Lauren Brandon (AU) - Triathlete
Going Pro: How Lauren Brandon Went from Everyday Triathlete to the Pro Circuit
By William Ironox Pruett and Barrett Brandon
Lauren Brandon is a lifelong endurance athlete who started out as a swimmer, but recently made the switch to triathlon and quickly rose through the amateur ranks to become a pro after only 4 races. In her first two seasons as a professional triathlete, she has had multiple top-10 and top-5 finishes. As a swimmer, Brandon was a NCAA All American, University of Nebraska school record holder, and a 2008 US Olympic Swimming trials participant in both the pool and the 10k open water event. As one of the premier swimmers in the sport of triathlon, she has led out of the water at such iconic races as Escape from Alcatraz, US Elite Nationals, Kansas City 5150, Longhorn 70.3, Dallas ITU Pan American Cup and many more. In this interview, she shares her experience transitioning from swimmer to triathlete and gives some tips on how to become a faster swimmer.
What was your first triathlon like?
My first triathlon was actually a pretty funny experience. It was the Pacific Grove Triathlon, held in California in September of 2009. The swim was pretty uneventful for me except that I didn’t own a wetsuit, so I borrowed my husband’s (which was a few sizes too big). It was the bike portion that was the most entertaining: I had ridden my bike only a few times outside before the race, so I was pretty scared. I was so nervous for each U-turn because I could barely make it without falling or going off of the road. Every turn and downhill, I was either screaming or crying. It was borderline traumatic. I was so bad on the bike that I couldn’t even grab my water bottles, so I went the entire bike leg without any fluids. I somehow made it through the bike without crashing or stopping, and went on to have a good run. Even with my bike, I ended up 7th overall…so it was a pretty good race. The following year I raced the same course, and I think I biked over 10 minutes faster. While it was difficult for me, I distinctly remember finishing the race and saying to myself, “I have to do this again.” I was hooked.
What kind of biking and running background did you have before you became a triathlete?
I basically had zero background in both riding and running before 2009. I was a competitive swimmer since the age of 5, and the only other sport I did was synchronized swimming for a few years. Does that count? When I was swimming at Nebraska we would always run during our pre-season training. Usually, by the second or third run of the year I got such severe shin splints that I would be forced to spend the rest of the time on the elliptical or stair climber.
As far as riding goes, I didn’t learn how to ride a bike until college. My mom bought me a bike to commute to class, but I think it spent more time locked up in front of my dorm than anywhere else. That was my only introduction to riding a bike, so I had a lot to learn when I started triathlon…and I am still learning!
What has been the hardest part about transitioning from a swimmer to a triathlete?
Running! I was a long-distance swimmer, so I have developed a great aerobic base over the years. I was training 20+ hours a week as a swimmer for many years, so I was used to the dedication and commitment aspect of training. The addition of running, a high- impact sport, has been a huge struggle. When I began training more frequently in 2011, I was always hurt. I would run a couple of weeks, but then get injured and have to take a few weeks off. There were multiple races in 2011 where my only run for the entire week was at a race. My longest runs the entire year were also in my races. This didn’t set me up to run very fast, but I learned a lot about my body. Since then I have been progressing well. In 2012 I ran consistently the entire year, but very low miles. This year, I am finally able to do longer runs, and I just logged in my biggest run week of 30 miles. Compared to most pros, that is really low miles; but I am in this sport for the long haul. I have to be patient and train smart, and I know that the run will continue to progress.
What advice would you give to someone who is very new to the sport of triathlon and struggles in the swim?
I would suggest having a lesson with a swim coach. This could be a one-on-one session, or a swim with a Masters group. It is very hard to change your stroke after doing it a long time, so if you can start off with good technique and proper training plans right off the bat, you won’t waste your time on bad habits.
If you could give one piece of advice for triathlete’s swim training, what would it be?
Have a plan. It is easy to get to the pool, get in, and not do very much work. Biking and running, you have to always come back to where you started; but in swimming, you can hop out whenever you want. If you have a workout planned prior to coming to the pool, then you are more likely to do more yardage and get in a better workout. There are plenty of workout ideas online to help you keep it more exciting. If you prefer swimming with other people to stay motivated, join a Masters group. Working out with other people holds you accountable — and it will be more fun, too!