In 2013, Holly Lawrence was set on strengthening her Ironman 70.3 resume and put in a superb second place finish at Wimbleball despite a hip injury. Then she was picked for Wales’ Commonwealths Games team, and her 70.3 ambitions had to take a back seat.
“It was such an amazing thing to be part of,” says Holly, 24. “You can’t really describe it. Even just staying in the athletes’ village – every country had their own base, so it was just like a miniature village but with lots of little villages of the countries within that. It was just a really cool environment with every country in their kits.
Sad to leave village life and go back to normality, it’s been an awesome experience! #TeamWales #Glasgow2014 pic.twitter.com/t7jNXIQbni
— Holly Lawrence (@Holly_Lawrence_) July 29, 2014
“Because I do French Grand Prix races, which attract big crowds, I’m used to racing with big support, but this was just different – you can’t really describe it – it was on a different level.
“It was a shame not to do the individual [race], which I obviously wanted to do, but just to be a part of the relay was a really good experience.”
Inclusion in Wales’ Commonwealths team did however mean 2014 didn’t go as Lawrence originally envisioned.
“[The Games] changed things last season – I didn’t race a 70.3 all year and that was always my intention. I’d just got my new Ridley time trial bike and found out the week after I’d be racing the Commonwealths, so it went straight into the spare room!”
@TeamWales triathletes getting familiar with the course! Looking good! @Glasgow2014 @BritTri pic.twitter.com/zWlWoxZTZw
— Welsh Triathlon (@WelshTriathlon) July 22, 2014
Return to endurance training
The path is set for 2015 though, with Lawrence looking to capitalise on the speed from super sprint training while getting back to more endurance-focused sessions – and using the best of both for Olympic-distance events.
“The year before last I qualified for the HyVee 5150 champs and I want to do that again next year as well as the 70.3 World Championships in Zell am See, so that’ll naturally involve doing 5150 races and 70.3s.
“I’ve always done the French Grand Prix series, which is sprint anyway, so I’ve always done that top end stuff. This year a lot of the longer sessions were swapped for faster sessions. So in swimming, I was doing a lot of 25s and 50s because the swim in the commonwealths was 250m, which was crazy short! But going into 2015, my training will obviously change with a lot more long stuff.
…Not a bad place for a turbo session!! @TrainSharp @SRAM_LOOK_TACX @Ridley_Bikes @UKmadison pic.twitter.com/6b89ZZLR0k
— Holly Lawrence (@Holly_Lawrence_) July 8, 2014
“But even next year, I’ll be taking part in the French Grand Prix races again, I think to lose them would mean I’d lose that sharpness, which I think gives me an edge on an Ironman-to-70.3 athlete as opposed to an Olympic-to-70.3 athlete. So it’s definitely transferable, but you need to adapt things – certain key sessions you need to change, but the supporting stuff around it doesn’t change too much.”
For much of her training, Lawrence tackles the sport’s constituent disciplines individually, swimming with the Swim Wales team in Swansea – “so I get my arse kicked all the time in the pool”, running with the Swansea Harriers and receiving bike coaching through Jon Sharples and Sean Yates at Train Sharp. Like many top athletes looking for gains on the bike, Lawrence has taken the plunge with power meters for the first time this year.
“At first it was a luxury that I couldn’t justify as a business decision. But now that I’m fortunate enough to have it, I think ‘What did I do without it?’ It just gives more meaning to my training. You’re more efficient with time and you’re not working out in that grey zone where you’re pushing your easy rides too hard and you’re fatiguing yourself when that’s not the aim of your session.
“When it’s easy it’s really easy; at first it shocked me, I kept going down the gears thinking, ‘I can’t ride for four hours at this cadence,’ but you get off the bike and it feels good and you think, ‘OK, so this is how I’m meant to feel.’ Then in your next session you can hit the power you’re meant to hit.
“If you haven’t recovered from something you can see immediately that you’ve not been able to hit the power and that you need more time. So you can evaluate, it just gives a qualification that you need instead of thinking, ‘Maybe I feel like this, but I don’t really know’.”
Winter training means sunnier climes for Lawrence. “Sticking it out over winter is tough in the UK. I admire anyone who does it because I’ve had to do it in the past! When you’re slogging through a four or five hour ride in the winter and it’s freezing cold rain the whole ride, it’s really tough and motivation gets low and niggles start appearing. So for me it’s really key to get away somewhere warm and just be able to be consistent, so the weather’s not stopping you.”
The winter training will come in useful in 2015 as one of the events Lawrence is looking to conquer on her path to Zell am See is Ironman 70.3 Exmoor – a notoriously hard race that she has “unfinished business” with after her second place in 2013.
“It’s a strength course,” Lawrence says on how to get the best out of yourself at Wimbleball. “Although the bike’s not mega, mega hilly, everyone says it’s one of the hardest. I don’t know if I agree with that, but then I’m from that area, so it’s kind of a stomping ground for me. So I think definitely knowing the course first is key. Go and ride it a couple of months out and be confident with it so there are no surprises on race day. Even if you just get to drive it the day before, it’s worth it so you know key areas where you’re going to push or recover on downhills, things like that.”