matter that I’m not 125 pounds anymore. I ran faster than when I was really skinny.
The people who are elite in running look a certain way. It’s so easy to idolize that type of body even if you’re never going to have it. Instead of chasing your best, you’re chasing somebody else’s body type. If you’re training for performance, I think if you train hard and eat well, your body will find its perfect composition. You don’t have to aspire to look like a certain person.
THL: How do you avoid overtraining while still performing at such a high level?
TJ: I’ve dealt with overtraining more times than I would like to count. I think a lot of that was due to poor nutrition. But also chasing ideas instead of doing what I felt like was right for me. I was trying to run too many miles.
I saw that a person who beat me is running 60 miles a week. So I thought I had to run 65 miles a week to beat them. Using other people’s training as the benchmark for my training was hurting me a lot. I just need to do what works for me. I only run 25-30 miles a week, max. That’s where my body is the happiest. It doesn’t matter if someone is running more than me because running more for me doesn’t help. I also found that my body around 10 to 12 hours a week of training in my max. Anything above that I get symptoms that I get from overtraining. My sleep gets really bad. My appetite goes down.
I think for people when they are creating their training plans or picking a coach, they need to understand what their body can handle. In training for Deka Worlds, I’ve been pushing very hard for the last ten weeks. But I don’t train like this year round. I’m not fit like this year round.
Because you can race all year, people take no off-season. But taking a break is very important not only physically, but mentally. If you’re not loving your training, then eventually, it’s going to suffer. You’re not going to put as much in your workouts. It takes a lot to train for Hyrox, and if you’re not mentally ready for it, I don’t think you’re gonna have a successful cycle.
THL: How do you prepare yourself mentally to compete?
TJ: A book I really like is The Ultra Mindset by Travis Macy. It’s applicable to any race you do. He talks about embracing fear and rewiring how we talk to ourselves in these moments.
In my races, I’m focused on my cadence and my pace. How’s my breathing? I’m checking in with myself. When the race starts to get really hard, I start thinking about why I do this. Because I can. Because I love it. So I get more internalized as the race gets harder. Being able to make that switch is really important in a race because you don’t want to be there the whole time. You don’t want to pull from your heart too early. What are you going to do when things get tough? Hopefully not quit. So create strategies ahead of time. That way, when you do encounter challenges in the race, you’re prepared.
Hybrid athletes of the week: Andrea Kafka and Christine Grahler
Names: Andrea Kafka and Christine Grahler
Ages: 43 (Andrea) and 38 (Christine)
Hometown: Darnestown, MD (Andrea) and Goslar, Germany (Christine)
How many doubles races have you done together:
Four Hyrox (New York 2022, Miami 2023, Chicago 2023, and Dallas 2023) and one Deka Fit (Philly 2023). Miami 2023 was a favorite. The race itself was brutal — in the Florida sun, sand, and heat. But we did not give up. Doing it together helped. In the end, you don’t want to let your partner down. We are glad that we each have a friend who is just as crazy and who will jump into challenges just as quickly. We ended up getting first in our age group!
Why did you start Hybrid training?
For our first Hyrox in New York in 2022, we heard people talking about it, and we just couldn’t miss out on trying it. The gyms we go to cater to hybrid training. The varied workouts and training programs offered by them really prepared us for Hyrox races without knowing it. This first race, we treated it as just another workout. But we had fun, did much better than we expected, and decided to get serious. We became a little more mindful of our workouts in preparation. We also do more endurance workouts because these races require a lot!
Do you have a race goal?
Our goal before Chicago was to get 1:10 — we came close at 1:10:51 and got third place in our age group, which was great! Our new goal is to make the podium at the 2024 Hyrox in Washington, DC. Stay tuned to see if we can do it :)
Andrea: The SkiErg, because I love it and it’s a strength of mine. And the Farmers Carry. I just pick those weights up and run the 200 meters, set them down, and keep going.
Christine: Sleds. The running afterward is the hardest, but I just love pushing and pulling the sled.
Least Favorite Station:
Andrea: 80-meter burpee broad jumps — need I say more? They are hard; that station takes the most out of me mentally and physically.
Christine: Before I ran Hyrox, I thought it would be the wall balls, but that station isn’t that bad. Burpee broad jumps are my least favorite, too; that station seems endless and so much up and down.
What do you wish you had known before you started racing?
1. Rest days are important. We noticed such a difference when we started taking a few days off before the races.
2. Getting stronger is important. We constantly pick up heavier weights at the gym because the stronger we are, the better we race.
3. You have to do a race to optimize your training. After you experience one, you will know more about how to prepare since everyone has different strengths and weaknesses.
4. Be adaptable! It’s good to have a plan but plans change. You never know what can happen during a race. Good communication can shave valuable seconds off your race time.
Tip of the week: Hunter McIntyre on burpee broad jumps
Hunter McIntyre, the reigning world champion, explains the most common error at the burpee broad jump station.