Good Things Come in Threes: Get to know Holly Lawrence

The number three has been an important number to Ironman 70.3 World Champion, Holly Lawrence, since the day she was born. After years of trying to conceive, Lawrence’s parents turned to fertility treatment and the IVF process in 1990. The result was fraternal triplets – Abigail, Luke and Holly. Following a long wait to have their ‘bundles of joy’, the Lawrences’ insisted on providing their children with every opportunity to find their personal passion whether it was in music, arts
or sports.

“We were put into everything whether my parents could afford it or not,” says Lawrence. “We started with music and gymnastics every Saturday morning and then arts and crafts in the afternoon.
I think it was a nice break for our parents to drop us off and leave us there all day!” The trio started swimming in traditional ‘parent-child’ swim programs, except that for the Lawrence family, each class was a major expedition requiring both parents plus a grandparent to accompany the three children.

By the age of 11, each of the triplets began focusing on their preferred activities with Abigail honing in on gymnastics while Holly and Luke both chose swimming.
“My best events were 200m fly and 800m freestyle,” shares Lawrence, “but I never made nationals.” The teenager was left in her triplet brother’s shadow when it came
to the swimming pool. Luke consistently made national finals and participated in the British Olympic trials for swimming leaving Lawrence to cheer him on.

“His success in the pool didn’t really bother me,” declares Lawrence, “I just wanted to do better for myself.” Her own chance for family victory came in the form of cross-country running, where Lawrence occasionally beat her brother over the cross-country course and qualified for nationals. “I used to come in fourth out of the entire school year, and that included the boys!”

Photo: Korupt Vision

With a solid swim and national level running ability, it didn’t take long for Lawrence to try her hand at multisport events. She and brother Luke were scouted for the British modern pentathlon team around the age of 16, but having raced a couple of small triathlon races around the same time, Lawrence decided to forgo the shooting, fencing and equestrian events of modern pentathlon in favour of a future in swim, bike and run.

Lawrence laughs, “riding and fencing were just not up my street so I left that to my brother!” However, the pair remained very close, travelling together each weekend to train with their respective squads in Bath, 45 minutes from their family home in Somerset. At the same time, she was taken under the wing of a local cycling group, composed mostly of men in their mid-30s, teaching her everything she needed to know about bike riding. “In winter I would be underdressed, and one of the older guys would have picked me up a pair of gloves at the bike shop, and tell me that ‘these are for you’. They took care of me!”

Photo: Janos Schmidt / ITU Media

Success in the British triathlon super series as a teenager prompted Lawrence to take the sport more seriously. She prioritised university placement with triathlon in mind, deciding on a degree in Sports Science at Swansea University in Wales, a British triathlon satellite centre. 
“I wasn’t officially part of the British team, but I was allowed to train with the squad and take advantage of all the facilities,” says Lawrence. That squad included British bronze medalist from this summer’s Rio Olympic Games, Vicky Holland. The experience also opened more triathlon doors for Lawrence, joining the French division one Triathlon Grand Prix team, Stade Poitevin, in the summer of 2011. 

“It was a relatively young team when I first joined with Australian triathlete, Felicity Sheedy-Ryan,” recalls Lawrence. “We were coming in eighth or 10th team of the year but I grew with the team, and by 2013 we finished third and ended up being one of the better French teams on the circuit.” Lawrence was earning a reputation as a strong cyclist: “It was a team event so often I would be called to wait for our stronger runners to help and protect them,” explains Lawrence.
“Our team manager, Bruno, often yelled at me ‘Holly, not in the wind!’ as I learned to harness my natural instincts to be on the front of the bike pack.”

Her cycling abilities caught the attention of British Triathlon, and Lawrence was invited to participate in the 2014 European Championships in Kitzbühel as part of the British team. A top ten placing would likely earn Lawrence the opportunity for funding as part of the British squad, going forward. The race included specific orders from British coaches to “sit up and wait on the bike” for fellow British athlete, Lois Rosindale, and that strategy likely cost Lawrence the top ten placing she required. She finished in a heart-breaking 11th place. While she was committed already to race for Wales at the 2014 Commonwealth Games in Edinburgh, the experience cemented in her mind that her triathlon talents might be better directed at non-drafting racing where “you can just race your own race”.

