Aug 19, 2021
Aug 19, 2021

Laura Philipp: Europe’s best triathlete

What does it take to become a champion triathlete? Laura shares her journey to European victory.

Laura Philipp: Europe’s best triathlete Laura Philipp races to victory in Finland in August 2021

The last 18 months of our lives have been nothing short of challenging for everyone including professional athletes. When Kona 2020, the highlight of the long-distance triathlon calendar, was cancelled due to coronavirus, many members of the triathlon community had to go back to the drawing board.

Many triathletes have been trying to find their form to qualify for Kona 2021 after a fallow year of training and racing . Building enough stamina with very few benchmarks over the past year from which to train would be a challenge like never before.

Laura Philipp has proven herself to be one of the world’s best triathletes, but the early months of 2021 were fraught with uncertainty and injury. Her main goal this year was to qualify for Kona early in the year and give her as much time as possible to peak for the race in October.

Long-distance triathlons at elite levels are notoriously arduous both mentally and physically, so how did Laura defy the odds?

Laura Philipp with Canyon Speedmax Laura Philipp pictured here with her Canyon Speedmax CFR

Injury, race cancellations and the unknown

"My target event for qualification was in Texas in March but when it was cancelled, I didn’t know what to do," she says speaking to us from her home in Heidelberg. "I’d built the last few months of training around this one event and this was a huge setback for me."

The clock continued to tick and Laura couldn’t afford to rest when her future was riding on qualification. After a particularly long stint on the turbo trainer, she felt a niggle in her hip that she could no longer ignore. Trips to and from various doctors and physiotherapists confirmed her worst fear: “I couldn’t enter Tulsa because of my injury and I didn’t know how long my recovery would be at this point,” she explains.

Laura Philipp on the road to recovery

Timing is everything when it comes to racing, particularly with triathlons. Athletes must build up to their target event so that they’re in peak form by the time it comes around. Having to let go of the strongest shape of her life was heartbreaking for Laura. “I had to stop training for 7 weeks, which is a long time for an endurance athlete,” she says. “I lost all form and fitness and it was a real low point for me mentally,” she adds.

This was not Laura’s first rodeo and she knew she had to be patient with her recovery in order to return as soon as possible.

Still the clock ticked.

She and her coach (and husband, Philip Seipp) sat down to reassess the racing calendar. When is the next realistic event in which Laura could potentially qualify for Kona?

Finland. 14th August 2021. Women’s European championship.

“It’s a special event because we have the full media focus on our race,” she says owing to the fact that the men’s and women’s competitions were separated for the first time. “Though it would’ve been nice to race on home soil in Frankfurt where the men’s race was, it was really special to have a female-only event that wouldn’t be affected by other races being run in parallel.”

I struggled to accept my current shape and came close to crying many times.

Laura Philipp

And so the journey to peak fitness began. “It felt horrible in the beginning! I lost all my endurance, so I had to build up my base before I could introduce any intensity into my training,” she explains. “I struggled to accept my current form and came close to crying multiple times in training. I just had to keep the faith and keep going.”

Laura Philipp training in the St Moritz mountains Laura Philipp trains at altitude in the mountains of St Moritz

Altitude Training Camp

Not all athletes react well to training at altitude but Laura does. “We go to St. Moritz every year and this was my third time this year. The short time I had to prepare meant I could make huge gains from this trip,” she says.

Laura Philipp enjoys the high mountain passes in St Moritz

The following three weeks signified the start of her build up to Finland just five weeks out from race day. “It was the first time I ran properly and I managed to increase my intensity. It was really the first time I felt like a triathlete again!” she laughs.

Rather than taking her road bike into the mountains, Laura took her race ready triathlon bike, her Canyon Speedmax CFR, to really hone her position and bike fitness. “In the past I struggled to be in an aggressive position when cornering but this was a great opportunity to practice this skill and build my confidence here,” she reveals.

Race Ready

By the time race day rolled around, it was clear Laura had put in the hard work to earn her results. “I really worked on my swim as this was my weakest leg,” she admits, adding that the winners of triathlons now are well-rounded in all three disciplines as opposed to excelling in just one or two sports. “Given I started swimming properly at the age of 24, it was awesome to see my form coming together during the race.”

Her result in the swim (53:47) put her in a strong position to distance her competitors on the bike. “I’m not used to being in front on the bike, so it means I could really control the race and dictate my own strategy rather than reacting to what other athletes did.” Laura posted a time of 4:48:12 on the 180km course with an average speed of over 37km/h .

Laura Philipp surprises herself during the run leg in Finland

But it was the run that really took her and the fans by surprise. It was the biggest test of her recovery. “My first week’s training, just five weeks before the race, involved a grand total of just 9km of running,” she laughs, clearly shocked that she managed to pull off a 2:52:45 marathon.

The clock finally stopped ticking, with Laura ahead of the field..

In winning the race in Finland, Laura became European champion with a total time of 8:38:29, meaning a qualifying place for Kona later in the year.

All roads lead to The Big Island

Though Finland provided a much-needed mental boost for Laura, she knows the journey is far from over. “My big takeaways from 2019 [where she came 4th] were that my body adapts well to heat and that this hard and honest race favours me,” she says owing to her strong mental resilience.

Laura Philipp in the aero position during a training ride in St Moritz Laura Philipp trains in the aero position in the mountains of St Moritz

Is she targeting the win in Kona 2022? “Fourth place left me hungry for more but my main goals are to simply improve on my 2019 result and stay healthy between now and then,” she says coyly. “If all the things come together, I think it’s possible to win. But I know how many other strong women have the same mindset as me going into this race. Anything is possible!”

Canyon Speedmax

Ride the same bike as Laura Philipp

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