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Tue 19th Nov 2019
Fast Brit abroad: Lauren McGregor
Posted by: Editor
Posted on: Monday 14th December 2015

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Just over a week ago at Ironman Western Australia, Luke McKenzie joined the Sub-8 iron-distance club with a performance he described as a "career day". For several reasons that was a performance I regard as one of the best of 2015, and looked at in-depth in this feature.

Such was that result - and being on the far side of the world (!) - I overlooked an absolutely fantastic performance from a British Age-Group athlete. Now living in Australia, Lauren McGregor produced a stunning result, finishing in a super quick time of 9:49:46. Not only was that enough to win the 30-34 category but it also made her the first female Age-Group athlete overall and the fifth fastest finishing time of the day, including the professionals.

Even more impressive to me, that result came just eight weeks after racing in Kona. With that, I wanted to find out more, so I got in touch to find out more about this fast 'Brit abroad'...

Before we start, I believe you are a "Brit living in Oz". Tell us a bit more about that, and how long you have been Down Under?

I've been living in Perth since the middle of last year, having moved here with my Aussie husband, Roy. I've always wanted to live overseas and the lure of the sunshine and beaches was strong! I'm loving the lifestyle and there are great opportunities for triathlon, both training and racing.

You raced in Kona this year and finished 27th in your AG (30-34), in a time of 11:13:42. How did you race go in Hawaii?

This was my second trip to Hawaii, having competed there in 2012 (racing under my maiden name, Whitmore). I had a dream race then, finishing with a big PB of 10:36, in 12th position in the 25-29 AG. Returning in 2015 I had high hopes for a top-10 finish in the 30-34 AG, or possibly even a podium, but it wasn't to be. After a great swim, I had an unfortunate flat tyre 2km into the bike; my first ever mechanical problem in race, in almost 10 years of triathlon. I guess it had to happen at some point! Whilst I still had a reasonable ride, I hit a wall (physical and mental), about 15km into the run and it was a struggle to even finish. I was really disappointed, not only with the time, but also feeling that mentally I had cracked. I know I could've given more on the day and whilst this may not have made much difference to my time or position it was horrible to think that I could have pushed harder.

Lauren McGregor

There was only eight weeks between Kona and Ironman Western Australia. How did you manage that relatively short period between Ironman races in terms of recovery, training – but also in terms of motivation. Many athletes really need a break mentally after the build up to Hawaii, but judging from your Busselton result, motivation must have been strong?

I spent a week in Maui with my family after the race and didn't do any exercise at all, unless you count snorkelling and trying to body surf on an inflatable crocodile! The following week I managed a couple of easy sessions and the idea of entering Busselton started to form. I had a chat with my coach, Andrew Ivey, and he was immediately supportive. Busselton is just a couple of hours drive from Perth, and it's also Roy's home town, so logistically it was very easy. After training all year with Kona in mind, I thought that an extra six weeks of training, including a short taper would be no bother, but I underestimated how hard it would be. I felt flat in most of my sessions, power and pace on both the bike and run were well down (the worst numbers I'd seen all year), so I definitely needed Andrew's reassurance to just get the sessions done as best as I could.

Let's get to Western Australia – 9:49:46 is a fantastic time for an Age Grouper, and your splits (59 / 5:12 / 3:31) suggests that you had a very strong and consistent race too. What were your expectations and goals before the race?

When I decided to race Busselton my main goal was to prove to myself that I could be mentally strong and finish having given everything I had on that day. Because achieving that goal was completely within my control, I've never been so relaxed going into a race. Of course I had some time based goals but these seemed secondary (although I was pretty keen to beat Roy's best Ironman time of 10:23!). I thought an AG podium might be achievable but I knew it would be tough, looking at the calibre of ladies on the start list.

Lauren McGregor

Talk us through how your day went?

Pre-race we knew it would be a choppy swim. I've swum that course a few times and if the winds pick up it can get ugly. I love those conditions! I have a horrible straight armed swimming style that really suits the surf, so I knew I would get a good advantage. I came out in 59 minutes, a relatively slow time for me (last time I raced Busselton – 2009 - I swam 55 minutes), but I believe I was the second fastest female of the day, including the pros, highlighting how tough it was out there.

