When raw talent is packaged with hard work, a top coach and a will to suffer to earn the spoils, you have a champion in the making. LAURA PHILIPP is that person.
Interview by Paul Ingpen
Laura, you were fourth in your first IRONMAN World Championship in Kona, with the fastest bike split of the day. That’s awesome! Were you surprised, happy or disappointed that you didn’t win on the day that Daniela Ryf failed to dominate?
After dealing with a serious injury from May, it was a big surprise to me when I made it to the start line for my first IRONMAN in Kona. My main goal was to gain some experience and simply enjoy the race for the first time. The fourth place really came as a nice surprise and I was not sad not to have won. Daniela is not the only one to beat. The women’s field is getting stronger every year. That is awesome to see and I love being part of it. If I am fit and healthy, I would love to have a battle for the win, for sure!
Tell us about your sporting and lifestyle background. Who is this fast-rising star many of us hadn’t heard of three years ago?
I don’t really have a sporting background. I was an active child, but the only sport
I was serious about as a teenager was rock climbing. It took a very long time before I explored triathlon by accident and found out that I seem to have some talent for long-course endurance sport. I started swimming at the age of 24 and had only done running and biking for the purpose of going from A to B, or walking the dog. But after my first triathlon experience, I was completely hooked and wanted to do more. A year later I started to race with a pro licence, and in 2016, I stopped working as a physiotherapist to focus on the sport 100%. I improved on the 70.3 distance every year and in 2018 I did my first IRONMAN with the fastest ever debut time. I feel like there is still so much to improve on every distance. I feel biking and running are natural strengths of mine, but to keep up with former swimmers like Lucy Charles in the water is a lifetime challenge.
You proved you are super-fast at 70.3, winning almost everything you raced. You then smashed IRONMAN Barcelona with an 8:34 course record to qualify for Kona. Does the full IRONMAN feel like a good distance for you, and will you continue to race half-distance?
I really surprised myself with my first IRONMAN. I had no expectations but to finish and hear Paul Kaye calling me an IRONMAN at the finish line. But it felt amazing and I do think long distance suits my strengths. I will definitely continue to race 70.3s because you can simply go harder and add more into your schedule – and I love racing.
You did really well at XTERRA, which may explain your bike skills. Off-road tri is popular in SA. Have you done many mountain-bike races and are you likely to keep racing off road?
I have never done any MTB races, but would love to one day. Also, Cape Epic seems like such a great event. Maybe I will get the chance to do it some day. XTERRA is so much fun and I can really recommend it to everyone. The nature experience is so much bigger, and the technical aspect on the bike is too. So if you are a good rider, this is your chance to have big lead!
You were ready for your trip to SA and we were so excited to see you race here for the first time. Were you disappointed?
Of course! I was very disappointed. I prepared months for IRONMAN African
Championship and the race was in my head in every session. To let such a big goal go hurts and is definitely a hard pill to swallow. The only positive about it was that it is nearly the same situation for everyone around the world and we can help each other to find new motivation and goals.
How has Covid-19 changed life for you and how do you foresee the next few months playing out?
After IMAC got cancelled I spent all my time in quarantine at home. We tried to build a good indoor training set-up and I was able to get some solid work done. As everything is still very uncertain, we take things more easy and try not to overdo anything. We hope that soon our world, daily life and business can get back to normal. It is a very challenging time for everyone, including my sponsors. I try to support them over my social media channels as much as possible.
What do you make of the Zwift/Rouvy racing? Some interesting performances showing. As one of the strongest bikers in the sport, you are probably in your element.
I gave it a try. Both at Zwift and at Rouvy and I have to say, it is fun and super, super tough, but I also see some negative aspects. I know that every Smart trainer shows different power. Some even have a variation of more than 30 watts. I am in the unlucky position that my trainier shows 10 watts less... which means I will probably never be able to win an E-race. I can recommend that everyone gives it a try to mix up their indoor training routine, but don’t take it too seriously. The results are very different to real-world racing.
How are you training and staying motivated under these social distancing circumstances without knowing when you will race again?
I am lucky that I am almost always motivated to train. I tried to set new goals and still try to become better taking very little steps every day. As a triathlete there is always something you can work on in order to improve. And if I lack motivation I put on my ‘Kick Ass’ socks and give it a try anyway. Most of the time, you just have to start a session and as soon as you roll or run, you love it!
Are you excited about Collins Cup (28 August 2021)? What do you expect it
to deliver to the sport?
It’s nice to see the sport growing and to get more options to race on a high level with strong fields. I am not sure if I will race at the Collins Cup. But if I get the chance, I would love to!