BY SARAH KIM BONNER
At 18.5km into the marathon of Challenge Roth, Laura Siddall looked over her shoulder to see a fellow competitor hot on her heels. “I was starting to feel it,” Siddall recalls, her eyes wide as she remembers the heavy pain of fatigue in her legs. Already completing a 3.8km swim and 180km on the bike before the marathon of the iron distance triathlon, Siddall was suffering and her 4th place was in jeopardy.
Siddall came to Roth, Germany fresh off the plane from Tokyo—not your standard pre-race preparation. Part of Team Great Britain as a reserve guide for visually impaired triathlon, Siddall spent the weeks before Challenge Roth in Japan, training and prepping with the Paralympic team. With COVID-19 restrictions, limited training facilities, and her determination to be present and enjoy her Paralympic experience, she knew her preparation for Roth would be compromised. But, when Siddall arrived in Roth, she didn’t expect to feel as bad as she did.
“I was feeling average. Tokyo was really hard,” Siddall says. “I love Roth and I normally get such a buzz but trying to get myself ready for the race, I was feeling quite flat,”
Only a few days before the race, Siddall knew she had to break out of her funk. “I said to myself, ‘you’ve gotta turn this around’. It’s a long day to arrive on the start line feeling not good. You don’t want to get to the finish line feeling regret.”
With the help of her coach, Siddall changed her race tactic and set the mental goal to enjoy her favorite race. She arrived at the start line feeling more positive but once the gun went off, it was far from a fairy tale.
After an average swim and a “rubbish transition,” Siddall spent the bike on her own after watching the main pack fly off into the distance. Although she was buoyed slightly every time she caught and passed another competitor, she said it also made her realize how far back she actually was. “Doesn’t matter,” Siddall told herself, “just enjoy.”
Off the bike, Siddall had her 3hr marathon goal to chase and diligently started steady, sticking to her heart rate and pace targets. But only a few kilometers in and the game changed…
“I started to see people,” Siddall says, as if she is surprised all over again. “I fully expected the lead group had put 10 minutes into me but 4th place was only 90 seconds ahead.” Siddall says she has a moment of excitement but, as she told herself, “it’s a marathon and anything can happen.”
Over the next 30km Siddall made the pass, held off an attack from behind, a threatening tight hamstring, and with only 4km to go she found herself, not only in a podium position, but her eyes locked on second place.
“I was gaining on her,” Siddall recalls. “I overtook her at 3km to go but then there are cobbles, hills, and a long stretch through town to the finish line,” Siddall says. “The bike spotter kept saying I was fine but I didn’t believe it. She could have had a bad patch and come back,” she explains. “I had to go faster.”
Finally, the stadium came and Siddall said “it was magic.” “I saw my homestay family and grabbed the flag, my friend was bouncing up and down, they were so excited,” she beams. Crossing the line in second place, matching her best finish there, Siddall says: “It felt like I had won. It was my best run, my fastest marathon, and one of the best performances I’ve had.”
Oh yeah, and she smashed her 3 hour marathon goal by 8 minutes, clocking a 2:52.
After the demands of Tokyo, Siddall says her second place finish was unexpected but a testament to having the right mindset on the day. “[An ironman] is a long day and anything can happen. It’s not who goes the fastest but who slows down the least. When you’re going through a bad patch, it feels like no one else is, but everyone is suffering so stick to your plan and do the best you can.”