Onto the bike I could see how much the swim had split the field up. There are lots of out-and-back sections so you can see exactly where your competitors are. I passed the leading age grouper, Emily Loughnan, at about 40km and it was really cool to be leading the amateur race. I could see two girls quite close behind me, but I seemed to be holding the gap. Andrew's pre-race instructions to me were to bike as hard as I could as he didn't think it would impact my run too much. With the very flat course Busselton does have a bad reputation for drafting, but I didn't see much of that at all as the field was so spread out and the relentless cross-winds kept it that way.

The run has always been my weakest leg, but I've made some real improvements over the past couple of years. In the first lap two ladies who I know to be very strong runners flew by, but I just settled into my own pace, which I was able to hold quite consistently for the entire marathon. I was completely shocked when I re-passed them on the third lap and fully expected someone else to catch me by the finish. I pushed myself harder than I ever have in an Ironman and with 2km to go started to cramp; luckily Roy was able to tell me I had a good gap to the second female so I could ease off slightly. The finish chute was unreal, my time was beyond my expectations and I hadn't allowed myself to believe I could be first amateur until I was actually on that red carpet. I didn't want to go to sleep on Sunday night because I was convinced it was all a very painful dream.

Lauren McGregor

Finishing as first Age-Group athlete (and fifth fastest overall) – have you taken your Kona slot for 2016?

Yes (despite telling all my friends and family that I'd never go back)!

How long have you been in triathlon / Ironman – I struggled to find much about you searching around – and how have you progressed over that time?

I've been in triathlon for a while now and my improvements definitely haven't come easily! A large group of my club mates at Crystal Palace Triathletes were racing Ironman Austria in 2008 and I thought it sounded like a great challenge, despite only recently completing my first olympic distance race (I also entered my Dad, who couldn't really swim at the time, but that's another story!). After finishing in a very average time of 12:14 I immediately thought, I can go faster! I had this crazy dream of qualifying to race in Hawaii, which I knew was so far away from (two hours+ improvement required!), but over a couple of years I gradually got faster and closer to that elusive Kona slot. I finally won my age group in my fifth Ironman, in Wales in 2011, booking myself a trip to Kona for the following year. Since I arrived in Australia (completely out of shape following an extended honeymoon backpacking around South East Asia), I have continued to slowly improve, qualifying for Kona again at Ironman Malaysia and also having a couple of podiums in 70.3 races.

What is your training / coaching set up in Australia?

I train under Andrew Ivey at Elitesportz Specialist. Andrew is an amazing coach and so dedicated to helping his athletes; his support goes far beyond just a training plan. Most of my sessions are with his squad, which includes several professionals and a number of top age groupers; they are all amazing athletes and they inspire me every day. Everyone is there to push themselves to find their own limits, but it's also an incredibly supportive group. Eight from our squad were racing down in Busso and twice that number made the trip down south to cheer us on!

What's the ‘day job', and how to you fit your training around that?

I work full time for Commonwealth Bank of Australia in the institutional banking division. I do most of my training before work, with most of our squad sessions starting between 5.00–5.30am! Andrew's philosophy is very much quality over quantity, with consistency being the key factor for success, so my average weekly training is a relatively modest 12-14 hours. This definitely makes it more manageable alongside work. Interestingly, I also get sick a lot less often than when I used to train 18-20 hours at a much lower intensity.

You've got Kona 2016 booked, so what are your aims for that and for your future triathlon goals?

To be honest I don't know yet! I was intending just to race locally in 2016, targeting the 70.3 in Busselton in May with a view to qualifying for the World Champs on the Sunshine Coast next year. With Kona now on the horizon I need to sit down and reassess.

Oh, and your Twitter description says ‘lover of all things pink and sparkly'… explain?!!!!

Haha! I have always had an obsession with anything pink and sparkly; my main concern about riding a disc wheel in Busselton was that the red decals didn't match my pink bike! Luckily it didn't seem to slow me down too much!

Lauren McGregor

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