Hi Laura, thanks for chatting with us. Congratulations on your recent podium at Challenge Sardinia and a strong result in Kona – is it off season for you now?
Thanks guys, it’s great to chat. Off season – kind of. I’m not a typical triathlete/athlete in terms of I don’t have a specific designated ‘off season’. I tend to take some ‘down’ weeks at several points through the year. This is partly of the type of athlete and person I am, but also because I chase summer between hemispheres and so in theory it can always be in race season. However, yes, I’m having a few weeks of down time at the moment, so I guess off season.
How long do you take off at the end of the season and what do you fill your time with?
As mentioned before it depends a little with where it is in the year and where I am. For example, I had a couple of weeks of ‘down time’ during the northern hemisphere summer. As I was based in Europe it was great to go back to the UK and spend time with my parents and family. It was filled with a lot of time with my mum and dad, my sisters and my nieces and nephews and I loved it. It was also a chance to catch up with friends.
For this current block, I headed back to the southern hemisphere and to Australia to catch up with friends there and enjoy some of the warmer weather again. I’m not too great at switching off completely. As I am training less, I fill my time with catching up with people and often trying to have meetings and networking events to build the professional relationships and business element of tri life. So I often end up running around all over the place trying to do too many things and not actually just sitting still and resting. But it’s all good fun and I enjoy it, and I am still very conscious to ensure that I am switching my brain and body off from the usual training routine.
This time, I’m also trying to stay a bit more active, rather than a complete shut down. Not training but just exercising or active recovery, as some may call it. I just want to still feel I’m being healthy. Yes, I’ll allow myself the treats perhaps a bit more and relax some of my usual boundaries, but I’m trying to make a conscious effort to keep active and healthy, and not put on quite as many ‘off season’ pounds.
What does your training look like over “winter” and how does it differ from the summer race season?
Well I chase summer, between the northern and southern hemispheres so I don’t really have a ‘winter’ season as such. However, starting up again after a break will involve more of a focus around some longer bike miles, perhaps a block of three days of long rides, and more longer runs in the trails. However, there’s still intensity mixed in to the sessions. I’ll also do some bigger strength and conditioning sessions too, to build strength to compliment my training.
For example, last year over the Christmas/New Year period, we did a three-day adventure ride. On the first day, we rode from Christchurch to Arthur’s Pass (155km). Stayed overnight there and rode back the next day (175km as extended it a little). We just packed a T-shirt, shorts and flip flops in back pockets of our cycling kit for the over-night stay. Then on the third day (New Year’s Day) we did a long 200km ride from Christchurch around to Akaroa and back. It was really fab and something a little different by staying overnight. Also coming back from rest or again depending on my race schedule, I’ll do some longer runs in the hills, just almost getting lost and exploring for fun. Sometimes up to 3 hours +, but it’s all really low stress and steady pace, the pace where you can run all day and just use the terrain to let the work come to you. During summer race season, I will have more of the race sharpening and race specific training sessions. A mix of endurance and speed.
What’s the main goal for next year?
I’m just in that process now of assessing and thinking about next year. I have a few races that are my favourites and that I’d love to go back to. I’d like to race the Challenge Europe series again next year, including Challenge Roth, one of my favourite events. The Challenge Europe series was just so much fun this year with great races in some really amazing locations. Kona will likely be a goal again, but very much like this year, if it happens through the races I do, then cool, but if not, I’m not going to be chasing points over summer just to get there.
How strict are you with your nutrition? What does a typical day look like diet-wise for you?
It depends a little on what time of year or training I’m in. I am a firm believer in a healthy balanced diet. No specific diet and no supplements, powders or anything. I believe you can and should be able to get all your nutrition from the food you eat without having protein powders and shakes and various other supplements. Part of this is because I’m also just a strong advocate against taking anything that may affect my performance. I want to know I’m completely clean. I get a lot of people saying that supplements have been tested and are sanctioned, but as a professional athlete I’d just prefer not to take the risk of contamination and so don’t take anything at all. For me it’s just not worth the risk.
I do try to limit my carbohydrates, in the form of the white starchy carbs, so use sweet potato and lots of fruit and veg instead. However, that’s not to say I avoid bread etc. altogether. Everything in moderation I guess. I also try to remove (at least limit) the processed sugars from my diet too. I love my chocolate and can eat far too much of it at any one time, so of course try to limit that as well. So, lots of fruit, salad and veg, avocado, and proteins (chicken, turkey, steak, tuna, salmon). I give myself more flexibility in the ‘off season’ or down time and I’m more controlled if I’m in a big training block and leading into races.
