Laura Siddall finished second at Challenge Wanaka 10 days ago and is now getting ready for IRONMAN New Zealand, and I had a chat with this avid world traveling pro triathlete and passionate 5Q supporter.
Slowtwitch: Laura, thank you for your time.
Laura Siddall: Pleasure, thanks for having me.
ST: How ready do you feel for Ironman New Zealand?
Laura: To be honest I’m not really sure how I should feel, having just race Challenge Wanaka a week or so ago, and now getting ready for another full iron distance race. What I do know is that once I’m on the start line, I’ll be as ready as I can be and be there ready to race and give it a shot.
ST: Why had you decided to do 2 full distance events in such a short time period, and when did you make that call?
Laura: It made sense to enter both races, as I was going to be in New Zealand for Challenge Wanaka anyway. IMNZ was initially considered a back up. Well I think that’s what I told myself at first to convince myself it was a good idea. To be honest in reality I think my coach, Matt Dixon (Purplepatch) and Paul Buick (our Purplepatch bike coach) and I probably knew we’d go for both. I raced Taupo 70.3 in December and was going to come back after Challenge Wanaka to support and watch anyway, as I have some good friends racing, but in the end that turned into entering and preparing to be on the start line. Although, I didn’t think about IMNZ until after I’d finished Challenge Wanaka.
ST: Wanaka is beautiful, but the course is challenging. Is that a fair statement?
Laura: I think I’d describe it as beautiful but brutally beautiful. Don’t let the stunning scenery fool you. It’s definitely one of the most challenging courses, with the terrain, road surface and the conditions on the bike, but also with an equally challenging run course off the back.
ST: How often have you raced there?
Laura: 2016 was my second year racing Challenge Wanaka.
ST: I think you arrived about 10 days before the race. What did you do leading up to the event?
Laura: In the days leading up to the race it was a case of just adjusting to the terrain and conditions. Becoming comfortable again on the bike and run course and enjoying the amazing Wanaka community and soaking it all in.
ST: Talk about your homestay and how you got connected to them.
Laura: Both in 2015 and 2016 I have had fantastic homestays. I’ve been so lucky. In 2015 I stayed with two families. The first, The Walton’s are actually the parents of a good friend of mine, from when I lived in Sydney. They live right on the lake and their garden backs onto the run course. I stayed with them for a few days and then moved to another couple, who I’d been put in contact with through the Challenge Wanaka team. Again Jan and Ross Parry were fantastic. It was the first time they had hosted an athlete but were great, incredibly supportive and I think I was pretty spoilt with both my homestays.
This year I stayed the whole duration with The Walton’s. Again their generosity, kindness and support was fantastic. I was able to catch up with The Parry’s too whilst in Wanaka. They were away over the race weekend but it was great to see them. As I stayed an extra week in Wanaka before heading up to Taupo, I moved to another homestay, Marianne, a lovely lady who had hosted one of the male Pros and then kindly opened her home up again for me to stay.
ST: Do you often get to experience homestays?
Laura: I stay with homestays for the majority of my races. I’ve been incredibly lucky with the people who have kindly hosted me around the world and I still keep in touch with them, meeting up with them if they are in San Francisco, and often returning to their homes again. They are special people who often don’t really get acknowledge. However they open up their homes and lives to let us stay with them. Many offer to cook for us, or provide us with use of a vehicle - which is fantastic and often makes life a lot easier. However very much over and above expectations, all you really expect and are grateful for is a bed to sleep. It shows just how great our sport it. I love finding out about my hosts. Their stories, their involvement in triathlon or perhaps not even. It’s a great way to understand and learn more about the community. Thank you to all the homestay hosts I have stayed with, but also to everyone who volunteers to host an athlete.
ST: I think on the Challenge Wanaka race morning there was a bit of confusion because of the weather.
Laura: It was blowing pretty hard on race morning, which chopped up the lake nicely and was making it very hard for the race organizers to keep the buoys on the course. We were pretty much on the line ready to hear the gun, when we were told the start was delayed by 15mins as they tried to maintain the course. I think this was definitely the right decision. I think it would have been more confusing if we had started on time, as the buoys were still being moved back in to place. The Challenge Wanaka team did a fantastic job and giving us the best course they could in the conditions.
ST: Was it hard to sight?
Laura: The swell and bounce I guess made it a little tricky but not really. There were plenty of ‘guide’ buoys that have been out and marking the course for the whole week prior. Also due to the conditions the main turn buoys were being held in place by boats and kayaks, so there was quite a bit to ‘spot’ and aim for. If not you could soon pick landmarks and trees etc. to use instead. Coming back in after the second lap was probably the trickiest part of the course as you were heading straight into the sun and it was difficult to see the last buoy and swim exit. But that’s all part of it really and the same for everyone.
ST: You ended up at the front of the water and I assume you were pleased.
Laura: I didn’t know what time I’d swam or quite where I was when I exited the water. I knew I was in a pack, which I was happy about and I felt quite comfortable in there. I was just hoping it was a good pack that had been moving well. I knew Yvonne was in the pack too, and also knew there were a couple of women leading the pack, but it wasn’t really till I got into the change tent in T1 that I realized I was up there. So I was off to a good start and definitely happy with that.
