One on One with Lauren Brandon

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ST: How do you decide on a season schedule and when is that set in stone?

Lauren: Beginning last year, my focus has been IRONMAN Championships, so my schedule revolves around qualifying and racing well at Kona. For 2018, the only two races that I was sure of was Campeche and then Ironman Texas, which is in 4 weeks. The rest of my season will depend on how IRONMAN Texas goes. If I think that I need more points for Kona then I will race another IRONMAN. If my result from Texas gives me enough points for Kona, then I will race a bunch of 70.3 races over the summer.

ST: In Campeche you again had a monster lead coming out of the water, and your 24:10 split was only bested by a few men. Did you feel good?

Lauren: I did feel pretty good. When you have uber cyclists and runners behind you, it's important to try and have a big lead out of the water and I definitely needed every one of those 4 minutes.

ST: You held the lead until fairly late into the bike segment. When Heather Wurtele came by, what went through your mind?

Lauren: The bike was a two loop course so you were able to see where the rest of the field was at each turnaround. I could tell that Heather was putting quite a bit of time into me each half lap and would most likely catch me towards the end. When Heather did catch me at about 80k, the goal was to ride with her the rest of the race. Unfortunately I completely lost contact with her when I had to get a couple of bottles at the last aid station. Fortunately, me losing contact with Heather at the end of the bike did not effect the final outcome.
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ST: Wurtele pulled away during the run, and I think Naeth was gaining on you. Were you looking over your shoulders?

Lauren: I was definitely trying to keep tabs on where everyone was during the run. Heather was completely off the front and looking strong so I knew that she would be out of reach. Both Angela Naeth and Linsey Corbin looked good behind me and were running faster than me. Half way through the run, I noticed that the time I had on both Angela and Linsey had halved, so it was going to be close! I ended up having a really strong second half and was able to hold them off and keep my second place.

ST: I think in 2017 you were only beaten once in the swim, and that was by Lucy Charles in Kona. Both of you were apparently pretty close to the swim record time there.

Lauren: Yes. I think the only time I have been beaten out of the water in the past few years was by Lucy at Kona in 2017. We were definitely pretty close to the record and I think one of us will break it this year.

ST: What conditions would it take to break the record?

Lauren: I have only swam at Kona once, so I don't really know if last year the conditions were great or not. It felt like a smooth swim so I assume that the conditions were very favorable. Conditions like last year would seem to be ideal, but I think that we can swim faster regardless.

ST: And what will it take to best Lucy?

Lauren: You certainly won't see me swimming 10K in a practice to try and beat her. Lol. My goal is to try and swim a little bit more this year and also have a few harder practices, so I think that will help. Working on my sprint might be helpful too since that is where she really got me. I have one steady speed, so I might have to try and find some more gears. It was just fun to have someone to swim with :)

ST: 2017 was your first start in Kona. Talk about that experience.

Lauren: Kona was a great experience. I had never even been to Kona before, so everything was a brand new experience for me. It definitely lived up to my expectations! I think it was a bit surreal being there, but I tried to just take it all in and enjoy the entire experience.

In the end I didn't quite have the final result that I had wanted, but the swim and bike went great! I was second out of the water, behind Lucy, and was able to ride most of the bike with her. I ended up coming off of the bike in 3rd, which I could not have been more excited about. It was such an amazing feeling running down Ali'i towards the front of the race and I could not stop smiling. The smile did go away about half way through the run when I started throwing up, but I made the decision I was going to finish no matter what. In the end, I think Kona gave me a lot of confidence. Looking back and evaluating the race, I know that I can put together a great result there in the future.
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ST: What lessons do you think you learned?

Lauren: Your first time on Kona is always going to be hectic and a learning experience. Next year I will have a much better understanding of the days leading up to the race and the logistics of the race itself.

I had severe stomach issues on the run, which ended up derailing my entire race. I spent the off-season testing a bunch of different nutrition products, and found that a combination of diet change and Base Performance products work really well for me. Campeche was the first time in a long time that I was able to race in extreme heat and not have cramping/GI issues in the run.

ST: So your stomach has bothered you before in hot races?

Lauren: I have thrown up at all of my Ironman races, which have all happened to be pretty warm climates. I get off of the bike and feel really nauseous and throw up. Most races aren't too bad and I can deal with it, but Kona was a whole different level of being sick. I had zero problems down in Campeche, so Ironman Texas will be the next test.

ST: Hopefully that will work out fine too, but let us talk about your swimming background now. I think you started pretty young.

Lauren: I started swimming on a competitive year around team when I was five years old. By the time I was ten, I was swimming twice a day and I was ranked
second in the nation in the 100 meter fly. I definitely had a lot of natural talent and saw success right away. Like most swimmers who start so young, I went through quite few years with little improvement and waning motivation.

However things changed when I went to college. I ended up getting a full athletic scholarship to the University of Nebraska, where I had a great career collegiate career. Head Coach Pablo Morales helped me find my love for swimming and I made some life-long friends on the team. I had 3 individual Big 12 Championship titles (1x 400 IM, 2x 1650 free) and qualified for NCAA's all four years and was 9th in the 1650 in 2006. I also swam at the 2008 Olympic Trials in both the 400 and 800 free. During this time I also dabbled in open water swimming and placed 5th in both the 5K and 10K at open water nationals.

ST: What events were you swimming and what are the best times you did?

Lauren: My main events were 500 free,1650 free, and the 400 IM. I got to swim a wide variety of events at some dual meets, such as 200 fly, 200 back, 200 IM, and 200 free, but distance free and 400 IM were definitely my best.


400 IM yards 4:16/ 400 IM (50)LCM 4:56

500 free yards 4:46/ 400 free (50)LCM 4:16

1000 free yards 9:50/ 800 free (50)LCM 8:46

1650 free yards 16:14

ST: Describe the swim practice back then.

Lauren: At the University of Nebraska the distance crew swam a lot! The set that I was most proud of and have no idea how I did it was 50 x 100's free on 1:05 and averaging 1:02's. This was in a 25 yard pool. In a 50 long course meter pool, we did 50 x 100 on 1:15. This was a set that we did a couple of times a year and you definitely had to be on your game mentally and physically. We did quite a lot of 1:05 base swimming at Nebraska. Another set I remember was 18 x 200 on 2:10 desc. 1-6. It was a tight descending. According to my husband I would start out holding 2:08 and descend to 1:58. I think I blocked some of my swim days out from my memory. Those days were hard, but thankfully I don't have to swim as much anymore.
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ST: What about now?

Lauren: To be completely honest, most of my swimming now is aerobic base work with short rest. I spent so many years in the pool, that I don't have to swim too much to maintain a competititive swim level. My time and energy is better spent biking and running rather than swimming higher volume.

With that being said, my goal is to incorporate some harder swim workouts into my training and to swim more in 2018. While my swim level the past few years has been high, I still think I can get faster without doing much more yardage.

ST: I think our readers like to hear about the harder swim sets pros do, and maybe you go into details in terms of one of those.

Lauren: Last year before Kona, I swam 19-20k the 4 weeks prior, which was a good amount for me. I'm probably not the best example of what you are "supposed" to do or what many other pros actually do. Most days I would do 8 x 500 on 6:00 (25 yard pool). I alternated between 1 500 swim free and 1 500 swim free with paddles. It was a way to get in a solid threshold set in the least amount of time possible. No warm-up or warm down, just 4000 in 48 minutes is my kind of quick swim workout.

Another set we do quite often is race simulation set. I usually do this 3-4 days out from a race. 100 all-out on 1:30, 300 race pace on 3:30, 100 easy on 2 minutes. Then you repeat that 4-5 times. I generally hold 1:00 on the fast 100's (still can't sprint) and under 3:10 for the 300's (25 yards).

ST: I think IRONMAN Texas is next.

Lauren: Yes, Texas is next and is only 4 weeks away. This is definitely the race that I am focusing on for the first part of this year and I am looking to have a solid all around race. 2 years ago, IM TX was my first Ironman that I finished and was 12th with a walk/jog marathon because I was injured. Last year I was 6th, with my fastest ever marathon, but not a great bike leg. This year, I am looking to keep improving and get on the podium. My goal is to perform well enough so that I don't have to race another Ironman to qualify for Kona.

ST: Your cycling has surely improved. What have you done to get faster?

Lauren: Cycling has slowly improved each year and I think having a huge aerobic base from all of my years as a swimmer has really helped as well. When I started the sport 8 years ago, I couldn't ride a bike! I remember my first race not being able to drink any water because I couldn't take my hands off the handlebars.

I've come a long way since then, but still feel I can continue to get better, Over the last few years we've continued to build the hours on the bike and max out at 17 hours a week. I do all my riding on the trainer and in the aero position. I think this is a huge advantage for long distance triathlon as I am incredibly comfortable when I race. During Ironman builds the focus is generally on 3 long and steady rides per week. I also think I am just more suited toward steady longer efforts, so the Ironman bike distance suits my strengths.
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ST: Is there anything else we should know?

Lauren: The big news is that I am now officially a full-time professional triathlete. I coached swimming for an age group club team (Fort Worth Area Swim Team) for the past 7 years. I absolutely loved coaching, but my husband and I decided that it was time to fully commit to the sport of triathlon. I am only 3 weeks in of no coaching, but I am excited for the extra time to concentrate on the sport.

I also want to give a huge shout out to my sponsors and supporters who have helped give me the confidence and support to dive into triathlon full time.

Ventum, ROKA, Pioneer Powermeters, Colonial Bank, Edco Wheels, Base Performance, Ownway Apparel, CeramicSpeed, and STAC.

Image 1 is courtesy of ROKA
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