In 2015, Lawrence left ITU and draft legal triathlon behind, partnering with renowned long course coach, Matt Dixon of purplepatch fitness, to make the transition to non-drafting racing. She found success immediately, placing third in her first race of the 2015 season at Ironman 70.3 California in Oceanside.
“I was always told in ITU that I was too old and that I don’t run fast enough,” says Lawrence. “But Matt [Dixon] was the first triathlon coach to believe in me, even telling me that I would be ‘world champion one day!’” While Lawrence may not have believed Dixon at the time, the words of encouragement were a boost of confidence that her decision to abandon dreams of making the British Olympic team was the right one.

Photo: Delly Carr / Bahrain Endurance Media

Lawrence’s career in long course racing has not been without growing pains and she DNF’ed several races during the 2015 season as she battled IT band issues from running: “I learned a lot about myself last year as I made every mistake in the book that I possibly could have! I ran myself into the ground, but I don’t blame Matt [Dixon] for that. There should have been more communication from my side.” Lawrence ended the season with an 11th place finish at the Ironman 70.3 World Championships in Zell-Am-See Austria. While it was a disappointing result at the time, Lawrence now looks back on 2015 as a development year. 

“Going into 2016, I felt a lot wiser. It’s not that I didn’t follow the plan in 2015, but I trained harder than I should have and had spells of being overly tired. I trained myself into a hole” laments Lawrence. Recognising that she needed stricter boundaries in training, Lawrence turned to TrainSharp, a UK based cycling and multisport training company that placed a heavy focus on numbers to guide the workouts: “Everything is set out as a very specific power range or run pace, but I also have the governor that if the pace/power is hard from the start, then I cut the session.”

Lawrence lives in Santa Monica, California, and recruited two additional people to her team to provide oversight and feedback on her program. She swims at least five times a week with triathlon swim guru and founder of Tower 26, Gerry Rodrigues. The weekly open water sessions under the watchful eye of Rodrigues have made a dramatic impact on her already strong swim abilities. It has made the difference between being a front pack swimmer to being a first out of the water swimmer, an accolade she received at the 2016 Ironman 70.3 California race. Her enhanced skills also enabled Lawrence to break free of the lead pack in this year’s 2016 Ironman 70.3 World Championships in Mooloolaba, Australia, exiting the water just seconds behind American swim specialist, Lauren Brandon, and ahead of the main pack.

For run training, Lawrence teamed up with fellow Tower 26 athlete and former Nike-sponsored runner, Sean Jefferson, to help build the stamina to add to the speed she carried from short-course racing. “Last year, 13.1 miles (21.1km) felt a really long way,” says Lawrence. “While it still does feel long compared to ITU races, I’m finally adapting to the training and building up the run endurance while staying injury-free.”

After a string of wins during the 2016 North American season, including victory over US Olympian, Katie Zaferes at the Escape from Alcatraz triathlon and an eight minute defeat of Caroline Steffen at Ironman 70.3 Vineman, Lawrence was among the favourites to make the podium in Mooloolaba. However, earning the world title surprised even herself: “I had my sights set on the World Championship title in the next couple of years, but I never thought it would happen this year,” she says. 

Lawrence still feels that she has much work to do and that she will continue developing in the sport: “My last race of the year, is the Island House Invitational Triathlon, and after that I’m excited for my first off-season with TrainSharp, as I know I can come back even stronger than this year.” At 26 years old, she plans to continue focusing on the 70.3 distance for the foreseeable future, even though her win in Mooloolaba makes racing Ironman Hawaii a possibility. “I can’t even think about Ironman racing,” she says, “a 70.3 distance race still feels like a really long way!”

Feature Image: Korupt Vision

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Jordan Blanco

Jordan competed in her first triathlon in 2001 as a once in a lifetime challenge with several of her Stanford Business School classmates. Fast forward 15 years and Jordan has competed in over 100 triathlons, including 11 Iron distance races. She is a 5x Kona qualifier and has won her age-group at both Ironman Arizona and Ironman St. George. She shares her triathlon passion with her husband who is also a multiple Kona qualifier. Outside of triathlon, Jordan is a business owner and strategy consultant based in San Francisco, California.

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