ST: You ended up with a solid bike segment despite a few little issues and were first off the bike. I think that was a new feeling for you?
Laura: Yes, I was first into T2 having moved into the lead around the 80km mark. This certainly gave me a buzz but I don’t think phased me too much and to be honest didn’t really think that much about it. There was still along way to go and I knew a lot of racing still to happen. However I was happy with the position I’d put myself in and how I’d rode, as I felt in control and good throughout.
ST: What bike are you riding and how is it set up?
Laura: I rode a Boardman Air9.8TT, with Profile Design wheels 24series 58 front and 78 rear, and Profile Design aero bars.
ST: As you started the run, how did you feel?
Laura: As I started out of T2 I felt I guess how you do after riding a pretty solid 180km on the Wanaka course. It always takes a little time to find the legs and transfer from cycling to running. I felt ok though and just tried as best I could to settle into my running and my rhythm. I was conscious of not starting too fast I guess, so was trying to relax and keep things calm.
ST: When she passed you was there any opportunity to stick with her?
Laura: Possibly. It’s easy to say in hindsight or easy to question the “shoulda, woulda, coulda,” and that I could have stuck with Yvonne. I guess, again I was conscious there was still a long way to go and so decided to stick to my plan and my marathon race. That may be an experience or lack of experience decision. I don’t know. What I do know is that Yvonne put in a really impressive run on that course, so I have full respect for that.
ST: In the end you were 2nd by about 3 minutes. Obviously you would have preferred the top podium spot, but I think altogether you were pleased with your day.
Laura: Exactly. I’d have loved to be on that top spot for sure. However I am proud of what I achieved and how I raced. I executed as myself and Matt Dixon had discussed and made some further steps forward in my performance and learning. Again, there was lots to learn too, so that’s exciting to take that forward.
ST: What is the goal for IRONMAN New Zealand?
Laura: Well it is unknown territory for sure going into another full so close to Challenge Wanaka. I don’t really know how my body will respond so I will be going in with no expectations, no pressure but just a let’s see what happens attitude and give it my best shot.
ST: How many times have you been to Kona as an age grouper?
Laura: I’ve never actually been to Kona as an age grouper. I was a 4x World Champion as an amateur, but over the Sprint (Beijing 2011), Olympic (Auckland 2012, London 2013) and 70.3 (Las Vegas 2013) distance. I then took my professional license before moving up to the full distance racing, only competing in my first full distance as a professional at the end of 2014.
ST: Looking back, which one of those titles is the most meaningful to you?
Laura: Tricky question. I think the first title in Beijing was special. It was my birthday, but my parents and one of my sisters had flown out to watch. It was a race where everything just clicked. However the double of winning the 70.3 Champs in Las Vegas, and then a week later the Olympic distance in London was probably bigger for me. Winning at the 70.3 felt I was playing with the big kids now, and then backing up at London was fantastic. It was the first time I’d ever raced a triathlon in the UK. All my family members were there, and so were many friends. It was a fantastic course, taking in all the top sights in London. Cycling down The Mall with Buckingham Palace straight in front of you was a pretty special memory.
ST: Well, what will you have to do to get to Kona as a pro?
Laura: Kona isn’t a focus for me this year. It’s incredibly hard to gain points when you are pretty new into the sport, so I feel I need a year or two to gain more experience and build up the races. That’s not to say I wouldn’t go if I did happen to have sufficient points. However, I also feel that Kona isn’t the be all and end all to our sport. Too much is put on that race. I appreciate it’s the “World Championships” but I want to have a career where I’m racing cool races in amazing places, and enjoying the amazing opportunities I have to race all over the world, all year round. I’m not ruling out Kona, I would love to race there when the time is right, but I’m not going to chase points to get there. It’s about finding the best races for me and ensuring I am enjoying what I’m doing, and just immersing myself in the process and the journey.
ST: In terms of enjoying yourself, what other races are on your mind then?
Laura: I’ll race Challenge Roth this year, which is really exciting. It’s been on my list but the opportunity came up so I’ll head to Europe over the summer for a bit.
ST: At Challenge Wanaka you wore the 50Q tattoo on your arm. When do you think we will see an equal male - female pro starting field in Kona?
Laura: Good question! I hope that we see equal men and women pros starting at Kona sooner rather than later. Unfortunately I don’t know when that’s going to be, which is a pretty sad state in 2016. 5Q isn’t just about equal numbers on the start line though, it’s about equality and fair racing for the women and men in all areas of the event. It’s similar to the PTU. I feel that it’s something I should and need to support as a professional triathlete, in order to make the progression and changes that the sport needs. Change isn’t going to happen over night, and it isn’t going to be anything radical when it does, but it needs to be given a chance and any small step is a step forward. To give it that chance athletes need to support it.
ST: And is the magic number 50? Or is it simply about equal, be that number 30, 35, 40 or 50?
Laura: I think it’s about equal numbers, whatever that number may be. IT’s about creating a fair and equal system of racing for the women and male professionals.
ST: Anything else we should know?
Laura: Anyone know where I can get some new legs for Taupo? [smiles]
Thanks again for the opportunity to speak to you.
You can follow Laura on Twitter via @lmsiddall