“I did not improve a single time for two years,” Lauren Brandon says, remembering her first big set back when she was only ten years old. At the time, Brandon was a swimmer and ranked second in the USA for the 100 meter fly. There was no doubt in her mind she was destined to swim at the Olympics but that dream came to a halt when she hit a performance plateau. "When you’re 10-12 years old and not seeing any improvement—that shot me down,” Brandon explains. “But I persevered. I remember getting my first best time in two years and then everything fell into place and I started making improvements again,” she says, recalling it felt like a whirlwind when she finally had her breakthrough. Brandon would go on to be a record holder, NCAA All-American, and earn herself a full athletic scholarship for college. “I’ve been through that multiple times [in my career] and it does teach you to just keep pushing through those times and, while you might not be getting the results you want, keep training hard and good times will come again.”
Brandon left swimming after college but quickly started racing triathlon at the professional level. Of course, she had a lot of swimming experience but she faced a steep learning curve in cycling and running. Brandon proved to excel at cycling but struggled with running, easily picking up injuries. Even now, after a decade in triathlon, she still has to manage her running very cautiously. “I didn’t expect running to be this difficult,” she admits. “I thought eventually I’d be able to run a bunch of miles but I have to be so careful. Staying healthy on the run is a big focus.”
Brandon repeatedly finds herself leading a race after the swim and bike but, going into the run often with less training that she’d like, she says, “It's hard mentally to be at the front of the race when you’re the one being caught, your mind plays tricks on you.” However, Brandon practices what she preaches and has continued to successfully navigate each of her setbacks, whether physical or mental, to great success, including her first Ironman title in 2019 where she set the course record.
So what’s her secret to perseverance?
“Even when things aren’t going well and you’re going through not the easiest time in your life, it can still be enjoyable, you can still find positivity going through hardship,” Brandon says. She is careful to clarify that it’s not just about “‘bulldozering’ through” the hard times.
“I’ve always been a positive person but that’s not to say I don’t get down,” she says. “It’s been a tough couple a years, feeling like I’m not being successful in my job,” Brandon says, referencing health issues and the challenges of the pandemic. “I think for the most part life is more of a struggle. People put whatever they want on social media and put up how they want their life to look and it looks amazing and perfect—but it’s not. People struggle a lot more than we are honest about. Life isn’t easy but you can still enjoy it.”
Knowing it’s the norm to struggle, that it’s normal for everything not to be easy, helps Brandon accept challenges, keep going, and enjoy the ride, no matter how bumpy or broken up it is. Whether it’s working two years for a breakthrough, world championship qualification, or her most recent podium at Ironman Hamburg in 2021, Brandon says, “The hard times teach you that when things are clicking along and going well, that it’s not the norm so really embrace those times.”
This story by Lauren is so powerful! I am not a professional athlete but have always loved and been active in sports.
I too have reached plateaus which are frustrating and also have battled my mind during a race which is a hard place to get out of. But life is a balance.
However I strongly believe she hit the nail on the head regarding social media how people put what they want people to perceive their life is like on there. During the first 2 years of COVID I made it through pretty well, however this past year has been more than a challenge. I’m a mom, a wife, a shift worker and a triathlete. It’s a balance and no one ever knows the struggles that others go through. It’s important people stay hopeful, be kind and stay focused. The rewards will come!