What’s the biggest challenge you’ve had to overcome in your triathlon career, and how did you tackle it?
I find it hard to think of one specific event or incident, but just more about the whole process of transitioning from Age Grouper to Professional. I still find it hard to write or explain some of the elements that have contributed to this. My coach Matt Dixon wrote a good blog on part of this process after my race at Challenge Roth this year, which captures and explains some of it, in a far better way than I could!
What do you think are the hardest elements of being a professional triathlete, compared to age groupers?
There are several elements that have taken me a while to manage or accept in transitioning from an age grouper to a pro and it’s hard to explain but I’ve just tried to highlight a few below:
As a pro you have to be mentally prepared to be potentially time trialling for 90km (or 180km) on your own. There are less women in your start and depending on the course and who’s on the start line you could be racing solo. Mentally being able to adapt to riding on your own can be tricky. Compared to an age grouper, where you have lots more athletes around you to work off, and chase.
When you first turn pro I think there can be a lot of pressure (self-imposed) about having to prove yourself and justify yourself in the pro field and get results. Justify your decision to turn pro and that you are worthy and deserve to be there. (Also, the pressure to get on the podium to earn some money – which I’ll go into next). I really had to work hard on just immersing myself in the training process and finding what worked for me, training, racing and environmentally. If you can get those things right, the results will follow.
For me going from the security of having a corporate salary in the bank account every month, to not knowing where you will and if you will make any money to live. Money comes from racing and there’s no guarantee that you will get a result that will pay you. It can be quite a big stress in the early years as you are trying to get yourself established. To be honest though, if I’d looked too much into the finances when I was making the decision to turn professional, I’d have probably talked myself out of it, and I’d still be sitting at a desk in the corporate world, wondering ‘what if’?. Often people think that when you get your pro card, sponsors just fall at your feet and throw money and product at you. It’s definitely not the case. The first few years drained my savings. However, I definitely don’t do the sport (and didn’t make the initial change to go pro) for the money; I did it to see how good I could be and if I could push my limits and boundaries and ultimately to follow my passion. However, in reality, you have to make money, and hence that initial (and ongoing) stress about financial security.
What would you be doing if you weren’t a triathlete?
What? Triathlon doesn’t exist? Never! 😉
I’d probably still be sitting at my desk in the corporate world, still working in engineering, process improvement and consulting. I’d likely just have followed the original path and carried on with what I felt was the expected career. It’s hard to say, you never know what opportunities will present and what doors will open and where things may have taken me. If it weren’t for my corporate job, taking me to Australia, I likely wouldn’t have discovered triathlon and wouldn’t be where I am today.
Whatever job or career it would be, I’m pretty sure I can say that sport would still be a huge part of my life.
What’s the one thing you find most annoying about triathletes?
Triathletes annoying?? No, we’re all awesome! ;- ) Whatever I now say, I run the risk of insulting all your readers!
Here’s one, it’s not so much that it’s an annoyance, but a hatred, and it’s not just our sport and triathlon, it’s sport in general. I hate cheaters. Athletes (professionals and age groupers alike) that feel the need to take PEDs, cut the course, or sabotage fellow competitors’ races. More recently there were reports out from Kona, about finding sets of neoprene shorts in the portaloos in T1. Age group men had worn the shorts under their swim skins, and then disposed of them down the toilet so no one saw they’d cheated. Wearing the neoprene shorts is not allowed. I just don’t understand why people feel this desire to cheat. I just don’t get it. Whether it’s the shorts, or taking drugs: why? This sport is meant to be fun and for the majority of people it’s a hobby. Is there really that much pressure put on athletes to perform? Or is the desire to ‘win at all costs’ so strong. I know it sounds naïve, but I just don’t get it and find it sad and very disappointing for not just our sport, but all sports.
Who’s your hero/heroine and why?
I don’t think I can limit this to just one. I have so many people I look up to and respect. So many athletes who inspire me inside and outside of Triathlon. Many of the women I line up with and race against inspire me and I have an awful lot of respect for them. Everyone has a story and I can be inspired by what they have achieved or what they are driving towards. It helps me to keep pushing myself forward to get better and improve.
Chrissie Wellington would definitely be someone I’ve got huge admiration and respect for, and I have learnt a lot from her. Kelly Holmes, Paula Radcliffe and Sally Gunnell were likely heroines of mine when I was younger and growing up competing in athletics. They were women at the top of their sports competing at the Olympics, which as a kid was always a dream.
Also, anyone who will cook me dinner is always my hero!
Haha, that gets our vote! Thanks Laura, and best of luck with your season next year.
Find out more about Laura and follow her career on her various media channels: