In the five years since she turned pro, British Ironman triathlete, Laura Siddall’s impressive successes include becoming ETU European long course champion and winning Ironman Australia three times in a row. However, if you follow Laura on social media you’ll know that she’s just as honest about the challenging times she’s faced as she is about celebrating the successes she works hard to enjoy.
Describing 2019 as a ‘mixed year’ (she broke her collarbone in May), the 39-year-old Parcours athlete chats about her training, how she overcomes tough moments out on the course, and why she’ll always feel privileged to do what she does for a living.
You represented England in Netball and Athletics growing up, is that right?
Yes, sport been a huge part of my life from an early age. I just loved it and did all the sports I could at school – netball, hockey, athletics. I was fortunate enough to represent England in athletics as a junior in the 300m hurdles, and then was also selected to be part of the England Development Squad in Netball when I was at University, and captained the British University Squad. It’s pretty cool as some of the girls from that squad are playing for England now and were in the squad that won the Gold at the Commonwealth Games. It’s great to see how netball has grown and progressed as a sport and profession since I was playing through school and University.
After discovering triathlon you turned pro in 2014. Five years on, how does it feel to have sport as your job?
It’s still really odd to think that I’ve been doing triathlon for the past five years as a fulltime job! I can’t believe it’s been five years either, it seems like about two! I still struggle a little with the concept that triathlon has been my job. I worked in the corporate world for so long and grew up with sport very much considered as a hobby. I also know I’ve been incredibly fortunate to do what I’ve done for the past five years. It’s something I would never have dreamed I’d be doing when I was growing up through school and university, but it’s been an amazing opportunity and I know I’ve been really lucky.
We’re coming to the end of 2019. How do you feel about your racing and training this year?
2019 has been a really mixed year for me, and I’ve struggled quite a bit mentally and physically. The beginning of the year didn’t start too well. I started with my usual races in New Zealand – races that mean a lot to me and I’ve raced well the past few years. I was training well, almost better than ever, but couldn’t translate that into the race and came away with really disappointing performances and really lost confidence.
I went into Ironman Australia as the two-time defending champion, but with more low confidence. I didn’t feel extra pressure from having won before, I just wanted to have a good performance which replicated my training, and wanted to be competitive against the other women racing, wherever that put me at the finish line. So to take the win was just amazing and incredibly emotional with how things had been going leading into the race. It was really special and a feeling I’ll remember for life.
You then broke your collarbone! What happened?
Shortly after I won Ironman Australia, I did my usual migration to the Northern Hemisphere for summer in Europe. I was on one of my first rides back after a short break and unfortunately came off my bike and broke my collarbone. I’ve been incredibly lucky in my triathlon career – and in life in general – that I’ve never had any broken bones or really had any injuries and very little sickness, so I guess it was bound to happen at some point with the training I do.
Mentally, I feel I coped with the injury well, focusing on what I could do each day. A break is pretty black and white like that, and the initial recovery was really good. However, I’ve just struggled to find the form or fitness off the back of the injury in the back half of the year and that’s been really hard to deal with. It’s meant that my performances in my races again have been way off where I would have wanted and feel could be.
You said that Kona this year was a long, slow day. What kept you going?
With the fitness and form I took into Kona, I knew it was going to be a long day. Full distance racing is always tough with a long day of 9 hours +/- of racing, so you’re always prepared for that, but it can be hard when you know you aren’t in the shape you need to be or want to be, and especially when racing against the best women in the world. However, you have to still believe that the body will perform and give 100% on the day. You still have to just focus on what you can do, and do everything you can to swim, bike and run to the very best of your ability at that moment.
Again, you also draw upon the fact that it’s a privilege to have qualified and be racing the best in the world. I had friends out on course, and you draw upon that to keep you going. Also, trying to look up and appreciate the event, the race and be grateful. A lot is about just trying to be present and break it down into segments, or to the next aid station. Focus on what you are doing at that moment in time and doing it to the best of your ability.
Do you have any other mental strategies that help when racing?
Sometimes it’s as simple as counting to 100 when I’m running, or repeating a phrase. There were times on the run [in Kona] when I was questioning why, and if I should just walk. But it was just knowing that if I kept running, the finish line would arrive quicker than walking. Sometimes it’s just literally repeating, ‘one more step, one foot in front of the other’, or ‘just keep tapping away’, to keep you going. Also, I think knowing that if I’d stopped or pulled out of the race, that would give me more turmoil after the race than slogging it out and still having the privilege of crossing the finish line.
As mentioned above, often it’s friends and people out on course that keep you going. Last year, I knew that Lauren Parker was at the finish line waiting for me. Lauren was a pro triathlete and was paralysed after a bike accident. I knew last year I had to get to the finish line because Lauren was there. She was there to give me my lei and that was pretty special. This year, although I didn’t know it at the time, I was met at the finish line by a volunteer called Rosalie and she presented me with my lei. Rosalie flies to Kona from New York State every year to volunteer. She’d registered me for the race in the week, and then I’d seen her by chance race morning and she gave me a lovely hug. Little did I know she was tracking me all day and made sure she was at the front of line, waiting for me at the finish. She was the first person I saw when I looked up having crossed the line, and she had made sure she was the person to give me my lei. That was special, and that’s the reason sometimes you keep going.
Tell us about your training – how much do you do?
I’m an athlete that tends to thrive more on volume so I’m probably training 25-30 hours a week. However, this doesn’t work for everyone and it’s not necessarily the right recipe for an athlete. Often less is more and I think it’s important to point out that more hours doesn’t mean better for everyone, pro or age grouper. I just prefer and respond better to the kilometres. Having said that, my coach for the past few years has backed me off a little this past year or so, and we’ve tried a few different strategies, having built up a huge base of the past few years.
What does a typical week of training look like, Monday-Sunday?
I normally do two to three training sessions a day, be it swim, bike, run or strength work in the gym. Then I also have a massage or physio, and I try to do Headspace (the app) every day too, plus the ‘rest’ aspect of the job, which I find hard still. A typical week though would be:
Monday – normally a lighter day after the weekend, so usually perhaps a recovery swim and recovery bike to prep for Tuesday.
Tuesday – maybe a bigger interval session on the bike with an interval run off the back.
Wednesday – a swim and endurance (longer) ride, and the gym.
Thursday – again likely a swim, and perhaps ride or run.
Friday – gym again and prep-ride bridging to the weekend, but a lighter day on the whole with the intensity.
Saturday – a bigger bike session and run off the back again, maybe with a recovery swim.
Sunday – a longer run and swim.
What type of run sessions do you do in training – hills, intervals etc.?
I think it’s important to do a mix. You need the mileage in your legs, but you also need to work on speed, as well as the strength and resilience you need from hill running and, of course, [you need] to adapt to the run off the bike.
Do you do a lot of very long runs in training?
The longest run I do is probably up to two hours, although I don’t do a huge amount of these. However, in a winter block I do often run longer. I think I’ve run for 3-4 hours before, but this is super-low stress running in the Port Hills in Christchurch, New Zealand. It’s just a time-on-feet adventure run, letting the terrain do the work. You’re not chasing pace, but just running at a pace that you could all day, and there’s a fair amount of walking up the steep sections. It’s fun to run from my house up onto the hills and along the ridge and trails dropping down to Lyttleton on the other side. Have a quick coffee or snack and run back.
What does a typical swim session involve – pool or open water?
Most of my swimming is in the pool, but I’m lucky to live on the coast in New Zealand and then near Banyoles Lake in Girona, so have the option of open water. There’s a weekly open water race series in Christchurch through the summer which is great to get race practice in the open water. A typical swim session is normally 500-1000m of warm-up. A pre-set of building intervals or technique. Then the main set might be 1.5-2km in length and be a variety of 50s or 100s or longer intervals/efforts. Normally perhaps 4km in total.
You spend part of the year in Girona – I imagine it’s a great place to train?
I’m really lucky to live in Girona for about six months of the year from around May through to November. The riding is fantastic, with a great mix of roads and terrain. The sessions I do are the same I’d do wherever I am in the world; a mix of intervals, strength/endurance hill work, and some longer time trial efforts or endurance rides.
Do you do much training indoors or on the turbo?
My year is generally summer to summer, and part of why I do this sport is to ride outside. It’s quite well known that I’m not a huge fan of the indoor trainer/turbo. I also didn’t use to have a turbo set-up, and with travelling so much it just wasn’t really practical, so I’d just prefer to be riding the terrain and conditions outside. However, I do see the value and benefits of the turbo, and I know for some people it’s the most efficient and practical option to be able to train. Although again, it doesn’t replicate the practical skills you need to ride different terrain and manage your power over that.
This year, however, has been a bit different, as having broken my collarbone, the turbo was the best option to get back to training and activity quickly. So I had to swallow my previous thoughts a little and was very grateful to the team at Zwift and Wahoo for helping me get Wahoo Kickr and Zwift set up. I did a fair bit of training on the turbo in those early weeks after my surgery. Now, whilst I do prefer to ride outside still, I do still keep the odd turbo session in for a change and different type of session execution.
Are there any training sessions that you don’t look forward to so much?
All-out TT (time trial) efforts on the bike are pretty horrific!
Do you always roll out of bed eager to train or is it sometimes a struggle to stay motivated?
I think like a lot of jobs there are ups and downs, so not every morning I’m jumping out of bed. However, I have to remember that I’m incredibly lucky to do what I do. I know so many people would love to do what I do, so I have to remember that. It was also my choice to do this. It’s important to try to keep the fun element to the training. Most of us become professionals because we loved doing the sport as a hobby, and it was a passion. So you definitely need to maintain that love, even when it becomes your job. That can be hard at times. There are definitely times when it’s more of a struggle, particularly for me if things aren’t going well, and you start questioning everything and the ‘why’. So sometimes you have to take a step back and just remember that initial love and passion.
Have you set any plans or goals for 2020 yet?
Normally I’d have my plans for the following year pretty sorted but this year I’ve left it a bit late. With breaking my collarbone and then trying to find form, it’s shifted the back half of 2019 a little. I’m also making a few changes, so just waiting a little before making any plans as such for 2020. I will be back at Challenge Roth again though, as I just love that race, and I also hope to return to Ironman Wales, then maybe some new races on the calendar too.
What are your favourite items of kit?
I absolutely love my new custom painted Factor SLiCK [bike]. Factor gave me and Jan van Berkel a custom painted Kona edition SLiCK for the World Championships and it’s just stunning. I’m normally pretty subtle with colours, but I just love the bright colours of the yellow and green of the frame. Then the level of detail on the forks and bars is impressive.
This year in Kona, Oakley also gave us a pair of custom Oakley sunglasses. Mine have ‘I AM SID’ etched on the lens, so I’m loving these at the moment. It’s obviously all about the custom artwork, as I also love my race shoes. A friend in Girona, Caitlin Fielder, painted them! She’s awesome and paints amazing designs on cycling shoes, and designed mine for me last year! (@caitlinfielder_fineart)
I’m also a huge addict of sparkling water, so I have to say my SodaStream is one of my favourite bits of kit. I think I own 5 or 6 around the world in different places I live.
Who are you sponsored by right now?
I’m really fortunate to have some great partners that I’ve worked with for the past few years.
Factor bikes– I started riding Factor this year and have been just so impressed with the bikes but also the brand and working with the team. The customer experience when receiving the bike is another level and riding the bikes is just as good, if not better.
Parcours wheels– I’ve been working with Parcours for the past few years, and it’s another company that I have a huge amount of time and respect for. It’s great having the direct relationship with Dov (Parcours’ founder), and being able to regularly chat about wheel options, developments and testing. We’ve also been able to organise some Parcours group rides at races this year which has been really great.
Kask– I’ve worn Kask helmets since I can remember and just love them, so I’m very grateful for an ongoing partnership. I’m a huge advocate of wearing your helmet all the time, regardless of bike, speed, or terrain.
Hoka One– I was choosing to wear Hoka shoes before I was lucky to have the opportunity to partner with them. Again, another company that I’m incredibly proud to represent and they are great at working with the athletes. The range of shoes they have is impressive too, so lots of options for all kinds of training and terrain and racing.
Shotz / Koda Nutrition– Probably my longest partner. Darryl and Shotz have supported me from my early days as an age grouper, and I’ve been incredible grateful for that.
Deboer– I’ve just started working with Deboer this year, but have been blown away by the level of support and engagement with the team. We ran a competition this year leading into Kona, to get messages written on my swim skin for Kona, and it was so well received and such fun to then have people’s messages on it, also with some local Hawaiian artwork.
I also work with Oakley, Funkita, Vredestein and Scicon.